authenticity Archives - Stratejoy



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


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???


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.


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!



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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are no guarantees in life.

There are always risks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe I need to go to therapy.

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

I guess we’ll see as the year unfolds.

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


Image via: Flickr


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 should have been many things.

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

I am none of those things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve never been anything other than overweight.

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

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

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

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

You have to be willing to get your hands dirty.

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

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

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

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(Image credit: Avinash Kunnath)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image via: ME!

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

We use the words ‘Oh, I’m sorry’ like it’s some sort of linguistic bandaid that excuses the fact that we are human to other human beings. -Erika Napoletano

I have a problem with living up to other people’s expectations. I’m not sure when this started, but I can definitely pinpoint a few occasions where I found myself asking this hard question: To disappoint myself or to disappoint others’ expectations?

Example. Weddings. Ugh. I loved my wedding. But mostly because I was marrying the man of my dreams. Not because of the wedding itself.

Like my post from last week, weddings are just another one of those topics where there are a million people preaching etiquette and arguing over the “right” way to do everything.

I won’t launch into all the details of everything I wouldn’t have done had they not been expected, but I will say that ideally, after the beautiful church ceremony, I would have hopped straight to our little farmette and its 5 acres of land to have a fun, casual, yet beautiful backyard reception with barbeque yummy goodness, great music, and a giant bonfire.

Instead, I lived on a diet of wine and ice cream everyday for a month before the wedding to relieve the stress and tension that came from trying to please everyone and live up to expected wedding etiquette. I absolutely do not believe that that’s what weddings should be about, but I felt obligated; I felt huge pressure not to disappoint anyone, and to this day I wish I’d listened more to my own wishes… I wish I’d been more honest.

And that’s exactly what Erika Napoletano from Redhead Writing expresses in both the above quote and the one below from her TEDx talk she posted on her blog the other day:

From a very early age, we are taught to turn down that honesty knob and turn up the one on polite, and it’s no wonder that by the time we get to be adults, we can’t honestly tell anyone around us who we are, what we love, and what we’re feeling.

Obviously, it’s an issue that goes so much deeper than mere wedding etiquette. It’s an issue that resonates in every aspect of our lives. And I think it goes hand in hand with authenticity, which I’ve written about struggling to achieve before.

I think this second step of being authentic is harder. Being honest about who you are can often be more challenging than defining who you are in the first place. I, personally, don’t want to offend or upset anyone, especially people who have surrounded me with such amazing generosity (i.e. those wedding guests), but I also don’t want to spend my life worrying about living up to expectations that don’t align with my own.

I guess the ultimate question, then, is where to draw that line?

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’ve done most things the hard way.”


I’m not one of those people who feels like she did everything right.

In fact, I’ve done most things the hard way.

I chose a college based on proximity to my {then} boyfriend, dropped out after the first year {again to be with the aforementioned boyfriend}, accrued unnecessary debt, got married too young {to a different boyfriend} because I was desperate to be grown up, and chose a career based on the intense need to garner my father’s approval.

Clearly sound logic wasn’t in my repertoire.

Looking back on my life, I feel sad. I drifted through without much forethought into what I was doing. I had no plan, no ultimate goal, spent no time soul searching on how to find fulfillment. There was no hint of living with intention.

I now realize that my entire life has been spent either trying to please others {namely my divorced parents}, or reacting to the curveballs we are all thrown in life. While I know I’m not alone in this type of approach to life, I know it, damn well, isn’t the recipe for living a life of passion and authenticity – which is what I crave more than anything!

Since I became a mom, I’ve found my approach to life has altered, but not in a positive direction. When you stay at home with a child on a full-time basis, your life can easily be consumed by said little person. At first it’s the natural response to being a parent, but I believe it can become detrimental to your sanity as the “all little person, all the time” mentality continues.

As I began to feel increasingly unsatisfied with my life, I also had immense guilt for having those feelings. I mean, on the outside my life looked pretty good. Husband, daughter, friends, college degree, health insurance, house, car, disposable income – check mark for each category. How could I possibly be unhappy when I had so many of the things people strive for?

The shame I felt was almost unbearable.

When I finally found the courage to voice these feelings, a wise friend pointed out that I was pinning all my self-esteem and happiness on my role as a mother. While being a parent is very rewarding, everyone needs balance in their lives. Our children cannot be everything to us.

I wasn’t sure I believed that, but gave me a glimmer of hope that I might not be as bad a mother as I feared. Maybe, just maybe, I didn’t need to feel guilty for taking care of myself sometimes. I wish I could say that conversation with my friend was an “ah ha” moment and that everything has fallen into place since then.

But it hasn’t.

At all. 

What did happen is I started to notice things about my behavior or thinking that needed to change. I did things for myself – with less guilt. These, for me, were monumental steps.

Fast forward a couple years, and I’m still wading through what I now know is a quarterlife crisis – at 32 years old. As I’m writing this, I’ve just returned from taking my baby to kindergarten the first time. I cried. I worried. I hoped she was having fun. I contemplated going to peek in her classroom window {because apparently I’m THAT mom}.

Thankfully common sense won out, and I didn’t stalk her at school.

Today marked the end of an era in my life. My little person is growing up, and I’m nearly overcome with the realization that our time together these last five years has ended. But I’m also excited for the prospect of having time to reflect, to be introspective, and to unearth the best version of myself.

This is my chance to write the story of my life – a life filled with the passion and authenticity that I crave.

I know I have the capacity for self-acceptance and fierce self-love {thanks to the Fierce Love course here at Stratejoy!}. I’m committed to doing the work and finding joy and passion in my life.

The icing on the cake {and, man, do I love icing!} is that my journey – my struggles and the courage to overcome them – will set a powerful example for my daughter, both as a woman and a mother.

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}

Fireworks by SJ PhotographyI have a confession. A bit of an asterisk to my last post, if you will.

Remember how I said I quit my job recently? Well, even though I fought through my Analysis Paralysis and decided to make a real change to my work situation, I haven’t found it so easy to shake the tendency to obsess over what people may be thinking about my choices.

Putting aside the issue that it’s awfully Big Head of me to think that people are overly interested in the in and outs of my life (seriously, my logical brain knows that’s not the case), here’s how my inner Crazypants tends to see it: Me, in one corner, beginning to make choices that resonate with my heart and core values, facing off with “them” in the other corner– all those people who have ever expressed disapproval of my actions or whom I’ve felt project certain expectations onto me. I’ve held onto their words like bruises on my spirit.

The result? I have spent entirely too much time trying to hide myself and my story. Case in point: Until the opportunity to temporarily relocate to Ireland for my husband’s job came up, I did not tell anyone (other than my husband) that I had already quit my job. (Note: I’m not at all proud of this secret-keeping, and I’m a little nervous admitting this to you all.)

After all, I was the “by the books” girl who lived up to the labels of “responsible” and “studious” and “stable.” I’m not supposed to just up and quit my job without a plan, especially in this economy/at my age/with my future to think about (or whatever else people like to say to squash your dreams). So I acted like I didn’t. I became skilled at changing the subject whenever jobs came up in conversation, and only explained my situation once the next step, our Ireland trip, was established.  Not exactly the picture of authenticity, something I cherish as one of my eight core values (the others being creativity, compassion, connection, wellness, balance, intention, and learning, for those who are curious).

