choice

On guilt, whelm, ego, and not wanting to be helped.

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Taken by my husband. Somewhere, a cluster of stars is smiling. Can you see it too?

It’s day two of September, and I couldn’t be happier to see the arrival of a new month. I’ve found I like to divide life up into chapters – my Facebook albums are neat, chronologically organized, and cover a span of precisely six months; my 1 Second Everyday (sic) videos cover a month each; I had a 25 for 25 and a 30 Before 30. and my schedule is planned in week-long bursts on Google calendar. It’s slightly hypocritical of me to see the arrival of this month as a new beginning when I’m eternally professing not having to wait for a whole new day to reset a bad one, but sometimes it’s the little crutches that get us through.

Last time I wrote,  I’d just released my EP, summer had barely begun, and I was a week or two away from getting married. I hadn’t stopped all year; I was determined to get that CD complete before my 31st birthday rolled around, I wanted to book and shoot weddings, I was prepping for a house full of international friends and family here for my own, and Fringe festival was just around the corner. I was re-designing my website and painting my basement and I was so excited for it all, but, in keeping with my INFJ nature, equally excited for a bit of downtime come August. If we’re friends on Facebook, you’ll probably already know that August was quite possibly one of the worst, and busiest months I’ve ever had – I don’t think I’ve ever felt so overwhelmed in life before that I’ve wondered whether my actions were consistent with what a complete mental breakdown would look like.

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Speaking of overwhelmed, as I sit here in a coffee shop listening to the bubbling chatter of the go-getting elderly and well-t0-do housewives (my favourite cafe has closed since I last visited), I wonder why nobody ever speaks of being “whelmed”. Is that a thing? And what’s the word for the actual state of being overly so? I feel that being someone who feels things at a greater extremity than what’s typically considered “normal”, I’m in a pretty constant state of being overwhelmed with sensation and emotion – and that’s normal for me. So when things go beyond that, not only do I feel like a failure for not being able to  handle things, I feel like an immense letdown to myself (I’m used to operating in stress mode; everything should be a breeze!) and to everyone around me, because I – and I’m finding, like most people – don’t actually want to be helped.

Break for a relevant quote I’d love the non-feelers to know about us emotional people:

“Highly sensitive people are too often perceived as weaklings or damaged goods. To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate. It is not the empath who is broken, it is society that has become dysfunctional and emotionally disabled. There is no shame in expressing your authentic feelings. Those who are at times described as being a ‘hot mess’ or having ‘too many issues’ are the very fabric of what keeps the dream alive for a more caring, humane world. Never be ashamed to let your tears shine a light in this world.”
Anthon St. Maarten

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Without feelings, there’d be no love, no friendship, no cheerleaders or causes to fight or stand up for, no compassion. Without logic, nothing would ever get planned, made, or achieved. We’re all different, and just because we may operate differently from those around us, doesn’t make our way of being any less valid. We fill in each others’ gaps in hardwiring.

Back to the point – lately (and by this, I mean over the past couple of years), I’ve noticed a consistent pattern in others as well as myself. Nobody talks about these things, but I feel that deep down, our own egos cause us to resist help – even at our most desperate. Around the time I turned thirty, I lost what were then my two closest friendships. (I think the story is in that last link somewhere.) This naturally threw my world into disarray – I willingly and continually suspend my disbelief for the illusion of permanence, and though all things must come to an end in some way or another, even if through the final act of exiting this world ourselves, it always catches me off guard. This happened again around Christmas time, when someone I’d known for years resurfaced in my life and we quickly began doing everything together, only to completely sever ties right before her wedding. This happens with those close to me regularly, and only now that I’m noticing it in myself am I starting to truly understand why. It’s because I’ve decided one of the primary legacies I want to leave is one of helping or improving the lives of others in whatever way I can, and ultimately, people don’t want to be helped. In its simplest form, my desire to help others robs them of control over their situation, and everybody wants to be in control of their own lives.

Take, for example, my old friend T. We so close we called each other sisters, but when life threw her what would ultimately end up a separation and then divorce, I went into rescue mode. I checked in every day so she wouldn’t feel alone (because I would want to know someone was thinking of me), but this soon became overwhelming to her. I started making lists, action plans, and scheduling dates to get together and hug and talk. I started analysing and problem-solving – but this wasn’t what she needed. She needed to figure things out for herself, because in life, I think the only true change or solution to a problem can last if we believe we created it ourselves. (And they say taking Psych in university is a waste of money.)

