This month’s blog post is going to be reasonably short and sweet (at least in words from me). I felt I was due for another round of sharing the wise words of others. I really enjoy collecting quotes—and putting together fun graphics for sharing them!
The above quote is the first that jumped to mind as one I wanted to include. It’s a lyric from John Lennon’s song “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy),” which he wrote for his son. I first heard John’s version of this saying, but according to Quote Investigator, variations of the expression floated around before he published his song; the earliest known version is from Allen Saunders in 1957.
John’s lyric—or Allen’s expression—brought me back to what I wrote about in March: balancing my expectations for life and myself with the realities of what’s happening and what I need. Don’t get me wrong; I love making plans. If we truly had “personality islands” in our minds like those in Inside Out, one of mine would feature a calendar as the central statue, surrounded by a walking path of neon-colored sticky-note lists. But life is full of disruptions. Sometimes, to-do lists need to be rewritten. Plans need to be thrown out.
Resisting the flow of life is futile. That doesn’t mean I haven’t tried. When faced with an unexpected challenge, I can feel myself stiffen, as if maybe I can hold still long enough that the winds of change will blow past me. Of course, that never works. It wouldn’t work for any of life’s less pleasant but ultimately inescapable parts, from mistakes to uncomfortable emotions.
I have learned—am still learning—that instead of resisting, I need to embrace what is so I can decide what I want to do about it. Easier said than done, to be sure. That’s where these quotes come in (and come together). Each is a reminder to accept changes and challenges for what they are and, at times, what they offer.
For someone who not only plans, but plans to plan, I so often find myself unprepared for what life presents. You just can’t be ready for everything; you don’t get time to practice. Or, really, life is the practice. The test run and the big show, all at once.
What a strange design. How wonderful. How irresistible.
How is this month almost over already? It seems like just yesterday I was eating a coffee-shop Pop-Tart on my half-birthday (also known as April Fool’s Day), and now it’s nearly May Day. My days have been full, and the weeks have gone fast.
One way I’ve been spending my time this month is editing chapters of my book. I’m currently working on a chapter called “Labeled,” which was inspired by my senior year yearbook of the same title. The chapter is broken into sections by different “labels” I identified with, sought out, or avoided. The chapter starts with an aspirational label of my middle and high school years: “popular.” It ends with one that has remained prominent in my adult life: “writer.”
As I was reading through a draft of the chapter, two words in that last section jumped out at me. “Real” writer. I had noted one way in which I believed I wasn’t like other “real” writers. After reading those words, I thought about how funny they sound. I mean, I really exist, don’t I? I’m not a figment of our collective imagination, so far as I know.
Of course, when I wrote those words, I wasn’t questioning my material existence. I was expressing the doubt I had felt about calling myself a writer. I’m clearly not the only one who has pondered their proximity to the “real writer” label. When I Googled “real writer” and “not a real writer,” a lot of relevant articles came up. Many of their titles were questions, asking what a real writer is and if or when you can call yourself one.
As I read through the articles and reflected on my own experiences, I compiled a list of possible barriers to entry for calling oneself a real writer. Unsurprisingly, this included external accomplishments like getting paid for your work or publishing a book. Some of the list items were qualitative, internal metrics, like diligence or passion. It was easy to find many ways people could qualify what it means a real writer… and in the process, disqualify themselves.
We could spend time fiddling with the “real writer” label, trying to define it in a way that feels more comfortable and less exclusive. Mercifully, most of the writers whose articles I read landed on a simple conclusion: if you write, then you’re a real writer. I agree. But what I’ve been turning over in my mind is not what being a real writer means, but why the term even exists in the minds of so many of us. What is the point of measuring the gap between ourselves and so-called “real writers”?
Maybe we’re trying to locate the point at which we can exhale. Where we can kick up our feet and say, Okay, I’ve made it. Writing can feel like an obstacle course of unknown length that we traverse mostly alone. So, it makes sense that we scan the horizon for a safe landing spot. A point of validation. A way to know for sure that it matters. Our hard work matters. We matter.
