Growing your own happiness- Part 2

“My grandma used to tell me the same thing. You really need to let that go.”

My friend looked at me with slight exasperation on her face and wide, brown eyes. She was right. I had been blaming my struggles with weight on events and people in my past. This conversation happened several years ago, and I am now just realizing that it is a whole lot deeper than that.

Last time I wrote a summary of how we internalize external phenomena into our state of mind. We let our experiences determine whether we are happy, sad, angry, or a host of other emotions. The key to obtaining true happiness is to reclaim the power to create it. Happiness is a conscious decision we need to make. How can we harness happiness in our own lives? We can start in three ways: boosting our self-confidence, recognizing our blessings, and… Just. Letting. Go.
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Boosting self-confidence

Self-confidence is a huge issue for many women. It’s a huge issue for me. Confidence is something I battle with on a daily basis, but am working diligently to improve it. Being able to bring our confidence level to where it should be is a different journey for each person. The first part of any journey, though, is to stop beating yourself up. We all have things we don’t like about ourselves. I definitely have body image issues. Even more so after giving birth. When I start digging in on my looks or shake my head as I squeeze or push on a problem area, I immediately put my hands down, and mentally say, “Stop it.” Stop hating your body. Stop comparing yourself to models and actresses who have money at their disposal to look as society dictates is beautiful. Stop feeling like a failure for not losing the baby weight in 3 months (or 6. Or 12.) Stop berating yourself for saying the wrong thing, or feeling a certain way.

Instead, try playing a new tape in your head. You could tell yourself why your body is so strong, starting with your feet, and moving up in body parts till you get to your face. This exercise is meant to point out all of the powerful things you have done. Love those feet that invested all those volunteer hours. Love that belly that made a human being in it. Love those chubby cheeks that glow whenever your loved ones make you laugh. I’m already standing taller.

Something else that works for me is putting myself together at the very start of my day. Some foundation, mascara, and an outfit I feel powerful in is often the ticket I need to confidence city. Some might argue that focusing on your external appearance is shallow, demeaning, or counterproductive. If it is for you, then don’t do it. But I am a firm believer in putting your best foot forward in the world. When I look good, I feel good, and that is all the proof I need.

Another idea: exercise. It truly is one word and one solution. Exercise. Fitness, no matter what level, should be a part of your life. Not only is it good for your health and releasing endorphins and science stuff, but getting that blood flowing and completing a fitness session brings a sense of power and satisfaction. Ran five minutes straight for the first time? Yeah you did. Finish a half-marathon? Go girl. Celebrate every accomplishment.

Recognize your blessings

In today’s society of more, more, more it is easy to get caught up in the swirl. We begin to see our lives as empty, or not good enough, and this really starts to affect our mood. I am guilty of this. I watch Property Brothers and drool at the beautifully finished houses, then look around and feel a pang of jealousy. When I turn off the TV and look around my home again and at the people– and dogs– in it, I couldn’t be more full of joy. Our house is truly a home and it is because we share a love here. Life is a long road, and there is plenty of time for home improvement. I’m starting with gratitude for being able to have a home in the first place.

Blessings don’t have to be tangible things. They can be experiences or accomplishments, or maybe people you’ve met or people that have passed on. We are touched and blessed in so many ways in our lives, don’t let the Keeping-Up-With-The-Jones’ attitude sway you from inner peace. Write them down daily in a journal if you have to. Tell a friend all the things you are grateful for. Just recognize how blessed you really are.

Let it go

I think back to my friend and her words to me to just let it go. I think of how much time I have wasted stewing and boiling over incidences or missed chances in my life. Harsh words by bullies. Lost time not blogging. I often feel anger, guilt, resentment, or anxiety. But why?
Has anyone ever asked you, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” Ooo, I hate that phrase. Hate it real good. But it does have merit. Is spending all of this time, energy, and emotion really helping you out right now, right here, right in this moment? The answer is likely no. The answer is likely that it is eating your soul away. Tsk tsk, what a waste.

Let that shit go. It’s got to go.

