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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

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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!

240731542552026114_Yb4YysjJAhhh! Interview week!

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the best book you read this year? 

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

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

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

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

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

Did anything happen during the season that surprised you? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s on your bedside table?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guilty pleasures or “list” candidates anyone???

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Image via: Pinterest!

 

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

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

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Here we are just past the middle of January. It’s a new year and so many people have new goals they are trying to tackle.

Many of you reading this likely have a theme for your year too. {If you do, share with me! I love to hear them!}

I’ve never been through the process of setting a theme and values for the year. I’ve set many resolutions, but I had no idea of the why behind them. Not surprisingly, they rarely stuck past the first couple of weeks of the year.

This year feels different.

Maybe it’s because I’ve declared the things I value this year and gave myself a powerful {to me} theme. Maybe it’s because I’ve let desires lead my goals.

I’ve chosen these things not because they are arbitrary goals, but because I expect they will make me feel the way I want to feel.

Even with all of the work I’ve done in preparation for the year, and all the excitement I have for the promise that 2013 holds for me, I’m worried about what will happen when the newness of the year starts wearing off.

I’m worried my old mindset will start creeping back in. 

It would be so easy to go back to what is comfortable. Pretty much all of my goals this year are pushing me outside of that comfort zone.

But this year, I want to grow. I want to improve my quality of life.

I want to be someone I can count on to get things done that are important to ME.

So I definitely don’t want to take the road that’s comfortable.

I’m so beyond thankful that just when I’m starting to worry about all the new goals and the draw of the comfort zone, I have Elevate coming.

I have 13 amazing women to inspire me, kick my ass into gear, and the lovely Molly to guide and support me – and to call me out on my bullshit when I need it. {Cue happy dance!}

I’m not at an official review point, but I stepped back this week to look at everything I’ve already accomplished. I’m still getting myself set up for the year, but I’m pretty impressed with everything I’ve done so far.

Because I’m obnoxiously Type A, I made myself a list of all the steps I’ve already taken towards those big, sexy goals on my list.

I’m sure there are more things I have done, but these are the big ones that came to mind right away. I’m pretty excited that I’ve accomplished this much in 2 or 3 weeks.

I can only imagine all the amazing things I can make happen this year with all the support and motivation I have.

I honestly believe this will be my best year yet!

Bring it on 2013!

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Image credit: Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now is the time for action.

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year, soul sisters!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m amazing. Just the way I am. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want to be inspired and then inspire others.

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

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

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

Image via: derekskey

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

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

But I want more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image via: Flickr

I’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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cue the angels, please!

Image via: Flickr

Confession: I took a day off of work when I was not sick. Not because of fun travel plans or to attend any kind of professional development what-have-you. I took a day off of work because I was afraid that if I went in for that 10+ hours, I was going to lose it. I knew in my gut that I would make some kind of bad interpersonal choice that would at minimum blow my coworkers’ opinions of me to pieces.

Call it a “mental health day” if you want. I called it a F— You Day, because it made me feel better.

(This is where I should back up a step and explain that I’m not really cursing out my employer. In fact, I’m quite grateful to have a nice, steady paycheck after my life got blown to pieces this summer and actually have no intention of leaving my job any time soon. But the bad juju brewing for the last few weeks finally boiled over. I found myself literally having to pinch my lips shut to keep from spewing some relationship-changing nastiness upon all who dared enter my space.

That, my friends, is what gets the F— You. I refuse to put up with bad juju.)

Turns out what started as an F— You Day ended as the date with myself I’d been putting off since starting Molly’s Fierce Love course. I got up, went to get some coffee, and planted myself on the couch to read.

Until noon.

I ate lunch without watching TV, reading, or doing something online. And for the first time in a long time, I can actually tell you what I ate without having to think about it.

I alternated between reading and writing (OK, fine, and watching General Hospital) for the afternoon.

I took myself out to dinner–again, relatively distraction free–and then to a crystal bowl meditation class. (Which, by the way, I highly recommend if you’re willing to check your assumptions at the door and give it an honest try. Major good vibes.)

And then a really funny thing happened: I went home and fell directly asleep. Not because I was exhausted, but because I was finally relaxed enough to just listen to what my body was telling me. I simply needed to rest.

I think that’s the lesson I really needed to learn from the first week of Fierce Love, which is all about the concept of self-care.

I’m not a girly girl by any stretch of the imagination. I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that “self-care” used to equate to “mani/pedi, gossip, and cocktails” in my head–things I don’t either enjoy or participate in most of the time.

Maybe it’s not about indulgence or girliness or flat-out decadence. It’s not about doing what other people find to be relaxing. Maybe this whole self-care thing is really about stopping to listen to what my gut is saying:

“Hey there, remember me? The part of you that used to feel alive and purposeful? Quit ignoring me, will ya?”

Brick image credit: Stephen Boisvert

You know how sometimes it feels like the universe has it out for you? Well that’s kind of how the past few weeks have been for me. I’m sure losing my doggie had a lot to do with it, but I really thought I was coping with that pretty well.

I pride myself on being able to manage quite a bit of stress without completely breaking down. Some of it is because my job outside of raising a little drama queen is to help people with mental illness who are in crisis.

This often involves lengthy discussions about ways to relieve stress, methods of relaxation and how to develop positive coping skills when life continually dumps on you. And when all of this fails, we turn to pharmaceutical intervention {the prescription kind, I promise}.

Typically I’m able to take my own advice.

I don’t know if it’s just a perfect storm that has built up, but it turns out I wasn’t coping as well as I thought. About a week ago I started having a bunch of cardiac symptoms that progressed to the point that I’ve now had an ER workup, a visit with my primary doctor and a referral to a cardiologist.

Seriously, this doesn’t seem like it’s my life.

As a nurse it’s a pretty humbling experience to be on the other side of the healthcare system. Especially when you are a psych nurse and the ER doc is telling you she thinks you’re having chest pain caused by stress.

This is the kind of thing I help my patients with – it isn’t supposed to happen to me.

My cardiologist has ordered some further testing, but he believes it will likely turn out to be just a benign heart murmur or a minor heart valve problem. Neither of these should affect my quality of life in the long term, but would mean that my problems are, likely, a direct result of my stress level.

We all have a limit to the amount of crap we can have piled onto us before we stumble under the weight of the load, and apparently I have exceeded my limit.

I’m not telling you all this as some ploy for sympathy. I’d much rather never share this information with anyone who hasn’t witnessed it firsthand. But I don’t want to selectively share my life so that it makes me sound better or look more in control.

Some days I’m a mess. I’m not always in control and I’m definitely not perfect – much as the perfectionist in me would like to be. {Though I must admit, there is something slightly liberating about announcing that to the world.}

I’m not exactly sure why I take on so much or think that I can actually tackle that massive to-do list alone, but I continually push forward with this mentality. I suspect that much of it stems from being a perfectionist – I want to do everything myself that way I know it’s done “right.”

Clearly this mentality is not one I can maintain for the long term so I’m going to add another category to my list of goals – I want to learn to ask for and accept help when I need it, and realize that done is better than perfect.

I know Molly talked about this in a previous post, but I’m finding it really applies to my life right now. {That girl is so full of sparkly goodness – it’s no wonder we all love her!}

So now I’m waiting with bated breath to hear the cardiologist give me a clean bill of health and the ok to resume my normal activities {and let me have my precious coffee again!}. I’m also trying to continue taking baby steps forward without stressing myself out too much.

Once again I find myself seeking that elusive balance – something that people with an obsessive personality {like me!} don’t find easily!

Image via: Flickr

Oprah made me cry.

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

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

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

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

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

I haven’t given myself permission to be great.

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

I haven’t given myself permission to be passionate.

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

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

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

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

I can’t let go.

I’m afraid to let go.

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

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

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

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

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

Suitcase photo credit: Gideon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: ME

 

 

You know how I pledged to lose 100lbs? I was supposed to start on September 1, the day I also became a full-time freelancer. It made so much sense in my head that on this glorious day, I was suddenly going to become focused on healthy eating and self improvement. It was going to be GREAT.

 

I had salt and vinegar chips and French onion dip for breakfast yesterday.

 

Oh, and three Oreos. Breakfast of champions.

 

The rest of the day was no better…I “accidentally” ate a pint of that new Ben & Jerry’s Greek frozen yogurt. There was also a piece of pizza and a rich pasta dish that I found a recipe for on Pinterest. To say I was in rare form would be an understatement.

