Hannah Montana was Right: Learning to Challenge My Perfectionist Thoughts

Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.” – BrenĂ© Brown

🎵 Everybody makes mistakes, everybody has those days 🎵

Hello my digital angels,

I came across the above quote while working on my book. (Mark my words, it will be done before my next birthday!) I decided to add a preface, and I was reading through the first pages of books I admire for inspiration. On page 2 of Daring Greatly, that line jumped out at me. Like something I needed to hear. And that surprised me.

You see, I think of myself as a recovered perfectionist; I wrote about it for Gurl.com (see below!). My sophomore year of high school was the peak of my perfectionism. I took AP classes for the first time and was diligent with my homework. (I remember reading my World History textbook on Friday evenings.) I was active outside of classes, participating in cheerleading, theatre, Key Club, and concert band.

Gurl.com no longer exists on the web, but it does in my heart (and this screenshot). ❤️

And I monitored every bite of food I ate, in search of the “perfect” body.

By junior year, I learned to be more realistic about my schoolwork. On the first day of AP U.S. History, when the syllabus was passed out, I realized I couldn’t complete the work to my satisfaction and stay sane. So I switched to the regular version of the class. By the end of the year, I acknowledged that being a cheerleader was more about what I wanted to be (popular) than what made me happy, and I quit. As for eating, it took me a number of years of ups and downs to unlearn the desire to control my body, but I did it. One night recently, I was standing at the kitchen counter at 10 PM eating cold Chinese food. I stopped and marveled at the fact that I can do that. Silly as it sounds, back then I never would have dreamed it. I listen to my body and enjoy food without constraints, and that’s a miracle to me.

I worked my way out of all those modes of perfectionism. I know, and not just because Hannah Montana told me, that nobody’s perfect. So why did that quote hit me?

Then I realized, even though consciously I know I am not expected to be perfect, I sometimes react in a way that suggests the opposite.

One of my greatest fears—and anxiety triggers—is hurting others. This year, my mind has been a little harder to manage than usual, for understandable reasons. Lately, when I feel I’ve made a mistake (or remember one from months past), I go into a downward spiral. I think, over and over again, about what I did wrong and how it could have negatively impact someone else. Anxiety takes over my body, and I can’t slow down my thoughts or heart rate until I talk to someone else or “fix” the perceived problem.

Of course, it’s normal to feel a sting when you think about how you could have done something better. I care so much about doing things well, and I don’t expect that to change. But when I go into full-on meltdown mode over things that do not warrant that, what I’m telling myself is that it’s not okay to ever make a less-than-100%-perfect decision. And that’s not okay.

Recognizing this problematic pattern of thinking has already been liberating. Not that I’ve “fixed” it—you can’t be perfect at not being perfect—but I realize the path I’ve been walking, perhaps longer than I realized, is not one I want to continue down. I want to be kinder to myself. I want to give myself the love and grace I think everyone deserves in moments of struggle. I want to live a life of self-compassion.

I have so many more thoughts, and a few resources, to share with you, but this seems like a good place to stop for now. What I ask of you is this: if you find yourself being your own worst critic, stop and examine the standards to which you’re holding yourself. And if you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself. Your compassion belongs to you, too.

xoxo

Marie

It’s Forking Hard, Man: Creativity in the Time of COVID-19

Hello my Internet friends, and long time no see,

I had a real good cry the other day. I’ve been carrying some self-loaded burden this year—I’m sure I’m not the only one—and I think I’m finally ready to set it down. But to tell the story, we need to wind the clock back to December 31st, 2019.

New Year’s Eve morning, I was on an airplane with my boyfriend. We were heading back from spending Christmas with his family. I don’t think of plane cabins as being particularly aesthetic locales, but sitting next to him, with the white morning light flowing in, I knew I was in a moment I’d never forget. I just knew that this was the year. The year that all the pieces were finally coming together. Not only was I starting the new decade with my lovely, supportive boyfriend, but I was moving into a new role at work, which was going to give me much better work-life balance, and therefore more time + mental energy to write. I was thisclose to having a first draft of my book done. This year, I was going to finish it, edit it, and figure out how to publish it! Was that a lot to expect? Maybe! But at the time, it really seemed possible.

