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nicolegoodbye

And now the time has come to say goodbye. I hate goodbyes – like really hate them. I’ve been known to stay friends with people or stay in relationships far too long because I have such an aversion to goodbyes.

And As my Elevate loves can tell you, I’m a goodbye crier.

I will try my best not to have a tearstained keyboard while I type this, but I’m not making any promises.

When I sat down to write this last post, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this experience. I’ve told Molly so many times how incredibly thankful I am for the opportunity, and I definitely mean it. I just can’t believe we’re at the end already.

For anyone who has been following my posts and entertaining the idea in the back of your mind – please apply when Molly opens the next season up. It really is a fantastic experience. You won’t regret it!

To my Season 7 girls – I adore you! We are all in different points in our lives, but we have these common threads that allow us to relate to one another. My life is infinitely better for having “met” all of you and shared this experience. I hope that we will stay in touch and continue to watch each other reap the benefits of taking this time for ourselves to learn and grow.

To Miss Katie – I adore you as well! You sweet, sweet woman who gives so much of herself to others even when she is unsure of where her own life is headed. You were the perfect blogger momma for us and I’m so happy to know you. And if I ever meet you in person, I will so hug you into infinity. You better learn to like hugs, lady! 😉

Lovely Molly – You know how I feel about you, but I can’t say it enough. You are an amazing person. You have changed the lives of many in the tribe for the better. You have bared your beautiful soul to us and created this space where we can be open and vulnerable and support one another. I really believe you are filled with magic. I’m beyond thankful that you’ve shared the magic with me! Thank you for this amazing opportunity.

When I think about where I am today compared with five months ago, I really am astounded. I went back to my goal post to see if I accomplished any of those goals I set for myself. Some of them I have done more than others, but what struck me was just the tone of my writing and the numerous comments I made about feeling out of touch with myself.

I still don’t have everything figured out, but I’m infinitely more in tune with my own desires and what I want out of life. At the time I wrote the goal post, I could only focus on a few small things because I wasn’t confident enough in anything to actually declare a goal.

I now have a gorgeous goal sheet that is bursting with ideas and hopes and dreams that I want to tackle this year. All of that is because I’ve been given this gift of weekly reflection and writing for all of you.

Thank you all so much for reading and commenting, supporting me during the weeks that weren’t so positive, and making me feel like a NORMAL person. 

Since I really love to write and talk about myself, I’ll be using my writing energy to blog more often on my personal blog, Nicole Loves. You can find me there or follow me on twitter to see how I use all this newfound positive energy to shape my life into the life I’ve always dreamed of.

And now I’ll leave you with a line from one of my favorite movies EVER – Pretty Woman. Ms. Kit De Luca says…

“I gotta split ’cause goodbyes me me crazy – so take care of you.”

Goodbye loves! xoxo

NicoleBioBadge

Image via: Flickr

 

A Note From Katie: I’ve been a hot mess all week. Although life is jam packed with uncertainty, I always knew I’d hear from you every single week and we’d chat it out, talk about our hate for technology. It’s that routine that became so incredible for me throughout this entire season. But YOU have been a bright, cheery addition to this Season, Miss Nicole. I can see how far you’ve come. As I went back and read everyone’s posts from all season long, I noticed too that your tone had changed. You’re still as beautiful a writer, but you’re a bit more clear on what you’re looking for. And that growth is what this experience is all about. I will absolutely be following you around like crazy, making sure you’re doing fine, staying up to date on ALL THE THINGS, and planning + plotting the moment I can tackle hug you. I’d do it for you.  <Insert obnoxious, teary karaoke version of “That’s What Friends Are For” here!> . So many X’s and so many O’s!

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Well I’ve mostly recovered from being sick, and the Elevate retreat is inching closer {ohhellyes!!}. I’ve started working on some of my goals I set for the year and I’ve continued working on my 26 Acts project.

It really is amazing how good it can make you feel to do something nice for someone else – even if you don’t get any credit or even know the person you’ve helped.

So while I’ve been feeling incredibly happy and peaceful about everything I have planned for 2013, I have this other side of me that isn’t even close to happy and peaceful.

It is the strangest feeling to have these conflicting emotions running through me. 

This week my little one started back to school after her winter break. She was home most of the week before break with the plague that we’ve been fighting off so I was pretty used to her being here again.

She’s only been going to 3/4 day kindergarten up til this point because she just wasn’t ready for the full day. We chose Christmas as the deadline and have been psyching her up for starting full days after winter break.

I knew it would be hard on both of us, but I want her to be ready for first grade next year.

I wrote before about how the events in Connecticut affected me, and I’m definitely still feeling the effects. To add insult to injury, our school district has had two situations now where ammunition found in the school or on the property has caused the schools to lockdown for all or part of the day.

If you have never experienced this with your child, let me tell you it is pure hell.

You are not allowed to pick up your child until the “all clear” is given so you sit helpless and worried that something terrible is happening or that your baby is scared and confused and wants her mommy.

Either way it consumes your time and thoughts until you can see that sweet face at the end of the day.

After the Sandy Hook event, I gave some serious consideration to homeschooling, but I’m just not sure if I’m cut out for homeschooling all on my own. I have spent five years at home with my daughter and I feel like she needs to have time away from me to experience the world through the eyes of her friends and teachers.

She needs to develop the ability to problem solve without me there to fix things, she needs to make friends and frenemies and play schoolyard games. She would miss out on so many experiences if I chose homeschool her.

But is that choice at the cost of her safety? I can’t answer that with any certainty.

There are no guarantees in life.

There are always risks.

But it seems that more and more places we once believed carried an acceptable level of risk are now outright danger zones. Of course, this is concerning for every person who frequents public places, but it is magnified times a million when you are a parent.

If someone had warned me that having a child was so anxiety-provoking, I may have chosen to be a crazy cat lady. Seriously.

Of course, I would never take it back now because I absolutely adore my little person. But it’s one of the reasons I’ve chosen not to have any more children.

Some of you who read this may think I’m off my rocker {and trust me, I wonder that sometimes too!} but this is an honest struggle for me. I’m scared and confused and worried that I’ll make the wrong decision.

Since I’ve been sitting down and writing about my life on a weekly basis, I’ve learned so much about myself.

I’ve seen little bits of my authentic self shining out amidst the guilt and confusion.

I really am proud of my journey to this point. I feel like I’ve come so far.

But that other side of me feels like I’m still stuck in the same place. I’m still a mom who feels like she has to choose between pursuing her own dreams and being the best mom she can.

I don’t really know how to reconcile these two sides of me.

Maybe I need to go to therapy.

Maybe Molly and my wonderful Elevate girls {who I also adore!!} can help me find better balance in my life.

I guess we’ll see as the year unfolds.

For now I’m taking it one day at a time and hoping I have more days where I feel happy and peaceful than days where I feel fearful and guilty.

NicoleBioBadge

Image via: Flickr

nicolekindness

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

I should have been many things.

A magna cum laude graduate.
A scientist or perhaps a doctor (had I applied myself enough).
A regular patron of some sort of fitness establishment.
A good Catholic.
A young manager.
A committed pianist.
A homeowner.
And God knows I should have been married by now, with at least one kid.

I am none of those things.

(Although my undergraduate GPA was 0.01 away from earning magna cum laude.)

I entered college as a French major. I seem to have an aptitude for languages and accents. But with no interest in teaching or editing manuscripts for the rest of my career, I was stuck.

So I switched gears and applied to the occupational therapy program. It seemed to match my natural skillset. At the end, I would have a masters’ degree. I could pursue my dream of earning a Ph.D. and teach.

My second semester into the program, being a practicing occupational therapist was not going to make me happy in the long term. But I finished the program anyway.

Almost 5 years into my career, I wonder how long I will last, and frankly, how the hell I got here. To a place where I am more or less punching a clock for a paycheck–cheerfully and gratefully so, but punching a clock.

