There is magic to showing up. I know this from experience. How many times have I had something in my life that I didn't want to do or regretted signing up for and showed up anyway? How many of those times resulted in a great experience? What would I have missed out on had I not sucked it up and gotten my ass there? Probably a lot. There are friends I wouldn't have, ideas that wouldn't have been born and experiences that would have been missed.
All the times I didn't show up and didn't try - what did I miss out on? What did I neglect to experience? Don't get me wrong - I don't regret my decisions but I do want to learn from them - the good and the bad. I want to tuck them into my quiver of knowledge and pull out the right arrow when it's needed.
I do want to show up more. And I feel as though I am doing just that this year. This year has been all about showing up. Keeping commitments, especially to myself. I want to feel full without feeling guilty (I mean that literally and figuratively, of course) without fear and shame. Sometimes showing up is the hardest part and that in and of itself is a victory. Just getting out of bed and showering some days = VICTORY.
So now I sit here and type these words and I'm asking myself, "Where can I show up today? Who will I meet? Who will I help? Where will I go?"
Well, there's only one way to find out.
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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.
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
"This is your life right now, right?" When I nodded, he continued with another illustration:
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
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.
Unless you've been living under a rock lately, you may have picked up on this crazy tension that is going around. A lot of it, no doubt, is tied to the election and the oh-my-God-now-what's-going-to-happen-I-have-no-idea-oh-my-God feeling that came immediately on its heels. But I'm wondering if there's more to it. Maybe it's just me, but I feel like January is generally a pretty tense time in general. Yes, there are the goals and the planning sessions and the big dreams and that's all great. But don't we put an awful lot of pressure on ourselves to make those things happen? I mean, less than two weeks in and I have a feeling that many of you are already thinking, "I suck. I can't even keep my focus for two weeks. 2017 is gonna suck." And if that's you... well, stop it. You don't suck. Cut yourself some slack and just go with it. It's January 11th for crying out loud.
It's gonna be ok, guys.
But January in general seems to come at a heavy price to those of us who use the turn of the calendar as a reset button. With the crazy highs of "Look at everything I'm going to do this year" and "Watch out 2017... you belong to ME" there are some serious lows. I have no doubt that Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real thing and I'm sure it's contributing a bit, but it just seems to me that most people I've talked to are already overwhelmed and we're not even a full two weeks in.
What gives? Why are we making ourselves crazy? Is it worth it?
Here's a thought: let's not focus on what might be. Let's focus on what is. I'm writing to myself as much as I am writing to you but goodness knows I've been struggling with that feeling of "Wow this experience is NEVER going to end." But right now, in this moment, I'm good. My daughter is happily playing, my puppy is sleeping at my feet, my older children are expanding their horizons in good ways and Brian will be on his way home soon so that we can cuddle on the couch. Right now, I'm writing to you and the heat works and the electricity is running and my stomach is starting to rumble but you know what? I have food in the kitchen. Score!
I've never been a big fan of talking about gratitude. I was taught by others that gratitude is something you show, not something you discuss. But maybe we all just need a little more gratitude in our lives. Just a little. Just a quick thank you to whatever you choose to thank for the goodness in your life. For the fact that you're breathing. For the fact that you can read. For the shoes on your feet.
Maybe I'm being simplistic, but the worldly crush of cynicism is getting to me and I don't like that feeling. Not at all. I'm going to watch funny movies with my kids and read light hearted books and jot down a few things that I'm grateful for whenever I think of it. Because you know what? Life is good. It really is. Things aren't perfect. I've got some real shit happening these days, but don't we all? And through it all, life is good.
So, on that note, know that I'm grateful for you. I can't tell you how much it means to me that you would even take the time out of your crazy busy day to read these words. But know that I'm grateful and I'm pulling for you, as always.