I’ve watched a lot of TV this year. “Good Place” is my new favorite show. “Forking” is the main character’s adverb of choice (kind of). (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)

And through January and February, it still did. I was so happy, and for the first time in a long time, the writing was just flowing. I was not only getting the pages down, but I was having fun with it. I’d regained my playfulness with words that had been hard to access for a while. Finally, I thought. All the work I’d done, to get my mind and life in a conducive state for writing, was paying off.  I’d made it. Back to my voice, and forward to the writing life I’d been trying to create.

Then March came around. Like many people, I imagine, the first weeks of our community responding to COVID-19—gatherings being cancelled, schools and workplaces going remote—felt surreal to me. I felt shock more than anything. But once the jolt wore off, it all started to wear on me. Not getting to do the little things I’d taken for granted—the mornings I went to Starbucks to write, trivia nights with my brother and sister-in-law. I began to internalize the (very understandable) stress and fear in the air, to the point where I was often anxious about things totally unrelated to the pandemic, like challenges at work or random past mistakes.

Unsurprisingly, my writing started to suffer. Sometimes, I would sit down at my desk and struggle to focus. Other times, I couldn’t get myself to sit down at all. I kept telling myself, next week will be different. Or, tomorrow’s the day I get back on track. Suddenly, those days and weeks had flown by, spring became summer became (almost) fall, and nothing really got easier.

Until, admittedly, I had a bit of a meltdown moment a couple weeks ago. Sometimes, when I’m overwhelmed by my feelings but not yet ready to accept them, I start aggressively cleaning. (Lovely, I know.) I was going in on the kitchen when, thankfully, my aforementioned lovely boyfriend intervened. As soon as we sat down on the couch, I started sobbing. This year has not been what it was supposed to be. I haven’t been who I was supposed to be.

I let out all the disappointment, sadness, and anger—with myself and the situation—that had been building up for quite some time. Throughout the past six months, I’ve often been reminding myself (and saying out loud) how fortunate I’ve been. I’ve stayed healthy, and so has my family. I’ve kept my job and my house. So many people have experienced so much loss and suffering this year. Who am I to complain, about anything? But in my efforts to not appear selfish or ungrateful—even to myself—I failed to acknowledge how I was struggling. Being creative in 2020 is forking hard, man.

If I were to write creativity out as a formula (for myself, anyway), I would say creativity = purpose + time + mental energy. I’ve had a sense of inspiration and purpose for my book for years. On the other hand, the time and mental energy I have at any given point varies. This year, I made the mistake of thinking that since I have plenty of free time on my hands—can’t be distracted by going to movies or hanging out with friends!—I should be plenty productive. But I failed to acknowledge the brain drain this year has been. I’m grateful for my own health and safety, but I’m still sad for our communities. I’m still anxious. I’m still waiting for the day I can hug everyone I miss.

I stuffed down my feelings of frustration about my writing progress this year, because I thought they were selfish or unwarranted. The funny thing is, now that I’ve let them out, I’ve found mental room to reevaluate what I want the rest of this year to be. How I want to spend the creativity I do have. Because I do have it, even it’s a little more strained during this incredibly difficult time.

I’m not going to say I’m feeling the New Year’s Eve buzzy excitement again (who can even imagine?), but I feel a little more clear-headed and confident in my ability to create than I have in months. I’ll take it.

xoxo

Marie

P.S. I am sending you love and light through whatever challenges you’re going through this year.

Ten Years

Hello, my Internet angel babies,

My ten-year high school reunion is happening this month. In one sense, it’s kind of crazy to think about that amount of time passing. Ten years ago, the Obamas had yet to move into the White House, Taylor Swift had only released one album and was still considered a country artist (“Teardrops on My Guitar” forever!), and neither Instagram nor Snapchat existed.