I stopped playing the piano about the same time I got into the OT program.

I’ve never been anything other than overweight.

I don’t regularly attend Mass, and I most certainly have neither a husband nor children.

I should have checked many of the “life” boxes by now, according to everyone else. That’s certainly how I was raised.

But I’ve discovered all of a sudden that you apparently can’t treat life as one giant to-do list. Because when you do, you end up sitting on the couch at 28, wondering why things haven’t turned out the way you thought.

And you discover that in order to make a new life, you have to be willing to be courageous. Not brave, but courageous.

You have to be willing to get your hands dirty.

You have to be willing to look yourself in the eye.

And you have to be willing to lay it all on the line to stand in your truth.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
-Theodore Roosevelt


Registration for the Holiday Council 2012 is open!  21 days of  wrapping up 2012 and dreaming and scheming for 2013 + juicy writing challenges + kick-ass interviews with rockstar women + all the support and camaraderie that you could ever imagine. Want a piece of this? Let’s go!

(Image credit: Avinash Kunnath)

I’ve noticed something since my little person started kindergarten. At first I was emotionally overwhelmed. I couldn’t stand the fact that she was going to be away from me for the better part of the day. I’m used to being with her pretty much all the time.

Once I got over the initial OHMYGOD, MY BABY IS IN KINDERGARTEN shock, I’ve settled into a more relaxed acceptance of the whole situation. I think all the time we were spending together was making us both a little crazy. {Well me, for sure!}

I have a tendency to be overly emotional, I have impossibly high standards and I know I expect too much from others. When my expectations aren’t met, I can be kind of a pain in the ass.

I work really hard to remain calm and fair with the little person, but that is exhausting! I didn’t realize how much energy it was using up to control my natural tendencies.

Now that we have less time to spend together, I’m enjoying it so much more!

I know that sounds terrible, and before you start judging me – just hear me out. I love my little person more than I could ever articulate to you. I love to see her discovering all about the world – she’s so full of pure joy and delight.

But {yes, BUT!} we had gotten to the point where we weren’t filling our days with joy and delight. I was having all these feelings about what my life was missing and how that could affect her or my parenting. I would worry and berate myself for being selfish and then spiral down into general ickiness.

Mixing an overly sensitive, anxious momma who fears she is royally screwing up her child with a little person who is opinionated, independent and learning to push the limits to the very edge can make for some really difficult days.

Add in the long, cold days of winter or the long, hot days of summer and we spent quite a bit of time in the house. Together. Alone.

We got stir crazy. We got bored, We got sick of each other. And then I felt guilty for feeling like I needed a break from her.

Aren’t moms supposed to be wonderful, nurturing caretakers who always find joy in attending to the needs of their children? I can assure you that not every day looked like that at my house.

Since we’ve settled into the school routine, we’ve rediscovered that joy and relaxed play time that we had been struggling with the past year or so. I have less anxiety about her being away from me all day and I’m less worried about making sure she knows enough to start school.

Her teacher tells me she is right on target for her grade level and I’ve noticed her language, writing and drawing have accelerated dramatically since she started school.

I can’t help but feel a little sad and sentimental when I can see my baby growing up right before my eyes, but I’m so proud of the sweet, enthusiastic little person she is.

I have to admit that I’ve felt guilty for not talking about her more in my posts. I was chosen for Season 7, at least in part, because I was transitioning from full-time momma to the next phase. Naturally, that should include talking about said little person some of the time.

But I crave things that are mine alone. I don’t want being a mom to completely define me. I want to figure myself out so I can be the focused, passionate, fun-loving momma she deserves. {Hopefully you don’t think I’m rude for making this more about me!}

When I was thinking about how much Kaitlyn has grown up in such a short time, it struck me that I’ve had a transformation of my own. I’m nowhere near done with my journey of self-discovery, but having time apart seems to have benefitted us both immensely.

I can’t even express how excited I am about all my recent discoveries. I really hope I can continue on this path because I finally feel like I’m on the right one. Such a great feeling!

I’m still working on losing the guilt. I don’t know how I got to this place where I feel guilty about the way I behave. I’m a good momma to the little person. She is well taken care of, she knows she is loved. Maybe it’s the perfectionist in me or maybe I’m letting perceived societal pressure get to me – whatever the reason, I really want to stop with the guilt already.

I would much rather set an example of a strong woman who boldly chased her dreams instead of hiding my authentic self away in favor of being a stepford mom.

Image via: ME!

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, we were without power for 48 hours (well, technically 45.5 hours. But who’s counting?). That amount of time is nothing compared to some other people, but I work from home and my deadlines weren’t disappearing even though my Internet did. I drove a few towns over to my parents’ house to take a shower and then I went to the library to get work done. While I was there, I missed a call from my mother-in-law who was calling to check in and see if I wanted to work at their house.  My in-laws are seriously the best ever – funny, kind and so welcoming from the very beginning. I knew I was more than welcome to work at their home, but I went to the library because I just concentrate better there.

A few hours later we finally got our power back, so my husband called his parents to let them know. I talked to his parents as well and they started joking around that they were mad at me for not working at their house and for going to the library instead and that I’m always welcome…blah blah blah.

My head started to spin and I could feel the tears coming.

I knew they were joking and I knew they weren’t actually yelling at me, but the people pleaser inside of me started to short circuit. I got to the point where I couldn’t talk anymore or I was going to start sobbing in his mom’s ear, so I did what any rational adult would do…I threw the cell phone on the couch, yelled “I can’t handle this!,” ran upstairs and threw myself on the bed while crying like a huge baby. This is my natural reaction whenever I feel like I am disappointing someone or that someone is upset with me. It’s just super.

This doesn’t happen every single time I feel like someone isn’t pleased with me; it builds up over time. I’m that girl – I smile through most things and bottle the negative feelings up inside. Then, when I reach my breaking point, I explode.  That explosion basically cancels out any people pleasing I had been doing up until that point because when I let go…I let go, and probably say even more than I would have if I had just expressed my feelings properly the first time I felt them.

I’ve just never been the type of person that can say “I am who I am and if you don’t like it, you can go screw yourself.” I want everyone to like me. Always. Even if I don’t like them.

Makes total sense, right? Ughhhhhh.

I know I’m not alone in caring too much about what other people think, but it’s still frustrating. Why do we care so much about making other people like us when the only person we actually have to live with is ourselves? We put our own mental health on the back burner just to make other people happy. It seems so stupid when I think about it, but in the moment, it seems impossible to handle that someone might be upset with me.

I think I still haven’t figured out how to react appropriately in certain situations. I have a lot of feelings and sometimes in the moment, it’s hard to sort through them and choose the ones that will express how I feel (in a mature way), while also making me feel like I said what I needed to say so that I don’t explode later. No one likes a temper tantrum, especially from a woman who is almost 30.

In many ways, pole dance is a great metaphor for the challenges of my life. I am still about as much of a newbie as you can get, but even in two months, pole has taught me some valuable lessons:

Learn when to hold on and when to let go. I spent the majority of my Tuesday class sliding down the pole when I needed to stay put. Super discouraging. Determined to get the grip I needed, I walked into my Thursday class with the mindset that I was going to hold on as if my life depended upon it.

Of course, that was the night that we learned spins that required me to loosen my grip, and because I was so focused on holding on, it was damn near impossible for me to let go.

Go with the flow (or in this case, spin). Pole choreography is so unnatural to me. Early in life, I learned how to play the piano. Much of classical piano training emphasizes knowing how to execute in a precise way, then practicing over and over. It’s the reason I can still do warm-up drills without thinking even though I haven’t touched my piano on a regular basis in years.

I was taught early on to first learn individual parts, then put the together in a technically precise manner, and only then to add in some “artistic flair”. This is exactly the opposite of what occurs in pole dance–one of the major concepts to learn is to keep moving.

