Clarity Archives - Stratejoy



Sometimes all we need is a reminder. A sign that we need to chill out and just keep going. Quit overanalyzing everything because what will happen, will happen. And it will be great.

I was sitting in my Thursday evening Summer class, lazily typing notes on my computer while the professor droned on, when a group iMessage from my Mom popped onto my screen.


She and my father had just redone their back deck and had been anxiously awaiting the delivery of their new fire pit. After three weeks of delays, it finally arrived and she sent a photo letting us know.


I felt that familiar pang of jealousy over the fact that I was sitting in a classroom on a beautiful Summer night while my mother sat on her new back deck enjoying a glass of wine and a dancing fire. Blah.

Just then, my Mom’s best friend chimed in with a joke about what a shame it was that the wine glass in the picture looked half empty, and look at what she’s doing this evening. What followed was a photo of a beautiful sunset on the beach of their South Carolina home. Double blah.

In an effort to one-up them (ha!) I chimed in that I was officially jealous of them and explained that I was sitting in a boring class listening to a classmate’s presentation about Egypt’s economy. He read every. Single. Word. On his presentation slides.

Just then, my Mom’s friend messaged me privately:
     Friend: “I am sooo sorry to hear of your dilemma. Completely understand

                 though. I’ve been there. Hang in…… Xoxo”

     Me: “Haha it’s not that bad in general. Just bad relative to what you guys are
     Friend: “I understand. Someday you’ll do the same, but for now you’re doing

                exactly what you should be doing!!”

Oh my goodness.

Yes. I am.

I am doing exactly what I should be doing.

I’m 28 years old, working full-time and working towards two Master’s degrees in grad school on a part-time basis. I’m helping to empower young professional women in my city through our Levo League chapter. I’m trying my hardest to be the best daughter, sister, friend, girlfriend, and pet-mama I can be. I’m certainly not perfect, but I’m doing exactly what I should be doing.

Instead of getting jealous that I wasn’t enjoying my own glass of wine and fire pit, or my own beautiful sunset on the beach, I stashed those experiences on my “Life To-Do” list and made a promise to myself to be there at some point in my life.

But first, it’s time to enjoy the now. To bask in doing exactly what I should be doing.


Carly, Do-er, self-push-er, and Elevate 2014 Sister Carly is a do-er and activator who lives by the phrase, “Don’t you ever wonder how far you can push yourself?” She pushes herself daily by working towards her concurrent MA/MBA degree, leading the Pittsburgh Local Levo chapter and competing as a flourishing tenor drummer in a competition bagpipe band all while holding down a full time job. Her free time (haha!) is spent snuggling with her doggie-child, Nessie, connecting with others on Twitter (@carlyraepgh) and binge-watching HBO and Netflix with a glass (or bottle…) of wine..


Well Christmas has come and gone. New Year’s Eve and all the hype have passed. All the buildup for family time, presents, Santa, and the promise of the new year have all waned in importance. Most people are back to business as usual.

Here at my house, we have another day of winter break before school starts back up on Tuesday. My little person is missing her friends and can’t wait to get back to school.

I’m less enthusiastic than she is, but I know it is important for her to get back to her normal routine.

Even though we’re settling back into normalcy after the hustle of the holidays, I can already tell this year is different.

Since the Holiday Council started last month, it hasn’t been far from my mind. I tried hard to keep up with all the calls and worksheets, and was mostly successful for the first two weeks. When I got to the third week, I had some problems.

I’d let go of the things from 2012 that were no longer serving me. I thought hard about what kind of year I want to have in 2013 and came up with a theme and a vision board. I had values and was working on priorities and then it felt like I hit a roadblock.

When I tried to fit my goals for the year with my declared theme and values – it just didn’t work.

I felt overwhelmed and so much like the lost girl I was when I started writing for all of you.

Some of my problem was likely related to the virus I’ve been fighting off for the past month, but I really wanted to get my goals and action plans set before the new year actually started.

I took a short break for the holidays, then found some inspiration and support from my Elevate girls, and took another shot at the worksheets from week three. I wrote down all of the things I had in my head that I wanted to tackle in the new year {which turned out to be an insanely large list!}.

What I kept getting hung up on was the priorities vs values in the worksheets. I felt like choosing 20 things to do this year was too limiting for me. Not because I want to be a major over-achiever or something, but I have a number of smaller changes I want to make, in addition to a few larger changes. And I have more than 5 categories that I want to address.

The Holiday Council was tremendously helpful for me, but I was pressuring myself to fit my goals and aspirations into the exact system Molly has developed.

Once I allowed myself to do what worked best for me, things fell into place much more naturally.

When I looked over my list of goals for the year, it was pretty obvious what my theme for 2013 should be.

2012 was a year of awakening for me. I feel like I woke up and realized that I wasn’t living an authentic life. I’ve been saying that I want things to change, and I’ve written and analyzed my situation to death.

Now is the time for action.

I’ve said time and again that I want 2013 to be the year that I take action on all these things I’ve been dreaming up. And so my 2013 theme was born.

Take Action as a theme works for me because I can use it to keep myself on track, and push myself to accomplish my {seemingly} massive list of goals. I can’t think of a better time to tackle all of this than the year when I have Elevate to keep me accountable and empower me to take on the world.

Since I settled on my new theme for the year, I’ve felt peaceful. I’ve felt sure of myself and what I’m going to accomplish instead of feeling uncertain.

I’ve never started a year like this – I’m almost giddy from the excitement and anticipation. But also from the calmness that comes with having a plan and knowing my life is going to change for the better.

Maybe I won’t accomplish everything on my list in one year, but I plan to take full advantage of all the support I have. This is my year, and I’m going to rock it!

Happy New Year, soul sisters!

NicoleBioBadgeImage via: ME! {compiled from the wonderful goodness that is pinterest}

The last few weeks I’ve experienced quite a range of emotions – from soul-aching sadness to heart-melting happiness. It has been quite a ride, but I’ve never felt more alive than I do right now.

I would imagine some of you watched Danielle LaPorte’s Goals with Soul video this week {if you haven’t, please DO IT!}. I couldn’t watch live, but I watched the recording the next day.

I cried through much of it. It spoke to my soul. It moved me. It inspired me.

This video she plays of women from all over the world sharing how they want to feel is powerful. Pure, raw emotion. So many beautiful, strong women who just want to feel good. Whatever their version of “good” is. And so many of us aren’t feeling these things that we crave on the most basic level.

I’m so incredibly grateful that we have such beautiful souls in Danielle LaPorte and Molly Mahar to share this gift they have with the world – I honestly believe they are changing the world, one woman at a time. I know my life is forever changed because of them and I’m willing to bet many of you reading can say the same.

Last week I was listening to Molly’s first Holiday Council call and she was talking about releasing the bad things from 2012. We did a visualization where we let the list of bad things go. I had tears streaming down my face. I was so overcome by the pain and sadness I felt in that moment.

But also, I could almost taste the freedom as I was watching the tiny pieces of paper soar down over the edge of the cliff in my mind.

I cried the next day too – some because the pain and hurt from this year were still lingering with me. And some because thinking about my year brought up those raw feelings from losing my sweet puppy, Emma. I laid in my bed and sobbed and sobbed until I had no tears left. I honestly lost track of time.

Instead of feeling weak or silly for crying, I let myself off the hook. I felt my feelings and they made my soul ache.

Since that day I’ve been feeling happy. Unshakably happy. I can’t explain why exactly, but I just feel more confident, more secure in the knowledge that I’m going to get there. Wherever I’m meant to be.

Of course, this was Molly’s intent in having us do such a visualization – we released the bad to make space for the good. I just didn’t expect it to affect me this much.

I was still feeling that happiness and sense of peace as I sat down to watch Danielle’s recording. Then my world was rocked in a major way.

After I finished watching, I jumped in the shower, my mind definitely still reeling. I put Boyce Avenue’s version of Just the Way You Are on repeat because it has been inspiring me this week – I thought it was because I’m a hopeless romantic and it speaks to that kind of overwhelming love I‘m enamored with.

But as I was standing in the shower thinking about my life, my desires, how I’ve gotten to this point in my life –  I began to weep {again!}. I had tears streaming down my face in this deep soul-cleansing crying. I vaguely remember hearing Alejandro Manzano’s voice  amping up – saying:

“Girl you’re amazing. Just the way you are. The way you are. The way you are. ‘Cause girl you’re amazing. Just the way you are.”

In that moment it came to me – I finally believed it. I am amazing. Not because someone loves me so much. Not because I’m beautiful and my hair is perfect. Not because my laugh is sexy, but because I’m me.

I’m amazing. Just the way I am. 

This is one of those life-changing revelations. I’ve been hearing Molly say this for months – on the Fierce Love recordings, the Holiday Council recordings and several other videos I’ve watched. She always says some version of “You aren’t broken. Nothing is wrong with you. You are enough.”

Each time it moves me {usually to tears}. It’s like she’s speaking right to my soul. I’ve tried like hell to believe it. I’ve hoped and prayed that it would sink in. It just hadn’t yet.

But today it did. I stood there in the shower, crying and smiling and dreaming about all the ways I could make this amazing light I have inside of me shine out into the world.

Much like the women in Danielle’s video, I have these cravings for my life.  When I imagine my ideal life or my ideal self – I want to be self-assured. Comfortable in my own skin.

I want to feel beautiful and feminine and sexy no matter what my pant size is or whether I straightened my hair or put on mascara.

I want to delight in the little things. I want to be present in the moments of my life. Connect deeply with my friends and family and truly enjoy the few precious moments we all have on this earth.

I want to feel vibrant and alive and like a life force that can’t be extinguished.

I want to feel powerful. Competent. Courageous. Like I can do anything I want to do.

I want to be spiritual – and not the way I grew up. I need fresh spirituality. A kind that fits into my life and the person that I am now.

I want to take adventures. Stand at the foot of mountains and marvel at the beauty and the massive size of them. I want to experience things that are bigger than myself.

I want to visit places, partake in experiences, engage in spiritual practices that make me realize I’m but a small part of the greater world around me. I want to appreciate the beauty and complexity of the world.

I want to be inspired and then inspire others.

I want to be a force for good. For health. For balance. 

I want to help my daughter grow into a confident, passionate woman who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to go after it. The best chance she has at living that life is if I model it for her.

So that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

Image via: derekskey

Well my “ah ha” moment has come and gone. My life hasn’t suddenly turned into a magical wonderland, and I’m still feeling lost much of the time.

I take some comfort in the fact that I have a general idea of where I’m headed because that is way more than I had when I started this journey.

But I want more.

I’m facing some major changes in my life and I don’t like feeling this uncertain.

I wish I was the kind of person who didn’t fear change. I wish I didn’t have a massive fear of failure. I wish I was at the point where I trusted myself enough to make the right decisions. I’m really trying to be that person, I’m just not there yet.

I’m terrified that I’m going to make the wrong decision. I’ve already wasted time and money pursuing a career that turned out to be wrong for me. Then I did it again. What if I’m destined to be the girl who constantly changes her mind? What if I change my whole life to pursue yet another goal and then discover I got it wrong – again? I’m not sure how I would even handle that.

On one hand, I feel like I know myself better now than I ever have. I’m more in touch with my desires, my hopes and dreams, my strengths and even my weaknesses. But what if I’m wrong? What if I’m just so desperate to find myself that I’m inflating my interests into passions?

All of these questions have been rattling around in my head since my public declaration a few weeks ago. I’ve been trying to work through them, but I just haven’t reconciled all of it yet.

What I have done is explore a few options that could lead me to a career with a wellness focus. I applied to a graduate program in kinesiology, and was accepted for the Spring semester. I’ve researched a couple of certificates that I could obtain if I decide that graduate school isn’t my best option.

If I do decide to pursue another degree, there are still some hurdles to jump over. While the program is a great fit for my goals, isn’t exactly perfect for my life. My previous program was completely online so it was easy to fit into my schedule.

The new program would require me to attend class a couple of nights a week – and the campus is a little over an hour from my house. As much as I like the program, that is a big deal {and potentially a deal-breaker} for me.

I don’t mind driving to the campus, but it is far more complicated when I have a little person at home. I don’t know how she would cope with me being gone a couple of nights a week. Also, I don’t want to continue to work on the weekends and miss even more time with her so I’d have to find a part-time job during daytime hours that would work around my school schedule.

There are just so many details that need to be worked out that it starts to feel a little overwhelming. Somehow my “ah ha” moment has turned into a continual spiral of questions that I can’t seem to get a handle on.

The further I delve into my psyche, the looser my grasp on that ever elusive balance is. Instead of clarity I have confusion and fear.

I know I can’t let fear rule my life. At some point I have to choose to jump into the unknown or remain in the same stagnant place I’ve been. I’m trying hard to work up the courage to jump because I really don’t want to be in the same place when November 2013 rolls around.

Image via: Flickr

I have some great news. Like life-changing news. I’m kind of surprised and giddy – and definitely ecstatic as I’m writing this.

You know how we’ve all been searching for purpose – spending our time journaling, blogging, reading and thinking about these big transitions in our lives?

Some of us have put it into words and others have just implied it, but we’re all searching for an “ah-ha” moment – the kind where we see a light shining through the fog of uncertainty. Where choirs of angels sing hallelujah and we suddenly have a whole life plan planted in our brains by some divine intervention.

Well that may be a tad dramatic, but hey if you didn’t already know this about me – I kind of have a flair for the dramatic. {Don’t judge me!}

Anywho, I’ve very recently had one of those coveted “ah-ha” moments. And now that I’m past it, I can’t even believe I didn’t see this sooner.

I’m not sure I would have gotten here if it weren’t for doing all the wrong things leading up to it. So now I can celebrate those things instead of regretting mistakes and missteps in my path thus far. I can’t tell you what that does for my sanity.

I feel lighter. I feel happier. I feel a little less lost in the big world with no idea where to go.

I’d been feeling like I was on the verge of this since I’d started blogging here at Stratejoy – I even told Molly so when we were discussing Elevate. It was so close I could almost taste it, but then it simultaneously seemed like I was never going to get there.

And then I did. And no choirs sang or lights shone. No secret life plan magically appeared. But with this clarity came peace.

Leading up to this, I’d spent a ton of time thinking about things that make me light up. The things I really enjoy doing that I could possibly turn into a career. It ended up being a decent sized list, but many of them aren’t things I actually want to pursue for one reason or another.

Next I made a list of the things I want out of life – I know I want to travel, have flexible work hours, possibly work for myself at some point, and I want to feel like I’m helping others. I want to empower someone else to improve their own life, especially women and young girls.

I feel really strongly about this particular demographic because I grew up with low self-esteem. I know what it feels like to feel bad about yourself, how hard it is to change when you don’t have a positive female role model who you really relate to.

Even into adulthood I’ve struggled with knowing who I am, what I want and how to love myself even when I don’t know the answers to these things.

I’ve longed to be a woman who felt she belonged in the world and had some positive contribution to the world. I want to change lives – and not because I want some glory or admiration for myself. This isn’t about me.

I want to show young girls and other women that their lives matter. That being comfortable in their own skin and taking good care of themselves is far better than chasing the latest trend and trying to be someone else.