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Take my old friend M., who’d become recently engaged, and asked me to be one of her joint Maids of Honour, and whose wedding was suddenly brought forward an entire year, forcing it to be planned in a matter of weeks. I saw she was stressing about it, and once again, went into problem-solving mode. I offered to design invitations, craft with her, book some of my photography industry people for hair and makeup for her… all of which I thought were taking away from the stress, when in reality, I was taking away control. When our friendship ended, she was very frank – at the time, I was upset, but looking back, it’s become another piece of the pattern that’s teaching me why this keeps happening, and lessons like this are priceless when it comes to future happiness. Once again, something I thought was helpful was in fact harmful when viewed as “controlling” – the ego will always find a way to justify its need to be right. (Sidenote: please read this book if you’re at all interested in the psychology of human nature and learning about our built-in destructive tendencies.)

We don’t like to offer up control of our situations because in doing so, it tells us that somebody else knows better, and that’s something we don’t like to admit. It took me a while to figure this out because for the longest time, this didn’t make sense – I’d been trying to act as the friend, colleague, lover, or family member I’d want someone to be if I needed help – but now in a situation where I do, I find myself resisting in the same way. But in examining, I’m finding that awareness of this tendency is allowing me to understand what’s happened not just in the past, but also in the present, and I’ll remember this going forward for the rest of my life. So, as someone who a) derives meaning from helping others, and b) as someone who, just like everybody else, also needs help from time to time, what to do?

I think when it comes to others, it’s important to teach your brain the habit of attaching awareness to situations, so when ones come up that threaten your way of being, you learn to automatically think before acting, recognize that just as we all operate in different ways, we all also like to deal with our situations differently too, and the way I can personally best be there for others is to give them what they need at that moment, and not automatically go into fixing – or “controlling” mode. Internally, I think we all have the best of intentions when it comes to being there for our loved ones, but if they are resisting, it’s probably because they want to figure the situation out for themselves, because that’s what will have the most meaning for them in the long run. Stop checking in on my schedule and try to get a handle on what they need themselves. Maybe people don’t need someone constantly asking if they’re okay, psychoanalysing things or offering up lists of solutions – maybe they just need to know you care, and figure things out on their own.

So why am I so overwhelmed; why am I in need of help right now? Two weeks after our wedding, I suddenly lost my job. The company had gone into creditor protection back in May, and everyone at head office was consistently told that things would be okay, and to operate as usual. Despite bills not being paid, and despite losing vendors and contractors as a result of owing and not paying. This continued to the day before the weekend after which we were all made redundant (I actually prefer the north American expression of being “laid off” here; it’s far less insulting!). We were all called into the board room and told that the company had been sold to a liquidator and would be going out of business by the end of 2016, but not to worry, we wouldn’t be coming back on Tuesday to locked doors or anything, and that we’d likely be okay until December. I was personally even told I’d be introduced to other potential prospects who showed an interest during the bid. That Tuesday came around, and I was out of the office for a couple of hours in the afternoon for an appointment. I got a text from my colleague, who informed me quite simply, that we were all done – that over half of head office staff were all told to hand in their IDs, given dismissal notices, and escorted out of the building. After months leading up to the wedding and not even a year into a mortgage, I had expenses, and naturally went into panic mode. This only escalated when I read the dismissal notice stating that as a result of being under creditor protection, we would be given no notice, no severance, and that any benefits would cease immediately. This being against the law, a few of us affected soon went to the Labour Board, who informed us that they could do nothing until the company was out of the protection period in December – and by the time that comes around, they’ll have declared bankruptcy, and would no longer be around to deal with anything. In other words: we were all screwed.