In the scheme of my own life, though, it’s easy for me to accept that a decade has passed. I used to think it felt like I’ve gotten to live multiple lives in this one, but I think it’s more accurate to say that the different phases of my life have felt like distinct chapters, boookmarked by heartache and friendships, unbelievable opporutnities and challenges that at times felt impossible to overcome (they weren’t). Not to mention all the haircuts and dye jobs. So yeah, ten years sounds about right.

Notebooks
It has taken a lot of notebooks to get to this point.

But to be honest, this summer marks another ten-year anniversary that for me feels more significant. On June 4, 2008, I started my first blog and began my journey as a writer. It was one of those experiences that may have held little significance to an outsider (my blog was by no means super popular, and that’s okay!), but on the inside, it felt revolutionary. After spending so much of my tween and teen years feeling unsure or unfond of myself, I’d found my voice and a way to share it. I was ecstatic in the knowledge that I knew what I wanted my life to be for. What I felt that summer seemed to be made of the same magic of falling in love.

And man, what a wild ride it’s been. I’ve gotten to do so many cool things! I’ve interviewed amazing girls and shared their stories. I’ve provided advice in real time to tween magazine readers. I’ve published articles on subjects I’m passionate about for websites I love, and connected with some of my favorite authors along the way. In addition to all that, I’ve realized how happy writing makes me. And happiness is something I don’t take for granted anymore.

I’m so excited to be starting this next decade and chapter. My dream of publishing a book—the one I wish I had on my shelf ten or so years ago—is approaching reality. I can’t wait to share the journey with you, too. I have a feeling this next adventure is going to be one for the books.

xoxo

Marie

Some Thoughts on Worms: What I’ve Learned About Dealing with Negative Feelings

Hi, Internet friends!

A while back, I was going for a walk in my neighborhood. It must have recently rained, because I was thinking about worms. I have always had a weird fear of worms. When I was a kid, I couldn’t even handle an image of a worm touching me, let alone a real one. I really liked helping my mom in the garden on Mother’s Day, but I usually wouldn’t put the flowers in the ground myself, for fear of a worm squirming my way and touching my glove. As an adult, if a harmless spider ends up inside, I can carry it outdoors in my bare hands. But even just the thought of touching a worm is still a little overwhelming.

Umbrella
Photo by Gabriel Santiago on Unsplash

As I was on my walk that day, I was thinking about the reason we have fear from an evolutionary standpoint. If we’re in the presence of something that could hurt us, it’s important that we act quickly. If you had no fear, and you were out in nature when a large animal came by, you could find yourself in a bad scenario. Fear, like all negative emotions, can be both painful and valuable.

The thing is, though, a worm is not going to hurt me. It just isn’t. But my emotional reaction treats it as though it were a bear. Because sometimes, our feelings are just flat-out wrong.

Across my life so far, I have dealt with some mental health struggles, as well as the regular fluctuation of feelings that comes with being human. Along the way, I’ve learned that while our feelings are always informative, they aren’t always telling us the truth. For example, when I’m feeling down on myself, my first instinct is to retreat. Be alone. Give up on the big things I want to do. But actually, it’s just as valuable in those times, if not more, to be active, whether that’s by getting exercise, hanging out with friends, or working on a project. In fact, by acting contrary to my feelings in those moments, I can almost always change how I feel for the better, even if only a little.

I am by no means suggesting you should ignore your feelings. On the contrary, I think there’s a lot of value to be found in sitting with your feelings to see where the truth is in what they’re saying and how you can challenge them if necessary. For me, getting outside perspective can be invaluable.

I’m also thinking that this spring, I need to rectify my relationship with worms. It’s been long enough.

xoxo

Marie

 

5 Ways You Can Help Your World

What do I expect from myself now? That thought popped into my head in recent months, while reflecting upon what’s been happening politically in our country (and around the world). I have been staying more informed than ever before, and with that has come a desire to do more. To use my knowledge, voice, and time to make a positive impact. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been feeling this way.

In response to my initial question, I decided to put together a list of possible actions I could take—and share them with you. This list is by no means 100% comprehensive, and I would love to hear any additions you have in the comments below. I kept in mind and noted any limitations there may be in regards to age. Another bonus: for some of these, you don’t have to stray far from right where you are: the Internet. With that, let’s jump in!