It’s not just the big stuff either. You know those statements Real Photographers and Real Graphic Designers make along the lines of, “Just because you have Adobe Creative Suite/a digital camera doesn’t mean you’re a graphic designer/photographer”? That kind of attitude makes incredibly hesitant to share my own work. If I do, I fill the air with caveats like, “I’m still learning” and “This is JUST a hobby,” no matter how much I’m enjoying the process. Shame, embarrassment and self-consciousness are emotions that I am all too familiar with. But during the past few years, these emotions have somehow seemed less scary than  vulnerability.

Well, there’s nothing like a public blogging gig to make a person face their issues with opening up to people!

If there’s one thing I want to work on during my time as a Stratejoy blogger aside from learning to live in alignment with my values, it’d be my confidence. I want to show up, as I am, unedited. To know the difference between holding my dreams close out of loving protection vs. out of self-consciousness. To chip away at my perfectionism. To be comfortable with the fact that there WILL be people who disagree with my choices, and it won’t mean anything more significant than they don’t agree with my choices.

I don’t want to be a person who compartmentalizes, allowing some to get to know this part of me and others to know that part. How exhausting. I don’t want to be a person who attempts to exert control over other people by assuming what their reactions are going to be. I’ve already begun to discover that people are generally much more open and supportive than I give them credit for. And those who aren’t? Maybe it’s okay for me to distance myself from them for a while as I grow my wings again.

I’ve got a whole arsenal of ideas to help me along the way. It’ll take a few doses of boundary pushing, intravenous injections of Fierce Love, the support of this amazing Stratejoy community, and a commitment to what I like to call The Confidence Project (I’m channeling a little Gretchen Rubin here). I’m already out of my comfort zone as I get settled into a brand new country for a few months, and I hope to continue challenging myself to do the things I’ve been putting off out of fear, like:

• Go public as a blogger with IRL family and acquaintances (in progress!)
• Become a runner and train for a race
• Strengthen my design and photography skills so that I can tend to my fledgling Etsy shop and/or do more freelancing
• Commit to the tattoo I’ve been thinking about for three years
• Get comfortable taking photos in public
• Reach out and connect with local creative bloggers/artistpreneurs
• Write my personal manifesto and live it
• And maybe even vlog (*shudder*)

I very intentionally chose Ignite as my word for 2012. After an tearful moment in the car listening to Katy Perry’s “Firework” on the radio (what did I tell you about emotional breakdowns in the car?!) I could think of no better word to sum up what I want to achieve, even if it seems incredibly big, bold, and scary. But I’m ready to set my life ablaze, and let the phoenix that rises from the ashes be of my own making.

{Image via SJ Photography}

I have a tendency to make wishes on the night’s first star, birthday candles, eyelashes, and coins tossed into fountains.

One particular evening in high school, meandering through downtown Santa Fe with my friends, I came across a large fountain. Of course, I threw a penny in, bestowing my wish for love into it’s being. It bounced out. So I tried yet again, making the same wish, and again it missed the waters tumbling over the ceramic rim and onto the flagstone nearby. I tried one last time casually wishing “please let me have an interesting life” and my coin went plunging quickly to the bottom.

That whole “interesting life” plan has worked out so far. As my siblings can attest to, it’s been one hell of a life. One “interesting” thing after another comes and taps me on the shoulder. Some of these taps have been difficult. I dealt with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Anxiety and Depression throughout much of high school and I still have my moments trying to push them away. I’ve lived in at least 12 homes, attended 9 schools, and my parents divorced when I was 19 so I don’t really have a permanent home base unless you count my family’s ranch (and trust me, I do). My father came out as being transgendered when I was 19. That was perfectly fine. What made it difficult was keeping it a secret for so long. And then there’s living in poverty for the past two years trying to pay off bills, student loans, and still finding a way to have fun with very little money.

Then of course there are the wonderfully “interesting” instances like journeying with my whole family throughout the country,  being kidnapped into being a bridesmaid at my friend’s wedding in Ireland, meeting several Nobel Peace Prize Winners, travel ling in Italy solo, visiting Haiti to do independent research on folk art, and having the first person I met in Connecticut become my fiance.

Now though, I’m beginning to realize that it’s not so much this “interesting” life I want. It gets utterly exhausting having obstacles confronting me at every other turn. I’d rather have more of those lusciously interesting moments amidst a continuous stream of joy. That would be my best life.

I mean, I don’t mind a sprinkling of difficult moments every now and then because I’ve grown from the ones I’ve encountered. I just want to appreciate life more without craving the drama. I want to dance to Ace of Base in the kitchen with my kitten. I want to sit in the same room with a friend reading a good book and sipping tea. I want to embrace the moments I have before work waking up next to my love. This is what it means for me to live life authentically.

Being in the moment is just something I have difficulty with. Sometimes I’m just thinking about what my next step is going to be or how I’m going to get everything I need to get done in the day. While it’s important for me to keep my life plan (or lack thereof) in mind, I need to focus more on fully taking part in every second of the day.

So why now? Why do I now feel so compelled to live this kind of life, embracing the little moments? Right now I feel like I’m in my life’s first big intermission. I’m no longer in school. I have no obligations to stay at my job a specific amount of time.

I feel like I’m in a ropes course and I can vaguely see the platform I’m trying to reach, I just can’t quite figure out how I’m going to get there and it’s scary.

When I first heard about Stratejoy a couple of years ago from my friend I was pretty content with my work but I was unsure of where I was headed next. Sure I would have the occasional wine drinking, hookah smoking, life planning nights with my roomie but it wasn’t until I was introduced to Stratejoy and the begin reading the words of the Bloggers that I began to realize that this was a fairly common issue for people my age, and that I was not alone.

That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m sharing my life and this tricky labyrinth of my Quarter Life Crisis; because I’m trying to make sense of it all myself and frankly it helps knowing that you’re not the only one who doesn’t know what the hell you’re doing.


Road Sign by freefotoukIt’s time for a little back-story on how and why I came to quit my job.

Let’s start with Caiti Fact #1: I suffer from Analysis Paralysis.

Give me a choice, and I’ll research my options, write pro/con lists, and discuss the possible outcomes (to death). Don’t ever go grocery shopping with me, or we’ll likely spend a half an hour in an aisle at Target staring at shampoo bottles. Faced with a more substantial matter like, “Oh my gawd, my chosen career is so wrong for me… WHAT DO I DO NOW?” I had to resist a serious temptation to spend my days curled into a ball on the couch and wishing I was eight years old again. Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to the days where the most crucial decision was whether you were going to watch Duck Tales or go outside and play with your Skip-It after school?

In the years immediately preceding my quarterlife crisis, one of my biggest decision-making factors was to choose whichever option would cause the least amount of disappointment, judgement, or disapproval from other people. The last thing I wanted to was to ruffle anyone’s feathers. This played out in my college major– while I loved art and being creative as a child, some people in my life expressed that “art is a hobby, not a job,” so I tried to fit my creativity into a socially acceptable career and chose a major in journalism/advertising. Upon entering the professional world, I learned that my bosses were surprisingly resistant to change, so I squelched my ideas, put my head down, and did whatever they wanted me to do.