It’s been a month, and I’ve applied for Employment Insurance and filled out my reports, and I’m still in the waiting period. We pay so much into these programs while employed without any choice at all, yet when we need them most, it’s near impossible to get the help we need. We have to sit and wait while our case is analysed, continue reporting and jumping through hoops and trying to keep our spirits high while our bank accounts are steadily being drained simply by the cost of living, hoping that someone at the government will tell us eventually that we’ll be helped. I’m incredibly lucky in that my husband, being the smart man he is, started planning for this scenario back in spring when we were first informed the company was in trouble. He’s been able to help with my share of the mortgage and bills this past month, which I’ve felt awful about – in another life, without a credit card, I’d be out on the streets. But our joint account is being drained, and there’s still no hope in sight. I was paid out my vacation time accrued, which I was saving for some time in the future when I’d actually be on vacation, or toward finishing my album next year or equipment to hopefully grow a photography business – but after five weeks, I’m approaching zero, and those dreams have evaporated. The world’s expenses don’t stop just because your employment does.

A week after the layoff, I got the news that my grandfather had passed away, that my grandmother was now alone and already beginning the descent into dementia, and was halfway across the world. With no job, I couldn’t very well fly over there and be there, and it made me angry and sad. So I made some art instead.

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I also got the news that another member of my close family now had a cancer diagnosis, and got some medical results back myself that were also unfavourable. I also had to immediately get a new phone contract (having had a work device provided), and our area of the city, while absolutely lovely, also happens to be the Bermuda triangle of mobile phone reception, meaning climbing with a blanket to the top of a small mountain, building a fire, and sending a series of smoke signals usually has a better chance of conversational success. Responding to interview calls and trying to change my phone plan with the provider became so frustrating that I found myself shouting down the line from outside in the street as well as the very top of my house, and eventually bursting into tears and throwing the phone across the floor.

I also had to find a job as soon as possible, so I had to learn to hide my grief and panic, put on a face and go on as many interviews as I could land in the middle of summer when most executives are off on holidays, and convince countless people that I was a happy, competent, fun and skilled person they needed on their team. Putting on an act is something that does NOT come easily to someone with Fe, and after buying a house, getting married, losing a job and losing a family member – some of the biggest stresses in life one can ever experience – was not something that was easy, but it was something that was mandatory. I kept telling myself the same thing I’ve had printed and framed since 2009: “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” I cried a lot, and didn’t get to see any of my friends for weeks because I had so much to do. For a very short time, I hated the world. But it amplified my gratitude for having someone to hold my hand. For having a roof over my head. For the forced lesson in being strong.

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I had messages from people offering their support, each one of which also made me cry, because people cared. But I resisted their offers of help. Why? I think I told myself it was because I didn’t want to be a burden. August seemed like it was pretty shitty for a lot of people, and I didn’t want to turn to anyone with my problems if they were having some of their own, but why, logically, if they were offering? I fell into the trap of what we all seem to do, and justified my ego’s need to prove I could do it on my own. I exhausted myself with bottled emotion, explosions of emotion, and the guilt of having an endless need to be doing, and as a result, didn’t do myself – or anyone around me any favours. In refusing help, I did what my old friends did to me – robbed carers of that from which they derive personal meaning.

I made endless to-do lists now I suddenly had time for things, but none of the items I checked off made me feel any better. I wasn’t nurturing or looking after myself, I was doing what I convinced myself I needed to – driving from interview to interview, writing cover letter after cover letter, keeping spreadsheets of applications, filing my strewn paperwork and organizing all my digital files, making sure I was on top of housework, catching up on laundry, ironing, washing dishes and mopping floors every other day, applying for grants, finishing other people’s photos, clearing out clutter, and compiling a portfolio. All I wanted to do was write a song, make art, grieve, see friends, finish my current book, get back to working on my novel, write a blog post, finish my scrapbook from last year’s adventure and make one for the wedding, and take online classes to learn more about photography, audio engineering and web design, but I didn’t allow myself to accept help, or to do anything my soul actually needed, because my ego needed to reclaim its control on the situation that had become my life. Was it making me a better person? Did it make me feel any better? And was it letting me be a good person to be around for anyone around me? No, it overwhelmed me, and either hurt or stressed those around me watching it all happen.

