Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Consider More

A year ago I lived 70 miles from where I grew up, in southwest Michigan, working for my undergraduate alma mater. Now, 365 days later, my life doesn’t even resemble what it did. I'm 2,200 miles away from my hometown, nestled between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, working with a university system of which I had no previous ties. This massive life change was in the works long before I realized, but it would not have happened if I wasn't willing to consider possibility.

My life last year was good. It was the perfect blend of unfamiliar familiarity. The cities I'd left more than a decade ago had grown and changed, as I had, so it was like being reintroduced to a former love. I was surrounded by childhood friends and making new ones. My job was professionally and personally satisfying. I felt like I was in a groove, a really good groove. I was comfortable...and that's when I started hearing a faint whisper, urging me with the words, "Consider more."

That simple yet powerful prompt led me to ask myself what was missing. I looked around my office and thought, "The only thing missing from my job is international education. I would love to do what I'm doing now for a study abroad program." Giving myself permission to consider more from a career that I was already grateful for allowed me to search for precisely what I wanted. Not a variation, no need to compromise. I didn't need a new job, I was simply considering more.

A casual search on a seemingly random day initiated a huge life change. Yes, insecurity crept in. Fear tried to dominate the conversation. But I was driven by the urge to consider more. I had to consider more than where I was. I had to consider more than insecurity and more than fear. I needed to consider possibility and within one year, what was once just possible became my everyday.

As you look back over 2015, you may feel that the year didn't deliver what you'd hoped. Maybe you didn't deliver. I challenge you to consider more. It only takes one realization to drastically change your life. In 2016, consider more. Consider more than your job. Consider more than comfort. Consider more for your family. Consider more for yourself. Consider more than insecurity. Consider more than fear. Consider possibility. Before you can change your everyday you must first believe that it's possible and if you're willing, it is absolutely possible.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Space

We have been convinced that spaciousness is supreme. We dream of owning a huge house with as many bathrooms as bedrooms, a three-car garage, on land large enough to house a compound. In addition to our mega complex for more spacious things, personal space is also valued at such a premium that airlines and rail lines charge more money for it. Space is a hot commodity that has changed what we want and the way we live, travel, and interact with one another.

When I moved to Michigan in 2012, I moved into a large apartment, by myself. While it was often convenient and comfortable, I didn't need all of that space and having it did not always serve me well. It was great when I had overnight guests. It was not great when I felt alone. It seemed to amplify the loneliness and bounce it off of every wall for me to hear over and over again. That space also enabled me to keep things I should have released, purchase things I didn't need, and shut the door on all of those things so I didn't have to look at them or deal with them.

In addition to the drawbacks associated with physical space, there's another element of space that I subscribed to that was more detrimental—emotional space. Keeping emotional space, distance, did not always serve me well either. I developed emotional distance for the same reason that most do—because the actions of a few destroyed my ability to trust. When I did discover my support system, which was solid, genuine, and fully committed to my well-being, I was too embarrassed, ashamed, and flat out terrified to truly let people in to what I deemed my overwhelming, complicated emotional vault.

Being distant from others produced outcomes that contradicted what I wanted. Space gave my mind room to wander to horrible places, replaying scenes of my history of trauma. Space allowed me to get lost in the negative messages I repeated to myself. Space made me feel alone and undeserving of the support, acceptance, and love I needed. All of the emotional work I'd done to create a sense of safety and peace was evaporating in that space. Space was not what I needed. I needed connection. I needed people right there, up close and personal, not just telling me I had their support, but demonstrating it, repeatedly. I didn't need more space, I needed less. Much less.

When we have space, we have extra room for miscellaneous things—all the stuff that has no specific place and at times, no value. We put it in a spare room and shut the door so that we can maintain attachments that need to be severed without having to see the impact of those unhealthy attachments. We give ourselves so much space that it prevents others from getting close enough to witness our emotional clutter, making it impossible for them to help us clear it out.

Does space provide you with convenience and comfort or has it become an enabler? Have you given those you trust, those who have proven their commitment to your well-being, access to fully support you? Are you being honest with them? Are you being honest with yourself?

Assess the space in your life. Make necessary adjustments. All of the support you need will be there. Don't be afraid to let people in. Don't be afraid to get close. We were designed to be connected and have relationships. It is when those connections and bonds are broken that we feel disrupted, abandoned, and unloved. Space is not always the answer. At times, space is the problem.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Prove Them Wrong

Last week I attended a college basketball game. Early in the first half, a point guard from the visiting team attempted a long-range shot. In addition to it being highly contested, he miscalculated and the ball missed the entire rim. Fans of the home team immediately yelled, "Air ball! Air ball! Air ball!" For the remainder of the game, any time he touched the ball, no matter where he was on the court and whether he was in position to shoot or not, the crowd erupted in a chorus of, "Air ball! Air ball! Air ball!"

This collective attempt to distract players is normal in sports and can be extremely effective. Without proper coaching, focus, and confidence, a well guarded shot or simple miscalculation can impact a player's performance for the duration of a game. Experienced players master tuning out distractions, regardless of how noisy, relentless, and personal they become.

You may feel as if life is a lot like those fans. The shots you've taken may have been highly contested, miscalculated, or a combination of both, and each time you try again, life reminds you of your air ball moments. As soon as you build enough courage to go back out there, someone—at times, even you—is screaming what you perceive to be your worst moments and attributes. Quitter! Dropout! Unemployable! Divorced! Damaged! Victim! Abandoned! Convict! Angry! Depressed! Broken! Failure! Worthless! Unlovable!

How do you quiet the yelling? How can you make progress when you are continuously reminded of your worst? How do you stop the yelling when you believe it more than anyone else? You quiet the yelling with action. You make progress by focusing on one play, one task, one goal at a time. You stop believing the yelling by remaining engaged with and committed to improving your life, for life. 

Your goals may have been contested. Try again. You may have taken some incredibly wild shots. Own that and learn from it. But never, ever, ever, ever give up. Unlike with a game, your refusal to show up will not stop the hate-filled, destructive mantras. When you no longer try, you concede and behave in ways that confirm the worst of what you think of yourself. Instead of confirming the taunts, prove them wrong.

As for that particular game, the player who threw that errant shot remained present and a valuable member of his team. By the end of the game he was the third leading scorer and more importantly, his team won. He didn't allow ridicule to stop him and you don't have to let life's ridicule and reminders to stop you. Get back out there and prove them wrong.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

News

We have all heard news that shook us. News that nothing we've ever experienced prepared us to hear. News that changed our lives. I received such a call this year and haven't been vocal about it because I'm still contemplating its impact. It's impossible to know what's appropriate, normal, or reasonable after hearing that the person who raped you was murdered.

As the news spread, posts went out on social media about his death and I felt even more isolated from my family than usual. I didn't share their collective grief. Each picture of his smiling face that our family members posted—his and mine—taunted me. It was a painful barrage reminding me that his presence railroaded mine. While I could acknowledge that what he did wasn't the sum total of who he was, that acknowledgment didn't erase his face from my nightmares nor change who he was to me.

All I could comprehend was numbness, an emotional flatline which led me to question who I had become. Who hears that a life ended and can't definitively own sadness or sorrow? What kind of person isn't immediately grieved upon hearing that someone is no longer living? Had I allowed what happened to harden me?

