Inspiration Archives - Stratejoy
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It’s the start of new blogging goodness here at Stratejoy!

We’re bringing back real time stories from real life women.

This time I’m tapping the incredible ladies of my Elevate Mastermind group to share their dreams, fears, successes and failures with the Tribe.  Not all of them will be writing (since it’s totally not a requirement of Elevate!), but as I found out at our retreat — over half of them identify as writers!  And after getting to known their sassy selves and incredible stories over 4 days in Ojai, I knew we’d all benefit from hearing the ups and downs of their year of ELEVATING!

We’re going on a introduction binge this week — getting you familiar with with the ladies you’ll be hearing from this year.

After that, I’ll be writing early in the week and we’ll be featuring an Elevate Writer each Thursday.

Please join me in lovingly welcoming each of these brave souls!

They are going to be cracking their hearts wide open for us, to remind our entire Tribe that we are never alone.

XOXO

Molly-Sig211


Mallory200x200WITH LOVE FROM

Mallory, soon-to-be-mama and current Elevate 2014 Sister.

Mallory is a dreamer, a seeker of inspiration and curator of life’s beauty. A researcher by day, professional pinner by night, she’s often distracted by shiny things and has marked 2014 as the year to end her 90% completion streak starting with giving birth to Zee Shrimpress and launching the first addition to her multrepreneur portfolio – a luxury baby boutique – because who doesn’t love ridiculously cute, tiny things?  When not honing her mad visualization skills with Zee Hubs, she can be found celebrating a circular life in Los Angeles with Puffin Muffin (puppy) and Skittler (cat).

 


 

MalloryCollage

Molly’s going to laugh at my application. If I haven’t launched YET, do I even have the right to sign up for another one of her programs? I’m just going to wait…NO! I’m just going to do it. If I don’t get in, I don’t get in. Life stays the same. But if I do…Well then…

 

And with that I made the most deliciously selfish decision to invest in myself.

 

Since meeting Molly as one of her first Lifestyle Design tribettes (later to become Joy Equation) and many a Council later, I’ve known her programs are exceptional for connecting with a supportive tribe. But Elevate is more than that for me. It is a public declaration. My own Jerry Maguire moment. A commitment to believe in myself and show some money to prove it’s business time.

 

It is a financial investment in my personal stock – and really, that’s the only stock with low risk and high reward, so why not invest?

 

Elevate also resonates with my core belief in circular living. That our lives are not meant to be laid out in a straight path, one goal to the next. Instead our goals are ever evolving as we do. That it’s never too late to become who you might have been. That we should never lost sight of the small child we once were. The one with big dreams and an infallible spirit, before the world said who and what we ought to be and do.

 

Admittedly much of my life was lived counter to this belief. I was the typical straight A, Type-A, overachiever who suffers from people pleasing perfectionism. And that worked for some time. It got me the grades, the scholarships, the connections and jobs, the friends, the guys. It nearly got me through college. Then life happened and kept happening. Slowly but surely I found myself right smack in the middle of a quarter-life crisis, where – as so many of us say – everything looked great on paper, so why am I unhappy? Why did I feel burnt out at the ripe age of 22 years old? What was wrong with me?

 

Turns out absolutely nothing.

 

As I came to find out, it wasn’t that I was broken. I had merely lost sight of myself, my spirit, my passions. My voice.

 

I had lost my way and just needed to remember the map has always been with me – more to the point, within me. It’s always been kept safe with that little girl. The one with the big dreams, who believed she could do and be anything she wanted. The one who sang (read: screamed) ‘Part of Your World’ with every intention of being Ariel some day.

 

And all it took was remembering who she was and trusting that sometimes what seems like going backwards might be the biggest step in moving forward that you need to take.

 

So here I am 7 years after the break down, 5 years after finding Molly and deciding to launch a baby shoe boutique, 2 months into Elevate. I don’t have all the answers, but I have a couple things that are more important.

 

A commitment. The commitment I made to myself, family and Elevate sisters that 2014 will be the year to stop making excuses.

 

And a baby girl. Before she’s even born, Zee Shrimpress has become more of a catalyst than any other motivation. And thanks to her, priorities all the sudden seem so much clearer.

 

Somehow I think another little girl is winking her approval.


 

Mallory200x200WITH LOVE FROM

Mallory, soon-to-be-mama and current Elevate 2014 Sister.

Mallory is a dreamer, a seeker of inspiration and curator of life’s beauty. A researcher by day, professional pinner by night, she’s often distracted by shiny things and has marked 2014 as the year to end her 90% completion streak starting with giving birth to Zee Shrimpress and launching the first addition to her multrepreneur portfolio – a luxury baby boutique – because who doesn’t love ridiculously cute, tiny things?  When not honing her mad visualization skills with Zee Hubs, she can be found celebrating a circular life in Los Angeles with Puffin Muffin (puppy) and Skittler (cat).

 


molly mahar & danielle laporte holiday council

It’s no secret that registration for the fourth annual Holiday Council is open.  And I’m totally ready.

We’ll be reflecting on 2013 and dreaming for 2014 starting on December 2nd.

The Councils are online pow wows that gather like-minded ladies together for 21 fast-paced days and address the juiciest issues facing us as ambitious, connected, soulful women.  If you haven’t tried one yet, now is definitely the time.

If you’re ready to dive into your own life with compassionate awareness, align with your true potential by dreaming your ass off, and set yourself up for success in the new year with actionable plans — this December exploration is for you.

Take the time and space to connect to your own wisdom, sugar.

Together, we’ll release and renew.

Dream and scheme.

Plot and plan.

HURRAH!


One of my favorite parts of The Council is sharing the interviews I’ve been doing with inspiring women from around the web.  This year I thought long and hard about who I wanted to talk to — I wanted women who seemed to manifest true magic in their lives, who had killer years, who were really embracing joyful devotion to their dreams.

So I made some big asks. And I got some big beautiful yeses.

I always want the inside scoop (I promise I give them fair warning!), so I made sure I had permission to quiz them about the “behind the scenes” — to really dig into stories of both success and failure.

You’ll hear me say multiple times, “And what does that look like in your life?  And how do you do that?  What’s your ritual?”

I’m not as interested in theory as I am in personal practices.  And self-deprecating stories. And loads of laughter.

I am totally in love with the conversation I had with Danielle LaPorte — we dove into her surprise book deal, the importance of both her girlfriends and her gas fireplace, her devotion to reflecting on what she no longer wants to compromise on, and her backstage diva demands.

And desires.  Lots and lots of desires.

(click here to tweet this interview)

Not only was Danielle darling enough to talk with me in the final push to launch her new site and debut her entire Desire Map Collection, but she also wanted ALL OF YOU to benefit.

Thus, a sneak peak! So fun!  Happy Everything!

Help yourself to…

32 entire minutes of me asking D about the massive changes 2013 brought and the magic she has on tap for 2014.

Download

If you like what you hear, there are 6 additional interviews included when you join  The Holiday Council.

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Looking forward to spending December in community with you!

XOXO

Molly-Sig211

Why-Is-Being-Yourself-So-Damn-Hard

One of the toughest things you can do these days is “be yourself” in a world that wants you to be so many different things, all at the same time.

You hear, “Be sexy. Vulnerable. Good. Young. Successful. A survivor. Be dutiful. Creative. Loyal. Nice. A superwoman. Thin. Quiet. Rich. Be fashionable. Assertive. A homemaker. A businesswoman. Savvy. Connected. Be soft. Be strong.”

You consume so many messages from others—from society, your community, your families—that tell you what is acceptable, desirable, or achievable that you can’t hear the siren song within you.

You can’t hear siren song that screams with craving, melodious with individual choice and laced with a booty-shaking beat.

That song gets quieted.

Instead, you wake up every morning with a heavy heart as you prepare do to battle with another day.

You repeat the unspoken mantra of successful women, “Do it all and make it look easy. Do it all and make it look easy. Do it all and make it look easy.”

You try to be all things to all people. To succeed. To measure up. To achieve.

Being yourself?
Not even on your radar.

Until one day it is.

Without warning, that siren song of individuality plays full blast and nothing you do lowers the volume. You start hearing the desires of your inner self. You start questioning the snide remarks of your inner critic who has been cackling with glee all these years of smallness and conformity. You start ignoring the expectations of others.

External measures of success, and maps for the expected path, and the need to make others happy at your own expense start slowly start fading away.

It’s absurdly uncomfortable to start becoming yourself, but you’ll arrive at the day when it’s the only choice you have.

When you start standing up for yourself and your life, you’ll get huge amounts of resistance from others. It’s often disguised as thinly veiled friendly advice or assumptive motherly concern or backhanded compliments.

“A freelance writer? How amazing would that be? I don’t know anyone who has pulled that off!”

“Moving to Brazil? How brave of you! Isn’t that dangerous?”

“Oh gosh, I remember when I wanted to get a divorce. I finally realized that it just wasn’t worth putting the kids through that.”

You often start the unraveling of your staid social shell in small and symbolic gestures.

You might start by dying your hair, getting a tattoo, or starting a blog to write with your real voice. You might progress to traveling on your own, quitting your job, breaking up with someone who “seemed perfect”, or embarking on a dream that seems crazy to everyone else.

You will end up learning how to love yourself, truly and deeply and through the messy, dark, and uncomfortable moments.

All of this “being yourself” may feel like a fight for your life – for the ability to follow your heart in a society that doesn’t celebrate those who stray off the path.

But let me tell you this, darling.

In being yourself, you’re allowing yourself the ultimate honor.

In finally tuning into your siren song, you’re earning mad karmic points as the Universe conspires to help you live your dreams.

You’re saying,

I see you, Self, and I think your quirks, your ideas, your ways of engaging the world are beautiful. I’m not going to shove it down or shut you up any longer. I’m going to let you bubble to the surface in all your madness and glory.

I’m going to let you dye your hair purple, or go to space camp, or live in the fire tower. I’m going to let you sell all your stuff so you can afford the tiny loft in East Village, or go back to school to get your MFA, or travel through Southeast Asia, or start that business. I’m going to let you home school your kids or take a lover or stand up to the injustice you’ve been enduring.

I trust your intuition about people and opportunities.

I want you to take giant leaps of faith and lean on others by asking for help. I will allow you to ignore the haters, to let the negative comments ping off your back because you understand that you can’t please everyone, but that pleasing yourself is most important.

You, Self, are strong enough to do all of this. You do not have to be everything to everyone all at the same time. You just have to be you.

Your strength is measured not in fighting or conflict or winning, but in remaining true to that inner voice and those crazy dreams.

Your strength can be measured by putting the work in everyday, by picking your own heart off the floor, by running your own race.

Being yourself and allowing others the same grace is your measure of strength.

(click to tweet)

You do not need to “do it all and make it look easy”.

You do need to be you.

Flex those muscles. Listen deeply. Let go of external expectations– the “shoulds”, the “have tos” and the “rules”. Play your gorgeous siren song on repeat, as you tackle showing up as yourself day in and day out.

Let it become easy. Trust in your strength.

I will do the same, sista’.

Molly_Signature

240731542552026114_Yb4YysjJAhhh! Interview week!

It’s totally bittersweet for me, but I think this was my most favorite week of the whole season! It was so much fun to see the questions my fellow Season 7 rockstars came up with and I had a blast answering them.

You may learn a few things about me that you didn’t want to know and for that I don’t really apologize…I’m quirky and I’m told its a pretty lovable trait. ENJOY!

Where do you see your self (or hope to be) 6 months from now? A year from now? 

In 6 months, I’m hoping to have a new job as a wellness coach {preferably working from home}. I will have the Elevate retreat, BiSC and a trip to the NC beaches under my belt and be reveling in all the magical memories I’ve made in 2013. I’ll be feeling connected to my authentic self and be fine-tuning my life to reflect that.

In a year, I hope to be feeling settled in my new career, and fresh off of another successful Holiday Council. I’m hoping that next year I’ll be feeling ready for a year filled with peace and enjoyment following all the changes I’m making in 2013. I imagine that participating in Elevate this year will push me well beyond my comfort zone and into that sacred zone of authenticity I’m seeking. So anything I do in 2014 and beyond will just be that much more awesome because it’ll be coming from a place of authenticity and fierce self-love.

What’s the best book you read this year? 

Well since I’m completely addicted to erotica – I’d have to say that Bared to You and Reflected in You by Silvia Day were my favorites. But the Fifty Shades trilogy was a close second. Try as you might, you will not get me to admit how many times I’ve read each of these books, but it’s a shameful amount! {Maybe these should be listed for the guilty pleasure question too!}

Do you feel like blogging about your life made you look at it differently?

Absolutely! I think I benefitted immensely from having to actually articulate my thoughts. While I’m not as good at it as some of my fellow bloggers, I did manage to stumble upon some realizations that I would never have made if I hadn’t been writing for an audience. Knowing that people were reading and possibly identifying with my transition made me dig a little deeper than I might otherwise have done.

Which current living celebrity do you think you’d be best friends with in real life?

I mean, I’m pretty amazing so I think they would all love me. But I have a thing for adorable southern girls. I’m just so fascinated by them and completely enthralled. So I think a spunky southern girl like Miranda Lambert, Kellie Pickler or Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland would be my ideal celeb bestie.

Did anything happen during the season that surprised you? 

Several people that I know in real life contacted me mid-season to say they had been following my posts and really identified with them. I hadn’t expected that! At all.  If I’m being honest, I was surprised when you lovely internet friends commented or tweeted me because I half expected most people to not relate to my self-perceived problems. So surprises all around!

What quote best summarizes what you’ve learned during the season?

“Your journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think you lost time. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time.” – Asha Tyson

What is your guilty pleasure? What is it that totally lights you up that you’re afraid to admit to? 

Well I’m not sure some of you can handle anymore guilty pleasure admissions from me…BUT since you asked – I have a thing for really juvenile romantic comedies. Movies like A Cinderella Story, Freaky Friday, What a Girl Wants, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants {1 & 2!}, 13 Going on 30, The Prince & Me, The Princess Diaries, Son in Law, Uptown Girls – all in my DVD library. I’m not sure whether this or my smut addiction should be more shameful. But you can bet I’m not losing any sleep trying to decide!

What is the biggest change you’ve noticed in yourself since we started blogging for Stratejoy?

I’m happier. I’ve relaxed my expectations of myself a bit and tried like hell to lose the guilt. I’m enjoying what I have in the present and not pinning all of my happiness on some future date or accomplishment. It’s fabulously liberating!

How did you fit blogging into your life? – Did you have a routine? Did it add joy or stress? Did you think about it over the week or just sit down and write? Etc.

I have a really random writing process to begin with and I knew it would be a bit of a challenge going into this adventure. I found that some weeks I was really inspired to write and others I was letting all the shit in my head get in my way. All those voices that say I’m not a great writer, no one will identify, my problems aren’t big enough for anyone else to care – they can all overwhelm me and leave me with the worst writer’s block. Add in the health problems I had in the fall and the plague that my little one and I both had twice and you can see why some weeks were more of a challenge. Thankfully, the completely adorable and wonderful Katie is a loving blogger momma and she put up with my incessant tardiness. {Love you sweet Katie!}.

I’d say overall the experience added joy to my life though. While I did struggle at times, the need to write something that seemed worthy of sharing was a great motivator to look more closely at myself and inspired some awesome discoveries! I am forever grateful to Molly for allowing me to be a part of Season 7! For the small amount of stress it caused – it added 10 times that much joy. So I’m pretty sure that’s what winning looks like.

How did people you know react? – did you share it openly, were family and friends supportive, did you censor yourself, etc.

I’m the kind of person who worries what other people think about me and I wasn’t sure how anyone would react – so I didn’t tell everyone I know in real life. As the season progressed, I found myself sharing with more people than I originally did. I didn’t have a single person judge me negatively – everyone had a positive reaction. I was honestly amazed that so many people could relate to my issues – which seems ridiculous to write because the whole premise of Stratejoy is that we all have these things that we struggle with and it brings us together to love and support each other and then realize we are all NORMAL. Why I didn’t think this same premise applied to the people I know in real life seems a little silly now.

Did you dig as deep as you could and open up as much as you could?

The simple answer is no. There just isn’t enough space for me to share all the chaos in my head when I’m limited to 500-1000 words per week. But I shared openly and honestly about the transition I’m going through. I share even more about myself on my personal blog so feel free to visit if you just can’t get enough of me!

When you’re curled up on the couch reading with a mug of something warm, what’s the book and what’s in the mug?

I drink a ridiculous amount of coffee {though I’m strictly drinking decaf now} so I’m sure I’d have coffee in my mug. I’m either reading some of the smut I mentioned in a previous question or some story about a group of girls that travels and has fabulous experiences. Because apparently my life is fueled by coffee, sex and wanderlust! Win!

What’s on your bedside table?

A hair tie, one earring, an iphone dock, a picture of me and the little person when she was a baby and a water bottle. Clearly I need some lessons in styling!

What were you like in high school?  What parts of you have remained the same?