The craving to feel the value of your work is so understandable—and not just if you write, but if you build or teach or parent or anything else.
So, I understand why the term “real writer” exists in our minds. Still, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth for the way I have at times used it to invalidate where I’m at on my journey. At times, the way I’ve used it could be interchangeable with saying I’m not “good enough.” Not having something published yet, not perfectly adhering to a consistent routine… both signs I wasn’t a real writer (good enough).
Don’t get me wrong; having goals is wonderful. Trying to grow is great. Striving is awesome, but I’d hate for us to miss the becoming. The messy middle, when we’re putting in the work, however imperfectly. In so many ways, I think this is the main event. Not whatever we consider the finish line.
I know it would take the fun out of things, but sometimes I wish we could look at the present through the lens of hindsight. It would be so much easier to see the bigger picture and ourselves within it. The bright spots in the most challenging chapters. And how cool it really is to be on the way. Towards people we’ve yet to meet, goals we’ve yet to achieve, roles we’ve yet to grow into. Viewed from the other side, the stumbling path we traveled seems so much sweeter.
I was thinking back to a moment from the summer I was 17, when I had just started to pursue writing. I had big dreams for what I wanted to accomplish, and I really believed I could make them all come true.
I worked at Panera, and one night, the café was pretty quiet. I caught a glance of my reflection in the window. Me in my apron and baseball cap. I don’t know what struck me, but for a moment in time, I had one foot planted in the present and one in the future. I felt how cool it was to be the keeper of my dreams. The one to hold them close until I could release them to reality. Then I thought of my future self. Someday, when I was far down the road in my life as a writer, I would look back on this moment with fondness. I’d step back into the fizzy excitement of the journey beginning.
Neither version of me felt more valid. More real. Both seemed incredibly precious to me.
Whew. What a month. I don’t know about yours, but my March somehow managed to both exceed expectations in the best way and present challenges I never could have anticipated. Such is life, huh?
For this month’s blog post, I wanted to share a few pieces of creative work that have resonated with me lately. After listening to the podcast episode below, I realized a theme was emerging. The things that have stood out to me most this month have asked me to challenge (or at least question) my expectations—of myself, of my time, of how life “should” go. They have asked me to slow my pace. To work with the present moment as it truly is, so as not to miss life as it happens.
For me, that has involved practicing my flexibility muscle, balancing what I want in a given day with the reality of what’s presented. Little hassles. Major stressors. Human limitations. I had a day where I was trying to get things done, but I was only half-awake. I didn’t sleep well the night before (some of the stress of recent challenges was catching up to me). Normally, I would try to coffee up and push through, but I questioned if a different approach might be better. I had room in my day to be flexible. Might I get more out of my time later if I took a break now?
So I did the unthinkable. I laid back on the couch, pulled my fuzzy pink blanket over me, and fell asleep. My fluffy gray cat was purring on me as my alarm went off. I still had plenty of time. I grabbed a coffee, put music on, and got back into things, more refreshed than I’d felt all day—or maybe longer.
If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.
I hope one of the pieces below gives you something helpful to carry into the next month. If anything (a song, an article, a podcast episode) has made your March, please feel free to share in the comments!
I came across this essay while searching for articles on an entirely unrelated subject, and I have read it multiple times since. I don’t think being busy is inherently a bad thing. I also understand that there are times in life when we may not be able to take anything off our (very full) plates. What Dr. Sbarra is really challenging is mindless busyness. Being busy for busy’s sake, and barreling through an overstuffed calendar because we think that’s what we’re supposed to do. I think that even without removing anything from our schedules, we can check our pacing—and our expectations. Are we rushing through life, or are we living in it? Are we being reasonable in what we expect ourselves to get done?
In the first part of this episode, Dr. Keltner talks to Julie Santos, who was born in Costa Rica and spent summers there growing up. When she visited just after graduating college, she observed how expectations—and an ability to celebrate anything that exceeds them—seem to be linked to happiness in the country’s culture. Her reflections have made me think, what if we all stopped to show gratitude when things rise above our expectations, even just a little? Could boring or stressful tasks feel less burdensome if we don’t expect to hurry through them?