I want to be a model of a woman who loves herself, who finds joy in ordinary places, who celebrates her individuality – and I want to pay it forward.

So what exactly was this “ah-ha” moment, you ask? Because I know I’ve been leading you on a little bit. And that is somewhat intentional and somewhat not. I’m not holding back for dramatic effect, but rather I’m indulging my natural tendency for storytelling.

I never realized this about myself until I was writing on a fairly regular basis. I’m not usually someone who can write informally and just pour out my thoughts. I’m a storyteller. I can see it when I look back over my posts thus far on Stratejoy, and on my personal blog. So this post will be no different.

I remember being in nursing school and absolutely hating it. I am completely enthralled with the human body and all that it is capable of. I could read for hours about the intricacies of each system and how they are all so interconnected. The problem, for me, arises when the focus turns to treating disease in the human body.

After I finished my bachelor’s in nursing, I thought that public health would be a good fit for me. It was less focused on the patient lying in the bed and more on the population as a whole. Public health focuses on preventing disease or restoring health after disease, but again it is on a broad scale – focusing on improving the health of the population.

This was better than nursing for me, but it still didn’t feel quite right.

After all this soul searching, talking to close friends, sharing with all of you and journaling my little rear end off – it clicked.

I’m passionate about wellness. I want to help individuals prevent diseases caused by poor diet, lack of exercise and high stress levels. I want to help young girls make health a priority and develop habits that will carry into adulthood.

I’m never more impassioned that when I’m discussing my latest workout regimen, sharing how to eat a cleaner diet, or thinking up ways to alleviate stress.

I haven’t settled on a specific job yet, but I have a ton of ideas.

Maybe I’ll work in corporate wellness – designing programs to encourage wellness behaviors and working with individual employees to achieve them. Maybe I’ll open my own gym or wellness center in the future. Maybe I’ll start a running group in my city. Maybe I’ll found a non-profit that focuses on the health of younger girls and gets them moving.

Who knows. But I’m excited to explore all these options, set some goals and get started.

Cue the angels, please!

Image via: Flickr

Oprah made me cry.

Actually, it was Iyanla Vanzant who made me cry, but it was on an episode of Oprah’s Lifeclass. Close enough, right? I don’t even remember what they were talking about, to be honest with you. I was just half-watching while I contemplated my homework for Fierce Love. And then this completely grabbed my attention:

“Everything that happens to you is a reflection of what you believe about yourself. We cannot outperform our level of self-esteem. We cannot draw to ourselves more than we think we are worth.”  – Iyanla Vanzant

Cue the Wile E. Coyote anvil-drop-on-head moment. I think I may have actually stopped breathing for a few seconds.

That moment forced me to acknowledge what I’ve known in my gut, but have been trying to ignore for a few weeks now–because change is HARD, damn it–

I don’t believe in myself. Something in me seems to be convinced that I don’t know how to do anything other than survive the day-to-day.

I haven’t given myself permission to be great.

I haven’t given myself permission to be joyful. (Not happy. Joyful.)

I haven’t given myself permission to be passionate.

Really, in the 28 years I’ve been on the planet, I haven’t given myself permission to be anything other than awake and alert. And in doing so, I’ve created a world where I’m unhappy. A world where I’m stuck because I’m afraid to reach for anything else.

My dad always says that I’ve been an adult since I was 5 years old. He might be more right than he knows.

I’ve never been a big fan of showing emotion beyond the public “I’m OK” face. Hell, I’m not even a big fan of feeling emotions, which is probably why it’s so difficult for me to just sit in them and not box them up for future un-analysis. Feelings, especially the ones that have come from the upending of my life, always seem to grab me by the throat and hold on for dear life, leaving me feeling frazzled and out of control. And I love me some control.

I can hear all of you shouting at your monitors. Just let go, Erin. Let it out, for God’s sake.

I can’t let go.

I’m afraid to let go.

I’m afraid that I will fall and there will be no one to catch me.

Realistically, I know that if I believed in myself more, I could start to turn into that joyful, woo-woo, dreams-fulfilled girl I have lodged into the back of my brain. (You heard me. Woo-woo.) I have to create space for that to happen, which means I need to unload this baggage. Hopefully without burying myself under an avalanche of emotional suitcases.

“We have to know what it is gonna cost you to become the truth of who you are. Because it’s gonna cost you.” – Iyanla Vanzant

For me, right now, the cost is pain. Fear. Uncertainty.

We’ll see how much I’m willing to pay.

Suitcase photo credit: Gideon

I was so excited to be chosen for Season 7 here at Stratejoy. I was surprised and could barely form a coherent sentence when Molly called me because I was so giddy.

As soon as I got the email with information about our first few posts, I got to work. I was excited to be writing, and had so many ideas and thoughts pouring out of me. Sometimes more ideas than I could fit into 500-1000 words.

As luck would have it, the universe decided to throw me a curveball after I wrote my third post. I’d just outlined my focus for the next few months and I was ready to get started on the things I’d challenged myself to do.

Then my sweet little boxer, Emma, got sick. Really sick. I’ve been dreading the day for many years because I knew it would be overwhelmingly painful for me. She has been my companion for eight precious years. But I couldn’t let her suffer so I sent her off to doggie heaven {as I told the little person}.

Naturally I was very emotional for the next few days. I didn’t venture out of the house. I ignored everyone’s calls and just let myself be sad.

I went to work that weekend and tried to get on with life. In the back of my mind, I was starting to get nervous. I’d been avoiding journaling because I wasn’t ready to write the story yet. I was avoiding writing my next post because everything I could come up with seemed trivial and uninspired. I was getting behind on my posts and it was stressing me out.

I started my usual spiral of negative self-talk. I told myself that I was going to fail at this. That I said all I have to say in the first few posts. That I was fooling myself by thinking I could write anything of value.

Sometimes it’s really ugly in my head. I don’t know how any of us can get to the point where we treat ourselves so horribly. I would never talk to one of my friends the way I talk to myself. Yet I continue to treat myself this way.

As the days slipped by and I still couldn’t write anything, I turned to my journal for inspriation. Maybe I’d find something in there that I could expand on. I reread a few entries and stumbled on one talking about my inner critic.

And there was Molly’s voice in my head telling me not to blindly believe the critic. To voice the bad thoughts so I would understand they aren’t the truth – and then move forward with the actual truth.

The truth is my inner critic was twisting my fears into factual statements. I am afraid to fail at this, but I don’t believe I have yet. I believe I’ll continue to rise to the challenge. I believe continuing to learn and grow is the purpose of blogging here – and I’m doing just that. One baby step at a time.

I watched a video recently of the lovely Nicole Antoinette speaking at WDS 2012. Her overall topic was running, but she discussed how big sexy goals are accomplished one tiny unsexy step at a time. {Obviously this applies to areas outside of running, as well}. Talk about the perfect time to stumble upon the video!

I didn’t take any giant leaps this week on my journey, but I did take one tiny unsexy step. I was able to recognize the negativity running rampant in my head and stop the cycle.

I know, life isn’t always going to go perfectly. In fact, it will likely be filled with many unexpected challenges. My hope is that I can get to a point where those challenges don’t set off a negative mental spiral. A point where I can treat myself with the love and forgiveness that I would show to others.

I definitely have a ways to go before I accomplish that goal, but I plan to continue on with all the baby steps. One foot in front of the other until one day I realize I’m living the life I’ve been striving for.

Photo credit: ME


The best part about temporarily living in another country is that I’m surrounded by only the most essential elements– my husband, my computer, a camera, a few art supplies and an eighth of my wardrobe. (While they are essential, my cat and pillow-top mattress had to stay behind. Trying to fit either of those in the plane’s overhead bins would probably be frowned upon.) There’s a strong sense of stillness, simplicity, and space– both physical and emotional– that brings my attention to what’s important.

The downside to this is that I have nowhere to hide from myself, from the parts of me that I try to push down, that I don’t want to deal with. Back home, I’m pretty sure that 90% of my waking hours are occupied with some sort of distraction, be it real life stuff like work, mortgages, and errands, or the important stuff like time with family and friends and my many hobbies.

But, as Brene Brown recently tweeted, “It’s so easy to buy into the idea that if we stay busy enough the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us.”

In the mostly distraction-free environment of my temporary home, I have no choice but to face some of the harder challenges and thought patterns that have plagued me for ages. I’ve always been the self-aware, hyper-reflective type, but somehow, being in a place that’s a little less familiar and less comfortable has made me give pause to these voices and determine whether they are welcome visitors or not.

This is simultaneously awesome and awful. On the awesome side, thoughts become less scary once you shine a light on their shadowy side. This is the case for most of my insecurities, from my unease around bar culture to traveling outside my comfort zone. They are much less of a big deal in reality than they are in my mind– something so obvious, but a necessary lesson I must continuously learn.

On the awful side, there is the incessant questioning– not (usually) in a self-doubt/inner-critic kind of way that I used to be oh so good at, but in a way that poses, “This is who I am; are the choices I’m making ACTUALLY reflecting my values and the vision I hold for my life?”

… On second thought, this question itself could theoretically go in the Awesome category because it comes from a place of inner strength and fierce love. What’s challenging is the uncomfortable feelings arising from the discovery that you’re not living in alignment with your values. Or seeing how you aren’t moving towards some of the goals you had previously set for yourself. And what do you do when you discover that the something you had thought you wanted no longer rings true?

Take my Etsy shop as an example, something I had planned and started to build before coming to Ireland. I even declared it one of my Stratejoy goals to work on my graphic design and photography skills in order to build my shop. With the twelve hours of quiet time I have during the day while my husband is at work, you’d think I’d be able to get around to creating more invitation designs and increasing my product offerings, even with all the other projects I’m working on. Yet, except for a handful of hours, I’ve continuously put it off.

Enter the incessant questions: I ask myself if having an Etsy shop is something I really want to do. I ask if it reflects my values. I ask if I want to develop an identity or career as an invitation designer, or a designer in general, through Etsy or otherwise. The answer I get is no– at least not long-term.

Invitation design is not a passion pursuit for me; I don’t feel like I’m being of true service to others and I don’t find the anonymity of Etsy inquiries/transactions to be particularly enjoyable. I do not want to turn my personal blog and online presence into a promotional vehicle for marketing myself (which is a surprising revelation, as I always thought I wanted to establish a legit online business). I truly love and appreciate good design, but worrying about the space between letters and print specifications myself kind of makes me crazy in practice. I’ve worked in the advertising industry and in marketing positions and have no intention of returning. So I’m left asking why I’m bothering with this path at all.

The answer to why I’m bothering (with this or with some of the other goals that I hold onto but don’t really work towards), is that I’m afraid of having nothing if I let it go. Being a designer is the only semblance of a professional identity that I have left, especially during this time when I’m on this sort of sabbatical away from home and life as I know it. What’s left at my core without the labels I formerly or currently identify myself with?

*Sigh.* More questions. But I trudge along, picking up my internal flashlight and shining a light on those places where fear is still hiding. What is left at my core? Well, I know I’ll always be me, without any specific labels. I’ll always have my values to lead me.  Then I’ll get quiet and continue to listen for the whispers of my heart.

{Image via creatocrat}

I’m going to reveal my quinoa-eating, kombucha-drinking, yoga-breathing inner hippie and talk about manifesting today. Break out the incense, people.

Fifty percent of me is actually a healthy skeptic. I mean, wishing things into existence? Really? If it were as simple as that, where’s my winning lottery ticket or someone offering me a job as a professional puppy cuddler, complete with a six-figure salary and mandatory afternoon naptime? There’s gotta be more to creating the life we imagine than merely thinking happy thoughts and having them appear like I Dream of Jeannie— likely involving at least a few buckets of blood, sweat and tears.

But the other fifty percent of me has experienced quite a few situations– many of them quite recently– that make me unable to fully brush off manifesting as new age bullcrap.

1. In early January, I collaged a new vision board for 2012. I spent an evening tearing through magazines for words and images, trying to evoke the feelings I’d like to make central in my life over the next several months. For me, vision boards had never been about the manifestation of specific things, but rather a visual reminder to keep my goals and values central to my everyday life.

In one corner of the poster board I placed the cover of a creative arts magazine as a reminder to keep creating and experimenting… and, yes, part of me hoped to be published in said magazine someday.

Less than 48 hours after finishing my vision board, I received a message from the managing editor of that very magazine asking me to submit my artwork for publishing consideration after she’d seen some of my work online. I had only a few days to pull together the materials for submission, but I did it, and the editor ended up asking me to write an article for the magazine. The issue will be out this summer (yay!).

My inner manifestation skeptic gave this scenario the side-eye while wrinkling up her nose. Well, that’s quite a coincidence, she thought. Pretty AWESOME, but still, just a coincidence.

2. Also in January, I made a list of a few main goals I wanted to achieve in each of my nine “slices of life” areas. In the “Adventure” category, my number one goal was to take an international trip or an extensive road trip across the USA.

Later that month, my husband’s employer discussed the possibility of needing an engineer for a project in Ireland. Two weeks later, Mark was on a plane overseas and I followed shortly behind him, while all of our arrangements were taken care of by the company. Today, we are squeezing in amazing weekend trips around Ireland and to Scotland, with some travel planned after Mark’s work assignment ends.

The manifestation skeptic slowly unfurled her brow and tried to mask the curiosity building in her eyes.

3. Most recently– after sitting with the overwhelm I expressed in a previous Stratejoy post– I decided to finish up the final week of Stratejoy’s Create Your Magical Year program (yes, it’s now May. Is it obvious I’m a procrastinator?). I figured it would do me some good to clarify my goals for each of my various interest areas, since I clearly have too much going on. One of my revised goals for my “Creativity” slice of life was to sell a photography print or piece of artwork.

The morning immediately after I scribbled my artsy goals on my Magical Year worksheets, a lovely Twitter/blog friend contacted me randomly about buying a print of some of my artwork she’d seen in a picture on Instagram.

The manifestation skeptic couldn’t help but crack a little smile.

If these aren’t examples of manifesting, I don’t know what is. So how does the practical, over-thinking doubter find resolution with my flowy, hippie side to make sense of this all?

I’ve considered these situations from a variety of angles and I’ve determined that positive thinking is only part of the equation when it comes to manifesting.

I think that getting clear about my goals and values helped me recognize what kind of opportunities I wanted to arise. When I’ve been vague, overwhelmed, and confused mentally (such as during my period of bad jobs), I find the situations that arise for me are equally confusing. Every time I’ve gotten clear and specific, I’ve moved towards my goals or been presented with opportunities that align with them. And sometimes these moments of clarity happen long before they make sense– long before I ever met Mark, I knew it was important that my partner be an explorer and interested in other cultures. Maybe holding that value was one piece of the puzzle that brought Mark and me to Ireland.

I also practice being in a mindset of gratitude. I am incredibly grateful for the abundance in my life, the people that love me, and the opportunities I’m given– and I think that helps me continue to be open to experiencing good things (even if I’m not sure whether I’m “attracting” good things, or just teaching myself to be more mindful of what may already be available to me).