To release these negative foci, I find a quiet space, and close my eyes. I turn my mind’s eye inward and take a deep breath in. In this deep breath, I visualize white, peaceful energy. As I exhale, I see the breath carrying away all of the black, negative energy that is in my body. Deep, calming breath in. Long exhale out. The negativity flows away. I am left filled with peace and positive.

Too new-agey for you? That’s cool. Try to find a method, though, that enables you to make a conceded effort of releasing all of those bad memories and feelings. Fill up that open space with positive thoughts and emotions. No matter how you accomplish it, you will feel ten times lighter and calmer at heart than you were before when you were lugging that emotional baggage around.

Happiness is personal. Happiness is a personal choice. It is a conscious decision we need to make daily, or several times a day. It might not be so easy to do the first time, but the more you practice, the easier it gets. Maybe happiness is like a muscle memory, repetition breeds strength. Go ‘head girl. Flex it.

Growing your own happiness- Part 1

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When I saw this statement, it really gave me pause. I really took the time to think about it.  So often I perceive my own happiness as a byproduct of something else. Other’s actions, the weather, how the work week went, a conversation with a family member all either tilt the scale of happy to miserable, or somewhere in between.

Why do I invest so much time and energy in the interpretation of external phenomena into my own happiness and well-being? It’s a good question, and no easy answer. I think a lot of it has to do with how our societal culture raised us, or maybe just how our family influenced us (or probably both). It is right to feel how others dictate we should feel, and our happiness should hinge on our day to day activities. Is it? Should it?
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You may have noticed I have fallen a bit behind in blogging. I agree, I have. I haven’t forgotten about you. Quite the opposite, I have been feeling quite guilty about it (guilt is a post for another day). As a new mom, time precious commodity and sometimes things get brushed aside. As all moms, I’m trying the best I can to find balance! Easier attempted than achieved.

Regardless, I plan to restore my balance and get back to writing. I’d like to explore more themes of self-made happiness and how we can get there. Growing your own independent happiness is a large part of how we can live a fulfilling life and a life of zen. Check back for more posts on this topic!

How to not let fear get the best of you

We have all had those moments of fear. We are considering making a large life change, and then immediately start thinking of the negative outcomes and ramifications to our actions. The voice in our heads tells us all the reasons why it would turn out terribly. We start getting so afraid and anxious that we eventually think “Nah, screw it. It isn’t worth it.”

Fear is actually a naturally protective instinct. Back in the caveman days it could protect us from getting hurt when we were going to do something stupid or were in a dangerous situation. However in today’s modern day world, fear can often only serve to hinder our ambitions and living the life we want.

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I will give you a few good examples, and maybe you can relate them to something going on in your life right now. The first is one that I have discussed in previous posts: my desire for a completely new life direction, and the fear that stalled it for years. It all started when I graduated college, and had a big idea to start a kitchen to home cupcake delivery service. This was back when cupcakes were getting to be trendy. I even bought business books on how to start a small business. Instead of pursuing it, though, my rational brain kicked in and my fear of failure and not making any money took over. I dropped my dreams faster than a hot cupcake tin and started applying to local businesses just so I could start working and bringing in some income.

Cut to me a few years later—which happened about a year ago—and I was still equally unhappy and unsatisfied. I never took any steps to pursue anything I truly desired in life, and my creative soul was being crushed behind a desk. Then I had an awakening. Or maybe an epiphany. Divine intervention, perhaps. Whatever you call it, my soul woke up. One day, while sitting in a meeting, my inner self voice literally said, “What am I doing?” I was so shaken that I knew I needed to make a change. I decided I was going to start a blog. I had started (and failed) with a blog before, but I knew in my heart this was the first step in making a change in my life. I was terrified that no one would read it, that it would be a failure and a waste of my time. The fear was real, and the more steps I took to starting a blog, the more real the fear became.

Even after this epiphany and working hard on my blog for over a year, I still couldn’t let go. I applied (and got) a job in public health to suit my degree, because that damn rational voice kept screaming about me about what a waste it was to not use my degree, and that I couldn’t just up and quit without a financial safety net.

