Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Obligatory Year in Review Post- 2015

Recently, I went to a website that generates your best nine Instagram pictures of 2015 into a collage. Best is determined by the most likes. When I saw mine all I could do was smile and think, Yep. That’s about right. You see, whenever I skim my gallery or review any of my posts, they all have the same cohesive themes throughout: fitness, fun, and friends.

It’s pretty cool when you see your highlight reel. You get to see what matters most to you. It’s one thing to say connecting with others through movement is a strong value. It’s another thing to witness it in action throughout the year. It’s very affirming when you realize that your values and lifestyle are congruent and you truly are living the life you say you want.

My goal for 2016 is to experience fitness, fun, and friends in increasing measure. I want to continue building upon these values and fostering them in others. I hope that by this time next year I have even more group pictures with people laughing and moving and living joy-filled lives to the fullest. Here’s to 2016!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Just do it

I recently realized that I’ve hit a plateau in my fitness regimen. In the first two years of my fitness journey, everything was so new. I was hitting personal records and knocking out goals right and left. It was easy to do when you go from completely nothing to venturing into a little of everything. Now that I’m wrapping up my third year of a fit lifestyle, I’m seeing how I’ve entered a maintenance phase. I’m still moving regularly, of course, and teaching classes, which is a good thing. I don’t know how much I’m challenging myself anymore though, and I think it’s time to step up my game.

I have to be honest. I think I stopped pushing myself because of fear. The idea of adding more repetitions or more weight made me nervous. There was a mental block to running farther than the distance of my longest race. I already felt a sense of mastery right where I was and didn’t know if I could or should push beyond. However, it’s been said, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” There’s nothing wrong with just maintaining for a period of time. There’s a lot to be said about just being consistent and keeping with the routine. You just have to know when it’s time to push again so aren’t lulled into complacency and get stuck where you are.
 

So, this week at the gym has been a push. I’ve added weight and added sets. I’ve had to take a break in between at times. I’ve had to grimace to get in the last few reps. I’ve had to mentally tell myself, “Just two more…just one more.” It hasn’t been all that fun for me necessarily. But I do feel a fire igniting once again. I feel energy and motivation propelling me forward. I feel a fight rising up in me as I start the climb once again and push myself to the limits. There’s really no deep strategy involved. Don’t over think it. If you want to go beyond where you’ve been, then like Nike says, just do it.
 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Birthday Lessons from the Trees

For my birthday this year I wanted to do something a little different than the standard dinner with friends. I suggested several of us go to an outdoor adventure park with ropes courses and ziplining. I’m thankful to have so many friends that are game for an adventure. Even apart from the satisfaction of trying something new, we all walked away with important lessons. Here are a few of mine.

1.       It’s not all fun
While the overall park experience was fun, I can’t say that every moment was fun. There was one particular course where we had to skateboard on a zipline through the trees. You were harnessed in, of course, but that offered no real comfort when all you had to grab onto was the rope overhead. I didn’t love it. I wanted it to be over. That’s kind of how life is sometimes. Some experiences just have to be endured until you get to the next moment.

2.       It’s easier if you enjoy the ride
I’ve shared before how hard it is for me to let go in life. This is true in relationships and in seasons of time. Interestingly enough, what I noticed in the trees was that every obstacle that required holding on was much more difficult for me. I was desperately clinging and afraid to fall. I was much more anxious and it was a struggle to balance. It was just harder all around. But each time I could just zipline or let go and ride, it was the most fun I had. There’s surprising joy in just letting go and enjoying the ride.

3.       There’s always a trust fall
It seems that in every camp or wilderness experience, leadership or corporate retreat, there’s always a trust fall of some form or another. This park was no different. In fact, it was the grand finale of most of the courses. All you have to do is step off a platform of variable heights and land safely on the ground. “All you have to do,” right? It’s much easier said than done. Oh yeah, and there’s no safety exit. Stepping off is the only way down. So it is with life. When all your back up plans and emergency exits and maneuvers to self-protect are eliminated, all you can do is step forward and trust.

It’s fascinating how engaging the body in action can tap into things that wouldn’t otherwise be accessed through words. It’s one thing to talk abstractly about letting go and quite another to feel the sensation of it in my body. It makes it concrete and real. It shifts it from merely mental ascent to a genuine faith- faith that there’s purpose in the process and joy in the journey.
 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Musical Chairs

Not long ago I was chatting with a friend. She’s one of the few friends I can routinely lament to about the frustrations of single life. Even though she’s happily married with a one year old, she well remembers the struggle of walking through singleness in your 30s. She even described her single years in this way: “It was like marriage was a game of musical chairs and everyone else sat down in their 20s.” That beautifully captures the feeling, at least at times. It’s that awkward sense of embarrassment when you think everyone is looking at you and you feel left out.