Hmmm…high school. This is a tough one. I feel like high school was a bit of a blur. I went to a really, really small school {like 40 people in my class small} and we were all obsessed with having long-term boyfriends. Mine was older so I spent the vast majority of my time from sophomore year on with people who had already graduated. I didn’t partake in all the fun high school things. I rode a Harley with my boyfriend and watched his band play gigs in bars and whatnot. I was waaay too cool for high school. Of course, looking back I can see I was just a lost girl looking for somewhere to belong.

I didn’t really share my innermost thoughts with my peers. I was nice and had plenty of friends – I was even voted Miss Senior and was on the prom court junior and senior years. But I was more concerned about graduating so I could get married and have babies. I’ll go ahead and insert all the lyrics of “Unanswered Prayers” by Garth Brooks here because THANK GOD those prayers were not answered! I’m not sure I can say that I’m anything like my high school self, but then I’m an old lady. 2013 marks 15 years since I graduated. Wowza, where has the time gone?!?!

Who are the top 5 people on your “list”?  (You know, the list…  Those 5 people you could sleep with if you magically met them and your partner would have to be okay with it, because damn! You just slept with Johnny Depp!) 

Oooh, such a naughty question! I love it. And maybe I’m just boy crazy, but I hardly think 5 covers it!  So…

Sam Seaborn – {West Wing-ers tell me you agree!} He’s pretty much my ideal man. Be still my heart!

Chace Crawford – I don’t even care that he smokes pot. He’s beautiful.

Channing Tatum – Hi, did you see Magic Mike? Gah!

Bradley Cooper – Back off ladies! I get him first!

Ian Somerhalder – Those eyes, that jaw, the smile, OH MY!

And honorable mentions for Patrick Dempsey, Josh Lucas and Gerard Butler. I mean, I’m not going to turn them down or anything.

If you could give yourself 5 months ago one piece of advice, what would it be? How about you 5 months from now?

Worry less. Don’t lose sleep or sanity about things you can’t change. And stop caring what other people think. Make yourself happy and let the rest go.

In the movie of your life, which actress/celeb would play you? 

If I get to choose, then I totally pick Blake Lively. I mean, could she BE any more gorgeous? And that hair. We’ll pretend like the slight resemblances we have {i.e. long blondish hair and blue eyes} make her the perfect choice. Great, it’s settled. Nice to have you on board!

There you have it. If you have a great answer to one of the questions, I totally want to hear it in the comments below!

Guilty pleasures or “list” candidates anyone???

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Image via: Pinterest!

 

p.s.  The 3rd Stratejoy Essay Contest is open for entries!  Ready to win the $500?  Be featured here at Stratejoy?  Yes!  The theme: “How has a transition revealed a more authentic you?”

p.p.s.  The next Book Club/Tribe Chat Fest is going to be about marriage and partners.  Juicy, juicy. We’re reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed: A Love Story and will be jamming about it on February 13.

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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}

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What a week this has been. Last week I was riding high on endorphins and inspiration. I was feeling like I could tackle anything that came my way. But if I’m being honest, a tiny part in the back of my mind was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I know that sounds pretty negative, but that’s kind of how my luck goes.

And just as I expected, the other shoe dropped.

I was excited and nervous about my post last Friday. It was pretty personal. It felt like baring my soul to all of you, but I was feeling so good that I couldn’t help but share all the good stuff that was surging through me.

Then the horrific tragedy in Connecticut happened. Any thoughts of myself evaporated in an instant. I spent most of the day Friday crying and counting down the minutes until I could pick up my baby girl from school.

If my twitter and facebook feeds are any indication, I think every parent in America was thinking along the same lines as I was.

Now I know there are highly divisive issues swirling around this tragedy, but this is hardly the appropriate place to discuss those so I will stay far away from them.

I will, however, tell you that I was affected in a major way. Maybe it’s because my daughter about the same age as the children who were killed. Maybe it’s because the town I live in is a similarly affluent community where there isn’t much crime. And suddenly this awful thing happened in a place that could easily have been my town.

Whatever the reason, I’ve had a hard time focusing on anything else.

I purposely limit my exposure to news in these kinds of situations because it doesn’t do me any good to sit and watch the interviews and the scared faces and all of that. Even with limited exposure, I’ve been having nightmares. I’ve been hyper-vigilant every time I’ve left the house.

I’ve been terrified that something will happen to my daughter.

By some stroke of luck {well lucky for my anxiety level}, my baby girl ended up being sick this week. She missed school on Monday and then Wednesday and Thursday.

She did go to school Tuesday before her fever came back and I literally had to force myself to drive out of the parking lot after I walked her to class.

The school district has tried to reassure the parents that they have safeguards in place that will keep our children safe, but it is really hard to leave your child somewhere when you feel like they are vulnerable.

School should be a safe place – where kids play and learn and make friends.

But now it’s not.

That illusion is shattered forever.

As the week has dragged on, I’ve considered homeschooling. I’ve talked about starting a homeschooling co-op with other moms. I’ve considered transferring my daughter to a small private school.

None of these options are the perfect solution so I will continue to struggle with the decisions until I can find some clarity on the topic.

While I’ve had a difficult time processing all my overwhelming emotions this past week, I’ve been trying to continue practicing gratitude. I’m thankful to have a {relatively} healthy child who fills my life with joy.

I have great sorrow for the families who can no longer say the same thing, and I feel compelled to do something to honor their short little lives. 

I stumbled upon a movement that Ann Curry of the Today Show proposed, and I immediately knew I had to take part in it. It’s called 26 Acts of Kindness, and is exactly what it sounds like. Twenty-six random acts of kindness, acts of any size, that demonstrate to others that there are still many good people living in the world.

It is so easy to become absorbed in our own lives, or to become overwhelmed with all the negativity that spews from the news channels all hours of the day. But there are still good people in the world. If you need proof of that, check out the facebook page or twitter hashtag for the 26 Acts movement.

It brings tears to my eyes to see all the photos and descriptions of the acts of kindness.

I know I didn’t lose my daughter in the tragedy, but I lost a little more of my faith in humanity. I’m hopeful that by continuing to be grateful for the good things in my own life, and sharing that goodness with {at least} 26 others, I can honor the 26 amazing lives that were taken in a senseless, evil act.

I’m not usually one to ask others to do things for me, but if you find yourself reading this post – I very politely ask you to consider joining the 26 Acts movement in any way that would fit into your life. The more of us who pay it forward, the more we can restore a little of that faith in the inherent goodness of humanity. 

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Image via : Flickr

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

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

One of my best friends from fourth grade through seventh grade was a girl named Christine. Her dad was in the Army and she lived in my city with her parents, her two older sisters and her golden retriever named “Sugar.” Their house was so organized and they were so kind and polite; they were the perfect military family. Christine always seemed wise beyond her years, and I was so honored that someone so mature would want to be friends with a hot mess like me.

She is the one that gently told me that Santa Claus is not actually real. She made me try liverwurst for the first time…and I liked it. Her dad had actually categorized and numbered their entire VHS collection and if you wanted to find a movie, you looked up its number in a binder and then found it on the shelf. We usually ignored the other movies and just watched “Shag,” a Phoebe Cates classic. Every month, she got the elastics changed in her braces to match the holiday or season. And best of all, she was my friend.

Christine moved to Italy after 7th grade and after a few attempts at being pen pals, we lost touch. When I was in college I heard that she was back and going to the University of Rhode Island, but again, I didn’t make the effort to find her. Losing touch with people is…awkward. I feel like sometimes it is almost better to remember people the way they were when you knew them best. I liked the Christine I remembered from years ago and I didn’t want to change that.

I found her on Facebook a few years ago and it ended up being perfect – we didn’t try to “catch up” or anything like that. It was a nice way to reconnect and see how we were both doing without trying too hard.

This summer, a post of hers popped up in my Facebook news feed:

“I’ve been diagnosed with leukemia, not given a death sentence. I’m taking a page from the LIVESTRONG Manifesto:

‘I believe in life. My life. I believe in living every minute of it with every ounce of my being. And that I must not let cancer take control of it. I believe in energy: channeled and fierce. I believe in focus: getting smart and living strong. Unity is strength. Knowledge is power. Attitude is everything.’

If you can support me in this, I welcome every word, thought and prayer that you want to send. If you find it hard to be positive, if you’re overwhelmed or sad about my diagnosis, please keep it to yourself. I’m strong, I’m a fighter. I’m facing this head on and I WILL beat it.”

I sat in front of the screen for a long time staring at her words. I was simultaneously so sad and so proud of her for displaying such inspiring strength. She continued to post about her progress and her will to live. She never complained, she was always incredibly thankful and positive. Everything about her outlook made me feel like she was absolutely going to beat this thing. I err on the side of pessimism in scary situations, mostly because I just don’t want to be surprised if something goes wrong…but everything about Christine’s battle made me think that there was absolutely no way she was going to die.

And then she did.

She found out she had leukemia on June 20 of this year and by October 13, she was dead. Before that, she was living happily in Hawaii and had her whole life ahead of her. Excuse my French, but what. the. fuck.

Losing someone you haven’t really talked to in over 15 years is a really weird thing. I almost feel like I’m not allowed to be sad because I didn’t really “know” her anymore. But at the same time, for four very important years in my life, she was one of my best friends. I’m mourning the loss of that little girl who made me feel so special.

Her funeral was today and I tried so hard to make myself go, but I couldn’t do it. I hadn’t seen her since 7th grade and I didn’t want our reunion to be under those circumstances. I’ve been feeling enormously guilty about it all day, but writing about it has been extremely therapeutic.

I mentioned earlier that she was wise beyond her years, and she really was. Sometimes I wonder if she had been here before, especially the way that she truly understood what was important in life. I feel sad knowing that she left this world without ever having the chance to get married or have children, but I feel so happy for her knowing that she made the most out of her time here. Without even directly talking to me, she inspired me via Facebook with her amazing outlook and view of the world. I think she did that for a lot of people. And if folks can say that about you when you go, whether you’re 29 or 99, you can rest assured that you lived a beautiful, meaningful life.

Thank you, Christine.

 

 

 

I was thinking about old school America Online the other day and how much I cared about my profile at the time. I remembered there was a “Hobbies” section and that it was filled with things that I actually did. Like, real hobbies.

Somewhere along the way, I feel like my hobbies became “interests” – things I enjoyed, but didn’t actually do. I don’t act anymore, but I go see shows. I don’t sing anymore, but I listen to music. I don’t perform in dance shows anymore, but I get drunk at weddings and jump around to “Shout!”

When did this change happen? I think it was a gradual thing that began when I graduated high school. First of all, I wasn’t in Rhode Island anymore and after meeting a lot of new people, I was slowly figuring out that I wasn’t as great at my hobbies as I thought I was. I started to doubt my abilities and instead of saying “screw it! I like performing! I’m going to keep doing it because it makes me happy!” I started to shy away from the things that used to make me who I was.

I also think the change happened because as you grow older, I feel like people stop asking you what your hobbies are and switch over to asking what you do for a living. I’m fine with asking people about what they do to pay the bills, but I hate how we ask it in such a way that implies our jobs should be our new hobby. I don’t think anyone has asked me about my hobbies since I was in high school (unless you count sleazy dudes ask what I do for “fun”). So, I decided to ask myself the question, “Mary, what are your hobbies?”

I don’t know.

I really don’t know anymore. I don’t really read, take any classes, create anything…my hobby seems to be sitting on my ass.

Why don’t I do anything? I’m not really sure, but I do think there is a fear of failure there. I’ve stopped letting myself mess up, which is a huge part of what makes us all so delightfully human. You can’t mess up if you’re having fun, but I haven’t figured out how to chill out yet.

I’m looking for something that’s going to make me feel alive again, but I don’t even know where to begin.

What are YOUR hobbies?

 


Last month I participated in a psych study at Columbia University. The study involved, among other things, taking a survey every morning that asked me about my mood. On a scale of 1 to 7, “Not at all” to “All the time,” I had to rate things like:

I feel sad/blue

I am worried/anxious

I feel angry/irritable

Every morning I would take out my pen, circle a whole bunch of “Not at all”s, and send the survey off.

5 months ago I don’t think my answers would have been so cheery. And Stratejoy is largely to thank for that.

When Molly called to tell me I was accepted as a season 6 blogger, I said, “I feel like I’m going to throw up.” I barely slept the night before my first post went live. I was nervous about coming clean to the world about my insecurities and putting myself out there because I was a sad, unconfident person and why would anyone care and WHAT DID I SIGN UP FOR OMG CAN I CANCEL.

When I started reading the comments on that first post, I was overwhelmed. The Stratejoy community is so wonderful and supportive that I can’t believe I was reluctant to share my story here. Mondays quickly became my favorite day of the week (which, admittedly, is easier to have happen when you don’t have a job). Between the Fierce Love course and the ridiculous outpouring of amazingness I received each week, my mental health vastly improved. I can honestly say that while my quarterlife crisis may not be over, the worst of it absolutely is.

So to all of you – Molly, Katie, my 6 amazing co-bloggers, commenters, my “real life” friends who reached out to me with support – thank you. Your kind words and cheerleading have been invaluable, and I don’t know how I could have made myself so vulnerable every week without you.

In a way, it feels like my time at Stratejoy is ending prematurely. Not because I deserve to be here longer than anyone else, but because in the last 5 months I kind of haven’t done anything. My fellow bloggers are becoming fitness instructors, starting businesses, moving across the country, learning to say “YES” to more opportunities, pursuing their passions and finding more fulfilling jobs.

They are accomplishing shit and kicking ass and I feel inadequate.

What I think, though, is that maybe it isn’t the time for me to be doing those huge things. 2012 doesn’t have to be a year full of action if that’s not where I am in life. Maybe the changes that I needed were more quiet ones – learning to look in the mirror and be happy with what I see even if what I see isn’t a size 2, standing up for myself more, and being able to go out to a bar at night, not get a single lick of attention from any men, and just not give a fuck because I can know that I’m awesome without validation from some drunk, handsy dude (though I do like the occasional drunk handsy dude, of course).

So even though I’m not doing big things like Caiti, Jill, Rachel, Camilla, Cassie and Sarah, I’m okay with that. It’s not so much my life that’s in transition as it is my attitude. Which, I realize now, was totally necessary.

Seriously though, sidebar to fellow bloggers – YOU GUYS ARE SO AWESOME. Please move to New York immediately. I am completely inspired by all of your courage, smarts, and hotness. I’m humbled by the fact that I was allowed to blog with you and I wish you all 7 minutes in heaven with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. SEASON 6, BABY.

This sounds like goodbye, and in many ways it is. But really, I’m not going anywhere. I will always be involved with Stratejoy in any way that I can, and of course I still have an internet presence. I would love to stay in contact with this community, so if you should feel so inclined, you can reach out to me at:

–       Email me

–       @NotTheMermaid

–       Facebook

–       My personal blog, Not the Mermaid. I’m implementing a series which I am giving the very original name of “Stratejoy Monday,” where I’m going to continue writing posts just like the ones I write on Stratejoy right now. It’s a way of continuing the amazing journey that I’ve started here and interspersing introspection and self-love with posts about dining in the dark or why I hated 50 Shades of Grey.

Over the last week, I’ve encountered not one, but two quotes that really sum up some of the lessons that I’ve learned from my time at Stratejoy. Since I can’t decide between them, as my parting gift I’ll give you both.

The first is from Anthem, by Ayn Rand.

“For I know what happiness is possible to me on earth. And my happiness needs no higher aim to vindicate it. My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end.”

The second comes, interestingly enough, from Salt of Salt-n-Pepa. They were giving a free concert in Brooklyn last week, and while I knew it was going to be awesome, I hardly expected it to be inspirational (unless I were to lift a few pickup lines from Shoop. You know, like “If looks could kill you would be an uzi.” OKAY BAD JOKE OVER). During some between-songs banter, Salt started talking about how important it is to express yourself. She said:

“Don’t be afraid to express yourself. Because the real you is more fabulous than the fake anybody else.”

Thank you all again. Blogging here has been one of the most scarily liberating things I’ve ever done. I will miss this more than I can adequately express in 1,000 words. I know that this experience will help shape the next phase of my journey, because even if I don’t know where I’m going, I know now that I have the tools to get me there.

(Photo: This is from my friend’s bachelorette party in 2010. I don’t 100% know why I thought a pole dancing picture was an appropriate one for my last post aside from maybe the fact that I’m exhibiting a level of confidence in this picture that was lost to me before I started blogging for Stratejoy. So there you are.)

 

***Note from Katie:

Arielle – You have grown so much in the last 5 months.  I noticed a change in you within the first few weeks, but anxiously waited for the moment in which you could see them. While maybe your changes aren’t the same as everyone else’s, they’re yours, and now you can see them. Everyone is on their own journey, and girl, you have rocked yours!

You truly are an inspiration to so many women out there who are learning to love themselves. It’s been an honor to watch you flourish, and I cannot wait to see where you go from here. I’ll be holding you to Stratejoy Mondays. Expect reminder emails. 🙂

“20 years from now you will be disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the one’s you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”Mark Twain

xo-Katie

Here we go with my portion of the Stratejoy Season 6 questionnaire:

How has your perspective shifted over the past five months? How have you grown?