My questions were not productive. Attaching adjectives and judgments to what I felt was not helping me progress down this unusual path. I needed to simply feel what I felt. All I could articulate was, "I never wanted to see him again, but I never wished him harm," and at times, "I never wished him harm, but I never wanted to see him again." That was my truth and I had to accept that my truth was sufficient.

When life delivers news that takes the wind out of you, allow yourself the freedom to feel whatever you feel. Progression can only be made through a lens of honesty and if you attach judgment to your feelings you will not be truthful. Over time, discovering how you live with that news may help you articulate them, but you aren't required to come up with a list of feelings and place them in right/wrong or kind/unkind columns. Instead of forcing yourself to have certain feelings or judging the ones you do have, catch your breath and focus on life after—after the news—so that you can understand its impact and minimize its destruction.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Brave

Courage has increasingly become part of public conversation and not always in a positive manner. As corporations and media outlets publicly award individuals for overcoming emotional hardship, we have far too easily taken on the role of comparing and judging levels of courage. Instead of acknowledging that bravery exists in many forms for different reasons, we have become unreliable experts in determining who should or shouldn't be considered brave.

Far too often people base bravery on lifestyles and actions that they couldn't or wouldn't imagine for themselves. While it's easy to see why people use this measurement, it is limited. What we cannot imagine or would not wish for ourselves is not the full extent of what it takes to be brave. Being brave is more than participating in an extreme lifestyle or living with an unforeseen circumstance; being brave is making a conscious and continuous decision to be and do better than who we are, right now. Being brave is getting up every single day and doing the hard work to become more honest versions of ourselves.

Bravery cannot be measured and should not be judged. It is an individual experience dependent on your personal history and your emotional growth. The bravest action you have ever taken may not be realized or even known by others. Someone may think it is brave to bungie jump, get a tattoo, or go skydiving, but not consider all that it took for you to open up to love again. Admiration may be given to someone for standing up to a bully, but no one is there to cheer you on when you make an appointment with a mental health professional or schedule your first chemotherapy treatment. Others may be praised for traveling abroad solo, yet few know what you endured to stay positive during a prolonged hospital stay, testify against your rapist in court, or get out of bed the day after burying your loved one. What others fail to see or consider does not make you any less brave.

What makes you brave is not always recognizable, not even to yourself. You exercise bravery when you push past what's easy and choose what's best. Even if no one ever presents you with a trophy or gives you a platform upon which to tell your story, sometimes the bravest action you can take is to wake up and try again. After heartache, disappointment, shame, failure, mistakes, and fear, if you are genuinely still trying, then you can walk with your head high and know that you are brave.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

More Strength

We've all seen the afterschool specials, read the articles, and heard the interviews. Someone experiences a traumatic event, tries to ignore it, makes bad decisions, tells a trusted friend, finally acknowledges the impact of the trauma, tells the world, and then the music starts, the clouds part, the sun shines, and life is great again. This storyline has inspired us and started necessary conversation, but it's also incomplete. What happens following that breakthrough day? What happens with life after?

Years ago I consumed as many of those types of stories as I could. I needed proof that life could be beautiful after trauma. Those stories got me to my liberating, I'm-telling-everybody moment, yet there was a gaping hole. No one talked about life after—after the big reveal, after the inspirational song ended, after members of their support system went back to being occupied with their own lives, after they could name the trauma and those who caused it without crumbling, after those who said they would always be there started to look for an out clause or expiration date, and after they got tired of having to be so damn strong all of the time.

Healing is a lifelong process and I had to learn that the length of that process wasn't my fault. It wasn't because I wasn't praying hard enough or trying hard enough. It wasn't because I didn't have enough faith. It wasn't because I hadn't forgiven. It wasn't because I hadn't talked about it enough. It wasn't because I wasn't enough.

I had strength, but as life happened, I needed more. I needed more strength when I got close to new people. I needed more strength as conversations turned to why I wasn't spending the holidays with my family. I needed more strength when my nieces and nephew turned five, the age my traumatic journey started. I needed more strength when I started counseling. I needed more strength when people I loved judged me for taking care of myself. I needed more strength each time I got a new doctor and had to divulge that I'd been raped. I needed more strength when those who abused me sent Facebook friend requests. I needed more strength when my dad, one of my biggest supporters, died. I needed more strength simply because life required me to be stronger.

You have worked to reach where you are today, but life is going to demand that you become even stronger. That isn't a reflection of a deficiency in your efforts, your toughness, nor who you are. As you grow older, life simply requires more. Continue fighting for peace of mind. Continue making healthy choices. Continue walking in and building your strength. As life requires more, you will not only become stronger, you'll become more—more self-aware, more grateful, more fulfilled, more peaceful, more loving, more honest, and more unapologetic about living out your purpose.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Proof

Social media has infiltrated every aspect of our lives. Corporations, nonprofit organizations, universities, and small businesses have added social media into their branding strategies and tactics. We can't go on vacation, eat a meal, or take a walk without posting a photo or checking in. Children who don't even have social media accounts tell their parents to post pictures and then ask how many likes they have. It has changed the way we do business and the way we live.

Social media has its place. It allows us to connect and share our lives with those who don't live physically close to us. However, it has also reinforced a dangerous need for external approval. Every outfit, haircut, makeup application, and pair of shoes is posted and likes from others validate our choices and worse, they validate us. We interpret likes on social media as proof of acceptance. As if that's not bad enough, this need for proof from others is insatiable. No matter how many likes and positive comments we receive today, we are right back there tomorrow, posting a new picture, waiting to see who and how many affirmations we will receive to prove to us what should be an internal realization—that our lives matter and have value.

When you give people the power to determine how you should feel about yourself, you develop an unhealthy attachment to fluid, unstable, and subjective sources. You become dependent on the opinions of others to prove what should come from within—that you are beautiful, that you matter, and that your life has value.

Compliments are wonderful. They can provide you with an added lift and remind you of who you are. However, others should not determine how you feel about yourself. External sources can provide further confirmation, but should not serve as proof of who you are. All of the proof you need is in your existence. Your beauty, worth, and value exist simply because you do. No amount of likes or positive comments should carry more weight than the way you treat and how you feel about yourself.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Movement

Movement is a common, constant part of life. Babies move from crawling to walking—although some try running before walking. Children move from elementary to middle to high school. Adults hopefully move from blaming others for their actions to taking responsibility for them. How we move depends on our state of mind. When we're panicked our movements are rushed and frantic. We miss red flags, ignore reason, and attach ourselves to those who encourage our compulsions. When we're intentional our movements are controlled. We are more aware of our direction, we plan instead of react, and we attach ourselves to those who encourage progression. How we move is most often related to one emotion—fear.

I know about moving. As an adult I have moved seven times to five states. Why I moved was directly related to whether I was escaping or advancing. How I moved, the way I did it, was just as important.

Since moving to Santa Barbara, the question I'm asked most often is some variation of what brought me here. When I answer, it is clear that every aspect of this move was intentional. I wasn't in a situation that demanded change. I wasn't escaping. I wasn't fearful. The absence of desperation, panic, and fear allowed me to open my mind and patiently seek out an opportunity that was tailor-made for me, at the perfect time.