I use singleness as an example often because it’s my experience. But really, that left out feeling applies to any number of life scenarios. The conversation caused me to consider how many arbitrary markers we have in life. It seems like a given that you go to college and maybe even graduate school. You get a full time job. You move out on your own. You own a car and eventually buy a home. You get married and have a few kids. But what happens if these things don’t fall in place so easily? What happens if you don’t make sufficient progress by societal deadlines? What if you enter the workforce first and finish school at 35 instead of 22? What if you marry for the first time at 40 instead of 25? Or what if something that’s considered a measure of successful adulthood just isn’t part of your life path at all? Then what?

Unfortunately, I think most of us internalize shame. We’re loaded down with expectations that are placed on us (or we place on ourselves) and we feel bad for not meeting them. If all my friends are done with school and I’m still working my way through…If I should be out on my own by now, but I’m still living at home…If I should be married by a certain age and I don’t even have prospects…If I should want kids but I’m not sure I do…If I want kids but struggle to conceive…If I should’ve lost my baby weight by now and I haven’t…If I should own a home by now, but I’m still renting...The unspoken answer to all these should questions is what’s wrong with me? I don’t think that’s really fair and I wonder if we can change the conversation.

The reality is that maybe there are certain paths that are typical for most…certain markers that the majority of us will meet. But if, by chance, someone goes in a different direction (assuming it’s not harmful), why not just honor it? Why not celebrate diversity rather than shame divergence? Why not show equal love to those that go a different way as well as those who follow the usual mold? Let’s stop placing value judgments on people’s lives. It’s not always about good or bad, right or wrong. Sometimes it’s just a matter of difference.

As much as I enjoy the game musical chairs, in a perfect world, no one would ever be excluded. There would always be a seat for everyone. But since that’s not life, my musical chairs revision would be that the seated ones offer applause to the one without and the one left standing would break out into their own unique dance while exiting stage left.

 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Bravely you

When I was younger I would pretend I was other people. I’d come home from school, go down into my den, and carryout entire play sessions re-enacting what I saw the cool kids doing throughout the school day. I desperately wanted to be someone else. As a shy kid with a gap in her teeth and hairy legs, you can understand why. If I’m completely honest, I still carry this tendency to pretend sometimes even today. It’s no longer a play session, obviously. Now it’s more like imagining what my confident ideal would look like. Would an external change help? Perhaps my style is too simple. Maybe I should take more time with my appearance. Honestly, not much changes from 13 to 30 with regards to wanting to be one of cool kids.

But here’s the thing: Each passing year allows me to learn something new and exciting about me. While I can acknowledge that tendency to want to change at times, I’m learning to accept myself just as I am. So, inspired by Mandy Hale’s list of “Things I’m No Longer Apologizing For,” here’s my short list.

1)      I don’t like shopping. When I absolutely have to shop, I know exactly what I want and get in and out within an hour. Anything else feels like a waste of time.

2)      I don’t like putting on make-up. I’m not opposed to wearing it. But if the application takes more than 10-15 minutes, forget it. At times even that’s too much.

3)      I don’t like high heels. My feet just aren’t designed for them. They hurt and fashion is not worth pain to me. Plus, hobbling around or tripping and falling would counter the sexy vibe I’d be going for anyway.

4)      I don’t get regular manicures. They’re lovely for sure. Unfortunately, I’m the girl who messes it up before even leaving the salon. I’m too active to worry about messing up my nails.

I realize my examples might seem superficial. But, I think we discover who we are by ruling out who we aren’t. By making this short list, I’ve confirmed I’m a low maintenance minimalist who sometimes has dry cuticles. Not only that, but I love to run and dance, neither of which are supported by rocking heels all the time. I’m casual. I’m earthy. I like to be outside. I prefer comfort and utility over fashion. I wear a natural look because I equate it to authenticity. I want to see and be seen and that comes from removing real and symbolic masks.

As I read back over my list of characteristics, I really like them. I would totally want to be friends with me. Why, then, is it so hard to be oneself? Why do we put ourselves through the frustration of comparing? My belief is that comparing and pretending come when you don’t know who you are. I think as you devote yourself to learning your unique identity, then you’ll get excited about all the little things that make you special. Then, and only then, can you go forth and be bravely you.
 
 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Awkward: Looking, Liking, and Lurking

The reality of our world today is that we live our lives online. Even the most conservative social media users still have an internet trail of some form or another. It’s almost an expectation that once you have someone’s first and last name you Google them to learn more. If it seems you’re likely to be connected in any way, then you usually connect on social media. The thing about social media is that it satisfies exhibitionist and voyeuristic needs. People like to share and over share. People also like to passively observe and people watch. Admittedly, if we’re honest we’ve been in both camps. So what do you do if you realize that you’re the creeper?

