Trying It On For Size

Every week my youngest has preschool. It's only for a couple of hours and occurs three days a week. Every time I pick her up from school, you would think that she had been a tour around the world that latest months because of how much she tells me about her day. I hear about the "job" that she had that day (and apparently "line leader" is the most coveted responsibility whereas "napkin passer" isn't as glamorous), the friends that she played with, the letter she learned, the stories her teacher told and the craft she experimented with. For less than three hours, she sure does a lot.

Anyway, these little chats that we have are more than just post-preschool babble with a five year old. They offer me a glimpse into what she find important and interesting. They tell me what gets her blood pumping and that she loves to learn new things. They show me her inner world at a level that I wouldn't get otherwise. Because I'm listening.

Last week, she said something really interesting. I picked her up on Wednesday and on the way home she announced, "I think I'm going to be a little shy on Friday."

This really threw me because Emma is not a shy child. She introduces herself to new children and offers to be their friend right away. As we drive to the library she wonders out loud what new friends she will make when we get there. That's just the way she is. I wonder if I was that way and I became an introvert over time, but I don't remember those days and I'll have to let my mom fill in that blank.

Anyway, her announcement was unusual. I try to be very careful about how I position and phrase things as I've gotten burned by my kids not understanding sarcasm or rhetorical questions. So I paused for a second and then said, "Well, there's nothing wrong with being shy. But I wonder why you think you're going to be shy because you're usually not."

She sat in her car seat thoughtfully and replied, "I just think I'm going to be nervous."

The rest of the drive home was pretty uneventful, all four and a half minutes of it but my brain stayed stuck on this idea that she had posed to me. This idea that a personality is something you can try out for a day or two or that a certain situation requires a different state of being than one would normally find themselves in.

Obviously we all do that. I act one way with my best friend and another with my neighbor that I'm still getting to know. I act one way in casual social settings and another in professional environments. Most of us have this chameleon ability, to blend in and out of certain circles and relationships, to change ourselves even temporarily to "behave" when the stakes are high and "cut loose" when we can just be ourselves.

But this, of course, got me thinking even further. Who am I really? Which of these variations of "me" is truly ME? I began to run my mind in circles to identify what attributes truly defined me and which ones were something that I would just put on and take off as the situation demanded it.

I came up with an answer that works for me at the moment: the real me is the one that exhausts me the least.

Keeping up a facade is exhausting. Juggling the appearance balls is ridiculously overwhelming and can wear me down faster than any exercise I've ever tried in my life. But just being me? That's almost effortless. I don't have to watch what I say, walk on egg shells, or second guess every decision because what I'm doing feels right and goes fairly smoothly. The older I get and the more I pay attention to these things the easier it is for me to identify when I'm being authentic. I am more introverted than extroverted so any kind of interaction with people can wear me out, but it's not as bad when I'm just being myself.

As I write this, I'm now thinking that maybe this has been why I've been so tired lately. We got a new puppy, so yes, that's probably also contributing to the issue, but it still feels more tiring than usual. Am I really being myself? Am I really being authentic? If not, what areas of my life can I infuse with more "me" to bring myself back to center? Definitely something to think about.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, my youngest did not act shy last Friday at school. She actually forgot her plan and was just herself that day. And she had a very good day.

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The Life I Didn't Plan For

One of my favorite lines ever written by John Lennon is "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." Ain't that the truth? Today, I had one of those days. I had a plan. And you can bet your ass it was a good plan. I had everything figured out and coordinated and timed. And then, one thing shifted and the whole plan went to crap. But it was not a day where I could just go back to bed and say screw it. I had to move forward and I had to adjust.

Oh, did you have a day like that too? There's a good chance that many of you did. Because, it's... what's that thing called? Oh yeah... that's life.

Life is not something that follows the script. It is messy and it is hectic and in all the chaos, it is also incredibly, amazingly beautiful. It can also be a total pain in the ass. But what good is a roller coaster ride if it's a flat journey?

I remember a while back (honestly, it feels like a lifetime ago) I was telling a friend that the highs and lows were just too much and I just wanted life to level out. He smiled and grabbed a pen and paper. First, he drew this:

Screen Shot 2017-01-19 at 10.38.47 AM
Screen Shot 2017-01-19 at 10.38.47 AM

"This is your life right now, right?" When I nodded, he continued with another illustration:

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Screen Shot 2017-01-19 at 10.40.09 AM

"And this is what you want, right?"

"Yes! Life would be so much easier that way." I was relieved. He got it. But instead he just smiled at me and shook his head.

"You know what that is, Angela? That's a flatline. That means you're dead. Doesn't sound like much of a life to me. I think what you really want looks more like this":

Screen Shot 2017-01-19 at 10.42.18 AM
Screen Shot 2017-01-19 at 10.42.18 AM

Then it clicked. I was never going to have a flat, uneventful life. That would be boring anyway. What I needed was a new way to address the highs and lows. A way where I could enjoy and appreciate the highs and be graceful with the lows. A way that showed I was responding to life, not just reacting to it.