August was a really, really hard month, but September is a new chapter. And the best protagonists in any story are the ones who learn lessons from their experiences. I’ve learned a lot about human nature, about stress, and about my flawed tendencies lately. I’ve learned too that I can actually be strong when I need to be, and I’ve learned that the ego is far from being always right. I’ve learned to accept, and that it’s okay – even if the world seems like it’s ending – to take people up on their offers of help, as well as to take a little time to do the things my heart needs as well as the things my bank account does. Today, I indulge in reflection, writing, and singing. Last week, I wrote a song and learned a bit about mixing audio, and next week, I will start allowing myself to socialise again. I still struggle with the guilt of doing anything other than what’s strictly necessary, but I’m learning to practice being aware, being present, and to balance.

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That lesson in brevity will apparently sink in one day. Oh, and here are some fun photos from what actually was, for a hundred different reasons, the best day ever.

On Turning 30: The End of an Era and the Land of Tomorrows

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There are four days until I turn thirty. Thirty! The big, elusive number that’s always hung up there on the shelf of somedays, a number I think on some level I’ve probably believed may perhaps hold within it the feeling of actually being a grown up. I know I’m not the only one sitting at the end of my twenties still wondering when I’m going to feel like an adult – I hear it all the time. Yes, I have a job, a car, real bills, food I buy myself (yes, sometimes rice pudding is a perfectly acceptable breakfast), and a sweet cat I all too often consider listing as a dependent, but I don’t feel there’s yet been a moment where I’ve felt there’s been a clear-cut, unequivocal moment that defined the transition from young person to responsible adult; girl to woman. I still feel uncomfortable referring to myself as the latter. I think I’ll always be that girl. The optimist. The hoper of far-flung hopes and the dreamer of impossible dreams. (Points if you caught that one.) But not a grown-up. I’ve looked forward to thirty for some time now – I still get ID’d, I still get the gasps from people ten years my junior that no, I’m not really in the same age bracket, and from people in the working world shocked to hear I’m in my second decade of employment and actually have a couple of management positions under my belt. I’m excited to hold up my card and have it reflect an age where generally people are seen as a little more together, and I’m excited to put the rollercoaster adventure that was my twenties in the memory box. I’m actually in a little bit of disbelief to be saying goodbye to them and all they’ve been.

My twenties were life-changing. I think I levelled up as a person at least twice – I had a horrid anxiety disorder for years that prevented me doing basically anything, I ended up in the hospital a few times, I broke bones, got beaten up and had a bunch of money stolen, got married despite crying the night before knowing full well I shouldn’t be doing it because nothing about that relationship was right, got banned from catholic churches, got divorced when he went religion-crazy, uprooted myself and moved countless times, and learned about the power of choice, action, and developed an awareness of our ephemeral existence and decided life was far too short to spend not trying to make it exactly what you dream of. There are things outside of our control that may pose limitations, but there are things within us – hopes, dreams, attitudes, and determination – that we have the power to simply activate and put into motion.

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In my twenties, I learned to stop seeing my sensitivity as a terrible thing and actually learn techniques that would help keep me more bearable to others and to myself instead of spiralling into fits of worry about imaginary things inside my head. I studied psychology and neuroscience relentlessly, and learned all sorts of helpful things about abandonment issues and deficiencies in object constancy. I trained myself to be grateful for at least three things every single day, to express that gratitude, and I decided to make a point of letting everyone I know and love just how awesome they are. I decided that success didn’t mean financial wealth, it meant value to others. I wanted to be the friend to everyone I always wished I had when I was going through stupid stuff, and a big goal of mine was for everyone to know I’d always be there for them no matter what. Because loneliness can, as my friend John says, “suck a d**k”.

I learned an instrument and started putting my voice on the interwebs. I was terrified, but I wanted to sing so badly. I spent many nights crying because I was so scared of anyone hearing and judging me, and I’m not saying I’m good by any means, but the act of repeatedly doing it as well as learning an instrument led me to making music with friends, and though at first I cried and made them look the other way, now we have half a dozen songs under our belt ready for polishing and hopefully an EP and some shows in the near future. I volunteered to be in videos and do voiceovers, and I started being funny. Something I always admired in my dad and something I knew I had inside me, but I’d always been too scared to try. I was known as quiet and shy – until I started a new job and nobody knew me from Adam’s house cat – so I started subtly, making wise cracks in newsletters and company profiles, and it slowly transformed into being known as “the extrovert of the office”. It was like every Christmas had come at once. Finally, people were starting to see me the way I always wanted to be seen. And I learned that that sort of thing fuels me to keep going. When small victories become real things, when wishes become habits, and who you always were finally starts to be strong enough to emerge on the outside, it’s addictive, and slowly all the old ways of thinking and seeing are transformed into something healthier, better.