Over the past five months, I think I’ve slowly been shifting back to my roots and realizing that I can’t take life too seriously. It’s not worth spending hours stressing over thousands of miniscule and medium things when I could be harnessing that energy to create real change in the world and in myself. Living in the East Coast, I think, automatically makes me more antsy whereas coming from the West I know that sometimes I just need to go with the flow of life in order to really enjoy it. I can’t control everything, and that’s okay.

What do you wish you’d known before you started your QLC journey?
I wish I’d known that it existed and that it’s a perfectly normal thing to fall into crisis “I-don’t-know-what-the-hell-I’m-doing-with-my -life” mode in this age range.

What are you going to continue to work on after Season 6?
I’m going to continue working on the organization front. I’m still a somewhat disorganized procrastinator and I recognize this as one of my major flaws. It’s something that I will continue working on because I need to for my own mental health. I also would like to continue to write, though rather than blogging I would like to write more creatively.

What little things in life right now make your toes curl with happiness?  Big things?
Little things that are making my toes curl with happiness are: billowing clouds, blue skies, and the moon.

Big things that are making me smile are: being back in the West, almost being married, and traveling without having to be anywhere at a specific time.

In the movie of your life, who would you want to play YOU? Dalia Hernandez. I hear she looks like me.

What goodies (books/music/travel/quotes/ideas…) have you found over the past few months that are helping your inspiration and creativity?

Conversations with friends, traveling through a beautiful landscape and reading about female shamanism. They have inspired poetry and encouraged me to return to my eternal desire of becoming a natural healer at some point in life.

If you were able to start over and start blogging for Stratejoy right now, what would your “Goals” post look like? What do you hope to accomplish by the end of 2012? How is it the same/different from your “Goals” post from earlier this year?

I would continue with organization and creative writing but would also add 1) Find a job I love and 2) Settle down into some semblance of a routine I enjoy.

Name 5 things you absolutely positively could not live without.

1) Tea.

2) Books- delicious delicious books.

3) Contacts- I like to be able to see and with contacts I can also swim.

4) A notebook and a writing utensil.

5) Family and friends.
Who are your top 3 celebrity crushes of the moment?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rob Thomas, Heath Ledger (yes, I know he’s dead but he’s Heath Ledger). As for the ladies: Drew Barrymore, Kate Winslet, and Aishwarya Rai.

If you had to dedicate your life to one cause for your life, what would it be? Why?
I would dedicate myself to human rights, to ensure that people are being treated with dignity, that they have the opportunity to live healthy happy lives, and to inform others that injustice continues to exist. I particularly am interested in issues of violence against women and would love to help alleviate this violence in the world.

What is one of your favorite memories?
Being back in the Colorado/New Mexico area, I’m taken back to my times at the ranch. When I was really young my brother, cousins and I would have raft building contests. I would team up with one cousin and my brother would team up with the other. Usually our rafts came out kind of shoddy and would quickly sink (we would test them before getting on them). Then, one summer, my dad decided to help us build a raft and it came out beautifully. All summer we would take that out onto the irrigation ponds and float for hours using large sticks to move ourselves along.

What’s your hidden talent?
I can speak backwards. I’m also really good a hoola-hooping.

What was the last book you read that made an impact on you, and what effect did it have?
Zahra’s Paradise is the last heart-wrenching book I read that made me cry. I would recommend it to everyone. It’s a graphic novel by about the Green Revolution in Iran and a young man’s quest to find his brother amidst the killing and imprisonment of thousands of Iranians. It’s beautiful and tragic and based on true events. It’s gotten me thinking more about human rights and how I need to go back and continue working for them after my hiatus of doing basically nothing.

What quote best represents you or motivates you in your current place in life?

Ubuntu: I am because you are.

What are three things that you are totally obsessed with right now?
1) City Museum in St. Louis, MO. It’s a giant jungle gym for children AND adults! Gahhhhhhhh. It’s awesome.

2) Being able to be where I want when I want/Exploring. Geoffrey and I are in NM/CO preparing for our wedding next week and it’s AWESOME! This next month we don’t have to worry about getting to a job on time thus we can be wherever we want for however long we want and just explore.

3) Swimming.

What is one thing you’d like to change about the world? I wish people made more of an effort to get to know their fellow citizens of humanity. We walk through this world every day, each person with their own thoughts, ambitions, pasts and more often than not, we don’t know anything about those that pass us by.

If there is one gift you could give to a stranger, what would it be? A smile or a kind word.

If super heroes are real (and they are), what super power would you have? Teleportation. This would be so convenient- I could visit all the people I love, attend cool events, and consistently travel. It’d be spectacular.

What do you see when you look into your own eyes?
My ancestors, galaxies, the color brown.

What songs are you loving right now?
Anything by Andrea Gibson always (though they are poems and not songs)  and “Objects of My Affection” by Peter, Bjorn, and John.

 What 3 lessons will you take with you from over the last 5 months?
1) That I seriously need to get organized and get my act together. I haven’t been as punctual with my Stratejoy posts as I would have liked to have been nor do I have as much of my wedding worked out as I would like. I would change that by doing as I did at work and starting things waaaaaaay before I think they should be done.

2) There are hundreds upon hundreds of other young women who also don’t know what they’re doing, are having QLCs and are living beautiful lives.

3) I need time for introspection. During my time writing for Stratejoy I’ve had time to write out and disentangle some of my fears as well as become more fully aware of who I am.

What’s turning you on right now?

The fact that I don’t know where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing in a month. I feel free and I love it.

 

Bonus points if you know what movie my title is from!

How has your perspective shifted over the past five months? How have you grown?
: I feel a lot more relaxed about the present and the future. In the past I’ve always felt a need to be in control of my life and the way it’s unfolding, but realizing that the best things happen when I’m not obsessively plotting my life out, I just don’t feel the need to be nutters about it anymore. I’m never going to be a uber skinny chick, who has everything figured out, I don’t care what people think about me, and I’m okay with that. I’m happy with who I am, in my skin, and with the amazing things that are developing in my life.

What do you wish you’d known before you started your QLC journey?
: That everything is going to be okay. Everything susses out, and usually, it’s better than I could have imagined. As a type-A control freak overachiever, you think that you can control everything through sheer will…yeah, no. But life seems to get easier, the more you loosen your death grip on controlling it. Also, adding crème de menthe to my oreo cupcakes frosting was an amazeballs idea I’d wish I’d known sooner!


What are you going to continue to work on after Season 6?
:
I am going to work on my own blog and really accepting that I have something valuable to say. Putting myself out there. And then, building my business.

What little things in life right now make your toes curl with happiness?  Big things?: Building my business, Pistol Whipped Pastry, and finally being in a place where I am able to do so. My lovely boyfriend, Mr. Paul Child. Writing and photographing food. Having flour all over me as I squish bread dough between my fingers. Talenti fresh mint chip gelato. Living two hours from San Diego, so I can hit up delicious farmers markets and vintage shops. Color me rad 5K run I’m doing in San Diego next month. Coffee first thing in the morning. Getting paid to create a farm bakery program. Bad reality tv shows. Good Arizona wine. Amazing food. The hilarity of my niece, Buggy.

In the movie of your life, who would you want to play YOU?
: Kate Walsh or Sandra Bullock.

What goodies (books/music/travel/quotes/ideas…) have you found over the past few months that are helping your inspiration and creativity?
: Stratejoy Fierce Love course (I am seriously in this mode of “why the hell has it taken me this long to realize how amazeballs it is to truly love yourself”). Danielle LaPorte’s The Fire Starter Sessions (making my thought process expand and contemplate all different things in my life right now). Kristin Kimball’s The Dirty Life (to inspire my new farm venture). Stuck iPad app (this is an awesome way to start to think about your problems in new ways, to get unstuck).

If you were able to start over and start blogging for Stratejoy right now, what would your “Goals” post look like? What do you hope to accomplish by the end of 2012? How is it the same/different from your “Goals” post from earlier this year?

: I honestly think that my goals would be the same, or pretty close to it. Mr. Paul Child and I are living together now, so that wouldn’t be a worry, but the rest, I’m still working on. I gained so much being a blogger for Stratejoy.com. I promised myself at the beginning of this to be brutally honest with myself and in my posts, and it’s definitely helped me start to work my mind out of the process of extreme censoring myself and worrying what people will think.

By the end of 2012, I want to have my blog running on a schedule, so that I am posting often, and to build up my followers. I have had some articles published in magazines but I’m working on expanding and getting some new freelance work. Plus, I’m still working on my Fierce Love course. I’m in a place now where I can start my online business, and I’m so excited to get it rolling! Plus my new job running a farm bakery and shop…yeah, I’m going to be busy!

I think my goals are still in the same stroke as when we began blogging. I feel like my biggest change is just relaxing into my life and my own skin, and it feels amazeballs.

Name 5 things you absolutely positively could not live without.: Mr. Paul Child. Coffee. Camera. My recipe/journal notebook. Butter.

Who are your top 3 celebrity crushes of the moment?: Vince Vaughn. 

Anthony Bourdain. David Chang (chef at Momofuku in NYC).

If you had to dedicate your life to one cause for your life, what would it be? Why?

: Teaching people how to cook amazing, simple foods. With obesity and so much processed food in the world, we need to get back to real food that has been touched by human hands.

What is one of your favorite memories?: My friend Christina had a bunch of us over to her house, where her mom who is Vietnamese-born, cooked an amazing meal for us. We just sat around for hours talking, drinking, eating…those are my favorite times with my friends. So relaxed and intimate. And, hello, our favorite things, food and drinks! I’m missing my friends and those moments right now, being in a new town, so they have been on my mind a lot lately.

What’s your hidden talent?

: Procrastination, and then utilizing that procrastination to my advantage, as Procrastination Girl, who turns out better work with a deadline looming and while sporting a pink bejeweled cape!

What was the last book you read that made an impact on you, and what effect did it have?

: The Fire Starter Sessions by: Danielle LaPorte It totally rocked my world and made me realize that I have to keep plugging at it, even when it feels like people, circumstances, things are against me.

What quote best represents you or motivates you in your current place in life?

: “You time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” ~ Steve Jobs  Basically, this sums up what I’ve been working on…being who I want to be instead of who everyone else wants me to be.

What are three things that you are totally obsessed with right now?: The shabby chic chicken coop currently being built on the farm. All my bread tests. Gearing up to start writing and cooking/baking for my blog Croissant in the City.

What is one thing you’d like to change about the world?

: I’d like to have people be more open-minded. I live my life a certain way and everyone else has their own unique version of how they choose to live their life. We don’t have to agree with each other, but I’m so sick of people saying that they are open-minded, and then turning around and bashing my beliefs in public (sorry, facebook, sometimes you do actually suck!). And, please, use your damn turn signal, please?!

If there is one gift you could give to a stranger, what would it be?: Kindness. There have been incredible moments in my life where I haven’t known the person, but they have shown me such kindness that I always remember it and try to do the same for others.

If super heroes are real (and they are), what super power would you have?

: I would want to fly…then I would never have to go to the airport, wait in line, be herded into tiny spaces, or pay $15 for a soggy sandwich ever again!

What do you see when you look into your own eyes?: A wild west pastry queen.

What songs are you loving right now?: Damn, Jill, I’m right there with you, loving “Call Me Maybe?” It’s so wrong but so right! UGH! However, it makes me think of 4th of July with all my cousins and my sister, before my incredible cousin, Seth, left for the Navy (GO NAVY!) and we were all together, singing this song, drinking vodka and lime-aids…good night!

“Takin’ Pills” by: Pistol Annies.

Anything by Puscifer or Clutch.

“Good Feeling” by: Flo Rida

“Perfect Kiss” by Marie Hines

What 3 lessons will you take with you from over the last 5 months?:

  1. Be yourself. Always. You are unique and special (not in the I eat paste kind of way).
  2. Who cares what other people think? There is no point to worrying about it. They do not care about you and they do not worry what you are thinking about them.
  3. Just take a fucking step! Don’t sit and wait forever, wanting to plan every step before you even take one step. Take a step and the next step will become apparent, but you have to make an effort.

What’s turning you on right now?: Arizona coffee. Baking things and then feeding people. Taking photos. Writing. Traveling all over Arizona for my writing position with Arizona Vines & Wines, so I can profile Arizona artisan producers. My bread making experiments. Ordering the chickens for the hen house that is being constructed on the farm where I am the executive chef. Being an executive chef. Molly Mahar, Katie Colihan, and my season 6 sisters (I’m so grateful and proud of you all! Xoxo). Reading books on my iPad. Drinking wine on the porch with my love, Mr. Paul Child.

 

It’s interview week here at Stratejoy! Here is everything you never knew you wanted to know about me.

How has your perspective shifted over the past five months? How have you grown?
I think I’ve grown into a more confident person because I’ve really tried to take the unofficial Stratejoy mantra of “I am enough” to heart. I’m no longer imprisoned by this feeling that I have to wait until I’m thinner/richer/whatever-er to truly start living my life.

What do you wish you’d known before you started your QLC journey?
I wish I had known it was coming! I’m usually so even-keeled and un-emotional that I felt completely blindsided by this period of time where I felt like all I was doing was crying 24/7.

What little things in life right now make your toes curl with happiness?  Big things?
Little things
: the delicious cherries that my mom sent me home from New Jersey with, rediscovering a pair of funky earrings from years ago, finally rocking that fedora in public, getting pumped for a Barenaked Ladies/Blues Traveler concert next month.
Big things: one of my best friend’s upcoming bachelorette party (and later, her wedding), my super relaxing trip to Martha’s Vineyard this past week, and the fact that after a mostly silent summer, I’m finally starting to get some responses to my job applications again.

In the movie of your life, who would you want to play YOU?
I’d want someone who has a girl-next-door kind of look as opposed to a candidate for Maxim’s Hot 100. Someone like Drew Barrymore.

What goodies (books/music/travel/quotes/ideas…) have you found over the past few months that are helping your inspiration and creativity?
I address some of this in later questions, but I wanted to give a special shout to my girl Cassie. Cassie and I have struggled with some of the same issues and we’ve had some chats about them (that have been too few and far between!). She’s come so far since we started blogging and has such a great attitude about herself and the world around her that I both envy and am inspired by her.

If you were able to start over and start blogging for Stratejoy right now, what would your “Goals” post look like? What do you hope to accomplish by the end of 2012? How is it the same/different from your “Goals” post from earlier this year?
First off, I want to apologize to my fellow bloggers because I wrote this question and it’s like 600 questions rolled into one. Oops. A lot of my goals from 5 months ago still stand. They were:

– Volunteer twice a month. I’ve been doing that and definitely want to continue.

– Be more proactive about my love life. I’ve made minimal improvements here by going on one scary date and joining another online dating site. But I need to stop pre-judging all the guys and actually go out with some.

– Develop healthier habits. I am totally kicking ass at this – working out more and eating better, but still allowing myself to indulge. I am very happy with the admittedly slow pace at which I’m getting in shape.

– Get a job. Uhhh yeah, still need one. Anyone in NYC looking for an awesome Operations/Project Manager? =)

– Learn the Single Ladies dance. I learned about 45 seconds and then lost interest because it is a REALLY hard dance to learn by trying to mirror Youtube videos.

– Go to one adult gymnastics class. EPIC FAIL. Gotta get on that.

To this list, I would also add: start writing personal essays that would go into my book if I were to hypothetically write one (life goal life goal!), and work on getting more freelance writing assignments. So in general, write more.

Name 5 things you absolutely positively could not live without.
1. Cold beer on a hot day
2. My Brooklyn Public Library card
3. Cheesy top 40 music
4. Hoodies
5. My journal

Who are your top 3 celebrity crushes of the moment?
Jon Hamm, Paul Rudd, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. And in case you were wondering, I would totally switch teams for Kendra Wilkinson, Nicole Scherzinger, or Christina Hendricks.

If you had to dedicate your life to one cause, what would it be? Why?
I would love to work for Planned Parenthood. I think they’re an organization with an amazing mission and I fully support all the services they offer to women. I believe that reproductive health is extremely important, as is a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body.

What is one of your favorite memories?
I turned 18 in October of my freshman year of college, right at the point in the semester when you stop obsessively trying to hang out with any and everyone and start figuring out who your actual friends are. I was pretty upset because I hadn’t yet solidified a group of friends and thought I might be celebrating alone. The morning of my birthday, I found a huge chalk drawing outside my dorm in my honor. I got tons of AIM messages (remember those?!?), phone calls and notes on my white board, and a big group of people surprised me in my dorm room with a cake. It was one of only two times I can remember crying because I was so happy (the other was the day I found out I got into Tufts. An hour later I was still so excited that I locked myself out of my car with the keys still in the ignition and the motor running).

What’s your hidden talent?
This is a pretty lame talent, but I’m really good at functioning on little to no sleep. I’m also great at making t-shirts for events using iron-on letters, I can do a perfect cartwheel, and I’m excellent at finding free stuff in New York.

What was the last book you read that made an impact on you, and what effect did it have?
I recently read The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter – And How to Make the Most of Them Now, by Meg Jay. I would recommend it to anyone, male or female, going through a quarterlife crisis or other period of uncertainty. The driving point of this book is about not wasting away your twenties with an attitude of “Oh, I can just get started on my adult life in my thirties.” It’s about pursuing passion and fulfillment now, setting a jumping off point for the rest of your life.