There is no time to stop and start over when you are wrapped around a rotating metal tube, especially when your feet are off the ground. Your only option is to keep going and create something new, something unplanned.

Know when to call it a day. I have learned that some days it’s better for me just not to go to class. You know those days–nothing can go right and nothing is going to make the day better.

That’s when the ugly green monster in me looks at the 50-year-old flying around the pole (or the undergrad who says this is her first class, but picks it up as easily as breathing) and starts to do some comparison–a test in which I damn near always come out the loser.

If thinking about pole turns from happiness to “let’s see how much I’ll suck tonight”, it’s time to take the day off.

If you think you are beaten, you are. Pole is as much mental as it is physical. It has been incredibly frustrating to learn that I just flat-out do not have the strength to properly accomplish many of the most basic moves. I don’t have the endurance that would enable me to learn the spins and climbs that brought me to class in the first place.

On the other hand, it has been even more frustrating to have to confront the mental challenges of pole. Why am I so afraid to trust that I can hold myself up long enough to try a new spin? How do I become comfortable leaning into moves that essentially have me falling backwards? Why do I automatically feel like a complete failure when I can’t accomplish something new in the first few tries? Why do I keep doing this when it hurts?

(P.S. It’s a damn good thing I don’t have a boyfriend. I have so many bruises right now–in completely odd locations–that he would definitely earn some raised eyebrows out in public.)

I am a work in progress, just like my practice of pole dancing. It is an incredible challenge and each class I attend forces me to choose whether I will beat myself up or whether I will keep a beginner’s mind and try to accept my performance for what it is–that of a student who is opening a completely new set of tools for engaging her mind, her body, and her soul.

Pole photo credit: brh_images, modified with creator’s permission

Oprah made me cry.

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

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

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

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

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

I haven’t given myself permission to be great.

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

I haven’t given myself permission to be passionate.

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

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

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

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

I can’t let go.

I’m afraid to let go.

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

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

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

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

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

Suitcase photo credit: Gideon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: ME

 

“O Julia, Julia, cook and nifty wench,

Whose unsurpassed quenelles and hot souffles,

Whose English, Norse and German, and whose French,

Are all beyond my piteous powers to praise —

Whose sweetly rounded bottom and whose legs,

Whose gracious face, whose nature temperate,

Are only equalled by her scrambled eggs:

Accept from me, your ever-loving mate,

This acclamation shaped in fourteen lines

Whose inner truth belies its outer sight;

For never were there foods, nor were there wines

Whose flavor equals yours for sheer delight.

O luscious dish! O gustatory pleasure!

You satisfy my taste buds beyond measure.”

~PAUL CHILD

 

My boyfriend, Mr. Paul Child*, should have come with a release form, like the ones you have to sign before you go sky diving or zip-lining. It would probably read something like this: Every barrier in your heart will be broken down like a Tonka truck smashing into a Lego wall. You will be loved unconditionally, supported no matter how bizarre and nutball-y the idea, and you will become best friends. Prepare to be challenged, in a good way, and ready to laugh constantly. You will have to learn to not be such a city girl, embracing camping and off-roading, plus figure out how to pee in the woods. 

He knew on the first date we would be amazing together. I apparently eat paste, because I was a whole hell of a lot slower in arriving at what he had known from date 1.  We worked through quite a bit of issues, especially the +3 hour distance between us. I personally, had to figure out a lot of things, and let go of a lot of drama in my life, before I was able to get on the same page as him. Mr. Paul Child was patient and understanding through it all.  At this point in our relationship, life feels like a perfectly happy storm of chaos (traveling back and forth with horrible gas prices, and balancing two careers plus my soon-to-be business…ahhh!). We’re both head-over-heels in love, and figuring out how to make us work.

We recently went up to Northern Arizona to celebrate his birthday. He tossed an off-roading trail guidebook in my lap and told me to pick a trail near where we were. Apparently my trail picking skills are amazing because we ended up on a snowy mountain trail, plowing through 1 foot of snow, sliding around, teetering closely to the edge of sheer drops. He was in heaven. I clamped my hand so tightly to the “oh shit” bar that I had to pry it off a finger at a time, when we reached the end of the trail.

I don’t do very well relinquishing control. Allowing someone else to ferry me down a dangerous trail on a snowy narrow road…that’s the ultimate surrender of control for me. As I was bouncing along, clutching the “oh shit” bar, and looking out over the muddy trail, clumped with snow, I realized that while I was afraid at certain points (hello, adrenaline rush), the fear I’d felt when relinquishing control, wasn’t as panicking as it has been in the past. It was almost like that trust test where you are supposed to fall backwards and allow someone to catch you, just believing that they will be there. Scary, but you have placed your trust in that person.

I always used to find it suspect when people would say, “my partner makes me a better version of myself…” In fact, Mr. Paul Child even said to me that he feels like I make him more active, because I’m always on the go, doing something, dreaming something up. For me, he makes me calmer. “Spaz” is an adjective that is sometimes tagged to my name, but with him, I just feel relaxed. His tranquil presence has mellowed me in all aspects of my life, which is something I’ve never really experienced before. I’ve let go of the need to always control a situation.

While I didn’t totally enjoy the ride that day, the next morning, we went to Sedona and rode all over the red rocks. Climbing and bouncing along, we traveled to spots with sweeping red vistas and amazing photographic moments, I never would have seen from the road or the overlook points. Mr. Paul Child smiled knowingly, and I ate crow, admitting how much I was enjoying the off- roading that day. 

Letting go, is my current experiment, which is why I’ve agreed to go camping and to go on more off-roading trips. Mr. Paul Child is already planning our next adventure, and I’m slowly coming around. I’ve even asked him to give me a lesson in off-road driving…oh, Lord, I may become outdoorsy! Coming to a camp site, and blog post soon!

 

*Pseudonym for my boyfriend. Based on Julia Child’s amazingly supportive and loving husband. I always have told my girlfriends that this is what I’m looking for in a guy, and I finally found him!

 

 

 

 

I recently found myself nervous about imbibing a pint of Guinness in an Irish pub. My college self would be making SO MUCH FUN OF ME right now.

College Caiti knew how to have a good time, or at least a good time in that straightlaced-teenager-finally-off-the-leash kind of way that the beginning of college always seems to provoke. She worked her butt off at school during the week so that she could spend her weekends swimming in Jungle Juice at house parties on East Campus or sneaking into the Music Cafe with her dorm mates, the one bar in town where they knew they wouldn’t get carded.

While I could certainly come up with more than a handful of beer-fueled memories that I hope to hold onto forever, a great deal of them make me cringe. Not being able to talk to guys unless I was at least two drinks in. Not knowing how to really be myself when I wasn’t drinking. Never being able to decipher the line between “just enough” and “too much.” A situation with some fraternity boys that barely avoided turning into the plot of a Lifetime movie. And the beer tears, oh goodness, THE BEER TEARS.

After a few years of this behavior, I flipped a switch. I was done with drinking. Dunzo. I was beginning to realize that the sense of self I lost whenever I indulged too much wasn’t worth the temporary buzz. Not to mention the unofficial tally of hours wasted to nursing hangovers. That lost time frightened me.

Not everyone understood my change of behavior, though. I lost some friendships towards the end of college because of it, and was told, “You’re a lot more fun when you’re drinking.” Ouch.

I thought my perceived lack of fun-ness didn’t matter that much (though I preferred the term “old soul”)– I graduated college, and moved to a town just outside of Chicago with a lot less of a twentysomething bar scene and more of a thirtysomethings-with-kids scene. I wined and dined with friends at restaurants and at dinner parties, but I’d duck out before the nightlife really kicked off. It was fine with me that my idea of fun didn’t include trying to maintain a conversation at shouting volume in a dark, crowded bar, and DID include far more tea, NPR, and Scrabble than was probably normal for someone in their twenties.