Sometimes life just doesn't make sense. This week I went to a local funeral home to pay my respects for a young man who died much too early. I didn't really know him, but I know his new wife who is now facing the prospect of widowhood after just settling in to the idea of being married. The wait to reach the family was well over an hour as the line of those who came snaked through four separate rooms in a perfect maze of humanity. I saw some familiar faces of people I haven't seen in a while, gave and received hugs and shared several silent moments of "how is this possible?" One particular friend lives on the west coast and was in town for the funeral. I asked him how he was doing and he replied, "Attending another funeral. It's what we do."
I replied, "That's what we get for caring about people."
It came out of my mouth before I really thought about it, but i know it's 100% true. It is an amazing thing to care about someone, to let them in and let them touch your life. But there is a price you pay. The price of separation, of disappointment, of disagreement. All good things come to an end, right?
So on my drive home, I started thinking about this. What if I didn't care about people? What if I just shut everyone out? I wouldn't get hurt. I wouldn't get disappointed. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad.
Then I thought about Brian, the man I'm going to marry this year. What if I hadn't let him in (and believe me, I tried not to)? I wouldn't have the life I have today. I wouldn't have that giddy feeling when the phone rings and it's him or when I hear him come in the house. I wouldn't have all these dreams and ideas and plans for the future. Could something happen to him? Yes. That's a reality we all live with. I'm all too familiar with "forever" being cut pretty damn short. But that is the risk I am willfully taking on as Brian and I move ever closer to our wedding day.
I thought about some good friends that I've made in the past couple years and wondered where I would be if I had shut down back in 2011. I wouldn't even have my best friend in my life. How sad would that be?
For a good part of 2016, I was dealing with something that I didn't see coming. Something that just completely wrecked me for a while. My anxiety went through the roof and I began to question everything and seriously contemplated going into an isolation bubble where it was just me and my children to protect us from all the absurdity that happens in day to day life.
But I can't do that. Nor do I really want to when you get down to the heart of the matter.
Because I want to live life, not watch it go by.
Because I want to feel the highs and that means accepting the lows as they come.
Because I deserve to have my heart be nourished and fed and broken open to all the goodness that this world has to offer. Back in September, I had a rough day. And then I had a major wake up call. A woman that touched my life on countless occasions and that I was lucky enough to call a friend announced that it wouldn't be much longer before the brain cancer that she battled would take her life. I went to see her, to spend time with her, to see her smile and hear her laugh. I got home that night and I wrote the following on my Facebook page:
Sometimes life isn't fair. It downright sucks occasionally. But then I get to see something amazing. Something like a couple showing what true love is. Or something like two little girls holding hands and becoming fast friends. And I realize that the thing that sucks the most is sitting in all the crap and letting the beautiful moments pass me by unnoticed. That's the true crime in life. When I let the negatives drown out the goodness all around me. To be robbed of those moments is unacceptable. So I will choose to embrace the good even when it feels like the universe is conspiring against me. Because I know that something good is coming and something good is already happening even if I can't see it yet.
Yep, still true. And this is why. This is why I continue to care even though there's a good chance that I'll hurt down the road for some reason or another. This is why I fight for the things that I know are right rather than just letting things happen. And I'll keep doing it. Because the reward of truly living life outweighs the potential to avoid pain. Do I experience pain, heartache, disappointment and sadness? Of course. But that is the price I pay for caring.
It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I am a big fan of the New Year. The planning, the goal setting, the dreaming, the journaling... I get giddy just thinking about it.
But quickly on the heels of all that mind mapping and list making and goal stretching comes another feeling that I know all too well in the month of January - complete and utter overwhelm.
How am I going to get all of this done?
I didn't do even half of this stuff last year - what makes me think that this year is going to be any different?
This is totally realistic - as long as I do not sleep for the next six months.
Can I get an Amen?
The past couple years have been better because I'm approaching goals and 2017 dreams in a different manner. Instead of saying "this is what I want to do this year", I'm saying "This is how I want to feel this year." I'm choosing four core emotions that I want to be BFFs with this year and then asking "What can I do that will help me FEEL this way?"