 

I have been overweight my entire life (except for the year I was skinny) and I’ve had a lot of time to think about why I do what I do. The main two things I’ve been able to come up with are:

 

1) I’m sabotaging myself. There is a huge part of me that finds comfort in being overweight. It’s all I’ve really ever known. Even though I am uncomfortable, unhealthy and embarrassed, being thin is even scarier because I just remember feeling like I was living in a body that wasn’t my own. People do treat you differently and after years of being treated a certain way, I was actually hurt and mad when people were nicer to the skinny me.

 

2) I am addicted to food. This is the only way I know how to explain why I keep eating like I do. It is not as easy as just eating everything in moderation; my brain doesn’t understand that concept when it comes to certain food. Most times, I am better off not eating those trigger foods at all because once they cross my lips, it’s all over. When I read about how drug addicts act, I feel like I am reading about myself with food.

 

Unfortunately (or fortunately), I feel like I’m finally at that point where I have to lose weight. I am bigger than I have ever been and I’m crossing in to dangerous territory. When I was younger I just wanted to lose weight and look good, but my intentions are a little more wholesome this time. I want to be HEALTHY. As we’ve already discussed, I am afraid of dying – and I know that what I’m doing right now is a form of slow suicide. How can someone who is so afraid of dying continue to contribute to their demise every single day?

 

Also, it is so weird for me to say this, but I want to have a kid. I am almost 29, and while I know that this isn’t “old,” I also know that I need to get my shit together if I want to have a healthy pregnancy within the next few years. I refuse to get pregnant while I am so unhealthy because I feel like that is just inviting in a whole host of complications. Gestational diabetes doesn’t really do it for me, ya know? I also have selfish motives – I want people to actually know that I am pregnant. I don’t want people wondering if I’m pregnant or if I just got fatter. I want it to be a wonderful experience.

 

So where does that leave me today, fresh off the heels of yesterday’s junk food binge? It’s another day and another opportunity to try again. I think it’s important not to let one “bad day” completely derail your efforts. I woke up this morning and actually measured the sugar and milk that went in my coffee and my breakfast was impressively healthy. I can’t tell you how the rest of the day is going to play out, but I can tell you that right now, I’m trying my best to stay in control. That’s all I can do.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{Image via creatocrat}

My husband and I have been a couple for almost nine years and married for almost four. Yet, ask me if I believe in soul mates, or the idea of Mr. Perfect, or “The One,” and I’ll tell you no.

I don’t believe in “The One,” but I DO believe my husband is the one I’ve chosen to love and continue to choose to love everyday. He’s wonderful, but he doesn’t complete me or fill some insatiable void.

This doesn’t seem like a popular opinion in a world where we’re surrounded by The Bachelor(ette), Edward and Bella fantasies, and rom-coms that conclude with a fairytale wedding to Prince Charming but don’t depict the day-to-day marriage that comes after it.

That’s because what comes after the wedding isn’t always romantic. It’s work– sometimes fun work, sometimes hard and emotional. Contrary to Jerry Maguire’s “you complete me” attitude, I believe that marriage is a process of taking two separate people with two different set of personalities, quirks, and ideologies and figuring out how to make it work, side by side.

Recently, I’ve been deeply inspired by a video by sex and relationship columnist Dan Savage called “The Price of Admission” — required viewing for anyone in or wanting to be in a relationship, in my humble opinion. Dan describes the price of admission as “the personal sacrifices, large and small, that make long-term relationships possible.” He suggests that we consider the perceived flaws and annoyances of the other person and assess whether they are truly dealbreakers, or whether they are just the price you might have to pay to be in a relationship with that otherwise great person.

“There’s no settling down without some settling for.” ~ Dan Savage

Mark has no shortage of flaws (sorry, Mister… but I’ll get to me in a second!). He plays a lot of video games, and often spends entire weekends away at disc golf tournaments. He leaves the cabinet doors open in the kitchen all the time (WHY??). He can be so laid-back that it sometimes comes across as indifference. He often doesn’t do his share of the chores until I ask him to, which drives me cah-razy.

And I’m no picnic either. I require a ridiculous number of backrubs on a weekly basis. I’m hella indecisive and too insecure. I’m much less athletic and outdoorsy than Mark. I sometimes complain about going to visit my in-laws. I’m less patient and have a much shorter– and more colorful– fuse than Mark.

At one slightly-less-evolved point in time, these may have been dealbreakers for us in relationships (heck, I’ve had roommate relationships go sour for less than that!). I might have been so focused on the idea of Mr. Right that anything less than perfect would scare me away. In fact, the first few months after our wedding three and a half years ago was a really hard time as we adjusted to each other as husband and wife and as I came around to the idea that marital bliss was not a given, but something we had to work for continuously.

Now I accept our flaws and challenges as the prices of admission. While I still admit to being triggered by Mark’s actions on occassion, I don’t let them build up into animosity or score-keeping. The value I get from our relationship is so much greater than being right in an argument. As people, we are so much greater than our flaws, and we recognize that in each other. We still get angry or annoyed, but we’ve established a rule of respectful, open communication about any topic to alleviates tensions, and the humility to say we’re sorry. Conflict makes us better, not bitter.

Lately, I’ve been taking the price of admission idea one step further and have been trying to use my marriage as a mirror. When I feel the frustration start to rise towards some aspect of our relationship, I turn inward and ask myself what that feeling says about me. Sometimes (often?), it shows me that I’m trying to be controlling. And I then remember that the only thing I can ever control is myself and my reactions, which helps foster kindness, politeness, patience and acceptance within me– a much better approach than anger.

My favorite trick for a quick attitude adjustment is to replace “I have to” statements with “I get to.” If I end up doing something Mark was supposed to do and find myself mentally grumbling, “I have to pick up after you,” I’ll correct myself to say, “I get to pick up after you.” I get to pick up his stuff– I have a husband who is a part of my life and the “stuff” is all evidence of our life together. I am not burdened, but lucky. I do believe this is some sort of reverse psychology jedi-mind trick that I’m performing on myself, but, hey, it (usually) works– or at least makes it less annoying to deal with!

I wrote in my wedding vows to Mark that he has inspired me to be a better person. That still holds true today. Marriage has a lot to teach me about myself and others. I have so much to learn about vulnerability, forgiveness, generosity, teamwork, intimacy, and love… Notice that perfection is nowhere near that list.

“That’s the only way you become The One. Is because somebody is willing to pretend you are.” ~ Dan Savage

To admit that we aren’t a perfect match might sound sad and unromantic to some people. But we’re two people who commit to working on the relationship everyday, learning and growing as a team, and choosing to love each other in spite of our flaws. That couldn’t be more romantic to me.

{Photo by Olivia Leigh Photographie}

We’ve all had those times where we’re bouncing between the dozens of tabs that are open in our internet browser– videos are loading, links are being clicked, Twitter feeds are being refreshed. Then something shiny and new distracts us and we try to pop open another tab only to cause a minor technological meltdown resulting in that annoying error message, “Firefox has quit unexpectedly.”

I imagine if you popped open my head and took a look at my brain, you’d see a similar system of frenetic wire-firing (and mis-firing) while trying (and failing) to head in 75 different directions at the same time. Look deep into my eyes in these moments, and I’m 99% sure you’d see the Spinning Beach Ball of Death in place of my pupils.

But this isn’t just a reflection on modern technology or the frenetic pace of social media. The fact is, a side effect of the self-discovery process I’ve partaken in during my QLC is that I’m uncovering and re-discovering more interests, passions and desires than I have the mental capacity to handle.

I currently dabble enthusiastically in photography, graphic design, blogging, writing, crochet, art journaling, health and wellness, yoga, and cooking/foodie-ism. Quite often, this list also includes personal development, environmental issues, and creative entrepreneurship. When I’m not 3,600 miles away from home, I add baking, interior design, working out (sometimes), and mixed media artwork to the mix. I even have a mental to-do list of interests and topics I’d like to explore in the future. (See: web design, quilting, running, storytelling/creative non-fiction, creating and editing personal videos, vegetable gardening, and learning Spanish.)

Basically, I am Pinterest, come to life.

On one hand, this is awesome, because I’ve actually forgotten what it’s like to be bored. Psssht, there’s no time for boredom. I really love that I’m a multi-faceted and passionate explorer. I’ve learned that not everyone works this way. Some women I know are enviably committed to one topic/study/profession. Lots of others are quite content with a mix of 9-5 work, a significant other, and maybe a hobby on the side. That’s perfect and wonderful, so long as they are happy. On occasion, that’s all I need to be happy. But in the bigger picture, I know my own core values of Creativity and Learning lead me down a path where I’m constantly immersed in the cycle of learn something new, create something, and repeat.