Fast forward to a week or so ago in Ireland. Where, instead of Starbucks, there are pubs on every corner, and drinking is undoubtedly a part of Irish culture. And every time I was faced with the option of going to the pub for a pint, I found myself resistant and anxiety-ridden. When I envisioned “bar culture,” I could only think about the loud, over-indulgent environment of my college days and my former lack of control. I couldn’t stop holding onto who I had been, and–in the process– had inadvertently let it shape who I am. And what kind progress will I ever be able to make in my life if I can’t let go of the past?

So I said yes to my first pint of Guinness, on St. Patrick’s Day in a pub in Dublin, Ireland. But I think I also said yes to forgiveness. I think I’m realizing that the people we were yesterday will never matter as much as the people we are today. Looking backward, it’s easy for me to get hung up on extremes– the girl who partied and the the girl who abstained. But we aren’t intended to be black-and-white creatures; we are a beautiful mix of color and variance and idiosyncrasies. I can have a drink at 9pm in the middle of the week when the bars aren’t packed, AND THEN go home and crochet while watching documentaries on Netflix!

And, really, this idea is so much bigger than than to drink or not to drink, isn’t it? My past career “failures” don’t mean I’M a failure or that I’m somehow doomed to lifetime of professional drudgery. And I don’t have to punish myself for the friendships that have faded, because tomorrow is an opportunity for fresh relationships, or new life for old ones. While we can often learn from the past, it’s sometimes far to easy to chain yourself to it, and I know I don’t want to do that anymore. It makes me ponder who I would be today and tomorrow if I had no memory of my personal history, which is a pretty thrilling thought. But I think I’ll need a fresh pint before I go there.

{Image credit: Me}

The past five months have gone by entirely too quickly! It’s still a little mind-blowing to me that I’ve been on the road for nearly four of those five. A lot has happened during that time, and while the big things are obvious, I think the smaller changes are going to take another five months to process. And that’s okay! I want to keep growing and transforming as I continue working through my QLC and settling into my new life. I’m still so honored that I’ve been able to share this journey with all of you!

What are you obsessed with at this exact moment?

Zotter chocolate, yoga, mochas, getting my etsy shop up and running, visiting my OddDaughter in England, my impending gluten detox. (I’m gluten-intolerant, and I have not been careful during my travels.)

You can time travel but only to the past! What time period/ historical event do you go and experience?

This is an easy one! Every time I talk about Coney Island, I tell people that I want to go there during the early 1900s, when it was “America’s Playground”. Coney Island is literally one of my favorite places on the entire planet, and I’d love the opportunity to experience Luna Park, Steeplechase Park, and Dreamland in their heyday.

If you could be any animal, which animal would you be and why?

A tiger. I find them mesmerizing; they’re so strong, and yet still graceful.

Any person dead or alive, who would you have dinner with?

David Lynch. I think he’d be an utterly fascinating dinner companion, and boy, do I have some questions for him!

What is on your life’s soundtrack?

I planned my final yoga class at my old studio around the theme of overcoming fear. This was the playlist for the class, and I think it’s a pretty accurate soundtrack for my life as well:

In addition to that playlist, I’d add these songs that I can’t live without:

I’ve linked to as many of the songs as I could, so hopefully you’ll go forth and enjoy some new music – and if you like it, support the artists!

If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?

If I could clone myself and simultaneously be with my friends in NYC, Seattle, Minneapolis, Raleigh, St. Augustine, San Francisco, Vancouver, Edmonton, Oxford, Graz, Vienna, Rabat, Melbourne, Sydney, and Okinawa – well, I’d do that. Since that’s not going to happen, I think I’ll stick with wanting to be where I as I’m writing this: Barcelona!

Who has been your biggest inspiration throughout your QLC?

My yoga kula (community): the ladies who completed teacher training with me and several other friends/mentors. They inspire me every day with their passion, bravery, and love.

If money, education, time, or location were not an issue, what would you be doing for work in life?

It feels pretty awesome to say this: I’d be doing exactly what I’m doing now/about to be doing (teaching yoga, writing, taking photographs, traveling)! I just wouldn’t need to worry about my bank account so much in the process. 🙂

What was the biggest mental shift you’ve made from 5 months ago to now?

Over the course of my last few weeks in New York, I was seriously doubting my decision to leave and my ability to keep myself afloat financially and emotionally without a 9-to-5 job. Now I feel certain that I did the right thing, and that I can make this all work.

What’s changed? List 10 little sweet things.

  1. I gave up my cozy Brooklyn apartment for a transient lifestyle.
  2. I don’t really mind wearing the same clothes four months in a row.
  3. I’ve developed and renewed so many amazing friendships.
  4. I miss good tacos and bbq.
  5. I’ve learned, once and for all, that my yoga practice – the reading, the āsana, the meditation – is crucial to my well-being.
  6. I drink coffee!
  7. I’ve visited 13 countries (six new ones and seven return trips).
  8. I’m learning to be less afraid of making mistakes.
  9. I’m a pro at navigating new European cities where I don’t speak the language.
  10. I don’t think I ever want to go back to the 9-5 world.

What’s one thing that you’ve learned – in general or about yourself – over the past five months?

I’ve (re)learned just how important it is for me to have a community. I am fortunate to have amazing friends scattered around the globe, but what makes a place feel like home for me is having some of my people nearby.

What would you have done differently on your Stratejoy journey if you were starting today?

I wish I’d put more time into soul-searching (writing morning pages, completing The Joy Equation, etc.) at the beginning. I feel like I’m only now beginning to tackle some of the really big, deep stuff! At the same time, I think that I needed space to get there, so maybe it’s all worked out for the best.

What song(s) will remind you of the past five months?

What is your favorite thing about YOU?

I am so proud of myself for doing things – from minor items to major life changes – even when they absolutely terrify me.

Name 3 things you absolutely love about yourself.

  1. I love that I’m my quirky self; I rock diverse interests that range from the badass to the absurd, and everything in between.
  2. I love that I’m not afraid to cry.
  3. I love that I don’t need a lot of stuff to survive and thrive.

How are you living life on your own terms?

I quit a steady job to travel the world and move to a new country to start a less traditional career path. Despite the concerns of my family and my slowly dwindling bank account – which will be pleased when I arrive in Sydney and also begin selling my photos – I am overall the happiest I’ve been in my life. Even when I get scared (and it definitely happens), I feel like I made exactly the right choice for me, and I love that I’m listening deeply and following my heart.

[photo credit: me!]

Sitting in a bright red Ikea chair at a local coffee shop, it hit me. The deadline smacked me across the face like the icy wind on the walk to the shop, and I knew, I was screwed.

It was the day I was supposed to unleash my brilliant, value-packed, fabulous new email opt-in on the world – and my manifesto wasn’t done. At least not totally. After weeks of hashing it out, scrapping sections, and letting my heart pour on to the page, it still. wasn’t. done.

Balls. Suck to the 10th power. FML. I had worked and worked and put in the hours and my best, and I had failed to meet my own stupid deadline.

This could have been the part where I gave up. But, the thing was, I had already done so much. After diving into painful memories from my past and listening intently to the stories of other women who , my philosophy has risen. Through all of the hurt and anguish and labels and expectations I saw so many women going through, I found where my truth had been hiding in plain sight. Who knew my universal truth would be found in my story – and more importantly, be reflected in the stories of others?

The manifesto I wanted to write wasn’t done – but there was a lot that was. So I edited everything into a short 14-page PDF, and I called it the Undefinable You Manifesto. Designed in Word and put together in about a half an hour, it was perfect. It wasn’t I had planned, and somehow, that made it even better.

It’s really hard to describe how I felt in that moment – vulnerable, but in my power zone. Crazy, but totally in my element.

Well, duh. How could I feel anything else? This manifesto was everything I wanted for the world. And of course I’d release it like this! It was so me. And I guess that was really the point, wasn’t it?