If you’re anything like me, then on a bored weekend night with nothing to do you surf. You frequent the same pages of people you follow. Perhaps it’s your hair crush and you follow for styling ideas. Maybe it’s that hot, fit friend who posts crazy workouts of the day. Maybe one day you'll be able to deadlift that much and do walking handstands. Maybe you follow someone you have feelings for and even though you notice and want to like everything they post within minutes of them posting it, you hold back to not seem...well...to not seem like you stalk their page 24/7. Meanwhile, you read each and every comment from their friends, visit their pages, and inadvertently gather personal information about their best friend’s partner’s cousin.

After an hour or so of mindlessly wandering from page to page, it dawns on you, can anyone see me? Is this one of those intrusive sites that obnoxiously informs the person who’s viewed their page, screenshot their posts, or how frequently they visit? If so, I need the earth to just open wide for me right now and swallow me whole because I’d be mortified. Can’t anyone lurk in blissful anonymity anymore?



If you’ve been there (and I think many of us have), then how do you handle it? I think it’s just important to remember that social media is made for engagement and ideally serves as an icebreaker for real life interaction. Therefore, don’t be afraid to interact with people. Don’t hesitate to like and comment on posts. Tell people how attractive their selfies are or how impressive their work out of the day is, or how you really appreciated the honesty of their caption. Jokingly but candidly share how much you admire them and have a big crush on them. If it’s delivered the right way, most people will be flattered. Authenticity has a powerful way of diffusing social awkwardness. Bottom line, don’t hide in the shadows and lurk. That’s weird and only fuels feelings of shame and isolation. Engage and relate. After all, isn’t that why you connected in the first place? Next, we will conclude the series with Awkward: Making Friends. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Awkward: Friend Requests

I avoided Facebook for the first ten years or so of its existence. I was wary of the idea of being connected to everyone I had ever known. I still am. Nevertheless, it’s been about a 1 ½ years since I’ve joined and I’m still navigating the awkward world of Facebook. There’s a lot of good to it. It’s great for networking and collaborating. But the other side is people who aren’t really close to you have a portal to your personal life. That seems to be especially true if you are visible or have any sort of professional or ministry platform. Then, even more people want to be connected to you. Therefore, here are some tips I was given that might help you to navigate the awkward world of friend requests.


Ignore
As uncomfortable as it might be, you are always free to ignore or not accept a request. My personal rule is that if I don’t immediately know who you are or if I have to click on your image and see who we have in common, chances are I don’t really know you. So, as much as I don’t want people to feel rejected, I also don’t want a bunch of people creeping on my page that aren’t really a part of my life.
Designate
Let’s say you are somewhat acquainted. What if you have 40 mutual friends and chances are you’ll bump into this person? Then, if it would create more awkwardness to ignore their friend request, it might be best to go ahead and accept them. But what you can do is create different lists. Create an acquaintance list, family list, business contacts list, friends list, close friends list, etc. If you take the time to put people in categories on social media just as you would in real life, then you can eliminate the uncomfortable feeling of your distant church member seeing vacation pictures, or your friend’s mom seeing your silly post about that bad date.
Delete
Another option is to periodically clear out your contacts. Do you ever go through your phone and delete contacts that you never use? Do the same with Facebook. If it’s been six months and you haven’t interacted with this person at all…if they don’t like your posts and you don’t comment on theirs…if there’s been no interaction since the initial acceptance…if you’ve never had an actual conversation with this person or if their posts upset you… if you believe perhaps you’ve been blocked or deleted or if they inactivate their account, then go ahead and delete them. It’s not necessarily personal. It’s not about being mad at them or not liking them. It’s just about managing the connections that come into your life in a healthy way. If you don’t have a goal of collecting thousands of “friends,” then be strategic about who you allow to attach you. Don’t you do that in real life?

Admittedly, all of this is easier said than done. It can be very uncomfortable to interact online. If you delete someone on one site, but they follow you on another, that can get weird. If you send a request and someone ignores it that can be awkward. If you didn’t anticipate seeing someone in person and then you do, then that might be uncomfortable once again. But hey, it is what it is. Being protective of your social and emotional life doesn’t make you mean. It makes you wise. However, there’s always another side to things. So next up, we’ll talk about when you’re the creeper in Awkward: Looking, Liking, and Lurking.
 
 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Awkward: Texting

It's been said, "Texting is the best way to miscommunicate how you feel, and misinterpret what other people mean." Be that as it may, texting for many is the primary and preferred method of communication. People text everyone from best friends to relatives to casual acquaintances. It's become the norm and with it has come potential awkwardness.

It's happened to all of us. You send a text and get no reply. It isn't urgent, of course, but you say something witty or even propose to hang out and it's nothing but crickets. You give it several hours. People are busy. Maybe it’s a network issue. Perhaps they have problems with their phone. It's certainly possible for people start to reply but then forget to press send. Right? But then 24 hours later, still no response. Did they not get your joke? Did you offend them? Should there have been an exclamation point instead of that period? Maybe you should’ve added an “LOL” or winking emoji to let them know you’re kidding. You get increasingly annoyed or anxious depending on what you wrote. Now, you have to decide your next move.