No matter what phase of life you're in, movement will remain a part of it and how you move is a reflection of your emotional state. When fear leads, your mind is clouded and confined. When fear leads, your decisions are reactionary. When fear leads, you live to avoid your worst imaginations. When fear leads, you don't. It's time to stop giving fear all of the power. Relax your mind from confinement. Make choices that lead you in an intentional, progressive direction. Attach yourself to those who encourage your growth instead of your deviations. If you want to move through life with certainty and purpose, you can't do it while holding hands with worry and fear.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Breakthrough

The other day I saw a meme on social media that stated, "Your breakthrough is right around the corner." People commented notes of agreement and even more signaled that they liked the image. For many, this sentiment, and others like it, supply just enough hope to believe that life will improve. Hope is a great feeling that we should remain connected to, but when will we reach the point where we are not simply hoping for life to get better? When will we realize that life can get better now?

Breakthrough. Increase. Progress. Furtherance. Upgrade. All of these words define forward movement and forward movement is key to being fulfilled. Most desire a fulfilled life. Yet few can define what that is and even fewer are doing what's needed to reach it. Somehow we have given up on our part. We either accept living in a perpetual state of want and simply hope for more or we accept wanting more as our constant state of being. Few have the courage or feel deserving enough to do what's necessary to reach for the life they desire.

You weren't intended to live your life waiting. Your life is meant to be fully lived and better, no matter how you picture it, can exist now. Better can be how you start today. Better can be your life the moment that you decide to pursue it. You don't have to wait until...until you finish school, until you have a better job, until you have a partner, or until you have a bigger house, a better car, or more money. You can have better right now!

Your breakthrough can occur now. Breaking through is mental. Breaking through is a change in your mind. Breaking through requires that you stop thinking the same way. You deserve more. You can do more. You are meant for more. Your life is worth more. You are valued more. Once you breakthrough the negative messages in your mind, you can start behaving in ways that will lead you to the life you desire. Your breakthrough is not merely waiting around the corner; your breakthrough is right here, right now. What are you going to do about it?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Possibility

From the time we learned to talk, we were asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" If it wasn't our parents asking, it was our aunts/uncles, neighbors, church members, parents of friends, and teachers. Once we reached our final year of high school, the question changed. "What do you want to be," became, "What do you want to do?" It's a slight variation, but a significant one. It's the first time we become aware that according to others, our identities, our lives, are defined by doing, not being. It's the first time that reality speaks louder than possibility.

As we grow older we consider some tough realities. What if what I wanted to be isn't what I will do? What if I cannot become what I said? What if doing something (getting a job, earning a living) is more important than becoming someone (a writer, an artist)? What if life requires me to choose?

Possibility is an amazing, liberating, and exciting concept. Possibility can motivate and inspire. When we fully grasp and accept the possibility that exists in our lives, we become powerful. Unfortunately, as we get older, our notion of possibility diminishes. We lose the confidence to dream and develop an unhealthy, consistent trust in fear. We fear failing. We fear disappointment. We fear fully living. We take our fear and live to avoid it. We convince ourselves that we can't fail, be disappointed or become a disappointment if we give up possibility for what's likely and safe. Our lives reflect our fears rather than our dreams.

Have you lost perspective on what's possible in your life? Have you relinquished the confidence to envision more? Does your life reflect your fears rather than your dreams?

Possibility is not just for other people. Possibility is not lost on you. Possibility is not limited to your conditions or assumptions. Life may have required you to make tough choices. Some of your decisions may not have been your best. Still, you get to decide again. Today, you get to determine what happens next. You have the opportunity to accept possibility no matter how many times you rejected it prior. What do you want to be? An example of fear or a demonstration of possibility? It's not too late. You are enough. You are more than what you've done. Now, what do you want to be?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Only You

Starting over, whether it's a new relationship, career, or physical location is exciting. It leaves us radiating in the light of possibility and the openness of a clean slate. We can recreate everything from our look, our social circle, to our hobbies and our volunteer interests. Even when leaving a good situation, the opportunity to start again gives us the motivation and courage to do and become better. Yet the benefits of starting again will never be experienced if we drag our old selves into our new life.

I long ago realized that I needed to set boundaries. However, because I was in my early twenties, this realization was not met with enthusiasm nor willpower. Breaking away from what and who was familiar was not an idea that I was comfortable with nor ready to embrace. Instead, I tried to build a new life without living differently. At first, I felt better. I had new surroundings. I had physical distance. I had all of the excitement associated with change. But eventually, the excitement wore off. The new surroundings became old. The physical distance shortened. I'd changed all aspects of my life except the most important one, me. It didn't matter how many times I moved, how many trips I took, and how many career advancements I made. Until I was ready to make the most influential change, an internal one, life would always leave me wanting and someone else, something else, and somewhere else would always have the power that belonged to me.

Your relationships, career, and locations have one thing in common—you. Leaving any or all of them can be thrilling, but when you move on, if you haven't made an internal shift you'll recreate the same scenarios. Character names, job titles, and the backdrop may transition, but you'll be frustrated and saddened by the very same aspects of life.

Changing partners will not change how you perceive your worth. Changing jobs will not change your work ethic or life balance. Changing your location will not change your core. Only you can do that. Only you, not a relationship, not a job, not a city, have the power and freedom to usher true change into your life. Don't give that power, nor your happiness, your peace, and your joy to anyone, anything, and any place.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

What's Left After

How do you define strength? What characteristics in others do you deem to be strong? Does it differ from how you define your own strength?

When it comes to our most significant characteristics, most of us are overly critical. We can admit that we have a nice smile, an infectious laugh, or a great sense of humor, all of which are important, but rarely do we compliment aspects like our resilience, emotional intelligence, or our ability to inspire others. One characteristic important to our well-being is our strength, but we struggle to recognize or define it because we judge ourselves so harshly. We judge our decisions, we judge our lifestyle, we judge how we turned out, and we judge ourselves in comparison to others.

You may have made decisions that complicated your life. You may given someone chances that didn't demonstrate behavior deserving of those chances...repeatedly. You may have given up. You may have fallen. You may have disappointed your loved ones and yourself. Strength is not the absence of questionable decisions or repeated mistakes. Strength is not the absence of giving up, falling, or disappointment. Strength is not the absence of tears, anger, or loss of control.

Strength is what pushes you after...after the mistakes and after the bad judgment. Strength is what develops after the heartache and after the feelings of hopelessness. Strength is what thrives after you push beyond the superficial and break through the pain. Strength is what comes after you free yourself from judging everything you've said, done, felt, and been. Strength is what you discover after you let go of the judgment, after you release the emotion, and after you commit to continue. Strength is what is left after and after all of the uncertainty, the choices, and the trials, what is left is you. Strength is you.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Truth

Traffic was unusually heavy on my way home one evening because of a festival. As I looked ahead, the closer the exits approached downtown, the more congested the exit ramps became. I had a decision to make. I could continue to inch along for the next few miles or I could exit early and drive through the neighborhood. Regardless of what I chose, the traffic had already impacted my ride home. My decision would influence how much later I would arrive, but it would not reverse or change the truth that I'd been stuck in traffic.

