Friday, May 30, 2014

The Power of You

Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.
-Judy Garland

We all have people we want to emulate. Something about them inspires us- their confidence, their ability, their humor, their energy. Whatever it is, we see something special and different about them and we want it for ourselves. It seems the best way to attain what they have is to study them, rehearse them, and then try to be just like them. That seems like it makes sense at first. The only problem is that it inevitably fails. Why? Because we’re not them.
 
It kind of reminds me of when I first became a counselor. I was so anxious about doing everything right and being just like the professors who taught me, that I struggled to just be with a client and relate like a normal human being. I was stiff and awkward and spent more time acting like a counselor than just being one. I’m not sure when it shifted for me, but eventually I let go and decided to be myself. I related to clients the way I would a friend or family member. I started integrating my style of humor wrought with hyperbole and dry wit. If a client told me something ridiculous, I would laugh at/with them and reply with a loving, smart aleck quip just like I would with a friend. Of course, this would depend on the person and the presenting issue. I would never make light of someone’s pain. But the point is, once I became a real person in the room, once I was me, people responded favorably.

I mention this only because I’m faced with a similar situation as I return to the creative arts. When it comes to music and dance I feel that pull again to mimic people I really admire. If I could just bottle up the best qualities of each of my role models and imbibe a potion of all of their awesomeness, I would be good to go. But if I’ve learned anything about human nature, it’s that people don’t want another copycat. We inherently distrust incongruence. The antennas go up when something about a person doesn’t seem genuine. We want to know you actually are who you say you are. You’ll be hard pressed to convince someone you’re genuine if you’re working overtime to be someone else.
 

What I’m realizing is this. Authenticity reigns supreme. Embrace all your quirks and idiosyncrasies. Wear them like a badge of honor. Embrace your way of connecting and relating in the world. People will appreciate you for it because you’re being yourself. We each have a unique light. It doesn’t matter if someone does that exact same thing we do. When we approach it we breathe a whole new life and energy to it because there is no one else like us. But that only happens when you stop spending your time trying to be someone else and you recognize the power of you.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The secret to single contentment

I recently shared with some friends that I had the awesomely awkward experience of a stranger at the library just smiling and staring at me as I checked out a book called, “Why you’re not married yet.” When it happened I noticed my immediate reaction was embarrassment and shame. It was like I was wearing a scarlet A on my chest…or S as it were. I didn’t want to be caught checking out a self-help book, much less a self-help book on why you can’t get somebody to put a ring on it. A few beats later I felt a little indignant. Yeah, that’s right. I checked it out. Don’t judge me, I thought internally. Then as I walked out of the library I felt humbled. I needed to be honest with myself about a truth nearly every independent, accomplished woman hates to admit. I’m not married and I really want to be. So, if there’s anything I need to know about what might be getting in the way, I want to be open enough to learn.

The book itself, by Tracy McMillan, was an enjoyable read. I’m relieved to know I have no glaring personal defects that might interfere with love- an obvious hatred for men, unabashed promiscuity, tendencies to berate and emasculate at every given turn, things like that. I’m not drowning in debt (unless you count student loans), I’m not overly needy or clingy, and I’m not certifiable. Sure, I have my stuff (we all do). I have my inner Courtney Love, as McMillan calls it, which rears her ugly head from time to time (we all do). I have my moments of self-delusion in which I ignore the flags and indicators because I just don’t want to see what’s glaring me in the face (we all do). But I’m a generally balanced and stable human being.
 

What I really like about her book is that it puts the focus on the reader and not in the sense of here’s a formula to catch true love. The focus is about doing your work, the uncomfortable internal work of healing from past junk. Was it fair that he left like that? No. Work to forgive anyway. Was it okay that she said that? No. Work to release it anyway. Was it your fault that this horrible relational trauma occurred? No. And you still might have played some part in it, even if it was just in allowing things you knew weren’t acceptable…or changing to please someone else…or doing any of the other countless things we do that violate our personal integrity. This is the harsh reality your closest friends might not tell you and your therapist might not tell you until a good year in. Yet, McMillan served up this jagged little pill with humor, compassion, and just enough self-deprecation to make it palatable.

