Grace Is Not Gone

Sometimes, life sidetracks us. Our days get away from us, plans fall through, ideas fail, intentions are set but not met.

Give yourself grace.

Grace to not hold yourself accountable for all of the problems.

Grace to accept that you’ve made a mistake, or misjudged a situation.

Grace to accept that you missed a day, a workout, a meal plan.

Grace to accept that you forgot a task, an item, an activity, an event.

Grace to feel the emotions, whatever they may be.

Grace to understand that you are doing your best and sometimes you can only do so much and what falls through the cracks or to the wayside, no matter how urgent or important, just will.

Grace to know that you aren’t defined by the misses.

Grace to forgive yourself, and grace to pick back up tomorrow.

Find the Fire Starters

Tribe = the trending word for a close circle of friends (unless I’m now “behind the times” which, if you ask my teenage daughter, is most likely the case).  I used this word once, as a caption of a photo that held some of my favorite ladies; I had consumed just enough Moscow mules to blur the boundary of words I generally dislike and avoid using.

I was not fortunate to be graced with the advantage of lifelong, intimate friendships; I’ve always been a bit envious of women who have those connections.  Although, looking back, I probably had a large hand in the series of events that led to this.  Regardless, I like to think that in my 30s I am making up for that lack in spades.

I am truly grateful to have developed a circle of friends who are near and dear to my heart; we get together for dinners, we celebrate birthdays and moments, we travel together on mini-vacations; we share so much with each other.

There is a small group of a few women who have been especially influential in my life; we are all mothers, all career women.  We began as a more unofficial accountability group and then grew into official accountability partners to each other.  The “meetings” that we have are some of my favorite times.  We inspire, encourage, support and are just generally there for each other.  We chase betterment together, in every aspect of our lives.  Without them I wouldn’t aspire to be half the mother, wife, or woman I hope to become.  We share our challenges, some of our darkest moments, as well as our triumphs; we’ve recently started sharing a daily gratitude practice, to focus on positivity.  There is no judgement, there is only space.

There is a certain magic in finding like-minded people who will share with you.  Who will listen to you, provide feedback for you.  Who will look for the same in you.  Not only do you grow in being able to confide in these people, but you grow by being their confidant as well.

If you are looking for a way to push beyond where you are at, evaluate your circle.  Are those closest to you on the same level, or, even better, aspiring to be a better version of themselves?  It’s entirely too easy to gather with friends or colleagues and unravel into gossip and drama, or worse, griping and complaining; to get caught up with people who are in love with talking about their struggles, but aren’t willing to put in the effort to change.  It’s easier to talk about our complaints; we find solace in finding others who feel just like us.  More often than not, we try to top their stories with one that might even be worse.  That shit wears us down; not just those who are doing the complaining, but those doing the listening as well.

If you find that your conversations and get-togethers with others drains you emotionally and physically, slowly start to change the social system around you.  Branch out.  Find people who are talking about growth, about change, about their joys, about finding their “thing”, those who are talking about abundance and gratitude.  Find new platforms to form relationships and bonds; find the inspirational, the supportive, the encouraging.  Even if you’re simply adding pages and profiles through social media, it’s a way to bring awareness into your day that makes you think a bit differently.  In elevating your circle, and your consumption, you will find that successful, motivated, aspiring people feed off of each other.  You will start to want to be someone who inspires others to better themselves.  Find people who are making things happen; you’ll find that you are inspired to do the same.

Find your tribe.  Find people who make you feel alive.  Who make you want to be a better version of yourself.  Find people who set you on fire.

Stop Replacing the Happy

FullSizeRenderI’m sure you’ve seen this quote kicking around the internet at one point or another.  I have this posted on my vision board (I don’t much like this term, but it’s what I’ll call it for lack of a better one) which is one of the projects I have undertaken since January.  I’ll share it with you in a future post, but right now there is something that I need to get out there.