I’m working towards cleaning up my own mental junk. For me, this primarily has to do with my self-confidence and showing up authentically. This seems to be an important piece to the manifesting process so we don’t self-sabotage our efforts towards achieving our dreams. Because I’ve been working on authenticity and confidence (albeit slowly), I’ve become more comfortable with putting my work into the world, which allows this extension of me to be seen and opportunities like the magazine article and selling my artwork to arise. I’m learning to trust that when I put myself out there with authentic intentions, I will find my way to the people that matter.

I try not to get attached to the outcome. This is a constant work in progress, but I don’t want to inadvertently miss out on something because I had a different idea of how it would look. (Note to self: This is quite applicable to our fertility journey— our family might end up manifesting in a number of different ways.)

To me, the entire manifesting process is like training yourself to see doors where you may have only seen solid walls before. You don’t always know what’s on the other side of them, but you trust that it’ll be good– you wouldn’t create a home in a bad neighborhood, after all. Recognizing these doors allows you to walk towards them and through them– not to some magical land where puppy cuddling is a real job, but to a place where more and more doors are presented to you that all lead you closer to your dream life.

I don’t think my inner skeptic can argue with the beauty of that.

Have you heard? The Stratejoy Book Club has officially launched!

We’ll be holding our first LIVE chat discussion.  May 21st, 2012. Grab your girlfriends, some drinks, some snacks, and jam with Molly about this month’s book, MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche.

Find out about the book, the live chat discussion, and how to host an event or attend an event right over here on the page with all of the juicy details.

The most riveting and terrifying aspect of my life is that I never know what to expect next.

Six months ago my job with AmeriCorps ended and I transitioned to working with the organization I was with part-time; I began working as a barista at a coffee shop I respected for their sustainable business practices; and I was teaching a class at UCONN on Creative Democracy and Community Building.

Three months ago I become engaged; found out I lost my part-time non-profit job; and finished my super awesome teaching gig at UCONN.

Now, I’m working full time in the coffee business and sitting in limbo-land awaiting my next step.

Apparently I can’t figure out how to manage my time effectively. I tend to have this problem. The time I did best in college was when I was taking seven classes, reading a book for entertainment each week, and working to pay rent. Everything I did fell right into an appropriate time frame because it had to not because I had ample time to accomplish everything. Right now, I’m at the point where I’m paralyzed with all the crap I have to do and I don’t even know where to begin.

In fact, there’s a little recorder that plays over and over in my head each day:

Dear Camila just so you know you have to plan your wedding, take the GREs, start working on your blog, keep in touch with friends, clean your apartment, cook dinner, pay the bills, call your brother, hand wash some clothes…

and the list goes on.

This my friends is where you come in. I’ve found in the past that when I have folks checking in on my progress and holding me accountable then I’m waaaaayyyyy more likely to follow through with my intentions. Or, put in a more eloquent way in the words of my favorite author, Paulo Coelho,

“…when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”

If I pronounce wholeheartedly what I aspire to achieve in these next five months, work just as fervently to accomplish them, and have the support of other lovely ladies, then I’m confident that they will become tangible and not just meandering thoughts.

That being said, here’s what I’m pronouncing as my foci for the next five months:

1) Writing

I have always loved twisting words together to create poetry and stories. The first poem I ever wrote was about an owl. I have it somewhere, the little words typed up on a typewriter and cut out into a bizarre shape. Being that the only time I had frequent access to typewriters was when I was at the American School for the Deaf, I probably wrote the poem in Kindergarten. At age nine I wrote songs with my brother and friend Mia. Some of them were ridiculous “Lanza lanza in your panza, footsie wootsie in your tootsie” while others were a little better “I must go away from my land, go and march with that awful band. They’re mean and cruel and awful here, please oh please help me dear.” As of late though, I have not been that great about keeping up with my writing. No, I’ve been neglecting a craft I love. Writing on Stratejoy will certainly help me, but in the next five months I would also like to

a) start writing on my blog again at least once a week


b) draft poems for a poetry book. The theme of “loteria” a.k.a. Mexican Bingo has always fascinated me and I find the images that are a part of the game intriguing and beautiful.  This would be the premise for the book I would like to create.

2) Organization

People make two frequent assumptions about me. One is that I’m quiet (this assumption is true until I get to know you), the other is that I am an organized neat-freak. Ha, HAHAHAH, Ha ha. Lies. I’m incredibly messy which drives my family and fiance mad. I leave remnants of my existence wherever I go (don’t worry, I’m not like this in the homes of strangers). I am however somewhat organized in my chaos. I have lists of books I want to read on a Google Doc. I have specific notebooks for specific purposes. I like to wash dishes. However, I still suck at paying bills. I don’t always know where I keep my keys, and I often “wing it” without knowing the details of how I’m going to get things done. This has resulted in spending the night at Starbucks/Union Station; having nightmares that my wedding is next week and I’ve done barely any planning; and having my internet and phone disconnected. As such, here’s what I’ve got in mind:

a) create a financial plan. I would like to know when I need to pay what bills, how much I’m making and figure out how I’m going to make it through  the summer with a limited budget.

b) create an educational plan. In 2013 I yearn to go back to graduate school as well as become trained as a doula/midwife. I’ve been out of school way too long for my liking. I want to look up graduate schools in the Northwest, programs for doulas/midwives, and prepare to take the GREs..

c) plan and execute a phenomenal wedding: I need the nightmares to cease. I need to get a handle on this wedding since it is in less than five months and I don’t even have a wedding dress yet. Ahhhhhhhhhhh. Even thinking about it makes me nervous. I love planning and I’m incredibly excited for Geoffrey and I to marry, I just feel like I’m so far behind.

There you have it, just small components of my infinite dreams that never cease to expand and fluctuate. I set them forth into the world and ask for you to conspire with me to fulfill these little puzzle pieces of life that I have trouble fitting together and bringing into reality. Now it’s time to let the progress begin.

I can’t believe that it’s been over a year since I wrote my last post for Stratejoy. It feels like a lifetime has passed. Baby number 3 came and now he’s crawling. The little girl now has ponytails, not just curly puffs that sit on top of her head. The oldest, well his outstretched arms reach the tops of my shoulders.

I too have grown. Pushed past edges. Actually practiced some radical self love and wow! what a difference. It wouldn’t have been possible without Stratejoy. There is so much that I want to say, but it came out in a poem. Go figure.

And so Molly, Katie, the girls from Season 3, the ones before me, the ones after me, and you–the Stratejoy community–this is for you.


I want tell you how vibrant I feel.
That I bought shirts in purple and teal.
That my husband says that my eyes are bright again.
That there is a new glow to my skin.

Thank you.

I want to tell you how much more connected I am.
That I made new friends, joined new groups, tilled new land.
That my feet feel firmly planted.

Thank you.

I want to tell you how much louder I am.
That I went from a whisper to a soft roar.
(That I expect to be at a full roar soon.)
That I love my voice.

Thank you.

I want to tell you that for the first time, in a really long time, I am happy to be a mother.
That I understand that these seasons in life are constantly changing.
That I forgave myself.
That I learned how to breathe through it all.

Thank you.

I want to tell you “thank you”
For believing in me,
For giving me your ears,
For giving my your eyes, and
For giving me your hearts.

Thank you.


*photo courtesy of artnoose



Season Two bloggers back in the house. Heather Rae is catching us up on what has happened in her world over the last year. Hey, are you a Stratejoy Alum from Season 1-3? Wanna give the Tribe an update? We’d love to hear how you’re doing! E-mail katie (at) stratejoy (dot) com and we’ll hook you up with a guest post spot over the next week!

Heather Rae in AsiaIt seems ten years have passed since I last wrote for Stratejoy.  Yet, it was just last year.  Why?  Because ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING has changed.


Had I known then the journey ahead, I probably would have crouched in a corner, head in hands, screaming and rocking.  Sometimes it’s good we don’t know what’s in store.

When last we spoke, I had just moved to Seattle.  I was settling into life with my fiance in a new city, making new friends.  And then.  Well, I’ll be honest.  Then everything fell apart.

My seemingly perfect relationship ended a few months after moving.  I found myself without a job, my ego bruised, my bank account near empty.  I decided it was best to pack my car and drive home to Las Vegas.  I lived with my brother (and if you know anything about my brother and I, that was a feat in itself) and searched for a job — any job.  I was terrified.  I had visions of crying outside in the rain on my friends’ doorsteps, begging for food.

Of course, that never transpired.  My job search became a full-time endeavor.  I literally sat myself in the office eight hours a day, revising and submitting my resume.  It paid off.  I got a few offers.  Ultimately, I accepted a part-time teaching gig at a private high school and a part-time job with a local hospital.

Once my basic needs were under control, I started thinking again about what I really wanted.  I still wanted to write (remember that novel I was working on?).  But I also knew I needed to make a living.  Seeing as how I no longer had another person to consider, I decided to dream big.  If nothing could stop me, what would I do?  I would return to school.  I would join the Peace Corps.  I would travel.  I would write.  I would dance.  I would hike.  I would make art.

Okay.  So not that much changed.  I sort of already knew these things.  I figured, what the hell, why not try for everything?  I applied to the Peace Corps.  I applied to graduate school.  And I kept up with the other things I love so much — hiking, writing, dancing, etc.  Here’s one scenario I didn’t imagine: getting accepted to both places.

But that’s what happened.  I got my acceptance letter from the School Psychology program at UNLV, and then the acceptance from the Peace Corps arrived.  First, I jumped and giggled.  Second, I stressed.  Which should I choose?  I didn’t know.  So I’ll tell you what I did.  I accepted both.  Yes, I know that wasn’t very nice.  Because one would be expecting me, and I wouldn’t follow through.  But I just couldn’t choose.  Not then anyhow.

And before I knew it, an entirely different possibility opened up.  I was offered a full-time position at that school I worked at.  It was a good offer.  Plus, let’s be honest, a friend in Thailand had called me up and said I should visit over the summer.  If I accepted the job, I would be free to run off for a summer-vacay without feeling guilty.

I quit the job at the hospital, accepted the offer with the school and ran to Southeast Asia about as fast as I possibly could.  I had no plan and no idea what to expect.  I barely had time to throw the guidebook in my backpack.  I just went without thinking.  And let me tell you — it was the best thing I have ever done for myself.

My adventures took me through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.  I got lost in jungles, marooned on deserted beaches, biked through ancient ruins and attacked by monkeys.  It was amazing.  Every.  Single.  Second.  Even the bad stuff was phenomenal.  Of course, I also fell head over heals for a close friend and got my heart broken.  But what’s a good Thailand story without a little heartbreak?

On top of everything, I gained a little clarity.  I signed up for grad school and said no to the Peace Corps.

Two months later, my return to the states was bittersweet.  Honestly, I wasn’t quite ready.  I could have carried on with my travels for months and months.  But I had a job to return to, and most importantly, I had classes to start.

And that brings me to today.  Today was my first day back at work.  I spent the day cleaning my biology lab (can you believe I’m a biology teacher?  I can’t.) and gushing over my trip.  Next Monday, I start classes to become a school psychologist — a career that will allow me a fair amount of enjoyment, decent pay and phenomenal hours.  That’s the kicker, really.  Because I want every summer off to chase my dreams and travel.  I want winter breaks to work on writing and spring breaks to attend yoga retreats.  And when it comes to paying the bills, I can think of nothing better than to help students succeed.  Yep, I think it’s going to be a win-win.


The path ahead is not going to be easy.  I’ve likely over-booked myself.  I’ve got full-time work and full-time school.  And it’s quite possible I’ll lose my mind.  But for right now, I’m exactly where I should be.  I’m wallowing in heartache, scared to teach science and getting butterflies (the good kind) about returning to school.  And I’m thankful for every moment.  You see, that’s the thing about life – it’s perfectly imperfect.

Somehow over the last six months, I learned to connect the dots.  Somewhere between the Czech Republic and Australia, I learned to fix the broken pieces and repair the damage.

It’s hard to believe that this is the last time I will write for Stratejoy.  What an incredible journey its been.

Six Months Ago…

I was broken, damaged, depressed, and spiraling into a scary black hole.  I had just lost my comfortable Corporate job and didn’t know what the next step was because no one prepared me for a devastating job loss.  I decided that the only way I could save myself from an unhappy lifestyle was to leave it.  So I packed my bags, said goodbye to friends and family, and moved to Prague to get certified to teach English as a second language.

There, I met 23 wonderful people from all over the world and discovered a new passion for education and for life.  I struggled with language barriers, culture shock, and the stress of lesson planning, but I created some priceless memories in Prague that outweigh any negative feelings of the experience.

Of course, little did I know that that certificate would open so many doors for me and lead me on a journey of a lifetime.


I’m living in a 4-bedroom flat in Sydney, Australia that I share with three other men.  I’m teaching private lessons and taking on more freelance writing projects.  I’ve created a good friend-base in Sydney, connected with a blogger from back home who has been living here for over a year, and reconnected with some friends from America whom I haven’t seen in a few years.

I went sky diving, discovered forgiveness, and uncovered loneliness in the Land Down Under.  I learned to cover the scars and open wounds with new adventures and experiences full of love, passion, and gratitude.  I gained confidence in traveling solo.  I shattered comfort zones and crossed boundaries.  I struggled with language barriers and culture shock.  But most importantly, I found happiness in Australia.

What’s Next…

I’m going bungee jumping in New Zealand in a few weeks and celebrating my 28th birthday in September in my new home with my new friends (and some old ones).  I’m going to Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef and this summer (or winter for all of you folk in America), I’m going to learn how to surf.

I’m planning trips to South Africa and South America in 2012 and I added “build a language school in Africa” to my life list.

I’m taking life by the balls and running with it.  Wherever it takes me and whatever it throws at me, I’m going to face it all with courage and grace.  I’m going to open my heart up to extraordinary possibilities and never look back. 

Some Advice:

Life doesn’t always turn out the way we want it to, but that’s no reason to stop living for the moment.  I know it’s hard, I know it can become overwhelming, depressing, and stagnant at times, but you have to keep pushing through it, figure out what you want to do with your life, and then go do it.

I won’t lie, it’s fucking scary as hell to leave everything you know and start over, but it’s even scarier to know that you never tried to make a change, chase your dream, quit your job, or travel the world.  Stop settling for a mediocre life.  Stop making excuses.  Stop complaining about not being able to do certain things with your life.  You can do whatever you want, but you have to have the will to try.

Start living with passion and intention.  Start making a list of all of the things you want to do with your life and then go do them. Tomorrow is promised to no one.  We only have today and we only have one life to be happy, live passionately, and smile intently.  So, go out there and live your best life.

Thank you to all of my readers for supporting me through this amazing experience.  Thank you to my Season 4 Sisters for letting me share this experience with you.  Thank you to Katie for all of the brainstorming g-chat sessions and ‘behind the scenes’ stuff that you do for Stratejoy.  Thank you to Molly for creating Stratejoy, letting me be a part of Season 4, and empowering women to fight the QLC and take control of their lives.

Sending you all mad love from the wonderful world of Oz!


Road trips with my parents have always been a highlight of my life, believe it or not. When I was little, my mom would drive our old Chevy Corsica and my dad would read us snippets of The Lord of the Rings. As we got older and the road trips got more infrequent, the time spent with my parents was relegated to whenever I had time to get back to my hometown (usually once a month or once every two months).