What quote best represents you or motivates you in your current place in life?
I think the Linkin Park quote that I mentioned in my post about quitting therapy has been pretty representative of most my adult life: “I will never know myself until I do this on my own.”

What are three things that you are totally obsessed with right now?
At present, I’m devouring The Girl Who Played With Fire, absolutely adoring the MTV show Awkward (seriously, watch it), and getting so insanely excited to participate in The Color Run next month!

What is one thing you’d like to change about the world?
I’d get rid of the “Keeping up with the Joneses” attitude that so many people have (myself totally included). We spend so much time comparing and contrasting and judging that we lose focus on who we are at the core.

If there is one gift you could give to a stranger, what would it be?
I’d give a confidence boost to a stranger that needed one. All the self-exploration I’ve been doing over the last few months have made me realize that confidence is a huge component of finding happiness in nearly every aspect of life.

If super heroes are real (and they are), what super power would you have?
Flying. Easy.

What do you see when you look into your own eyes?
I see a weird combination of blue and green with a zig-zag circle of yellow going through it (wait, was I not supposed to take that literally? Ha!).

What songs are you loving right now?
I’m pretty obsessed with Girl Talk’s Feed the Animals album, which I shamefully didn’t own until about a month ago. And I can’t forget my Shut Up and Be Happy playlist.

What 3 lessons will you take with you from over the last 5 months?
1. If you can cut negativity from your life, do it. No one is obligated to keep anyone or anything around if it doesn’t make them happy.
2. You are enough. If there are areas in your life in which you want to grow, by all means work on them. But don’t change yourself to fit anyone else’s standards.
3. Life is better when you make yourself vulnerable. There are more ups and downs, but it’s so much more fulfilling to put your true self out there for others to see.

You are of the earth and you will always be of the earth.

Sitting in a small table in Jarabacoa amongst my friend, her uncle, and a few of his friends, an older artists tells me these words before telling my pal the story of her past lives. This is not the first time I’ve heard this, that the land and I are one. No. It has come to me in more light-hearted forms.

On my mother’s side of the family my younger sister is known as Queen Anna. She’s a loud, proud, opinionated little lady who usually gets her way. One time she asked my family “well, if I’m Queen, what does that make Camila.” After thinking about it for a moment, my cousin responded “well, I guess she’d be a worker in the fields.” Jeez, thanks cuz. But, in reality, it’s probably true. The earth is the carrier of my heartbeat, the place I feel closest to God, where my soul finds it’s freedom.

Here in the Northeast it’s been in the 90s the past several days. All I want to do is sit outside near a body of water and merge with it, becoming a water sprite. This would make me way happier than being trapped inside my apartment attempting to pack or in the coffee shop with the air conditioning full force ringing up customers. I just want to be outside somewhere gazing at the sky, listening to birds chirp, feeling the crackle of leaves and twigs beneath my feet. I need fresh air and the current of water around my ankles. I’m thirsting for the outdoors unabashedly untamed living out it’s existence as it really is.

I yearn to just lie quietly in a mountain meadow surrounded by wildflowers and bee-harvested grass with the trickling of a stream nearby lulling me into a doze. It’s like that time when I was living in Toronto and every 3 weeks, all I wanted to do was get out of the city and get to where the ratio of nature to concrete was more like 3:1 instead of 1:5. Asphalt and skyscrapers just make me antsy if I’m in their domain too long. I get on edge. Nature is my positive addiction.

My family teases me, because when it’s warm out, I’m outside, and there is a creek, a pond, or a sea I will leap in even if the water is freezing and create synchronized dances, spin around and around in circles, float on my back staring at the sky. That’s all I want to do right now- allow myself to be entangled with the earth breathing in the quiet sighs of the universe. I mean, hell, back when I was  in elementary school I wanted to grow up and become a monkey because I liked climbing trees so much. I want to stand with my bare feet growing roots into the soil.

Even with weddings, I was never that kid that’s planned everything since age 5, but the one thing I always knew is that I couldn’t get married in a church or inside a town hall. I had to get married outside. That was my only requirement and I’ve got to say, I’m certainly succeeding with that one. I can’t help it, I love being outside and right now I’m feeling a little deprived of my outdoor time. As soon as Geoff and I have our apartment all packed up and we have a few days off, it’ll be time for a few days chilling on the beach swimming out to seaweed-stained rocks, bathing in the sunlight, and watching seagulls swoop and hawks combing the waters for fresh fish. This is my something to look forward to for the week, my motivating factor to get things done so I can just relax for a moment. These thoughts of nature are the ones that are currently consuming my mind and the ones that if I’m lucky, I will soon appease.

When I was younger, I would spend every Saturday afternoon at my good friend’s house playing Sonic the Hedgehog on her Sega Genesis. We never tired of collecting rings, trying to get to new levels, and laughing about how Tails was more or less useless.

I remember how, as Sonic made his way through the levels, he would occasionally pass these little checkpoint poles. As he passed, the pole would rotate in a circle, there would be a happy dinging sound, and my friend and I would rejoice. Because once we passed those poles, no matter how many times we died in the future, we would always come back to that point instead of having to start from the beginning of the level.

I kind of wish we had this in real life, too. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that once you reached a certain point on your journey to a particular goal, you would never have to start back at square one? It might take awhile to get to the point where you hear that sweet dinging sound, but once you do, your progress becomes permanent.

Unfortunately, though, there’s no permanent progress in the quarterlife crisis. Not only that, but sometimes there isn’t even a “ding!” or any other positive sign that shows how far you’ve come.

While I’m certainly making strides towards not being in this state of QLC anymore, sometimes I feel like there’s no real evidence of my progress aside from the fact that I know it’s there. There are no rewards, no gold stars, no tangible achievements to give me that “HELL YES WATCH OUT LIFE BECAUSE HERE I COME” feeling.

Take my unemployment, for example. I’m constantly sending out resumes, crafting cover letters, and going on interviews. My job search, as a general rule, is fairly productive. But you know what?

I still don’t have a job.

And until I get a job, none of the cover letters or interviews I’ve gone on really matter. No one says, “Congratulations, you’ve interviewed at 14 different companies in the last 5 months! Only 6 more until you’re a level 4 Job Seeker! 11 more to receive the coveted Job Offer medallion!”

I wonder if my desire for rewards is a mark of immaturity. Since when are we entitled to a medal just for doing something that may, one day, help us reach a goal? I went on that OK Cupid date I was so scared of, and though it was unremarkable, I’m proud that I did it because it was an important step towards opening myself up to dating, men, and being more vulnerable in general. Since that date I’ve had this attitude where I’m like, “Okay, now that I braved the one date, guys should be lining up for me, right?” Except…no. That’s not how it works. So I’ve realized that not only do I not deserve a prize, but since I had no chemistry with this guy, I am officially no closer to having a love life than I was before.

So here’s what’s plaguing me: In a system with no rewards, how do you stay motivated? When reaching a goal is an all-or-nothing deal, how do you prevent burnout when you’re struggling in the nothing part? I’ve put a ton of work into improving my life and even though I’m not quite where I want to be yet, I just want it to be like it was when I was little and a teacher would give me a sticker anyway. You know, something motivating like “Good job!” or “A for effort!” or “Super!”

I think this is one of those instances where I need to quit my whining and just remember that sometimes life is hard and stickerless. Since no one is going to reward me just for making teeny tiny improvements, I need to count on my own strength to keep me going. Because even though I’m so fed up with writing cover letters that I nearly start twitching every time I have to write one, giving up and bitching about it isn’t going to get me any closer. I just need to power through it.

Or, as Dory would say, “Just keep swimming.”

It might be kind of nerdy to adopt a mantra from a kids’ movie (even though, let’s be honest, Finding Nemo is amazing), but I’m going to try to keep reminding myself of this. Whenever I get in that frustrating place where I feel like I’ve come so far yet I still have insanely far to go, I’ll think of it. There may not be any checkpoint poles or gold stars along this journey, but that doesn’t mean I’m not getting anywhere.

Just keep swimming.

 

Photo credit: morag.riddell

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.

My niece, Buggy (her nickname), just turned 4 years old. I got to make her chocolate-strawberry shortcake princess cake. The coolest kid in the world, she’s brilliant, funny, and sassy. Her latest obsession is playing restaurant (be still my chef heart!). Buggy plays so hard that she never breaks character, and chastises anyone who addresses her by her name, and not as “waitress.”

She is strong-willed like I am, and I have to tell you, while I know how difficult it can be to be so determined, I kind of love that about her. I adore that she is a pistol and that she’s bossy. A couple Christmases ago, we were playing bubbles, a riveting game where we fill the kitchen sink with water and bubbles and let her “wash” some plastic dishes. I must have been crowding her, because she turned around and punched me square in the shoulder. Now, she was 2 ½ at the time, so it didn’t hurt but it demanded discipline, and she got into big trouble with her mom. I get it, though. Sometimes you just want to bop someone! All of us have moments like that, but unfortunately as an adult it’s called assault.

Watching her grow up has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. From me she gets unconditional love, attention, and well, let’s be honest, I also spoiler her quite a bit too. But what she gives me is even greater.

These are the greatest lessons that I’ve learned from a 4-year-old:

  1. Live in the moment. She doesn’t care about 1 day from now, 1 hour from now or 1 minute from now. Buggy is happy when she is playing and talking and dancing, in that very moment. The only thing she may care about in 1 minute is if she can have a big piece of chocolate birthday cake or some gummie bears, which leads to #2.
  2. Gummie bears make everything better. It doesn’t matter if it’s accidentally grabbing a cactus or some major life event, sitting down with a bag of gummie bears is a treat and everyone needs a treat.
  3. Filters are for pools. Saying whatever pops into your head is really refreshing. There are definitely times when it is not appreciated, but you’re intention isn’t to be mean, just curious.
  4. Tiaras and costume jewelry ALWAYS go with your outfit. Do I really need to explain this? It’s just the number one 4-year-old fashion rule.
  5. Sing loud and proud. This girl can DANCE and it’s downright crazy how many current pop songs she knows all the words to (I’m a little ashamed of my lack of lyrical ability).  No one rocks a car dance party from her car seat perch better than Buggy. She doesn’t care if we are in the middle of the store or playing Just Dance at home, she’s a dance and singing maven. She also doesn’t care how well you dance or sing, you will be joining her in the dance party, even in the middle of the store.
  6. Hugs are always necessary. I think we forget this as adults. We get so wrapped up in our daily life and zipping around, that we forget small acts of love make us feel better.
  7. It’s okay to be upset sometimes. I’m always trying to make myself happy, but sometimes, even at age 4, you just have to be upset for a little bit. When you lose your favorite costume jewelry ring or your Playdoh dries up, you can be upset for a few moments. Then eat some gummie bears, and things will start to look up.
  8. Big mice are freaky. She’s terrified of Chuck E. Cheese and well, so am I! I don’t know what weirdo teenager is dressed up in that rat costume. It’s freaking scary when he comes up behind you and then hovers. I get it, Buggy!
  9. Always tell people you miss them and love them. It’s so simple but when a 4-year-old says it to you, you melt, and then realize that displaying more of this love is needed in the world.

Happy Birthday, Buggy! Thank you for giving me so much! I love you!

 

 

 

One of the truly amazing things about life is that you never know when inspiration is going to smack you upside the head.

In early March, I received a Facebook message from someone I didn’t know. Lee Anne was a fellow Stratejoy tribe member and Brooklyn resident, and wanted to introduce herself when she saw that I was part of the next season of bloggers.

A few weeks later, she posted the following status: “Anyone up for this Mad Men viewing party at the Roosevelt tonight?”

As it turns out, I had been planning on going to that same party but my viewing buddy had taken ill (read: hangover) and was no longer able to make it. I told her I was down.

During one of the commercial breaks, as we were standing amidst a sea of dapper men, whiskey cocktails and candy cigarettes, Lee Anne asked me, “So, what do you do? I know you’re a writer, but what else do you do?”

I was flustered. “Oh…um. I’m not really a writer, outside of Stratejoy. I mean I like writing, but no one pays me to do it or anything.”**

She looked at me like I was stupid. “So? I’m an actor. I don’t get paid to do it every day, but it doesn’t mean I’m not one. It doesn’t matter if no one pays you, you’re still a writer.”

I was completely floored. I had never met this person before, and all she knew about me was whatever one could glean from two Stratejoy posts. But her words were powerful.

Ever since that conversation, bits and pieces from my memory will pop up at random as I go about my day.

Writing “books” when I was young and covering the front with clear tape to make them look fancy and laminated.

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of my very first blog post (March 18, 2002).

Journaling. ”This is what I did today” journaling to Joy Juice journaling to journaling as a method of escape during a rough patch I went through while studying abroad in Australia.

Finding joy even in writing insignificant “come with me to this random event!” emails to friends.

Taking a course this past fall called, “Career Changing In Your 20s and 30s,” and doing an exercise where we had to reflect about different stages of our lives, and at those times, what we wanted to be when we grew up. “Author” appeared in every stage up until adulthood.

My whole life was flashing before my eyes. Only I wasn’t dying, I was living.

When Lee Anne referred to me as a writer, something I’ve never thought to call myself, it resonated with me because I was just beginning to rediscover my love of writing. You see, despite the fact that I’ve churned out hundreds of blog posts and thousands of pages of academic papers over the years, the times I felt truly alive while writing were unfortunately few and far between.

Until, that is, I started writing for Stratejoy.

All of a sudden, because of how deeply I care about each of these posts, the effort I started putting in far surpassed my average. Even in just those first 2 posts, I put in so many hours of writing and rewriting and “holy shit, when did it become 2am?” situations.

I felt a mixed sense of relief, excitement and achievement when I had an idea about my 2nd post that turned it from my crap excuse for a first draft to what ended up here. I am insanely proud of that piece, not necessarily because it’s all that amazing, but because never before had I transformed my writing from something I hated to something that so accurately reflected what I wanted it to be. It was the most gratifying, fulfilling experience I’ve had in a long time.

Writing has been staring me in the face since I was old enough to string words together, and it seems ludicrous that it took some innocuous words from a near-stranger to bring me this moment of clarity like DUH OBVIOUSLY I WANT TO WRITE FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE AND PROBABLY EVEN IN THE AFTERLIFE AS LONG AS THERE ARE LAPTOPS IN HEAVEN (or wherever I’m going to end up, which is up for debate).

Only now comes the hard part: the questions laced with doubt.

Am I good enough?

How do I get started?

What would I even write?

I could never make a career out of writing, could I?

Does anyone care about what I have to say?

Perhaps the most pressing question of all is, “What about life after Stratejoy?” When I no longer have quarterlife crisis blogging to keep me happy, how do I keep my passion alive without reverting back to mindless blog posts about my weekends?

When the well of inspiration runs dry, how do I find a new well?

As long as I figure out how to answer this last question, I know I can be happy. Sure, I would love to get paid for my writing – to have the kind of job where I’m consumed not with corporate jargon but with the best way to phrase a sentence. But I accept that if this isn’t in the cards for me, as long as I can foray the “YES” feeling I get when I write Stratejoy posts into something else, I’ll be okay.

All I need to do now is figure out where to go from here.

 

** In college I actually made $300 by successfully submitting a story to Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV. It’s so cheesy that I am fully and completely embarrassed by it.

(Photo credit: CC Chapman)

Multicolored telephone wire woven into baskets, 18-inch eagles crafted from recycled newspaper,  old steel drums cut and shaped into beautiful mermaids. I adore how simple materials, odds and ends that some people deem garbage can  be morphed into beautiful forms of art.

When I was living in Hartford, CT as an AmeriCorps member I was certainly lacking in what most people deem necessities. I didn’t have a real bed, nor a table or chair, but I did have books, and I did have art. I had small masks from Santo Domingo by my windows, paintings and giant collages created by my half-blind grandfather decorating my walls, and a tiled-metal-work mirror from Mexico adorning my “night table”.

Thinking about it, both of my parents place a high value on art. They took my siblings and me to museums in nearly every place we went, bought paintings from local artists, and we always had a plethora of sketchbooks, colored pencils, paint, beads, and other craft supplies to entertain our minds’ latest creative endeavor. There is so much I appreciate about this. Without a doubt it’s a value that I would like to pass on to Geoffrey’s and my future children and it is unquestionably part of why I want to go to graduate school to study…folk art. That’s right, I want to go on in school to get a PhD for doing research on 1) the use of recycled materials in folk art and 2) the way women’s art cooperatives create financial opportunities and may help prevent issues of violence against women.

Deep breath. Yep. Oh folk art how you make me swoon.

Last May, I went to visit my amazing, go-getter of a friend who was working at a health clinic in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I knew I would be spending some time with her but I also knew I had to visit some artisans in Haiti. Since I was still an AmeriCorps member and knew I’d have a while  before returning to school I figured I might as well get a head start and conduct some independent research while there and see if this was indeed what I wanted to dedicate several years of my life to doing.

That solidified it.