This life, and where I am right now was never part of the plan. There was no five year plan that included the things that I enjoy or struggle with today. Well, some of them maybe. But certainly not all of them.

Life is good. And it's messy. And it can't be planned for on a regular basis. I'm never going to stop having bad days. But I can work on how I handle the bad days. And that requires persistence and grace and a determination to keep on this journey no matter what is thrown at me.

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The Rules Don't Have to Apply To You

rules-dont-apply My brain was wandering the other day (I'm sure you have no idea what this is like, right?) and I got to thinking about the rules of life.

Maybe you already know what I'm talking about, but if not, let me expound just a bit. It seems that everywhere I go I hear or see "rules" in action. Take the following for example:

  • I can't write a book. It's just not practical.
  • It's impossible to get a babysitter for all three of my kids so I can have a weekend away
  • Sure I like to paint, but it isn't something I can really pursue... I have to have a real job
  • I can't wear navy blue and black, it just doesn't work
  • I can't wear a sleeveless shirt because my arms are not toned
  • Women can't do that. They never have before
  • I have to eat dinner before I can eat my dessert
  • Ask him for his number? You're kidding right?

Who made these rules anyway? Just because someone said something like this and put a "should" or "should not" with it, it's suddenly a law? When did that happen?

Here's a funny thing... I've lived a lot of my life not following any rules. It's not like I set out to be a rebel or non-conformist. I guess I just assumed they didn't exist. Or, more likely, I just didn't think about them at all.

When I got into the world of digital marketing and corporate America I didn't worry about the fact that I was a woman in a male-dominated world. I didn't feel concerned about not being able to speak up in board rooms or that I would look stupid or say something elementary. I would just speak. And sometimes my inexperience would shine through, but it was noted (and frequently commented on) that I was really present and really participating.

I heard other women complain about the gender gap and I would think, "What are you talking about? Just work hard, do well and you'll be fine." That's what I thought because that was my experience. I was frequently rewarded for my hard work and advanced quickly into leadership positions no matter where I worked. This was a pattern I had developed from my very first job in retail (ah, lovely Value City) and it was a philosophy that I had learned from my parents.

A couple of years ago, I read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I was, admittedly, bored through the whole thing and I honestly can't tell you what the book is actually about or advocating for. I'm sure if I read it again, I would get it, but like I've said this wasn't my reality so it was really hard to relate to the content of it.

But, the damage was done... Now those "rules" were in my head. I began to "see" things that I hadn't noticed before. And I still wonder if I was seeing things differently because I had "woken up to reality" or were things different because I was assuming that they "should be different because that's what other women were experiencing."

Honestly, I don't know that it matters. What matters is what happened next. I got self-conscious. I began to experience Imposter Syndrome. I began to question everything I did and I stopped participating in larger groups. I grew fearful of networking scenarios and business meetings. I started feeling sorry for myself as a woman in Corporate America.

Um, excuse me? What the hell?

I have no hard evidence, but I do have a theory as to why all this went down the way it did. Before I was exposed to the "rules" I lived and acted as if they didn't exist (because, to me, they didn't). The world (or universe or whatever you want to call it) responded in term and gave me the life that I was creating for myself. But as soon as I started "seeing the rules", I started acting and reacting as though they were in place for me.

They've never affected me before, so why should they bother me now? Because I was letting them. It was an intoxicating experience. Breaking free of those rules that I didn't used to have has been (and continues to be) a challenge for me. I still struggle in getting back to where I was before my awful enlightenment where I took some solid information provided by Sheryl Sandberg and warped it into a twisted sense of my place in the world.

(Note: I am not, in any way, blaming Sheryl for my issues. God knows she has enough on her plate. I am responsible for my own interpretation of that information and how it applies to my life. Keep up the amazing legacy, Sheryl. Thoughts and prayers are with you.)

What rules have you self-imposed that are holding you back?

Are you convinced that you can't be in love with someone because it hasn't been "enough time" since your last relationship? Or maybe because you don't look the way that you're supposed to so love isn't an option right now?

Are you putting dreams on hold that have been speaking to you for years because they aren't practical or what "responsible adults do"?

Are you still at the same company, church, social gatherings or worn out coffee groups that are slowly devouring your soul but you can't stop going to them because that's just what you've always done?

Let's get a little crazy, shall we?

Write your book.

Fall in love.

Make a new friend.

Start your business.

Schedule your personal retreat.

Learn a hobby and see what happens.

Wear a navy blue shirt and black pants.

What are you waiting to do because of some rule? What is one thing you can do to move toward that goal? Tell me below in the comments.