Sure, it’s generally nice to be considerate of others’ feelings, but I ended up quieting my own voice and teaching myself that my own opinions and preferences didn’t matter. Not only did this lead to that zoned-out, half-alive existence, but I picked up a lovely case of social anxiety as I constantly tried to morph myself into what I thought other people wanted. I became so focused on others’ opinions that I ended up not being much of anything– it was easier to be a wallflower or avoid social situations altogether than deal with being disliked or disapproved of.

At the same time, I was aware that my job as a marketing coordinator was a large part of this quarterlife-slash-identity crisis, and I started imagining my escape. But after several years of basing decisions on the reactions of other people, I had no idea how to listen to my heart. So I did nothing to change my circumstances.

Turns out, I didn’t have to. The day after returning from Christmas vacation in January 2010, I was laid off due to the recession– and I couldn’t stop smiling as my boss gave me the news. Awkward reaction? Yes. But honest? Totally. It was like a sign from the Universe that I was free to do whatever I dreamed.

But that pesky Analysis Paralysis hovered around me like a shadow. What’s next? What do I want? … And that damn question I couldn’t avoid: What will people think? After considering about a million alternate career paths (teacher, chef, nutritionist, interior designer, nurse, etc.), I applied for and took a new job… doing exactly the same thing I was doing before <insert sad trombone here>.  It was a safe, known quantity and didn’t require any leaps or risks on my part, something that seemed impossibly scary to me. After investing so much in my education, I was terrified that it would be “wasted” if I pursued another career direction.

Surprising to exactly no one, I disliked this job too. When I’d cautiously bring it up with my family, I’d get a lot of responses that amounted to, “Join the club!” The prospect of being middle aged, still hating my job, and repeating the same cycle of discontent was more terrifying to me than not having a plan or saying “eff it all” and doing something unconventional. Slowly, the mantra “you only live once” started to make more sense than constantly worrying, “what will people think?”

A few months into the job, I purchased The Joy Equation. Like a personal-development renegade, I worked my way through the daily writing prompts in a notebook hidden on my lap under my desk. The exercise of defining my values was a light bulb moment: it’s no surprise that I was unhappy when many of my core values were not being fulfilled–personally, professionally or relationally. Since then, my values have begun to act as a road map as I make more authentic choices and set goals about where I want my life to lead– towards creativity, authenticity, connection, intention, compassion, balance, wellness, and learning.

Armed with my values list, my Joy Equation workbook, the support of my wonderful husband, and a padded savings account safety net, I made the decision to quit my job a few months ago as a way to get back to the girl inside me whom I’d neglected and forced into some dark, hidden corner of my body. It was one of the first times that I managed not to get stuck in Analysis Paralysis, however tempting it was. I actually made a decision(!) without a capital-P Plan(!!) by turning towards my values. Like a lighthouse in the night, my values are the beacon to a more joyful, passionate life and it is my duty to work towards honoring them.

{Image via freefotouk}

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 had the pleasure of meeting the gorgeous and badass Jenn Gibson on twitter, and her website, Roots of She, is one of my favorite places on the internet these days. (If you haven´t checked it out, go now – after you read the interview, of course. It´s an inspiring collection of shared stories for and by women, and I think you´ll love it, too)

I think she´s rad, and I was thrilled that she was willing to share a piece of her story with me for the Stratejoy tribe! I´ll let you meet her in her own words:

In 100 words or fewer, who’s Jenn?

I’m a yoga lover and a believer in the power of dreaming big. Kittens and dancing make my heart go pitty-pat. I moved back home over the summer, bought a little house near the beach and love being so close to my family again. I write gratitude lists more often than to-do lists, and my favorite things right now are watching the leaves fall, listening to the wind high up in the trees, drinking hot tea and the quiet time before sunrise.

What motivated you to start Roots of She?

Because a site like this needed to exist. I’m coming to the table with feminist beliefs and a deep-seated need to translate those beliefs into something empowering and welcoming. My intention for this site: to act as a gathering place for women, a place where we can share our stories, no matter what flavor or bent they take. Think of a country porch on a cool summer evening, sitting around in rocking chairs or swings with mugs of tea in your hand – that feeling of home, safety, connection, solidarity. That’s how I hope you feel when you visit.

With Roots of She, you’ve created the opportunity to connect with so many amazing women. What have you learned from the tribe members that’s touched you the most deeply?

Wow, that’s a tough question because these women teach me every time they put fingertips to keyboard. One thing that’s resonating right now is something that Hannah taught me — the power of making my bed each morning. I would never make my bed before, absolutely loathed doing it, viewed it as a waste of time. I took her course The Joy Up over the summer and one segment of it was about making your bed. Something simple, right? So, grumbling and huffing and probably stomping my feet some, I started making my bed. Then I noticed that setting my space to rights each morning was calming, soothing. Relaxing, even, because I knew that when I would go to sleep that night, my bed would be a peaceful place. The sheets would be pulled up, the pillows plumped. There would be no chaos of tangled and jumbled sheets, no blankets left in disarray. It establishes my room as sacred space.

Do you feel like you’re going through/went through a quarterlife crisis? Tell me a little bit about your experience of it.

Oh, if you were here, you’d’ve just heard such an inelegant and loud snort. Yes, I totally went through a quarterlife crisis, complete with John Mayer soundtrack. I graduated from college when I was 23 and jumped right into working at a newspaper — oh man, journalism just got me so revved up. And then… and then it didn’t anymore. Then I got tired of being told which stories to tell and how to tell them. It just wasn’t working for me, and I angsted all over my friends and family. I had no idea what to do, I felt so small and lost. After a while, I decided that I’d go to grad school and get certified to teach. I loved working with kids and ensuring that they had a strong foundation of knowing that… they were enough, that they could do anything, it was so important to me. One thing led to another and I had to put those dreams on pause. Once in a while I would wonder what life would be like, who I would’ve become, if things had been different, but life is awesome from where I’m standing, I’m happy.

Who/what inspires you?

Who: Danette Relic. Hannah Marcotti. Pixie Campbell. Amanda Oaks. Rachael Maddox. Gwen Bell. Tara Wagner. Jen Lemen.

What: The smallness of every day. Baptiste yoga. Being around people who get so jazzed on life it can’t help but rub off.

Who/what challenges you?

Who: Me. I get in my own way so often, bahaha. Sometimes I get so wound up about things that it feels like I’m literally standing in my own way. When that happens I know I need to take a break and step away from things.

What: Anxiety and depression.

As you know, I’m a girl who loves to travel, so I love other people’s travel stories. What’s your favorite place that you’ve ever visited? Why?

Hee! I love San Diego! I went there a couple of years ago — it was in February, the East Coast had just gotten spanked by two blizzards, and days after that, there I am standing on a pier and people are apologizing to me for it only being 60 degrees. I couldn’t believe it, it was amazing and something I never thought I’d be able to do. Oh wow, the ocean was so big and pretty. It was vast and I looked out and thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

Any final words of wisdom for the Stratejoy tribe?

Hmm. Yes, actually. These are the things I wish someone had told me when I was 25 and 23 and 28: Your value and worth exceeds any dollar amount. You can do anything, even if you don’t believe it right now, even if things are hard, your potential is limitless. Be fierce and fearless, trust in yourself and your tribe. And when you get scared, remember to breathe. You can handle anything a breath at a time.