For me, it took having a baby to ultimately reassess my priorities. It forced to me to look at my life and decide what was important. I still face my rational voice and my fears, although not daily, and they are nowhere near as loud anymore. You don’t have to have a baby to move forward with your life. There are several ways that I would cope with my fears and allow me to make progress—even if progress looks like baby steps!

1. Develop the outcome

Once of the scariest things about the unknown is, well, the unknown. When our ideas are developing in our heads, it is easy for fear to push its way in like an angry elephant and stir up so much anxiety that we stop developing our ideas and simply turn the other way. When I was planning my cupcake business, I should have developed the business plan and read my books. Instead, I let fear run rampant and abandoned the whole thing before it even started. Work on your ideas and plan until it becomes a tangible road map that you can follow with realistic steps so you can start walking your journey. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: write it down. Ideas become a lot more focused on paper, and we can start actually working through them instead of letting them swirl around in our brains. Fair warning though, sometimes when we develop our plan all the way through we find out some or all of it is unreasonable. That’s okay, use the tools you learned and keep going. No one ever gained anything from being perfect, they gained it from failed experiences.

2. Research, research, research.

To make an informed decision and to create a solid pathway, we need to be educated. Instead of blindly researching (which can be good), make sure to include some real life in there, too. Consult someone who has had the experience you are looking for. When we learn from people who have “been there, done that,” we can glean practical experiences and techniques that we may never have even thought of. Just be aware that you will never know it all, and you will always not know what you don’t know until it springs up in your face. So…

3. Don’t panic, roll with the punches.

We like to think we are totally in control of our lives. The reality is that God and the universe have a pathway created for us, and it is up to us to work hard and follow it the best we can. Ever hear that phrase “It will be what it will be”? “Que sera, sera”? It’s pretty true. My experience blogging has been very up and down and not at all what I expected it to be. In the last several months I have learned that things have a way of working out, and I need to trust in the process more (more about this concept to come, but a post for another day…). I have panicked and even had serious bouts of anxiety that were so extreme that my body started reacting to it. I knew that could not continue, so I found ways to deal instead. I am a work in progress, but am a lot better at rolling along with the waves and zen-ing out when these bumps in the road do happen.

4. Work through the fear.

You may be that kind of individual who is gripped by the fear of the fear and get paralyzed by it. Instead of trying to cut the head off of the fear-hydra (because we all know what happens to a hydra when that happens), try working through the fear. If I start a blog and want it to eventually be part of a business that becomes a career, my fear grip would be “I will never succeed and make no money and then I can’t pay bills and support my family.” That is quite a leap, wouldn’t you say? Work through the fear by breaking it down. If I start a blog and it fails, then what? No love lost. That’s it. At the current moment my blog isn’t my livelihood is it? No, I am doing it for funsies. So there is really no need to get so amped up. As it develops, and if I am fortunate that eventually I can build a brand around what I’ve created, I will overcome those fear grips at the time they arise. But right at this moment, the only thing that fear is doing is stopping me from even starting. It might not be great. But what if it is?

5. Tell yourself to stop it.

Seriously, I am not kidding. This tactic doesn’t work for all fears and for all people, but sometimes I really benefit from stopping my thought mid-sentence and just saying “Stop it.” By acknowledging an irrational fear and stopping it from spiraling out of control, I regain a grip on what I was thinking of in the first place and can pick up where I left off. “Oh noooooo, but what if –“ NOPE. STOP IT. Work through your idea/dream/calling/whatever it is, and develop the plan (see step 1). I can tell you first hand you really will not get anywhere with all of the “what ifs,” what you will get is a whole bunch of wasted dreams and years lost. Start on it now, so that in a few years you have either made progress, or have joyfully failed and picked yourself back up again and set off on a new path.

But who knows? Maybe I’m the crazy one–

STOP IT.

Turning away from past mistakes and fully facing your future

“That was stupid.”

“I should have known better.”

“Why did I do that? I’ve already made that mistake.”

