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.
The other day on my drive to work, I had another time-travel moment. This time, a happy one. I remembered the first time I had a piece of my writing published. It was a guest blog for the website of Jess Weiner, one of my favorite creators and biggest inspirations. I was brace-faced and 17, and the post went up one week before my high school graduation. It’s no longer online anywhere I can find, but thankfully my dad had the foresight to screenshot it years ago:
I love reading things my Younger Self wrote; I always find a gem or two of wisdom from her to me. This time, it was the line “It seems to me that the root of all unkindness is a lack of respect, and the most basic kind is the kind we have for ourselves.”
The reason I was thinking about the blog post, though, is that I was thinking about the concept of deserving. I realized that when my brain is scanning in the background for mistakes I’ve made, what it’s doing is looking for reasons I don’t deserve to feel happy. Since you did X, you should feel Y. Decision Z could have caused A, B, C, D, etc. If so-and-so knew about E, what would they think? And on through the alphabet and back again. Logically, I know that the worst-case interpretations presented by my mind are literally never accurate. But emotionally, sometimes they feel terribly real.
When I was 17, being kind to myself meant believing I deserved everything I dreamed of and acting accordingly. Ultimately, that’s what I would want for anyone I love . . . and everyone I don’t know, too. But I think for me, right now, the idea of “deserving” feels a bit loaded. The math of life rarely adds up in a way that makes sense to me, anyway. I’ve been both blessed beyond measure and experienced pain I didn’t “earn.” I don’t have to look far beyond myself to see plenty of examples of things not working out for people as they “should.” Besides, one of the most important things I’ve learned this year is that mental self-punishment does not make me a better person. It doesn’t solve the past or give anything to those around me. In fact, it often makes me so internally focused that I miss what’s going on for people I care about.
So while I believe that we all deserve the absolute best in every way, heading into this new year, I’ve decided to stop thinking about what I deserve (which lately has devolved into negative, past-focused thoughts) and think more about the life I want to create. I don’t have to understand the past or future or fairness or even the oddities of my own mind to make today a reasonably good day, headed in the direction I’d like to go. I’ve already found, in recent weeks, that being just a smidge more intentional with my days—finding small opportunities to connect with others or make progress on my goals—matters. The flicker of hope is there.
Life has these beautiful moments of synchronicity now and then. Jess Weiner, who so graciously shared my words about creating your dream life many years ago, is starting an endeavor to help others build The Good Life, on their own terms. (You better believe I already signed up for the first workshop!) Heading into the new year, I wish you the space, support, and resources you need to build your own Good Life. One day at a time.
Guess what? I’m a time traveler. No, really. It’s actually quite impressive. I just go about my day—working on a project, making dinner—and all of a sudden, I’m transported back to a moment I had completely forgotten about.
Sometimes, I end up in a memory from a few months ago. Sometimes it’s years back. I don’t actually run the time machine myself, so I have no control over where I end up. It can be any one of the Greatest Hits of my so-called “mistakes” (or simply things I could have done differently). No matter where I’m sent, the trip is so quick I don’t even notice it. I’m just there. Reliving the moment. Rewinding it and playing it back. Sometimes playing it forward to imagine all potential (negative) outcomes. It’s really fun, really great.
Okay, not so much. But such is life in my mind some days.
The other day I had the thought, why can’t my brain randomly send me good memories? Why can’t I suddenly be sent back to walking the canals in Amsterdam? Or have my senses overwhelmed at the thought of a really good meal I’ve had? If I have to obsess, why can’t I play through all the potential positive outcomes of every good choice I’ve made?
Of course, I understand why. We’re all a little bit caveman on the inside. Our ancestors survived by successfully monitoring for, assessing, and responding to threats. So we’re wired to do the same. Unfortunately for some of us, those threat detection systems can be a bit overzealous.
I cannot change my default settings, unfortunately. (Although I have learned that basic self-care tasks, like sleep and exercise, really do help.) That being said, if my brain is a machine, I have a choice in how to use it. Sure, maybe it doesn’t automatically focus on what I want. But I can redirect it. At least some of the time.