On the other hand, we’ve all heard the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Yep, that phrase makes me anxious. As does, “Live your passion, and the rest will follow.” Because what if “passion” isn’t singular for you? Am I supposed to pick only one? How am I supposed to do THAT?

A while ago, I took an e-course program in which the coach asked the question, “How are you using overwhelm to live small?” At the time, it didn’t quite click with me what that meant. But now I’m starting to put the pieces together.

I immediately think of my Analysis Paralysis that led me to take the same kind of job that was previously making me unhappy because I was overwhelmed with the details and effort involved in doing something different. (Sounds like “living small” to me.)

I see it in the way I bounce between projects when whatever I’m working on gets too difficult. Last week, I was trying to learn a new Photoshop trick for editing photos and it was just not happening. Instead of pushing through when it got hard, I switched over to drafting three posts for my blog (simultaneously) and reading a book about health– things I like to do, sure, but not opportunities for growth. And, now that I think about it, I never did go back to figuring out that Photoshop technique. (Yep, that’s “living small” too, and potentially a mild case of ADD.)

Living small is especially evident in my tendency to research everything I’m currently interested in. I like to be sufficiently prepared and knowledgeable before I embark on a new endeavor– but “sufficiently prepared” usually turns into a never-ending process. I read about a topic, scour the internet, watch tutorials. I’ll spend hours looking at what professional designers, photographers, and creative entrepreneurs are doing, past the point of inspiration and into the land of envy. At the end of the day, I may have a little more knowledge, but I’m not doing anything with it.

Considering these examples, it’s pretty clear that I’m using my multitude of interests– and the accompanying feeling of overwhelm at my options– as a security blanket. By trying to hold onto them all, especially with a beginner’s mindset, I don’t have to risk putting myself out there in any one area, and don’t have to face the possibility of failure or losing money or time.

In an effort to employ “Ignite” as my word of the year and to have a better grasp on my personal and career direction by the end of my Ireland trip, I’m thinking about how I can balance my multiple interests in a healthy, productive way that doesn’t lead to the Spinning Beach Ball of Death or “Caiti has quit unexpectedly” error messages over my head.

Is there a way to focus and follow through on multiple projects or interests? Or is a single, focused obsession a prerequisite for success?

{Image via Amelia-Jane}

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}

Introducing: Caiti

“I was living a life that wasn’t mine. It was society’s. The expectations and opinions of certain influential people around me. Fear-avoidance. I had become a passenger in my life, simply along for the ride instead of owning it.”

I don’t know why most of my emotional breakdowns occur while driving my car. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m in charge of 3000 pounds of metal and mechanics that have the power to potentially kill me if mishandled, yet I barely feel like I’m in the driver’s seat for my own life.

My subconscious can’t seem to handle the irony.

Until recently, I have been a “by the books” kind of girl. Midwestern born and bred. Top of my high school class. A scholarship to my first choice college (University of Missouri), where I majored in something that seemed practical and responsible (journalism/strategic communications). I fell in love, attended grad school, got engaged the very day I finished my Master’s degree, and promptly moved in with my mister. How about a job related to my major? Planning a wedding and getting married? Buying a condo? Moving on to jobs #2-3, complete with a nice salary bump? Check, check, check and CHECK. On the road of life, I was cruising along and passing all the major milestones right on cue.

Here I was, with everything I want–scratch that–with everything I thought I should want, yet I only felt numb. An incredible amount of time was spent glassy-eyed, zoned out of the world around me. It was all I could do to get through the days without crumbling into a pile of flesh and tears. Work was a blur of time bookended by forced morning conversation at the coffee maker and counting down to 5:00. The major I chose in college for its practicality led me to an industry that was slowly suffocating me with its sea of gray cubicles, florescent lights, and people who seemed all too comfortable with the status quo. Even the parts of my life I claimed to love– my relationship with my husband and my friendships– were just shrug-my-shoulders fine.

During the long drive home from work on a day much like every other, I had to brake quickly in the stop-and-go traffic, a completely routine annoyance. But for a moment, the fog lifted. I looked out the windshield over my white knuckles gripping the wheel and saw the highway in front of me for what seemed like the first time that day, that week, that month. How did I get here?

No, really, how did I get here?

Had my life really turned into a series of beige blurs between Point A and Point B, stopping only to check the box next to each “accomplishment” on the List of Things to Achieve to Have a Solid & Stable Life? Wait, who the hell wrote that list anyways? It surely wasn’t me. Where were the check boxes for passion, for the people who are so smart and funny and creative it makes my heart hurt, for the projects I could get lost in for days? Where was the adventure and traveling and learning about the world?

I was living a life that wasn’t mine. It was society’s. The expectations and opinions of certain influential people around me. Fear-avoidance. I had become a passenger in my life, simply along for the ride instead of owning it.

My quarterlife crisis in a nutshell: I can’t keep living half alive.

After enough stress to cause an ulcer ten times over, I made the one change that was weighing on me most heavily. I quit my job. With no plan. With no real idea of what I want to do professionally. But somehow, in the process of grabbing the wheel, I’ve been able to start to steer myself down a new road that doesn’t seem so bleak. Within the first month of this year, opportunities that seemed like pipe dreams have lit me up– from the chance to feature my artwork in a magazine to steadily growing my blog.

And in a crazy turn of events, my life will literally be hitting the road as my husband and I relocate to Dublin, Ireland, through October.

It’s time to feel alive again, to feel the fire burning in my belly for my work, relationships, and new experiences. My “by the books” life will become a life worth writing about, and I can’t wait.

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

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

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

 

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

Thank you.

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

Thank you.

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

Thank you.

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

Thank you.

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

Thank you.

 

*photo courtesy of artnoose

 

 

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!]

It’s been over two months since I left New York and a “normal” daily life behind. When I was there, I dealt every day with the stresses of my job and commuting – the high level of hostility emanating from people on the subway and the streets really got to me sometimes – and so I had particular self-care tactics that I used regularly to keep myself sane.

Now that I’m living one of my dreams, traveling Europe, and spending my time doing things that I love, my self-care system – and any routines, really – have fallen by the wayside. I eat my meals according to what’s typical in the countries that I visit, and it’s not necessarily the most balanced diet. I occasionally take yoga classes, but haven’t been practicing at home. I don’t talk to – or email – my friends and my family with any regularity. And sleep schedule? What sleep schedule?

I hadn’t thought much about it for my first six or so weeks; it didn’t really bother me. And then, I visited Fes. I loved Morocco, Fes, and the medina. Loved. The medina – or old, walled city – in Fes is the largest contiguous car-free area in the world, and it’s a giant maze of trinkets, delicious food, and stunning handicrafts. My friends and I spent two days exploring, bargaining, taking photos, and eating. It was a beautiful and fascinating sensory experience.

And that’s when it all caught up with me.

We stopped at a shop to buy scarves, and after a long sales pitch from the proprietor, my friends picked theirs out. I, on the other hand, froze. I couldn’t choose. The owner of the shop was saying how sad he was that I didn’t see anything I liked, and he kept putting different scarves around my neck. It took everything I had left not to burst into tears on the spot. (As a side note, if you want the price of two silk scarves to drop by 100 Moroccan dirhams – the equivalent of about $12 or 10 euros – look like you’re going to cry.)

All I could think about for the next few days was escaping. I was desperate to find a city where I could go and get a reasonably-priced hotel room with free wifi. My idea was that I would go to that place and camp out in the hotel bed for a few days, leaving only to find delicious, inexpensive food. I even asked facebook and twitter for suggestions about what that city would be.

Then I realized: I didn’t need to go somewhere special. Sure, I might miss some of the sights in my next stop, Barcelona, but who cares? Isn’t my health and sanity more important?

I spent the morning before I left Madrid looking for yoga studios and nail salons in Barcelona. I found a few different studios with reasonable prices and good class times, as well as a place to get a pedicure. I did some yoga before breakfast. I picked up some healthy snacks at the Mercado San Miguel later that day, so that I wouldn’t be tempted by gluten-filled train station food the next morning.

And you know what? Just the action of recognizing that I didn’t have to run around trying to do Barcelona made me feel a little better. That acknowledgment helped remind me that this – exploring and experiencing Europe – is my life now, and that I get to choose how I do that, and when to take a step back.