“I have no idea where I am headed.”

“I am so lost.”

“I am a failure.”

Sound familiar? These are vicious tapes that we have learned to allow to play on repeat in our heads. We hear them so often that we start to believe them. These tapes even start conjuring their own emotions, such as anxiety, feelings of failure and defeat, and depression. The tapes begin to play so loud that we lose sight of our inner guide and let our inner critic take over.

We need to learn to break the repeat cycle. Once we do we can move forward in a straight line, instead of circling an endless loop. Easier said than done, right? I hear you. It is something I struggle with daily. It is hard to do. It is even harder to master. But it is possible.

The bottom line: acknowledge your past but learn to embrace your future.

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The past happened. We did great things, we did bad things. We made right decisions, we made wrong decisions. How can we acknowledge our past without obsessing on it? First, instead of repeating demeaning phrases like “That was so stupid”, try saying “That was a mistake I made, but this is what I learned from it. I can apply the lesson the next time around.” Change the tape from beating yourself up, to what you learned from the experience and why you will be all the wiser the next time.

Second, it is important to learn how to set limits so that you don’t set yourself up for future failure. Today’s fast paced society demands multi-tasking and juggling priorities. When we start dropping balls because we are juggling too much, we deem ourselves failures instead of realizing that we were attempting too much. Know your limits. There are two options here. As my mom says, “You can only do what you can do,” meaning the first option is to accomplish what is able to be accomplished and be truly okay with what lies undone until later.

If this doesn’t work for you, then go with the second option, which is removing some of the balls you are juggling. Say no– politely, of course. Keep your commitments, but when new things come up, decipher what is truly a priority for you, and say no to the rest. We are so keen to say yes, yes, yes because we don’t want to disappoint anyone. Who is the one that ends up bearing the brunt? You. So learn to say “No, sorry, I can’t.”

Changing the tape is a hard process, but it is vital to our mental well-being and happiness that we do. It may take some time, but once you pinpoint what you are obsessing over in your past, you can acknowledge it, change the tape, and move on to your future.

The future is limitless. It is a clean slate. We can write whatever you want on it. We can change direction. The biggest mistake we can make is to let our past color our future. We are the dividing line between the two; choose to face forward. Put the past at your back, and embrace what opportunity the future will bring.

Reseeding your garden: The power of starting over

One Christmas, one New Year, one birthday, a new job, and a new baby. My how much can change in a year.

About a year ago today I was writing about the fires of transformation, talking about how I was trying to transform my life, and delve into my inner depths to try to unearth who I want to be and discover who I was meant to be. I still haven’t reached my finish line; indeed, I don’t think you ever can. We are meant to be constantly evolving and changing as individuals, but always for the better. Passions change, life stations change, and so we must too change with them.

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As my life has changed, blogging fell by the wayside. It was getting harder and harder to find the motivation—and time—to write when I was working full time and pregnant. Needless to say, once Baby T arrived, there wasn’t even enough time for daily showers and going to the bathroom, let alone writing at all. Much like my garden outside, Ainsley and Arrow (my previous blog) is now seeded with weeds and wilting in the summer heat. The pages aren’t blooming with new posts, and the colors are less vibrant.

The brilliant thing about nature—and creativity—is that it can always be brought back to life. It never completely goes away. Planting new seeds, adding water, and giving a garden time is all it takes to blossom anew.

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For me, giving birth has given way to another birth: a spiritual one. Suddenly, my priorities have changed, my eyes opened, my heart filled, and a new personal life has taken its’ first breath. Following my passions and transforming into who I was meant to be has never been so pertinent. The need to light my own fire to become a self-reliant woman and mother has never burned brighter. Sometimes, starting over isn’t because something has died and we have failed, but because something new needed to be born and our direction changed. The power of starting over is that we get to start again, this time making something new.