Stay Informed. First and foremost, it’s important to understand what’s going on. A great starting place is theSkimm, a free daily (Monday through Friday) email newsletter that quickly (and sassily) summarizes the day’s top headlines and provides links for further reading. When you’re starting a new habit, such as regularly reading the news, it makes sense to make it as easy on yourself as possible. Email newsletters—particularly theSkimm—make staying informed really easy, by bringing all of your reading to one place.

Teen Vogue has rightfully been commended for their insightful political and cultural coverage, which is available for free on their website. They also have a—wait for it!—free email newsletter, which includes links to political and social writings as well as fashion inspiration and celebrity updates. A pretty good combo, if you ask me.

Another great resource is The New York Times, particularly if there is a topic you want to explore in depth. The one limitation is that you are only allowed to read 10 articles per month for free on their website. However, if you find you really like their articles and want to read more, they do offer digital subscriptions, including one for students that gives you unlimited access to their web articles for $1/week.

What’s missing from this list is local news. It’s just as important to know what’s going on in your state and city/town. More and more local newspapers are offering online content, and a quick Google search will let you know if they have websites or social media accounts. They might even have an e-newsletter!

Speak Up. Once you’ve begun to make sense of what’s going on, it’s important to make your voice heard. There are a number of ways to do this, from signing an online petition to sharing your thoughts on social media, but perhaps the most important right now is to contact the people who represent you in government. You can do this even if you can’t vote yet! It is especially valuable to do so when those representatives are about to vote on a bill that could become a law. For example, it’s my understanding that one of the reasons the original version of the American Health Care Act was withdrawn was the large number of calls representatives received from people who opposed the bill.

I have always been at least a little shy, so the idea of reaching out to my representatives has always been a little intimidating. For me, planning ahead can help reduce nerves, so I scoured some of my favorite websites for resources and advice. This really helpful article from Teen Vogue—“Congresswoman Katherine Clark Explains How You Can Resist the Trump Administration”—introduced me to a cool website called Countable. Countable gives you clear, easy-to-read summaries of bills that our national representatives (members of the Senate and House of Representatives) will vote on. The site also gives you the chance to send your opinion to them, starting with a simple click of “Yea” or “Nay.” If you want to use the site for contacting your representatives, you do need to create an account. You must be 13 or older to do so, and the site does ask for your address (your representatives keep tallies of responses they get from people in their district, and your address confirms that you live in their district). So, it would be best to check in first with a parent/guardian before creating a Countable account, if you are not an adult yet!

If you are feeling so bold, I would recommend giving your reps an actual phone call. From what I’ve read—including the above Teen Vogue article—phone calls are the most effective method. Personally, the whole talking-on-the-phone thing is what really makes me nervous. On that note, this article from Refinery29—“Calling Congress is Easier Than You Think—Here’s How to Do It”—is really useful. It includes a sample script that you can change to suit your needs and use when you call. One final tip from a friend of mine for those who are particularly anxious about making a phone call: you can always call after hours (in the evenings or on weekends) and just leave a voicemail.

Countable keeps you updated on national issues and who to contact for those, but doesn’t address local ones. Your best bet is to keep an eye on your local news (see above). If you hear about a state-level issue you want to speak up on, I found that in most cases, typing “[your state] government” in Google will lead to a website with a “find your representatives” tab. A similar approach would likely work for city/town issues, though their websites may be less sophisticated. When in doubt, ask your social studies teacher (or another informed individual)!

Sparkle Heart.jpg

Donate. Another option, if you have money to give and wish to do so, is to donate to an organization that supports a cause you care about. Your best bet, if you know of a local organization that is doing work you admire, be it an animal shelter or a mentoring program, is to donate directly to them. They likely have a website with an easy option for donating, or you can give in person.