I’m privileged to work alongside women who are also my closest friends, a few of whom are on the YearCompass journey with me.  These women are some of the strongest, most ambitious women I know and I hold them in the highest regard.  They are not only bringing their all to the table at every meeting they attend or every project that they work on, but they are also caring, compassionate, kind and endlessly generous.  Yet, regardless of how successful and accomplished we each are, we all have the ability to undervalue ourselves on a daily basis.  And not just undervalue; if you look deeply enough you will find self-doubt and self-deprecation.  We are our worst critics.  We are masterful artists, weaving the judgements, comments, and attitudes of others into our perception, our beliefs, our decisions.  It’s no wonder we are exhausted and lacking direction in finding our passions.  We’re burning out and a large source of this is coming from within.

Some of the thoughts that we have about ourselves is among the harshest criticism we will ever face.  We justify talking to ourselves in a way that most of us would never think to utter out loud about or to another person.  When I started focusing on where I was expending energy, I realized I was losing some of it to that inner voice, and what she was saying in certain areas was nothing kind.  I know that I am not alone; a friend recently shared a photo of herself and two friends.  The women were smiling and clearly enjoying each other’s company; they looked genuinely happy.  However, the intent of the email was for her to point out how disappointed she was in herself, that she had honestly felt quite good about herself that day until seeing the photo.  This was all shared as the marking of a moment of motivation for her, but it was heartbreaking.  It makes the hair on my arms stand up and tears well in my eyes because she is such a kind, loving, compassionate and beautiful person, and the amount of sadness and guilt and flat out terrible feelings about ourselves that we carry around and tell ourselves is such bullshit.

We need to stop replacing the happy.  We need to become aware of how we speak to ourselves, and break the cycle of negativity.  We need to be as nice, as loving and as encouraging as we are to our dearest family member or closest friend.

I encourage you to take some time over the course of the next day or so and really focus on your internal dialogue.  Celebrate yourself.  Accept compliments (this is a tough one I find).  Find pride in your accomplishments.  The foundation for building who you are, to pursuing your passions and putting yourself out there relies on your ability to support yourself.

Closer to Even

In one of the many conversations that have taken place since the start of our journey in January, someone asked, “Why isn’t what we have enough?”  Her response to her own question instantly resonated with the rest of us:

“I feel so unsettled because so often what takes up my time doesn’t align with my priorities.  There is too much work time and not enough family and friends time.  There is too much spending and not enough money for travel and adventure.  Too much importance placed on negative input whilst dismissing (or missing altogether) the positive.”

If you haven’t identified what those things are that bring a feeling of fulfillment, of satisfaction, of energy, you may not know exactly what it is that will bring a sense of balance.  If you haven’t taken the time to evaluate and invest in knowing these things about yourself, you’re going to feel the effects of the imbalance.  Maybe not immediately, and maybe you wouldn’t recognize it: frustration, loss of energy, sadness, trouble sleeping, stress.  However, once you are able to pinpoint those things that fill you up, you will begin to notice a shift; when this shift occurs, you will recognize it and you then have to begin to prioritize those activities in order to create a life that feels balanced.

I used to think balance was a crock.  That was before the shift.  Balance to you is not necessarily balance for me; it’s certainly not something that we can rely on someone else to create nor prioritize for us.

You have to be intentional in setting aside time to evaluate how you are spending your days versus how you want to be; where you are focusing your resources, versus what you actually want to be focusing your resources on.  Then, you have to be quite ruthless in chasing the ideal versus what you know as the norm.  You must be able to understand where the imbalance lies, but also how to bring it closer to even.

 

Curating

I’m not a runner. I have spent some time wanting to be a runner.  I envy runners. But it’s not for me. Safe to say I never gave it a really good shot, but if I have to try this hard to like something, there’s a good chance it’s not for me.

I’ve had many of these realizations in the past couple of months. When you’re not really sure of yourself, your direction, your goals, you have to ask a lot of questions.