As with all new change, it is scary. I confess that I have been anxious and nervous about coming back to blogging and making a business plan, not because I haven’t done it before, but because I left it for so long I had forgotten what it was to be inspired and motivated to chase my dreams. As I (uncomfortabley) write, I feel a new calmness in my soul and envision a different future for myself. Not one that requires me to leave my beautiful new baby for 8 hours a day, but one that lets me be the mother I want to be while also being the independent woman I want to be.

It feels good.

Not all gardens are successful. Some plants die while others thrive, and that’s okay. It is all in the process of planting the seeds and seeing what blooms. In truth, it is more about becoming the gardener than growing the flowers. I plan to get my hands dirty, starting today. It has never felt so rewarding.

When to put the book down: Recognizing when we’ve taken on too much and how to step back.

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Hey sister, cut yourself a break.

I see you over there, feeling guilty that you are taking time to surf some blogs and read quietly to yourself. You are probably feeling like there are a lot better things you could be doing, and mentally ticking off all the tasks on your to-do list. I know you. I am you. But I’m suggesting to take a week to just “be,” and not “be doing,” and see how it feels. Drop a few things off of your list, and refocus your priorities. Focus on your health. On your partner. On your child. On your dog. Anything that might get a little lost in the shuffle. This is why I am telling you to start cutting back …

If there is one thing that pregnancy has taught me it is that I take on way too much—and beat myself up about not taking on more. I decided that it would be the best idea ever to give our house a make-over, including paint, new furniture, and some slight remodeling to a few rooms. My brilliant plan also had a hard deadline—my June 4th shower, when family and friends would arrive. Add that to a full-time job, morning sickness, daily fatigue, and other daily responsibilities and my husband and I quickly felt like we were drowning.

Nothing ever goes as planned, and projects got delayed and took longer than we thought. My changing body and chemical exposure restrictions meant I was more and more limited in what I could help with, so my husband was left to captain most of the projects. I have since then realized that we had taken on way too much, but I couldn’t help but feel that I wasn’t doing enough. The house was a mess, my blog neglected, and I wasn’t taking the steps I was planning on to grow an independent business. I was feeling majorly disconnected from my husband. I was feeling like a failure.

My wake-up call happened after I had traveled to two back-to-back work conferences and a bridal shower in just two weeks, and I was experiencing extreme exhaustion. My body wasn’t responding well. My OB looked at me and said “You are seven months pregnant. You need to slow down.” She was right. I was pushing myself so hard, just trying to get to June 4th, and I wasn’t taking good care of myself.

You don’t have to be pregnant—or anywhere near it—to be feeling overwhelmed. As women in today’s society, we are expected to be everything—plus more—to everyone. We need to be high-achieving professionals, doting mothers, good family members, attentive lovers, participating society members … the list goes on and on. I don’t know if other women experience this, but no matter how hard I work I feel like I always have to do more and am never doing enough. Maybe it is just my hard-wiring to be an overachiever. Regardless, my mom helped bring my ambitions back into focus—“You are a human being, not a human doing.” Read that again please: “You are a human being, not a human doing.” It was time to change my mental tape to just being as a woman, expectant mom, and wife, instead of telling myself to do, do, do, do. I needed to take some steps back and realize I mentally, and physically, just couldn’t do it all. And that is okay.

It is okay to just be great at a few things, and say no to the rest. The world won’t fall apart. Your future won’t be doomed. In fact, I am willing to bet you’d be a lot happier and feel more fulfilled when you put the book down. Just let go. Let go of your expectations and enjoy your reality. It can definitely be uncomfortable, and feel downright wrong at first. You almost have to re-train yourself to run a new mental tape and live in a different state than you had been living before. Take a step back, and just be. I’m think you will thank me.

Stop should-ing all over yourself

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I had two aspirations in life. The first was being a paleontologist. I imagined myself on sandy plains, picking delicately away at ancient dinosaur bones while the sun poured down. I even had an outfit I would wear—denim overall shorts, a white sleeveless shirt that tied at the neck, and my arrowhead necklace. And sturdy boots of course. Quite a fashion statement for an 8-year old carrying a home-made book of dinosaur classifications (one section for carnivores, and another separate section for herbivores).