Circumstances can cause us to feel stuck, like we are left with little to no options. We all face life's traffic jams that require us to make decisions. We can remain in our traffic—the things that didn't go as planned, the hurtful things others have said and done, the poor choices we made, and the choices someone else made that affected us—and tell the stories repeatedly. We tell these stories because they give us comfort. We repeat these stories because we believe that they justify why we haven't reached our destinations of peace, joy, and fulfillment.

You may feel like your life has turned into one big traffic jam. You feel stagnant, as if you aren't moving forward and you can't start over. You may have a history filled with rationale on why you took the path you took. Your childhood may have been less than stellar. Your romantic relationships might mirror slapstick comedies more than a moving romance. Your professional career may be inconsistent and uninspiring, but all of that exists in yesterday. As long as your internal dialogue is focused on what was, your external life can't become what's possible. Your stories should be used help you process, not hinder your progress. Truth is meant to liberate and bring clarity, not to keep you confined and clouded. Don't use the truth as an excuse.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

More

I wasn't going to blog this week. What has been on my mind most is far too fresh for me to fully process. Plus, I did not feel free nor confident enough to share. Yet before I shut down and gave up, I realized that this was precisely the time that I needed to press through and find my message in the midst of the haze.

When we move beyond the shock of a life-changing, emotional situation, it is wise to reflect. Reflection is where we discover clarity and achieve growth. Reflection gives us the space to articulate our feelings and shows us how to work through and with those feelings. Reflection provides us with the confidence to know that we will survive future hardships and the guidance needed to move beyond survival. Yet what are we supposed to do make it to that point? How do we find our way out of heartache while in the center of it? How do we push further when we already feel completely stretched? How do we find the strength to go on when it takes everything in us just to function? The short answer is to do exactly what we don't feel like doing.

When life delivers a significant blow our initial reaction is tied to our comfort zone. Some of us run. We run to work, run to take care of others, run to activities, run to retail therapy, or even run to create a totally different life. We run because it seems safer than remaining. We are comforted by the distractions and convince ourselves that being removed from the situation will remove us from the heartache. However, heartache cannot be outran. It attaches itself to us, taking a free ride wherever we go. When we exhaust ourselves from running, there it is, ready to be dealt with while we're out of energy and sometimes, out of the range of our support system.

Instead of running to things, people, and new surroundings, some of us retreat. Some of us take all of the hurt, anger, and fear and internalize it. We tell ourselves that talking about it is pointless because it will not change the situation. Or we believe that we can't trust anyone with it. The truth is that we don't trust ourselves to be that open. We are terrified that if we open up we will lose control so we sentence ourselves to silence. We think our heartache is losing its strength and power under our self-imposed gag order while it is actually increasing as it feeds off of our strength and depletes us of our power.

I have been guilty of both running and retreating. In each case, I tried to ignore my emotions, foolishly hopeful that since they weren't invited they would take the hint and leave. Whether I ran or retreated, they never left. They simply waited. This time around, I'm doing neither. I'm doing what is not tied to my comfort zone. I'm not running. I'm not retreating. I'm doing exactly what I don't feel like doing. I'm pressing through. I'm finding my message in the midst of the haze. I am dealing.

Instead of running, I'm acknowledging what I feel and not categorizing those feelings as right or wrong nor good or bad. They simply are. Instead of retreating, I'm actively reaching out to those who support me. I want more so I am doing more. When I reach the reflection phase of this particular situation, I will have more strength, more courage, and more confidence in my ability to do more than simply survive.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Decision Cycles

We are in a continuous cycle of decision-making. We contemplate decisions, act on decisions, and live with the consequences of decisions. As we go through these cycles, our emotions go through changes as well. It is rare that we feel anything—trust, fear, joy, sadness, excitement, or dread—the entire time that we work through our decisions.

Last month I packed up my life and relocated to California. The contemplation phase of making this choice was easy, fun, exciting, and brought me joy. Everything about making my decision was thrilling. I was going to a beautiful location featuring the ocean on one side and mountains on the other. I was starting a challenging and amazing position that seemed tailor-made for my professional experience and personal interests. I was moving to a walkable neighborhood that made my desire to park my car on weekends realistic. I was joining a laid-back yet social community that fit my personality. This move was perfect! However, acting on the move was far from perfect.

The action phase of my decision—my perfect decision during the contemplation phase—was stressful and emotional. The first moving company I hired was a no-show, five days before I was scheduled to leave. The driver that was supposed to ship my vehicle took it on a joyride. My perfect, no-brainer decision came with unexpected, major difficulty. I wondered if I missed the mark. How could something that started so perfectly become so problematic? Did I want this change so badly that I imagined more assurance and confirmation than actually existed? Had I made a mistake?

As you go through decision cycles, it's vital that you remain connected to your state of mind when you made your decision. Even the most beautiful, peaceful, and necessary decisions can come with pain, disruption, and challenges. The discomfort you may feel during the action phase of your decision should not shake your confidence and dilute your joy. Press forward. Remain stable. Hold on until you get to the satisfying state of living out the consequences of your decisions. I know I'm glad I'm living out the consequences of mine.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Beauty Remains

I took a quick road trip over the weekend and what I saw was stunning. As I rounded corners and came over hills, incredible ocean and mountain views seemed to rise from nowhere. Before I even reached my destination, my trip was worth it.

I took the same route on my way back home, yet what I saw was drastically different. Rather than green hills, the rolling blue ocean and dancing sun rays, there was vast darkness. The beauty hadn't disappeared. The grand mountains and the majestic ocean remained, but under the night sky, all I could see was massive emptiness.

Beauty surrounds us, but it is not always obvious. Circumstances can alter our perspective, distorting sources of beauty and blocking others. Major life changes—illness, divorce, the death of a loved one, etc.—can shake our core, making beauty difficult to recognize under the darkness of our emotion. Even when we can't see it, beauty remains. We may need to simply continue on our journey, round the next corner, go over the next hill, or wait until the rise of the sun to see it, but beauty remains. It never leaves. There is beauty in every season. There is beauty is in every breath. There is beauty in hope. There is beauty in love. There is beauty in life. We are surrounded by beauty, created in beauty, and made up of beauty. Despite our placement, circumstances, and life changes, beauty remains.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Beliefs

Ask about someone's beliefs and you are asking about the core of who she is. It's no wonder that religion is one of the most emotionally charged and personal conversations in which you can engage. For that reason, I typically refrain from posting or even commenting on posts via social media about political issues with religious implications or religious debates stemming from politics. Though I don't publically have those discussions, I am often grieved by how this country is becoming increasingly divided on public issues because of private beliefs. The visceral reactions that radiate from the monitor of my computer screen send me through a range of emotions and lead me to ask, "Yes, but what if you're wrong?"

Like most of my friends, I grew up attending religious services. Over the years, I came to understand every moment like a well-rehearsed play. I knew that depending on how the keyboardist played certain notes to a certain tempo whether we were going to sing for two more minutes or twenty. I knew exactly which scriptures would accompany specific messages. I knew what responses the pastor was seeking as s/he ended the sermon and whether that sermon had two closings or four. Part of that ritual and knowing it so well led me to challenge what I was taught and that was terrifying because what I was taught is what I believed.