A quote by Kurt Vonnegut
A while ago I watched a video of a lecutre by the late author Kurt Vonnegut. He shared an anecdote about his Uncle Alex, which he said he’d included in every lecture he’d ever given. He also shared it in one of his nonfiction books, A Man Without a Country:
. . . his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”
Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country
I have been following his advice. It’s a simple strategy—reminiscent of what Julie Santos observed people in Costa Rica doing—but so powerful as a happiness checkpoint, ensuring that we don’t miss the ordinary (and sometimes extraordinary) joy that surrounds us.
I hope this month of love has been kind to you. I hope you’ve been able to spend time with people you care about and enjoy delicious treats (chocolate or not). I also hope you’ve given yourself love and kindness.
We all deserve to give ourselves the same support, care, and understanding that we show others. However, that can be easier said than done. We can so easily fall into the role of our own worst critic. One challenge we have is that we can easily observe our behaviors, which we can then judge through the harsh lens of hindsight. But our self-talk is harder to be aware of—let alone change—because so much of it is automatic.
Last month, I talked about using gratitude as a way to stay anchored in the present. One thing that distracts me from the now is negative self-talk. I can be very hard on myself. The heart of it often seems to be my desire to do right by others. Which is a lovely thing, of course! But values are meant to be guideposts for making choices in the present. They aren’t meant to be punitive. For me, self-doubt creeps in when I get stuck questioning my decisions over and over. Doing so becomes a painful cycle. The voice of self-doubt tells me that I can’t move on from the past and makes me distrust my ability to move forward.
I say “voice of self-doubt” because I am trying to . . . Well, I am trying to undermine its authority. I am trying to put a little more distance between that voice and me. I do not view or speak to others harshly, and I don’t believe that I deserve to be treated that way, either. That’s why I am working hard to give myself more self-compassion.
Dr. Kristin Neff is a pioneering researcher and author on the subject. She describes self-compassion as being there for ourselves with kindness, care, and understanding when we are struggling, just as we would be for someone else. Specifically, she breaks down self-compassion into three components:
Self-Kindness: Being gentle and understanding with ourselves, as opposed to self-critical and punishing.
Common Humanity: Recognizing that we aren’t alone in our struggles, as opposed to feeling uniquely inadequate.
Mindfulness: Being aware of and open to our thoughts and feelings, as opposed to ignoring them or getting consumed by them.
You can read more about self-compassion on Dr. Neff’s website here.
Lately, whenever I am feeling down, I stop to recognize what is bothering me and name what I’m feeling (sad, frustrated, anxious, etc.). Once I’ve done that, I try to see if there is any self-talk underneath the emotion that’s adding to the pain of it. Often, there is. Maybe I’m imagining an unrealistic negative outcome to a situation, making it feel more and more believable the more time I spend on it. Or maybe I’m making a negative assessment of myself or my abilities based on a challenge I’m facing. Whatever the thought, it typically falls into the category of self-doubt/self-criticism. Recognizing that opens the door for me to meet it with self-compassion.
What that looks like varies a bit on the situation. I can say something kind to myself, acknowledging the impact that a feeling or thought is having on me, even if I can’t change it right away. I can dismantle a judgment I’m making by recognizing that I’m holding myself to a standard I don’t really believe in (and wouldn’t expect anyone else to live up to). The most compassionate response can also be an action. Engaging in self-care, asking for help, or breaking a task down into more manageable chunks (with more reasonable expectations).
I’m not always able to move past a negative thought or feeling in the way I’d like to. Sometimes, I can’t really make sense of what’s going on in my mind. And I can still be too hard on myself. But even so, finding ways to show myself compassion has felt like discovering a superpower. Being in the cycle of self-doubt feels like listening to a soundtrack that can’t be turned off. Learning how to not only turn it off but transform it into something else entirely has been really, really cool.
I am proud of myself.
Whatever it is you need today, I hope you can give it to yourself. I know you deserve it, and I hope you can see that, too.