One afternoon, my friend and I journeyed to Croix-de-Bouquets, a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince of metal-workers. Walking through the dusty streets, men worked outside pounding out steel to shape into gorgeous wall-pieces. As we walked by, artisans beckoned us to enter their homes, to see what they had created. I was in love and perfectly content having my eyes scan the walls looking at tree-of-life after tree-of-life, roosters, elephants, people carrying baskets of fruit, profiles of women with hair spiraling out into the wind. Gasp, this was exactly what I wanted to do! What was preventing me from choosing this as a career path, especially when it was something that I loved?

Another day I rode with my new friend on his moto-taxi to visit a women’s cooperative that created flip-flops, wallets, and bags from old chip bags and the woven plastic from bags of oranges. That was an interesting visit as most of what I learned, do to my inability to speak Kreyol, came through hand motions and observation.

A third trip out into the city took me to The Apparent Project, a compound where men and women rolled strips of boxes and paper into spherical beads to thread into gorgeous jewelry.

The innovation of ideas birthing art, the impact of art cooperatives on an individual’s or a family’s financial sustainability, the way that something can be created from nothing- all of these fascinate me and are precisely the reasons that of all the graduate programs I could choose, this is what I need to study.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was researching schools in Portland, Oregon where my fiance and I are moving after our wedding. For a long time, I didn’t know if I should look into sociology, anthropology, or women’s studies. They’ve all been programs I’ve been considering but I never knew exactly which one I should pick.  I mean, each one has it’s pros and cons. Then I found it. An hour away in Eugene, if I apply, and I’m accepted, I can go for a Masters and a Doctorate in Folk Lore. What could be more perfect then that?!? Then of course there’s the question of what countries would I want to focus on? What questions would I want to ask? How could I go back to school and also be a doula/midwife? And of course, there’s the question that keeps popping up and I keep pushing aside… the question of what would I do next? Would I become a professor? Would I start or work for an NGO? I don’t even know. Perhaps that’s just another question for another time.

While I may not have the “big picture” all figured out, I have put some time and effort into discovering things I want or would like to do. Perhaps it is the small things that snowball into the big things, eh?

I turned 25 back in March and made a big deal out of creating a 30×30 list before my birthday. The kick-off to the list was a road trip with my boyfriend that happened during my birthday week and also was the first thing to get crossed off the list. It has been a little over six months since that list started, and I have crossed two things off of it. I’m certainly proud of those two things but have covered little ground getting around to the other 28 things. I know I need to change that, so I’m going to share with you my 30×30 list:

  1. 1. Road trip (Completed March 19-25, 2011)
    2. Blindfolded reveal of Grand Canyon
    3. Train for and complete “The Warrior Dash” (Completed June 4, 2011)
    4. Vegetarian for 1 month
    5. Pay off all credit cards
    6. Learn to sew on buttons
    7. Have $2,000 in a savings account
    8. Grow my own vegetables/herbs
    9. Own a beautiful red dress
    10. Attend yoga classes on a regular basis
    11. Watch a sunrise from the beach
    12. Do a detox program
    13. Go camping
    14. Learn to swing dance
    15. Celebrate the Equinoxes/Solstices
    16. Explore Washington DC
    17. Watch all the movies on AFI’s top 100 Movie list
    18. Learn to play the guitar
    19. Enjoy a spa weekend
    20. Complete a 365 day photo project
    21. Take dance lessons
    22. Hike on a regular basis
    23. Volunteer at the Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica
    24. Join/Start a Book Club
    26. Read all the books on the 2000-2010 Most Censored List
    27. Create a store on Etsy
    28. Write something meaningful
    29. Get abs
    30. Explore my spirituality fully

Now that the list is shared out in the great, wide world, I hope it ignites another spark of motivation to continue doing it! My road trip and Warrior Dash experiences were so epic and amazing…I want to be able to use those words to describe the rest of my 20s. Hopefully the rest of my life! So what is holding me back? Fear of failure and the unknown. An incredibly busy schedule. Lack of funds. And a lot of convenient excuses. I need to pick one thing, focus, and keep going. If I don’t reach the end of my list by March 21, 2016, then it’s ok. I just want to feel like I did the best I could. Besides, I have a life list as well, so they’ll just roll on over. What would your 30×30 look like?

 

 

{Photo Credit: My boyfriend 🙂 }

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.

Now…

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!

 

Six months ago, I made the decision to leave Philadelphia and travel the world.  I had no expectations and no set plan, except that I would spend at least one month living in Prague.

This journey around the world has taken me to Europe, Asia, and Australia and I’ve never been more confident or happier than I am right now.

Traveling for any extensive period of time truly changes your life.  It’s not easy.  You’ll face hurdles, discover hardships, cry, cry some more, and uncover things you didn’t know about yourself, but you have to allow yourself to change and grow during the journey.  This experience has a permanent place in my heart and the lessons I’ve learned along the way have given me a new perspective on life.

 

Here are some of the things I’ve learned on this journey:

Nothing is as scary as it seems. Boarding the plane to Prague was terrifying because I knew that once they shut the doors, there was no turning back.  Even if I hated living in a foreign country and teaching English, I would be stuck there for at least one month.  But looking back on it now, boarding that plane seems so easy.  You just have to take that first step.

[Most] Americans don’t know proper grammar. As a native English speaker and someone who aced English classes all throughout my education, I thought I knew all there was to know about the English language.  And then I took a grammar test on my first day of my TEFL course and failed.  Awesome. Prior to the course, I had no idea that verbs had forms.  Nor did I know about modal verbs, conditionals, or Present Perfect Future tense.  Sure, I was taught this back in grade school, but I never actually learned it.

Have patience.  This one was a tough lesson to learn, especially in teaching English as a second language.  Not every student will be quick to learn and when you live in or travel to a country with a language barrier, patience is essential during your interaction with others.

People are too connected and addicted to technology.  For the first two weeks that I lived in Australia, I didn’t have a cell phone.  Mainly because I didn’t plan on staying long enough to justify buying one, but also because I didn’t want one.  Those two weeks sans cell phone were wonderful because I didn’t feel forced to be connected to the Internet.

Last week, my boyfriend and I were sitting outside at a cafe in Surry Hills having brunch, and on both sides of us were couples plugged into their technology and not talking to each other.  For the entire hour we were there, they just sat and played with their iPads and iPhones and not saying a word.  Is this what the world’s come to now?! Put your phone away and have a real live conversation with the person sitting across from you.  I guarantee that you’re not missing out on anything on Facebook or Twitter during that hour. 

It’s okay to be selfish. This was a tough lesson to learn because I don’t consider myself a selfish person.  But sometimes when you travel around you have to be selfish.  I knew that the only way to make this experience truly wonderful and life-changing was to be selfish and put myself first in every decision that I made.  I mean, this is my journey, after all.  There’s nothing wrong with doing the things you want to do in life.

Don’t ever give up.  When my teaching contact in Thailand fell through, I wanted to pack my bags and return to America because I felt like I failed at trying to make it as an ESL teacher.  But I decided to stay in Australia and work through the struggle of finding students to tutor.  I’m now tutoring eight International students and providing private lessons to Backpackers.  It’s easy to throw in the towel when things get tough or when you fail, but it’s the tough moments and the failures that we learn the most from.

It’s never too late to start living your life the way you want to. I’ve always wanted to travel more.  I’ve always wanted to return to my Motherland.  I’ve always wanted to visit Australia.  Done, done, and done.  At 27, I’ve been to four continents.  By the time I’m 30, I will have visited all seven.  Why?  Because I want to. I know it’s scary and intimidating to think about all of the things you want do with your life, but it’s even scarier to know that you never tried. 

What have YOU learned from traveling?

{photo credit: all photos taken personally and collage created in Picnik}

“Live your best life,” she told me, as I detailed my adventures of traveling around the world searching for happiness.

We met in a cafe in Wenceslas Square in Prague.  She was backpacking through Central Europe with her husband, and I was working on a lesson plan for my class.  We exchanged stories of why we came to Prague and what our next adventure is going to be.

Live your best life.

Simple, yet so, so complicated.  Because what exactly can I do to live my best life?  How can I make each day count?

Nicole wrote her personal manifesto, The Life Less Bullshit, and so did Katie.  I have to be honest, I loved both of them.  So much that it prompted me to write my own personal manifesto.

So, I did.

The wonderful Amanda raised the bar this season with her own video blog, talking about what makes her terrified.  Molly then challenged the rest of us Season 4 bloggers to match it.  I hate being on camera and in the spotlight, but this season for me has been all about breaking out of my comfort zone (like going skydiving in Australia!), so I decided to continue with this trend by video blogging.

I’ve never done this before, so please be kind and don’t judge me.

Live your best life.

(in case you’re wondering, the song is a cover of Pink’s ‘Less Than Perfect.’).

 

 

{photo credit: taken of the Sydney Harbour at sunset}

“Deciding to become a new person is easier than forgiving yourself for the not-so-good parts of who you already are.”Nicole Antoinette

I never thought I’d get here.  Australia, that is. 

Surprise!

I mean, on a map, it looks so effing far from Pennsylvania, plus it’s on the other side of the equator, making it seem nearly impossible to visit.  But I’m finally here and Sydney is a wonderful place.

It took me three months and three continents to realize that it’s not about reclaiming my life; it’s about forgiving myself for all of the pain, sadness, anger, and resentment I have been holding onto since I was 12 years old.  It’s about forgiving myself for the anger of my father’s suicide.  For the sadness and regret of destroying my relationship with my mother right before she died.  For constantly being so hard on myself.

I thought the pain stemmed from outside sources, but as it turns out, the pain has been self-inflicting all along.  Sometimes the worst kind of pain is that which we inflict on ourselves.

It’s not about starting over again; it’s about filling the cracks of my broken and damaged life with new passion, gratitude, and love so that the new eventually covers the old.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much of my life has changed in three short months and how I’ve always been so scared of change.  I used to be that kind of person who enjoys the comfortable and (often) predictability of a stagnant lifestyle.  But as I started making bold decisions with my life, I learned that change can be really, really good for you, if you let it.  It can bring new adventures, new opportunities, and new friendships.  Most importantly though, it can bring a new perspective on life.

I’ve been working a lot on answering those gut-wrenching questions that initiated this journey, as well as forgiving myself for the self-inflicting pain.  I’m trying to create a better way to fill the cracks, rather than start over.

Forgiveness takes courage.  It means stripping yourself down to the bare truth behind many of your not-so-good parts.  It means acknowledging your mistakes and failures and accepting them for what they are, believing that it’s helped you build character, and knowing that they do not define you.

Part of this journey has been about forgiveness.  How can I forgive myself for my mistakes, failures, and missed opportunities?  The answer – while it took having to travel halfway around the world to answer – was easy: move.  I needed to get out of my comfort zone to understand why I was so unhappy.  I needed distance to realize that it’s about fixing what you have, instead of starting over.  I needed to detach myself from everything I knew and loved in order to gain a new perspective on life.

“Forget regret, or life is yours to miss.” – Jonathan Larson

I believe that if you really want to do something – whether it’s travel the world, quit your job, or move across the country – then you should do it.  Do what makes you happy, do the things you dream of doing, and live without any regrets because life is too short and too precious to always play it safe.

Today, I went skydiving and nearly crapped my pants in the process because I wanted to.  SKYDIVING IN AUSTRALIA! I jumped out of a plane 14,000 feet off the ground and experienced 60 seconds of free-falling before my parachute opened.  The experience?  INTENSE and UNBELIEVABLE.  And I’d do it again in a heart beat, if it wasn’t so damn expensive (though completely worth the $255 AUD).  It was an impulse decision (and I had to coerce my hostel roommate to do it with me), but sometimes you have to experience the thrill and the rush to truly appreciate life.

And other times, you have to say “fuck it!” and jump out of a plane 14,000 feet in the air … just because you want to.

{photo credit: Sydney Opera House, by yours truly}

[Yes, that’s me, circa 1987.  Don’t mind the bowl cut (which I rocked for the majority of my childhood. Be jealous.), the uneven bangs (which my mother cut herself), or the frilly red and white dress.

Now that you’ve all had a good chuckle at my baby picture…]

I never really fully understood racism until I got to Junior High School and my classmates slung derogatory names at me.

Chink.  Gook.

They would stretch the corner of their eyes or talk to me in broken English.

Kids can be so cruel.

I cried every day after school for nearly a year.  I cried myself to sleep at night, praying my classmates would stop torturing me.  I prayed I would wake up and look ‘normal’ like all of my other classmates.  I even secretly despised my parents for adopting me.

In my school district, you were either Caucasian or African American.  Any other race, and you were a prime target for bullying.  It eventually got easier to be accepted as Asian, but sometimes I would wish I didn’t look different from my family.

Over the years, I’ve learned to grow a thick skin.  People make racist comments and sling racist jokes at me, laughing hysterically, like it’s nothing.  Boys date me because they’ve never been with an Asian girl.  Or boys won’t date me because they don’t date outside their own race. All I’ve ever wanted was to fit in. 

Since when did it become so hard to be accepted and treated equally?

I was born in South Korea, abandoned by my birth mother who put me in a basket and left me at a bus stop.  An elderly gentleman found me and dropped me at an orphanage where I spent the first six months of my life.  I have no record of my birth parents and I have no way of tracing them.  Rejected.  Not even my own birth parents wanted me. Now I know where my abandonment issues stem from.

I grew up in a white family (fine, Caucasian, if we’re getting technical here), in a predominantly white neighborhood.  I’m Korean by decent, but I’m American in every other way.

I feel incredibly blessed to be given a second chance at life, and I owe it all to that elderly gentleman and my adopted parents.  I believe I am living a much better life now, than in South Korea.  But I still wonder what my life would have been like, had I stayed.  I wonder who my birth parents are, what they look like (do I resemble more my mother or my father?!), and if I have any siblings.  I wonder if I’ll ever get diagnosed with a genetic disease and not take the necessary precautions because I don’t know my family’s medical history.  And of course, there’s that one question every adoptee thinks about: why did my birth parents really give me up?

When I was younger, I didn’t really have the desire to return to my homeland.  My parents gave me up for a reason, I would convince myself.  But as I got older, and as I opened myself up to the different cultures and their rituals, my desire to return to South Korea grew stronger.  However, one there’s one thing that’s really held me back about not returning: I’m not emotionally prepared to return.

Come to think of it, are we ever really emotionally prepared for anything in our lives?

Last week, I booked a ticket to South Korea.  Two days ago, I boarded that flight.  As you read this now, I’m wandering the streets of Seoul. 

I finally made it back to my birth place.

I wasn’t emotionally prepared for this trip, but I took a chance, because something deep in my heart told me to get here.    Sometimes you just have to throw out that rule book and follow your heart.

 

The road was reckless, strewn with vehicles driving at break-neck speeds and an unknown police presence that made me feel entirely uncomfortable. As I drifted down this concrete jungle highway, determined to arrive on time to what was certain to be an evening of excellent company and enlightening conversation, I was suddenly aware that this was the first road-trip I’d taken (via car and on my own) since October 2010.

Y’know, when I got pregnant.

I was glad that I rented a car, instead of opting for the five and a half hour Greyhound trip.

The highway loomed. The cars hissed past. I narrowed my eyes against the setting sun and clenched my fingers tightly on the steering wheel. Ain’t no way I was going to miss this opportunity.

Finally, my exit. I gently pulled off the highway and breathed deeply; thank goodness that leg of the journey was over. Getting from the I-5 to my downtown destination, however, was proving to be much more arduous than I originally anticipated.

Meaning… I was probably going to be late.

Damn it.

After scouting the area for something resembling a good parking spot (one that wouldn’t require cash money, because I’d forgotten to get American cash before I left the country earlier that day), I finally made my way to the Brilliant Women Salon. About damn time, too, because mama (and ZomBaby) are hungry.

If you’ve ever met Molly in person, you know that the woman you know online precisely matches the woman you meet in person. Upon my (almost) late arrival to the event, she wrapped her arms around me and gushed about how happy she was that I was there. And truly? I was so absolutely overwhelmed with joy, I almost cried.

Yeah yeah, we can only blame the pregnancy hormones so much. I’m a sap. There, I said it.

Tara Mohr is everything you think she’s going to be: wise, articulate, and positively radiates warmth. Within moments of meeting her, I felt this incredible connection to her own brand of brilliance. I felt at home. Deeply comforted. Connecting with Amy Kessel — earthy mama and beautiful soul — was a treat. We talked about babies and my pregnancy as the women practically poured in the doors.

To be surrounded by that much awesome was, well, awesome.

The night was dedicated to uncovering brilliance within ourselves and helping each other to articulate what brilliance was within each of us. Tara Mohr’s 10 Rules for Brilliant Women (if you haven’t read this, please do) inspired the event and as we divided into our various groups, it was clear that there was a lot of other ideas about what owning one’s brilliance looked like.

As the groups shared their stories about brilliance, I saw that there was a lot of doubt. Hell, I had a lot of it initially, too. I love to coax introverts out of their shells and get them to open up about their inward awesomeness. Call it my own special brand of brilliance. It’s why my best friends are introverts when I’m this crazy, wild extrovert.

I see shy people and have this incredible urge to love them right-the-hell up.