Money’s been on my mind a lot lately. Long-term travel plans will do that to you, I suppose. I’ve got a variety of fears related to this trip, but the one that’s most consistently present is the fear of running out of cash. I touched on that in my post about my travel/moving plans, but I think it’s worth a closer look. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone here, and I suspect this fear is what stops some people from following their dreams of traveling, opening a business, and more.

My parents raised me to make very practical choices about money. My family is solidly middle class–perhaps even upper middle class in the economically-depressed area where I grew up–and they taught me from a young age to save. I’ve never been the type of person to accumulate a large sum of credit card debt, and while I was employed, I was putting money into a retirement account. I decided to leave my job in Seattle to do AmeriCorps partly because the paychecks were sometimes uncertain. Even though I wasn’t going to earn a lot of money during my AmeriCorps year, at least I was able to plan for that.

Point being: my nature is to make reasonably intelligent financial decisions and save money.

What the fuck was I thinking when I quit my job?!

I was thinking that I’d spent a few years automatically transferring 20-30% of my earnings into a savings account every month. I knew that someday I’d use that money to do something awesome, and that time had come. When it wasn’t in my checking account, I didn’t spend it. It was like magic when I looked at the savings balance later!

I was thinking that I was tired of earning my keep in a way that drained me. I was doing so many things on the side that I enjoyed–teaching yoga, blogging, taking photographs–and I wanted more time to explore those options as a potential sources of income.

I was thinking that life is short, and that I’ve never really bought into the idea that we should wait until we retire to follow our dreams. A former coworker once said to me: “It’s hard to dance when you have a walker, but it’s easy to sit at a desk and type.” I don’t want to wait my whole life to do something that I’m excited about now. I don’t want to spend my whole life saving for something that might never happen.

I’m not advocating racking up debt to fund crazy plans and diving into things with reckless abandon. That’s not my style. I am suggesting that if we want to do awesome things, we need to make those a priority. I was able to save the money for this trip by living what some people saw as a spartan lifestyle. I spent money on the things that mattered most–travel and food, including eating out with friends–and I was cautious about the rest. There were certainly times that I missed living alone, but I saved hundreds of dollars each month by having a roommate. I rarely bought things like clothes, books, and other random items because those weren’t in my budget.

My dad said to me a few years ago that he and my mom had a hard time understanding me because they saw my brother buying things (new tv, car stereo, etc.), and I wasn’t like that. I like to spend my money on experiences. That’s how I choose to live my life, and that includes the financial side of it.

All of that doesn’t take away the fear of running out of cash. You know what’s scarier to me, though? Planning around a someday that might never arrive and living a life that isn’t authentic.

Of course, I’ve still got a semi-meticulous travel budget. It’s not like I can get away from my upbringing that easily.

[photo credit: me!]

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have YOU learned from traveling?

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

The more I work on getting back in touch with the things I really love, the things that nourish my spirit and energize me, the more I realize that I used to be exactly who I want to be when I grow up.

When I was a kid, I made up songs and stories about everything from my stuffed animals to the daffodils along the sidewalk.  I set up forts in my closet and jumped from bed to chair to door to avoid the “lava” on the carpet. I did impressions and funny voices to entertain pets & family.

When I got sent to my room, I didn’t mind so much because that’s where the books were.
I laughed a lot. And I always had new ideas.

Now that I’m (supposedly) a grownup, the things I am trying to cultivate more of are writing, performing, imagination, and laughter. Coincidence?  Or was it much easier to be “myself” when I wasn’t as aware of other people?

As a child, I was floating around in my own little bubble a lot of the time. I have an older brother, but he’s about seven years older, which means we were both “only” children in a way. I spent a lot of time reading & writing, and even though I had plenty of friends, I often preferred alone time to playing in groups. Basically, I could be how I was without much influence from peer pressure.

The older I got, the more I was affected by societal expectations.  Though I was never really one of the girls, I did notice what girls were expected to be interested in, and expected to look and act like – and I noticed where I didn’t match up.  I gradually learned to confine certain hobbies & interests to their proper times and places (save the Robin Leach-style narration for Drama class, for example) instead of letting it all hang out whenever something occurred to me. Strange looks from peers and adults quickly convinced me that certain ideas, observations, and outbursts were not considered “normal”.  (I learned to pass for a regular person by keeping pretty quiet around people I wasn’t close to.)  Eventually, I learned to accept “weird” as a compliment, but still felt some shame about not being more like everyone else.

As an adult, I was supposed to have a normal, 9-5 job.  I was supposed to treat my creativity as a hobby that I might occasionally have time for.  I was supposed to be content with working at something I didn’t enjoy in order to do what I want when (if) I was able to retire.  I was supposed to want to watch three hours of “must see TV” every evening so I’d have something to talk about at the water cooler.

Well, doing all of that stuff didn’t make me happy.  And it certainly didn’t make me feel like Myself. I felt like a distorted image.  I looked and acted in a way that was mostly in line with my values…but just a little fuzzy, with the details blurred.

Part of my goal of radical self-love has been to spend more time alone to re-familiarize myself with my own mind. I have been writing in my journals a lot more, and writing for this blog has helped a bunch.  I’ve spent lots of time consciously avoiding too much input – TV, radio, social media – and instead spent some time in silence, listening to the thoughts that drift through unprompted.  I’ve found myself making up songs around the house, narrating the thoughts of my pets aloud, and reading books I’ve meant to read for a long time.   When I see my friends, I’m smiling a lot more and feeling less concerned with how I come across.  I’m sharing my authentic thoughts more easily.  I’m getting lots of great ideas about my new business.

In short, I’m becoming the person I used to be… and I like that kid a  whole bunch.

[photo credit: my dad]

(( Hey, did you know that Molly is doing a Scholarship Program right now??  If you’re going through your own Quarterlife Crisis you should definitely apply.  She’s a fun, compassionate and enthusiastic coach – an awesome person to have in your corner when you’re stuck. Go apply for the Scholarship coaching package right now!))

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

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

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

I can’t leave my friends and family behind.

I can’t…

I can’t…

I can’t…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{photo credit: chesterfan1230}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{photo credit: Fordan}

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(photo credit)

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

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

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

YOU are Stratejoy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All my love,


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

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

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

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

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

2.   What’s on your bedside table?

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

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

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

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

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

5.       What’s your hell like?

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

6.       What’s your heaven like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. What surprised you the most about 2010?

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

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

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

13. Dream Job?  Dream Home?  Dream Vacation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I intend to seek out new experiences.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:

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 have quite a bit of experience making new friends in new situations. I’ve changed jobs quite a few times. I’ve moved a few times. And I thrive on chit-chat and learning about people. I want to feel included, to feel liked, and to enjoy the casual company of others. It can be a daunting task, figuring out how to make friends, especially if you’re the new girl. I can remember staying up the night before my graduate orientation, terrified that I’d be lonely, that I wouldn’t fit in, that I wouldn’t relate, that I would make zero friends, and convinced the next two years of my Masters program would be akin to solitary confinement. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Since beginning my graduate program, I’ve surrounded myself with brilliant, beautiful, inspiring, gutsy people from all different walks of life. I never expected it but the friends I’ve made so far have given me a pleasant surprise.