I have the best conversations with my dad when we get on the road. He tells me about his childhood (reminiscent and melancholic), about what he was like as a teenager, about what my mom was like when they were younger (they’ve been together since high school), and waxes poetic on the meandering madness of the universe in general.

We’ve talked at length about his conflicting ideologies — logic is King, yet the Universe is wise. During this particular trip (wherein my parents saved me from the arduous and lengthy Greyhound trip back to Vancouver), my dad and I talked about heeding the warnings on the universe.

When the universe gives you a big signal that you’re making a mistake, you do well to heed its warning. It only comes once. If you choose not to heed it, you’re going to be in for a world of hurt.

My Dad

Warnings and gifts seem to appear right when we least expect them to. It’s easy to misinterpret them as benign or unintrusive or devoid of meaning. Upon closer inspection (and introspection), these signals take on a different life. They have the potential to provide deeper meaning or insight into a given situation.

My first big warning from the universe was when I lost my job as a programmer. Strange as it was, it was easy to follow orders (and shove down my inner monologue) and do what I was told. There was no creative control. There was very little risk. It was comfortable. I could’ve continued my vocation, even though I was miserable. If I had just quit my job, I could’ve returned to being a programmer at any time. Maybe I would have.

But I heeded the universe. Through my very heartbreaking termination, it had warned me that I was heading in the wrong direction with my life.

The second big warning came just after my wedding. My relationship with Mike was, at best, strained. We struggled to keep up with our bills — financial solvency was a ways off, yet — and our communication was completely broken. We barely saw one another for a good four months while I whittled away at a degree that was ultimately doomed to failure. In 2009, Mike had decided that he was sick and tired of his current vocation as a programmer and wanted to become a police officer.

I was left reeling. Our relationship became even more strained (I didn’t think that was possible) and I struggled to keep it together while I felt like everything was falling apart. When the universe presented an opportunity (a gift, really) to go back to my hometown to figure it all out in peace, I took it. I spent four months piecing together what was wrong and struggled to find ways to repair the damage that had been done.

Our relationship wasn’t irreparable, even though at times it appeared to be. I was determined to make it work. I knew that a life without Mike wasn’t something I was prepared to indulge. So I fought for us. He fought for us. We slowly improved our communication, our sex life, and our financial situation. By the time my Autumnal Faceplant of 2010 came around, we were happy and at ease.

If not for the universe providing me an opportunity for growth — if I had stayed in Vancouver and muscled my way through my tumultuous feelings and damaged relationship full time — I might not be with Mike today. I certainly wouldn’t be expecting a baby in a month and a half. And I sure as shit wouldn’t be running a biznez.

Logically, I would’ve been able to figure all of these various issues out given enough time and energy. I might’ve been able to suffer through being a programmer for another couple of years while I figured out what I wanted to do, providing an extra paycheque during some particularly difficult financial situations. My relationship with Mike might’ve been okay had we gone through therapy together and employed another person’s insights into our issues (I’m a firm believer in the power of therapy, baby).

In actuality, I’m grateful for the universe looking out for me. I’ve known plenty of people that have been given the same opportunities and the same sorts of warnings but have failed to heed them over and over again.

The universe will only make its intentions known once, if you’re lucky. In my experience, it’s best to keep yourself open to possibility and try to learn from as many situations as you can. You never know when it all might come together and shine big and bright on your star.

Image found via Image Spark.

Let’s rewind about six months, to last summer. Here’s what my life looked like:

I was working too much. At my own business, which was a bonus, but still with a strive-achieve-produce mindset. I was going to yoga and loved how hard it was, but hadn’t yet begun to settle in to it. I was carrying 10 extra pounds that I hadn’t yet accepted and was cranky with the slow, hateful process of chasing a former, more fit version of me. I was discovering my passion for entrepreneurship and it was making me extremely restless. I wanted many projects, many businesses, many successes and I wanted them RIGHT NOW.

I was swirling with a desire to move forward, yet was held back by a longing to slow down.

That dichotomy – that feeling of being torn and not knowing which option you truly want – is why I’m here, sharing with all of you. Because I know I’m not the only one who battles with producing vs. creating, with pushing vs. being. I know I’m not the only one who doesn’t know how to balance achievement and peace, but really wants to figure it out.

The truth about my life six months ago is that it was an optical illusion.

It was drastically improved over the six months prior, when I was slaving away for a boss I didn’t respect, in an environment that constricted me, with no energy or patience left for myself or my loved ones. Compared to that, things looked good. Great, even. But when I looked past the illusion and called its bluff, I saw that I was still nowhere near being fulfilled.

I was nowhere near living authentically.

That realization sucked. It felt like the reveal of a big truth, like being told Santa Clause doesn’t exist. I think offering our unique gifts to the world is what life’s all about. Living my best life is important to me because it’s what I’m meant to do. But it’s not easy and it takes effort, and I just hadn’t been pulling my weight.

So in mid-August, I cracked open Stratejoy’s Gutsy Girl’s Guide to Success and dedicated an entire weekend to workshopping through it with my BFF. The questions it posed were tough, but the answers were invigorating and insightful. They left me with a clear picture of what being me looks like. Especially these ones:

What makes me feel alive?
Momentum | Traveling | Writing | Creating | Exercising | Fresh air | Brainstorming | Lightbulb moments | Kissing | Hugging | New experiences | Sunshine | Deadlines | Learning

What do I have to offer?
Enthusiasm | Intelligence | Solutions | Ideas | A get ‘er done approach | Hope | An ear to listen | Communications smarts | Dedication | Respect | Empathy | Straight-line thinking | Heart | Dot-connecting skills | Vision | Clarity

What do I want my life to stand for?
Success on my own terms | Not doing things just because society says so | Courage to be myself | Kindness | Always being considerate of others | Making a positive and memorable impact on others’ lives | Continuous improvement | Actively participating in close, personal relationships | Momentum

I refer to those answers often, but I haven’t yet completed a plan for how to action them. I’m working on it and hope to share it with you soon. In the meantime, I’m committing to three things. Because I need to start somewhere. I need to leap and just trust that I’m going to land somewhere better.

Within the next six months I will:

1. Run a half marathon. I’ve ran half marathons before, but it’s been a few years. The discipline, commitment and time it takes feels unfamiliar to me now. But I want to remember the joy of running often and the exhilaration of running far. I want to feel my muscles really work. It makes me feel alive. So I’ve registered for a race on May 22nd.

2. Share my story with a group of women in my community. My journey to authenticity is only just beginning, but I’ve already learned a ton about owning up to who you are and are not, getting real about your dreams, creating a values-based business, and becoming passionate about your life. I want to combine those learnings into a compelling story I can present live, in person. I want to take my ability to inspire people to another level.

3. Watch the sunrise and like it. Sounds simple, but it’s not. It’ll require me to be taking care of myself enough that getting up before dawn feels good, not awful. It’ll require me to pause long enough to sit there, watch, and feel the beauty of a new day. That means not checking email or stressing about what I need to that day or rushing off somewhere immediately afterwards. No! I will sit, be, appreciate, and like every second of it.

[Note from Coach Molly: Oh, Laura, you and I are two sides of the same coin!   When your striving grabs hold, you work harder.  Push with bigger effort.  When the striving grabs me, I get overwhelmed and frightened and tend to retreat…  Neither will help us flourish in the ways we desire.  Love, love, love that you are owning up to your tendency and how it is at odds with the life you want to lead.  And I’m super psyched to support you with these three lovely goals, both here on the blog and in Group.]

{Photo credit: My vision board for 2011.}

This week, we all came up with questions for each other; here are my answers:

1.    What do you miss most about being a child?

The freedom of long summer days, running barefoot in the grass, creating universes out of my backyard, jumping and splashing and tumbling and swimming, un-selfconciously, entertaining myself easily and, when the stars came out, collapsing into an unworried sleep in the comforting arms of my mom or dad.  Simple, loved, joyful.

2.   What’s on your bedside table?

A glass of water (always), my phone, a holiday scented candle, a cute tile coaster from a set my cousin bought me, and two books: “The Highly Sensitive Person” and “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” – yes I’m reading both.  Also, sometimes my keys, deoderant & purfume live there for a bit when I’m too lazy to put them away.

3.    When was the last time you were giddy with happiness, lost in one of those can’t-hold-back-a-smile kinda moments?

A cute guy I met sought me out & showed up unexpectedly a week later to ask for my number.  I couldn’t stop smiling for at least an hour.

4.    What are you most looking forward to in the next 6 months? (Besides reading awesome Season IV Bloggers!)

My movie coming out, my new & improved website launching, and whatever awesome adventures come my way this year!

5.       What’s your hell like?

Hell is sitting in creeeeeeeping traffic on the 405 freeway, on a 100+ degree summer day, behind a stinky, brakes-squealing semi, no A/C, no water or food, the only radio stations I get are smooth jazz elevator music and Mexican mariachi bands, I’m dressed up for a big audition, which I’m seriously late for, I’m sweating like a whore in church, my phone’s dead, and I have to pee – bad.   (Anyone else been there?)

6.       What’s your heaven like?

Heaven is waking up to the person I most love in the world, laying in bed laughing for what feels like hours (but no time has passed),  then wandering like a backpacker, with the wonder and in-the-moment awareness I feel most often when traveling, all the while constantly running into people I love & sitting and talking with them over unimaginably good food and drink.  There’s a soundtrack of Jon Brion/Sigur Ros/Animal Collective -inspired-type music, it’s a sunny 80 degrees with no humidity, I’m 20s/30s young in a sundress, and I feel light and happy.

7.    What’s the biggest lesson you’re taking away from the past 6 months with Stratejoy / how has the experience changed you?

I learned that there’s a community of women out there, incredible, strong, intelligent women, who I inspire as much as they inspire me.  It’s given me confidence in my writing & made me feel like I really DO have things to say, and ways of saying them, that are important and relatable and that people besides my parents actually read!

8.    What song lyrics fit your life, right now, at the beginning of this brand new year?

“The dog days are over / the dog days are done”  – Florence and the Machine.  Because things are only getting better from here on out.

9.     If you had a time machine, what place and time would you travel to and why?

Assuming this machine was mine & I could use it as much as I wanted, I would go all over the place – the Original Woodstock, the Old Wild West, 1800s London, ancient Greece; I’d watch Stonehedge and the Pyramids get built.  There are so many times in history I’d love to be a part of, or at least a fly on the wall, to see how life was really lived.

10.  What is something that not a lot of people know about you that you wish more people could know?

Honestly, I’ve been thinking about this for 2 days & can’t think of anything.  I wear my heart on my sleeve, y’all; if I need you to know it, I’ll tell you.  🙂

11. What surprised you the most about 2010?

Getting cast in a movie.  It was completely out of the blue and a-freaking-mazing.  As were all of the big adventures of 2010, and there were lots!

12. What’s the best present you’ve ever received?

This is tough… I guess my last computer (my first Mac & first laptop); not a very exciting answer but the truth.  🙂

13. Dream Job?  Dream Home?  Dream Vacation?

Dream job:  Actor/Writer – steadily acting in interesting films and writing not only articles, but novels.  Making a living creating, but still feeling balanced in every aspect of my life.

Dream home:  A little old craftsman-style bungalow with a thriving garden in a residential area of a city.  It’s within walking distance to a main street with shops & restaurants, in a safe area.  I’ve updated it to use solar energy & be green; it’s small enough to feel cozy but large enough to have lots of parties.  I have a studio in the backyard behind an old tree.  There’s lavender planted in front of most of the windows so on a warm day with windows and doors open, the whole house smells amazing.

Dream vacation:  Around the world.  I want to go everywhere & see everything; it’d be so amazing to travel for a year or two & city, country, continent hop.  If I have to choose one place, for right now, I’ll say Bali/Thailand; I want to expore the jungles & sit on the beach & see monkeys like stray cats everywhere.

14.  Imagine your life was being made into a movie. What would the title be? Who would you pick to play you? What would the theme song be? How about the little trailer blurb for the advertisement?

Voiceover:  “Just when she thought she had it all figured out, life stepped in with a plan of its own…”  Montage set to “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” by Frightened Rabbit:  Nikki Klecha (wait, what? I can’t play myself?  Oh, ok.) Rachel McAdams bored at a desk, hiking a mountain, crying on a plane, laughing with friends, freaking out in anxiety, freaking out in joy, on a film set, grieving, celebrating, unsure, ending with a romantic moment cliffhanger then… fade to black and on the screen:  Learning to Float.

[photo sources: book, Me on the red carpet in ’09, dream house]

I have a really good friend who went through a typical Quarter Life Crisis and yet still maintains the QLC doesn’t exist.  He was in grad school for and making money in his chosen profession when he realized it just wasn’t for him, quit school, quit his job, moved across the country and started over.  He’s now a professional musician and lives one of the most enviable, inspiring lives of anyone I know.

I remember when he was going through his QLC, partially because I was on the cusp of my own.  We used to call each other, frustrated and unsure, comparing the messes of our love lives, the unfulfillment of our career lives, and the fears that were plauging us.  We bonded over a shared ickiness.  Classic QLC, right?

The difference between him and most people I know who’ve gone through a QLC (including myself) is that he refuses to call it a crisis.  Even when he felt icky and frustrated and was not making enough money to live on, he saw his life as an adventure and this unknown stage of it as just one somewhat frightening, giant decision between many thrilling options.

To quote him (thanks, Facebook!):

We have this amazing opportunity (unlike previous generations) to do whatever we want with our lives but we tend to spend so much time and energy talking about how hard it is and getting angsty because we “don’t know what to do with our lives.”  …These are opportunities! Amazing, wonderful opportunities!  …I wish more people our age perceived it in such a manner.

Wise words, no?  It makes me want to take action, any action, try and fail and try again.  It’s all ok.  It’s all part of really living life.  So inspiring!

I get it, though, we all know logically that this is a time of exciting possibilities, but it’s hard to keep that in mind in the middle of it, while it feels like the life you know is crumbling around you and everyone you look up to is looking down on you disapprovingly.

We have so many more options and comforts and safety nets than the generations before us, and the freedom they give us is both exhilarating and overwhelming.  But add to that the fact that we’re bucking the norm in a society that has always expected people our age to put our nose to the grindstone, get a job, start a family, stop “goofing off” and grow up already, makes it a lot harder to see that freedom as a good thing.  We’re swimming against the current, and that can be exhausting.

I think that’s really where the “crisis” comes in.  It’s a crisis of understanding and communication.  It’s the difference between generations, and it’s always existed, ever since the first teenager argued with the first parent.  With each generation we’re evolving as a race, and we have the luxury to find our happiness, which our grandparents, and parents, didn’t have to the same extent.

It can be difficult feeling like you’re not living up to expectations, you’re letting the people you respect down, you’re “behind” on the timeline of normal life.  It can be frightening feeling like you have no role models and you’re forging your own path through the uncharted wilderness of creating the life you want, a life you’re scared to think is even possible.  I used to feel that way ALL. THE. TIME.  …until Stratejoy.