What do I need more of?
What do I need less of?
How do I want to feel?
What can I do to add value?

There’s a good deal of deciding who you are not when you are trying to decide who you are.

A phrase caught me, I’m not quite sure where I saw it now, but I jotted it down. “Protect your energy.” I’ve used that phrase more times than I can recount over the course of the past few months, across a range of topics: relationships, arguments, chores, commitments, activities. We are constantly exerting energy. There is not a lack of things in which we can invest our energies; a quick consultation with Pinterest would confirm that. I started to fill a page with things that boosted my energy, everything that I could think of from sharing experiences with the girls, citrus scents, painting, an evening with friends to being on the water, mountain-biking dates with my husband, flowers, and yoga. I started paring out the things that didn’t protect my energy, that didn’t hold value to me even if I wanted them to.  Some things were easy to let go of, others a bit more challenging.  It’s a work in progress, but it’s something I try to remind myself of every day.

Another question that I carried with me was “Does it spark joy?” I didn’t read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, as I have zero interest in learning how to roll my socks or fold my shirts in any particular fashion, nor did it feel was geared towards those of the child-rearing stages.  I have a diaper genie that certainly sparks emotion but it is the furthest cry from joy you’ll meet, especially given that my youngest daughter has entered her third year of its residence in her bedroom. I did, however, use this thought process in conjunction with protecting my energy.

For example: I am not one who has an overwhelming amount of clothing; I own exactly 6 pairs of shoes. I do not store my clothing between seasons. I did, however, read a blog post about being especially critical about the items in one’s closet, was inspired to do the same, and still found a number of articles of clothing that didn’t spark joy. I found that the most common reasons that an article of clothing didn’t spark joy was fit, cost, and “I would wear this, if I had some place to wear it to.” This is what I settled on: if it didn’t fit, there was no damn point in keeping it as it did not serve me any purpose other than to feel terrible about myself when I tried it on for the tenth time in the span of a month (or a year, or several) and that didn’t protect any positive energy; if I wasn’t wearing the article of clothing, or I was wearing it because I needed to justify the expense but didn’t like the item, it was only serving the purpose of making me feel guilty for a purchase that occurred in the past, which was more misused energy; third, if I hadn’t had a place to wear whatever item I was holding for a certain period of time, the likelihood of having something that did spark joy as an alternative was high. If that failed, there was always Rent the Runway.

I hung on to my outcasts for a month. They sat in our upstairs hallway, taunting my decision. I worked on focusing on what I had, versus the spaces and the hangers left in the wake of my action. After a month, I asked my husband to take them to Goodwill. I wanted to go back through, revisit the outcasts. But I didn’t. My closet was finally breathing; getting dressed in the morning wasn’t such a chore with less options, and the clothes that I kept didn’t make me feel negative about myself. I have a goal to fill a few of those empty hangers with quality staple pieces. That might seem material, but it’s not.

I feel the same way about tea as I do about running. I want to like it. It’s better for me than coffee. There are three boxes of tea sitting on my kitchen counter because I purchased them wanting to like them. I’m not quite sure why it was important at the time; they’ve been there for months now. I’m going to go throw them away right now, and protect my energy. Even tea wants to steal it.

Help Wanted

Mothers need help.  A lot of it.  As I started paying more attention to how I was spending my time and where my focus needed sharpening, I realized this was an area I needed to work on if I was going to have the time and energy to devote to defining and being successful in not just setting but accomplishing personal goals.

Some of the more heated “debates” I have had with my husband have been rooted in my feeling overwhelmed.  I may have even quoted The Breakup where Jennifer Aniston’s character exclaims “I just want you to want to do the dishes.”  How noble of a man, to want to want to do the dishes, right?

Wrong.  No one wants to do the damn dishes.

