Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Authentic Self

My close friends have to deal with frequent expressions of love and gratitude. I'm guilty of sending cards, emails, and text messages repeatedly saying how much I appreciate and value their presence in my life. I do this because it’s important. I am committed to their well-being so in addition to providing companionship, I take the role of encourager and uplifter seriously. I don’t want anyone in my inner circle to ever doubt their significance or importance.

Over the years I've questioned if my unsolicited, love-induced messages were misunderstood or simply too much. On the surface, expressions of love should be easily absorbed, yet most have been hurt by someone they trusted, making it difficult to comprehend and accept genuine, no-strings-attached emotional affection. I wondered if my freedom shined a light on their confinement in expressing or accepting love. Considering a larger landscape I thought about scaling back. The last thing I wanted for my loved ones was to cause uncomfortable feelings. Or so I thought.

As I contemplated changing my behavior, I dug a little deeper. Love-based relationships will have periods of nudging, working, and healing and building. Genuine relationship requires nudging people out of their comfort zones in order to be better. Patience leads us to walk with others as they work through conflict and pain. Devotion encourages collaborative emotional healing and building. As long as love remains at the core, these periods of strengthening will create healthier individuals and as a result, healthier relationships.

Instead of changing my behavior I needed to decide what was worth more. Did I want to eliminate or reduce one of my favorite qualities in order to chase perceived comfort and ease? Or was it more important for me to remain my most authentic self and provide positive consistency to those who needed reassurance in goodness?

My choice was clear. I could do the greatest good by fully being my most authentic self—my open, vulnerable, silly, intentional, patient, giving, intelligent, curious, sometimes shy, sometimes overly sensitive, loves-hard self. When I commit to being authentic—even when it's uncomfortable, even when I'm uncertain of how it will be perceived—I give others the freedom and permission to fully be authentic, too.

Just as I have a role in the lives of those I love, your loved ones depend on you in order to maintain and grow. They need your support, comfort, consistency, and love in the way that only you can provide it. They need your stories, your laughter, your honesty, and your embrace. Without you, their lives would not be the same. Without you, their paths would be drastically altered. Don't discount your influence. Don't minimize your impact. Don't diminish your importance. In order for your loved ones to reach their best, they need you. They need you to be your most authentic self, in your wonderful, quirky, humorous, loving, and complex entirety.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Growth Spurt

Throughout various times in our lives we have growth spurts. We are most familiar with growth spurts of adolescence. We remember classmates returning from summer vacation six inches taller, with more bass in their voices, and a fuller shape than before. Yet that heightened stature, deepened tone, and fuller figure came with complications. Appetites and sleeping patterns changed and we experienced pain or discomfort which led to—or more realistically, added to—teenaged moodiness. Despite the changes and discomforts, if given a choice we would willingly go through the uncomfortable phases all over again in order to gain what the growth spurts produced.

Over the years I have developed effective ways to cope with both familiar, lifelong tests and brand new ones. I’ve recognized what I need to do to work through my emotions and move forward. However, over the last year I stopped getting the same results. Life would throw me a test, I would employ my tried and true strategies, and progress didn’t come. After the first few times I thought it was a fluke, but eventually I had to acknowledge that my faithful strategies had become ineffective.
I wasn't satisfied knowing that my coping strategies were no longer working. I have a constant, internal—and sometimes annoying—need to process so I needed to know why. I needed to know if it was something I’d done—or not done. I needed to know how I reached this place and what I could do to ensure that it never happened again. I needed to know if this was my fault.

The short answer is no, it wasn’t a matter of fault. My proven coping strategies stopped working because what once sustained me was no longer sufficient. I had grown. To grow is to increase, expand, and thrive. I couldn’t increase and repeat the same actions. I couldn’t expand and maintain the same thought process. I couldn’t thrive and strive for outdated results. I needed to stretch, think larger, and act with greater focus. Growth simply demands more.

If your coping strategies are no longer giving you the same results don’t assume that you are regressing. Either the impact of your life challenges have become more complex or what used to sustain you is no longer enough. In either case, it isn’t a fault of yours. You are in the midst of a mental growth spurt.