So, having been the awkward girl who now happens to have a pretty solid group of grad school colleagues, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned from this specific experience. I’ve identified some of the key components that take the edge off of how to make new friends. These are the things I needed to convey and the things that I look for in friends.

Warmth — Have you ever met those people who don’t look you in the eye, who don’t smile, who seem uptight and stiff? If you’re not willing to shine, or even glimmer, would you expect anyone to make the effort to warm up to you? Probably not. Always be warm, be your radiant, amazing self to everyone you meet. I’ve found that when you are warm to others, you’ll receive warmth in return. A smile or encouraging remark can lift anyone’s spirit.

Honesty — Exhibit an honest, authentic representation of yourself. Put your crazy out there. If your religion or politics or opinions on something are incredibly important to you, why not wear that on your sleeve? When I meet someone new and if I develop a friend crush on them, chances are I’m going to lay it all out there. This is me, this is who I am, this is what drives me, and if you can accept that, I will accept your crazy. It evens out the playing field and encourages authentic relationships.

Humor — I use humor as an icebreaker. This works mostly because I make jokes when I’m nervous. Being socially awkward, I’m nervous any time I’m forced in a situation that involves New People. So I bust out my inner Tina Fey. Similarly, I’m drawn to people who make me laugh; people who use silly voice, who gesticulate wildly, who can deliver a story with such enthusiasm that it feels like we experienced it together. These are magnetic people and I strive to be on the same playing field.

Listening — Something I learned the hard way: You can’t expect someone to listen to you babble on about your wacky dream last night or your frustrations with a classmate unless you do the same for them. Active listening takes work. Don’t look at the computer screen while you’re listening, don’t pick at your nails, don’t interrupt. Friendship is a give and take. Be listened to and listen. (This is advice for myself, mostly, as I can be super bad at this!)

Sharing — Share stories.  Share office supplies.  Share brownies.  Sharing your resources is one of the best ways I’ve found to make a compassionate connection and new friends. Food is probably the most well-recepted, especially if you’re a great baker. The people flock to muffins… if you bake it, they will come.

So there you have it, the five things to keep in mind when entering new territory and yearning for friends. I still struggle with it. I still think to myself some days, “Okay. Don’t speak up about such-and-such again because you’re starting to sound annoying.” But that’s all part of the learning process. I’ve discovered if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll develop honest friendships. And that’s a beautiful thing.

{photo: Erica Marshall of}

Most of my identity is defined by feminism. I was raised by two feminists, concentrated in gender studies at school and spent a year writing my thesis on how and why college-aged women define themselves as feminists.

While I’m of the mindset that a feminist can be a stay-at-home-mom or a high-powered executive, I’ve always fallen into the category of “independent woman who isn’t sure if she wants to get married.” I despise engagement rings, preach about the sexism in romantic comedies and will occasionally blame “men” as if a penis defines fifty percent of our population.

Yet I’m also a Twihard. Dated one guy for seven years and have been with another for (sort of) three. I want lots and lots of babies. I like the occasional bouquet and cried like a baby during The Notebook. Deep down, the feminist in me is a romantic.

Looking back over the past year of my QLC, love has been the turning point of my life. Regardless of my “hardcore” feminist tendencies or inability to fuse those two sides of my personality, love is the entire reason I am where I am and I do what I do.

I’m not saying a feminist can’t move across the world for love – far from it. I think – I know – a feminist can do whatever the hell she wants. It’s her attitude towards women that matters (read this amazing post by my friend J. Maureen of Gen Meh). Still though, I guess I never thought I’d be the kind of girl who would do what I did. Drop everything. Fly across the Atlantic. Move in with a guy I hadn’t spent any real time with in over a year.

Needless to say, it was a big change. One I don’t regret for a single second.

I know everyone says this, but when we’re on our deathbeds are we going to remember the major career accomplishments or the relationships we made? The people we loved?

Love taught me what the Quarter Life Crisis is all about. What being authentic is all about. It also taught me “what really matters.”

What really mattered wasn’t my job or my geographical location or money or what everyone else was doing. What mattered was Sam. Realizing I was allowed to pick up and go simply because I was happier with him was the hardest realization of my life, but also the easiest decision to make.

While it’s always been a bit of a struggle to make peace between The Feminist in me and The Romantic, I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that I can be both. If I ever get married (Big “If”), I can do it without selling my soul. I don’t have to ever change my name. I can raise my sons and daughters in the way my parents raised me. There is no either or. No one or the other. The feminist in me is a romantic, and it’s finally okay by me.

I spent most of my childhood feeling distant from my mother.  Though we look a lot a like (A LOT), our personalities could not be more different.  My mother is from Jersey; one in a family of nine; She is loud and she has a laugh that can fill a room.  She’s never afraid to say whatever is on her mind–whether it be good or bad.  (This is usually prolematic when it comes to dining at restaurants.)  She lacks what my father and I call a “filter.”  Thoughts just flow straight from the brain and out of her mouth.  It’s a personality that you either love for its honest (sometimes brutal) truth, or hate.  I remember lowering my head in embarassment on more than one occassion.  I kinda hated it.

Middle school and high school were strange times for me.  (They are strange for everyone though, right?)  We didn’t talk about boys.  We never had a sex talk.  We didn’t talk about what it is like to become a woman.  In fact, I could barely stomach the idea of asking her to help me buy a pad when I got my period.  We did however do the usual mother-daughter stuff: shopping for formal dresses, shoes and getting manicures and pedicures.  Somehow that open and honest person had difficulty communicating with me.  I just figured that she didn’t “get” me…that our personalities were too different for us to ever become best friends.

That began to change after the start of my quarter life crisis.  Our conversations became more open.  We talked about money, men and meaning.  We discussed religion, race and romance.  I started to realize that we were not so different after all. I saw her in a new light.

Her lack of a “filter” simply means that she always lives her truth because she is never afraid to speak it.  Wow.  I wish it had not taken me 20-something years to appreciate that.

Now, as I continue on this journey through my quarter life crisis, that trait of her’s that use to cause me to lower my head in shame?  I covet it.  The people pleaser inside of me often bites her tongue.  She is afraid to ask for her own needs to be met.  She lets others dictate how she is to live her life.

I do not think that I will ever get rid of my own filter.  It is a part of me, and it is actually useful at times.  But I do want to be a little more like Mom.

I want to be comfortable enough with myself that I can walk out of the front door each morning and say, “Hello World.  This is me.  Love me, or hate me.  This. is. me.”

(photo: my family and me standing outside our house a few days before my son was due…I think I went to the hospital that day.)

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=””>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.

I completed the Joy Equation in February 2010.  As part of Week One, I was instructed to identify my eight core values. This was new territory for me.  My values?  No one has ever asked about my values. The only time I ever hear the word “values” is when the religious right shouts about “family values” which is really just a band-aid for bigotry. I had to warm up to the word. What are my values?

At first, with my Catholic background, I thought about the Beatitudes, from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.
Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’s shake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 5:3-10)

Peace? Yeah, okay, that sounds good. Justice? Sure. Merciful? Acceptable. Poor in spirit? Meek? Mourning? I get it, but those aren’t my values. I don’t want to lie down at the end of each day and ask myself, “Renee, were you poor in spirit today?” It doesn’t seem motivating.