Within our little group, we talked about what made each of us brilliant, with the help of the supremely excellent Lynn Baldwin-Rhoades of Power Chicks International. As we went around the circle, these incredible stories unfolded, full of courage, inner strength, and fearlessness. Truth? I was more than a little blown away.

Brilliance is a hard thing to inwardly appreciate. There are things that we each do everyday that make us brilliant in one way, shape, or form (usually more than one, honestly). But we’re so busy comparing ourselves to other forms of brilliance within other people that we can’t seem to grasp it in ourselves. Or, if we do grasp it, we’re quick to dismiss it.

After attending the Brilliant Women Salon, I felt more connected to the concept of “brilliance”. I often feel this intense need to downplay what I do (and who I am) because I’m afraid that I’ll come across as crass and rude. There’s something distasteful (especially to we chicks) about tooting one’s horn. But brilliance? Oh baby, brilliance is one of those things that you simply have to own. We are ALL brilliant.

My three rules for uncovering (and owning) brilliance:

I’d love to know what your rules are for uncovering and owning your brilliance are.

[Note from Coach Molly: Amanda- I almost cried with joy getting to meet you too!  But it was funny how normal it felt as well, like I’d already know you for years…  So honored you made the trip and really happy we got sleepover, and long walk, and breakfast out time too. p.s.  Thanks Mike for “letting” your adorably preggo wife venture across the border! xoxo

And dear readers, sorry our schedule is all batty!  With Launch Week of both The Council and Joy Juice, it’s crazytownz around here!   I’m commandeering Thursday’s post, so just roll with us, mkay? And speaking of Joy Juice… Here’s a tasty sneak peek of what’s coming!]




Image found via ImageSpark.

There is a truth about this group of us who are searching for the best of what’s around. We’re the lucky ones.

We’ve got a vision and we’re not afraid to chase it. We’re aware of all that life can give us: the joy, the zest, the juicy, bold, feel-the-wind-in-our-hair type stuff. Because we’ve felt it.

We see the sky a little bit bluer, feel the love a little bit deeper, and have a little more passion for squeezing the most outta what we’ve been given. And if we haven’t been given enough, we’ve got the hunger to find more for ourselves.

The trouble is that it isn’t always comfortable to be hyperaware. It’s often completely terrifying to hold the knowledge that this life has such incredible abundance to offer.

We’re deeply in touch with all of our feelings, the high and the low, and all of the possibilities we hold inside ourselves. That sometimes means the possibility for melancholy, guilt, questions, and uncertainty.

I was lying on my couch the other day. Let’s call it Couch Day. It was like three in the afternoon and I’d hardly done a thing, with the exception of heating up some disgusting leftover cashew chicken that wasn’t even good the first time and watching some DVR’d soap operas. My dog needed to be walked but the thought of putting on pants made me cringe. I had a pile of dishes that were stinking. I was dead broke. My parents were calling me non-freaking-stop. I had a zit the size of effing Maui on my neck, people. The sun had the nerve to be shining in my window, practically burning my cornea, and I just. wanted. it all. to go. AWAY.

I wanted to feel nothing. I wanted the peace of zilch. I wanted to switch off my head and my heart. I was tired of feeling things so deeply, letting myself be so affected by circumstance and emotion. I just. wanted. to feel. numb.

It took me back to a time not so long ago. We’ll call it Numb Time. I lost precious time and let so much potential go to waste, all because I was scared of feeling.

Numb Time was when I realized how deeply I feel things. I felt uncomfortable, unsure, exposed, vulnerable, and on and on and on until I decided feeling was too overwhelming. I envied everyone around me who seemed to be floating through life without a care in the world. I envied the people who were able to let everything roll off their backs, the people who didn’t let a thing get to them, the people who existed in ignorant bliss. I was jealous and I was angry with my mind.

And so I medicated. I drank too much, dated the wrong, wrong, wrong men, racked up some hefty credit card debt, and generally ignored consequence for the better part of two years. I lied to everyone who loved me so they would believe I was alright. I hid my feelings deep below the surface until I couldn’t dig them up. I experimented with different cocktails of anti-depressants, mood stabilizers, and anxiety medication until I could feel nothing.

But, I missed so much. I missed crying, I missed relief. I missed bliss and satisfaction and caring. I missed the highs and lows that I’d let paralyze me. I missed being uncomfortable and I missed my strong intuition. I even missed guilt and fear.

I recognized this feeling I was having on Couch Day as the exact feelings I had at the beginning of Numb Time and that, my friends, scared me.

I hit the shower for a fresh start. I’d do my hair and take it from there. If it was a bad hair day, I decided I would call it quits and curl up in the dark, sulking until the feeling passed or someone called me to commiserate over red wine.

The damn water was so scalding hot when I hopped in that it knocked me into another mindset. I felt. so glad. to feel the heat. I felt so thankful that I could feel the pressure of the water. Feeling felt great.

I let myself really be present in what my senses were telling me on Couch Day. I checked in with each one.

I tasted leftover shitty Chinese in my mouth.

I heard Broken Bells blaring from my iPod.

I saw the lavender walls of my bathroom and the misty shower door.

I smelled my favorite shampoo.

I felt the hot, hot, water running down my back. And then I just let myself continue feeling it. I put myself in the present moment. I was mindful of everything around me. I felt blessed, warm, clean.

And by george, on Couch Day I decided I’d rather feel the whole range of emotion that my brain and body offer me: the deep sadness on the couch and the pure elation in the shower. The hot and cold, the hard and soft, the easy and difficult. I’d rather feel pain than feel numb. I’d rather have days of couch dwelling and junk food eating, feeling sorry for myself and my situation while wearing holey yoga pants, so that I can also really appreciate days of bliss and joy, moments of gut laughter, riding in the car with the windows down, wine dates with friends, squeezing loved ones, catching a live show, eating a delicious meal, hearing the rain fall and feeling the sun shine again.

On Couch Day, in the shower, when I connected with all of my senses, I reconnected with my faith that I can and want to identify my feelings and address them, one by one. I want to live in awareness and understand what my mind and body tell me to feel. Forever. Even when it sucks. Even when feeling means crying or screaming or being petrified. Because if I can cry and scream, then I can laugh and love a lot more.

Let’s feel uncomfortable for the sake of appreciating comfort. Let’s push through pain so we can love the pleasure more. Let’s never sacrifice potential bliss for the guarantee of safe or average.

We are so fortunate that we care so much. We care enough to think a lot about self-improvement, and we visit this site, and we give our best life a chance to materialize. We want to live deliberately and because we care, we have a leg up on the people who don’t experience all we experience. We get it all. The good, the bad, the happy, the sad.

I’ve lived it and I’ve learned it: If we feel nothing then we miss everything.

[photo credit: things, thoughts, feelings]

Really?  This is it?  This is my last post for Stratejoy?  I think I might cry.

These past six months have been incredible–life changing, actually.  I am so grateful for the amazing women I have connected with during my time here.  Doni, Marian, Renee, Nikki, and Lindsey are going places, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have been a witness to their journey.  I am grateful for Molly and the work that she does.  She’s the real deal y’all.  The older sister I wish I had: authentic, warm, uplifting and now one of my most favorite people on Earth.  If it weren’t for her, Stratejoy, my trusty old Joy Plan, and these ladies, I am quite certain the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011 would not have rocked so hard.

I learned so much about myself.  Thanks to the Joy Equation, I feel empowered.  I finally figured out what it is that I truly value in life.  I reached limits and set boundariesI learned (am still learning) that it’s okay to not be perfect and that my imperfections are actually what make me beautiful.  I found comfort in solidarity.  And I’ve said this before, but for someone who lives with depression, one of the most important aides in my healing is knowing that I am not alone.  Now, I am stronger.  I know that this quarterlife crisis is manageable.  I will live through it.  I am living through itYou will live through it.

I have been able to share with you stories that I’ve never even told my best of friends.  (Amazing how the internet can help you open up and expand, isn’t it?)  And because of that my soul is lighterMy very first post, which is probably my favorite, was a painful story that I had been trying to tell for years.  I had no idea how much that story dragged me down–kept me stuck–until I told it.  Thankfully, your kind words help me heal and move on.

So to the ladies of Season 4, I wish you much luck.  (Though with Molly and the other wonderful women you will meet through Stratejoy, you’ll be just fine.)  If I can offer any advice to you it would be to always be open and honest.  Never be afraid or embarrassed to share your stories.  Chances are there are others out there who will read it, and like me, breathe a sigh relief knowing that they aren’t the only ones.

But most importantly, have fun; connect with one another; connect with the Stratejoy community; make new friends; and enjoy the ride.

Thank you all for standing beside me, loving me, encouraging me, and inspiring me on this journey.  Until next time. . . .

[Note from the coach: You, gorgeous soul, you.  You don’t even know how much I admire you- a young woman with a family who hasn’t forgotten that she needs to fill herself up first- in order to be present, giving, and compassionate for those she loves.  I know it’s not always easy and I know you feel like you’ve got so many more things you want to accomplish, create, be….  Believe me when I say this, Alisha, you are enough as you are.  And with that fierce self love that you’ve discovered, the extra sparkly bits will find their way in.

Thank you, thank you for being real.  I know all of us have appreciated your willingness to dive into the dark (and the light!) and to share it with us through such lovely, heart felt writing.  I appreciate you.  And adore you.  And cannot wait until we meet in person so I can cover you (and your kidlets) in kisses.  All the good in the world, with love,  Molly]

(photo credit)

I can NOT believe this is my last Stratejoy post.  I seriously might cry, y’all.

The adventure I’ve been on these last six months with Marian, Lindsey, Alisha, Renee, Doniree, Molly, and all of you has been indescribably life-changing.  I didn’t know I had it in me to write like this, to be so honest and transparent with strangers (a lot of you aren’t really strangers anymore!); I didn’t know I was capable of inspiring other people.  I was a girl who felt lost and misunderstood, even to herself.

You, by reading and through your comments, have shown me I’m not alone, crazy, or lame.  You have made me buzz with joy, knowing I’ve helped you see your QLC differently and knowing you relate to what I’m going through.  Your comments have made me laugh, cheer, think and cry, and your friendship and love has given me the strength to be honest and strive for better.

YOU are Stratejoy.

This community has been an incredibly important part of my life these last six months and, though I’m SO sad to not be writing here anymore, I know I’m not leaving.  I can’t wait to see what brilliant wisdom the Season 4 bloggers have to impart, and I’m sure I’ll be continually inspired, by them and by you, for a long time to come.

Since my first post went up in August, I’ve grown from having no idea what I want to having clear vision of my future.  I’ve become more confident and balanced, more self-aware and honest, more excited and proactive.  I’ve faced my fears, learned to love being single, and proclaimed “Quarterlife Fuck Yeah!!!”  It’s been a terrifyingly awesome journey.

Thank you for sticking with me through it all; thank you for helping me grow into the woman I now am.

Because Stratejoy inspired me to make this next step, I have an announcement to make here.  Y’all are hearing it first.  Today – right this minute – I’m launching my new website, The Grateful Sparrow (if you were following me before, it’s different!) and I want to invite all of you to be a part of it.

I’m committing to talk about joy.  Your experience of it, lack of it, the process of finding it, growing with it, keeping aware of it.  I want to inspire you to live a life you love and love the life you live, every day.  I want it to be your go-to source for a jolt of inspiration and to jump-start your daily gratitude.  It’s the anti-kumbayah; your happiness is serious business, and it’s totally within your control.

Molly & I agreed Stratejoy and The Grateful Sparrow are totally BFFs; let’s keep building this community of amazing, inspiring people and keep the love flowing!

CHEERS to everything you’ve taught me and everything we’ve shared, t0 changing the way we look at the QLC, to being fucking amazing strong women, and to who we are and who we’ll become…

All my love,

Nikki

[Note from the Coach:  Nikki- Damn straight! The Grateful Sparrow and Stratejoy are totally BFF’s!  I know these last 6 months have been full of twists and turns and challenges and surprises, but through it all- you have remained utterly open and present.  To life.  To the possibility of joy in the moment.  And it’s been a gorgeous, gorgeous thing to witness.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing it with us.  Your authentic voice and soul sister stories will be missed.

But… As we all know- you’ve got a new “home” from which to keep inspiring us.  And a big wide world to explore.   And bunches to love to share and receive.  From one joy-embracer to another– all my wishes for success in any path you choose to skip down, Nikki.  It’s yours for the taking.  And yes, we still have an outstanding date to play on lawns, drink wine together, and dissolve into multiple bouts of laughter. Soon, I promise.  Nothing but love, Molly]

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]

Last week I finally realized that I am worthy of good things in my life.  In light of  this new realization I have dreamed up some goals for 2011.  I hesistate to use the word “resolution.”  Resolutions sound so absolute and are hard to keep-in fact I think they almost set you up for failure.  But goals, goals are measurable.  I can do goals.  Goals motivate and inspire me.  Here is what I am working on in 2011:

Real Life

Work It

Lovers and Friends

With Sprinkles on Top

So bring it on, 2011.  I have a feeling this is going to be my year.

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’m writing this from the middle of the ocean. The only people I have seen in the past week are my three other crewmates and my own face in the mirror. There is no phone or internet because, well, it’s the middle of the ocean.

Asking me to define the most inspirational person in my life at this very moment, is kind of like asking me what my favorite color is. There aren’t many choices in this narrow vision I have right now. My favorite color is the deep blue of the ocean. What other color is there? All I see, in every direction, is this amazing shade of blue that I’ve never experienced until I hung my waist over the bow of the boat and stared into the purest, bluest, mystery of deep ocean. It eats up my eyeballs like a great work of art.

Besides blissful blue, I am surrounded by the captain of the ship and my two fellow crewmates who I am just beginning to know. We’ve only met a few weeks ago and we’re suddenly living alone in a rocking ship, working around the clock to harness the power of the ocean, the power of the wind to move ourselves and our boat miles and miles to the crystaline coves of the Bahamas. The exhaustion is heavy because standing straight up requires so much effort, and in the healing isolation of being so entirely distant, I find inspiration in each person who has touched my past, who has made my future brighter, clearer, and more hopeful.

From my place right now, adrift in an ocean of dreams coming true, I hold each person who has helped me to reach this point close in my heart. I carry a piece of them with me. I literally think of them every day and their influence continues to guide me towards my vision of future.

In Maui, I learned from my host how grow my own food using natural methods, how to fast. He inspires me to live off the grid, to pursue an alternative lifestyle and to work for my own food revolution.

In Molokai, I saw how to live off the land and how to nourish my body to optimum health. I experienced life on a yoga retreat, where the major projects were building structures of reclaimed materials and designing a raw food menu for guests visiting from their stressful lives. My friends inspire me to strive for my healthiest, happiest, most free self.

In Oklahoma I experienced a budding community of yogis and young families, coming together to live as a unit on a shared property, to build their homes by their own design and by their own hands, to grow their own food, and live as sufficiently as possible. They inspire me to seek out my own community and home.

In Tahoe, I spent a lot of time drinking coffee and eating waffles with an elderly man who lived by his own theory of happiness. Warren worked as a reverend in a bustling Tahoe wedding chapel, marrying people and acting as wedding photographer, firmly acting on his will that if he must work for money, he would do it working only with people in their happiest moments, to chose to bring happiness into his life. He would work doing what he enjoyed, so that it didn’t have to be hard or uncomfortable. He inspires me to earn my living doing what I love and what makes me happy, and to never sacrifice my happiness out of fear.

Now, in pursuing my own dreams, I hold what I’ve gained from each of my mentors and inspirations and something of each of them passes through my mind each day. I am designing my own life, based on what I’ve learned from each of these lives, and from what I continue to learn from my friends across the country, from my new friends aboard this boat, from the future lifestyles that I’ll be sure to encounter and experience. I’m a lifestyle anthropologist, and I get my inspiration from people living full, amazing lives.

{photo :  me getting dirty in my garden in Hawaii}

Dear Nikki aka Lauren aka Nikki-Lauren aka Lauren-Nikki aka Niklecha,

Happy sweet 16!  It’s a milestone birthday and you did it up right; you’ll never forget that party.  Remember when Amanda & Victor chugged those sodas, and the cake fight?  You slow-danced to “your song” with your first real boyfriend.  You feel like life is just beginning, and it is.

I’m writing to you from the edge of another milestone birthday – your 30th.  I know!!  You got old!! Those 14 years are an unfathomable gap to you, but they’ve given me a lot of insight that I’d like to share with you.

I know you feel like you don’t fit in with the cool kids and your best friend does, and it makes you feel self-conscious and dorky.  Bad news, love, you’ll never fit in with the cool kids.  You’re a dork.  Own it.  You being yourself, in all your crazy clothes, artsy-fartsy tendencies, and cheesy jokes, is going to get you some of the very best friends you could ever hope for. Don’t underestimate these friendships, don’t discount yourself by saying you don’t know why they like you – these people love you for you.  Know it, believe it, and hold onto it.  They will give you strength when you need it.

There will come a day when you think it’s time to “grow up” and get “adult clothes” and take things seriously, because you think someone you love expects it of you – he doesn’t.  Twenty-three is not old, and trust me, you’re going to regret giving away that vintage gingham dress.  And yes, I said “he” and “love” in the same sentence; we’ll get back to that.