Generally, double texting or sending a text before someone responds to you is a social faux pas in this generation. It makes you seem desperate. You wonder if it’s okay to make an exception just in case they really didn’t get your text. You could be hurt for no reason. Isn’t it better to confirm that they’re a flake before writing them off completely? You also don’t want to seem over eager by doing too much. What is one to do?

It’s useful to realize that texting offers a glimpse into your feelings about the relationship. I know that when I text my family or my closest friends and they don’t respond, I typically don’t worry too much. I don’t over think the silence. I don’t assume the worst. I figure they’ll get back to me when they can. I might jokingly give them a hard time when we do connect, but it’s usually in good fun and I definitely don’t obsess about their non-response. But if I’m already a little anxious and insecure in the relationship, if it’s a newer friend or someone I want to impress, I’m much more in my head about the social interaction. I’m definitely more apt to read into what they say and what they don’t. But that’s not really fair. Doesn’t everyone deserve the benefit of a doubt? Can’t they be excused for being busy or absent minded or even a little self-focused sometimes? I say yes because we all are at times. So, just relax and breathe easy. Everything you need to know about that person will unfold in time and offline. Up next…Awkward: Friend Requests.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Awkward

Periodically I’ll get midday calls or texts from my friend who lives in L.A. In her typical storytelling fashion, she’ll set up an entire scenario where she’s crossing a busy intersection full of people and she’ll suddenly trip for no reason. She’ll add a sound effect to her stumble and highlight how everyone saw because it was at a stoplight. I always ask her, “So, your face didn’t get hot and you didn’t feel totally embarrassed?” She’ll just respond, “No, not at all. It’s just kind of like. Oops. Dang, I tripped,” and she keeps on moving. She feels virtually no embarrassment at all about this. She just shares it with me because it makes for a laugh-out-loud story. This is a far cry from me who feels my face flush when I trip alone in my apartment. It made me think about the idea of awkward and embarrassing moments in our social lives how to navigate them.



While I think there are many people out there in the world just like my friend who can laugh at themselves and not take things to heart, there are just as many of us who die a little on the inside anytime there’s the hint of humiliation. Perhaps we tend toward social anxiety. Maybe we just want to be liked more than the average person. Whatever the reasons, I find myself awkwardly stumbling through at times as I attempt to make new friends and deepen connections with acquaintances. Therefore, I thought it was time for a series on the embarrassing highs and lows of social interaction. My hope is that by the end maybe we can all learn to go easy on ourselves. If not, maybe at the very least, we can normalize how weird it is for most of us and learn some strategies for dealing when things get awkward. Stay tuned for the next installment of Awkward: Texting.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

I didn't want to share

It dawned on me that I haven’t posted in two weeks. I drafted a couple of different ideas, but I just wasn’t feeling them. They either weren’t fully developed or I just didn’t think they were worthy of posting. They were safe topics. I have no problem discussing the life lessons from my random Monday road trip. I can weave all kinds of connections between counseling, fitness, and this walk called life. But please God, nothing that requires actual disclosure or vulnerability.

I started thinking about my blog silence and what was really going into it. Sure, at times, life gets busy or you simply hit creative blocks. But that wasn’t what was happening. The last two weeks have been emotionally challenging, so I hid. I didn’t want to share that as soon as I posted on the courage to go solo I fell into hopelessness, wondering if I would always be alone. I didn’t want to share that each time that question emerges I’m taken right back to the pain of my relationship loss. I didn’t want to share that even though it’s been over three years and I “should” be over it, it still makes me cry…weep…especially when love hasn’t come back into my life yet. I didn’t want to share the irony of married clients seeking my help because I’ve never been married and at times wonder if I ever will be. I didn’t want to share that when single clients come I can reflect their pain perfectly because it’s something I carry on a daily basis. I didn’t want to share all the many times I was tempted to make foolish decisions despite knowing better, all because I wasn’t sure doing things “the right way” was getting me anywhere.
No, all of that is far too personal. I didn’t want to share any of that. Instead, I kept silent. The proverbial pen stopped moving and I went inside myself waiting for cheerier inspiration to hit me. But then I thought what if all the writers that I’ve come to love did that. What if Elizabeth Gilbert and Mandy Hale and Brene’ Brown stopped writing and sharing when their lives got complicated or their heart was hurting? Where would I be if they hadn’t taken the bold steps to be transparent? If they hadn’t shared their process, I wouldn’t be able to normalize mine. So, that’s what I hope to give you in some small way. As I share parts of my story, I hope you can see yours and be encouraged that however it unfolds, you’re not alone.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Going solo

I’ve noticed I’ve been going solo a lot recently. Whether it’s beach days, festivals, parks, or even out to eat, I’ve been enjoying a lot of summer outings alone. I would always start with plans with friends, but for one reason or another they weren’t able join. Therefore, I had a choice. I could stay in, still be alone, and let a beautiful sunny day go to waste. Or I could venture out and enjoy my own company.