Look, I’m not saying that having shiny purple polish on my toenails fixed everything in my life, but it sure as hell reminds me every time I see them that this is fun – and that taking care of myself wins over seeing all of the sights.

[photo credit: me!]

It might be that I have a terrible memory, or it might be that I’ve blocked out a lot of my high school years. Whatever it is, I don’t recall much of 1995-1999. Bits here and there, yes, but nothing particularly consistent.

One thing that I do remember is a quote from one of my teachers. Maybe it’s because it was particularly poignant, or maybe it’s because he gave several homilies based on that quote over the years. (I attended a Catholic high school, and we had weekly Mass on Wednesday mornings.) All I know is that to this day, I’ve got this line ingrained in my mind:

“You can’t give thanks for what you take for granted.”

I grew up believing that I could do anything. At age six, the list of careers I thought I might have ranged from fashion designer to the first female president of the United States. From reading, to painting and drawing, to Girl Scouts, my parents encouraged my hobbies. By age 10 or 11, my grandfather had me reading and discussing the business section of The New York Times on Sundays. Most distinctly, I remember winning my local spelling bee at age 13, and my dad asked me what was next. I responded that I would win regionals and compete in the National Spelling Bee that year.

And you know what? I did. And my parents were behind me 100% of the way.

I’m a little hard on my parents sometimes because I wasn’t allowed to choose a creative career/degree. Looking back on it, I don’t know that I would have been able to put together a portfolio that would have gotten me into an art school, and I don’t know that it would have been the best thing for me in the long run. I can give you a list of reasons why I feel like college made me dumber–though the more I think about it, what I really mean is that my undergraduate degree in business and the accompanying classes killed my creativity. It’s taken me years of slowly building my creative confidence again to do what I’m doing now: traveling, teaching, and building writing and photography portfolios.

Here’s the thing, though: you can’t give thanks for what you take for granted.

I forget that I was able to read at age three, and that my parents enrolled me in some accelerated classes in elementary school. Approximately one-quarter of girls in developing countries aren’t in school at all according to the Girl Effect, and I had the chance to go above and beyond basic schooling with those classes and extracurriculars.

I ignore the fact that college was a given for me, and even though I didn’t exactly choose the right degree, I learned a lot about myself when I was there, met interesting people and made some long-term connections, and was able to study and live in another culture for four months. According to the Girl Effect, an extra year of secondary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 15 to 25 percent.

I’m fortunate that I am 30, single, and have enough money saved to travel for three months and move to another country. It’s easy to forget that when you’re living in a culture like the one in New York City, where you can’t keep up with people who are making two or more times your income, where rents are high, and where the first question anyone asks is what you do for work.

I’m lucky that I grew up with a family that pushed me to excel in and out of school. I’m fortunate that I was able to get a degree that helped me obtain a job that increased my earnings so that I could save the money to live life on my terms now. Without the foundation that I had, all of the work I’ve done over the past ten years probably wouldn’t have gotten me here.

On my photo blog, one of our recent themes was gratitude. Ending the New York chapter of my life and beginning the next part of my journey has had me thinking about my family, friends, and life in new ways.

It’s time to give thanks.

[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!]

I love lists. Like religiously. Lists for shopping, lists for goals, lists to keep track of everything. I’m not OCD, but I do like to track progress. Checking off each little box makes me warm and fuzzy inside.

Last year, on January 3rd, 2010, I started a list that would change my life. It was called 101 in 1001. The idea is you choose 101 things of varying difficulty and complete them in 1001 days. That’s not so long it’s impossible to see the end of, but it also gives you more leeway than New Year’s Resolutions. Count me in.

One of my more outlandish tasks on the list was “Use a productivity system for 30 days.” (So much for not appearing OCD.) A productivity system would help me get my crap in order, and hopefully, my life would follow suit.

Enter GTD (Getting Things Done). I bought files and a box and got to work. But soon, I realized it wasn’t a good fit for me. (Too many files and far too many rules.) I began to look again for a new system to try. That’s when I found ZTD (Zen to Done).

 

That’s when Leo Babauta and Zen Habits entered my life. I started diving through the archives. He wasn’t just talking productivity. He was bringing simplicity into every aspect of life. That’s when I entered the blogosphere, first as a reader, then soon as a fellow contributor.

One of the movements Leo was advocating was minimalism. I started reading about other people trying similar life experiments, and I was shocked. I couldn’t believe there were other people like me so dissatisfied with the the consumer culture that appeared the only option. But they were doing something about it. Many of them were living with 100 things or less!

That was insane to me. It reminded me of a few years back when I had moved to Texas with what would fit in a suitcase. And I had loved it! So I made the decision to do it. I started going through my things, making Goodwill trips, and downsizing.

Then, it was my daughter’s turn. Everyone thought (read: still thinks) I was crazy for doing it, but what do babies really need? Clothes and toys. Who needs more than 100? (She seems to be just fine, thank you.)

While I was doing this downsizing, I had also started blogging about it. The fact was nobody was writing about what radical minimalism looked like with kids, and I felt like I had something really worthwhile to talk about. It turned out other people felt that way, too. Within two weeks of starting my blog, I’d guest posted on my favorite blogger’s site (when she wasn’t taking guest posts) and taken my niche by storm.

I was in love. After feeling so isolated since I had my daughter, here were all of these people who understood what I was going through. Here was this wonderful community willing to share and discuss and be vulnerable. Out of the blue, I found friends, mentors, and more than a few adventures. And how could I forget the passion I felt for writing? The words flowed like water. It was beautiful. My calling stumbled into my life when I was just looking for new things to keep me from remembering my QLC.

Since then, it’s been a wild ride. I’ve released several ebooks, turned my blog into a business platform, and now I’m here pouring my heart out at Stratejoy. I found Stratejoy in an unconventional way these days – I met Molly in person! We found each other at a karaoke bar during the World Domination Summit this summer, and after hearing Molly’s story, it wasn’t long before I was diving in and out of her archives.

When I saw apps were being taken for new Stratejoy writers, it was fate. With my blog being so business-like, there’s a lot a I want to share that no longer fits that audience. I am so ready to share the stories that make us who we are. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to connect with such an amazing group of women. Here’s to another year of beautiful words, broken stories, and creating incredibly rich lives.

 

Australia has been a very healing place for me.  I came into this country with a lot of unanswered questions, unresolved issues, a broken heart that still hadn’t fully healed, an emotional void constantly being filled with alcohol, and a burning desire of wanting something more.  That’s a lot of baggage to carry around from country to country.

In six months I found the courage to start over.  New career.  New city (and country).  New friends.  New relationship.  But there’s still something missing; I still feel this sharp pain deep in my heart and soul.

Buried beneath all of the happiness, excitement, adventure, and newness is deep, painful loneliness.

I’ve been struggling with loneliness for a couple years now, though I think this is the first time that I’m actually admitting it. I don’t know where it stems from.  Maybe partly from losing my parents at such a young age (and not being raised in that tight-knit family dynamic) and partly from the unhealthy relations I had with nearly every man back in America which created this dangerous feeling of inadequacy.

Traveling solo surely doesn’t erase this feeling of loneliness though.

Choosing to create a new life in Australia is certainly a monumental tipping point for me, but it does come at a cost.  I had wonderful, supportive, genuine friends back home.  I had two brothers who would drop everything and come running to me if I needed them.  I had a therapist who saved my life and helped me work through my emotional demons.  And I chose to be selfish and leave it all behind to travel the world solo and find my happiness.

Now I’m on an island, miles and miles away from my closest friends and family, trying to find a way to build a new foundation full of happiness, love, and gratitude.  I’m trying to become a successful ESL teacher, a genuine friend, and a loving girlfriend.  It’s not as easy as it sounds.  Life Down Under isn’t always rainbows and butterflies; it’s an emotional roller coaster of fleeting happiness, painful loneliness, drops of stratejoy, and moments of feeling homesick.

Being an ESL teacher in Australia is very challenging, for obvious reasons.  I’m teaching private lessons to International students and Backpackers, but it’s not steady, guaranteed work every day.  Some days I teach eight lessons, other days I won’t teach at all.

Most of the friends I had when I first got here have traveled out of the country, and it’s been tough to organize nights out with the remaining friends that are still in town.

It’s emotionally challenging to be in a relationship with a man who’s constantly surrounded by his friends and family and I’m on the other side of the world from mine.  I miss that kind of social environment and I miss being around people who really know me.  I don’t want to become co-dependent on him, but it’s tough when he’s one of the reasons why I chose to stay.