Draw It To The Surface

draw it My dear friend,

There is a chance that you and I have known each other for a long time. There is also the chance that we are yet to meet. Perhaps these words will be the only interaction that you and I have. In any case, I know that you are flying through the internet faster than many thought possible and that your attention is one of the most elusive resources on the planet. So I will get to the point.

You are enough.

The pain you are feeling right now might be screaming at you for attention. It might be all-encompassing. It might be threatening to smother you. It might be the single most overwhelming thing you have ever felt. But it does not need to define you. It does not need to bring you to your knees and then keep you there. It is something that you can overcome. I promise.

This is not the end of the world. You can get up. You should get up. I know it seems impossible. I know it feels unattainable. But you can do it. How do I know? Because I am here to help you up. And there are others, so many others, that want to help you up. Reach out and take their hand. Stand with us. And move forward.

Moving forward is not easy but it's not meant to be contrary to what many believe. Resistance is a good thing. It means you're on the right track. And the incredible feeling of progress... it is a thing of beauty.

This heartbreak that is tearing through you is not your end. It is not your destruction. It is a setback, yes. Painful? Of course. Nothing in life that truly matters refuses to bring some level of pain with it. It is the nature of living to be tested and tried and challenged.

This grief that you cannot seem to shake and leave behind you is not your curse. There are so many beautiful things happening all around you that are calling to you to step out from behind the clouds and embrace the warmth of the sun.

This cycle of self-defeating behaviors stopped bringing you relief a long time ago. You no longer need to be its prisoner. You can experience freedom like never before. It is available to you. All you have to do is take it.

You may feel overburdened and forgotten, but I have not forgotten you my friend. I am still here. Take a few moments and close your eyes. Listen to the stillness of your spirit and hear a small voice inside of you that is crying out for change, for relief, for peace. It is deep within you, even if the pain is a roaring monster in your core. It is still there in spite of all the agony that feels like it has burned your insides and left you a shell of a person. It is there. It is love.

And it is fiercely loyal.

I have stood where you are. I have laid on that bed of nails. I have questioned everything I know and everything I hold dear. But I am still here. I fought for forward progress and I never did it alone. I did it with the help of those who came before me. And those that come after me. I learned something amazing: I am enough. And I will say it again: so are you.

You have everything you need inside of you. You just need to draw it to the surface.

Stay loved because you are. If you cannot care for yourself, let others care for you until you can. Keep listening for that voice inside you that demands the change, the beauty, the love. Embrace it and let it be your guide. It will not let you fall.

Thank you for being here and reading this. Thank you for helping me on my journey. I look forward to seeing yours.

With all my love,

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Simple Tip Tuesday: Focus on the Solution

We all know the type. They are the person who seem to LOVE complaining. And quite often they complain about the SAME thing over and over again. You see them approaching you or their name appears on your caller ID and you cringe a little. I will admit that I have been "that person" from time to time but I got sick of hearing myself whine. So I started paying more attention to the behavior. From there, I implemented a few little things to make the behavior stop.

  1. I determined simple solutions to the issue that was nagging at me. Things like "stop talking about it, stop thinking about it" and "change the way you respond" are examples
  2. I asked my closest friends and family to stop me if I started complaining about whatever topic I was trying to get over
  3. I made a concentrated effort to carry out the solution and focus on a good outcome
  4. I would vent and then ultimately write about my progress in a private journal

The point is I stopped focusing on the problem and started paying attention to the solution. Do you have something in your life that you can apply this to?

Resolutions? I don't think so...

Once upon a time, I believed in resolutions. I believed in the "New Year's Magic" of writing down ridiculously lofty goals (without giving them a supporting action plan) and hoping that somehow in the following 12 months I would attain those goals. Bah freaking humbug.

No matter how lovely those resolutions sounded, reality got me every time. In the words of John Lennon, Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.

So this year, I'm ready for whatever. I'll take what comes and I'll live through it all gracefully. One year ago, I remember reflecting on how bad 2010 was and I had high hopes for the coming year. 2011 made 2010 look like a walk in the park. But I learned something in the last 12 months. Ok, I learned a lot of things but one thing in particular sticks out to me.

Even if my worst fears come true, I can survive. 

I've lived (and continue to live) through what my friend calls "the worst thing." And I know several people who are currently living through their own worst things. The world has continued to turn and life has continued to evolve in spite of it all.

The best thing I can say about 2011? I survived it. I learned just how strong I can be with the help of a tremendous support system and a strong belief in God. I'm ready to move past just surviving and start living again. I'm ready for the challenges, opportunities and memories 2012 has for me, whatever they may be. I'm ready to take the lessons 2011 provided me and apply them to my life one day at a time. I'm ready to laugh again, to cry some more, to absorb each moment.

I'm ready. Bring it on 2012.