I don’t want to mislead you. This can-do, adventurous spirit was the end result, but definitely not the beginning. I sulked for a few minutes each and every time someone bailed. I sang a chorus or two of “All by myself” followed by “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat worms.” I wondered if this was just my lot in life and I had better get used to it. I’m nothing if not dramatic. But then, once I finished indulging in my own private pity party (table for one please), I decided I would actually try to have a good time. I got dressed, got in the car, cranked up the music, and sang my way to each destination. I gave no thought for who might catch me car dancing. I was on a date with myself and determined to have a blast.
 
It’s easy to be bold in your car. It’s another thing to actually walk out into public space by yourself. All the self-conscious feelings of adolescence come rushing back. You’re sure people are staring at you. You mentally run through your mind with the best way to play it cool. Do you take a book and look intellectual? That only works in the right setting, not at a festival or music event. Do you fiddle with your smart phone? That’s always an option. Even if you have zero texts, emails, or social media updates, at least you look busy and presumably connected to unseen others in your life. Do you perhaps make eye contact and engage with others in your environment? That’s a hard no for me, but definitely an option for the more gregarious types. My point is there are lots of ways to manage the aloneness without feeling lonely. In fact, that’s a vital life skill we should all learn.
Going solo isn’t just about your relationship status. I think singles are faced with it much more often but it’s not about lacking a partner. Several married friends of mine have found themselves alone while their partner takes extended travel out of town, or even military deployment. Then they have to quickly learn how to fill the space and manage on their own. I’ve said it many times and firmly believe we’re made for connection. We need relationships and community. It’s just that there are times when said community is not physically available to us. That’s when we need to cultivate the first and primary relationship in our life- our relationship with ourselves. That way if we have our people, or we're going solo, we know we have everything we need.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Time to shine

It was only a matter of time. I should’ve seen it coming, but I honestly didn’t. I was perfectly content denying the inevitable. I’ve been singing on my praise team at church for a couple of years now. I made it clear from the beginning that I can carry a tune and sing with others. But I was in no way I soloist and had no desire to be. My worship leader thought differently and last week I was faced with my first solo ever.

Because I’m me, of course, I was terrified and anxiety-ridden the few days leading up to it. Would I choke? Would my voice crack? Would I lose my lunch? Would people expect me to sound a certain way and be disappointed to hear something different? Well meaning friends assured me if I can dance in front of a crowd, surely I could sing. I tried to explain that it’s completely different. Dance is my comfort zone and my primary gift. I joke that I am Debbie Allen when I’m dancing and no one can tell me anything. But I have nowhere near the confidence when singing. Yet, there I was, about to literally be in the spotlight with all eyes on me.
Obviously, this post is written in past tense, so I braved the experience and got through it. I did a decent job and people were graciously complimentary. It was, by no means, a flawless performance. I can continue to work on vocal support and smooth transitions. But for me, what was more significant than the solo itself was facing the fear of it head on and overcoming.
I have no illusions that I’m called to be a solo singer. But the experience got me thinking about how all of us will have “solo” moments in our lives. Each one of us will be thrust into center stage at one point or another. We will be asked to share what’s inside of us. Anyone who believes in purpose longs for that moment. We want to be great and we want to contribute something meaningful to the world. Often though, we get scared when the moment comes. We shrink back and hide and we miss our chance to share our unique voice. While I don’t think it’s best to clamor for the spotlight, I also don’t think running is the answer either. Basically, it’s like this. When it’s your moment, it will find you. You’ll be invited to face the music and lift your voice. And when you do, give it your all. That’s your time to shine.
 
 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

#StopDropAndYoga

This week I received a yoga challenge. My friend tagged me to #StopDropandYoga. Basically, challenges are like chain letters, except generally less annoying. I was challenged to take a picture of myself doing a yoga pose and then post it. Then when I’m done, I tag the person who tagged me and then challenge someone else. Since I love all things fitness and I look for any excuse to do yoga, I happily obliged.

I didn’t expect to get so excited for the opportunity but I did. Even though I’ve adopted a very active lifestyle, I still have to be intentionally mindful and present in my body. It was nice to have a reason to slow down and just be. I even noticed I intuitively chose heart opening poses. It’s almost as if my body wanted to seal a secret intention of my heart. It’s one thing to say you want to “be more open” and another to actually embody it. It felt liberating.