With the holidays upon us, I have been thinking a lot about gratitude. I realized that I think of myself as a grateful person, but maybe it’s better to think of gratitude as an action rather than a state of being. Before Thursday’s dinner, my dad said that his friend had shared the following via text: Remember that Thanksgiving is a verb. Put another way, in this quote by Larissa Gomez: “Being thankful is not always experienced as a natural state of existence, we must work at it, akin to a type of strength training of the heart.” We can practice and get better at it. We can hijack the machine, and time travel to our favorite memories.
Or stay present. I have gotten into the habit lately of periodically wiggling my toes. Doing so has been a helpful reminder that I am physically here, right now. Not in unknown goods or bads of the past or future. Now when I do, I try to also notice the moment. I see through the window to my left that it’s sunny outside today. I like to think a lot of my neighbors are putting up their Christmas lights. To my right, I see one of my cats snoozing on the couch. He is covered in Christmas tree sheddings, which makes me think he was laying under the tree again this morning. He looks so peaceful right now. He is here. I am here. We are okay. We are more than okay.
This year has been brutal. I know the holidays can bring mixed feelings as well, especially in 2020. But we are here. My primary goal, as we wrap up the calendar, is to continue practicing gratitude (and by extension, joy). So many things are out of my control. I cannot rewrite the past, no matter how many times I live through it. The future is great and all, but I can’t live there, either. Besides, it’s all ultimately made up of an infinite string of Nows. And I no longer wish to miss any of them.
“Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.” – Brené Brown
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.
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 impacted 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.
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.
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.
P.S. I am sending you love and light through whatever challenges you’re going through this year.
2018 is nearly over. Looking back over the year, I really can’t complain. I’m healthy, safe, and happy (at least most of the time), and I continue to be blessed beyond reason or measure. That being said, as I’ve acknowledged before, my life is in an interesting state of flux. I’d say I’m definitely pretty clear on where I want to be, but it appears I have a ways to go to get there. Often, when I can see an opportunity on the horizon, I have this fire-feeling of, I’d be so good for this! You have no idea! I just need someone to let me in the door! Which brings me back to this month’s topic, confidence.
This year I found a sense of confidence in myself that I didn’t have before. It looks and feels different than I imagined it would. Our culture is an intensely visual one, and so I often think of confidence in image. A woman standing gloriously in her power, oozing Beyoncé “***Flawless” energy. Don’t get me wrong; I think images like that, especially when they showcase the actual, beautiful diversity of our world, are incredibly valuable. But for me, confidence has been a quiet, stable, private thing. It’s a foundation from which I can more easily take on challenges . A sense that I am worthy and capable of doing things well, and perhaps more importantly, that I will also be okay if things don’t go well.
Sometimes, when I put myself out there, and things don’t play out the way I hoped, I can hear the echo of how I would have reacted in the past. Why are you so awkward? You should have said this/done that. If only you were better/cooler/prettier… But generally speaking, I don’t feel or think that way anymore. I know my worth. And I also understand that life is complicated, and particularly in situations that involve other humans, placing blame is rarely a helpful or accurate way of interpreting things. Besides, if you showed up and did your best, what more could you really ask for?
I hope this new year brings you confidence. Both the flashy, sparkly kind, but also the type that will carry you through your most difficult trials. The quotes below by seven fabulous women are there to light your way.
“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” – Marie Curie
“Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.” – Golda Meir
“You are revolutionary. You have amazing ideas. You have the ability to create, to change, to solve, and to influence. Don’t sell yourself short by not spending your time, energy, and money on creating the best version of yourself.” – Lilly Singh
“As long as you keep going, you’ll keep getting better. And as you get better, you gain more confidence. That alone is success.” – Tamara Taylor
“Just believe in yourself. Even if you don’t, pretend that you do and, at some point, you will.” – Venus Williams
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson
“I am my inspiration.” – Lizzo*
*This one is actually a song lyric from my confidence queen, Lizzo. Worth a listen (or fifty).
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.
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.
We all have bodies. Me, you, that person over there reading that other blog. That much is clear-cut. But for at least some of us, that’s about as straightforward as it gets. Having a body, and living life in said body, can be weirdly complicated.
My struggles with having a body have revolved around weight and appearance, or rather, my beliefs about those things. Starting around the time I left elementary school, I became convinced that I needed to be thinner to be popular to be happy. Unsurprisingly, that belief had a negative impact on how I treated and felt about myself, body included.