You ladies are my role models.  Molly especially.  All my fellow writers and all the commenters and all the blogs I’ve found of women making it happen on their own terms show me that I may be forging my own path, but I’m doing it right alongside other amazing people, and it’s not so scary.

It’s time for a paradigm shift.  Forget what other people think, forget societal “norms” (we’re changing them this very minute anyway!), forget what you thought you wanted or where you thought you’d be; take stock of the incredible freedom you have right now, and all the opportunities you can take advantage of in your life.  This is no crisis!!  This is the BEST THING EVER!!

So I’m with Lindsey, I think we need to come up with a new name for the QLC.  Quarter Life Celebration, Quarter Life Exploration, Quarter Life Speedbump, Quarter Life Fuck Yeah!

What do y’all think?

Meanwhile, I’m going to follow the example of my inspiring friend and take action.  I’m just gonna go for it and drink up what life has to offer, say yes to all opportunities, and find exuberant joy in the unknown.  Life isn’t a race to the finish line of “adult benchmark goals,” life is meant to be explored and enjoyed.  This time of my life is amazing, not a crisis.  And if I make a few mistakes, well, that still won’t make it a crisis.

We’re strong, we’re smart, we’re free, we’re young — let’s do this shit.

[photo credit]

Bad days.  Icky, craptastic, sucky, vomit, I-just-wanna-lay-in-bed-and-cry, shit days.  We all have them.

Sometimes I know what’s bothering me, and sometimes I just wake up feeling indeterminably down.  It’s like a stormy raincloud is following me around and with each soggy step, thunder rumbles in my head; there’s just no cheering me up.

I don’t have any ways of yanking myself out of a funk like that.  Usually when they happen, I just trudge through them, fighting back tears at my desk or letting myself scream it out, alone in my car, waiting til I can pull the covers over my head and hopefully feel better tomorrow.

It’s a deep hole, and when I’m in it, it’s hard to see the sunlight and there’s no use trying to convince myself I can scale the steep walls to get out.

BUT these funks are never permanent, and although I haven’t been able to find sure-fire methods of ending them, I have learned how to deal when I’m in them, and how to keep them from growing longer or more frequent.

I channel John Lennon and LET IT BE. Denying how I feel, playing Pollyanna (“I’m great!” just comes out sounding sarcastic), or getting upset and frustrated with myself for feeling bad just makes me feel worse.  When I’m having a bad day, I’m not allowed to say, “what’s wrong with me” or “get over it” – I am allowed to say, “I feel rotten” and “I am in a terrible bitchy-ass mood” and “I just want to punch everyone.”  Of course, I mostly say these things to myself; I try not to splash people with my rainy day as much as I can help it.

When I can admit to myself I feel horrible and just allow myself to feel it, I’m not fighting against myself.  There’s nothing less productive than fighting yourself; struggling to deny or change how you feel is like punching yourself in the face, and no one wants to look like Ed Norton in Fight Club.  And, since I’m aware of how I feel & not fighting it, every once in a while I actually end up laughing at myself because I’m being so ridiculously grumpy.

I stop and ask myself WHY. What brought on this mood?  Even on days where I feel like I just woke up possessed by Oscar the Grouch, there’s always something underneath it, and usually it’s something seemingly small that can be easily dealt with once I recognize it.  The worst feeling is “I don’t know why I’m so upset!!”  It carries with it feelings of powerlessness, desperation and futility that are not only completely unhealthy, but untrue.  We DO have the power to change how we feel, always, even if it’s just tiny bit by tiny bit.

It’s easy to say, well I feel this way because my life is a mess (sniffle sniffle sob self-pity), but really dig in there – why are these feelings coming up so strongly now, today?

Sure, there are a lot of things in my life that could use some improvement, but usually when I really take an honest look at how I’m feeling on a bad day, I find it’s stemmed from a remark someone made or some small experience I had recently that struck me the wrong way & has lodged in my mind like a poison arrow.

If I can pinpoint the wound, I can dig out the arrow & start to heal.  Usually, when I discover the why, I find it doesn’t merit all the dramatic attention I’m giving it, and it almost immediately improves my mood.

I TALK and/or write about it. I have an overactive brain; I over-think everything and have a hyper-active imagination.  So letting bad feelings build up inside me and run away with my thoughts is the easiest and worst thing I can do to myself.  I call it “tornado brain” when my thoughts get so out of control that I’m just going around & around in a cyclone of bad feelings and negative thoughts, and it’s swirling so fast I can’t grasp the why & I can’t let it be.  When this happens, the only way to combat the storm is to let it out.

Sometimes it’s sufficient to write in my journal; sometimes I need to talk it out with my mom or my therapist.  Whatever it takes, I have to get it OUT of my brain, because often, when my thoughts hit the harsh light on the page or are breathed and formed into words, they sound plain idiotic.

I’ve laughed through tears innumerable times at how problems that seemed unresolvable in my head, once spoken, become so simple and even absurd.  We are amazing creatures; deep down, we always know why we are feeling what we’re feeling, and what we need to change it.  When I allow myself to delve deep down and purge, I usually hit that core knowledge and always feel a lot better.

Bad days are part of being human; I don’t expect to ever not have them at all, but as long as I know how to deal with them, I know I can always get through them.  In fact, now that I think about it, I’d probably be a much less self-aware person without them, so there’s even something in our bad days to be grateful for.

[photo source]

It’s about to be a new year, y’all, and I’m ready.  I have loved this last year, loved every frightening thrilling minute of it and I haven’t forgotten the lessons it taught me: trust, be patient, plans may change & get busted up & that’s ok.  But I feel a calmness & an energy that I haven’t felt in a long time; I know some of the major things I want in life, and I’m ready to take steps toward them.  Some may be missteps; I might fumble; I might fail.  I’m ok with that.  I’m taking action this year.

I am a superhero in 2011.  I am action-girl, Nikki of new ideas, make-it-happen-momma.

I am going to put myself out there & trust that good things come of it.  I am going to tell people what I want, even if I have no idea how to get it or what form it will take.  So here goes:  I want a creative job; it might be a career, it might just be a job, but I want to make money doing something I enjoy.  I want a serious relationship; it’s been a long time & I’m ready.  I want a home that feels like mine; it’ll be a while before I can own one, but I want a place that feels like my own.  I want financial stability; I want adventures and a savings account to be equal priorities.  These may sound like little things, but they’re big things to me.  After a long time wandering & wondering, I’m feeling clarity.

I feel like I’m on the cusp of an explosion of awesomeness in my life.  Bring it, baby.

I’ve already told you my intentions for 2011, now here are some of the seemingly-innocent-but-totally-superhero actions I’m gonna take:

I’m making it a habit to write every day.  POW!

I’m launching and developing my new, improved personal website, The Grateful Sparrow (follow me!).  ZOOM!

I’m paying off all my credit card debt by my 30th birthday (May).  BLAM!

I’m learning to edit video on my computer.  SMACK!

I’m honest in all my relationships and not letting fear of vulnerability get to me.  BOOM!

I’m finding a living situation that better suits me.  ZIP!

I’m saying yes to opportunities for new adventures that come my way.  CRUNCH!

I’m expressing my authentic self, everyday, and following my joy.  BAM!

I’m making a profit from my art & creativity – writing, acting, blogging, sculpture, design, etc.  ZAP!

I’m taking time for myself, treating myself with respect, but NOT accepting excuses.  I’m better than laziness & ambivalence.  CRASH!

I’m living to the full extent of my fabulousness this year, and I’m not letting fear get in my way; in 2011, I’m trying.  I’m giving myself a fighting chance.  It can’t be harder than what I’ve already been through, in fact, I know things are only getting better.  2011 is going to be amazing; a year from now, I’ll hardly be able to believe how far I’ve come.

Cheers to a new year.  Let’s do this.

[WonderWoman photo source]

2010.  It sounds like the future, doesn’t it?  Twenty-ten.  It doesn’t sound like a real year to me, and yet, it is, and very soon, it will be a real year in my past.  Unbelievable.

The holidays are here and with them comes the end of the year and inevietably, self-reflection.  Preparing ourselves for our winkingly optimisitc new year’s resolution, we look back on our year to see where we went wrong, what we want to do better, what we want to change in the clean slate of next year.  While I’m all for that, and a big fan of positive, purposeful change, I think part of why we all break our resolutions (and SO soon – most years, I don’t even get through January!!) is that we’re forming them from a negative place.  We resolve to eat healthier because we feel fat.  We resolve to work harder because we feel unsuccessful.

What if, instead of focusing on what we didn’t do in the last year, we focused on what we did do, what made us feel happy and alive, and resolved to bring more experiences like that into our lives, so that our ultimate resolutions were to have more of those good feelings, spurred on by happy memories instead of guilt and disappointment?

I’m gonna try it.  2010 has been a freaking ridiculous, cry-until-my-eyes-won’t-open, laugh-until-I-can’t-breathe, terrifyingly joyful year.  There are a lot of things I could resolve to change in my life and be more healthy, more productive, more stable.  But when I think about those things, I feel bad; noticing the lack of them invalidates the amazing year I’ve had.  So, instead, here’s a reflection on my past year and some truly positive intentions/resolutions for 2011.

I intend to trust with an open mind & open heart.

The biggest thing 2010 has taught me is to let go of control.  My whole life, I’ve always had a plan and tried to control how that plan unfolds.  I held on too tightly to the things I thought I wanted and I pushed the things I didn’t think I wanted away too forcefully.  It led to confusion, frustration, and, interestingly, left me feeling powerless.  2010 demolished all the plans I’d made for myself.  It swooped in under the fireworks at Airlie Beach, Australia, picked me up & started running, like I was a football under the arm of the quaterback, and that dude is way too burly to fight.  2010 gave me what I wanted when I didn’t want it; it gave me a job when I was about to leave, an apartment when I was furniture-less, an adventure when I was getting settled.  But, as terrifying as it was to be plowing along headfirst down the football field, it was reassuring to remember I’ve got the QB on my side, and the less I resisted, the more fun it became.

I couldn’t have predicted even a third of this year; it knocked me off my feet & onto my ass more than a few times, but I’m so glad I went along for the ride.  It brought more amazing things than I ever could’ve planned for.  Being open to the unexpected things that pop up in life makes life less of a struggle and more fun, and makes me a hell of a lot happier.

I intend to seek out new experiences.

I started the year across the world from home, living with a family that took me in the first week they met me, taking a road trip with a boy I’d known less than a month.  It continued with a planned move across the country, a road trip to see  the US, which, in the blink of an eye, changed to 10 days roadtripping California with my momma and a month of crashing on friends couches.  I acted in a major feature film.  I moved in with strangers.  I took 6 weeks to fly around the country & see cities I’d never been to and friends I’d been dying to visit.  I started a new job, and got thrown right into the thick of it immediately.  I started writing for Escape Hatcher and Stratejoy, and found this amazing community of people on the internet.

Not every year will be as full of major adventures as 2010 has been, I realize.  If they all were, I’d probably end up having a mental breakdown just from pure exhaustion!  But I want to keep in mind that experiencing new things on a fairly regular basis keeps me from getting bored & feeling stagnant.  Even if it’s just taking a Saturday to explore an LA neighborhood I haven’t been to, or learning something new just for fun, I need to create adventures for myself to keep myself feeling fulfilled & creatively challenged.

I intend to be patient & remember that my path is specific to me.

Most of the anxiety in my life comes from me comparing myself to other people.  I look at my friends lives, especially those that are married with career-type jobs, and I feel like I’m not where I “should” be.  But when I was traveling this year and really in the moment, I felt so happy, and really felt a clarity that I am exactly where I need to be and everything is unfolding in its own time.  If I’d forced myself to have the life I thought I was supposed to have, I wouldn’t have been able to take most, if any of the opportunities that came my way this year.  Not to mention, I’d probably be miserable!

It can be hard to hold onto sometimes, but I will keep reminding myself of how it felt to scuba dive the reef, to cruise down the CA coast, to kayak Austin, the thrill of having no idea what’s next or who I’ll meet – to combat those days of low-down-dirty shoulds.  I’ve never dreamed of a normal white-picket-fence life, and even when I do have a career & a family, it will be my way, because it’s my unique life.  I’m exactly where I need to be, right here, right now, and it’s incredible.

2010 has been what I needed it to be and I trust 2011 will be too.  It’s been a year of feet on the dashboard, toothy smiles and too-loud laughs, sing-alongs, hammocks, looking down on the clouds, long hugs, dreams fulfilled, anxiety and excitement, new friends, old friends, take-offs and landings, Skype calls, ridiculous parties, nesting instincts, nomadic whims, writing and writing and writing.  It’s been a year for me to wander and a year for me to sit still.  2010 has made me grow and made me think; it’s prepared me for the hailstorm of joy & productivity that 2011 will bring.  And I can’t wait.

[photo: new years 2010 in Australia – I’m far right]

I have had a string of bad days.  Not “my dog died” kind of bad, but more like the kind of days when you just want to hide from the world.  Usually these kinds of days are riddled with self-doubt.  They are filled with surges of confidence that quickly disapate.  And I spend copious amounts of energy doing the things that I think will lift my spirits only to feel even worse than I did before.

I took my medicine.

I journaled–tried to acknowledge my fears with words.

I texted, tweeted and wrote to friends.

I took long, scalding showers.

I turned on Britney Spears and did funny dances with the kids.

It didn’t work.  Despite doing all of those things, each day was filled with moments where I sat on the edge of the sofa with eyes full of tears that would not fall.  So one night I said to myself, you know, maybe I don’t need to try to fight these feelings so hard.  Maybe I need to go ahead and acknowledge these feelings–embrace them even–and just be.

Normally when I reach this point, I dig through my nightstand drawer and consult a spiritual text (of which there are many).  But instead I looked up my astrological profile.  I know, funny isn’t it?  I was grasping for something, anything, that might help me understand why I was feeling this way, why I so often feel this way, and this is what it told me:

. . . . Cancerians are family centered, tradition bound, tied to the past, fearful of the future and of the unknown. Security is one of their major goals. . . .  Cancerians look toward introversion and melancholy. They are as restless and moody as the shifting tides. They…like to retreat into dreams and fantasies and to shelter themselves in the relative safety of the past.

. . . . They tend to be exclusive in their social contacts; at the same time, they are particularly touchy about being excluded by others. And they never forget a slight. . . .

. . . . If they are disappointed, they become withdrawn and hostile. . . .

. . . . At their best, Cancerians of both sexes are among the most loving of people, profoundly intuitive, and quick to grasp and respond to the emotional needs of others. They inspire and nurture growth. It is Cancerians’ task to find safe haven in which their sign’s exquisite sensitivity can bloom and flourish. Otherwise, the crab my find itself dominated by the prickly, grasping side of its nature.

Sigh of relief.

I am not sure why, but I found this comforting.  I’m not a huge believer in astrology; I don’t read my daily horoscope or consult the position of the moon and stars to chart my life plans.  But in that moment, it was as though it answered all of these big, scary questions that have been hovering over me these past few days.  Why am I like this?  Why do I feel like this?  Is this okay? In that moment I accepted that it was okay being me.  It was okay that I am emotionally-unstable.  (Okay, I had to chuckle at that last line, but it’s so true.)  It was a reminder that I can love all of me, even if there are parts of me that literally drive me crazy.  It is just who I am.  And I can’t force myself to become someone I am not.