This approach is courtesy of the Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte and has been revolutionary to my every day life not to mention my goals and approach to where I want to be. Instead of saying "I will write that novel in 2017", I'm saying "I want to be playful this year. What can I do today to experience a feeling of playfulness? Will this add to that experience or detract from it?"
So, here's some notes from my own reflection on what I want out of 2017.
Laugh more, worry less
Be in the moment
Seek out adventure
Learn new things
Get outside and move
Don't take life so seriously
Find the fun
Connect with friends
Be physically comfortable
Do your homework
Let routines do the work
Ask for help
Focus on strengths
Ask the right questions
Schedule it, make it ingrained
Routines are rituals
Everything can use a system
Even when I don't feel like it
When you're done, put it away
Nutrition in, energy out
More water, less sugar
Avoid the negatives, focus on the positives
Be intentional with the energy you have
The body craves exercise - show the body some love
The blank slate can be exciting - and overwhelming, depending on how you approach it. I'm a big believer in the principle that how you start something is indicative of how you'll finish something. I want the New Year to be inspiring, not daunting. It should be full of possibility, not problems. This method has been great for me to frame up the year with a positive and realistic mindset.
I woke up this morning at 4 am and after a few sleepy moments remembered that the election was yesterday. I grabbed my phone to check the results because I was excited. Excited that we might have our first female president. I kept telling my kids yesterday that it was a big deal that it was even an option to check the box next to a woman's name for President. That I had never had the opportunity before.
I watched a lot of the coverage yesterday, but I was honestly getting myself totally stressed out watching the real-time results, so I turned it off and went to bed.
So this morning at 4 am, I was awake and ready to find out the results. I checked my phone and I was stunned. Donald Trump is going to be our next president. I couldn't believe it.
My immediate reaction was tears. And anger. And disbelief.
How did this happen? How did we let this happen as a country?
So then I checked Facebook to see the reaction. Most of my friends were also upset. But the anger and hate that came through their Facebook feeds stunned me. Wasn't this what we were all campaigning against for so long? Against the hate and the downright nastiness? And yet, now we are spewing it out left and right like sore losers.
I saw a couple posts with messages around, "How do I explain this to my children?" I thought about that for a moment. I have children and they were actively watching the election coverage with me before they went to bed last night. They'll be up in a few hours and I have to tell them something.
Do I tell them that America was built on democratic principles and that when you live here you take a chances that not everyone will agree with you? Do I tell them that the country made amazing strides by putting a woman on the ballot in the first place? Do I tell them that the best thing we as a people who disagree can do is show up in love and service and be ready to take thoughtful, deliberate action to help those in need? Yes and more. So much more.
I realize that fear is running rampant right now because we don't know what will happen. It's so easy at times like this to point the finger and say "You are to blame." To be angry at the people who disagreed with you because the fear is taking hold of your life and your heart and will barely let you breathe.
But here we are. And we all have a new choice: to move forward in love or hate. I choose love.
Admittedly, I am considering all the ways I can get more active in my civic duties. I am a feminist (a word I loathe because of the connotations) and I believe that men and women should have equal rights. I am a mama bear who will do anything to protect her children. I am a business woman who is concerned with taxes, health care and quality of life. I am an education advocate for children everywhere and I believe that our system has a long way to go before it can be considered as good as we would like it to be. I am a strong believer in human rights regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or disability.
So I'm watching myself to make sure I don't sink to the level of hate today. That I carefully explain to my children that you don't always win and what matters most is what you do next. That America is a system that was built carefully to not allow one person too much power.
Today, I'm choosing love. To those of you who voted for Mr. Trump... I love you and I respect your right to make that decision. To my friends who are hurting and scared... come over anytime and I'll give you a big hug. We will all face the next four years together.