How do I make the loneliness of starting over in a foreign country, thousands of miles away from everything I know and love, go away?

I don’t know how to work through it.  I don’t know how to just sit with this feeling and be okay in the moment.

Starting over is scary.  Though I never thought I’d ever start my life over in Australia, I certainly don’t regret this decision.  This country has changed my life.  But I think that honeymoon phase of being here is officially over and now I need to start digging deep and working through this loneliness and the other emotional affects of living abroad.

{photo credit: Vermario}

 

“What happens when we lose the things that anchor us?”The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost

My ‘anchor’ consisted of a mediocre job, a struggling nonprofit organization, unsatisfying friendships, and a burning feeling of inadequacy.  It triggered my Quarterlife Crisis and I started asking myself those tough questions – What do I really want out of life?  Am I really happy?  Will I ever be enough?

“What if, instead of grasping at something to hold on to, we pull up our roots and walk away?”

I always thought the idea of walking away from something [or someone] was admitting defeat, giving up, or taking the easy way out.  I thought that by walking away, you became weak and vulnerable to everything [and everyone] around you.  But walking away from an unsatisfying, mediocre lifestyle that I was living in Philadelphia forced me to answer those tough questions and evaluate the self-destructing path I had created for myself.  It forced me to realize that I wasn’t happy; I wanted something more fulfilling and gratifying.

“Before, some places just seemed too far, too difficult to reach, but once you start traveling, you never want to stop.”

Prague was just the tipping point.  I want to backpack through Europe, lay on the beaches in South East Asia, explore South America, and take a Safari ride through an African Jungle.  I want to see every hidden gem and set foot on every continent (three down, four to go)

“What I found on the road was a tiny piece of myself.  These past few years I had survived my own personal disasters and realized I was strong enough … to live my life without fear or worry or doubt that nothing was going according to plan, as though such a plan ever existed in the first place.”

Traveling abroad for any significant amount of time truly changes your life.  As you adapt to the different cultures and lifestyles, you learn that you don’t need things like cable television or central air conditioning to survive (neither of which I had in Prague).  You begin to learn the difference between need and want, and you learn to find pleasure in simple things, like laughing from your soul and smiling just because. 

My life in the States was becoming too predictable – work, hockey, drink, sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat – and it really scared the shit out of me.  Is this really what my life has become?! Before I decided to go to Prague, I had a major anxiety attack.  The fear crippled me and I felt like I was chained to the floor.  I’m scared of becoming one of those people who settle for a mediocre life because they’re too afraid of being gutsy and taking risks.

I returned to the States briefly to get my visa and work permit approved by the U.S. Embassy to teach in Thailand, and by the second day that I was back in the City of Brotherly Love, I wanted to leave again to avoid falling back into a mundane, unsatisfying lifestyle that I once had.

I thought working through the culture shock of life in Prague would be difficult, but as it turns out, my biggest culture shock has been returning to the States and trying to fit in again.  Nothing changed since I left, and people don’t care about my stories now that I’m back.  A friend warned me about this over lunch.  I didn’t want to believe it, but as I started reconnecting with more friends and acquaintances, I discovered that he was right (I hate when he’s always right)I felt more lost returning to America than I did wandering the cobblestone streets of Prague.

I always thought that everyone around me was changing – new jobs, new relationships, making babies – but the truth is, I’m the one who’s changing, and everyone else is standing still, feet stuck in the cement.

Five months ago, my biggest fear was moving to Prague.  Those five months flew by, I survived living in Prague (and I truly loved it), and now my biggest fear is becoming inadequate, unhappy, and settling for mediocrity.

So much of my life has changed (for the better) in a short amount of time.  I guess sometimes change is exactly what we need to live our best life.

{Photo credit: David Reece}

INTRODUCING AMANDA

It was time to get out. I wasn’t sure where the road was going to take us but we needed a fresh start, like, yesterday.


I sat down in the passenger-side seat of my silver Toyota, desperately fighting back tears and failing miserably. I clutched at the box that held my officely possessions and just… stared. My then-fiancé placed a comforting hand on mine. In 2008, at twenty-two and twenty-six, we’d both been terminated from our positions as programmers for our rather boisterous opinions regarding unpaid overtime and the slave-labour hours we felt that we were working.

“We hated working there anyway,” he said, turning the engine on and gently pulling out of the parking lot. “It’s better this way. Now we can move to Vancouver, just like you wanted.”

I didn’t have the courage to say that I had no idea what it was that I wanted; all I knew was that it was no longer an option to stay. Our hometown had gotten too small. Our career options as programmers were limited to three major arteries within the city. It was time to get out. I wasn’t sure where the road was going to take us but we needed a fresh start, like, yesterday.

Fast-forward to a year later, just before my twenty-third birthday.

I glanced down at the wedding rings on my left hand but my resolve didn’t waver. If he was determined to find himself then so was I. I packed the final load into the $600 Honda Accord that I’d bought from some dude in North Vancouver before hugging my husband goodbye. He was on the path to becoming a police officer. I wasn’t really on a path at that point but I didn’t have the courage to tell him that the last eight months had been a waste. I’d been toying with the option of becoming a Real Designer, possibly of the Industrial variety; I’d always been interested in how products are designed. Sadly, the “education” left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

And so, I was returning to the city that had reared me in the first place.

I’d taken a job in a career centre. It paid well, I liked my work, and I enjoyed the people I worked with. As I worked with clients, I found my entrepreneurial spirit to be alive and ass-kicking; I began to daydream about opening up a business and actually doing web design for money. By the time July 2009 had hit, the husband had put his police quest aside so that I could come back home. By January 2010, I had established myself as a WordPress designer and developer with a party-time demeanour and a “sure can” attitude. People from all around the globe were asking for my services and I was flying high.

For a time, anyway.

Transitioning in and out of love with my business, I decided to dive head-first into a moonlighting career as a game journalist. I attended conventions, conducted interviews with developers and designers, and wrote my little heart out. Life was the best it could have been for the fleeting months when I was able to focus my fire on writing. When the money stopped rolling in for my business, I rolled over and attempted to reconnect.

Burn out hit me. Rock-bottom came next. I fumbled around, looking for signs of the end of this intellectual and emotional purgatory. The little stick – yes that little stick – said a mouthful when I found out that rock-bottom had actually just been a kink in the cycle. Mine, to be precise.

As I claw my way out of a Quarter-Life Crisis, I’m also grappling with the implications of “mama-to-be” without letting on that I’m just as panicked as excited. Weaving my way through the intertwining (and seemingly disparate) paths of “entrepreneur” meets “mama” meets “twentysomething” is a journey that I’m looking forward to sharing with all of you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(photo credit)

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

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

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

2.   What’s on your bedside table?

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

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

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

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

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

5.       What’s your hell like?

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

6.       What’s your heaven like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. What surprised you the most about 2010?

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

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

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

13. Dream Job?  Dream Home?  Dream Vacation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To quote him (thanks, Facebook!):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do y’all think?

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

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

[photo credit]

Dear Marian,

You’re a funny one, aren’t you? I know high school is being a bitch and a half right now and your boyfriend is a crazy person and you pretty much hate everyone, but I promise: College classes are better than high school classes, you will not be with that boyfriend forever and, trust me, it isn’t you; the people in Greenwich actually do suck.

You may attend a certain college for the wrong reasons, but it will end up being the right place for you. There, you will find a group of friends who adore you more than life, you will find out who you are without your high school sweetheart AND you will end up traveling to 13 countries in the span of a year. You will switch your major from Spanish to Gender Studies, just because it’s more fun. And that’s one thing I crazy admire about you, Past Marian, you don’t stress about what you should be doing. You just do what feels right.

And so far? It’s played out pretty well. There will be a period after graduation where you’ll feel 100% stressed and frustrated about what you’re supposed to be doing. You’ll make a huge effort to get a “real” job and you’ll end up quitting it anyway to go solo. It’s not particularly scary, but don’t stress when you end up having to leave New York. There are bigger and better things to come. Also remember that you kind of always knew you weren’t supposed to be at a desk so when everyone starts congratulating you about your “new life” and how exciting it must be, don’t freak out when you just smile and nod and don’t actually feel any passion towards your cubicle and phone extension. It’s not you and I hope you celebrate that.