So these bad days, though they do suck, are okay.  I have them.  I had them in the past and there will be many more in the future.  But I don’t have to fight with them all the time.  Sometimes I can just let them be bad.

(photo credit)

I’m ashamed to admit that I really don’t do much to make the world a better place.  I was never a candy-striper, never took on a little sister or volunteered at the Y.  One Christmas, I donated to every charity that sent me an appeal and felt very benevolent… and ended up probably killing 200 million acres of trees with all the junk mail they sent me, and their buddies sent me, over the next year.  At one point, I had enough return address labels to mail one letter a day for the rest of my life & never run out.  But I moved.  I haven’t donated since.

Sure, there’s the odd volunteer work – I’ve gone to LA area schools a few times to read to kids & help with creative projects, and once I spent a Saturday painting & cleaning a home for battered women & children – but these aren’t habits.  Sometimes I give the homeless guy on the street my leftovers, or some change, and sometimes I give money to the people with those elaborate stories, who are probably scam artists, especially when the guy looks like my little brother and needs money for gas.  (Although, I actually happened to see that particular guy buy gas with the $5 I gave him.  So, maybe they’re not all scams.)

I’ve signed up for Habitat for Humanity but never gone; I’ve entertained the idea of the Peace Corps but talked myself out of it (for now).  Geez, what do I do??

Well, it’s really not much, but I believe in general kindness.  I smile at strangers, hold the door for people behind me, give a helping hand when it’s needed, and say thank you.  I’m a good listener.  I have a positive outlook that I hope is just a little bit contagious, and I try to contribute something good to everything I undertake.  I know it’s small and, especially compared to all the things I’m not doing, pretty insignificant.

Except, what if everyone lived that way, with kindness and positive intentions?  We’d have no need for charities or battered women’s shelters or soup kitchens.  I’m just a drop in the bucket, but every drop causes ripples; if my smile brightens someone’s day, then maybe they’ll do something nice for someone else, and on and on.  The idea of “pay it forward” is unfortunately a movie cliche, but stop and think about it.  It’s profound.  What you do, how you live, how you treat others matters. Everyone affects everyone else.  Live with kindness.

I’m not saying that’s enough, but it’s a start.

Meanwhile, now that I’ve realized all I could be doing, you might just find me on a rooftop somewhere, hammer in hand, putting the finishing touches on a brand-new third-world house.  Or at least sharing Amelia Bedelia laughter with some inner-city kids.  Who wants to come with me?

[photo source]  [post title from a Beatles song :)]

Mention the phrase “quarterlife crisis” to someone over the age of 45 and they’re likely to laugh and roll their eyes.  Then, if you’re lucky, they will tell you that your generation is selfish, spoiled, dependent, lazy, and self-indulgent.  “When I was your age, I worked two jobs, was married, owned a house and fed 3 children!” they might say.  We kids have made up this quarterlife crisis thing because we just don’t want to work hard.

That’s rather insulting and Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a research professor of psychology at Clark University in Massachusetts, agrees.  Arnett’s main focus of research is in the area of development, specifically “emerging adulthood.”  He has conducted various studies of individuals in their late teens and twenties in order to demystify this challenging period of life.  According to Arnett, emerging adulthood is characterized by these key features:

it is the age of identity explorations;

the age of instability;

the self-focused age;

the age of feeling in–between;

and the age of possibilities.[1]

Tell me that doesn’t sound like you—or any of your friends.

Your parents and their parents may not have had it very easy, but our generation faces some unique circumstances.  We grew up during the Clinton Era, one of the most affluent in US history, which gave us high expectations for our experience in the “real world.”  Yet the reality is that right when we were about to head off into the land of golden opportunity, our dreams were dashed by downsizing companies, outsourcing, bursting real estate bubbles, thieving CEOs who drained bank accounts, and the exponentially increasing costs of higher education.  Pension plans and employer 401k contributions are rare, and we probably won’t see any social security.  People are marrying and having children at a much older age, thus lengthening the time between graduation and “adulthood” and that feeling of being “settled.”  And, ok, so maybe more and more of us live at home with our parents and our salaries barely cover the bills—but don’t despair.  There is some light in this tunnel.

Our generation has also experienced one of the largest technological booms.  My first cell phone was a tiny Nokia with like, a 16-bit screen and all you could really do was make phone calls and text.  Oh, and there was DOS.  Remember audio-cassettes?  If you didn’t know how to read maps or hadn’t memorized “Never Eat Soggy Wheat,” then you were S.O.L.  Now you can send emails, listen to music, find the nearest coffee shop and then tell 100 million people what you ate at said coffee shop all from a little piece of plastic that’s the size of your palm.  I mean, wow!  We’re no Jetsons, but we’re pretty damn close.

As technology expands, so do our horizons.  Through the internet and cable television we can see how the other billions of people on this earth live.  We no longer connect with just our friends and family, but with the whole world.  Access to information is instantaneous (at least for much of the developed world and non-communists countries).   We can run a business from our home.  We can run a business out of a hotel room or on a boat or on a space ship if we’d like.  It’s no wonder we are confused, overwhelmed, depressed and won’t settle down!  One of the worst things about having options is that if there are too many, you become paralyzed.  However, we. have. options.

So you want to know what I really think?  I really think that deep down, the people who scoff at us are really just jealous. They are jealous because they let their vibrant years slip past them in a haze of “yes sir”s .  Instead of blazing their own trails, they blindly followed others through the forest.  They didn’t question authority and challenge convention.  And now, they feel trapped by the lives they allowed others to create for them.  That must suck.  Hopefully that will not be us.

This period in our lives—the quarterlife crisis, emerging adulthood, whatever you want to call it—is not self-indulgent.  It isn’t laziness.  It isn’t selfishness.  We are being responsible.  We owe it not only to ourselves, but to the world to become leaders and freethinkers.  Yes, by taking this time to connect with ourselves, and remember our core values (if you don’t know them yet, The Joy Equation can help you with that!), we can become of service to the world.  This journey is about gaining self-awareness.  The discovery of our gifts will allow us to shine.

Even though this quarterlife crisis thing is a pain in the butt, it’s just another step we have to take to become the adults we want and need to be.


(photo credit: emerging photographer and my brother Clarence G. Richardson III)

I don’t know how to have this conversation without offending someone.  (Aren’t religion and politics like, the top two things you shouldn’t talk about if you want to keep your friends?) If this were my personal blog, it would be a different story.  But it’s not.  And though I take pride in telling my truth, my whole truth, and nothing but my truth, I’m afraid that this post will fall short.  And so this is what I have to give.




Love is my religion.  Compassion is my religion.  Connection, Openness, Tolerance, Graciousness are my religion.


I have faith that as long as I try my best to be loving to all in this life, then I will either:

1.  Become something other than a dung beetle in my next life

2.  Read peacefully in heaven

3. Die knowing I was a good person

I believe that the world is my church.  That the mountains are my altar, the ground is my pew and the raindrops are my angels.  And each of you sing in the choir.

(photo credit)

The date:  November 24, 2015

The Scene: In studio for KCRW (CA local NPR station)’s live radio show “The Treatment” – interviews in Arts and Entertainment.

Welcome to The Treatment; I’m Elvis Mitchell.  Since her debut in the cult classic trilogy “Atlas Shrugged,” based on the controversial Ayn Rand book, my guest Nikki Klecha has caught the attention of audiences with memorable supporting roles in some of the last five years most notable indie films.  She’s here with us today to discuss her most recent project, the award-winning film “The Hum,” her inspirational website, and her first novel, due out early next year.  Welcome, Nikki; we’re glad to have you here.

I’m so incredibly happy to be here; thanks for having me.

Now, Nikki, your LA story is an interesting one; tell us a little bit about your journey.

Well, about six years ago, I was done with Los Angeles.  I was a burned out actor; I’d been working hard & feeling like I was getting nowhere.  I took some time out, traveled for a while —

Australia, right?

Yes, four months in Australia, which changed my perspective.  I realized, I don’t have to be miserable (laughing) I don’t need this career that frustrates me and I’m not tied to LA, there are many other things I can do to be happy; it was a revelation.  So I planned to move, sold all my furniture, and the day I sold my bed was the day I got the call that I was cast in “Atlas.”

If you love something let it go and if it comes back to you… right?

I guess so!

So, you stayed  in LA, obviously, and “Atlas Shrugged Part I” was the first time we, the movie going masses, heard of you.

Right.  The film came out in 2011 to great reviews, and the next thing I knew, doors were opening!  Things still moved relatively slowly, of course, I’m not a household name, by any means, but I just managed to ride the wave of that movie.  I was in the right place at the right time.  And with the subsequent success of Parts 2 and 3, I was able to pay off my credit cards (something every LA-actor dreams of!) and really focus on my writing, acting and building my website.

After the Atlas trilogy, you filmed “The Writers,” which gained a strong underground horror-fan following.

Yes.  That and my most recent film, “The Hum” were labors of love; all the cast and crew were friends, and I’ve known most of them since college.  They were so much fun to make.  And I must be the easiest actress to work for in the horror genre; I was honestly terrified half the time!  (laughing)

Tell us a little about the film you just mentioned, “The Hum;” it just premiered at Sundance and took home some awards, correct?

It did, yes!  That was a dream come true, going to Sundance with a film, especially one that was such a collaborative effort between friends.  I think we all feel like, finally, finally we’re hitting our stride and doing what we came here to do, after 10 years of struggle.

You also run a successful blog called The Grateful Sparrow, which I must admit, I’m a little addicted to.

Are you?  Thanks!  Yes, it’s my baby; I think of it as a daily jolt of inspiration.  I believe that we each have the power to change our lives for the better, whether it be through a large change, like quitting a job or moving, or a small change in mindset.  I hope the site helps people see that and gives them the courage and inspiration to take their next step toward a happier life.

And you’ve written a novel; have you always wanted to write, or is this a new endeavor?

Oh no, I’ve always loved writing; ever since I could read, I’ve been writing.  I just love stories.  For years now, I’ve been freelance writing – in fact, 2011 was the landmark year where I was able to not have a “day job” for the first time ever! – for various online & print publications.  I’ve always had “write a novel” on my bucket list, and now, thanks in part, I’m sure, to the attention I’ve received from the films and the blog, I have a publisher lined up and I’m finally doing it!  It will be available early next year.

And I understand we can look forward to seeing you in the next Michel Gondry film?  Can you tell us a little bit about it?

Yes!  And I am kid-on-Christmas-Eve excited!  He’s my favorite director; I love the imagination that goes into his work.  We had our first table read the other day and the storyboards are just incredible.  I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s going to be a dreamy, lovely story of friendship and the absurdities of love.  I can’t wait to start shooting.

And, as if all that isn’t enough, what’s on the horizon for you personally?

Well, I just got married and got back from a two month honeymoon; we bought around the world tickets and continent-hopped.  It was amazing.  We just bought our first house, and I’m ready to settle in, be in one place for a while, and nest.  I think I’ve earned a little down time.

Well, don’t take too long off, we’ll miss you.

(laughing) Ok I won’t.

You can catch Nikki Klecha in the award-winning film, “The Hum” in limited release nationwide, on her blog, and keep an eye out for her book next year.  Thank you so much for coming in, Nikki.

It’s been my pleasure.

[Photo: me doing a Sirius radio interview for a film I was in, “Family”]

Lately, I’ve been spouting off a lot about TRUST.  How I’m trusting that I am where I need to be and that where I’m headed is the right direction.  I’m trusting that things will work out and I’m trusting that all these opportunities I’m saying yes to will somehow come together to form this great big lovely life I want.  When people ask what I’m doing, I say, “trusting,” and they don’t know what to say to that because it makes me sound like some guru-level wise woman who sweats patience and benevolently chuckles at their ant-like scurrying.

But I am sooooo not.

It’s damn hard to trust.  And what am I trusting, anyway?  “The Universe” isn’t like some shady boyfriend; you can’t check it’s phone for guilty texts and it can’t prove itself by maintaining eye contact when a miniskirt struts by.  I can sit down and have a talk with it about how I want to be treated, but it’s a one-sided conversation.  How do I know that I even should be trusting?

Well, I don’t.  And it freaks me out sometimes.  When I slam into a figurative detour sign on the road I’m speeding down (which has happened a LOT lately) I flip.  I get nervous and anxious and start to question myself and where I was headed.  But then, I choose to trust.  I could figure out a way around the detour sign or ram it down with my car, but I choose to believe that it’s there for a reason, and follow it.

I don’t know where I’d be if I HAD run over the detour and kept on my merry way, but I’m pretty happy with where I am now; I can’t think of much – if anything – in my past I would change, and therefore, my faith has never led me wrong.

I believe in a higher power.  You can call it God (I do) or Yaweh or Jesus or Buddha or Elohim or Allah or The Universe or Frank.  I don’t think it cares what you call it, I believe it cares that we live with love and positive intention.  I don’t mean to offend anyone who thinks differently; there are many religious views I disagree with and I expect to be disagreed with on mine by someone.  It’s ok, we can still be friends.

The God I believe in created us all, loves us all and wants us all to love each other.  The Universe I believe in is the way that all things are connected under God, and it responds to my energy because it is part of me.  When I do good and feel good, I get good in return.  When I am negative and angry, I get that right back too.  I see this manifest in my life and so I believe it.  I feel the presence of God in every moment of gratitude and in every good thing.  When I feel secure, when I feel loved, when I feel happy and my gut instinct is singing a tuning forks perfect pitch, I feel that God is with me, so I believe.

Simple as that.

I could be wrong.  I’m only human.  My idea of God is only what I’ve experienced & a lot of people experience it differently.  But I figure, even if I am wrong, it’s led me to live a life of joy, kindness and calm.  I try to do good and feel happy, and help others to live the same way, and there’s no amount of religious dogma or rational argument that can convince me that’s not the right way to live.

So, when I trust, I am trusting in God’s wisdom and love, The Universe’s safety-net web of intention & connection, and my own gut instinct, guided by both.  When I trust, I release my idea of the outcome in order to let better things in.  When I trust, I can enjoy each moment.  When I trust, I am taken care of.

And I don’t need some dude’s text messages to tell me that.

[photo source]

Any of you who know me, or have gotten to know me outside of Stratejoy, know that gratitude plays a big part in my life.   My personal blog is called The Grateful Sparrow and (almost) everyday I tweet a gratitude list.  It reminds me of how much in my life is good, great, wonderful – even (especially) on days when everything seems to be going wrong.  But I have not always been this way.

Two years ago, I was full to the brim of negative self-talk. No one who knows me would’ve ever suspected it; I was just my cheery, optimistic self on the outside, but in my mind, I was absolutely horrendous.  My default setting, the reason anything went wrong, was “I’m a mess.”  I said it all the time.  I said it laughingly to friends when I forgot something, “Ha, what a mess I am!”  I said it angrily to myself when I made a mistake, “Why am I such a mess??!”  I resigned myself to it and it became my truth.