I had to dig deeper. My Catholicism still clenched me in its grasp. I thought about the seven spiritual works of mercy.

1. Instruct the ignorant.
2. Counsel the doubtful.
3. Admonish sinners.
4. Bear wrongs patiently.
5. Forgive offenses willingly.
6. Comfort the afflicted.
7. Pray for the living and the dead.

Ah! Here we go. Teach. Counsel. Console. Forgiveness. Compassion. Patience. Peace. We’re getting closer. Thanks, St. Thomas of Aquinas, for teaching me about mercy.

The Joy Equation states, “Our core values are the habits of our heart.” What makes my heart cry out? What moves me to action? What would I fight to for the right to enjoy and experience?

I narrowed down a long, long list with notes in the margins reminding myself “not what I should choose, rather what resonates with me.” Finally, I came up with eight. And then I defined them.

Honesty – Being honest with myself and others, telling the truth, saying what I mean, and always having good, open communication.

Peace – Being at peace with myself, things in my life that I can’t change, and cutting back on the arguing to focus on the greater good. “Good enough is good enough.” –Jane Fonda

Love – Keeping love in my heart and showing it at all times, making everyone feel special and worth of my time. Radiate Love.

Patience – Knowing what matters enough to stress me out and what’s not worth my worries. Keeping my temper in check. Taking deep breaths and going slowly. Keep calm and carry on.

Joy/Humor – Smiling and laughing more than frowning and crying. Finding humor in unfavorable situations. Being able to laugh at myself. Enjoying the company of others. Finding my fun.

Compassion – Knowing when others need my help, a second chance, or a compromise. Putting myself in others’ shoes. Being flexible to accommodate the needs of others when they need it most.

Passion – Recognizing the drive I need to go after what I want. Taking life by the horns. Fearlessly pursuing the things I love. Making time to do things for me.

Authenticity – Knowing what’s best when I need it most. Staying true to myself. Putting my needs first. Taking time to fix #1. Not compromising my values. Doing what I need to do. Not being fake. Giving 100% all the time but knowing what 100% is.

When you wrap up my values and put a pretty bow on them, you can see the Beatitudes and spiritual works of mercy trickling through them… but you can also see my liberal arts education and my ferocious feminism. I can tell where I’m trying to reel in my Type A, Arian personality, trying to cool off my fire sign. I can tell where I’m trying to open my heart just a little more, to soften my rough edges and let a little more light in.

There’s something empowering about naming your values and doing your best to adhere to them, something very tenacious and gritty that I love.  It makes for one hell of a personal journey.

Looking back, it’s possible that quitting my job with the United States House of Representatives wasn’t the best decision I’ve ever made, but I’m starting to realize it was one of the first authentic decisions I’ve ever made.

I was the classic surface-level over-achiever. I knew what it took to look good on paper. I knew when to flash my pearly whites when meeting the right people. I knew how to think out loud to those who could make something happen for me. And all of that landed me a job managing the schedule of a freshman Democrat in Congress who represented a Republican agriculture district in a state that produced a controversial black President in an election that produced a volatile social and political climate. Yeah, I was on the front lines of political assault.

Day in and day out, I’d answer the phone to angry constituents, outraged over the first inklings of universal healthcare. There were injured veterans who couldn’t afford the gas to get them to the VA hospital. There were lobbyists demanding five minutes of my boss’s time. There were weekend events at fundraisers, schools, and legion halls. There were conference calls during evening hair appointments. There were orders coming from too many chiefs. And did I mention I was commuting 90 miles round trip?

Six months into it, I knew not even the student loan payback was making my “dream job” worthwhile. I was not happy. I started looking into getting my teaching certificate, was offered a job at a coffeehouse closer to home, gave my two week’s notice, and barely looked back.

That was July of 2009 and is nowhere near the end of my story.

I started working at the coffeeshop 5:30am-2:00pm five days a week. It was wonderful at first. I was even promoted to manager in September. But it went downhill quickly. I was told my teaching certificate would take six years part time. The hours and social environment of the coffeeshop became toxic.

I broke down.

In January 2010, I demoted myself and cut back my hours to focus on freelance writing. I was crushed when writing didn’t pay my bills immediately so I started waiting tables at a cute little Italian restaurant… and again, I found myself working seven days a week. Stressed. Unhappy. Worn thin. After nearly a month straight without a day off, I knew I had to make a decision before yet another meltdown.

I finally said goodbye to the coffeeshop. I now work weekends at the restaurant while I wait to start my graduate studies next week (!!!). I have rediscovered a love for cooking and a surprising devotion to bikram yoga. I ride my bike to the farmers markets and catch up on feminist literature in the sunshine. I play video games with my husband late into the evening. I plan real and fake vacations. I enthusiastically look forward to football season. I listen to way too many podcasts. I ignore my messy kitchen. I am learning to sew, to bake, and to love myself authentically. It seems I’ve found all I need but I know my journey is only beginning. But, for the first time, I’m excited to continue down this path because it finally feels just right.


I’m on the verge of something wonderful.

As a struggling, 24 year-old young woman, I experience the minutiae of the quarterlife crisis on a daily basis. Luckily, I recognize it and have learned to navigate my existence through the muck of quarterlife demons—the budgeting worries, the flooded basement panic attack, the hating one’s boss woes, the quitting of multiple jobs stories, the partaking in multiple jobs at once situations, the “Oh my God, did I marry the right dude?” moments, the “Oh my God, what would I do if I didn’t marry this dude?” epiphanies, I’ve been through it all.

My world is influenced by my experiences.  I am defined by some of the most poignant times of my life.

In the 4th grade, a girl named Nichole made fun of my pants for being too short. She asked why I was wearing flooders. I am now self-conscious about every pair of pants I put on.

I heard Phantom of the Opera for the first time in my 7th grade choir class. I was 12. It changed everything I thought about music, theatre, and performance. I knew I liked to sing, but I was suddenly drawn to the stage. Since that day, I’ve been a part of dozens of plays. I’ve spent countless hours with voice teachers. I’ve played leads in musicals. I’ve visited the Paris Opera House (the setting of Phantom). I’ve sung with choirs in Carnegie Hall, Los Angeles, St. Louis, San Antonio, Kansas City, and Dallas. I’ve sung showtunes in Dublin bars. My musical tastes have broadened and my appreciation for everything theatrical knows no bounds.

My spine was fused in June of 2004, mere weeks after my high school graduation. I spent ten days at Shriners Hospital for Children with some of the most amazing doctors and nurses in the world. I will forever have a soft spot in my heart for Shriners and nurses. I started college in a back brace.

I took my first Women’s Studies class in the fall semester of my sophomore year. I walked into class not knowing what to expect. I finished that class with a completely different perspective of the world, what it means to be a woman, what it means to be part of a greater sisterhood, a purpose for my education, a renewed drive to learn as much as possible, and a brand new major. I am a feminist, I am unashamed of my feminism, I have married a fellow feminist, and I attempt to live a life that reflects my commitment to true equality.

In 2006, I studied abroad in Rome, Italy. I ate incredible croissants and drank the best cappuccino in the world each morning. I wandered to the Coliseum, the Pantheon, and the Vatican when I was bored. I spoke the language of love proficiently. I was surrounded by rich culture, extraordinary faith, critical world history, and some of the best food in the world.