I love New Year’s. One of my traditions is to create a vision board, with visual reminders of what I would like to experience, accomplish, or feel during the year. I value the opportunity to approach the new year with a sense of intention. And in my mind, your “vision” for the year can be a work in progress. I haven’t finished my 2022 board yet!
Looking at my board, I can see how much I have to look forward to this year. At the heart of it all, though, I have one goal: to be present in each moment, as much as possible. To appreciate the big, exciting, moments, but also the ones that feel small or “skippable.”
My mind tends to wander off in all different directions: past, future, unlikely hypothetical scenarios. It’s not always a bad thing, but sometimes I don’t feel like I’m steering the ship. So I’ve been experimenting with different ways to help myself stay grounded in the now. I’ve been trying meditation. And about two weeks ago, I decided to start a gratitude practice. Or, as I’m calling it, my appreciation journal.
I’ve only completed nine entries so far—I don’t pressure myself to write if I’m not up for it!—but it’s already been a learning experience. Admittedly, the most challenging of the three is deciding what I’m proud of. I have a tendency to focus on what I could have done better, but I’m working on that.
Reflecting on the other two prompts, I’ve recognized that it’s easy to look forward to major events or feel grateful for out-of-the-ordinary acts of kindness. You don’t really need a journal to remind you. But on average days, there are so many things I look forward to without even noticing. My morning coffee. A phone call with a loved one. And the things I feel grateful for, as I’m wrapping up the day, could also be easily overlooked. A relaxing evening playing Animal Crossing. Someone showing me patience when I was feeling stressed.
This has made me realize how easy it is to generate more moments of joy on a day-to-day basis. Also, taking note of what you appreciate in your life breaks the cycle of overlooking the everyday good. In his essay entitled “Why Gratitude Is Good,” Dr. Robert Emmons, a leader in the scientific study on gratitude, explains, “I think gratitude allows us to participate more in life. We notice the positives more, and that magnifies the pleasures you get from life. Instead of adapting to goodness, we celebrate goodness.”
I know not everyone likes to write, but I think there are all kinds of way to make appreciation or gratitude a habit. You could make a goal to take a photo each day of something that brings you joy. Or, once a month, you could do something special for someone who brings value to your life. As a bonus, I would recommend checking out these resources on gratitude from Greater Good Magazine, where the above article from Dr. Emmons was published. They have interesting information on gratitude’s benefits and suggestions for how to practice your gratefulness.
Wishing you a moment of joy where you are right now. I am grateful for you.
I don’t know about you, but the last couple months of this year have been flying by. 2021 has been a roller coaster of a year, and I don’t feel like I’m gently coasting back to the station just yet.
Don’t get me wrong, I love this time of year. I love the cold weather (when we have it), I love all the extra opportunities to gather with family and friends, and I love the ever-expanding universe of the Netflix Christmas movies. But recently I realized that my excitement about all of the above (and more!) was starting to twist into overwhelm. So much to do, so much I want to do, but seemingly so little time!
As I was reflecting on how I was feeling, I remembered a podcast episode I listened to earlier this year. Priya Parker was a guest on Brené Brown’s podcast called Unlocking Us. Priya is the author of the book The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters. During the episode, Brené shared a quote from the book that has stuck with me: “a category is not a purpose for a gathering.” For example, a birthday party is a category. The purpose is something only you can define. Maybe your purpose is to close out a difficult year in your life on a positive note, or to celebrate the year’s victories with the people who supported you along the way.
I thought that was such a smart way of looking at things. Even though I’m not hosting a gathering this year, I realized I could use the same strategy to approach the varied opportunities of the season. What am I hoping to express to someone by giving them a gift? What do I hope to feel, or who would I like to connect with, at the next holiday party? Maybe those things seem obvious, but as someone who loves calendars and to-do lists, I find it so valuable to stop and reconnect with my “why” for any given task or event, as opposed to just continuing to go go go.