Growth spurts are uncomfortable. Mental growth spurts require more spiritual nourishment and connection. They will shake your patterns and shift your emotional state. Fortunately, that is a temporary part of a permanent change. Once you get through the painful and unnerving period, you will stand taller, stronger, wiser, and better equipped to deal with life’s challenges. Trust the process, trust those you have permitted to stand in your inner circle, and trust yourself as your transition through your growth spurt.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Clean Your Room

I had a spare bedroom that simply held things that I didn't want to deal with. I grew to be embarrassed by the sight of it, but instead of doing the work and cleaning the room, I closed the door. I walked by this room, with the door closed, day after day. Closing the door made it easier to ignore the disarray, but it was impossible to forget.

I am generally in touch with my emotions. I’m aware when I need space, when I need to write, and when I need to take a mental break. The trouble begins when my need involves others—when I need to open up, trust, be vulnerable, and depend on someone else for help. I shut the door, ignoring the emotional disarray until it demands my attention and I feel as if I've slammed into a brick wall.

Recently, I had a serious wake-up call. I ignored all warning signs, bells, and whistles, but it's hard to ignore a brick and that's exactly what it felt like I hit. I could no longer ignore that I was off track. Feeling discouraged, frustrated, and embarrassed, I walked into my place and the first thing I noticed was that closed door. It seemed to taunt me. What I'd done with that physical space mirrored what I'd been doing with my emotional space.

I opened the door to the spare bedroom—the room containing all that I didn’t want to see, make decisions on, or have to handle. I didn’t know how to start or what the finished product would resemble. I had no plan and yet I was certain that I absolutely needed to do something. That room represented my emotional state and if I couldn't handle that room then I feared I wouldn't be able to handle what was even more essential—my emotional space.

Little by little, I made organizational strides. As I cleared out that room I started to feel better. With the clarity of space came mental clarity. I realized that it was impossible for me to clear my mind and be emotionally healthy while shutting the door on things that I was tired of handling or seeing. That physical space was an external manifestation of what I was feeling internally. I needed to clean my room.

Just as with that spare bedroom, emotional health has to be maintained and given attention. It isn’t enough, nor is it responsible, to simply ignore emotions by closing the door. Eventually, you will have to deal. You may have to take some personal time or even recruit some help from your circle of support, but it has to be done. When you clear out the closed places and areas you've pretended were no longer a factor, you feel freer and create the space needed to genuinely heal.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Update the Vision

Vision board
Rest in peace, vision board
A few years ago, there was a big push for the creation of vision boards. The philosophy behind it suggested that there was encouragement and accountability in visually focusing on the aspects of life we want for ourselves. Having created a vision board and displaying it in my bedroom I can attest that it was effective in providing motivation and a mental kick when needed. However, I recently looked at my vision board and that same impact I initially had faltered. It became more of a fixture and held the significance of something nice and nostalgic to view. I couldn't hang it up. It no longer served its purpose. It was time to update the vision.

With no fanfare or a second look, I walked my vision board out to a dumpster and let it fly. In order to update the vision I needed to release the last one. It was created years ago—prior to a life-changing trip around the world, prior to the death of my father, prior to the restructuring of my circle of support, prior to relocating, prior to getting a new job. That vision board was created during a time when my life resembled nothing that it does today. My vision needed to change because my life changed.

Have you thought about a vision for your life? I'm not referring to that generic, simplistic, contrived answer we supply because we've flipped to a new calendar year. I'm talking about an intentional, focused, and purposeful time of reflection. It's amazing that we can set and follow vision and mission statements for the organizations and companies we work for or serve, but when it comes to setting personal directives to guide us through our lives we are satisfied with essentially 'winging it'. We get up, day after day, living habitually instead of purposefully. Let's commit to at least being as focused—and work our way up to becoming more—on self-improvement than we have been when following the vision of the leadership at our workplaces.

Take the time to create or update your vision. You are worth more than a habitual life; you are worth a purposeful life. Your life is entirely too meaningful to live in anything less than purpose. Think on purpose. Dream on purpose. Live on purpose. But first, before you can live on purpose you must update the vision.