I’ve never really felt like I had a life’s mission before I hit the publish button on this thing. Not one that was huge and big enough for my tribe to get behind – but yet, here were these people reading what I had to say, ready to believe in me if I could just rise to the occasion. And when the time was right, it dawned on me – I wanted to build my business up so I could give it all away.

The ever-fleeting life mission? I want to give a million dollars or better a year to women’s empowerment causes. And not just money. I want to work side by side with an organization to help get women the skills they need to succeed and being self empowered. Because once they become empowered, they can self-actualize.

And then? They can unleash their dreams on the world. Beautiful. Legendary. Audacious. Because that’s what’s it all about for me. My message is to never settle – and my mission is an extension of that. If ever I’ve felt joy, this is it.

My big holiday wish for all of you is for you to find the same peace out of fear, joy in the hard moments, and love so deep for yourself that you can miss a deadline and be okay. Happy holidays everybody!

I’ve come to expect any or all of the following questions when I tell people that I’m moving to Australia:

It’s not that I mind answering them; I’ve come to terms with the fact that they’re going to come up, and clearly, I like talking about myself. The catch is that I don’t really have answers to any of those questions…

…and I like it that way.

People don’t seem to know how to react to that. It’s not that I blame them; after all, I’ve had six months or so to come to terms with my decision and how I’ve (not) planned things. At first, their responses made me uncomfortable. I stopped wanting to talk about my travel plans for a while, because I didn’t want to deal with the shift in tone of voice or odd look when I didn’t have concrete answers. I’ve been learning to come to terms with the fact that I’m not crazy for doing this, and I’m making a valid choice and can have faith in my decision.

Here’s the thing: with the exception of my AmeriCorps year, I’ve spent the past eleven (!) years working in event planning in some way, shape, or form. I can research options, create schedules, manage logistics, and coordinate people with the best of them. I love a good to-do list, and for the most part, I don’t shy away from spreadsheets. (In fact, I’ve got quite a few of them to assist with some unavoidable moving and travel logistics.)

After planning out all of those details for so long, I just don’t want to do it anymore. After living by a relatively rigid schedule–elementary school, high school, college, 9-to-5 jobs–I want to step away from that for a while. I want to reclaim my time, explore, and see if there’s a better way to structure my life. I’ve created the opportunity for myself to do just that, and I’m going to run with it as best I can.

Since I’m really excited about my globetrotting and my move, though, I can tell you what I do know. I’m spending about three months traveling, with the intention of arriving in Australia shortly before Christmas. When I initially started planning this trip, I was going to take a week in Seattle and a week in England (or maybe a week in England and a week in Austria–who can keep track at this point?) before heading down under, and then somehow, the trip kept growing. Not that I’m complaining!

The next three months will be filled with new adventures, friends old and new, good food, and quality time with myself. I’m in Seattle now with one of my dearest friends, and then heading to Europe for a mix of solo travel and journeying with friends. I’ll volunteer on farms in Iceland and Italy and celebrate my OddDaughter’s first birthday at her home in England. I’ll take a solo train ride through France and Spain en route to meet up with friends from my knitting circles in Morocco. I’ll gather with another group of kamarádky for Thanksgiving in Prague; my heart starts to beat faster when I think about walking those familiar streets that captured my heart during my study abroad. I’ll head to Austria with some of my Prague travel companions to spend time visiting with them in their home. I’ve got a very loose schedule for the solo parts of the journey, and a little more structure when other people are involved.

It’s going to be awesome.

And then: Australia. That’s where I really don’t have answers. I’m planning on teaching yoga, yes. I have some job leads, yes. I have friends and family who are willing to house me, at least for a little while, so I won’t be homeless when I arrive. (And realistically, I could always stay in a hostel if I needed. I wouldn’t be without shelter.) And I’m okay with this.

I was going to say that I’m completely, 100% okay with this. That would be a lie. Of course there’s a part of me that’s terrified. I’m moving to a country halfway around the world, with a dream of teaching yoga full-time and a vague idea of where I’m going to live. Who wouldn’t feel some fear? In the end, though, I’m more afraid of being stuck where I’ve been.

These days, when people ask those questions, I give my nebulous answers. And every time, I remind myself of two things:

1. My dream has been to travel and move to Australia. I’m doing that. No matter what happens once I get there–even if I end up working odd jobs to pay the bills, or coming home after a few months–I’ve succeeded. I left my job to follow my dream, and it’s happening.

2. I have many homes, and I’m choosing not to live in them right now. One of my greatest fears is that I will end up running out of money with no place to live. That will never happen, because I have friends who will always, no matter what, let me spend weeks–or even months–on their couches or air mattresses or spare beds until I figure things out. I will always have a home–many homes–to return to.

Even though the answers aren’t always complete enough for most people, they’re perfect for me.

[photo credit: me!]

The relationship that I ended last summer left me in a fragile state. It had been unhealthy for me for a long time; when I look back at things honestly, there were warning signs that I ignored from the very beginning. Because I’d spent a lot of that relationship quashing my dreams and trying to make myself something that he would love, I hadn’t noticed how it was destroying my self-esteem little by little. By the time he delivered some soul-crushing blows during our breakup—I think it’s the only time anyone’s ever called me boring and no fun, and those were far from the worst of it—I believed some of the awful things he said about me.

It probably goes without saying that I wasn’t doing particularly well last August. I recall telling friends that I wasn’t sure how I got out of bed every day, that I did it because it seemed like the only thing to do. I feel pretty confident stating that it was the worst month of my (then) 29 years. I’d realized that I needed to end the relationship, I’d told him to move out, and after that, I had no idea how to pick up the pieces of my life. I wasn’t sure who I was and how to feel like that person again.

Right around that time, I saw someone post on twitter about The Joy Equation, so I thought I’d give it a try. I wanted a way to start connecting with myself again. I think the most telling thing for me was completing the section about my values; it finally clicked that I hadn’t been happy for so long because the life I’d been leading for the previous two years wasn’t in line with any of my values. No wonder I’d been feeling so awful, frustrated, and angry! I stayed in a relationship at first because I hadn’t wanted to be alone, and later because I’d been so torn down by my ex that I didn’t have the confidence to leave. How could that possibly have made me feel anything other than terrible?

I’d love to say that things magically transformed then. Though they didn’t, I slowly began to heal. Things started feeling normal again; I did some traveling. By December, I was ready to make a decision that would dramatically change my life for the better: I enrolled in a 200-hour yoga teacher training.

It’s funny, because I think a lot of people expect yoga teacher training to be about learning to teach yoga. It is, of course, but there’s so much more than that. The teaching part is easier: you need to know the poses, how to adjustment them, and how to sequence them. The biggest—and hardest—part is knowing yourself. How can you hold space for others in a class if you aren’t taking care of you? I had to face some of the scary things that I’d been hiding deep within me for months and even years. There were nights when we’d be practicing together and suddenly, I couldn’t stop crying. I had to learn to let go.

Halfway through teacher training, someone I knew commented that it seemed like I was discovering a lot of things about myself. I replied that I wasn’t finding them—I was remembering. That’s the moment that things started coming together for me; it all started to make sense, and I knew I was ready to make some big changes and work toward living in line with my values.

It’s hard to look back at the past year and see the things that I’ve learned, because I wish I hadn’t needed to conquer those lessons. I’m able to see a lot more clearly now how staying and justifying that relationship was unhealthy for me. I have a much better idea of what is important to me in a relationship; I’ll never again stand for someone who judges my tattoos, someone who wants to stop me from doing things that I love, or someone who wants to change integral parts of my personality. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve remembered how to be alone, and the good that can come of being present with myself.

And in case you’re wondering about those core values that were a wakeup call last summer, they are: connection, bliss, abundance, trust, adventure, courage, magic, and strength. I expect I’ll be exploring those a lot more in this space over the next five months. Though I’ve begun to realign my life to reflect what matters most to me, I’ve got more to learn—and remember.