I choose love. That is what will keep our country afloat. The deliberate action of making kindhearted, thoughtful, loving decisions on a daily basis about what is good for everyone and not just ourselves. I will not lower myself down into the arena of name calling and mud slinging. And I will be watching and waiting for the opportunity to step up and make a difference. I will be an example of resilience.
I have been, for most of my life, a stubborn person. It has only been recently (and by that I mean in the last 5-6 years) that I have really, truly learned to LISTEN to other people. To hear not only what they're saying, but to also hear what they mean, what they want and what they're afraid of. This has been a skill I've developing for over a decade when I discovered how poor of a listener I really was.
I had a friend tell me a while back that I had to start being silent more often. At first, I was offended. I had valuable input! I had life experience that I could share and help people! Why couldn't I contribute to the ongoing conversation?
My friend put it to me very simply by saying, "Because, Angela, you spend the first half of the conversation thinking about what you are going to say and the second half thinking about what you should have said. You aren't really listening."
My friend was right. I couldn't argue the point. I sucked at listening. And I'll be honest. Sometimes, in casual situations, I still do.
I met someone at a networking event recently who taught me a very helpful acronym:
WAIT = Why Am I Talking?
It's brilliant. And it reinforces what I've been trying to train myself to do for a long time now. To stop before I speak and consider whether or not what I am about to say will actually add to the conversation. I have been called "quiet" before. I've also been called "chatty". I guess it just depends on the mood I'm in and the company I'm with.
I have found myself lately striking up more conversations with people everywhere I go. I've been craving the connection and enjoying the experience. I am, for all intents and purposes, an introvert. I like my alone time, my down time, my reading and knitting time. My boyfriend and I can sit together on the couch and not say anything and it's great. We bask in the silence.
But I've been morphing into this social person lately. I've been attending networking events (those who know me will undoubtedly need to pick their jaws up off the floor at this point). When I meet new people, I ask them strings of questions so that I can hear about their lives, their experiences, their opinions. I've been reaching out to old friends that I haven't heard from in a while and then listening, really listening to what's happening in their lives. I'm posting less on Facebook, but reading more of the posts that others are publishing.
And I'm listening. And learning. And, honestly, I'm growing. It's an art, this whole listening business. And it is an art that requires practice to master.
For an introvert, all this connection and hustle and bustle can be exhausting. But it is so worth it. When was the last time you really listened to someone else? When was the last time you truly felt Heard?
A couple of weeks ago, I was in a drive-thru line at a local fast food chain grabbing a quick snack as I bustled from one appointment to another. It was one of those days. I had been on the move since my feet hit the floor that day and I was just trying to finish up some commitments so I could head home and snuggle with my kiddos.
My brain was flooded with to-do lists, a review of the day and looking ahead to what I needed to still get done that night. I had a pile of laundry with my name on it and a list of organizing projects that were begging to be tackled. I had activities that I needed to research for the kids as summer activities, blog posts to organize, and emails to return.
All this to say that I wasn't really paying attention to life around me.
I have this habit of running my hands through my hair when I'm thinking. There's generally tangles in it (one of the byproducts of having long hair and driving with the windows down whenever I can) and I tend to use my fingers to get rid of them whenever I'm sitting still. My hair also has this habit of falling out. Not in a concerning way, but more than most people from what I've observed. Some people "shed." I often feel like I'm marking my territory in my own kind of way.
Anyway, I'm sitting in the drive-thru, untangling my hair and my fingers are soon full of hair that was decided to emigrate from my head. I did what I always do... I shook the hair off my fingers out the window.
Now picture this. I'm at the food delivery window of a drive-thru and I'm shaking my hand off out my car window. At that moment, the drive-thru worker opens the window and hands me my drink with what is unmistakably a look of irritated disgust. I was, at first, taken aback. What on earth was wrong with this woman?