I was working a 9-5 office job that, while it gave me wonderful security, was stressful, unchallenging, and not even on the same planet as any job I’d remotely want as a career.  Every day I would zombie-drive the same route in the same traffic, zoned out and dreading the day, often sending up a little prayer to quell my anxiety and try to control the uncertainties facing me that I really couldn’t control.  I would pass the first few hours of my day with a sinking feeling in my stomach and self-blame in my head, sucking all other thoughts & feelings down like quicksand.  Every.  Day.

Around the same time, frustrated with and trying to improve my acting career, I joined an artist’s co-operative.  We kept each other accountable to our goals and supported and encouraged each other; the group aimed to bring us all out of our comfort zones and out of our unhealthy mental patterns that might be holding us back.  Obviously (well, it’s obvious now), I had a lot of those.

One of the guys in the group suggested that we email each other with 5 things we’re grateful for every day, just as an exercise to get us into a more positive headspace.  It was really hard at first.  I remember driving in to work, dread and apathy vying for domination in the pit of my stomach, and sitting in front of my computer, staring at it blankly.  What am I grateful for?  The only time I’d ever thought about expressing gratitude outside of saying an obligatory “thank you” was on Thanksgiving, and that was usually muddled by a mouthful of turkey. Now I have to write it down?  And send it to people?

I sat there trying not to think of all the things I’m not grateful for, and trying to remember the last time I felt super happy.  Why couldn’t I think of anything?  What was wrong with me??  Why was I such a mess??  I looked down at my hands on the keyboard.  I have 10 fingers.  I’m grateful for that.  I know how to type.  I’m grateful for “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing,” even though I hated it growing up.  I’m grateful for the cup of coffee slowly waking me up.  And so on…

My first six months of gratitude lists were like that.  And sometimes they still are.  I’m grateful for hot showers and good music and smiling.  Some days I sat for a good 15 minutes unable to think of a single thing to be grateful for.  But I didn’t let myself go a day without writing my list. It helped to get lists from the other people in the group – so much happiness was shared every day.  Slowly, gratitude came easier; in fact, I started to feel that it was a necessary part of my morning routine.  So when the group disbanded and the emails slowly stopped their joyous flow into my inbox, I decided I needed someone else to keep me accountable to my gratitude, and I began sending my list to my family, best friend, and roommate.

During all this, other things in my life began to change.  Getting myself off of negative autopilot, even if only for the 5 minutes it took to write my gratitude list, made me realize that I was on autopilot in the first place.  I started to wake up from my zombie state, snapping myself out of it on the drive to work by focusing on a particularly beautiful blooming tree on the side of the road, instead of the creeping traffic.  I suddenly realized that maybe I felt like such a mess only because I kept telling myself I was a mess, and worked on replacing that phrase with a positive mantra.

My gratitude lists got longer, and instead of just writing out of habit, I started to really feel them; they made me happy.  I woke up thinking of what I’d write, and they were bright spots in days that were otherwise less than stellar.  I found myself not getting caught up in as much drama; when something bad happened, I would be upset about it for a little while and then, automatically, without even realizing it, I’d be thinking of the positives. I wasn’t Pollyanna, I wasn’t lying and saying things were fine when they weren’t, I truly started to feel better about everything.

I honestly believe that writing gratitude lists changed my outlook and changed my life.  It is my quick fix to happiness, because as soon as I write down what I’m grateful for, I feel just a little bit happier.  Every.  Day.

Today I am so happy and grateful for dark chocolate & green tea, all you amazing lovely ladies out there reading, and R.W. for introducing gratitude into my life two years ago.

What are you happy and grateful for?

PS – if any of you would like to commit to a month of gratitude, I’ll hold you accountable.  Tweet me your gratitude list at @gratefulsparrow every day for 30 days.  See how it changes you.

I’ve never had a home.  I have lived in 7 states and 14 cities.  I have lived in condos, apartments, townhomes and big suburban houses.  Yet, I have never felt like I had a home. Even now, as I settle into my third year in Chicago, it still does not feel like “home.”  So last year, what I set out to do, via the wonderful world wide web, was try to find my community.  I knew that if I could just create one, build one,  or simply find one, then maybe I would feel a little more settled–I would feel connected.

It is so easy to  get caught up in the minutea of our lives.  We allow ourselves to be so wrapped up that at times it feels as though you are the only one suffering.  Yet, that’s not true.  Through this experience with Stratejoy, I realized that although the details in each blog post are different, the themes are the same.  Ultimately, it is not My Story.  It is not Doniree’s Story.  It’s not Renee’s Story, or Lindsey’s Story, or Marian’s Story, or Nikki’s Story.  It is not Your Story.  It is Our Story.  It is the Human Story.  We are navigating through this life together.

One thing I have learned over the past few years is that the more I share my past, the more I release its power over me. I have many scars that bleed, but each time I recount a story–relive the injuries–a cut closes.  A wound heals.  I move on.  Each time I share a dream, the more vivid and attainable it becomes.  I become inspired.

While I have yet to figure out what I really want to do with my life–besides write–I know that whatever work I do must be centered around community, connection and healing.  Blogging for Molly and Stratejoy has given me that opportunity to do just that: find a community, connect and heal. When you read my words, we connect.  And as we connect with one another, I connect more with myself.  And it has helped me to heal.

(photo: free woman holding bunch of pink budded twigs by pink sherbet photography)

I might be the poster child for Perfectionism.  I was that Straight-A kid whose worst crime between the ages of 0 and 18 was rolling up my shorts in the 4th grade.  No really, I didn’t even go to a party in high school.  Remember that suicide attempt when I was 14?  What pushed me over the edge was the D in Geometry that appeared on my mid-term report card.  I was then convinced that I would never get into Harvard and that my perfect dreams of a perfect life had come to a crashing end.  Whenever I did something, I wanted to do it with finesse.  I wanted to impress.  I had to be perfect.

I’m quite certain that Perfectionism is closely tied to Control.  I moved around a lot as a child and it wasn’t always my choice.  Even though I tell people that it was a good experience (I saw many different types of people and places) my nomadic childhood definitely played a part in my need to control everything in my life.  I don’t play risky games.  In fact, I refuse to bowl because I’m afraid I’ll suck at it.  I know it sounds ridiculous and I wish it weren’t true.

When I had children, I fully intended on keeping my Perfectionist ways.  I wanted to be the perfect mom: the cleaner, the baker, the expert diaper changer and awesome play date host with the happiest children on the block.  I wanted to stick to my regular cleaning schedule:  vacuuming three times a day and scrubbing toilets twice a week.  Yeah.  Right.  Now when “Perfectionist Alisha” tries to come out (which is still way too often), I have some arsenal on hand.  Here are my four ways to combat Perfectionism.

Affirmations.   I write them, sometimes two or three times, at then end of my morning pages every day.  They are uplifting and get my mind and heart on track.  They are my battle cry.  They are the mantras that help guide my choices and thoughts throughout the day.

Journaling.  Sometimes I just have to write it out.  The root of (my) Perfectionism is fear—the fear of not being in control, the fear of not being loved.  When I write down all of the thoughts that are haunting me, I am better able to identify the true source of those feelings and beat them down.  Then I feel empowered—and in control.

Glory Board.  I originally got this idea from Danielle LaPorte of  She suggests that you write down anything and everything you have accomplished in your life that made you feel really great.  Then my creative coach, Rachel, helped me turn this into a daily activity.  At the end of the day, instead of focusing on everything that went wrong (or was imperfect), I focus on everything that went right.  It is much easier to sleep when you feel like you conquered your day.

Call a good friend or find some on Twitter.  I have a few good friends who always have encouraging words; they help me find the silver lining, see the big picture and tell me when to suck it up and when to let go.  Twitter is also my new favorite hangout spot.  I have been fortunate enough to befriend some really amazing and supportive people.  I know I can always depend on my Twitter family.

Over the last few years, this is what I have learned: Perfectionism is fear.  Fear that love is conditional.  I learned that a Perfectionist is fake.  A Perfectionist is lonely.  A Perfectionist is a tortured soul.  A Perfectionist is boring.  A Perfectionist is perpetually exhausted.  A Perfectionist will never be happy.

I’ll always be a recovering Perfectionist.  But as each day passes, I remind myself that life doesn’t always go as planned. I remember that I will never be perfect—because it’s not possible.  Will I always try to be the best version of me I can possible be?  Of course.  There’s nothing wrong with my wanting to be a walking bowl of awesome-sauce.  I just no longer fool myself into thinking I will always walk a straight line.

(photo: Etsy art by cREaTebyRET found via Michelle Ward)

I disliked him right from the start.  Even though it was 3:30 in the afternoon, his slacks were still freshly pressed and his shirt was wrinkle free.  His bald head shone under the flourescent lights.  When he uttered my name, our eyes met but he did not smile.  Every doctor should smile.  The office was claustrophobic, crowded with moving boxes.  I squeezed inbetween the edge of his desk and the two office chairs and took my seat.

The appointment was quick.  (I can’t believe I have to pay this guy $173.92 for 26 minutes.  That’s a heck of a rate!)  Before I left he slid the prescription across his desk and shot out “See ya in three weeks!”

I knew this day would come.  It was inevitable, really.  Pride and confusion about what is and isn’t in my control kept delaying the decision until I found myself on the edge.

I have penchant for everything melancholy–I always have.  I don’t think I sought it out as a child, but when you’re so young and have already had a lifetime of “good-byes,” and an immeasurable amount of confusion,  I think it would be hard not to be just a teensy bit sad.  And, unfortunatley, depression runs in my family.  Damn you, genetics!  At age 14 I had my first major depressive episode.  Some window cleaner, bleach and a random sampling of items in the medicine cabinet resulted in nothing more than a bad stomach-ache and a long nap.  (Thank goodness!)  For some days after, I would come home from school, take a few Tylenol PM and check out until the next day.  I somehow managed to get over it.

That was my first–and only–suicide attempt.  But over the past few years, some dark thoughts have haunted me.  My lows have been low–lower than low, and there have not been very many highs.  Chronic fatigue, a short temper and high anxiety do not a good Mommy make.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Some of these feelings are a direct result of choices I made.  Choices that were at war with my values. At times I was nothing short of dying of confusion.  There were many days when I chose not to care.  I chose to give up.  I threw water on my flame.

But then there were the days when that little bit of my soul that was on fire–burning for change, burning for dreams, burning for life–couldn’t grow no matter how hard I tried to stoke it.  That’s when you know you need a little bit of kerosene.  Or, in this case, some Wellbutrin.

I finally realized that the choice to go back on medication is not an admission of weakness.  It is a testament of strength. It is an act of self-love.  Maybe that’s what this whole quarterlife crisis thing is about: learning to love yourself.

(photo credit)

I disliked him right from the start.  Even though it was 3:30 in the afternoon, his slacks were still freshly pressed and his shirt was wrinkle free.  His bald head shone under the flourescent lights.  When he uttered my name, our eyes met but he did not smile.  Every doctor should smile.  The office was claustrophobic, crowded with moving boxes.  I squeezed inbetween the edge of his desk and the two office chairs and took my seat.

The appointment was quick.  (I can’t believe I have to pay this guy $173.92 for 26 minutes.  That’s a heck of a rate!)  Before I left he slid the prescription across his desk and shot out “See ya in three weeks!”

I knew this day would come.  It was inevitable, really.  Pride and confusion about what is and isn’t in my control kept delaying the decision until I found myself on the edge.

I have penchant for everything melancholy–I always have.  I don’t think I sought it out as a child, but when you’re so young and have already had a lifetime of “good-byes,” and an immeasurable amount of confusion,  I think it would be hard not to be just a teensy bit sad.  And, unfortunatley, depression runs in my family.  Damn you, genetics!  At age 14 I had my first major depressive episode.  Some window cleaner, bleach and a random sampling of items in the medicine cabinet resulted in nothing more than a bad stomach-ache and a long nap.  (Thank goodness!)  For some days after, I would come home from school, take a few Tylenol PM and check out until the next day.  I somehow managed to get over it.

That was my first–and only–suicide attempt.  But over the past few years, some dark thoughts have haunted me.  My lows have been low–lower than low, and there have not been very many highs.  Chronic fatigue, a short temper and high anxiety do not a good Mommy make.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Some of these feelings are a direct result of choices I made.  Choices that were at war with my values. At times I was nothing short of dying of confusion.  There were many days when I chose not to care.  I chose to give up.  I threw water on my flame.

But then there were the days when that little bit of my soul that was on fire–burning for change, burning for dreams, burning for life–couldn’t grow no matter how hard I tried to stoke it.  That’s when you know you need a little bit of kerosene.  Or, in this case, some Wellbutrin.

I finally realized that the choice to go back on medication is not an admission of weakness.  It is a testament of strength. It is an act of self-love.  Maybe that’s what this whole quarterlife crisis thing is about: learning to love yourself.

(photo credit)

The last two weeks have been a little rough on my end, as if you couldn’t tell by my most recent two posts [Found here. and here too].

The awesome Molly sent me an e-mail after reading my scheduled post for last week and asked if I needed to talk. The first thing I thought to do was to apologize for the negative posts and offer to write something else a bit more upbeat and cheery. Basically I was offering to put my feelings on the back burner because I was ashamed of them.

Yeah, brilliant idea for someone who is struggling with self-image and self-worth, right? Convince myself that my feelings were shameful, and I shouldn’t feel that way.</Sarcasm>

In falling back into a depressive state, I was challenged.  I was challenged to keep my head on straight, function every day, and hide a lot of my feelings until later in the day when I was alone. It was very similar to being violently ill all day during work and not being able to go home.

You’re miserable, exhausted, and just want your bed, but you have to work all day long.

Two weeks later from the onset of my near emotional collapse, I’m feeling much better. I’m not as hopeless, and emotionally crazy as I was two weeks ago. The “bad case of the blues” passed much quicker than it typically does, and this is absolutely due in part to a list that I made of things that I was going to focus on. If you’re anything like me, having things down in a list is a magical thing.Staring those “to-do”‘s in the face gives me the drive to complete them. I wanted to share a few of the things that I did in hopes that if you find yourself having a tough week or even day, that these things may work for you too.

Schedule in some “Feel Bad” Time

There’s only one thing for certain when you’re feeling depressed/sad/mad – and that’s that you’re feeling depressed/sad/mad. Denying that is not only lying to yourself but it’s also not allowing yourself to feel what you want to feel.

“Just get happy” doesn’t work. At the same time, many of us have to put on that happy face for our jobs or even family members. This is completely fine, but make sure you allow yourself an hour or so later on in the day where you allow yourself to sit with your feelings. Whether you want to talk them over with a friend is up to you, but give yourself the permission to feel whatever emotions your heart wants to.

Don’t wait for clarity – Create it.

I’m the kind of person who revels in moments of complete and total clarity. These anticipated moments come at random times. Sometimes it happens when I’m sitting in a noisy bar with friends. Other times, it’s right before I fall asleep. It’s happened while seeing the Center City skyline at night. In these moments, I feel clear and at ease. I could sit with myself and that feeling forever, but it often fades when I come back down to earth.