In a moment of synchronicity, yesterday I came across a mediation on Headspace entitled “Re-defining Holidays.” The purpose of the exercise was to set an intention for the season. I came up with two: presence and peace of mind. By presence I mean, I don’t want to speed through the season. I want to be here for it. My mind can often spin off in a variety of directions, but if I’ve learned anything over the past couple of years, it’s that our best opportunity to do good always exists in the present moment. And at the very least, I would like to do some good before the year ends by being truly present with the people I care about.
My reason for choosing peace of mind as my other intention is pretty straightforward. Ending this roller-coaster year with a sense of calm sounds pretty darn good.
In everything this month brings your way, I hope you are able to center yourself and what you need. My wish is that you are able to end the year with contentment in the present moment and hope for what’s yet to come.
In addition to continuing to share some of my favorite books here, I’d love to start sharing online articles or essays that have excited me/taught me something/made me think. Recently I came across an article which I have since reread multiple times and thought about often, so I wanted to share it with you. You can read the full piece here:
While the title says that girls don’t run the world, Constance dives into the ways in which teen girls have always been incredibly influential in shaping culture, from language to music to fashion. She explores the cultural shifts towards acknowledging the power of teen girls: young activists have found worldwide platforms, and music popularized or even made by teen girls has been taken more seriously. Unfortunately, as Constance points out, the sense that girls are powerful or deserve to be empowered has also been co-opted to sell them products.
I thought often of my teen self while reading this piece. I wish I had come across something like it back then. I felt conflicted at times about being a fan of musical artists that I knew weren’t treated seriously. I thought my tastes were just “uncool.” I personalized an issue that was really much bigger than me, and I wish I could have seen that. I also wish I had learned about the amazing history of teen girl fandoms. I would have seen I was in great company!
This piece was also a helpful reminder for my adult self, and maybe for others, too. I think it can be easy to dismiss something out of hand just because it’s not for you. This has often and too easily happened for things important to teen girls. Whether it’s an album, a social media platform, or anything else, I think it can be helpful for all of us to start from a place of asking what purpose it might be serving for those engaging with it. That’s of course not to say that we can’t critique anything. Sometimes we should. But I think to do so successfully and empathetically, we need to start from a place of understanding. Plus, I think we can all probably remember a time when we felt like someone just didn’t “get” what we were into. We all deserve to have who we are and what we love taken seriously.
If you have anything you’ve read lately that you’d love to share too, please leave it in the comments below!
A few years ago, the above quote came up on my page-a-day calendar. It’s a line from astronomer Carl Sagan‘s book Cosmos; you can read it in its original context here. Without knowing what he originally meant, though, the first thing it made me think about was creativity.
I think we put a lot of pressure on ourselves when it comes to creative projects; so much so that sometimes it’s easier to quit before we even begin. The funny thing is, I think all of us are creative. I think being human requires it. We put our creativity to work all the time, whether we’re balancing a beyond-busy schedule or talking a friend through a challenging situation. Sometimes we make the impossible happen without even thinking about it. But making art? Forget about it.
I love to write, and I am so excited about the book I’m finishing, but now and then I get intimidated by a blank page or edits that need to be made. What Carl’s words reminded me is that I’m never really starting from nowhere. I’m not trying to create some crazy type of art form that doesn’t exist yet. (Although that would be cool!) I’m also not trying to write the One Book to End All Books. I’m just trying to write a book that I can be proud of, that my younger self would totally love, and that will fit nicely on the shelf with all of the books that guided me.
So yeah, I’m not trying to rebuild the universe from scratch. I’m just trying to make the best apple pie I can. I already have the ingredients (inspiration, knowledge, passion) that I need. And if I find I’m missing anything? I have full confidence I can go out and get it. And I 100% believe the same is true for whatever you dream to make, too.
Below are a few more quotes that speak to ways we can take the pressure off ourselves when it comes to creativity. One was too long to make into a cute graphic, but still too good not to share!
If you have any favorite quotes—on creativity or anything else—I would love to hear them. Please feel free to leave them in the comments below!