While it was jarring for me to challenge my beliefs, I am now stronger, freer, and living a fuller life than I imagined. Asking hard questions brought clarity and peace. I considered those living the lifestyle I strived for. I learned lessons from spiritual leaders outside of the sources I was presented. I listened to what was within and realized that spirituality is much larger than the boundaries of religion.

Challenge yourself. If you are willing to base your entire life, and in some cases, demand that others do the same, on a system of beliefs why not ask some hard questions? How do you feel about the way your life expresses your beliefs? Even more important, does your life express your beliefs? Do you fully comprehend your beliefs? Are they truly yours or those of your parents, grandparents, pastor, preacher, bishop, or priest? Finally, here's the toughest question: what if you are wrong? How would you feel about the love and compassion (or lack thereof) you demonstrated? How would you feel about the way you responded to others who don't believe as you do? Would you need to reconcile with anyone? Would your life still be filled with everything you value? Would your life still have meaning? What do you truly believe?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Strength

Strength is a trait that I admire and have made a conscious effort to not just display but exude. My past was unnecessarily painful and that pain was complicated by a decision to keep it secret. As I got older, what I felt became harder to ignore. Instead of sitting dormant, that pain gathered power and threatened to direct me toward an unhealthy lifestyle. Though I didn't gravitate toward abusing substances or relationships, my numbing agent of choice was just as detrimental. I turned all of that hurt, confusion, shame, and anger on myself. It felt safer to unleash that negativity internally rather than set it free. Yet that false safety existed only because it was what I was accustomed to doing—I'd learned it from others and became quite skilled at it.

I told my story, but not honestly. I told the narrative, but not how I was impacted. I didn't want others to know the truth—that my pain was not past, but very present. I remained dumbfounded at the mere thought of what I experienced. I was debilitated at times by the weight of it. The memories had such a hold on my heart that at times I couldn't breathe. It was so incredible that my goal became to prevent myself from feeling. As soon as that darkness threatened to hold me, I ran. I ran to a book. I ran to another city. I ran to the nearest distraction that I could because I was terrified that sitting with it would drown me. I feared that if I fully felt it I would never ever recover.

Hearing others tell me that I was strong went from encouraging to disheartening. I felt like a fraud. Those calling me strong never saw me running from a memory, stuck in a flashback, or in tears because of a news story or television show that was too familiar. In my corrupted mind, strength was found in not feeling so my goal, though unrealistic and undesirable, became not to feel.

Strength is found in fighting and feeling, not in fighting feeling. Strength is what you develop when you are honest about what makes you feel less than strong and do the work needed to make progress. Turning unexpressed feelings on yourself, feelings of guilt, shame, weakness, despair, and hopelessness is detrimental and can make wholeness seem impossible. Fortunately, wholeness is not impossible and strength is not elusive. Quite simply, the way to develop strength is to be strong.

Stand up today and agree to keep standing. Strength is not determined by the number of days you feel less than strong, it is determined by what you do when you have those feelings and the decision you make to continue to stand. Body builders develop strength by lifting weights. Similarly, you develop emotional strength by working through, not ignoring, the weight of your past and using it to build you up instead of allowing the fear of feeling to build up inside of you. Everything you need to be strong already exists and it all exists within you.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Connections

Airports facilitate travel and represent movement. The intent of going to the airport is to go elsewhere. Over the weekend, on my last trip to Michigan before moving to California, weather issues caused me to miss my connection. Unfortunately, the flight I missed was the last one to Kalamazoo and there were no hotel rooms or rental cars available. I was stuck in the airport for more than 9 hours. Obviously, this was not ideal, but I settled in for an all-nighter.

I pulled out my journal, planning to process thoughts related to my upcoming move, but it wasn't long before I realized that in all of my travels, this was only my second time being stranded overnight. The first time was when my dad passed away. Ironically, this second time, it was the eve of Father’s Day.

Having traveled to cities all over the United States and to more than 20 countries, it's a bit unusual that I have only been stranded overnight twice. Even more unusual is that those two times had connections to my father. My first time being stuck was when I found out that he died and this second time it was the eve of Father's Day, but the connections didn't end there. The airport where I was stranded for the second time was in Chicago, the very same airport I was heading to the first time, back in 2011. That led me to thinking about the first anniversary of his death. Though not stranded, I spent that day in an airport as well, in Detroit, in the very same airport that he dropped me off, the last time I saw him.

These connections are not mere coincidence. Four years following his death, as I negotiate the mixed emotions and busyness associated with relocating, I think these connections were my father’s way of saying, "I'm with you." Airports were an obvious choice to let me know that it doesn’t matter where I go, what phase of life I’m in, whether I’m settled or getting ready for a major life change, he’s with me. It’s so like him to use Father’s Day, a time designed to celebrate him and his impact in my life, to give me such a needed and timely gift. I spent Father's Day in an airport, a place designed for movement, being reminded that his presence will remain constant in my life.

Be mindful of life's connections. There may be events that appear coincidental or inconvenient, but if you give yourself space to look a little closer, you may find much more than coincidence and inconvenience. You may find a common thread and a needed message. You may find that life is trying to remind you of your impact, that you are important, that you are on the right track, that you are undeniably loved, and that you have purpose greater than you realize.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Honor Yourself

My tolerance is typically high. Even when I think someone is being intentionally insensitive, I try not to hoard or internalize that insensitivity. Most of the time I am successful, but I received a message recently that pushed me off center. Instead of ushering in calm, I willingly and joyfully entertained clever responses with the purpose of making that person aware that his/her attempt to insert more significance in my life than s/he had was futile. I had to consider, though, if that was true, why was I exerting energy trying to prove it? Most importantly, would my fiesty and venomous retort honor me?

Most people treat us according to their perception of what we can do for them or whether they feel threatened by our behavior. Our perceptions and life choices can reveal similarities or differences in others that they admire or despise. In many cases, we impact others in ways that we are unaware of and would be surprised to discover. What happens, though, when we are treated with less than kindness? How do we remain committed to our peace of mind when others threaten it for reasons we are not fully aware?

I read that message repeatedly. I sent it to a few friends to compare their reactions so that I could determine if I interpreted it appropriately. They confirmed my suspicion—the message was not well-intentioned. Yet I still had a decision to make. Would I let his/her intentions, even if they were purely evil and I don't believe they were that far down the spectrum, change me by changing the way I normally deal with insensitivity? Would I let this one message push me from my center?

There may be occasions when you are the recipient of insensitivity and intentional rudeness. Someone may treat you in a way that is unjustified. Someone may displace negative feelings on you because you are a safe target. Someone may intentionally try to hurt you for no other reason than s/he is unhappy. It is not up to you to figure it out, diagnose it, or get even. What you are responsible for is honoring yourself. Honor yourself when others don't. Honor yourself when others don't try. Honor yourself when others don't understand. Honor yourself even when others don't care enough to honor themselves.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Misguided Silence

Silence is powerful and like most things, its power exists on opposite ends of the spectrum. When facing major life decisions or crises, stillness leads us to proper perspective and the answers needed to move forward. Silence is critical for clarity. However, there is another side of silence that is devastating—the misguided silence that we impose on ourselves when we need to speak up.