Thankfully, I now know how very wrong I was, about all of it. But still, living in a world where we’re bombarded with images of women’s bodies and messages about them (often not from the woman herself), it’s hard not to feel, at the very least, a little weird about being in your own living, breathing, changing, 3D body. I am at a place where I want to develop a healthy relationship with mine. Where it no longer feels like a strange, sometimes annoying attachment to my brain, and just . . . . feels good. And like me. At least most of the time.
The best thing I have figured out so far is to simply commit, over and over again, to the exploration of what makes me feel whole, good, and like myself. As part of this process, I decided to seek out (and share with you) wonderful words from wise women on beauty and having a body. Some of these quotes are long and can be referred back to as needed, and some are short, so you can repeat them back to yourself in a moment where you need them. To change the soundtrack, if you will. Hopefully, at least one will resonate with you and help you on your own journey.
“People often say that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing that you are the beholder. This empowers us to find beauty in places where others have not dared to look, including inside ourselves.” – Salma Hayek
“I am obsessed with becoming a woman comfortable in her skin.” – Sandra Cisneros
“I felt free once I realized I was never going to fit the narrow mold that society wanted me to fit in.”– Ashley Graham
“You’re a human being—you live once and life is wonderful, so eat the damn red velvet cupcake.” – Emma Stone
“Everybody has a part of her body that she doesn’t like, but I’ve stopped complaining about mine because I don’t want to critique nature’s handiwork . . . My job is simply to allow the light to shine out of the masterpiece.” – Alfre Woodard
“I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story. I will.” – Amy Schumer
“Someone recently asked if I had any dieting tips for other teenage girls. Try and reverse that. ‘Do you have any dieting tips for other teenage boys?’ . . . I mean, come on. I don’t diet! I’m thirteen! Nobody my age should be dieting or trying to change themselves because society says so. And seriously, I’m thirteen!” – Rowan Blanchard
“Body acceptance means, as much as possible, approving of and loving your body, despite its ‘imperfections,’ real or perceived. That means accepting that your body is fatter than some others, or thinner than some others, that your eyes are a little crooked, that you have a disability that makes walking difficult, that you have health concerns that you have to deal with — but that all of that doesn’t mean that you need to be ashamed of your body or try to change it. Body acceptance allows for the fact that there is a diversity of bodies in the world, and that there’s no wrong way to have one.” – Golda Poretsky
“I’m not going to sacrifice my mental health to have the perfect body.” – Demi Lovato
“. . . my mother again would say to me, ‘You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you.’ And these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be. And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What does sustain us . . . what is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul.” – Lupita Nyong’o
“If I wasn’t five-foot, I wouldn’t be who I am! My size is a huge part of me. You just have to appreciate those kinds of things. So I wasn’t born with long legs—who cares. You just have to embrace it. Being body positive is really important to your overall happiness.”– Sabrina Carpenter
“It’s important with all of the messages that might tell you otherwise that you have that in yourself to say that ‘I am beautiful. I am smart and I’m amazing.’” – Laverne Cox
If you have any favorite quotes—on body image or anything else!—please feel free to share them in the comments below.
An essay that I have been working on for a very long time (like, since before Halloween) was published on HelloGiggles today. The article, titled “I spent a week giving myself the advice I’d give a friend—here’s what I learned” (originally “My week giving myself the advice I’d give a friend”), was based on some very good advice from my dad that popped into my head at just the moment I needed it.
The actual “experiment” may have only taken a week, but the process of turning the idea into a finished, shareable article took much longer—and seemingly, longer than it usually does for me to finish an essay for the web. There were days when I would sit down, write for an hour, and realize I had only finished about a sentence. Not that I wasn’t working, or was “working” but also crafting a playlist and updating my Snapchat story and staring off into space. Rather, I would write a sentence, cross it out, and write it again—potentially, slightly better. That process was more time-consuming and perfectionistic than I was used to, but, for the most part, I didn’t mind it. Because I realized that the same qualities that at times contribute to me feeling bad—e.g., my ability to think too much—were helping me create something potentially great.
So, check out the article, and please, let me know what you think! If you have other strategies for working through bad days, I would love to hear them as well.