It’s not that he doesn’t want to help; my husband helps with more than I could possibly give him credit for.  It’s that he is not compelled to complete these things, these menial tasks that seem so overwhelmingly important, in the way that I am.  I thrive on lists.  I have grocery lists, laundry lists, rotating chore lists, to do lists, future gift lists, project lists, writing lists, inspiration lists, reading lists…I over-utilize note apps to take the incessant check lists out of my head.  While this helps to control the madness, the spiral of endless things that need to be done, or could be done, is maddening.

For example, a clean home is essential to being happy, comfortable, calm and able to relax for me.  I can become completely unhinged about cleaning our home and because of this one of the best things I ever did was hire a housekeeper.  There are people out there who make a living off of doing the shit you do not want to do, and are more than happy to do it for you.  As soon as I realized (OK, to be honest I should say that as soon as my husband pointed out) that the time I was spending to clean our home was time I was taking away from actually spending quality time with my family, I acquiesced.

I had a hard time admitting that I needed help at first.  I, the doer of all of the things, needed to clean my house just so.  The house was “my responsibility”.  And how could I admit that I couldn’t do all of the things? Blasphemy.

The truth is, I wanted to do everything for everyone.  I wanted to be everything to everyone.  In one of those funny ironic twists, that wasn’t helping anyone, least of all myself.

To be as honest about it as I can be, there was a part of me that scoffed at the thought.  Who was I to hire someone to clean my home?  Did I think I was too good, above doing household chores?  The answer is no of course, but that definitely crossed my mind and it is because I was concerned with how it would be judged by others.  My mother, for instance.

Eff that noise.

No one can put a price tag on the time that you can spend doing the things that are actually important to you.  There is no better trade off.  If you’re still having trouble justifying this, take a different approach – you’re helping that person earn an income that will help them obtain the same goals that you likely have with your career.

This is not just limited to house cleaning; one of my favorite services is Hannaford to Go.  Considering there are no bonafide grocery stores inside of a 30 minute radius from where we live, grocery shopping can consume the better part of half a day.  If you can outsource a significant drive, a significant time consuming task, by all means do it.  I have gained three hours on my week simply by ordering my groceries online and having my husband pick them up on his way home from work.

Seek the help.  None of us can build more hours into our days, we must make the hours and how we are spending them count.  Outsource that which does not serve you and your goals.

Discovery

So much of my identity was wrapped up in being “mother” for so many years.  I lost connection with myself; once I recognized this, I was determined to fill the “Year Ahead” portion of the YearCompass with worthwhile, personal goals.  I just needed to find out what those were, and that has been an exercise in trial and error.  Several pages into reviewing the year prior portion of the assessment, we were asked to write down the title of our past year.  Mine?  “Directionally Complacent.”  And the three things that I wrote to say goodbye to?  “Not knowing what I want; not believing in myself; not putting myself first.”  My first challenge was to change that title, and really walk away from those sentiments.

In determining the root of these three offenders, I started to recognize how much time I wasted on completely insignificant things, on feeling frustrated but not knowing why, on feeling unfulfilled.  My life was consumed with day-to-day busy-ness: things that “needed to get done”, grocery lists, meal plans, sports schedules, appointments, chores, the lists are never ending because there are always things that need to be done, to be remembered, to be scheduled.  Mothers hold so much in their heads; we have so much minutia on our minds on a daily basis that it’s not a wonder that we slide into the blurry sidelines; if we are not intentional with our time creating goals and actually focusing enough to accomplish them becomes less and less of a priority, and we become consumed by all of the things.

The next few months for me were filled with the consumption of self-development books and blogs, following suitably inspirational Facebook pages and Instagram accounts, stalking life coaches (a career territory I wasn’t familiar with prior to this endeavor; I’ve followed Cara Alwill Leyba across every platform she is known, including purchasing her books), downloading podcasts and generally trying to consume as much get-off-your-ass-and-make-something-of-yourself content.