My other aspiration was to be a marine biologist. I wanted to work at Sea World, specifically, and spend my days water bound with the dolphins and whales, moving as if weightless and aerial in the blue dyed water.

I spent my childhood days studying various species, drawing them with accuracy to the best of my abilities. When I visited Sea World I dreamed of being the one in the wetsuits on stage. When I watched Jurassic Park I was preoccupied with how the bones of centuries-old animals were brought to life in skin and flesh. Did I mention I would also be an artist, too?

As I grew older I started growing out of my clothes, my shoes, and my childhood dreams. More practical voices, both in reality and in my head, were saying, “You won’t make any money at that.” “You should chose to be something like a doctor or nurse.” “You shouldn’texpect to get a job doing that.” “You should be going to school at X.” Vivid dreams of interacting with animals and paintbrushes started to fade, and practical mental intrusions like “nurse” or “surgeon” started taking their places. These were also the days I felt least like myself; an awkward teenager who hated how she looked but desperately tried to fit in with all the kids, and not knowing what to do with her future, only vaguely knowing what Ishould be doing. I had adopted the monologue internally: “You should be doing it this way. You shouldn’t feel like that. You should be this person.” This went on for years. And years. And years.

I let others dictate my formative years of what I wanted to do with my life and what Ishould be doing. So instead of pursuing something like art or marine biology, I pursued nothing, and finally picked a major because I had to, and because it was what I already had the most credits toward. My interest in it never caught fire. I regret those decisions, looking back, but looking backwards never helped anything. I might not be where—or who—I am today without those years of mental wandering and self-purpose struggles.
Today I decide to be a different person. Well actually, I decided to be myself. I stopped should-ing on myself. I decided to be the artist and now paint canvases with whatever comes to mind in whatever colors I choose. I plan to eventually enter myself in an art fair, once I work up the courage for it. I decided to be the jewelry maker, and will be making my best friend’s head piece for her wedding in October. I decided that my retirement dream is to live on the beach, and volunteer at a marine rehabilitation center where I could help marine life live better lives. I’ve even gone swimming with dolphins twice. No dinosaur bone discoveries yet though…

I didn’t quit my day job (yet). I’m not that gutsy. One day I hope to be. My plan is to create a life where family and independence come first, and the typical 8-5 is non-existent. I am aware this will have its drawbacks, just like the career I have now has. Nothing is perfect.

But I feel free.

I feel free when I imagine this life. I feel complete when I imagine this life. I feel right when I imagine this life.

It might take a while to accomplish, but nothing ever worth doing is easy or simple. I feel solace in knowing that I am working toward the path that still has (much) smaller footprints of my childhood self. It feels good to know the bold and sassy girl inside again. It feels good to be me.

Why you should be doing absolutely nothing.

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The alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m. I reach groggily for my phone, tapping blindly on the side table for what feels like a plastic casing. The beeping blares on, and I realize that the phone is plugged in and resting on the chair. A strategic move I had planned—this forces me to get out of bed. Regardless, I tap “snooze” and fall back into bed again, savoring those nine minutes.

The day is busy—phone calls, e-mails, work—the usual. Before I know it, it is time to go home. I used to get dinner started right away, but lately my pregnancy brain drives me toward the couch to sit with my feet up for a minute. Often, my angel of a husband will get home and start cooking. Before I know it, we have had dinner, watched some tv, and talked about our day, among other topics of discussion. Weekends are usually busy with friends, laundry, and errands. Before I know it, it’s Monday and that darn alarm is going off again.

Does this sound familiar to you? I’m sure many of you have similar stories, to varying degrees of difference with jobs, kids, or people in your lives. Some of you might have classes on top of this, adding an extra work load and extra stress. Or maybe you are getting married—or divorced—which is an extra set of tasks to be completed.

I hear you. It’s hard. Like, really hard, actually. Some days it seems like just getting out of bed might be the hardest thing you have to do today. Life is busy, and it is only getting busier for us. Whenever I took some time for myself to lounge around do nothing or watch some of my overloaded DVR I would feel extremely guilty. “I really should be exercising.” “I should clean the bathroom.” “I should finish that book I started 6 months ago.”