Then, it hit me. She saw me waving my hand out the window. She could easily have thought I was doing the international symbol for "hurry up" and was being an impatient customer. Maybe she thought I was doing some other obscene gesture. It was clear that she had taken whatever she thought she saw personally. Obviously, this wasn't my intention as the only thing I was doing was trying to do was to de-hair my fingers.
But that wasn't the point. The point was, she saw something and she made an interpretation of it and was offended by it because she truly believed that she had every right to be.
How often does this happen to us? How often do we see something, hear something, read something and take it out of context or completely misinterpret it and then lose something like trust, our peace of mind, our temper or something equally valuable?
The whole incident reminded me of those commercials that AmeriQuest put out several years ago that are the classic "This isn't what it looks like" scenarios of day-to-day life.
It made me stop and think how often this has happened to me over my lifetime.
The time I thought that the silence on the phone was anger because of something I had said when my boyfriend was actually just paying a toll while he was on the road and couldn't talk for a minute.
The time I asked a friend to babysit and she sounded so upset on the phone I thought I had overstepped some kind of boundary... turns out she was in a lot of pain that morning dealing with rheumatoid arthritis that she didn't really tell people about.
The time I thought those girls on the rowing team hated me only to find out over drinks one night that they were avoiding me because they thought I hated them.
It's a classic case of being a human being. We make mistakes. We jump to conclusions. We speak before we think.
Emotions are tricky little buggers, aren't they?
A prayer I have been saying lately (thanks to A Course in Miracles and Return to Love) is "God, I'm willing to see this differently." It's usually enough for me to consider another point of view and get out of my own head which can be a nasty place occasionally.
As for the woman in the drive-thru window, I made a comment about losing all my hair and trying to keep the strands out of the car and was extra sweet to her for the rest of our interaction. I told her I hoped she had a wonderful day and she smiled at me as I drove away.
I do not enjoy being wrong. I may have gotten more graceful with situations that show me the error of my ways (in one way or another) but I still don't like it. My pride gets wounded every time it happens.
Hi, I'm Angela. And I'm a human being.
Anyway, this whole pride / ego / pride thing can lay me out flat occasionally. But sometimes, after the initial feeling of irritation passes, I am grateful to be wrong. So incredibly grateful.
I believed at the beginning of this year, that I would take some risks and just see what happened. I wasn't expecting earth shattering, paradigm shifting, what in the world is going on kind of events. I just figured I'd put myself out there and see what happens.
I didn't think it would be revolutionary.
I didn't think it would be indescribable.
I didn't think it would be extraordinary.
But I was wrong.
This has been a year of taking risks so far. I've traveled to cities I didn't know (some on a whim, some with a little bit of planning). I've spoken to people about goals and dreams that I was previously keeping to myself. I told a guy I thought he was pretty cute. I've met new people and instead of running for cover at the first conversation break, I stayed put and kept asking questions. I've tried new foods, new music, new restaurants, new attitudes and new routines.
Some of the risks have been little. Like trying a scallop in spite of a pretty serious aversion to seafood... and in case you're wondering, no I didn't like it. Some of the risks have been a bit bigger like when I did a zip line course in spite of a fear of heights. Some of the risks have resulted in mental and emotional breakthroughs like when I drove solo from Cleveland to Boston to watch my younger brother cross off a bucket list item when he crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
I've met new people. And let others go.
I've listened more than I've talked.
I've given people forgiveness even when my heart was screaming that I had every right to stay angry for just a little while longer.
I've tried new adventures and I'm actively looking for more.
I've given love and relationships another chance even though I was smarting from heartbreak and confusion.
I've put my toe in the water. Then I came back for more.
Every time, I told myself at one point or another no, it's not going to happen. No, you can't do that. No, it's too much. No, this is crazy.
No, I am afraid.
Bravery isn't the absence of fear. It is moving forward even when fear is holding your hand.
Times like these I'm eternally grateful that I'm wrong. And I'm basking in my wrongness.