[photo credit:  me!]

How do you explain to a new friend how things like depression, cancer, and losing your parents, have shaped your life?  How do you tell them that one year ago you were on the verge of committing suicide because you believed that your life wasn’t worth living anymore?  How you do open yourself up to someone who has the potential of becoming a good friend when your past experiences have permanently scarred you and caused you to isolate yourself from the rest of the world?

When I moved to Prague, I wanted to do this with a clean slate.  I wanted to go into this experience with an open mind and accept whatever struggles and hardships I would face living as an Expat with a damaged life.  Diving into a TEFL program with 23 other students is overwhelming.  I’m spending 4 weeks with these people, and I want to build as many genuine friendships as I can, but I don’t know how to talk about my broken life without creating awkward conversations, pity, and sympathy.

Moving to a new country is challenging, but doing so with the intention of reclaiming your life is even more challenging.  How do you reclaim your life if you don’t know where to start?

I spent a good portion of my time in Philadelphia hiding behind walls because I was too terrified for anyone to know the real me.  It was easier for me to play along with the idea of seeing my parents for the holidays than actually admitting to friends and acquaintances that they are deceased.  It was – and still is – painful to think about them, and even talk about them in any context because most of my friends’ and acquaintances’ parents are still alive and have the luxury of seeing them.  Sometimes I’m torn to pieces just thinking about how much of my life has uncontrollably gone to shit.

I moved out of the country because I was afraid that my life wouldn’t amount to anything if I continued living in Philadelphia.  Truth is, I felt like I failed at life when I was living in the States.  So, I did what [maybe] most people would do – I ran away.  Only this time, I ran across bodies of water and into another continent.  Maybe it wasn’t the right answer, but it was the only answer and justification I could give myself. It was the only way I knew how to find myself again.  Except, when you move out of the country (or anywhere), your past still follows you.  I’m still damaged, grieving over losing my parents, and fighting personal demons.  I’m still struggling to find myself among a crowd of expats while learning to accept my broken past and still move forward every day without being crippled by those experiences.

I moved to Prague with the intention of starting with a clean slate, but when we make bold decisions like starting over, is the slate ever really clean to begin with?

{picture: taken in Prague}

There are two kinds of people – those who learn the hard way and those who learn the easy way by taking someone’s advice.  I learn the hard way.  I’ve always learned the hard way because frankly, I’m too stubborn to learn the easy way.  I mean, how fun would that really be anyway?  If you tell me not to do something, chances are, I’m going to do it just to try to prove you wrong.

I waited for the perfect moment.  To change careers, move out of Philadelphia, and travel the world.  I had every excuse in the book not to quit my job and move to California or Chicago.

I can’t quit without having another job lined up.

I can’t leave my friends and family behind.

I can’t…

I can’t…

I can’t…

I learned the hard way that in life, there are no perfect moments.

It took losing my job, failing at entrepreneurship, and fighting a Quarterlife Crisis for me to learn that the ‘perfect moment’ is right now.  If I ever wanted to travel around the world and pursue my passion of opening up my own Bed & Breakfast, it was time to stop making excuses and start taking action.  Dreams don’t become reality unless you get off your ass and do something about it.

By the time you read this, I will have landed at Ruzyne International Airport jet-lagged, tired, hungry, and overwhelmed.

The hardest part is over: getting on that plane to London, enduring a 4 hour layover at Heathrow International, and then boarding my plane to Prague.

I had to travel halfway around the world to learn to stop making excuses for myself.  I had to let go of a foundation I spent years building to learn to stop settling for what feels comfortable and work harder toward achieving authentic happiness.  I had to fail at running a nonprofit organization to learn how to be an effective leader and a successful entrepreneur.  I had to sacrifice certain friendships and relationships – and just hope they survive the distance – to learn how to put myself first.  I had to lose my parents to learn the importance of family.   I had to lose my well-paying, comfortable job to learn that I don’t want the 9-5 Corporate lifestyle.  I had to walk away from everything I knew and loved, at a time when maybe I should have fought harder, to learn how important this truth-seeking journey is going to be.

Truth be told, I cannot believe I did this.  I mean, who packs their bags and moves halfway around the world to a city yet to be seen and a career yet to be tested?  It’s crazy, right?  But as crazy as it is to venture into the unknown with my heart wide open and my arms flailing, it feels effing awesome.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m completely terrified right now, and you have no idea how many anxiety attacks I had as I boarded that plane to London, but there’s just something so… exhilarating… about a clean slate.  Especially when that clean slate takes place in a city where no one knows your name.  It’s like a second chance at life.  A fresh start.  A chance to do things right.

I learned the hard way that sometimes you have to let go of everything in order to reclaim your life.

{photo credit: chesterfan1230}

I’ve been a roller coaster of emotions ever since I paid my deposit and booked my flight to Prague.  From excited, to terrified, to overwhelmed, to sad, back to excited.  I know these feeling are completely normal in situations like this, but I’m having a tough time embracing them.

This wasn’t an easy decision.  It doesn’t just affect me; it affects my brothers, my friends, my roommates, my nonprofit organization, and my hockey teammates.  People who depend on me to come home for Holidays, meet up for Sunday brunch, and show up to Tuesday night games.  It’s not easy to walk away from something you’ve worked so hard to create.

Today, I had my tipping point.  As I peeked out my bedroom window and watched people dig their cars out of the 15 inches of snow that fell over night (and realizing I’ll have to do the same at some point, too), I thought to myself, I am so done with this city.

This move here was only supposed to be temporary – two years, max.  I wanted to gain enough professional experience so I could move onto my next big city.  But as I continued to build on my foundation, the reasons for staying started piling up – relationships, friendships, jobs, hockey, convenience.  I thought if I stayed for my friendships, I could be happier.  Or if I stayed for a man, we could make a relationship work.  Or if I could just stay at my job a little bit longer, I would finally get that pay raise.  It’s been five years and those friendships have dissolved, the relationships didn’t work, and I never got a raise.  I’ve settled for mediocrity and found ways to fill the cracks of my damaged life with things like alcohol, toxic friendships, and lousy one-night stands.

I thought I was building a foundation.  Truth is, I was doing everything I could to destroy it.  Consuming an entire bottle of vodka on a Tuesday night to wash away the bad effects of the work day.  Meeting up with toxic friends gave me an excuse to go out on a Saturday night.  Leaving the bar with random men provided a temporary fix for my broken heart and my emotional void.  I didn’t care about the long-term effects those decisions would have; I wanted the instant gratification.

I knew everything caught up to me the moment I was laying on my bathroom floor, contemplating suicide.  That moment wasn’t just about not grieving for my parents, it was also about the fact that I was destroying my life.  With each empty bottle and one-night stand, I was on a destructive path that could have very well killed me.

2010 was a pivotal year.  I made the courageous decision to see a therapist and work through my pain of loneliness and depression because I didn’t want to continue throwing my life away.  I’m so much better than this. I ended a 15-year friendship with my best friend after realizing how toxic and damaging it was.  She’s not a bad person; she’s just a bad friend to me. I forgave a man who put me on an emotional roller coaster for three years because he couldn’t commit.  His intention wasn’t to hurt me. It was a year in which I discovered what it really means to work towards authentic happiness, to allow myself to become vulnerable to a man (and be okay with it), and to have satisfying friendships with women.

I’m beginning to discover what I’m worth, what I’m capable of, and what it will take for me to find my authentic happiness.

I’m ready to leave.  I’m ready to embark on a new journey and figure out what the hell I want to do with my life – now and in the long-term.  I’m finally at a point where the feelings of being terrified and overwhelmed are crushed by incredible excitement.  As I watch my friends get engaged, have children, and settle down, I can’t help but feel incredibly lucky for myself.  I get to travel the world and live life on my own terms.  I get to call the shots, to say ‘no,’ and to dictate my future.