No, you shouldn’t.

What you should be doing is taking some time for yourself. Listen to your body. What does it need? Sleep? Exercise? Mindless zoning out time? When you don’t take time for yourself, you are neglecting your needs and not letting your brain rest and recover. It is important to take physical and mental breaks from the daily grind in order to let your body recuperate and start coming back to a place of balance.

When we start to lose balance in ourselves, we begin to feel more stress and a disconnect from the world and others around us. We begin to feel a bit lost, and that aimlessness can be unsettling. It may feel like we are going through the motions and not truly living. If you’re ever felt like you are just doing something day in and day out because you have to and without fulfillment, you are living without balance.

Restoring balance can be overwhelming, so much so that sometimes we just give up on even trying because it seems so impossible. Like any other task, break it down into small chunks. A bubble bath one night, a tv show and wine another, or even a ten minute walk by yourself around the neighborhood. The more “me time” you fit in, the better you will start feeling. Assign a night and a time to yourself if you really need the extra prodding. Book a date and keep it, no rescheduling.

Life is busy. And that’s okay. Just make sure that part of your “busy” includes some down time, and that time is reserved just for you.

Coloring outside the lines: creating the shape of our destinies

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When we are little we are taught to color. The smell of fresh wax fills our nose as we study the box with diligence. We pick a crayon out of the box with great care, making sure it is the best color. “Make sure to color in the lines,” we are told, “be careful to make neat edges.”

From a young age we are conditioned to many things. One of the things we are conditioned to do is to not color outside of the lines, both literally and figuratively. We are taught not to make waves. We are taught to be good girls. We are taught to follow directions and behave, and then to grow up and follow directions in a job that we are “supposed” to have.

It is a very constricting and confining feeling. We feel as if we are wrong when we want something bigger and bolder for ourselves. We feel anxious and guilty if our dreams exceed the lines that society has drawn, or even possibly the lines that we drawn for ourselves. When we do become emboldened to try step outside of the boundaries, we often become fearful and reprimand ourselves for being so brash and jump quickly back into our comfortable place of security.

What we should be taught, even from a young age, is to create our own lines. We should take the sayings “Reach for the stars” and “The sky is the limit” more literally. Although society’s lines are very confining, the structured lines we create for ourselves are almost more so.

We need to color outside of the lines.

I am personally working on not just creating new lines, but living lines-free—so to speak. I always imagine what my ideal career looks like, but I’m finding that when I create these grandiose shapes that I often get too overwhelmed by them—I just quit before I even start. Living up to my dream ideal is almost just as restricting as not being myself because it is so large a task to achieve.

Instead of lines, I am coloring towards a goal…slowly. I know where I want to end up—independent, powerful, confident, free—but I am allowing myself to be more flexible on how I get there. Life requires adaptation; the thing that works today or that worked yesterday will not always work tomorrow, and this is okay. This often means that lines are just not going to work. Plans need to be fluid and changeable. It is necessary to have goals for ourselves, but realizing that the action steps to get there may change a hundred times before we get there. In fact, we may also find that the steps we accomplish lead us to a new goal that we hadn’t even realized we wanted, but is something that we were destined toward. Flexibility required.

Like many new experiences, coloring outside of the lines or having no guidelines at all will likely be uncomfortable and scary. These are the necessary components of growth as an individual. When we stretch and challenge ourselves we become better and move closer to the lives we strive for. To be sure, pick the best and prettiest crayon in the box, but use a blank piece of paper when creating your path to your own destiny.

5 Things to do if your story is going nowhere

5 Things to do if your story is going nowhere cover

My coworker sent me a blog post about decluttering your life in order to declutter your brain and bring more internal joy (a very good post, actually). I was perusing around the blog’s website and reading through several posts. Although short, each post seemed to have a great point or base idea that stimulated self-reflection—always a good thing in a piece of writing. However after I got to about the fifth one, I said to myself, “the story isn’t going anywhere.” The author had brought up a provoking thought or described a book or article, but then I was left hanging and wondering where the rest of the post was. Although a strong start, the story didn’t go anywhere. There was no revelation or conclusion, just the teaser of an introduction.