I was abused for seven years and the memories of that abuse lodged themselves equally between my mind and my heart. They traveled back and forth, their meticulousness tortured me and the raw emotion that accompanied them tormented me. Though I was an adult, in a safe physical and emotional space, those memories could shove me back to pain-filled places. For years I thought that the act of remembering was what rendered me powerless. Consequently, I believed that in order to stop the powerlessness and pain I had to stop remembering. This plan was unrealistic and unreasonable. I set myself up to fail. When the memories returned, I would not only be thrust into immense sadness, I would also be angry with myself for not being able to do the impossible. Remembering wasn't the problem. Being quiet about what I remembered and how it impacted my life is what suffocated my strength. My silence complicated my pain.

There may be one major situation or several that have led you to believe that you don't have a voice or that you don't deserve to be heard. It could have been a one-time incident or repeated occurrences. Maybe you have been silenced by the actions, words, or lack of actions from a parent, spouse, or other relative. Most likely, your silence is the result of a combination of circumstances and harmful lessons. No matter the reason(s), it's not too late to take another direction. It's not too late to speak up. It's not too late for you to break the cycle of misguided silence. Through the process of speaking up you will not only find your voice but you will ignite your healing process. Find your voice and you'll discover your power.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Honest View

It doesn't matter how many times I fly, if I am seated next to a window I take at least one picture of the clouds. I consider my view of the world and want to capture it as a reminder of my vision at that moment. On my most recent flight I took a photo and quickly decided it wasn't good enough simply because the wing of the plane snuck into view. As I prepared to take another photo of the same scene, slightly to the right, I asked myself why I needed to recreate the same moment with an unobstructed view. Even with the wing, it was a beautiful sight, yet I judged my picture, something used for reflection, through the critical eye of perfection. How come I couldn't just accept my view honestly and completely?

Digital photography and photo editing makes it hard to detect if what we see is indeed what we get. The adage "pictures don't lie" is no longer true. Pictures lie and then lie some more. We can even edit the photos we take on our phones, from our phones. The problem with this constant need to only broadcast perfection is that it leaves us with the impression that there is no room nor desire for anything else, none of the characteristics that make us unique and none of the things that highlight a certain phase in our lives or given moment in time. Our refusal to see life as it is prevents us from understanding and appreciating where we are, where we've been, and where we are capable of going. Without an authentic look at the present, at best, we will only haphazardly stumble into the future.

Perfection is not what compels your loved ones to love you. Those only interested in a falsified perspective are not worthy of your concern nor your time. Those who do love you, love you because they see you, completely. They love who you are and not some edited image that you portray. Perfection is not the driving force of self-love, either. Self-love is pure and genuine. Self-love is consistent. Self-love is unconditional. However, before you can love yourself you have to see yourself, authentically and without apology. Then, you can let others see you, authentically and without apology. Your life is a beautiful compilation of moments, emotions, and circumstances that deserves to be fully appreciated and recognized in all of its complexity, even when something you didn't anticipate sneaks into the picture.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Your Voice

Life is filled with cycles. There are occasions to listen and learn and there are occasions to stand up and fight. There are moments to contemplate and moments to act. There is a time for reflection and a time to simply be. All of these cycles guide us to self-awareness and an important aspect of self-awareness is recognizing that we have a voice and our voice is a force.

No one is made up of exactly the same history, persona, sense of humor, level of sensitivity, perspective, quirks, traits, and heart as you. No one can influence your loved ones quite the way that you do. No one has all of your attributes and is driven by the same cause that compels you. All of that—your history, your quirks, your heart, your influence, and your cause—make up your voice and your voice, whether it's loud and boisterous or barely a whisper, is necessary!

Far too often situations and people influence the purpose and vigor with which you use your voice, or worse, give you the impression that you need permission to use your voice. The only person who should have that much power is you. Part of you already recognizes that your voice is a force. You know that when you embrace its strength and speak up your life will change. Your hesitation is the result of fear. It is your power that scares you. Don't be afraid of change or your power.

Even if what you have to say initially gets caught in your throat or you feel like you're the only one with your message, use your voice. Confidence is developed in pushing through the uncertainty and solos can be absolutely beautiful. You have been gifted with purpose, entrusted with influencing others, and intended for inspiration. Develop the courage to use your voice and keep using it. You never know who is listening and desperately hoping for someone, you, to say what they can't.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Perspective

I am undeniably a runner. I have left conversations, relationships, and even states when I felt they were unhealthy and detrimental to my growth. A recent situation had me dusting off my running shoes yet again. I fluctuated between wanting to wait out the uncomfortable unknown and wanting to jump ship. From one day to the next, I was encouraged or disgusted and it wore me out. In addition to being exhausting, the emotional swinging prevented me from focusing on progression. I wasn't ready to commit to running or staying, but needed to accept that even though I couldn't change my circumstances, I could change my perspective.

Getting stuck in the middle of valid, but unproductive emotional space pushed me further from my purpose. All of my energy was spent either building myself back up on a low day or managing my expectations on an encouraging one. There was nothing, no positive words nor resistance left. I could not operate in an uncertain space and be depleted of energy. I needed to focus my attention on the larger picture in the meantime. I needed to change my perspective.

My mood stabilized and became more recognizable when I made a conscious decision to stop willingly riding an emotional roller coaster. Rather than expending all of my mental energy on circumstances that I couldn't change, I shifted my attention to creating the lifestyle that would fulfill me. I stopped handing over control and took responsibility.

There will be situations and people in your life that you cannot change. The good news is you can change. There will be circumstances and relationships that may take more time than you desire to change. You can develop patience. There will be times when clarity is not immediate. In the meantime, you can alter your perspective. This is your life. Why not do all that you can to live the most fulfilling, peaceful, joyful, and love-filled way possible? Is it difficult? Yes, but no more difficult than giving up. Does it come with painful lessons? Yes, but not more painful than willingly relinquishing your power. Does it get uncomfortable? Yes, but not nearly as uncomfortable as living a life less than you were purposed and promised. When in the middle of difficulty or contemplating a major life change, sometimes all you need before you receive clarity is a change in your perspective.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Your Story

Storytelling is a timeless art. A well told story can make us laugh, cry, empathize, remember, and imagine. It can move us to feeling sorrow, anger, regret, comfort, joy, courageous, and inspired. Whether reading, listening, or watching, stories evoke emotion and we love experiencing life through the stories of others.

While there are great lessons and confirmation of our humanity in stories, we have to be careful not to minimize ourselves because of what we witness in others. We have been conditioned to expect and even prefer a formulaic narrative—a character is living a "normal" life, something tragic happens, the character deals with the tragedy, and boom, happily ever after. In addition to this being simplistic and unrealistic, the biggest problem is that we seek relativity in stories so if our lives don't fit that narrative then we conclude that we're a failure or we're tremendously and permanently defective.

Each of us has a story, one that is ongoing and cannot be neatly wrapped up in a 250-page novel or 90-minute film. If we had the ability to stitch together all of our personal tragedies it would exceed the time it takes to read a novel. Likewise, our greatest moments can't be limited to 90 minutes. If just one aspect of our lives cannot be contained in the time it takes to read a novel or watch a movie how can we expect our entire existence, with all of its challenges, complications, and peak moments to be resolved and fit into a storybook, Hollywood formula? It can't and we wouldn't want it to.