Don’t hate your body, and don’t feel guilty about hating your body.  You are beautiful; stop standing in front of the mirror criticising.  It’s a waste of energy.  No one is perfect, even if they seem like they are.  In a few years, a guy will tell you you’re “stunning” every day for two months; believe it when it happens & believe it now.  Treat your body with respect, it deserves it.

You either just went to Austria or are about to go…?  Oops, spoiler alert.  🙂  Either way, it instills in you a love of travel that feels desperate sometimes.  Don’t worry, you’ll travel again.  A lot.  Don’t let people tell you you’re being selfish or wasteful by traveling; it’s going to teach you invaluable lessons about yourself.  And don’t be scared; you’ll learn you’re a lot stronger than you’ve ever been given credit for.  Even if it seems like no one else sees this, know it yourself: you are strong.  You can get through whatever is put in front of you.  You’re going to need that knowledge later, big time.  Oh, and in Rome, I know the “resort” with a pool seems nice but trust me, it’s an Italian trailer park in the middle of nowhere.  Spring for a hostel.

Be nice to your brother.  He’s going through a tough time & I know you’re busy with classes and friends and theatre, but try to show him that you love him more often.  I know he annoys you right now, but he grows into a really great person that you’re proud to call your brother; get started on that early.  Your family’s going to go through some rocky times; remember that they all love you and let yourself feel what you need to feel.  Don’t worry about this now, but just know, it’s ok to be sad and angry and to need to talk to someone about it.

When you get to college, call Sara Ruffner.  She needs a friend.  It won’t change anything, but just do it.  It will make you feel better.

You want to fall in love, so badly.  You think unrequited love is the most romantic thing ever – why??? – and you’re about to find out how very not true that is.  Over and over.  Do yourself a favor & stop thinking about it; daydream about a real relationship instead.  You have a bumpy road ahead of you, where love is concerned; your first love letter comes in a really sad form, but don’t let that inform all your relationships.  It’s not your fault, it’s not your responsibility, and he’s fine now, honestly, so let it go.

You will fall in love, hard.  It will feel just as wonderful as you imagine and more terrible than you ever thought.  It will be like at first sight, and yes, he likes you back, it just takes him a while to let you know.  You won’t say “I love you” until you mean it, and you’ll take things at your own pace; I’m proud of you for that.   You will make a lot of sacrifices for him, and most of them will feel worth it, but listen to your gut and tell him what you need from him.  I know it’s really hard; you’ve never had to talk about emotional stuff before, but learn how to be honest, and be honest with yourself, too.  There will come a time when you pray and pray about what to do; don’t ignore what your gut is telling you just because it’s not what you want to hear.  This is the time to be strong and do what’s best for you, even if it feels like your heart is breaking – and will be breaking – you will be better for it.  Oh, and when the apartment becomes an issue, just break the lease; don’t play martyr.  You’ll understand when it happens.

You are allowed to change your mind.  It is ok to not do what everyone expects of you.  Drama is temporary, always; don’t get caught up in it.  There will come a time when you feel like your whole world is falling down around you, and it is, but remember it’s only making way for a new, better life.  Trust how you feel and give yourself a break.  You’re going to get a lot of grief about decisions you make; remember it’s your life, and just keep in mind it all brings you here, where I am, which is pretty good.

Remember that time you watched that show where the girl was like, “I hated who I was at 16; I wish I could just erase her” and you said to mom that you hoped you’d never feel that way & that you like the person you are & you think you’d want to be friends with her?  I still like the person you are, and I like the person you become.  Love yourself on this crazy journey, and be patient with yourself.  Don’t worry when it doesn’t look how you thought it would; believe me, you have an incredible life.

I love you, I love you, I love you.

nikki

[photo: me on my 16th birthday]

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 TheGratefulSparrow.com, 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”]

Inspiration finds me through my five senses…

See: I am inspired by seeing my to-do list and crossing things off.  I’m inspired by gut-wrenching stories on cable television and innovative new tricks on Mythbusters.  I’m inspired by food contests, sunny days, and my name in print. I’m inspired by a change in my environment, like switching out the glass coffee table in the living room for faux leather ottomans.  I’m inspired by people who laugh unabashedly. I’m a sucker for a well-written articles.  A stack of research inspires me to be productive.

Smell: I love warm smells. When I work in my basement office at home, I always burn a candle that smells like banana bread.  I’m inspired by the smell of doughnuts wafting from the grocery store early in the morning. Anything that smells like cookies in the oven inspires me to get cozy and open my heart. I love the smell of earth after a spring storm. I love the smell of campfires and marshmallows.

Hear: I love Pandora. There’s the Jason Mraz station when I cook, the Film Scores station when I read, the Keren Ann station when I write, and the Hip Hop station when I need a brain break.  Also, to get my brain warmed up during my 6:30am commute to school, I plug in a podcast, usually Stuff Mom Never Told You or Stuff You Should Know. (The girls on Stuff Mom Never Told You have my perfect job. Research and reporting on feminist issues? Yes, please.)  These podcasts have inspired some of my research already. But I also love the sound of silence.

Taste: Italian food and wine inspire me.  Enchiladas and Corona inspire me.  Cupcakes calm me down.  Afternoon pitas and chai get me through my night classes on particularly rough days.  Trader Joe’s Winter Blend coffee in the morning is why I get out of bed.  Sugar cream pie makes me all nostalgic. I love the taste of fresh garden tomatoes.  I crave broccoli on the regular.

Feel: Feeling that someone believes in me is inspirational. Feeling my kitty curled up next to me makes me feel at ease.  The warmth from a cup of tea calms me down.  Switching from jersey-knit to flannel sheets when it gets cold inspires me.  The warmth of the sun on my skin is inspirational. I love the feel of freshly washed jeans just out of the dryer.

{photo via janhamlet1}

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]

“All we have is now. If it doesn’t drive you, or delight you, stop doing it right now, and start doing something you love. If there’s someone who inspires you, let them know. If there’s someone you love, tell ’em. You have absolutely NO time to waste.”  -Birdie of Bonne Vie

You know when you get so far down a certain path, you forget why you started?  Or where you’re heading?

Well, my loves, it’s a bit scary how easily life can feel like that.  We can wake up in the morning and continue about our day, our week, our year, or hell–even our life–without taking stock, without even realizing we’re running on autopilot, without ever letting ourselves dream of being truly happy.

Sometimes the evaluation of our life is so damn depressing that we just ignore it and carry on. We feel like change is hopeless, like we’ve backed ourselves into a corner that has no escape.  We believe we can’t make a change because we’ll fail, or it’s too uncertain, or that people will think we’re crazy.

We’re held in place by that thought that this might be all that’s in the cards for us and we might as well get used to it.

I mean, isn’t life supposed to be hard?  Aren’t we supposed to suck it up?

Maybe you feel stuck in a relationship or a job or a group of friends.  Maybe it’s in your entire career choice, or your city, or your marriage.  Maybe it’s how you treat your body, or your employees, or your planet.  Whatever the case may be, you’re avoiding any deep thinking about it because some part of you knows when you admit to yourself how wrong “it” is, you’ll have to do something about it.

And doing something about “it” is hard.  And scary.  And you’re not sure you have the energy, or plan, or focus to actually make a change or new choice.

Sometimes that evaluation of our life and our happiness is tricky because we’re not sure what it is we do want. We know we desperately want a change or a new focus, but we just don’t know what the hell that is…  And that thought freaks us out even more.  How am I supposed to move forward, make more deliberate choices, if I don’t know what it is I’m moving towards?

This sort of uncertainty can be paralyzing for most of us.  We’re seeking a sign, trying things on for size, and throwing out new ideas almost as soon as we try them.

We typically don’t give ourselves enough time or freedom to explore, to play, or to follow our wildest dreams because it doesn’t seem practical. We’re scared we’re going to run out of money, be seen as flighty, burn bridges, and be accused of being unrealistic.

Passion?   Fulfillment?  Who actually feels that way?

Here’s what I know for sure, doll.

1)  You are not alone if any of the above sounds familiar.  You are not alone in feeling confused, or lost, or uninspired, even if you do all the “right” things.  You’re not alone if you’re faking it with a “happy face” and feeling like one little crack in admitting the truth will cause the whole charade to come crashing down. You’re not alone if the pressure to keep up the appearance of doing well is driving you crazy.

2)  You absolutely deserve to live a life that lights you up.  A life where you deeply feel love, fear, excitement, sadness, joy, peace, the whole gamut.  A life that fits you in all your individual quirks and strengths.  A life that allows you to share your gifts with the world and be present to all the fantastic fucking wonder that is out there.

3) Though it may sound counter intuitive, accepting and loving yourself in your current situation is absolutely the first step.  Love it up where you are. Utterly and completely embrace the current version of your life. It’s the only way to grow and change in a sustainable way…

4) Deliberate growth is absolutely possible with the an intrinsic, sexy, motivating PLAN.  With unending SUPPORT.  With accountability, and systems, and a sense of greater PURPOSE.

I was reminded this last week of my purpose.  I was in the presence of so many women truly living their passions, calling the shots in their own lives, and serving the world in such a powerful way.  It reminded me of the words I wrote over 2 years ago, when Stratejoy was still “Company X”…

“This is life.  This is it.  Are you being who you want to be? Doing what you want to do?”

And you know what?  That’s still my purpose. I help women explore those questions through coaching, through groups, through writing, through connecting with YOU.

And my clients?  My amazing inner circle?  They grow.  They kick some ass.  They connect with themselves in way that’s never happened before and leave our work together feeling stronger, more confidant in their own choices, and comfortable in their own skin.  They start businesses, and go back to school, and leave abusive relationships.  They travel the world, find rockstar jobs, and take more pleasure in the small things.

They are YOU.

“I wasn’t sure how I’d feel when school ended today, but I surprised myself by being really at peace and proud of myself for making a deliberate, good decision for myself. I think that this is the first major decision I have ever made totally for myself.  I wanted you to know what a powerful influence you’ve had on my life in such a short time.  It is a real talent to be able to guide people to know themselves better in a way that is both non-intrusive (you don’t do the work for your client), but very reassuring all at the same time. I am so grateful that I found you and that you knew what the heck a quarterlife crisis was :)”   -Erin

“Molly, you are one of those fabulous women I feel like I’ve known my whole life.  I was at a point in my life where I wanted not only a coach but a mentor (and at times a big sister) to help me get to the next level in my personal and professional life.  You have the ability to connect people to their own personal power, truth, and the joy of living an authentic and meaningful life.  With your help, I was able to get  unstuck, break the cycle of old habits and start taking big action steps on my dreams.  I feel so blessed to not only have worked with you, but to call you my friend.”  -Nicole

“I felt inspired to write you a HUGE THANK YOU email for everything you have done on these coaching calls.  I have been opening up to my close friends about participating in the group coaching session and how much of an impact they have made to my life in just 6 short weeks! I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing what you are doing. I wouldn’t be where I am without you. I have a new-found confidence in my abilities to run a business and whatever the outcome may be, I will be so happy that I tried. So thank you thank you thank you for your endless energy and constant positive re-enforcement.” -Meredith

IS IT YOUR TIME?!

For the rest of 2010, I’ll be offering one-time power sessions for $100. I want to make this as easy on you as possible.  You buy one with the button below, we set up a time to talk for 75 minutes, and you fill out a quick intake form so I know what you want to jam on.

No further obligation, no mind twisting pitches.

Just you + me + a supportive, inspiring, creative strategy session about YOUR LIFE. Maybe you want to talk 2011 planning… Maybe you want to talk starting your own business…. Maybe you want to talk leaving a miserable situation…. Whatever it may be, I am here for YOU.

All we have is now, sister.

p.s.  If it’s not the right fit for you, stayed tuned…. All sorts of new Stratejoy goodies are on tap for 2011.

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 have a confession to make: I’m in therapy.

No, I have never been diagnosed with any sort of mental instability or chemical imbalance; I’m not depressed or manic-depressive, and I didn’t have an overly traumatic childhood.  In fact, I’m generally a pretty happy person.  So why do I go to therapy, you ask?

Now before you go judging me thinking I’m “sooooo LA” and picturing me in big designer sunglasses, texting on my bedazzeled Ed Hardy iphone in sweatpants two sizes too small with JUICY written on the ass while I drone on about me, me, me to my tuned-out therapist, put your stereotypes on hold for a second.

I started going to therapy at the advice of a close friend who had never thought she’d be in therapy.  We both had the attitude of, oh, sure therapy’s great for someone with problems but it’s not for me.  But when she started getting ulcers from anxiety and I hit my QLC, neither of us could navigate through all these feelings alone.  Friends were great, but, let’s face it, no one wants to sit for hours listening to someone else’s problems, and, even more than that, I wasn’t about to pull out my guts and show everyone all my neuroses and fears.  Hell no.

So I started going to therapy.  And I judged myself.  I thought, geez, Nikki, you are such a freaking whiner.  Really, you think she wants to sit here and listen to you talk about how acting sucks and your heart’s broken and your parents are getting a divorce?  Oh waah waah, baby, that happens to millions of people, every day.  Get a real problem.

Then one day I told her that I felt stupid being upset about these things, and that I thought I should just be able to deal with it all on my own, and what the hell is wrong with me that I can’t deal with it all on my own, and I’m sorry that I’m wasting her time with my petty issues.  She looked me straight in the eyes, told me to look at her, to trust her, that these are NOT petty things and I am NOT stupid and that I have every right to be here and every right to feel what I feel.  These are difficult things to deal with, and we’re going to deal with them together.  Period.

From that moment on, I trusted her and started to trust myself.  I am always completely honest in therapy (otherwise, what’s the point?) even when I feel like I’m being silly or melodramatic; there’s always something bigger, deeper, less obvious under those “silly” feelings.  Being in a safe environment like that gives me permission to explore my deepest fears and confront my demons, and I almost always find that whenever I am in a tough spot and have a seemingly impossible question, somewhere inside I know the answer.  I can’t even tell you how many “AHA!” moments I’ve had, or how many times I’ve broken down in pain.

I think it’s ironic that in our society we tend to see people who need therapy or counseling or any sort of help as weak, because when done honestly, it’s one of the hardest things a person can do.  To really face yourself, without pretense or bullshit, to say all the hateful things we tell ourselves in the privacy of our own minds, out loud, to explore the things that keep us awake at night – these take guts.  They are effing scary as shit. It takes a strong person to get through it.

Therapy has made me know myself better than I ever could have without it.   It has helped me understand how my mind works; instead of repeating bad habits, wondering why does this always happen to me, I catch myself and, even if I can’t yet change the pattern, I’m no longer the victim.  It has given me the power to choose my thoughts, the clarity to make big decisions, and the self-love to move forward in a positive direction.

Therapy, for me, is not about changing myself or getting past some roadblock, and it’s certainly not just hollywood-stereotype narcissism.   It is about understanding who I am and what I need at my honest core, growing, accepting, and choosing to be conscious of my thoughts and actions.

[photo: the awesome journal my therapist got me when I left for Australia 🙂 ]

Pretty much ninety percent of the time, I’ve got a notebook and a pen with me.  The other 10% when I don’t have a physical pen and paper, I have the Notebook app and Evernote apps on my phone on the front/main screen of my iPhone, and they’re constantly being filled with ideas and jotted notes.

Inspiration hits at the most random times.  On my yoga mat’s a given.  Half-pigeon pose?  I’m dealing with feelings, emotions, and creativity.  Ideas run like crazy.  Final savasana?  Sometimes I transcend.  Other times I make grocery lists.  It really depends on the day, but just about demands that somewhere within my reach after class ends, I have a way to write down the epiphanies I had or the acorn squash I need to pick up at Safeway.

I also have really great ideas in the shower.  There’s something about being alone with your thoughts – no texting, no email alerts, no nothing except for cleansing steam, soap, hot water, and firing connections in my brain.

It’s pretty reliable that if I shower regularly and stick with my yoga practice, my mind stays fairly fresh and balanced, generating new ideas and connecting new thoughts all the time.

Except when it doesn’t.  And when I’m stuck, when I’m at a dead end, feeling uninspired, running up against the dreaded writer’s block, and staring at a blank computer screen or note book page – I have a few things in my arsenal that I pull out when I need to be inspired.

Here’s what I do when I need to kickstart creativity:

Do

Switch up my routine.  Take a different bus, work in a different coffee shop, go to a new yoga class.  Visit the gym at a different time of day than usual, try a new place for lunch.  Cook something new.  Do something that requires my brain to make new connections, try on new perspectives.

Cook.  There is something so incredibly therapeutic about cooking.  I love cooking for and with friends, but when I need to unplug and completely reconnect to me, I cook for me.  I concentrate on chopping vegetables, measuring tablespoons, waiting for oil to heat.  I turn garlic and onions carefully in the skillet, and study the contents of my cabinets and refrigerator for the right combination of flavors for the food that’s cooking.  I kitchen dance. I nourish my body, whether that means paying careful attention to get a ton of nutrients and vitamins in my system or if it means sinking into a rich, creamy bowl of soup or pasta.  Sometimes Doniree’s Test Kitchen works out well, and I come up with delicious meals that demand replication, and I share them with friends.  Sometimes it doesn’t work out so well and I toss more than I keep.  But it’s about the process as much as it’s about the flavors.  The process of learning what does and doesn’t work, and the process of such active participation in what I put into my body.  For me, there are fewer more reconnecting and inspiring acts than conscious cooking.