I’m so done with this city and I may never come back.

{photo credit: Fordan}

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]

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]

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]

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 🙂 ]

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)

Los Angeles is moody and so am I.

The clouds are hanging low over LA today with a fog (or is it smog?) blanketing the mountains that just won’t lift.  It’s cold and drizzly and it suits me fine.  I’m not in a bad mood, I’m just in a mood; I’m a little bit quiet, a little bit sulky, a little bit heavy.  Not really unhappy, just pensive.

I have a lot to think about, a lot of decisions to make; every person I talk to since I got back from my all-you-can-jet adventure has asked, “what’s next?  Where are you moving?  What’s your goal?  What job are you looking for?”  And all I can say is “I don’t know.”  I.  DON’T.  KNOW.

Somewhere deep inside me, I know it’s OK that I don’t know what’s next.  Deep in the core of me, I am trusting that things will come into place and that I’ll find the answers in my own time and that where I am now is where I need to be now.

That’s all very zen of me, very positive and inspiring and blah blah blah.  But my brain is FREAKING OUT, people.

For the first time in my life, I have credit card debt, I’m unemployed and directionless.  Nothing, absolutely nothing is calling my name, making me feel any passion whatsoever.  The thought of acting makes me feel frustrated and tired, moving is overwhelming, travel reminds me of my empty bank account, and a “grown-up job” gives me dread-filled heartburn.

Honestly, the only thing that inspires me at all lately is writing for you.

Yes, I realize this is uncharacteristically negative of me.  I’m not depressed, really I’m not, but every time someone asks me the well-intentioned questions of “what do you do” or “what’s your plan now,” I feel like I’ve been given a final exam that’s 90% of my grade, and despite all my hours of studying, I’m drawing a complete blank.  Just like in a nightmare of the same nature, all my fears are magnified.

I’m scared of staying in Los Angeles and getting wrapped back up in thought patterns that make me miserable.

I’m scared that moving somewhere is just running away and won’t actually change anything.

I’m scared of putting my whole self into something (a career, a relationship) and having it fail, end, scar me again.

I’m scared of never even finding anything worth putting my whole self into again.

I’m scared of looking back with regret.

I’m scared of being broke, of getting sick without health insurance, of always struggling.

I’m scared of wasting my life.

I’m scared of always being alone.

I’m scared of being unfulfilled and uninspired, and boxing myself in.

I’m angry with myself for not being able to let these fears go.  I have had a truly remarkable year, and yet when these feelings take over, it’s as though everything amazing I’ve done means shit.  All I can see is what I don’t have.

It’s a struggle to let go and trust.  It goes against everything I’ve ever been taught as an AP Honor Roll student and good kid and responsible adult.  It’s hard when people ask what’s next, expecting a plan of action, and all I can say is, “we’ll see.”  It sounds exciting, I know, and I feel like it should be, and sometimes it is, but more often it’s just this weird state of limbo and waiting.

Am I expecting too much?  Am I being too passive?  Is this trusting patience or is it suspended animation?

I feel like I should (there’s that “S” word again) be taking action, making something, anything happen.  Like I’m being unforgivably wasteful with this time I’ve been given.  But I’m afraid of taking action in the wrong direction when I don’t feel strongly in any direction.

And then sometimes I have this creeping feeling that something absolutely friggin’ AMAZING is just around the corner and this period of inactivity is a break I should savor because the shit (the good shit) is about to hit the fan.

My parents gave me a sculpture by my favorite artist, Brian Andreas, when I graduated High School.  It is an angel, it hangs above my bed, and written on it is: “In my dreams, the angel shrugged and said, if we fail this time it will be a failure of imagination & then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand.”  It has always really inspired me but lately it feels like a warning.

The world is in my palm, and it’s terrifying.  Imagination don’t fail me now.

I’m going through something these days.  There’s something inside of me that wants to burst out and be free.  I keep getting these urges to do something crazy and step outside of my comfort zone – as if some part of my being has been stifled all these years and is finally ready to show itself.

I’m not sure what’s going on. Or why I feel the need to do things that are so out of character.  I find myself craving adventure and the unknown – I want to jump out of airplanes despite my fear of both flying and heights, go skinny dipping, have wild sex, go hang gliding and quit my job (oh wait, I already did that).

All of my life, I’ve been a control freak.  I’ve done everything just so and have fully expected said things to turn out exactly as I planned. Why?  Because I needed them to.

The truth is, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect – a perfect student, a perfect employee, a perfect friend, a perfect fiancé, a perfect daughter.  Only now have I stopped to ask myself where this pressure came from.  Who was it that first told me I couldn’t make mistakes?  And, for that matter, is there such a thing as perfection?  What I described sounds more like a Stepford Wife than a real person.

As you might expect, life hasn’t met my expectation of perfection.  Sometimes things have worked out the way I envisioned.  But the opposite has generally been truer – things have worked out in completely different ways than I anticipated.  And in these situations, I often ended up feeling lost or out of control.  I know it may seem odd, but I’ve just now realized that being in control of everything isn’t even close to possible.

And this ridiculous need to control every outcome has had a way of making life rather difficult.  So, for some reason, I’ve found myself moving in the exact opposite direction.  I’m taking chances and calculating risks and putting myself in situations that I don’t know how to navigate. I actually want to make mistakes and just see what happens.  Loss of control is a weird feeling.  At times, I’ve even found myself trying to control my loss of control.  Now that sounds ridiculous.

I guess right now I’m just working to let go of expectations.  And one way of doing that has been to let go of my need to be in control.

When a person wants to control every aspect of life, they often end up feeling the need to do everything themselves, as counting on other people for that level of perfection is almost impossible.  I’ve decided I don’t want to be so independent anymore.  I want to learn to lean on people, to ask for help and count on friends for support.  I want to cry on someone’s shoulder and feel okay about it.  I want to be completely open for other people to see.  I hope one day I’ll figure out how to do that — without hiding behind a smile and vague niceties.

Wow.  I feel like what I’ve just described sounds more like a midlife crisis than a quarter life crisis. It’s the type of thing you see all the time when a middle aged man hooks up with a twenty year old, buys a Porsche and goes bungee jumping.  In an odd way, it’s kind of comforting — to know I’m not alone in this confusion.  Does that sound absolutely crazy?

I don’t know.  What I do know is that in reality I have so few answers and so many questions.  And maybe life isn’t about seeking answers.  Maybe it’s just about experiences.  And growing.  And learning.  And finding ways to accept yourself for exactly who you are.

photo credit: her wings

While writing this post, I simultaneously baked a cake for the dinner I’m attending tonight and brainstormed ideas for the end of my book.  Seriously, the last few weeks have been busy.

Here’s the good news – the first draft of my book should be done this week!  I’m super excited about this.  It will be two weeks later than I originally planned, but I’m still happy with my progress.  I pushed my deadline back only because I took two week long trips that I hadn’t previously expected (one to Seattle and one to Las Vegas).  Both trips were a blast and definitely worth the setback.

The less good news is – I’m having a bit of a cake disaster.

You see, the cake I baked is a two layer lemon cake with a lemon filling and whipped cream frosting.  It’s a pretty awesome recipe if I must say so myself (and I must).  So I baked the cake in two separate round tins.  After taking the cakes from the oven, I waited the obligatory ten minutes, giving them time to cool before flipping the pans and transferring each layer to a plate.

After ten minutes, the pans felt a bit warm.  But I decided to move forward with the flipping and transferring (after all, the recipe said I could).  That probably wasn’t the best idea.  The first layer came out easily, and I placed it onto a plate.  The second layer didn’t go quite as well.  Actually, the second layer didn’t go well at all.  I flipped over the pan, and the center fell out.  Yep, that’s right.  The center of the cake actually fell out of the pan and onto the plate.  The surrounding cake was left stuck in the pan.