Simple Tip Tuesday: Visualize the Future

I do not profess to be part of the new age movement of The Law of Attraction, but there is a lot to be said about visualizing what you want and then going for it. I am, by nature, a very visual person. I have made vision boards (where you cut and paste images of things you want and goals you've set) to get me focused on plans of action. I also firmly believe that a goal written down and tracked in that way makes it a lot easier to achieve that goal.

This summer has been a true test of visualizing the future. What kind of future do I want? Where do I want to be this time next year (five years from now is too far out to think about yet)? I've spent some time the past two or three weeks really meditating on these concepts and making some positive action to get myself there. For me, it's not about the material things, but the emotional state I want to be in and the way I want to live my life.

If you built your own vision board, what kind of images would be on there?

Simple Tip Tuesday: Don't Adjust Your Goals to Meet Your Behavior

I caught myself doing this in a post I wrote earlier this month, but not until I sat down to write this one. And it's there in Black and White. Allow me to quote myself: 4. Journal – This one I’m thinking about scaling back to just a couple times a week. In the mornings, I often have to choose between journaling and exercise and the latter is more important, at least right now.

While many would think that this is a perfectly legitimate reason to scale back on a particular goal, I had to stop and think about it. Is it a reason? Or is it an excuse? Am I justifying what I'm doing or not doing in an adult sort of way or am I skirting the true issue?

Angela, you say. It's just a little goal. Why are you stressing about it? I'm merely using this as an example. I don't want to adjust my goals to meet my behavior; I want to adjust my behavior to meet my goals. Now, in this particular example I've thought about it and I'm still ok with my decision but I have to watch this part of myself. I know I'm prone to doing things like this. Other examples in my own day-to-day life include:

  • Removing something from my to-do list even though I know doing it will be personally fulfilling and replacing it with something like "pay bills." I should do BOTH.
  • Justifying the extra cookies because "I've had a bad day."
  • Grabbing the pop and chips for lunch because it's "easier" and hey, I'm a busy lady
  • Completely avoiding the uncomfortable conversations because I don't like the drama

What areas of your life do you struggle with in this area?

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Simple Tip Tuesday: Listen to How Often You Say No

I studied theatre in college and one of the sessions I was in with my fellow actors was a full-on improv session. As I was going through the exercise, the director stopped me and said "Angela, you've GOT to stop saying no. Improv is about saying YES." I was stunned. I didn't even realize how often I was saying no to what was being suggested. So I started listening to myself more and WOW, I say no a lot. I mean A LOT. Way more often than I should if I'm committed to living a healthy, happy and fulfilling life. The other side of that, of course, is knowing WHEN to say no. 2009 and 2010 were both years of learning my limitations. No, I cannot take on that commitment. No, I cannot be a part of your group. No, I cannot schedule a weekly meeting with you.

But I was missing a lot of opportunities in my personal life. No, I didn't want to go that ball game. I wanted to stay home. And mope. No, I don't want to sit down and plan that awesome road trip with them. I'm too busy and it's frivolous anyway.

So, I'm listening more and considering more carefully. Don't get me wrong, I'm still saying no (and saying no a lot) but I'm starting to say no to the RIGHT things. No, I don't want dessert. No, I don't want to partake in the gossip. No, I don't want to waste an hour staring at TV tonight when there's nothing good to watch anyway.

But yes, I will volunteer with your organization since I believe in what you guys are doing. Yes, I will return that phone call from my friend who I haven't talked to in quite some time. Yes, I will start planning and preparing for that awesome family vacation.

I'm watching my knee jerk reactions more carefully and considering all my options before I make a final decision. And it feels good. Really good.

How often do you say no and what criteria do you have in place to say no?

Read more Simple Tips on Unexpected Art and share some of your own!

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Simple Tip Tuesday: Surround Yourself with Positive People

Have you ever spent the day, afternoon or a meal with someone and when you leave you feel absolutely DRAINED? I think we all have at least one person pop into mind when we think of that kind of situation. And don't you just DREAD the time that you do have to spend with them? Sigh... Sometimes it's unavoidable but you can prepare yourself for those not-so-fun events in life. Spend the time leading up to the appointment with people who energize you. There are few things I enjoy more than hanging out with my friends who are upbeat, excited about life, and in general just positive people.

I have to be very careful who I hang out with because I am a mom and my kids see everything. So I tend to watch who I invite into my life and who I spend time with, especially when my kids are present. But more than that, if I hang out with someone really negative that could potentially put me in a bad mood when I head home and I don't want to bring it with me when I walk in the door.

So, in general, I surround myself with Positive People and those who build me up rather than drag me (or others) down. It's just a better way of living. And for those times that I have to be with the downers of the world, I prepare carefully, try to infuse the conversation with energy and happiness and shake it off as quickly as I can.