Perhaps one of the more consequential actions I took was enrolling in a Facebook Group program called Morning Routine Refresh.  Paula Stang Stinnett, Chief Possibility Officer at The Art of Being Queen offered a free five day program that focused on mothers who are feeling lost, frustrated, tired, drained, chaotic, stretched too thin, discouraged…the adjectives that were used by the participants in my first round were among all of these (she does not just focus on mothers, however this particular program was designed specifically for this).  These vapid, desolate words resonated so loudly with me.  The premise of the program was to focus on yourself first and foremost, to set your day up in such a way that by rising earlier in the morning you would commit a section of time to yourself, and you alone.  Not to clean your kitchen or rotate a load of laundry, not to commit to an exercise program, but to focus on and reconnect with you, the woman that you are, by whatever means felt right to you.  Self-care (at the time of enrolling in this program I hadn’t quite acknowledged this term), journaling, yoga, meditation, reading for personal growth; the rules were loose as far as what activities were allowed, as long as it benefited the growth of you and you alone.

This simple idea was eye-opening for me.  My days up until that point were cyclical; I was up at 6am if I was lucky, showering, getting the kids up and ready, packing them up for the day, dropping them at their respective places, spending 8-9 hours at the office with its own demands that bleed not just slightly but into each and every hour outside of the office, leave work, pick up at daycare, pick up at school, head home, start dinner, do laundry (there is always more laundry, it is a never-ending constant), help with homework, facilitate baths and showers, enforce nighttime routines, and then prep for the next day if I was feeling up to it; if not, that meant that the next day was already starting behind, which was most days.  Most days I wasn’t sitting down until 9:30 at night, and I just wanted to drink a bottle of wine, watch something mindless on Netflix, bury my head and sleep.  In the mornings I was pressed for time, on edge, stressed and absolutely lost my shit on more than the occasional basis.  At night, I ran a drill sergeant’s time clock: homework, dinner, shower, bed.  In between tasks or while waiting for dinner to cook I zoned out scrolling through Facebook catching up on other people’s lives, which had no significance in my own life but felt overwhelmingly important.

Just reading that makes me exhausted.  It weighs on me in an almost physical way.  Because under all of the tasks and routines and busywork, there are the things that I would have liked to do for myself: exercise, read, a hobby, something creative.  I always felt frustrated that I didn’t have the “time” to allocate to these things that I desperately wanted to be doing.

Dedicating 20 to 30 minutes to meditation, yoga, personal growth, writing, journaling, anything that allowed me to focus on something that I wanted to do allowed me to really determine the activities that resonated with me the most.  Carving out time to focus on and to reconnect with myself, in the quiet of the early morning, and take a breath before diving into the day was simple and easy (minus the early set alarm) yet extraordinary.  I read books that sparked ideas, listened to podcasts that motivated, I meditated, journaled and focused on gratitude.  Once I had committed to creating that time that was solely for me, I found that I was much more at peace with the demands of the day, of the pulls from my daughters, my husband, my home and my job.

I highly suggest trying it for a few days.  Carve out time for you and you alone.  In the quiet of the morning (or whatever time of the day you can), pursue yourself.  Reconnect, invest and prioritize you.  Find the spark that will light you on fire.  It’s there, you just have to be willing to take the time to connect with it.  This was all a part of my journey back to writing.  To here, with you, the consumer of my thoughts.

I wouldn’t ever suggest that I have all of the answers, nor have I mastered the balance of woman and mother.  I’m simply sharing my journey.  However, as I developed a keen interest in developing myself outside of the role of mother, I saw a window of opportunity to share my story in a way that might scale to something that other mothers were feeling.  Mothers who were stuck, unhappy, and not living up to their fullest potential.  And I rediscovered a strong propensity for writing, the previous evidence of which was long ago burned in my parents’ fireplace.

Motherhood is all-consuming, if you let it be.  That is why carving out time to dedicate to and staying intentional about your growth and goals as a woman is paramount in finding success, in finding the illusive feeling of “balance”.