But what felt even better than the movement itself, was the community it created. A friend unexpectedly tagged me. I tagged a few other friends. They tagged their friends. All of us became a part of something bigger. I loved reading reactions to the challenge. Some initially rejected yoga as something they just don’t do. Others qualified their attempts before even trying. Either way the simple challenge sparked a dialogue. What if we all just came together and did something for the sole purpose of having a shared positive experience?
Whether you call it a random act of kindness, paying it forward, or #StopDropAndYoga, it’s all the same. It’s about spreading a little joy and light in an increasingly dark world. It’s about making someone smile and taking the time to witness all that they are. In a word, challenges like this are awesome. So, now I challenge you. Start something good and pass it on.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Beach days and Daydreams

Last week was challenging on the personal front. Nothing particularly catastrophic happened. Nevertheless, I was in my feelings for the better part of the week and didn’t start pulling it together until the end. My friend also had a bad week on the professional front and decided we needed to hang out. Since we only had morning commitments on Friday and the rest of the day free, we decided to go to the beach. We’re fortunate enough to live about 30 minutes away.

It was just what the doctor ordered. It was sunny with temperatures in the 80's and not a cloud in the sky. We went to a residential area to avoid the touristy, commercial section. I’m convinced the water was bluer than I had ever seen it. As we kicked back on our blankets and took it all in, we began to share our dreams.
I started. I finally gave voice to what I truly want to do when I have the courage to let go of what I think I should do. When I asked her, she hesitated to respond. I watched her tear up as she acknowledged how it hurts to dream, especially when your basic needs aren’t met. She’s done with college and finds herself in the tough position of securing a full time job and applying to graduate schools. For whatever reason, it just hasn’t come easily for her. I remember being exactly where she is- beating down the bushes looking for work, living off of student loans, exploring all options, including relocation, and just living with constant, nagging anxiety. I had some sense that things would work out, but I just didn’t know how or when.
 
As I listened to my friend, I had an epiphany. I remember like yesterday my prayers for the things I have now. It wasn’t that long ago that I was broke, depressed, and just trying to survive. Now, I have a career and a fairly stable income. Sure, I'm still revising my career path to make it more fulfilling. But, I made it. It seemed so elusive several years ago, but here I am doing everything I set out to do. The lesson here is that if God was able to open doors of opportunity for me, why wouldn’t He also do the same for my friend? And if He showed Himself faithful in my professional life, why wouldn’t He also be faithful to provide in my personal life?
I think we all cycle through times of life marked by frustration and angst-filled waiting followed by joyful fulfillment. For most of us, the things that we feel will never happen usually happen eventually. When they finally do, they create space for new dreams. In the meantime, there are always some small gifts you discover along the way if you have eyes to see them...like beach days and daydreams.
 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Joy Journal: Do Something

All things come to an end and it’s time to wrap up the Joy Journal series. In the last several posts, I’ve shared very specific things I do to fill my joy tank: eliminate negative people, celebrate positive people, engage in happy behaviors, and prioritize time away. I think the best way to conclude is to discuss how to sustain a lifestyle of joy. This requires effort on your part though. It requires you to do something.

A lot of times people feel as though they don’t have options. They’re in a dead end job. They’re dissatisfied in their relationship. They hate where they live. Their life doesn’t feel like it belongs to them at all. Rather than a series of personal choices and outcomes, life feels like a bunch of reactions to situations outside themselves. Perhaps they don’t make any changes because they feel powerless to do so. Some seek professional help, which is always a good idea. However, for some it's not to learn skills to manage life, but to be rescued from their life. Unfortunately, no one can do the work of living your life but you. To live effectively and joyfully you need to start taking back control.
If you don't like your life, change it. Most things you can't control but there are always a few things you can. The biggest take home should be that you can't wait for wonderfulness to happen to you. If you wait for happy feelings to hit you, you'll be waiting a long time. Sometimes you have to decide how you want to feel and diligently seek a lifestyle that supports it. A happy life is yours. Sustained joy is yours. But it requires something of you. It requires you to do something.
 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Joy Journal: Get out of dodge

You may or may not have noticed this week's delay in posting for the series. I've been in vacation mode and it's been glorious. It's been so nice, in fact, that I decided to add a post on the value of travel. Sometimes the quickest way to get a boost is going out of town.

There's nothing wrong with day trips here and there. But I'm particularly fond of a total change of scenery. You know...the trips that require rental cars, hotel stays, flights, and if you're really lucky, passports.Vacations have a way of putting things in this important perspective: you are both less important and more important than you think.



Here's how we're less important. As much as we'd like to think we stop the world and tell it to carry on, we don't. When we're absent, life has a way of moving on without us. The urgent task items reveal themselves as perhaps not that urgent at all. If they are, someone else will do them. People go on living and coping without us and that's a good thing. When we believe ourselves to be essential to every facet of life than we don't give ourselves permission to rest. Ultimately, that leads to burnout.

That brings us to how we're more important than we think. Self-care shouldn't be seen as optional; self-care is essential to being effective in anything we do. Getting away from your usual context and unplugging for a while can do wonders to recharge your batteries. It also gives you the energy needed to be productive when you return to the grind. Remember the happy behavior from last post? Smiling, laughing, enjoying the outdoors? Those are much easier to do when you aren't weighed down with your regular duties and responsibilities.