While I’d like to give you some grand advice to help plot your way through breakups and travels and horrible grades and great grades, everything you do leads to where you are now. Which is in sunny New Zealand with the greatest person on earth. And while you still may be floundering with the whole “What the hell am I doing” part of your life, you are with the right person and you have the amazing flexibility to do and go whatever and wherever you want. You never succumbed to what was popular; you never pretended to be something you weren’t; you never listened to anything but your heart.

Make sure you never lose that quality. Make sure you don’t let other people’s failures and bad advice get in your way. Writing this now, though, I know I have nothing to worry about. While life doesn’t get any less stressful in the next ten years,  you’ve managed to kick so much ass. For this, I am completely and brilliantly proud of you.

Love,

Marian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[photo source]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers to a new year.  Let’s do this.

[WonderWoman photo source]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I intend to seek out new experiences.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I took my medicine.

I journaled–tried to acknowledge my fears with words.

I texted, tweeted and wrote to friends.

I took long, scalding showers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sigh of relief.

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

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

(photo credit)

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

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

it is the age of identity explorations;

the age of instability;

the self-focused age;

the age of feeling in–between;

and the age of possibilities.[1]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


[1] http://www.jeffreyarnett.com/windingroad.htm

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

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]

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

2.  Read peacefully in heaven

3. Die knowing I was a good person

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

(photo credit)

I had a difficult time starting this week’s post.  I wanted to write about a person who inspires me the most in my life right now.  I couldn’t choose just one.  I thought about you, the Stratejoy tribe.  I thought about Molly (duh), Danielle LaPorte, my good friend Lisa.  But it just felt like I would be leaving out all of these other amazing women.  So this morning, as I sipped my coffee and racked my brain trying to figure out just what to I was going to write (sorry Katie, for the blown deadline!), I decided to procrastinate some more and flip on the tv.

Last night I recorded a BET special called “Black Girls Rock.”  I pressed play and watched the faces of some of the most beautiful and inspirational black women I know flash across the screen.  I got excited.  I got teary-eyed.   Then I got inspired to write this post.

Growing up, I always lived in predominantly white neighborhoods.  I was usually the only black kid in my class.  I was even the only black girl on my basketball team.  Over the course of my life, I can count the number of black friend I have had on my fingers.  We did not live near any family and my parents did not really have many friends either.  I never realized how white my world was until my senior year of high school arrived and I started applying to colleges.  It was then that I suddenly became aware of my blackness.  This is when I became angry, yet grateful, that my skin color would factor into my ability to get into college.  (I did have plenty of merit of course.)  That semester in a research writing class, I chose to write my large paper on affirmative action in college admissions.  This paper lead to a plethora of reading material that enlightened and enraged me, but I put those feelings aside.  All my friends were white; I couldn’t stay mad at them.  And besides, I was about to attend the school of my dreams.

When I came home after those tumultuous months away at college I worked two jobs, one of which was in retail.  At this particular retailer we wore headsets so that the staff could communicate throughout the store.  Through the course of our acquaintanceship my co-workers apparently forgot the color of my skin, because during almost every shift I heard derogatory comments or witnessed discriminatory behavior toward the black customers.  The morning after a particularly disturbing shift, I decided I could no longer work with those people and quit.

Just last week, during another trip to Colorado, I visited the Gap Factory Outlet*.  (Yeah, I’m gonna call you out, Gap.)

After finding the correct size in the desired jean, I asked a friendly sales associate to assist me in finding an additional pair in the same size. The associate and I were unable to locate the item on the floor, even though her computer indicated that there was another pair in stock.

I continued to browse while the sales associate searched for her manager and asked her for help. I watched them as they went to the back room and then returned to the floor. Perhaps the manager on duty did not realize that I was the customer who had requested the jean, but I heard her say aloud to the associate that she knew where they were. I asked if they were on a mannequin. Then she walked past me and with her back toward me told the sales associate,

“Oh, I know where they are, but I don’t want to pull them.” Then she walked away.

Though the associate continued to offer me the pair that I originally tried on, I declined and exited the store. But then I realized that this was the same manager who when I walked up to the fitting rooms, niether greeted me nor did she
offer me a room. She looked at me, and then turned her back toward me to talk to another associate as she twirled her keys. I had to walk back out to the floor to find another sales associate who was able to let me into a room.

I promptly returned to the store and asked her if she was the manager; she indicated to me that she was the assistant manager. After I asked for her name (Kim–a woman with short blonde hair, glasses, a black blazer, distressed cuffed jeans and black suede ankle boots), I told her that I overheard her tell her associate that although she knew where the item was, that she did not want to pull it. I told her that in all of my years of retail experience, I have never had a manager tell me or another associate not to deliver the best customer service possible to close a sale.  I asked her for her manager’s name (Lauren), thanked her and exited the store again.

Now, you may think that it is paranoid of me to say that I received such poor service because of my race.  But do know this: I have been called a “nigger” twice to my face (and who knows how many times it has been said behind my back) and I have experienced many other incidents of discrimination in my 20-plus years of life.  Sometimes you just know.  Experiences like these lead to my life-defining hair cut.  Experiences like these are why I feel responsible for teaching my children more about Black History.  It is through knowledge that you gain power.  If I had not read those books when I was in high school (Lies my Teacher Told Me, Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Caffeteria?, Can We Talk About Race, White Privelge), then I would not have had the knowledge to know and the courage to stand up to the injustices I have faced in these recent years of my life.

I did not mean to sit here and pontificate about race relations and social injustice.  That is not what Stratejoy is about.  But it is about me sharing my journey of self-discovery.  It would be remiss of me to not express how important my culture and history is in my transformation from Black Girl to Black Woman.  And this morning, “Black Girls Rock” reminded me of just that.

*The following is an excerpt from a complaint letter I sent to Gap Inc. I am considering sharing the full letter on my personal blog as I have been even more disappointed with the follow-up (or lack there of) by their customer service department.

(photo credit: www.blackgirlsrock.org)

I gotta tell ya, these happy pills have been pretty amazing.  My body no longer aches.  I laugh.  I talk.  I smile.  Hell, even on those rainy Chicago days that I used to groan about so much, I walk on clouds.  It is amazing!  Now that the fog of depression has lifted, I am able to see just how wonderful my life is.  It isn’t perfect, but wow.  I can not believe how much of the good I could not see.

Even if you are not depressed, I think you can agree that it’s really easy to throw yourself pity parties.  Like, life sucks because you have to buy beer in the cans instead of beer in the bottles.  Or you think you might as well just stop leaving the house because all of the shirts you own are unravelling.  Or maybe you would rather get fat and sick eating off the McDonald’s dollar menu because shopping at Whole Foods is not an option right now.  Perhaps all of your best friends are married and you still spend Saturday nights cuddling your cats.  But that’s all petty shit, ya know?  You probably have about a zillion amazing little things to be grateful for in this life.

And life is as much about the little things as it is about the big things.

Take this cup of coffee.  To the plain old person, it’s just a plain old cup o’ joe (Kirkland’s Columbian Roast) in a plain ol’ mug.  But for me it’s something bigger.

We moved here almost two years ago.  We thought it would be a good opportunity: a chance to travel on a different career path and be near family.  It was a huge sacrifice.  We gave up a lot of money, a lot of stuff, a lot of security to make this leap.  We had no idea that my side of the family would move–taking their free daycare offer with them.  We had no idea that the job we thought would be so great would be so bad; that my father-in-law would be attacked (and finally killed) by that damn cancer; that the winters would be so long, so gray and so lonely.  We didn’t know that money would be so tight that I would have to spend last spring, summer and fall selling my clothes, my purses, my shoes, my children’s toys to make ends meet.  And that when they still didn’t meet, we would go to the food pantry.

Despite how depressing many of those months were, I am happy for the life lessons I learned along the way.  I learned how to use a sewing machine.  (I made some pretty awesome pillows and pants.)  I learned how to bake bread and cook dry beans.  (My chili kicks ass!)  I learned that appearances are decieving.  (The grass is always greener on the other side, isn’t it?) I learned that it actually takes very little to survive.  (VERY little.)  I learned how to dissociate my self-worth from my possessions.  (This was a hard one.  But I finally got it.  I am NOT my things.)  And this led to me being even more appreciative and grateful for all the little stuff.

Like this cup of coffee.

I am so grateful and so happy that I can sit here at my desk and drink this cup of coffee.

(photo credit)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you happy and grateful for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(photo credit)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(photo credit)

Self awareness has been on my mind a lot recently.

