Exposed

As a mom, there are any given number of things that I can fail at on a daily basis.  Dinner, for instance.  With a family of five, I will most likely choose at least one meal a week that someone would rather not eat.  Or picking out the right pair of pants for my 3-year-old; this usually occurs within the first hour of the day, primarily because she detests pants and wants to wear dresses all of the time.  Not long sleeve dresses, but strappy sundresses made for beaches, and certainly not for outdoor classroom days in Vermont in mid-November.  But one of the things I fail consistently at is…

I’m a yeller.

I yell.  Alot.

To admit this exposes a part of me that I would like to keep buried from scrutiny.  It’s not an easy thing to admit, that my reaction to stressful or trying situations is frustration, that I can’t talk myself out of the zero to sixty escalation from calm and rational to not.

I certainly don’t think that yelling is a strength of mine; no, quite the opposite – there is more strength in remaining calm and composed.  But there is strength in my sharing this with you.

I think there is a widely accepted myth about strength – that it comes from a place of security, of confidence, of always doing things the “right” or “accepted” way, of perfection.  However, I think strength comes from acknowledging our faults, our flaws, and our quirks, in accepting ourselves as is.

I didn’t connect with the thoughts I share in this space from a place of strength.  In taking a look at the areas where I wanted to grow personally, these musings certainly weren’t hiding in areas I excel in.  I had to examine my faults; to figure out where I was weakest.  Sometimes, I need someone else to be that mirror for me.  I think, while it can be easy to find faults in ourselves, it’s not always so easy to own up to the ones whose roots grow a bit deeper.

I’m not saying that I am blind to certain faults or weaknesses; rather, like yelling, they are layered behind excuses and justifications that I have built.

There is incredible strength in being vulnerable, in sharing that exposure and I think that’s because people resonate with what is real, and what is honest.  The strength comes in pushing past the doubt, in accepting that there might be rejection, in accepting that the parts about us that we hide, those pieces that are not shiny and pretty and polished, are worth putting out there as well, in being open.  There are bonds forged with those you can share your weaknesses with, and even more so when you can count on others to hold you accountable for using those weaknesses and turning them into challenges you have overcome.

Vulnerability can take on many faces; exposing your thoughts, showcasing your talent, displaying your skills.  Learning something new, being a beginner.  Traveling solo.  Making a career change.  Talking about the struggles, about mistakes and about failures.

Find a way to be vulnerable; find a space you can be vulnerable in, people you can be vulnerable with.  Vulnerability begets value, and we can all use a little more of that.

Shift

On September 14th, nearly two months ago, I started a gratitude project.  There were no rules other than I was expected to share five things daily that I was grateful for.

I have added five gratitude items daily for over 50 consecutive days.

At first, it was challenging to think about coming up with five things every day; I used to be – and still hang on to pieces of being – a “glass half empty” type.  However, with practice, you can become better at just about anything, including being positive and finding the silver lining in challenges.

The project is ongoing.  There is no stop date.  It is something that I carry with me every day.  It has changed my perspective in a number of situations.  It makes me feel the appreciation for everything I have much more thoroughly.  I find inspiration in seeking and creating more things I am grateful for, in crafting experiences that I will be grateful to have.

This gratitude practice has shifted my focus; it helps me see what is there, versus what isn’t and creates awareness around abundance, versus lack.

We’re in the season of giving thanks.  Find a reason to say thank you for something today.  Try it again tomorrow.  And the next day.  Build a practice in gratitude that extends past the end of the month, that is sustainable indefinitely.  If you’re feeling stuck, type gratitude into a Google or Pinterest search bar and you’ll be inundated with ideas on how to craft a practice that you can stick with.

You can thank me later.  Or, you could be grateful for stumbling upon this blog, and day one is already behind you.

On Being Intentional

This week is the first of four self-imposed three-day work weeks; I have accumulated PTO hours that are allowing me to do this, or else I lose the time.

From a workload perspective this might not be the best timing, but there is always more we could be doing, isn’t there?  I could easily let the accrued time slide, focus on pressing projects that need attention, and save myself a bit of stress during the three days I am in the office (or, when I’m not and the number in the red circle above my email icon continues to relentlessly grow).  However, in looking at my calendar last week, and trying to figure out just where I could take one day off, let alone eight, I promised myself that I would take the time because, after all, one of the biggest goals I had in 2017 was to find time for me.

Over the course of the last ten months, I have had to become intentional about a number of things, knowing that I wanted to change the trajectory of my day-to-day.  I had to become aware of content, consumption, activities, and time, and become intentional about the choices I made in those areas.  Life starts to change in a real way when you show up for yourself, when you start being deliberate with the decisions you make for yourself, your thoughts and your focus.

I had to consciously focus on consumption; picking up books that served as mental nourishment, narrowing the focus of the mindless scrolling on social media, vetting my blog subscriptions, making sure that what I was consuming was propelling myself forward.  There is an endless amount of garbage, mindless, soul-sucking black holes of nothing, readily available for us to consume – or rather, ready to consume us.  You have to be purposeful about what you are choosing to pay attention to, and equally if not more importantly, about what you are not.  I spent quite a bit of time scrutinizing my intake on various levels, and once I had culled out a few of the sources, I began to work on filling the gaps left with more worthwhile content.

When you have decided that you no longer want to stay stuck where you are developmentally, yet don’t know what direction you are trying to grow, you discover that there are numerous directions that one can take.  If you are in a similar mindset to where I was ten months ago, you may not necessarily know what might get you out of the rut you are in.  I had to consciously choose activities and events outside of my comfort zone, and be intentional about setting aside the time to participate in them.  I found that one of the most successful ways of doing this was to sign up or register well in advance, which forced me to schedule around those things I had committed to like I would a meeting or a school pick-up time.  For instance, I signed up for a beginner’s watercolor class slated to start mid-October in August.  I enjoy painting, but had only tried my hand at watercolor once and hadn’t taken an art class since high school more than 15 years ago.  Had I hesitated or procrastinated on signing up, I’m quite sure I would have talked myself out of it, convinced that I didn’t have the time.  That class has been one of the things I anticipate most every week, and I intend to continue growing and learning in this area.  Spark, lit.

Being intentional has been an ongoing practice in habit and mindset that can be challenging.  Once in awhile there will be times when old habits and mindsets sneak back in; life gets busy, I lose focus and I settle back into the well-worn tracks of the paths I have taken so many times that led me to feeling the way I described in Catalysts, but I now have the ability to accept it for what it is, acknowledge it, decide to not stay in that space for too long, and start making mindful decisions again when I can.

You have to be intentional when wanting to grow; growth is not easy, and more often than not it is uncomfortable.  It’s easy to stay where you are at; complacency and staying with what we know can be comforting.  But it’s not where the goosebumps are.

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.