Basically, vacations let us hit the reset button. They let us take a break from serving and enjoy being served. They allow us to let go, simply be, and just rest and recover. You can enjoy that in smaller doses right where you are- random days off, extended weekends, staycations. But in my opinion, if you really want to feel renewed I say get the heck out of dodge.





Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Joy Journal: Happy Behavior

A lot of people believe our thinking dictates how we feel and behave. There’s definitely truth to that. However, there’s not always a linear connection between thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Often the human experience begins in the body with its sensations and impulses. Then we apply meaning to what our body tells us.  Sometimes even if you aren’t “feeling it,” you can behave in the way you want to feel and your emotions will catch up. Here's my go-to list of happy behaviors to immediately feel better.

1) Smile

Have you ever noticed the main thing all happy people do? They smile. It only makes sense if you want to feel better the first thing you should do is smile more. It might seem corny but smiles really are contagious too. If you greet others with a smile, most of the time they’ll return it, which also feels good.

2) Go Outside

You know what else helps your mood? Sunshine. It’s pretty interesting to see the shift in people when the weather changes. Problems still might be there, but for many people they just start to see things differently. It seems warmth and light give people hope, so get outside more.

3) Sing and Dance

Do both of these, preferably at the same time. It’s not about your talent. There's no need to apologize for your perceived lack of vocals and moves. It's not about that. It's about letting go and expressing what's inside you. I recommend selecting a theme song, especially for Mondays, and going to town on it. See if you don't experience an immediate mood shift.   

4) Laugh

A final thing happy people do is laugh genuinely. We're not talking about a courtesy chuckle when someone says something mildly amusing. I'm talking about deep guffaws and belly laughs from the soul. I recommend having a friend or two on stand by that can crack you up at the end of a rough day. Also, have a few comedies you can unwind with when you're feeling stressed. The adage is right. Laughter is medicine.

So, there you have it. These are specific things you can do right away to start feeling happier. It’s not a mind-over-matter exercise either. There are actual neurobiological changes made when you engage in these happy behaviors. Serotonin increases, cortisol decreases, and endorphins released leave you feeling…well…joyful. And that’s kind of the point, right?



Friday, May 8, 2015

Joy Journal: Celebrate Others

Some happiness research suggests that being others-centered, rather than self-centered, increases our sense of well-being. It’s not just about service and volunteerism though. I think the intentional celebration of others increases positive emotions in your own life.

I stumbled across this idea a little over a year ago. Some of you might recall I was struggling a bit with two good friends getting married and leaving me behind (I might have been slightly dramatic about the whole thing, I now realize). It dawned on me that I could rage against the reality that already was, or I could embrace it…and not just tolerate it, but rejoice in it. Their love stories were a long time coming, and if any two people were deserving of a happy ending, it was my friends. At first, to be perfectly honest, I had to fake it at times- the smile, the enthusiasm. It wasn’t because I didn’t want them to be happy. I was just so deep in my own pain and sense of loss that it was hard to see beyond it. But I stuck with it. I sent encouraging prayers and check ins. I bought presents. I attended events. And you know what happened? Eventually my heart caught up and I felt genuinely happy for the good fortune in their lives. My supportive actions also ignited faith in me that the same happy ending was possible for me too.

From that experience I’ve developed a habit of celebrating others. I don’t just acknowledge major milestones either. Weddings and babies are just some reasons to celebrate in life. If someone launches their own business, meets a personal fitness record, gets a new pair of shoes…if they’re treated to Starbucks, get a new pet, pass a difficult test, or find an amazing sale, I celebrate. In doing so, I give the gift of validation to the people in my life and I receive the gifts of joy, love, and connection. With byproducts like that who wouldn’t want to get out of their own head and get excited about the good things happening for others? It’s really a win-win. So go sow seeds of love and support in the lives of others. See what awesomeness you get in return.


 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Joy Journal: Bye Felicia

One of my favorite phrases of the last year or so is “Bye Felicia.” For those of you who don’t know what this means, it’s pretty much a dismissive statement that you say to someone when you no longer want to be bothered. It originates from the movie Friday where Craig was sending away his neighbor, Felicia. But what makes it so great now is that it doesn’t even matter if the person’s name is Felicia. Not using their actual name further highlights how insignificant they are. I believe anyone who wants to be happy in life should think about adopting this mantra when it comes to negative people.

I’m not suggesting you make a habit of cutting people out of your life for saying or doing something you don’t like. This also isn’t about abruptly distancing yourself from relationships before giving a chance to repair a divide. I’m talking about not giving people you’re only peripherally connected to the power to affect you emotionally, especially if it’s negatively.
 
 

We all know the types. They’re jealous, insecure and petty. They make biting, rude comments but passive aggressively hide behind “just kidding.” They give back-handed “compliments” that are really digs in disguise. Maybe they’re what I call hot/cold. They are incredibly warm and nice one day and frosty and distant the next. You’re often left wondering are you best friends or mortal enemies? You just never quite know where you stand with such people. I say let yourself off the hook and stop wondering.