And do you think it fell out in one large piece, making it easy to patch the cake back together, frost it and pretend this debacle never happened?  Nope.  It fell out and broke into about fifty pieces.

Here’s the thing.  I tend to be a complete perfectionist.  I don’t like making mistakes, and I really don’t like making mistakes when the result of said mistakes will be seen by other people. Like with this cake.  If I were simply making it for me and Steven, I would be disappointed.  But then I would patch it up the best I could and move on.

The problem is I didn’t just make the cake for me and Steven.  I made it for a dinner party (a mother’s day dinner party at that).  Because of this, my normal reaction would be to freak out.  I would declare the cake a disaster, go to the grocery store and buy something already made.  I would pretend I never made the lemon cake and show up at the door with a completely different (and perfect) cake.

I’m trying really hard not to have my normal reaction to this cake disaster.  The last few months I’ve been trying to look at life in a different way.  I’ve been attempting to be more forgiving of my mistakes.

I’m not perfect.  I make mistakes, as does everyone.

How I became obsessed with perfection is a bit of a mystery to me. Was there a certain moment in my life that branded me a perfectionist?  Probably not.  At least, not that I remember.  What I do know is that in every day life, perfection can be a hindrance.  In my experience, it often gets in the way of completion.

I would like to be the type of person that works hard at the things I do, gives it my best shot and is content with whatever the outcome of that hard work may be (whether it be perfection or something else).  Now, this statement is a lot easier said than done.  If you’re anything like me and have spend the majority of your life attempting to be perfect, you probably agree that letting go of that ideal is difficult, at best.

I take small steps each day to move my life in a positive direction, to let go of the need to be perfect and accept what is.  That’s the commitment I’ve made to myself.  It’s not always easy, but it’s worth it (at least, my sanity thinks so).

As for today, I think I’ll just fix that cake up the best I can, make it look pretty and take it to the dinner.  The good thing is the flavor is really quite yummy.

And that’s what’s important when you’re eating cake, isn’t it?  In which case, that’s good enough for me.

For months now only one thought has propelled me forward: 2010.

I have wanted to put the general crappiness of 2009 in my rearview mirror since at least August.

Consequently, I’ve spent a lot of December preparing for the tweenies aka 2010.

I went through box after box of my stuff in storage and weeded out the things I no longer needed, culling from an ever dwindling amount of stuff.

I gave books and clothes to charity, stepped up my meditation practice, took several cleansing bath, enacted a solstice ritual, went belly dancing (whoops that was just for fun), saw a reiki healer (an interesting experience), and even dabbled with the thought of returning to my Catholic roots and going to confession.

Except I couldn’t figure out what to confess, `cause yep I’m just that angelic.

And now, just a handful of days into 2010 guess what? Nothing’s changed. I’ve manifested no miracles. I’m still at the same temp job, still putting in hours of ‘I thought I’d outgrown this’ retail work, still coasting on my parents couch and feeling the deep sting of disappointment that comes from yet  another round of employment rejection.

So, for 2010 I’ve made loads of private resolutions, but the one I’m willingly to publicly state is that my goal of for 2010 is to let go.

Let go of what?

Of everything. Of the person that I used to be and the person that I’d thought I’d become, of the job that I thought I’d have, of the way I believed I’d be living, of the people that I thought I’d be sharing my life with.

Because none of that is where I am right now and focusing on that, on what I wanted instead of what I have, is just making me feel worse.

So instead, I’m just going to get very still and very quiet and let life unfurl itself before me. It’s going to do so regardless.

photo credit

be free molly b hoyne 2009 CR

Letting go of expectations is hard.  Giving up some of the control we  exert over every part of our life takes practice.  It’s a exercise in freedom.  In flying wild.  In accepting surprises and quirks and amazing gifts that land in our laps.

So how do you be free? I’m no expert.  But believe me when I say I’m practicing letting go every single day.

How to Be Free: A Beginner’s Guide.

1. Let go of expectations regarding success.

Forgive yourself if you suck at letting go of expectations.  Try again.  And again. Ponder and journal and over analyze the orgins of your expectations.  Who first told you that you had to go to college and get a job and make a lot of money to be successful?

Let go of figuring out who first told you that you had to go to college and get a job and make a lot of money to be successful.   Instead, spend your time thinking about how you want to be successful.

Ask yourself questions about what you want to contribute to the world. Questions about what you have to share.  Questions about how you want to show up each and every day.

Realize that you loved going to college. Make a gesture of gratitude for whoever told you to go to college.  Let go of the expectation that going to college equaled success.  Understand that it was part of your journey, but just the first little itty bitty part.

Realize that maybe, someday, you would like to go back to school.  But it will be because you want to, not because you should.

Realize that you really liked some parts of your assorted jobs that you were “supposed” to get. Accept that you’ll probably never want to go back to a “job.”  Say a quick memorial for 401ks and employer covered health insurance and meetings spent doodling on your steno pad.

Let go of the general consensus that not having a “real job” makes you a bit odd.  Realize that for you, success doesn’t mean playing it safe and having a “real job”.  Savor the fact that you understand yourself so well. Even when it’s hard, you know what’s right for you.

Let go of everyone’s expectations towards success, except your own.  Once you’ve figured out your version, jump in!  You are free! Don’t forget you can towel off and start over if need be.  It’s all part of the journey.

2. Let go of expectations regarding beauty.

Take a long look at yourself in the mirror.  Accept all your beauty.  Accept all your perceived flaws.  Try really hard to remember that they are not flaws.  They are you.  And you are beautiful.

Forgive yourself if it’s really hard to let go of your learned expectations of beauty.  We’re surrounded by fashion magazines and TV shows and commercials full of society’s definition of beauty.  Resolve to stop buying the magazines and watching the shows if they make you feel less worthy.

Stop looking in the mirror for as long as you can.  You’re still there.  Whole, contributing, dancing, showing up, leaning in.  Resist the urge to look “just in case”.  Practice feeling beautiful, strong, present without relying on on confirmation from the mirror.

Realize that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Realize that the only beholder you have control over is you.

Practicing saying, “I am beautiful”.  Practicing believing, “I am beautiful”.

Understand there is so much more to beauty than the size of your jeans, the length of your lashes, the cool factor of your style.  Let go of unrealistic expectations combed from media, your mother’s neurosis, your girlfriends better whatever, your own striving towards perfection. Let go of striving.  Live.  Love.  Accept.  Relax.

Realize this is hard.  Practice for your daughter’s sake.  Understand that accepting your own beauty means you are free.

3.  Let go of expectations regarding happiness.

Catch yourself every time you play the if, then game.  If I get this promotion, then I’ll be happy.  If he asks me to marry him, then I’ll be happy.   If she @’s me on Twitter, then I’ll be happy.  Realize this is a trick you play on yourself. An evil, disappointing, unrealistic trick.

Happiness is an inside job. Happiness is not nearly as dependent on outside factors as our expectations have led us to believe.

Shower yourself in love.  In acceptance.  In understanding that quirks and passions and taking an active role in your own life is what brings about joy.  Let go of what others say “should” make you happy.  Practice understanding what tickles you, makes you smile, gives you the sense of being gloriously alive.  Hot? Cold?  Only you know.

Realize that you are happy painting your days away in your pajamas.  Realize that you are happy on a walk in the autumn leaves.  Realize that you are happy winking at the gas station man.  Understand that it’s okay to be happy.

Allow yourself to wake up happy every morning, regardless of the situation, instead of waking up stressed out and anxious about the day ahead of you.  Practice this until it feels normal.

Start doing the things that make you happy more often.  Let go of the expectation that this means you are selfish, flighty or wasting time.  Stop doing so many of the things that make you unhappy. Understand that it feels odd.

Share your new outlook with others.  Be okay with the fact that many of them will say they “can’t” stop doing the things that make them unhappy.  Hope that someday they’ll realize that they can.

Accept that by taking control over your own happiness, you have set yourself free.