Where do you draw the line between pushing yourself to be better and wasting your time on something that’s not “you”?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself lately – partly because writing for Stratejoy has me examining my life in a way I never have before and partly because moving to London has meant a slew of new experiences.

For example, a very specific British Experience: Drinking. Lots and lots of drinking.

I’ve always been a bit of a lightweight, meaning I rarely drink because when I drink I get CRUNK. Not that I have any problems with crunkage. While I may actually remember college, there are a smattering of drunk-with-the-girlfriends-experiences that are very fond memories indeed. I just don’t get crunk often.

Fast forward a few years and here I am in London where my housemates usually have a drink every night. Events are ALWAYS held in pubs, free booze is the only reason anyone will go anywhere and, well, the British take their beer very seriously.

Meaning I often feel left out. Sure, no one cares I’m not a big drinker, but I’m also not a huge fan of being the only sober one out.

So what do I do? Not go? I’ll occasionally opt-out of a night at the pub but I feel like I should go. Be social! Make new friends! Live a little! But what if my “living a little” is actually drinking a cup of peppermint tea while I read a Sookie Stackhouse book? What then? Am I not adventurous?

Or am I just…. Me?

Don’t get me wrong, I love adventures. One of my favorite things to do is get lost in a new city. I want to not know anyone. I love the fact that I’ve done everything from work at a sex museum to a Mail Boxes Etc. I like risk and spontaneity and change and even the occasional failure.

What I don’t like are clubs. Or hanging out with more than five people at once. Or anything involving loud noise. I don’t like political discussions. I don’t like being wrong. I’m not a huge fan of “culture” and find any art made after 1900 yucky.

I have no desire to visit Asia. Most hippies annoy the crap out of me. I’m neither religious or “spiritual”. Whatever that means. I hate going to concerts, dancing and really don’t understand the appeal of Lady Gaga. I’ve never been blackout drunk. I don’t want to experience the thrill of bungee jumping. I don’t want to eat something really gross just so I can add it to my “life list.”

So what does this make me? I’d like to think I’m an adventurous person but as I get older I learn what I like and what I don’t like. A friend said this might be “limiting” and I should give things a try regardless of my preconceptions. But what if I don’t want to waste my time? What if I want to spend what time I have on this earth doing things I know I want to do? Is admitting this like punching all the “authentic life” girls in the face or is this what self-awareness is REALLY all about?

I have a confession to make.  That’s not really me in that bio picture at the bottom of the page.  I mean, it’s me, but it’s not.

In the Black hair community they call it “The Big Chop.”  I had contemplated it for over a year and on one cold night in January, I did it.  I took a pair of scissors from the kitchen drawer, quietly closed the door to the bathroom and went to town.  With several bold snips I went from about 14 inches of hair to 1/4 of an inch of hair.  Now, why in the world would I do this?

First, a very brief and incomplete Black history lesson.

Remember the landmark segregation case <a href=”http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/brown/brown-brown.html”>Brown v. Board of Education</a> case?  They used this study in their argument:

Dr. Kenneth Clark Conducting the “Doll Test”

In the “doll test,” psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark used four plastic, diaper-clad dolls, identical except for color. They showed the dolls to black children between the ages of three and seven and asked them questions to determine racial perception and preference. Almost all of the children readily identified the race of the dolls. However, when asked which they preferred, the majority selected the white doll and attributed positive characteristics to it. The Clarks also gave the children outline drawings of a boy and girl and asked them to color the figures the same color as themselves. Many of the children with dark complexions colored the figures with a white or yellow crayon. The Clarks concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” caused black children to develop a sense of inferiority and self-hatred. courtesy of The Library of Congress website

It is hard to believe that with all of the social progress we’ve made over these past 50 years, this sense of inferiority and self-hatred still exists.  Being Black was never beautiful.  And our hair?  Not acceptable.  It’s hard to change the color of your skin, but you can change your locks, you hair, your mane, or whatever you choose to call it..

Let me use an analogy that may be more relatable.  The media bombards us with images of women with photoshopped bodies and faces.  Our subconscious convinces us that is what other “real” women look like so we develop eating disorders and pay thousands of dollars for creams, undergarments, (dangerous) drugs and surgeries to become this supreme version of a woman.  This is what black women do with their hair.  We spend thousands of dollars on very, very dangerous chemicals that are applied to  our scalp to achieve that straight and silky look.

Ok.  So here is why I pulled a Britney.

RE-DEFINING BEAUTY.  I wanted to raise a big fist to The Man; to make it known that I now realize that I have been lied to.  My hair–the hair that grows out of my head–is good hair.  It is good hair because it is my hair and I want to love all that is me.

HEALTH.  Relaxers contain corrosive chemicals.  Corrosive meaning that they can disolve fabric, plastic and skin.

FREEDOM.  I needed to be free from the emotional baggage that was attached to that hair.  I believe that your hair holds energy and a lot of this energy was negative.  As I started to cut away, I felt lighter and lighter and lighter.  And when it was all gone, I felt so incredibly free.

MY DAUGHTER.  My little girl is bi-racial.  I have no idea what her hair is going to look like.  But I want her to be proud of it (and her eyes, face, body, mind).  I need to be an example of a strong and proud woman.

These reasons are sound pretty righteous, right?  And I really do believe in them, however. . . . The truth is, that over the past couple of months I started to hate my hair.  I was not prepared for the psychological battles I would have to fight.  You should have seen the looks on people’s faces when they saw me post-chop.  I could see them searching for the right words; afraid to say the wrong thing, they often said nothing at all.  Each morning I stood in front of the mirror trying to comb through my thick, coarse hair, frustration mounting with each tug and pull.

Lately I have been tempted to go back to the relaxer, convinced that with straight hair I am prettier, sexier, more sophisticated.  But as my resentment continued to build, it seemed as though more and more people started to comment about my daughter’s hair.  “Wow, if her hair stays likes this, she’ll be so pretty,” they said.  “Her hair is so soft, it’s so pretty.  I wonder if it will stay this way?”  Hearing that over and over again reminded of why I needed to stick through this.  Growing my hair out in its natural state–loving myself and my hair because it is genuinely me–is one of the greatest examples of self-love that I can display for my daughter.  Because, what if her hair doesn’t stay that way?   What if it changes and becomes as coarse and thick as mine?  I want her to know that she is still beautiful despite the texture of her hair.  I will no longer consider my hair to be a burden, a dreaded task through which I must suffer.  No.  It is my labor of love.  It is process of self-care and self-love that will continue to teach me and inspire me to stay true to my self.

The trip I took all over the country makes more sense when you hear the whole story. But the version of this story that is easy to tell (Hawaii! Yoga! Snowboarding!) doesn’t give the exact picture of how life really is.

The version that is harder to talk about is the one that involves my newly defined, lifelong quest to find health, despite spending my entire existence believing that I would be sick for the rest of my life.

A Diseased Reality

I don’t have cancer or AIDS or anything omigosh horrible. But I was raised on prescription pharmaceuticals for “incurable” allergies, eczema, thyroid imbalance and athsma. Mmmm, dinner conversation. Or not.

People who knew me in my previous life, the one where I had a clear cut plan to be an engineer, only picked up on these ailments when they were around me for a while. My NEED to find my pills or ointments at some point during the day. My propensity to lotion application on a way-above-normal level. Athsma and sneezing attacks in kitty-filled living rooms. Late night trips to Walgreens.

A large portion of my adolescence and early 20s was spent filling prescriptions, worrying about heathcare costs, and buying infinite useless products from the health section in the rural Michigan shopping mecca, WalMart. I was sick, and that was my life, and I accepted it. For the first 23 years, anyways.

Getting Real

So now that that is out there, we can take a brief travel update to include the health aspects of my journey: Hawaii was all about getting off the pills and changing my diet. Oklahoma was spent eliminating every possible food allergen that could have caused these diseases, and living like a health goddess. Tahoe was about finding peace and happiness in my mind, healing my disease using positive psychology and healing affirmations.

Hawaii was amazing. But there were many times I spent scratching my itchy eczema skin raw and sobbing and calling myself Frankenstein and hating everyone that called me a leper and generally being pitiful. Not stories you generally take home from your trip to paradise. Oklahoma got me focused, but I was incredibly isolated, because all I did was religiously stick to my rice and beans diet, filling journals with detailed notes about my health. Tahoe… when I got to Tahoe and started to look inside myself a little more… that was when everything changed.

Through it all, I found something within myself, an answer to everything.