Each day, a part of me aches for that semester. I convey it by thinking phrases in Italian, trying to translate as much as I can remember. I attempt to cook authentic-tasting Italian food. I’m constantly on the quest for The Best Gelato in the United States (so far, New Orleans wins).

While abroad, I backpacked Europe solo for two and a half weeks. At 20 years old, I discovered parts of myself I never would have imagined existed. I discovered a love for solitude, culture, inspiration, controlling my own destiny, and dark beer. I realized and overcame my quarterlife crisis.  I’ve never felt more free, more authentic, or more beautiful.

I graduated from Saint Mary’s College, a private, liberal arts, all-women’s Catholic school; the sister school of the University of Notre Dame, in May 2008. I earned a B.A. in Women’s Studies and Communication Studies. I cherish every memory from my four years on campus and the opportunities my education has granted me. It was worth every penny of my student loan debt.

I worked for a member of Congress. I quit after six months. (Thanks quarterlife crisis.) More on this later.

I married my best friend in August 2009.  I know few things about myself at my core, but one thing I’ve always known is that I wanted to get married young. Joe and I moved in together in August 2008, were engaged a month later, and married a year to the day. We were 23. My husband reels me back in, holds me up when I’m too weak to stand, fervently supports my craziest decisions, and leads me when I’m afraid of the darkness ahead. He’s a beautiful person who inspires me to be better.

I start my graduate studies very soon.  Admittedly, I’m crazy nervous, crazy excited, and truly at peace with my decision to go back to school for my Masters in Communication Studies.

I subscribe to one truth: Every decision I make is the right one. If it doesn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, I made that decision because I was meant to learn a lesson. I strive for authenticity.

The best part of my life is the fact I have survived and I’m turning out to be one cool chick.

Most of you know a good chunk of what I do here at Stratejoy is coach lovely ladies like yourself.  It’s an immensely rewarding part of my business.  I am continually stretched, inspired, and in awe of the women I talk to on a weekly basis. And I’m forever learning new truths.

Which brings me to this:

Part of this authentic joy we talk so much about seems to start with truly believing and owning the fact that “I am enough.”

It wasn’t something I thought too much about at the beginning of Stratejoy.  I thought that our current situation, the current status of our life, was a base level to start with, to improve upon.

Self-love?  Self-worth?  I would get there eventually…

My seeking brain loved to remind me — of course I’m not enough! I haven’t built an empire!  I haven’t made all of my dreams come true!  I don’t eat all organic!   I should shave my legs more often!  Tell my friends I love them!  Stop watching!  Be more patient with my kids! Express more desire for my husband!

And on and on…

Well, I’m allowed to change my mind.

I am now firmly on the “I am enough” bandwagon.

(click to tweet)

Does that seem at odds with a personal development site dedicated to “helping women reinvent themselves” or “gaining clarity for meaningful forward movement?”


Before any reinventing or forward movement, we must start from a strong, loving, secure base of self-worth.  If we don’t believe we are deserving of a big bold bright existence, it will never happen.  And what I’m finding and exploring more and more is that this self-love, this ability to believe we are deserving, boils down to the ability to declare “I am enough.”

Try it.  Say it out loud.  I am enough.

What comes up?  Do you feel like you’re faking it?  Do you immediately start adding buts, or sometimes, or ifs?

Part of the time I still can’t say it.

I have a long laundry list of things about myself I’d like to be “better.”

I’d like to call my parents more regularly.  I’d like to conquer my fear of failure.  I’d like to practice yoga everyday.  I’d like to be on of those girls who can sport dreads, ripped jeans, a nose ring and look unbelievably hot.  I’d like to stop feeling slightly nauseous when I look at my bank account.  I’d like to volunteer more often.  I’d like to always have a clean home, sexy underwear in the drawer, and an art project underway.

So much pushing.  So many mores.

When I think of that list, it’s hard for me to get behind the “I am enough” statement.  But the days I can’t believe it?  Those are the rough days.  Those are the days when a hater email makes me break down into tears. Those are the days I can’t shake off the fog.  Those are the days I start doubting my path.

You’d think I’d have learned by now, eh?  Because the days I can say, “I am enough, just as I am, right this very moment, with all my quirks and foibles, in all my ridiculous glory?”

Those are the days that feel the best. Those are the days I find peace.

I should probably start shouting it a little louder, with more emphasis.

My name is Molly and I am enough, just as I am, right this very moment.

I shall now launch into my Enoughness Manifesto!

(I’m sharing this not to brag or dance a little narcissistic dance in the mirror, but to inspire YOU to write your own.)

I am enough.

I am full of sparkle and compassion.  I genuinely want to make the world a better place. I love hard. I practice kindness. I’m not afraid of the truth. I am loyal, adventurous, supportive, and surprising.  I am a woman. I am enough. I make mistakes, but I own them and learn from them.

Sometimes I make a bunch of mistakes.

I am enough. I am open, juicy, artistic, full blast.  I am also vain, emotional, demanding, and looking for answers. I am a woman who is open to mysteries, accepting of miracles. I am diving in, devouring, loving, protecting, peeling back the surface of petty desires to the hunger for connection, for belief, for truth.

I am less concerned with doing things correctly than I once was and more concerned with showing up and loving hard.

(click to tweet)

I accept that a sense of wonder is something to cultivate. I accept that I sometimes self-medicate with alcohol, with filling my life full of busyness, with going into self imposed isolation.  I accept that I crave financial abundance, a freedom to do what I want, when I want it.  I am still enough.

I am a lover of ripe mangoes, stars in the midnight sky, stories around the campfire, the smell of rich coffee, laughing until I can’t breathe, having someone reach for my hand, swimming naked. I am a lover, a mama, a sister, a storyteller, a daughter, a mentor, and a student.

I am enough.

And I know in my deepest heart — You are enough too.


School’s almost out for the summer!  For most university women that means a break from classes, a summer job or two & perhaps kicking back with old pals.  For three special ladies- it means a Stratejoy Internship!  These spunky powerhouses are going to be the marketing brains & brawn behind a bunch of exciting projects over the next few months…

Stay tuned.  There are amazing new advances in building our community of gutsy women living authentically joyous lives coming soon.  We’re wiggling with excitement over here as we work on a Lifestyle Design Video Course, a “Gutsy Girl’s Guide to Success” workshop aimed specifically at college girls & a national speaking tour!  (Okay, okay- the speaking tour is still on the wish list!)

Without further ado…. I’d like to introduce the bevy of beauties below!

Summer 2009 Street Team


1.  What is your definition of joy?
Joy is enjoying the things in life that take advantage of the best of who you are, challenge you, and keep you engaged, passionate, and motivated.

2.  What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to learn?
I’ve always wanted to learn how to become a better photographer. I took one photography class some years back and want to explore the medium more.

3.  What ice cream topping is most like you?
Dark chocolate fudge sauce because it’s a unique twist on a traditional favorite and while it may be a striking change at first, it grows on people. Dark chocolate also rides the line between “indie” and “trendy,” while always remaining slightly sophisticated.

4. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
Paragliding! My stomach was in my throat the seconds before I took off last summer in Switzerland, but once I was soaring above the Alps I realized that not only was I safe, but that it was the most amazing, beautiful thing I’d ever experienced!