You will experience many threads of stories in your lifetime. Some will be resolved quickly, others could evolve into your life's mission. In the same chapter you could experience high highs and heartbreaking lows. The good news is that you have the power and responsibility to create your own narrative, one that isn't based on a formula or expectation. Actively live the storyline that will bring you the most joy, peace, truth, and love. You will live out much more life than the time it takes to read or watch the stories of others so don't compare the entirety of your story to a snippet of someone else's. The only true tragedy would be for you not to recognize the beauty and power that you and your story contain.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Not That Special

One of the hardest lessons we learn comes at the hands of others, but we serve as accomplices. It doesn't matter how young we are when that lesson first arrives or how many times it repeats, we are still surprised and hurt when it comes around again, as if history hadn't already whispered, tapped us, then shouted, shoved, and finally thrown a brick at us prior. We promise we will never allow it again...until someone else comes along and we consider ourselves much more special (and less rational) than we should.

Maya Angelou said, "When people show you who they are, believe them." That phrase is both simple and profound. I've used it to validate my choices, evaluate relationships, and protect myself. Yet my validating, evaluating, and protecting self still wanted to be more—more unique, more deserving, and quite frankly, more special than the truth. I believed that someone wouldn't treat me the same way that s/he treats everyone else because our relationship, i.e., me, was special. I thought I was special enough to have a more genuine and loving version of someone who may not have even cared to be more genuine or more loving.

If someone is unkind to others, the day will come when she is unkind to you. If someone is careless with other people's feelings, he will have moments when he is careless with yours. The person who gossips, exaggerates, is inconsiderate, disappoints, lies on, ignores, or is selfish with others doesn't do so because everyone, except you, deserves it. When you hear that first whisper, listen. When you feel that gentle tap, take heed. Don't wait for the shout or the shove—and certainly not the brick—to believe people when they show you who they are.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Examined Life

I believe in the transformative power of education. There are benefits to learning formulas, systems, history, literary devices, and methodology. It is amazing to analyze, experiment, and stretch intellectually. Yet the most influential aspect of my educational career had little to do with the classroom. My education evolved the moment I realized that I could examine every area of my life with even more focus than I ever did for any grade or course. From that point on I committed to living an examined life.

My maternal great-grandfather was the pastor of a church. I spent many Sunday mornings and afternoons in that red brick building with the squeaky, wooden pews. In addition to my mother's side of the family being active, my father's side were members of the same church so the ritual of service was as much religious practice as familial obligation. I learned lessons of love, forgiveness, and faith all while spending time with my family. So much of what I heard Sunday after Sunday was ritualized to the point that as children we recited it for laughs. I memorized as many scriptures as my time tables and trusted everything I heard without question, even when it was harmful to my well-being.

There was something nagging in my gut that would not allow me to simply accept everything I heard, read, and experienced. My journey toward authenticity demanded more of me. I stepped outside of the shadow of obligation and blind belief and stepped into the freedom of exploration. It wasn't until I gave myself permission to inquire that my true education and road to spirituality opened up. I had to first release the notion that questions were symptoms of unbelief and betrayal. It wasn't until I asked questions and sought answers that I truly learned.

If you've been taught to accept the least of what you've been offered, teach yourself new lessons. If you've been presented with a path that doesn't resonate with your soul, pursue a new path. If your notions of forgiveness, progression, or health conflict with what you need to forgive, progress, and heal, explore new notions. If you have been afraid to question faith, investigate the source of that fear. Position yourself to learn the most influential lessons by examining every area of your life without being fearful of what you may discover. Challenge yourself to live an examined life.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Lens of Truth

I am a reformed liar and there was a time when I wouldn't have even been honest about that. I portrayed more than I lived because pretending seemed less complicated, less painful, and less frightening. When flashes of reality snuck past the surface I ran back to the perceived safety of the closet containing all of my secrets and slammed the door. I told myself that the lying I did was acceptable—yet another lie—because I wasn't hurting anyone. Yet that was the most detrimental untruth because I was hurting myself.

There is something extremely terrifying about honesty. It's the reason so many clich├ęs, expressions, songs, poems, books, shows, and films are centered around the truth—hiding it or finding out about it. Most of us have convinced ourselves or have been persuaded by others that certain areas of our lives are better concealed or easier to deal with if we don't actually deal. The problem is that we can never grow into our fullest selves without first being aware of who we are. We can never reach where we're going if we aren't first honest about where we've been. We can never heal if we don't acknowledge that we hurt.

The closet containing my secrets, where I perceived safety because it didn't require me to expose my hurt, was harmful. It felt comfortable, but it was stifling and suffocating. It was only through the lens of truth that I could acknowledge the negative impact of hiding my pain and open the door. It was only through the lens of truth that I could see the dark cloud of dishonesty choking the life out of me. It was only through the lens of truth that I could bear to be brave enough to fully live. It was only through the lens of truth that I could tell my story and trust that I would survive telling it as I continue to survive living with it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Uncertainty

Cape Town, South Africa
Uncertainty can be frightening and at times, debilitating. Wanting direction and not having a clear answer is frustrating. It can make us question every previous decision, whether connected to current circumstances or not. It can lead us to believe that we can't trust our judgment. Yet it is during times of uncertainty that we need to exercise trust the most. Uncertainty ushers in the change that we need, but have been too comfortable, too complacent or too afraid to do on our own.

While unnerving, the uncertain times in our lives often lead us to greater. Eventually, we become open because we reach the end of needing to control and we surrender. It is in surrendering that we acknowledge that despite all of our plotting and planning, we do not have it all figured out so we might as well... Might as well what? Go for it. Try something different. Throw our hat in the ring. Take a risk. Fully live.

When we surrender we stop trying to protect and prevent ourselves from being greater. We transition from making excuses about why we cannot go, do, or become and we start to comprehend the magnitude of possibility. Imagine what our lives would be like if we reached this place of openness and surrender earlier instead of waiting until we are completely frustrated and at the end our understanding.

Some of your best decisions were made after you surrendered. Some of your greatest payoffs occurred when you were so unsure of your future that you threw caution to the wind and acted out of excitement instead of fear. Instead of viewing uncertainty as terrifying, learn to accept it as an opportunity to live life with your arms wide open and in a constant state of willingness and courage—willingness to try the improbable and courage to simply say yes. Instead of allowing the fear of uncertainty to grip you, attach yourself to the adventure and enjoy the ride!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Live in Real Life

After a particularly unsettling few weeks I scheduled an appointment for a massage. I ventured out on a frigid Saturday when I could have easily stayed bundled up on my couch or swinging from my hammock so a professional could work out the two knots in my back and the knots of worry taking up residence in my mind. As I shed myself of the layers of clothing that February in Michigan demands, I slid my cell phone into the pocket of my plush robe.

I walked over to the relaxation lounge, took a few sips of refreshingly cold water, and sat down. As I waited for the masseuse, I pulled out my phone to virtually check in to the salon. Before I could type anything I thought about the ridiculousness of the scene. I came to the spa to relax, to free myself and there I was, being captive to a small electronic device. It wasn't necessary for me to check in via my phone, I needed to check in by being present, in that moment. I slid my phone back in my pocket and took another sip of water. This time I noticed that the water had a faint strawberry flavor, something that hadn't previously registered because I was too busy fiddling with my phone.