I used to drive myself crazy trying to please people like this and still sometimes do. I want everyone to like me and it hurts if someone doesn’t. But guess what? I’m learning to say “Bye Felicia.” People like this can’t be pleased. And if their heart is already hardened against you because of jealousy or comparison, you can’t win them over anyway. Why try? These personalities are draining and these individuals are joy killers. Keep on loving them if you want, but do so at a distance. Whether it’s the person who cuts you off in traffic or the coworker or church lady who talks smack behind your back, dismiss these Felicias. When you get really serious about being happier in life you’ll realize you don’t have time for that! What you should make time for is the life-giving relationships you have. We’ll address that in the next post, Joy Journal: Celebrate Others.

 

Monday, May 4, 2015

Joy Journal

Not too long ago, I enjoyed a rare time in with Redbox. One of my picks was Hector and the Search for Happiness. It's about a psychiatrist who just kind of sleep walks through life. He's generally content. He has his routine. But one day, a client comment causes him to wonder if there's more. He sets off on a journey to discover what truly makes people happy.

I was drawn to the theme for a number of reasons. I see people day in and day out that are weighed down with depression. Sometimes trauma and tragedy are the culprits. Or, sometimes life has been quite good to them, but the quiet contentment they so desperately desire eludes them. Personally speaking, I've been there. I know what it’s like to be unsure you'll see light again. I also know when things are otherwise fine, and you “should” be fine, but instead you carry around a touch of sadness like a low grade fever. You’re functioning well enough, but at a bit of a deficit. Your joy tank is on E. Wherever you are on the continuum, I think most of us are curious about the true nature of happiness and practical ways to increase it.
 
For me, a lot of the articles and research on happiness feel a bit trite. I can certainly appreciate cultivating a lifestyle of mindfulness, gratitude, and acceptance. At times, though, those virtues seem vague and elusive and don’t offer people immediate relief from pain. You definitely have to do intentional, long term work to see enduring results. But you also need short term encouragers along the way to energize you to stay the course on your joy journey.
So, here it is. It’s time for another series and I’m calling it Joy Journal. The next several posts will offer specific things I do to improve my mood. These aren’t just things I’ve read about. These are things that help me in very tangible ways. It’s possible some or none of these ideas resonate with you. That’s okay. I hope it gets you thinking about what a sustained sense of wellbeing looks like for you and what steps you need to take to attain it. Stay tuned for the next installment- Joy Journal: Bye Felicia.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Seen

Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do when we’re terrified about what people might see or think. 
-Brene’ Brown

When I was in grad school I shared something deeply private with one of my professors. It’s common for personal things to come up for counseling students as they study how to help others. I remember feeling so relieved when my experience wasn’t judged, but rather, it was validated and normalized. I’ll never forget as I was getting ready to leave my professor told me that I might feel really exposed and wish I hadn’t shared, and that was normal too. I’ve been reminded of that all week because over the weekend I shared part of my story in a public forum. While it was well received and it encouraged others, I left feeling completely naked, vulnerable, and wanting to hide. As I start to crawl out of the shell I retreated to, I consider the ambivalence around being seen.

Most of us have some aspect of our being that we’re afraid to share for fear of judgment. There are things that we fear if anyone else knew, then at best, they’d misunderstand and assume things about us, and at worst, they’d reject us. Since connection is such a vital human need and rejection is so painfully intolerable, we stay silent. We hide. We keep these parts of who we are far away from others and sometimes even from ourselves. We go through life and experience some measure of loving connection. But internally we wonder, if you really knew me, all of me, would you love me the same?

Here's the thing though. Intimacy has been defined as seeing others as they are. It requires removing any pretense or fa├žade. It demands discomfort. There are high risks and high rewards. You really never know how it'll all work out. Certainly, there's the potential for genuine connection with others and that feels euphoric. But guess what? You could also vulnerably share a private part of yourself and people want nothing to do with it. There really are no guarantees.
It would be easy at this point to end with an exhortation to be courageous and face your fears. I could say the world needs more vulnerability. I could emphasize the incredible payoff to radical genuineness. I do believe all of that. However, having just experienced the feeling of exposure, I want to normalize the fear, as my professor did for me. I want to assure you it's okay to occasionally go into self-protective mode. I can understand the need to withdraw a bit and seek emotional safety after a personal disclosure. It's kind of like tripping in front of people (or flubbing your words, having your stomach growl, or any other normal, yet awkward human experience). You feel flushed and embarrassed. You're self-conscious because others noticed. Maybe most people were gracious and didn't make it a big deal, but there was one person who shined the spotlight. Just remember that it happens to all of us. Have compassion on your humbled state. Perhaps you take a break and lay low for a bit to regroup. Retreat if that's what it takes to restore the balance. Just don't stay hidden forever. Get out there again. Show up and be seen.