5. What do you crave?
Intellectual and artistic creativity. I love stumbling on people who have new ways to think about things — whether it’s through a piece of writing, a painting or craft, or a new theory. Creativity always leads to the most interesting, stimulating conversations.


1.  What is your definition of joy?
I believe that real joy manifests when you know what you’re doing, love what you’re doing, and believe in what you’re doing.

2. What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to learn?

I would love to travel to India and study in an Ashram.

3.  What ice cream topping is most like you?

Strawberries! Because I am loyal, honest, and trustworthy.  Strawberries, as a mix-in, will never let you down!

4. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
White water rafting in Costa Rica (Class 4). My raft tipped half way down a considerable drop and my tail bone made friends with one too many rocks!
5. What do you crave?
I crave buffalo wings! Too often!


1.  What is your definition of joy?

Joy is the feeling you get when your mood can do nothing but lift up.  It starts with a smile and leads to a sense of confidence in yourself.
2. What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to learn?

Communication, to better understand the world & the people around me, to be able to build a dialogue and help them learn about themselves and perhaps better understand myself.

3.  What ice cream topping is most like you?

Colorful gumballs… Even though there are a variety of colors, each individual one has its own unique flavor that is loved. Together they are a party, but separately each retains the ability to stand out.

4. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

Standing in front of someone I love and care about most and telling them the truth.

5. What do you crave?
I crave being active in life.  I like to stay busy doing something, even if it’s just kickin’ back and watching movies or hanging out with those I care about.

What the heck are you going to do, Molly?

I knew you were going to ask…  Don’t worry!  Even with this rockin’ team at the helm, I still have plenty to do.  I am creating content to bring you brand new Joy 101 classes, refining the Lifestyle Design Workshop so you learn the most powerful clairity exercises & goal setting processes,  and concentrating on booking speaking gigs so I can spread the Authentic Happiness movement near & far. Plus running a small biz, networking, researching, going to workshops myself, writing blogs, reading, connecting with you on Twitter & Facebook, leading Club ReFresh and doing my own personal work on living an authentically joyous existence.

And because I also knew you were going to ask…  Here’s my answers!


1.  What is your definition of joy?

Joy is knowing what you want your life to stand for & having the ability to express it every day.  It’s being connected to your authentic self & understanding that you create your own happiness. Joyful living is the lighthearted journey towards acceptance, goodness & fulfillment.
2. What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to learn?

One thing?  How about 100 things?  At the moment, relearning to play the piano (rock/pop singalong songs only) & speaking passable Spanish are at the top of my list.

3.  What ice cream topping is most like you?

Let’s go with chocolate covered pretzels.  Classic, but with a twist.  They seem sweet & mild on the outside, but inside they’re a little salty, with real substance to them.

4. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

Starting my own business was/is scary because I’m sharing my passion with the world, the ideas & opinions that really mean something to me.  It’s also the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

5. What do you crave?
I crave rejuvenation in nature, fresh mangoes, brand new markers, back of the neck kisses & connecting with other curious people.

So…. What are your answers to the five questions we’ve answered?  Share below or post on your own blog & leave the link for us to explore!

Or at least don’t try to accomplish anything…

Here’s the challenge I’m posing: In the spirit of connecting with yourself, give up planning & productivity for one day. Live free from your “To Do” list.  Can you embrace spontaneity & listening to your desires for an entire day?

I’m not sure if I can, but I’m going to give it a shot.


I want all of us to experience a day of doing exactly what it is we want to do in the moment.   To practice operating free from a To-Do list or Google calendar…  To really listen to our desires by allowing them to emerge free from our stifling busyness…

What will happen?  I have no idea! Perhaps our openness to the moment will allow creative inspiration to spark.  Or maybe our bodies will tell us to be still.  Or we could decide we need to swing, or drink a glass of wine on a deck, or call a long lost friend.

The possibilities are endless.


Does the thought of waking up in the morning with absolutely nothing to do or anywhere to be thrill you?  Does it scare you?  What would you do if you were given absolute freedom from responsibility and routine?

Make it happen & find out.  Freeing a day from all plans may take planning– Fine.  Send the kids to grandmas for the weekend.  Cancel your standing brunch date.  Reschedule your haircut.  Do whatever you have to do to clear one day in it’s entirety. A free day just for you.

Once you’ve carved out an empty day in your calendar, treasure the commitment you’ve made to yourself to keep that day wide open.  Don’t let anyone’s plans intrude on your big day.


Here’s where it gets fun!  The “how” is pretty simple.  Wake up.  Ask yourself what you’d like to do.  Do it!  Do not feel guilty about not “accomplishing” anything.  And maybe you did accomplish something! Then, ask yourself what you’d like to do next.  Do it!  Do not feel guilty about not “accomplishing” anything.  And maybe you did accomplish something!  Repeat as time allows. Go to bed.

Do you already have a list of things you’d like to do on your free day running through your head?  I do.  My hyperactive planning tendency is shouting, “Ooooh!  Go to a naked spa! Write a poem!  Eat sushi & seaweed salad!  Pet puppies! Try on wedding dresses!  Stockpile bunch of delicious candles!  Ride a ferry! Get another tattoo!  Run on the beach!”  And on and on and on.

But the rule stands- No planning. Maybe I’ll still feel like indulging in something from that list when I wake up on my free day, but maybe I won’t.  The point is to connect with your desires in the moment.  To practice making decisions based on your own fancy.

My Take

At the moment this challenge feels really powerful to me, as I am seemingly drowning under to do’s. Endless to do’s for my business, to do’s to eat more organically, to do’s for my love life, to do’s about cleaning my beloved Subaru & buying wedding presents & putting down the deposit on my high school reunion.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love making the lists.  I love checking off the boxes when I accomplish my tasks.  It’s how I keep moving forward each day towards my big dreams. Keeping lists helps me corral all the floating thoughts in my head, commit them to paper (thus reality) & make them happen.

But I don’t want to live my life ruled by a “To Do” list.  I don’t feel connected with my authentic self when I’m wading through too many “shoulds” and not enough “wants”.

Taking one day off from my routine is not going to kill me.  I’m not going to starve if I don’t go grocery shopping.  I’ll still have something to wear tomorrow if I skip laundry.  The world won’t collapse if I take a day off from social media land.

And the same is true for you.

My day is going to be Friday, May 8th!  I’ll let you know how it goes.

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

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

Second Step:  Get Clear

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

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


I admit it: I love the New Year, just as much as I love peanut butter, little kids in snowsuits & new magazines delivered to my mailbox. Hear me? I love the New Year a whole big bunch.

It’s the thrill of a clean slate, a brand new journal & of course, a handful of resolutions. I’ve spent several snow days hemming and hawing over just what I’d like to accomplish in 2009. One of my favorite things to do is come up with a theme for the year: 2007 was “Life’s an Adventure” & 2008 was “Big Dreams, Bright Eyes”. Cliche? Perhaps. But they hold hard fought meaning for me and for the year ahead.

So what does the future hold?

My theme for this year is “Live Deliberately”. It’s an anthem for conscious choice about the life I live each day and the ideals that are expressed. What do I want to express, you ask? Courage, Creativity, Authenticity, Vitality, Connection, and of course, Joy. I want my values to be reflected in the way I spend my time, the interactions I have with others & the message I share with the world.