So, what’s my take home? That’s a tough one. I’m noticing that shame creep back up as I vulnerably identify myself as a single woman…a single woman who desires to be partnered. Yet that is my reality. That’s a truth I must first accept if I am to ever expect my situation to change. At the same time, I’m realizing that every single person, every person really, must resolve this within themselves: If I end up alone, I will be okay. My life will be full of joy. I will embrace the love I already have. I will be complete with or without a mate. If you can’t affirm each of those statements today, that’s okay. Those are hard things to say and genuinely mean in our couples' world. That just means you have an invitation to do some soul work. I’m not there 100% but each day I get closer. And you know the secret…my secret to single contentment? Regardless of whatever condition or season of life I find myself in, I can not only tolerate it, but endure it joyfully through Christ who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).

Friday, May 16, 2014

After pomp and circumstance

I participated in graduation exercises last weekend. It was kind of surreal because I wasn’t a student anymore. I was a faculty member leading the way in full doctoral regalia. A friend of mind had commented that it was crazy to think it had been 10 years to the day we all graduated from college. I had no idea and the thought blew my mind. 10 years since college graduation? Seriously? In some ways, it felt like a lot had happened in my life. In other ways, it felt like I just blinked and I was in my 30s. How did I get here? Where did the time go?



Anyway, in typical commencement address fashion, the message was inspirational and it charged the graduating class to follow their dreams. Be open to possibilities. You never know where life will take you. You have a unique gift to share with the world. Blah, blah, blah. Don’t get me wrong. It’s all good stuff. I’m queen of inspiration, believe me. I just couldn’t help but notice that in addition to 10 years of gaining…uhm…maturity, I also gained a fair dose of cynicism. Life rarely ends up the way you expect.

Personally, I figured I’d be married with at least one kid in tow by now. I haven’t quite sealed the deal in the matrimony department though. Educationally, I knew I would go to grad school but never planned to get my doctorate. Now I have some big girl degrees and credentials behind my name that I only mention to highlight how weird it still is to me. I don’t have the six figure salary a lot of college grads want to make in their 30s. I do have a six figure loan debt, so go figure. I’ve met some awesome people and a whole lot of jerks. I’ve fallen in love and lost love. I’ve had a ton of crappy jobs and some impressive ones. I’d say I’m doing fairly well in life 10 years out of college. I’m thankful for my life thus far. But am I living my dream?



 

As I reflect on this year’s commencement, I feel like I received the same invitation as the class of 2014. I’m invited to consider the following questions: Am I doing what moves me? Am I living on purpose? Do I feel energized and renewed each day? Is my life fueled by passion and joy? Are there pockets of adventure amidst the daily routine? Is my soul truly satisfied or do I thirst for more? And if the pursuit of more (not money or things but soul satisfaction) requires me to deviate from the path of convention, do I have the courage to move anyway? These are the questions on my heart these days…questions that I hope will guide the next 10 years and allow me to say at the end of it, ‘I’m fulfilling my purpose and I’m truly alive.’

 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Secrets of the Happily Partnered

Being a counselor gives me a unique vantage point in life. At times it can feel voyeuristic because I’m privy to people’s secrets. Clients share the most personal details of their lives that they’ve never shared with anyone else, including details of their most intimate relationships. It’s like an up close and personal reality TV show, except not very entertaining. If anything, the raw reality of many people’s lives is heartbreaking. Lots of folks are jacked up because of bad choices and needless traumas that they’ve inflicted or that were inflicted upon them. While I try my best to reserve judgment, validate all perspectives and empathize with feelings no matter what, hearing what I hear everyday can make a person anxious at best, jaded at worst. The stories can make one question: Does everyone have a demon they wrestle with? Do we all lie about who we really are and lead double lives? Does everyone cheat on their partner? Is anyone happy and faithful and secure in a healthy relationship?