This realization induced another: where is my story going?

I realized I don’t have an answer to that at the moment, quite frankly.

I recognize that no one knows where their lives will end up. Our life’s path is twisted and winding, and we often just have to keep moving along it. However, we should still have an idea of where our story is going, lest someone else write it for us. I fear that leaving myself open like an unfinished page will allow someone else to come scribble in some words, forming a plot twist that I really don’t like. If I elect to leave a page open, I best be sure that I am at least locking the book up so I’m the one controlling the next sentence that gets penned.

So what do these writing metaphors mean? Basically, I am saying that without self-assured direction we become lost. We allow others to tell us what is important and what is not, what is worthy and what is trash, and if we are good enough, or if we are failures. Heavy, right? It is. The complexion of the human mind and soul is, well, complex. It is important to take time to check back in with yourself to make sure you are still living the life you want to be living, and that you are not allowing outside influences to dictate how you view yourself.

I had a pretty clear direction of where I wanted my next steps to be when I took the job I am currently in. I wanted to be my own girl-boss, self-made, passion-pursuing, butt-kicking, life-loving woman. Now that I am in the midst of this job, I have let some of what I wanted my direction to be fall by the wayside in order to be successful at what I am currently doing. This happens. This is also fine. Life is about being flexible. Because I am able to be more self-aware (from recent self-improvement and a lot of inner reflection), I can recognize that I have gotten a little off track, and can realign myself with my vision of who I want to be— my ultimate story.

Okay, so I won’t leave you hanging. How can you get back to your story? First, you have to know what it is. My favorite tactic is one that I found in my life-changing book Playing Big by Tara Mohr. In it, Mohr helps you find your inner guide, and envision what she looks like. Through this process, I was able to focus on who I wanted to be in my future, and the life I wanted to have lead by the time I got there. Empowered and inspired, I was now able to create my story. Once you envision your end-self, work backwards to see how you could get there. What could you add or eliminate to your life? What could you improve? What can you change? Meld all of these things into a story line, and you are on your way.

If you have your vision but have slipped a little on the path, try these methods to get yourself straightened out:

Read self-improvement. 
Yes, seriously. Even if you’re not into therapy stuff, sometimes we can’t fix what is wrong if we don’t know it is broken. This also allows for a mental clean-up; we can’t function if our heads are too full of the daily problems and dilemmas we engage ourselves in.

Make a story board.
When creating books (or anything else that tells a story), one of the first steps is making a story board. This provides a visual summary of where the story is headed and allows for aligning up the details with it. Create the story board in whatever method will help you best. You could draw it. You could sing it. You could make an excel spread-sheet. Paint it. Make a list. Keep a journal. Do whatever will best help remind you of your direction.

Wear it. 
As a lover of the tangible, I have a few pieces of jewelry that I lovingly refer to as my “power jewelry.” My golden arrow necklace is a simple reminder of my personal direction and to always move forward whenever I see it in the mirror. My moonstone ring makes me feel powerful and reminds me to believe in myself, because I can do it, damn it. Pick a piece that you can wear, a stone for your pocket, or just a picture or saying that you can put on a desk or counter that reminds you to stay aligned with your story.

Meditate
You will have to find your inner peace anyway to find your inner guide, so might as well practice. You don’t have to Om or follow weird movements. Simply be in a peaceful place, close your eyes, and envision your future. It doesn’t have to be detailed or a specific scene. Just bring forward who you want to be, the power you want to have, and the state of being you hope to achieve one day. Actively reminding ourselves of what we want is quite powerful.

Exercise
Go do it, it’s good for you. Not only does fitness improve your health, but being active [without the earbuds distracting you] is a great “me” time and provides ample time to get some good thinking and reflection done. Use the power of your body to create motivation and conviction in yourself and your abilities.

Change Where is my story going?  to This is how my story will end.