Self-Love

Love is confusing. There’s Hollywood-love that we watch in movies all the time. And relationship-love between happy couples. And friend-love that make cross-country road trips and crazy stories all the better.

The most important love for me right now, is love of myself. Every aspect of my sickness and disease are better if I love myself. The healthy lifestyle choices, like yoga, and eliminating processed foods, make huge differences, but aren’t enough if I still have a “fuck the world I hate my sickness” attitude. In a larger scope, eating well, and getting in touch with your passions and inner monologue are essentially self-love practices.

I chose 3 One-Year Goals when I finished my Joy Plan at the end of August, and my first one is practicing Self Love every day. Because, seriously, no matter what, if I sit down and meditate for 10 minutes, and I look in the mirror and affirm that I love myself and am totally awesome, and then I make myself food that nourishes my whole body and then practice yoga and do something that makes me feel alive… I’m not sick.

Back to the Quarterlife Crisis

My crisis is defined by my need to find balance between this girl who feels a need to share everything learned about health and healing chronic disease and this girl who is still trying to figure out how to live this health out sustainably, while enjoying life fully. I came home because I had found the answers and needed to find a way to incorporate them into my life. The first thing I did back in Michigan, was get my final thyroid test after having the drug out of my system for 6 months. It was fine. I was free of my ball and chain.

CRISIS MODE – NOW WHAT?!?!?! This is around the time I was to be found miserable at my parents house, trying to figure out what the sweetbejesus I was going to do with my life.

I’m at a very curious tipping point, where I feel like I have found the answer to everything I was looking for in regards to my health, but haven’t a clue how to turn it into my life. I’m confused and mad as hell at doctors and the pharmaceutical industry for putting me through years of unnecessary treatments. I hate the industrialized food industry for creating endless cases of allergies and eczema in children throughout the country. I feel like I’ve stumbled upon some giant conspiracy. (But I hate listening to conspiracy theories and feeling like the world is out to “get us” so I’ll try not to get all “aliens are poisoning us” on you gals.)

So while I let the dust settle from all these crazy revelations and experiences, I practice self-love daily. I curiously revel in the idea of relationship love, but I know, from experience, that until I can be stable in this “I am healthy and I love myself” attitude, inviting another person into my life will only make things more difficult.

Love is more simple and complicated than anything.


I had this crazy revelation not too long ago about love and relationships that changed the way I looked at them.  It changed what I was looking for out of all of that, and despite every single romantic comedy telling me otherwise, I knew this to be true:

I do not want someone to complete me.  I do not want to complete someone else.  I don’t want to be a puzzle piece, a void-filler, an other half.  I am a whole person.  I want another whole person to complement the whole woman I am, to make me twice as loving, giving, and powerful as I am on my own, and I wanted for me to be that to him.

I also realized that went against just about everything our culture tells us, everything Jerry Maguire taught us (you…. complete… me), and everything Hallmark wants us to believe about love and relationships.

Rollercoasters and Wild Rides

I didn’t decide to be single for so long – at first.  One pseudo-relationship ended, and it was years before an actual real one began again and in those years I became a media buyer, kicked blogging up a few notches, decided to become a yoga teacher slash freelance writer slash freelance jack-of-all-trades slash nomad.  And maybe I didn’t have time for dating, maybe I didn’t notice if guys had been interested in me, maybe I was so fiercely independent that the idea of bringing someone else into the equation that was my life seemed like the worst possible idea, or maybe the right guy was still halfway across the country living in a mountain town and plotting his own move to Boulder, Colorado.

Or maybe it was all of the above.

The one thing I was at least conscious of was that fiercely independent part.  I remember telling a friend at some point that it seemed like torture, this idea of subjecting some innocent man to my Wild and Big Dreams Life on top of the fact that I didn’t want to settle in any one place in particular for years on top of the fact that I was becoming some hybrid of geeky granola hippie blogger that was still sort of being figured out.

Collision Course

Sometime in the middle of my yoga teacher training (which started in September 2009), I decided I was going to move out of Minnesota.  By mid-December and after deliberations around Chicago and Denver, I finally knew I needed to be in Boulder, Colorado.  I felt it in my heart – I was supposed to come here.  I was never not coming here.

Right around the time I made the decision to pursue the teaching certification, a certain web designer with his own curious spirit and adventurous heart moved from a Colorado mountain town down to Boulder-town,  seeking a more social social life and new relationships.

In February 2010, our paths crossed for the first time – thank you Twitter.  By mid-March, we were buds and randomly running into each other at happy hours around town.  The first week of April, that all changed somewhere over the course of one particular happy hour that turned into bar-hopping that turned into trivia night that ended with the realization that this guy was Something Important.

We shared the same framework, the same geeky interests, and the same overwhelming desire to travel and experience our world – even the places we wanted to see were the same.  I moved to Boulder and met this man who knew that he wanted to spend a few years moving around and living in different cities to really experience life and culture in each of them.  Oh, I do believe I’ve said that before, have I not?

Hint: your high school English Lit teacher would call this foreshadowing Stay tuned on that one.

Going my way?

It’s funny.  We have the story we tell people about how we met, and it usually starts with “Well, the short story is on Twitter.”  And then we launch into the longer story about the business he owns, about how I found them online, and about how we then met in a coffee shop one afternoon because of all that.  That’s what we tell other people and our friends when they ask.

The story we tell ourselves is much simpler:  We were on a collision course, our separate decisions leading us to the same place, turning the same page to a new chapter.

The chapter that was born out of a complete upheaval of decisions, of career, and of direction.  A page that turned only after I followed my heart to a big little town in Colorado, to a commitment to myself and my yoga mat, and to a career made possible by an Internet connection and an obsession with writing.

There was an idea of this whole person who needed to be as sure of herself and decisions as she was sure of the sunrise every morning and the sunset every night.  My intentions and convictions were tested and put through the fire, and at some point I emerged a more authentic and complete version of me.  And it was almost immediately after that that my heart opened and our worlds collided, and here we are.


There’s this sort of assumption that people in their twenties, as they age, change. But I think if you’re really lucky, as you get older you become more yourself.

When I look at the person I am now, in comparison to the person I was four years ago when I first began my crisis, I’m her, but I’m more her. Letting go, has allowed my true self to emerge and given me a degree of self-confidence I didn’t know was possible to possess.

For example, despite the fact that only 2% of women view themselves as beautiful, I love my body: no beauty magazine, no difficult bathing suit shopping session, no male friend’s admission that he, in fact, views me as too fat to date, can change the immutable fact that I know I’m beautiful.

Anyone who feels otherwise, or feels the need to tell me otherwise is not someone I have to or want to be around. It’s a weird kind of security that provides a bit of buffer from the ups and downs of the uncertainties I’m now facing: job hunting, relocating and rekindling old friendships.

I’ve also noticed it’s a trait that many of my friends who skated through their early to mid-twenties crisis free, lack. Armed with “perfect” jobs and “perfect” relationships they were never forced to take the time for self-reflection, and now looking at children and mortgages, some of them are starting to freak.

Not that this new self-awareness has all been roses and sunshine.

The trouble (and the beauty) is that neither my 16-year old self nor even my 22-year old self ever dreamed that my 29-year old self would think, act, or live the way I live. And although I adore the person that I am, it is taking time for me (never mind my friends and family) to make peace with this reality.

In a classic case of two steps forward one step back this means I’ve had to renegotiate the terms of old friendships. In doing so some have survived stronger than ever, some have transitioned firmly into the land of acquaintance, and some, such as my closest friend of 13 years became irreparably toxic and I was forced to walk away.

This, naturally, leads me to my newest source of worry (there always has to be something!). My transient lifestyle means that my friends have been deprived of me to varying degrees over the past four years and they’ve gotten quite good at living their lives without me, thanking you very much. I’m left wondering, sometimes, to what extent they “need” or miss me.

This is a feeling that’s heightened because so many of my relationships, at the moment are virtual: one unanswered e-mail or ignored instant message, particularly coupled with yet another job rejection (or worse total silence on the job front) can send me into a tail spin of funk that lasts for hours.

I start getting nervous that my reasoning for moving home –to be closer to my family and friends, even though it means fewer job prospects and much more competition is flawed: Is it worth moving back for friendships that may drift into acquaintance, or even worse, stranger territory when faced with the day-to-day reality of the person that I am versus the person I was?

I know that there’s no answer, I won’t know until I move home.

But still, sometimes, I worry.