One of my problems recently, is that these moments haven’t been occurring. I’m always worried about something or someone, and that moment of clarity…it just isn’t coming.  I got angry waiting for it. That anger did absolutely nothing for me except ruin my mood even more. That’s the thing with life, sometimes these moments don’t come willingly. Sometimes, you have to create them.

Practice creating clarity by manually clearing your mind, instead of waiting for your mind to clear itself. Personally, I visualize all of my problems circling my head as if my brain is juggling them. One by one, I flick each one away from my head, and when the final problem is gone, I just sit with that feeling of being free from worry. Even if it just lasts a few moments, it’s enough to get me through and reset my mind a bit.

Write. Write. Write. Write. WRITE

I sometimes avoid writing when I’m feeling yuck-tastic. Mostly, because I’m afraid of what’s going to come out. Recently, I’ve been pushing myself to start writing when I’m feeling crappy. Sometimes, all that’s come out has been “I have absolutely nothing to say, I’m feeling horrible today.” I go back, read that sentence, and I find myself asking “Why do you feel horrible?” At which point, I fill in the blank with an answer. “…I’m feeling defeated. The project that I was banking on was given to someone else. I really thought I had it in the bag, but apparently I wasn’t good enough, and the other person was better.” 9 times out of 10, I end up putting myself in a third-person position, and I inspire the hell out of myself without even realizing it. Before too long, I find my brain turning to think as if I were giving someone the advice and forgetting that it’s actually me.

Maybe this won’t happen to you, but at the very least, you get these feelings out into the open. It’s kind of like throwing up after you’ve drank so much. You have all of that toxic stuff inside of you, and once you get it out, you feel so much better. Throwing up or writing about your issues isn’t the easiest thing, but that yucky stuff is often better out than in.

If Nothing Else – Treat Yourself

These haven’t been the easiest last few weeks. It’s really taken a lot out of me, but I’m recovering well. I’ve been very kind to myself, and given myself extra treats (like concert tickets to see Maroon 5 and Dave Matthew’s Band).  I’ve let myself sleep an extra hour in the morning and take a little extra long shower. I bought a case of soda, which I’ve been trying to give up on, but have been craving.  I’m forgiving myself for little mistakes that I’ve made, and being gentle to not put myself in situations that I know will be uncomfortable.

I’m focusing a lot more on myself, and I feel a bit better. I think my mind and body really were just begging for attention. Boy are they getting it.

When you’re feeling down and out, what do you do? Treat yourself to anything special?

*photo credit: [via]

OMG.  Finally!


It’s nearly impossible to live life on your own terms…

Your parents expect you to get a good job. The dating pool gives you the stink eye when you’re not dolled up appropriately.  Your alumni chair sweetly requests updates of you getting promotions, marrying, saving the world or having adorable babies.

Society practically demands that you buy into the bigger/better/more consumerism that is kept alive by the promise of “fixing” you or “purchasing” your way to utter coolness.

What about what YOU want?  How can you even tell with those expectations in your face every single day?

“We expected more of you.”

“If only you’d live up to your potential…”

“What will people think if you do that?”

And it’s not only outside forces that we’ve got to contend with… Frequently, we’ve internalized that expectation mania and our inner dialogue is chock full of shoulds, and have tos, and don’t fuck this ups.  Ever think to yourself, “I won’t be a real grown up until I make 70K”  or “Once I get married, then I’ll be set”?

Sorry sunshine, life is not measured in checking off expectations.  If you’re traveling through life on autopilot, trying to do everything “correctly” without ever taking the time to decide how YOU REALLY FEEL ABOUT IT, you’re not living life.  You’re acting a part.

There is no right way to live.  There is only YOUR way.  And as long as that way doesn’t hurt others, allows you to be a kind and just person, and challenges you to go after your heart’s true desires, you owe it to yourself to get really clear about what YOUR way truly looks like.

Every day is another day to make deliberate choices about how you want to show up. Please, for the love of your own authenticity, stop trying to measure up to society’s expectations, or the Jones’, or your parents, or your college roommate’s version of life…

Get really clear on your true desires, your intrinsic motivation.  Clarity is ridiculously freeing.  When you know what YOUR version of success is, you can stop wanting things you don’t want.  You forgo measuring up, and instead, radiate delicious you-ness.

Take a stand against expectation mania, Tribe.  This is YOUR life.  Create your own path.  Dance to your own beat.  Stop caring so much about what others think about you.

Try caring about what YOU think about you.

p.s.  I’ve got some SUPEREXCITING news regarding The Joy Equation! You’re going to LOVE it!  Especially if you need a little assistance getting really clear about your definition of success…  Stay tuned for the excitement & if you’re not already signed up for the eNewsletter (upper right of this page)- get on the list!  Special goodies coming next Thursday!
photo credit:  KTvee


Did you all catch one of the common themes of the Quarterlife Bloggers?  Kendra packed it all up & moved to France, Robyn had quite the adventure in Australia, Marisa experienced a turning point at SXSW and though it hasn’t happened yet,  I know that Andrea has big plans come January.

TRAVEL.  Big time, more-than-a- Hawaiian-vacation, travel.  Soul-clearing, life-changing travel.

A trip around the world was my self prescribed solution to my Quarterlife Crisis as well. It seemed like escape from my world, escape from my job, escape from the traditional path, was the only thing that would help me reconnect to myself.  I spent the first 3 months of my trip decompressing and the last 7 months designing my life.

I was right.  It was exactly what I needed.

The Big Man and I left on May 1, 2007 and returned on March 1, 2008. We backpacked our way through 23 countries.  And because I know you’re curious cats– here’s the itinerary!

May 2007-July 2007

  • Central America–Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua & Costa Rica
  • Ecuador–Quito, Otavalo, Banos & Montanita
  • Peru–Cusco, Puno, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa & Lima

August 2007-October 2007 : Europe

  • Stockholm, Copanhagen, Amsterdam & Brussels
  • France– Paris, Bordueax
  • Spain–San Sebastian, Madrid, Valencia, Sevilla & Barcelona
  • Monte Carlo
  • Italy– Cinque Terre, Florence, Seina, Rome, Venice & Verona
  • Munich, Prague, Bled & Ljubljana
  • Croatia– Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Sailing the Kornati Islands, Zadar
  • England– London, Guildford & Winchestor

November 2007: South Africa

  • 2 week Overland Trip on the Garden Route from Capetown to Durban
  • Photo Safari at Zulu Nyala Game Reserve

December 2007: India

  • Mumbai
  • Goa- the beaches of Candolim and Mandrem

January 2008: Thailand

  • Monte Viste Retreat on Koh Phangan
  • Christmas & New Years on Koh Tao
  • Meet up with Kate & Senior in Phuket, Krabi, Ko Lanta & Ko Phi Phi
  • Bangkok

February 2008

  • Cambodia — Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, & Sihanoukville
  • Vietnam — Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An, Hanoi & Halong Bay
  • Back to Thailand for Sunshine — Koh Tao & Bangkok

March 2008

  • Returned home to Seattle, Washington, USA

I kept the typical travel blog, but I want to share with you some of the private thoughts I was writing in my journal. I filled two moleskine journals with notes & drawings & business plans while we were gone! Obviously, I was loving exploring & eating & making new friends, but I also spent qutie a lot of time “thinking”.

This is a bit of the writing to show you the process & the progress I was slowly making.

Let me emphasize slowly!  I was trying very hard to be patient with myself, but as a fairly impatient go-getter, it was incredibly hard to simply let the connection to my authentic self just happen.  I did it, though.  I let things unfold.  I mulled.  I practiced trusting my intuition.  I played hot or cold with all ideas no matter how crazy they seemed.

From Banos, Ecuador: “I was skimming a book at this adorable cafe about Prospering Women (thank god for book exchanges!) and it got me thinking about what I want to do when we get back.  The Big Man put up a good offer with the potential recruiting firm, but I don’t want it to feel like “his project”.  He’s adamant that I won’t want to go back to working for someone else & I think he’s right.  I’m not sure how I feel about recruiting– I need to make sure I’m doing something I WANT to be doing.  Just not sure what that is…”

From Koln, Germany: “So we’re walking in the train station & I was remarking how I think Mom would love to come “backpack” Europe.  [The Big Man] said that travel is a constant opportunity to learn something completely new every moment, unlike being home.  It made so much sense to me!  That’s why I love world travel so much & why I thought  Mom would love it as well — lifelong learners!”

From Vernazza, Italy: “I think I’m finally feeling recovered & revitalized from all the craziness of my old life.  And here, on the incredible Cinque Terre, I’ve been doing some thinking.  Ah, yes, more thinking…  What did I want to be when I was little? An interior designer, a camp director, a college professor, an advertising executive, a psychologist…  Does any of that still apply?   What really makes me feel alive?  Connection with other people, the outdoors, the power of a great song or movie, creating opportunities for others to feel special, a sense of possibility, spontaneous playfulness, pride in a job well done…”

From Drakensberg, South Africa: [This is a great one!  It’s my future Bio before Stratejoy was born… It’s pretty incredible to reread my own thoughts as I get closer & closer to the final idea!]  Molly B Hoyne, CEO of Union Wellness & founder of Authentic Retreats Northwest, provides strategies for Joyful Living.  She is a frequent contributor to Oprah magazine & the Real Simple channel, as well as various travel publications around the world.  Hoyne’s passions included hosting Outside the Box Camp for Young Women, throwing celebrated house concerts & the great outdoors.  Her joyful living is based in Seattle with her husband & two extraordinary children.

From Hoi An, Vietnam: “Today I took myself to a cafe, sat back & really appreciated the thinking I’ve been doing over the course of this trip.  I’ve been exposed to so many new ideas & observed so many different ways of life.  I have really & truly connected to my vision of success & am enthused about bringing Company X to fruition.  I am so excited about the changes I’m making in my own life to grow & push & seek joy.  And incredibly excited to share these breakthroughts with other woman who feel that sense of quiet desperation.  There so much I still need to learn, but I feel that my heart & my head are in the right place & ready to move forward.  I am truly living my mission to celebrate each day authentically & inspire others to do the same.”

If you’ve ever taken a course or done any coaching with me  (Hello lovelies!!), I’m sure you recognize bits of Stratejoy in those last few entries. As I’ve mentioned, a lot of the creation of my content came from what I was taking myself through on the trip.  If I could send everyone on a trip around the world, I would.  Knowing that is a huge sacrifice for most people, my aim with Strategjoy is to take the self reflection, clarity & lifestyle design that I discovered on my trip & share it with my Tribe.

That’s what I’m doing now!  Trying to bottle up the best of what I’ve learned into managable sips, like a month long workshop or a homestudy course, to spread the word of joyous living on your own terms.  To start an Authentic Happiness movement.

I know, I know– You’re dying for more travel information.  I’ll wrap it up by answering the two most common questions I get about my trip…

F.A.Q Travel Questions

How did I do it? When people ask me this, they’re always referring to the money. No, I’m not a trust fund baby.  Yes, I quit my hotel sales job.  No, I didn’t make any money for a year.  Yes, I was in debt when I got home.  But…

I was lucky — the Big Man & I spent 9 months planning our escape, so I saved up as much money as I could.  I needed to be able to pay my ridiculous Cornell loans, cover health & car insurance, keep my cell phone number & take care of other bills while we were gone. We sold everything we owned: cars, condo, furniture, bikes, bbq, excess everything.  And the real kicker, the Big Man already ran his own internet based company. He didn’t lose his livelihood. He hired an employee to watch the “shop” and kept closely connected through internet cafes around the world.

I will always be intensely grateful for his generosity and gift of “showing me the world”.

What was my favorite country? Don’t make me choose!   I answer this question with a fairly rote reply these days.  I don’t have a favorite country, but I do have favorite experiences.  And here they are!

Trekking in Peru

Mt Salkantay Peru

We went on an alternative trek to Machu Picchu with a fabulous company called Llamapath.  This trek is the closest one to what we did– I can’t find our exact version on the site anymore.  It was hard.  It was breathtaking.  We made some incredible friends & saw some incredible vistas.  We drank mata tea delivered to our tent at 4:30 am.  We climbed to 14,000+ feet.  We soaked in hot springs.  We saw Machu Pichu at sunrise & it was just as amazing as you imagine.

Sailing in Croatia

Sailing in Croatia

The Big Man’s the sailor, but I absolutely loved our two weeks exploring the Dalmatian Coast & Kornati Islands.  I couldn’t have been happier with this budget friendly flotilla with Activity Yachting! I learned how to sail, fell in love with Croatia, made life long friends with 3 crazy chicks from London & fell alseep on a sail boat in a severe thunderstorm.  Oh, and drank a bunch of wine, swam in the Mediterranean in October & explored some incredible harbors.

Beach Time in Thailand

Thai Beach

By the time we got to Thailand, I was exhausted.  I was sick of dragging my pack, I was tired of having our camaras & laptops & ipods stolen (yes I know- we’re such American techno geeks), & I was done with moving every 3 days.  So we planted ourselves on various Thai islands for longer stretches.  We’d get into a little routine of beach, motorbike, beach, internet cafe, mango break, beach.  It felt like heaven!  This pic was taken on Christmas Day (also the Big Man’s birthday!).

After all this reminiscing, I’m ready to hit the international airport again.



What makes up a well lived life? It’s an intensely personal question. Your vision of success may be vastly different than mine.  I may value connections, authenticity & adventure; dream of kids, a thriving business & living in another country.  You’re driven by success, learning & independence; you won’t be complete until you hit CEO & found a charity. Our neighbor places importance on harmony, creativity & the community garden she started; the mailman digs abundance, vitality & contributing to his church.

That’s what makes the world such an intriguing beast.  We’re fascinating in our differences.

Whatever your definition of “the good life” may be, it’s vital that you enjoy & get meaning from the day-to-day while on your journey. This is something we all have in common, regardless of the particular path we’re on. Your daily experiences (your tasks, your schedule, the places you spend your energy & time) are what make up your life.  And in my book, that’s all we’ve really got.  Life.

“Attention is a tangible measure of love.  Whatever receives our time and attention becomes the center of gravity, the focus of your life.  This is what we do with what we love: We allow it to become our center.  What is at the center of your life?” –Wayne Muller

Are you ready for some inspiring & practical ways to rev up your capacity for joy, fulfillment & meaning? Ready for some tactics to improve the quality of your day-to-day life? I think I hear you shouting “Hell yes!”

Way to be.  Way to be.


[Welcome to a 4 part Blog Post on the philosophy behind Stratejoy.  We’ll hit the 4 Pillars of Inspiration, Clarity, Accountability & Camaraderie over the next 2 weeks. Stay tuned & if you like–share with a friend or two!]

After you’ve entered the magical land of Inspiration, the next thing you need to do is seek Clarity.  What do you actually want?  And is that response your true authentic answer or a programmed reflex?  This pillar calls for a great level of self reflection and honesty.  And it takes some work.  But I think it’s the most exciting, fabulous, mind bending, doors opening part of the process!  Ladies, start your engines…

Second Step:  Get Clear

Here’s the million dollar question: “What does your best life look like?”

Quick, gut check: What are you feeling when you read that question?  Are you excited imagining all the possibilities?  Are you jazzed, though slightly overwhelmed? Does it remind you to take some action to move forward on your journey?