We must understand that the drive for perfectionism is a corrosive waste of time, because nothing is ever beyond criticism. No matter how many hours you spend attempting to render something flawless, somebody will always be able to find fault with it . . . At some point, you really just have to finish your work and release it as is—if only so that you can go on to make other things with a glad and determined heart.
Doesn’t it feel like summer just disappeared in the blink of an eye? I know it’s not fully fall yet, but still. It feels like just a minute ago that I was with friends on the 4th, and now Halloween decorations are appearing on end caps. I’d say “too soon,” but I’ve already consumed a few mugs of pumpkin spice coffee myself. Anyways. Next month I am going to be sharing the next pick in My Dream Library series, but for this last post of summer I wanted to share a little life strategy that’s been helping me as of late.
A couple of weeks ago, I got stuck. I was starting to obsess over a situation where I wasn’t sure if I “should” have done something differently. (The Shoulds are dangerous woods to wander!) I kept going over and over it, way past the point of helpful reflection. The obvious thing to do, of course, was to talk it over with someone, to get unstuck. But I was embarrassed. I am fully aware that I often notice, think about, and worry over things that aren’t on anyone else’s radar. So I sometimes feel the double-edged sting of being acutely aware of my worries, but also completely cognizant of how overblown they probably are. I know saying them out loud to someone I trust always helps, but sometimes wish I didn’t have to.
As I was gearing up to ask for help, a thought popped into my mind: Your conscientiousness is such a lovely thing about you.
I’ve often thought that our greatest strengths can also be our greatest weaknesses. That’s easy enough to see, embrace, and love in others. Someone who has the biggest of hearts might have trouble protecting the boundaries they deserve. Someone who can get lost in the zone of their passions might also lose track of time when it matters. It’s all just shades on the same beautiful spectrum. Imperfect but radiant.
In that moment, I realized I’d been telling myself that I was an annoyingly, embarrassingly anxious person. But I could also see myself as a careful, thoughtful person. It’s heartbreakingly sweet how much I want to do things right. And that’s lovely. I just need to catch myself before I fall in the deep end of overthinking now and then.
Ever since then, when I feel my brain starting to take off, I imagine a thermometer. (There’s probably a better metaphor/visual out there, but this one’s working for me.) I ask myself, am I getting “too hot”? Am I moving towards the end of the spectrum where I imagine highly unrealistic, bad outcomes or get stuck on something from long ago? Or is this a situation where my attention to detail is a gift? Because it is. My so-called overthinking brain is also reflective, attentive, thoughtful, and creative. Sometimes it just needs to be steered in the right direction.
So, if you’re feeling frustrated with yourself, maybe ask: Is this thing that’s plaguing me, also what makes me great?
Instagram is my social media platform of choice. Of course it has its flaws, but I love seeing snapshots of the lives of people I know (or would like to know, or once knew). And maybe this is strange for a photo-heavy app, but I love the words I come across. Every once in a while I’ll scroll onto a colorful background with a few lines of text, read them, and think, Whew, I needed to hear that. So on this cloudy July day (perfect for cozy reflection), I wanted to share one of my recent finds with you:
No matter what kind or size of challenges you have faced, I think the idea of letting your past selves exist as who they were, without trying to change them or hide them, is so powerful. One thing I’ve been working on in the past year or so has been learning to not be so hard on myself. I know beating myself up doesn’t make me a better person; if anything, it makes it harder to stay in the present where I’m needed. Sometimes I get stuck in a loop of reevaluating past choices. Or, not reevaluating, but just looking back with a deep groan like, Ugh, why did I do that? Reflecting on Ashley’s words, I thought, what if I let every younger version of me just exist, as is? Not only as a character in a different chapter, but one in a whole different story. Someone who was wholly imperfect, but perfectly suited for the journey she was on at the time. I don’t need to go back and stretch 13-year-old me, or 18-year-old me, or 23-year-old me into my 30-year-old frame of how things should be. It’s unfair to all of us.
If you ever get stuck in the past, I hope this quote gives you a little lift out like it did for me. Links to the podcast episode and Ashley’s work will be listed below. I highly encourage you to check out her writing; her spirit shines a light of grace that I think we could all use more of.