Hear

French Cafe music on Pandora.  When I need to write, I work well when I’m working with music that either doesn’t have words, or doesn’t have words in English.  If I can’t sing along, I focus more on what I’m doing.  Also, French music in general makes me daydreamy and romantic-feeling, so inspiration’s nearly a given.  Just try not to be inspired listening to Carla Bruni, eating croissants, and pretending you’re actually in a French cafe.  Just try.

Other [Mostly] Chick Music. Feist.  Florence and the Machines.  Lissie.  La Roux.  Yeah Yeah Yeahs.  Metric.  Karen O doing just about anything.  Taylor Swift.  The Weepies.  You get the idea.

Connect

Process. The people in my life are brilliant, smart, deep, spiritual, critical-thinking, bright lights of inspiration.  My boyfriend keeps me on my toes and holds me accountable to truly living what I believe in.  My girlfriends are radiant women who are authentic and honest.  Others in my life are motivated, smart, and inspiring.  Being in the presence of – and actively contributing to – relationships and conversation is a huge source of inspiration in my life.  They ask thought-provoking questions, hold me accountable to never being anything less than my most authentic self, and create a safe space for hashing out tough thoughts and feelings.

Surrender.  Admitting I’m stuck and surrendering to the void, to the unknown, to the frustration is typically when inspiration strikes the hardest.  I’m frequently held accountable to this idea and remind me to stop fighting the lack of inspiration and motivation and surrender into whatever the blockage is.  Surrendering is typically a sure-fire way to find the answers and ideas I’d previously been fighting so hard to find.

Move

Run, walk, stretch, twist, asana.  It’s no surprise, but getting physical is inspiring.  I run a couple of times a week at the gym, and typically listen to a podcast or upbeat music while I do.  Sometimes I listen to what’s on my iPod, sometimes I listen to what’s in my head.  Either way, the act of unplugging and hanging with you and your own body – within your own body – is really inspiring.  On top of that, I get to yoga at least a couple of times each week (my goal for November is 3-4 times/week).  I can’t sing loud enough the praises of what this practice does for connecting mind, body, and spirit.

These are a few of the things that work for me. What works for you?

{Photo credit: Rachel at Hello Gorgeous 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 WhiteHotTruth.com.  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)

Like a true artist, just about everything on Earth inspires me.  Sometimes the way a leaf falls from its limb takes my breath away.  A giggle brings tears to my eyes.  Each time I see the little anorexic girl that walks up and down the street, I write a new paragraph of her story.  But because I can’t write down every single little thing that gives me inspiration, I thought I would give you a little sampling.

The Dead Poets Society.  I first saw this movie when I was 14.  It made me fall even more in love with literature; inspired me to become an English teacher; introduced that powerful phrase: Carpe Diem.  “Seize the day.”  Professor Keating told me to “sound my barbaric yawp.”  He encouraged me to challenge the status quo.  (Even if I never actually followed his advice, I always held his words close to my heart.)  I am not a big fan of movies, but this is my favorite of all time.  (Oh–and Ethan Hawke is hot!)

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.  This book was instrumental in sparking my creativity.  Julia encouraged me to eschew convention, ignore the myth of the starving artist and write like there is no tomorrow.  If you ever doubted yourself as an artist, her words will fill you with inspiration; renew the desire to pursue your passion. Throughout my life I have gone through varioius phases of journaling, picking it up when my heart was heavy and then tossing the habit aside when I felt that life was too busy.  The Artist’s Way reintroduced me to the practice by way of the Morning Pages.  Three pages, each morning, of free writing.  I have recorded my dreams, relived some nightmares and had many epiphanies.  Cameron inspired me to return to my artist roots and I couldn’t be happier.

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.  If you want to write, I think you should read this book.  I picked it up after I became discouraged with the progress of my writing.  If you’re anything like me (a recovering perfectionist and self-doubter) then you spend a lot of time reading about how to be the best.  It seemed as though every blog, every expert had convinced me that I wasn’t good enough.  Goldberg told me that I am good enough; that being me is what makes my writing great.  I still consult Strunk and White , but now I write from the heart.

I love music, bleed it, am transformed by lyrics.  I mentioned once before how much I like love am obssessed with John Mayer.  I like almost every thing he has ever done, but there is one song that always lifts me up.  When I need that extra little boost, I listen to “Bigger Than my Body.”

“Some day I’ll fly, some day I’ll soar.  Some day I’ll be so damn much more.  ‘Cause I’m bigger than my body gives me credit for.”

It’s just a great reminder that we are greater than the limits we put on ourselves.  If you can dream, you can do it.

My children.  Right now, they are my biggest inspiration.  Their smiles inspire me to keep giving.  Their hugs inspire me to keep loving.  Their enthusiasm inspires me to keep living.  Though there are days that I wish I was single again, if it weren’t for those two, I wouldn’t be on this incredible journey.

(photo credit: starpulse.com)

As I write this I’m listening to George Winston’s Thanksgiving album, a CD my family would start listening around this time of year. London, unfortunately, doesn’t get a proper autumn, but New England in the fall? My favorite season, hands down. To make myself feel a little less homesick I listen to Thanksgiving on repeat while I work. It’s calming and takes me back to a place where I felt safe and at home.

Music does that for me.

Along with using music as a comfort, finding new bands and artists is a dorky hobby of mine that music snobs would scoff at and my Jason Mraz loving friends don’t really understand. For the past year or so I’ve been collecting my finds on a massive playlist, but these three I have yet to get sick of and remind me of turning points in my life.

The first is the Weepies “Can’t Go Back Now” — The album this song appears on was my go-to commuting music when I worked at a Tex-Mex restaurant in central London the summer of 2008. I had already been living there for a year and the city had become home. It was the first time I created a life for myself from scratch and every morning I would hear this song and these lyrics stuck out to me as if Steve and Deb were telling the story of my life:

Next, we have the sexy Australian Josh Pyke. I’m pretty sure that it’s thanks to iTunes Genius that I know about this guy and “The Lighthouse Song” is now one of my all time favorites. One day last year there was a big snow storm in New  York. I distinctly remember listening to this song while walking through an eerily quiet and empty Manhattan while it was covered in snow. Something about this song is peaceful, but also moving. It also has one the most romantic lines of all time:

Finally, my favorite band EVER is Mumford and Sons. One of their first songs is called “Awake My Soul” and now any time a song moves me the way this one does I call it my “soul awakening” music. I have no specific memory of this song, but my amazing boyfriend, who is a music connoisseur, first introduced me to Mumford a few years ago knowing they’d be my new obsession. Thank God. My favorite line in this song (though it’s really hard to choose just one):

It’s not just these three songs though that awake my soul though. Music in general has been a huge part of my life – everything from dancing around to the Spice Girls at age 11 to obsessively practicing Claire de Lune on the piano at age 13.

One of my favorite music memories was the simple act of growing up singing.  It’s funny being “known” for something now – for blogging and social media stuff – when what took up most of my time as a child and teenager were the various choirs I was in. Not just a church choir, but, like, competitive singing.

It’s so funny writing about this now as I haven’t sung in years. It stopped being fun in college when rehearsals lasted hours and I had “real work” to do. But back in the day I was in my high school all-girl honor choir as well as being selected for both Regional and All-State choruses.

More than anything I miss singing as part of a group, so I make up for that by constantly listening to music as it’s still the thing that inspires me the most.


Music is the thing that inspires me the most.  It can augment a mood by being the perfect soundtrack to my day, and it can awaken an emotion instantly.  To watch me listen to my ipod on shuffle, you might think I’m manic-depressive, I’m often so moved by each song – happy, sad, wistful, estatic.  During this month of travel I’m in, music has been a great constant for me; I know that wherever I am, I can pop in my earbuds and listen to something familiar.

“I Don’t Know” by Lisa Hannigan
–  I have always been afraid of singing in front of people.  I don’t mean  silly singing – I will rock out at the top of my lungs in your car, if I know you pretty well and it’s a good song, and I will kareoke it up after a few drinks – I mean singing to sound good.  I’ve come near to having a mental breakdown over a musical audition.  So, when my friends & I decided to create a group where we’d all try something new, something we were afraid of, I knew I had to sing.  This is the song I chose.  It is the perfect love song about not being in love… yet.  It is hopeful and ebullient and makes me incredibly happy.  Favorite line:  “If you want to, I am game / If you walk my way, I will keep my head we would feel our way.”


“Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens
–  We all make mistakes, we all grow from them, we all move on.  To me this song is like someone telling a sad story with a laugh; you know it was a hard thing for them to experience, but they got through it and can laugh about it, and that in itself is uplifting.  Favorite line:  “I made a lot of mistakes / in my mind.”


“Also Frightened” by Animal Collective
– I love Animal Collective’s crazy layered sound and sometimes it’s hard to discern the words to their songs, but when music is so all-encompassing and feeling, who needs lyrics?  To me, this song is about looking to the future with a hopeful eye and admitting that you’re afraid, that we all are afraid, and that’s ok.  Favorite line: ” Will it be just like I’m dreaming? / Are you also frightened?”


“Buildings and Bridges” by Ani Difranco
– This is a beautiful reminder of the permanence of change.  Ani’s an amazing lyricist & I could quote the entire song here but I’ll say my favorite line is: “Buildings and bridges are made to bend in the wind / to withstand the world that’s what it takes / all that steel and stone are no match for the air, my friend / what doesn’t bend breaks.”


“We Used to Wait” by Arcade Fire
– Have you ever thought about the speed of technological and societal change in our lifetimes?  When I was a kid, we played Oregon Trail on those chunky green-screen computers in the school library and I had to write letters to my best friend when she went on vacation.  Now everyone’s got sleek little iphones and can connect with anyone, anywhere, anytime.  I love how easy technology has made my life, but sometimes it’s a little unsettling; with all of this digital connection, are we going to lose real human connection?  This song is about rediscovering your natural self while lost in the “wilderness downtown.”  Favorite line: “Now our lives are changing fast / hope that something pure can last.”


“This Modern Love” by Bloc Party
– Love stories just aren’t what they were in Jane Austen’s time, no matter what movies try to tell us.  This song is an adorable portrait of modern-day romance, banal, nervous, frightened, and sweet.  Favorite line: “I’ll pay for you / anytime.”


“Dog Days Are Over” by Florence and the Machine
– This song feels like such a celebration of life and good things that happen when you’re not even looking for them.  When the drums kick in I just gotta boogie. In Portland a week ago, we were driving through the mountains with the windows down, sun pouring in, just blasting this song, and it was absolutely perfect, a life-affirming, inspiration-filled moment.  Favorite line: “Happiness hit her like a bullet in the back of the head / the dog days are over.”
“Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles – I saved the best for last; I can’t leave The Beatles out!  This song is pure joy in its simplicity.  It’s the epitome of inspiration for me. It always reassures me that there are better things around the bend.  Favorite line: “It’s all right.”

…and, little darlin’, is IS all right.
[adorable photo by shankar, shiv]

I have been so excited to write about this. It’s time for my BIG ANNOUNCEMENT!

Ready?

Okay, really, are you ready? This is so exciting! I am so excited!

I’m going to live on a boat!!!!!

I should explain…

I get inspired by travel and sustainability and local food and music and culture and meeting inspired people and gaining knowledge and skills and I get to do all this and more, starting this November.

One of my big dreams in life is to sail around the world. I have been traveling across the US overland, zigging and zagging on interstates and backroads, usually with me in the passenger seat, feet dangling out the window, camera in hand. The only time I flew in all my travels were the flights to and from Hawaii because, well, ya know.

I love the idea of moving across the globe at a pace that allows me to really grasp just how big the world is. Making the journey to islands we’d otherwise fly to, and actually seeing and feeling the distance from sea level, is going to give me such an appreciation and connection to the earth… or sea!?

The boat I am crewing on plans to sail around the world, but there is no time frame. The captain is open to stopping for a few months or even longer if he and crew find an island or port that is a good fit to stay at for a while. This is completely open ended. My place on the boat is completely open ended. I have no idea what is going to happen.

I made the decision a few weeks ago – I had to choose between an awesome-but-not-now engineering job or an opportunity to learn to sail. In the tropics!

Obviously, I chose the boat. When I decided, it based on the idea that I wanted to surround myself with people that inspire me, living a life of location independence, learning, self-sufficiency, natural beauty.

I’ll be the Divine Huntress of the Ocean with My Speargun

I will be learning to sail for real. So far I’ve only learned to sail a small Sunfish, which doesn’t even have a cabin. A 43′ catamaran is going to be a whole ‘nother story.

I will also be catching my own food out of the ocean. YOU GUYS I GET TO GO SPEARFISHING! And I’m sorry vegetarians, I am a sort-of vegetarian but I really believe in just understanding WHERE my food comes from so when I catch my own fish and pick my own food that is me living in my perfect world. AND I GET TO SHOOT A SPEAR GUN UNDERWATER! Which is gonna be completely, totally bad ass.

(Also, we just bought a kilo of wasabi. Sushi every day sushi every day sushi every day.)

Open Ended Adventures

I am not sure how long I’ll be on the boat. In my “plan” I will make money online by freelancing or selling my photos or writing travel stories or something else. When I got the call inviting me to join the crew, I told the captain – “I have to get internet at least once a week! I have a blogging commitment!” So I know I’ll at least be able to stay connected online.

I’ll also have an obsessive photo blog, because that is how I roll when I travel.

The thing about this whole journey is that I don’t have a clue what is going to happen. I might run out of money, but the worst thing that will happen is I buy a plane ticket, fly back to Michigan, and do exactly what I’m doing now. Not a bad trade off. (Hi Mom!)

But maybe, just maybe, this is the beginning of a whole new adventure. One where I stop talking about things and actually do them. Maybe I’ll make it all the way to India and I can study yoga in Mysore like I’ve been wanting to do for ages but couldn’t because “I don’t have money.” Maybe I’ll hop off the boat and live in Central America and finally get some Spanish under my belt. Maybe I’ll meet some amazing people who will change my life. (That last one will happen. It always happens. I love meeting people!)

Inspiration comes in many forms. But after much introspection and self-discovery these past few months, action is my inspiration. In the actual process of doing something, I get inspired to do more.

So, I’m gonna sail on a boat.

I have big dreams.   Gulliver-sized dreams.  I have dreams that are so big that they scare me (literally and existentially).  Sometimes my dreams scare me into action; sometimes into the land of Stuck.  There is this lyric from a John Mayer song that sits in the back of my mind.  (I quote ol’ John quite often; his song lyrics are the stories of my life.) “See I refuse to believe that my life’s gonna be just some string of incompletes…” Right on, John.  Right. On.  So I keep dreaming.  Because dreams keep me from getting sucked into the eddies of depression.  Dreams keep me sane.

Right now I’m dreaming of:

Being fluent in all three romance languages.
Napping on a sun-lit field in Tuscany.
Living abroad with my family, preferably the French or Italian countryside.
Learning how to make artisan bread.
Is it too late to be a ballerina?
Publishing a novel/collection of short stories/book of poetry.
Owning a coffeeshop and bookstore.
Designing my own line of jewelry.
Having a vacation home in Maine.
Taking a honeymoon.
Riding a motorcycle.
Inventing and patenting teleportation so I can spend time with my favorite people across the country.
Sky-diving.
Dedicating a room in my home as a library, complete with rich mahogany shelving and a fire place.
Co-hosting Monday Night Football with Michelle Tafoya.
Singing in a band.
Learning how to read sheet music again so that I can play the piano.
Running in–and winning–a 5k.
Wearing a pair of really bad-ass leather pants.
Meeting Danielle LaPorte.
Working for Rachel Zoe.
Being DEBT-FREE.
Growing my own produce.
Learning how to play guitar again.

Honestly, I would be just fine if nothing on that list happened.  Okay.  Well, I take that back.  I really would like to own a coffee shop–overstuffed chairs, exposed beams and poetry slams, yes, please.  And music is just dying to come out of me so I need to find that band ASAP.  Oh, and my family will live abroad.  I don’t think I would ever be happy if we did not spend at least a month in Italy.  I know the book will come out of me sooner rather than later–NaNoWriMo, anyone?   I’ve already met Michelle Tafoya, now I just need to convince ESPN to let me stand with her on the sidelines. (Universe, are you listening?)

But really, my biggest of big dreams is to be able to help support my family, financially, doing work that inspires me.  That’s all I really want. Really.

I have spent my life watching both of my parents work very, very hard to provide my brother and me a comfortable life.  I was–and continue to be–blessed through their efforts.  Yet, I also saw them leave for work each day, commuting for hours, working over-time to answer to someone, or some company, that didn’t give two shits about them.  That will not be me.  Maybe that’s unrealistic.  Maybe working like that is just part of being an “adult” in the “real” world.  That is what my parents and husband would say, anyway.  But I believe that there’s got to be a better way. I believe my dreams will become realities. And I’ll keep dreaming.