The fact of the matter is, yes, there are people who are struggle to connect in a healthy way but there are people who are solid and stable too. I should probably be mindful that in my line of work there’s probably a skewed sample. It’s kind of like those weekends I watch Law & Order SVU marathons. Enough episodes of that and everyone you see is a predator. The balance though is that many people, if not most, possess a reasonable amount of emotional stability and are happily partnered. I decided to poll them because their story isn’t often captured. For whatever reason, only the horror stories get circulated, rather than the “boring” reality of normal people. Here were the themes I found in the happily partnered:
 

They’re best friends with their partner
Out of 20 or so friends that I polled, all of them mentioned the companionship of their relationship. They view their partner as their best friend and genuinely enjoy time spent with them. There’s laughter, shared interest, and a feeling that they can relax and be their authentic self around their partner. They don’t just have a lover; they have a person they can do life with and that person feels like family.
They’re committed to doing the work with their partner
Most of my friends mentioned some form of commitment that contributed to relationship satisfaction. They acknowledged that relationships require maintenance and their partner is one who can “do the work” of maintaining the connection. This includes but is not limited to making repairs when (not if) injuries take place and humbling oneself before the other to correct wrongs. There’s willingness to remain faithful no matter what. As one friend and her husband say, “Ain’t nobody leaving nobody.” When you’re in it together no matter what, a sense of teamwork is forged which helps each person feel safe.
 

They’re at home with their partner
A third and final theme that seemed to repeat throughout each response is that they are at home with their partner. There is physical and emotional safety knowing that they can be completely vulnerable before one another and don’t have to fear judgment. So whether it’s revealing one’s ugly cry, bodily functions, or first-thing-in-the-morning appearance, there’s security and rest knowing that you are unconditionally loved and accepted…even at your absolute worst.

These responses shouldn’t surprise me, but they kind of did, in a pleasant way. I’m relieved to hear that people are happily booed up. I should note that one guy friend made honorable mention of sex as one of his favorite aspects of the relationship. And yeah, sure…there’s that. What he didn’t say, nor did anyone else, was that it was the sexual chemistry or the attractiveness of their partner that propelled them to get married or stay married. All of them spoke of the kind of love that is deeper than skin…the kind of love we all search for and few are fortunate enough to find. So, if you have someone in your life that seems to meet all three of the above criteria, then maybe, just maybe you’ve found a contender for forever.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

What's next?


This is the question on my mind these days. The friends that I mentioned a couple of posts ago are now married. Another good friend who spent years on her PhD now has it. The personal training sessions I started in January are now over and the 5k race I spent months training for is now complete. After you wait, anticipate, work toward a goal and then finally meet it, what’s next?

If I’m completely honest, I usually feel a little down after I meet a goal. Sure, my initial feelings are elation and accomplishment. I relish in it for a couple of days. But then, not too long after, I feel a bit deflated. I wrestle with “what’s next?” It’s not that I’m a discontent person. I’m generally satisfied with my life and thankful for my blessings. I think I just miss the process of getting there.

When you work toward a goal it fills space in your life. Whether it’s getting a degree, taking on a fitness challenge, or planning for a significant event, it requires discipline, energy, and focus. It enlivens you in a way, because it allows you to escape from the monotony of your usual routine. Regardless of what else is going on, you have something that inspires you and gives you something to look forward to. Dreams and goals give you hope and that rare commodity is something our souls crave.

So, what’s next for me? Well, I’m pretty sure I’ll keep challenging myself in exercise and fitness. I’d like to develop musically now that I’m singing more regularly. I have some spiritual goals on my radar as well. But really, all of these are secondary to the process of learning about myself, forming new relationships, and growing in ways I never realized I could. Goals themselves are secondary to the hope they put your my heart. It’s the possibility of what could be that feeds you from the inside out and gives you a mental picture to strive for. And when you’re continually “nourished by the spirit of the future,” as Kim Clement says, you’re ever empowered to keep moving, progressing, and becoming the person you were meant to be.