If you want to give but don’t yet have an organization in mind, I recommend checking out Charity Navigator. The purpose of the site is to evaluate charities based on how they use their money so people can be informed donors. Browsing the site, I found that smaller, local organizations (including a few in my city that I searched for) were not evaluated because they were simply too small. But if you have no idea where to give, Charity Navigator has Top Ten Lists, including “Charities with Perfect Scores” that are divided up by category, including Animals, Education, and Environment. If there is a cause you want to donate to, you’ll certainly find a worthy organization!

Volunteer. Almost six years ago, I signed up for Big Brothers Big Sisters, and I still count it as one of the best decisions I ever made. It is cheesy but oh-so-true that you grow when you give. If you wish to donate your time, there are certainly organizations and causes that could use your skills and compassion.

Doing some research online, I found that, unfortunately, if you are under 18, your options will be more limited. Your best bet, if you know of a local organization you’d like to volunteer for, is to go to their website to see what volunteer opportunities they offer. If they state that they do not offer volunteer opportunities to individuals under 18, I don’t think it would hurt to call and ask about the possibility of volunteering alongside an adult who could accompany you.

While down the Internet rabbit hole, I ended up on DoSomething.org. The site has a variety of “campaigns,” or activities both big and small that support a variety of causes. For example, one on the home page that caught my attention was to create a cute recycling box to remind you to recycle your empty beauty product containers. If you create a DoSomething.org account, complete the campaign, and upload a photo of you doing so, you have the opportunity to win “scholarships and swag.” To create an account, you do need to provide an email address or phone number, and again, to win prizes you do need to upload a photo of yourself, so do check in with a parent/guardian before doing so.

Start Something. This one is entirely open-ended and up to you, but I would feel remiss if I didn’t include it. If you see an issue in your community or world and you have an idea about how you could be part of the solution, with determination, research, and hard work, the sky is the limit as far as what you can accomplish. I believe this with all of my heart and mind, in part because, when I was an Online Contributing Writer for Girls’ Life, I spent a lot of time doing interviews with girls who were being recognized by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards for their outstanding community service projects. There was a 13-year-old who created a program to collect wasted cooking oil to be reconverted and used to heat the homes of those in need. An 18-year-old who had founded a program that helps schools include students with disabilities on their cheerleading squads. And a 16-year-old who had raised over $500,000 to help orphaned children across the world.

Every single step we take forward, whether it’s a phone call or a dollar donated or an hour volunteered, does matter. It does, and I don’t want you to every doubt yourself on that. I also want you to know that if you have a big dream or goal as to what you want to do for your world—our world—you absolutely can make it happen. I have faith in you.

xoxo

Marie

Welcome to Girl Presence

Hello, friend!  Thank you for being here.  Life is packed and so is the internet, so I truly appreciate you taking the time to check out this blog.

Where does the name “Girl Presence” come from, you may wonder?  Excellent question.  “Presence” can be defined as “the bearing, carriage, or air of a person” or “the fact or condition of being present” (thanks, Merriam-Webster).  So by “girl presence” I am referring to the handprint, footprint, lifeprint a girl (any female in the process of learning or growing) chooses to leave on the world, as well as the simple act ofiPhone 003 being here, being present in this “girl culture” we both influence and are influenced by.

I hope we (and yes, I truly mean we) can use this space, as the tagline says, for “observing, exploring, & celebrating all things girl.”  I love girl-world things that shine and catch my attention, from the more superficial (sparkly Ugg boots, the latest ABC Family teen drama) to the serious (girls who embrace who they are and use their powers to make the world a better place), and I love observing and noticing them with others.  Typically, when I notice things, I wonder about them:  Why do girls talk about their bodies the way they do?  How does the rise of social media and celebrity culture affect the way we form our identity?  These are the types of things I enjoy exploring and discussing with others.  And finally, but no less significantly, I want us to start celebrating.  Being a girl is awesome.  Growing up is terrifying and exhilarating in the best possible ways.  Let’s enjoy every moment, together.

Most importantly, I truly want your feedback.  If there’s a topic or piece of girl culture you think I should cover, tell me.  If you disagree with my point of view, share yours.  The beauty of girl world (and just the world, period) is we shine brightest when we work together.  I look forward to experiencing, exploring, and enjoying Girl Presence with you.

xoxo

Marie