I am the first to admit that I love the benefits offered by technology. I love that in seconds I can let someone know I am thinking of him/her by sending a quick text message. It is wonderful that I can snap a photo of an amazing sunset, beach scene, humorous sign, or fabulous meal and share it instantly. It is reassuring to know that if I need to call someone instantly I can. However, convenience has turned into unhealthy dependence.

Many times we are unable to disconnect, even if it's for limited amounts of time and this causes us to miss what is taking place right in front of our faces. We aren't fully receptive to the sights, sounds, smells, feelings, and tastes we could experience firsthand. We aren't fully engaged with those who are in our presence. We are so busy checking in via our phones that we have checked out of living. The same devices that were intended to help us increase contact and be more social have led us to be less personal and superficially social. We have become so fearful of missing something that we are missing everything.

Experience your life in real life. Fully engage in the presence of others. Appreciate the sensations of your senses as you go through your day. Imagine actually being social instead of feigning it through social media! Life is meant to be lived out loud and in full color, not muted through a screen.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Moment

Birds are distinguishable to most by their ability to fly. When we see a feathered and beaked animal walking in the grass or swimming on a pond, it never crosses our minds that because it isn't flying at the time it isn't a bird. We accept that its behavior at any given moment does not change what it is. Unfortunately, we don't give ourselves the same courtesy. Instead, we convince ourselves that we are somehow less than because of an assessment made at a moment in time, a moment purposefully chosen to confirm what we believe.

We have certain characteristics that we accept as our own. For example, we may identify with being strong, kind, intelligent, and creative. Yet there are moments when we feel less than strong, unworthy of being considered kind, far from intelligent, and uninspired. Situations can temporarily deplete us so we have bouts with emotions that leave us to question if we are truly made up of the characteristics that we've attached ourselves to or have accepted. However, feeling anything temporarily—sadness, impatience, dependence, etc.—does not equate to permanence. Who are you is determined by more than your feelings and actions at a random moment in time, especially when the moment you have selected to assess yourself is one where you feel furthest from your center.

A moment of weakness does not make you weak. A creativity block does not make you unimaginative. A crack in your armor does not make you less of a fighter. Your feelings and how you express them at any given moment does not change who you are. Your thoughts and actions at any given moment do not change who you are. Even when you feel needy, cranky, selfish, whiny, or weak, you are made up of more. All moments, your best, your worst, and your everyday make you intricate and complex, always beautiful, always growing, and always evolving.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sense of Self

I am a reformed trust tester. I would purposely share something relatively harmless—something that if my friends/test takers told someone else or didn't respond in a way that I deemed desirable wouldn't be soul crushing. While there is wisdom in being selective, I was testing people who had been in my life for more than a decade! I was testing people who had already proven that they were committed to the relationship. What I couldn't see was that my need to test revealed more about my inability to trust my own judgment and what I thought of myself than those I was testing.

Eventually, I transitioned and was no longer dropping pieces of my heart and seeing how those pieces were handled. I graduated to opening up and expectantly waiting for signs of abandonment. Any slight variation—and I didn't care how slight—in my interactions with others sent me heart first into an insecurity tailspin. My writer's imagination would go into hyperdrive. Scenarios filled my brain, all ending with me being deserted, explaining why our interactions changed. I expected others to walk away because that is what I felt I deserved. I expected them to be overwhelmed and exhausted with my pain because I was overwhelmed and exhausted with my pain. I expected others to treat me with the same impatience and harsh judgment that I reserved for myself. My relationships, no matter how strong or well-intentioned, could not grow until I dealt with the way that I related to myself.

It is vital to take a candid evaluation of your most important relationship. Elements of how you think of yourself are sprinkled throughout your life and your relationships with others are no exception. The health of all of your relationships is dependent on and intertwined with the health of your relationship with yourself. Essentially, your external relationships are a reflection and an extension of your internal health. When you have a healthy sense of self your relationships with others become stronger, genuine, and centered in authenticity and love because you are strong, genuine, and centered in authenticity and love.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Change Your Actions

One August afternoon, nearly twenty years ago, I was feeling happy and independent because my dad delivered a new-to-me car. I was leaving a church function when my car wouldn't start. My elation deflated. I went from feeling free to extremely dependent. My first thought was to keep trying and pray to the car gods to miraculously start it, but my dad's voice rang louder. I could hear him saying, "You'll flood it if you keep doing that!" Under normal circumstances turning the key in the ignition would start the car, but in this situation, turning the key would not give me my desired result. I needed to change my action in order to get the reaction I wanted.

We develop tactics to navigate through and cope with life. We may not be able to name or even identify our tactics, but we certainly have them. Some face challenges quickly and directly. Some use busyness and activities as distractions from reality. Others use laughter or a hard exterior as a means to convince people—including ourselves—that we are unaffected. Over time, our strategies require change. The strategies we've learned or chosen are no longer effective—and in some cases, never were—so we need to reevaluate. In order to get different reactions, we have to change our actions.

Have your days become filled with tiring repetition, leaving you disappointed and joyless? Change your actions. Have you lost the motivation to even hope for more or better or different? Change your actions. Have you convinced yourself that improvement is not possible? Change your actions. If what you've always done isn't working it is time to do something else. If what you've always said to yourself is no longer satisfying it is time to say something else. If the life you desire seems to grow more distant from where you are it is time to try something else. What do you have to lose besides what is no longer working for you? Stop turning a key in an ignition that isn't responding.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Accountability Partners

Accountability partners are essential to your personal development and growth.
Someone I trust asked me a series of questions that left me tense and emotional. Her questions demanded more of me than most. She did not allow me to get away with what others do. My trust in her gave her the freedom to ask more of me and my commitment to personal development led me to fully engage in the conversation rather than retreat. 

One of the greatest benefits of relationships is obtaining accountability partners. In addition to being sources of encouragement, accountability partners guide us through phases of introspection, personal development, and emotional growth. Sadly, we have been told by others, taught by past hurts, or a combination of the two that we should not or cannot be vulnerable enough for an accountability partner. When asked about our dreams we allow insecurity to answer for us. When asked about our hopes we provide shallow explanations. When given the chance to be vulnerable we shut down. When insecurity answers for us, we cannot be truthful. When we only provide shallow explanations, we don't explore the deepest, most authentic parts of ourselves. When we shut down, we don't experience the beauty of trust. We prevent ourselves from the most meaningful aspects of relationships and from discovering the most powerful parts of ourselves.

The conversation I mentioned was uncomfortable. I didn't like how I felt nor did I like feeling that way in front of someone else. Yet I needed to experience it. My undeniable discomfort provided me with an awareness that I would not have discovered on my own. It took someone else—someone that I trust and someone with the strength to hold me accountable—to illustrate an area of my life that requires more of me, more conversation, more attention, and more work. 

Accountability partners are essential to your personal development and emotional growth. If you have been told or taught that you can't be vulnerable, learn a new lesson. If your insecurities speak louder than you do, strengthen your voice. If you have been too afraid to move beyond shallow conversation, push yourself to discover the deep end. If you have always shut down, it's time to open up. Don't miss out on one of the greatest benefits of human connection because of habit, temporary discomfort, and fear.