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I also learned that I’m a bit of an emotional sponge. I try to be the eternal optimist, because that rubs off on people, and the world is a better place with more happy people in it. But I also find (maybe it’s an INFJ thing) that I absorb other people’s emotions like a sponge, and this takes me back to that place where I used to fear everything like a crazy person. One thing I’m learning lots lately is the power of our own thoughts in shaping our realities, which I touched on in my last post, along with words of wisdom from a movie I was lucky enough to see recently: Tomorrowland is full of adventure, sci-fi brilliance, imagination, but also science, philosophy, and some incredibly wise food for thought.

I didn’t realise how brilliant Brad Bird was until I looked him up after this. The SimpsonsRatatouilleThe IncrediblesMission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol? That’s one heck of a resume. And Tomorrowland may be on the shortlist of my favourite movies ever. It teaches the power of “feeding the right wolf”. “There are two wolves,” one of our leads says to her father. “One bright and hopeful, and one dark and cynical. Which wolf wins? Whichever one you feed.” How often do we fall into our own pits of self-absorption whenever things aren’t going quite right? We may be having a bad day, work might be throwing us unexpected challenges, our bodies might feel stiff and sore, or we may be overtired. We complain about these things because societally, that’s normal. That’s expected. A swarm of whiners in eternal competition to see who’s worse off.

Sympathy has a certain allure when we’re feeling crappy, but self-victimization and bringing others down to our own pity parties definitely doesn’t. With every word we utter, we have the power to influence someone else’s mood. Day. Life, even. With every attitude we adopt, we shape the lens of our own life. With every thought, the more we feed it, the more it shapes us, and in turn affects everyone we subsequently encounter. Do you want the root of it all to spread negativity, to your own days and to those around you? Or do you want to realise that life just happens, good or bad, accept it, and focus on making the most of the next minute? It’s an issue the film explores wonderfully. It makes the point that we, as humans, thrive on chaos. We devour unrest and catastrophe – we claim to desire inspiration and salvation, yet instead, adopt the easy route of depression. As a brilliant Hugh Laurie states during the movie: “You’ve got simultaneous epidemics of obesity AND starvation; explain that one. Bees and butterflies start to disappear, the glaciers melt, the algae blooms. All around you, the coal mine canaries are dropping dead and you won’t take the hint. In every moment there’s a possibility of a better future, but you people won’t believe it. And because you won’t believe it, you won’t do what is necessary to make it a reality.”

The film was full of writing that made me sit on the edge of my seat and applaud. (“Why do you love the stars so much?” “Because I want to go there.” “But what if nothing’s there?” “What if everything is there?” #swoon) It shows big problems with our world, and how the future, in growing up, may not be all it was cracked up to be when we were children. It shows that anyone; young and untainted or old and jaded, can choose to respond to a problem not with complaint, but with questions; can we fix it? as well we the bravery to try. Things can become difficult. It’s part of life. Everyone can get overwhelmed and things can feel impossible. But we can all look around, and find something we can do right now. Something that makes everything a little better. And decide to build a better future this very moment. Every course of action starts with the right attitude. There are all sorts of philosophical topics tackled in Tomorrowland, great performances, robots, time travel, alternate dimensions, spaceships, rockets, and a fantastic cast, but above all, it’s an enormous life lesson packaged in an adventure of the imagination, and it will leave you inspired, introspective, and exhilarated. Go and see it right now.

I wrap up my twenties with a heart that may have a few bruises and scars, but ones that will forever remind me of everything I’ve learned. I’m incredibly thankful for everything that happened in the last decade – every tear, every laugh, every friendship, every sunset, every hope lost and gained, every dream that shone bright enough to fuel action. Every sadness that made me want something different, every leader whose kindness and influence inspired me, every time I was thanked or felt thankful. Every movie or song, performance, story, or piece of art that made me feel proud to belong to the human race. Every adventure or act of serendipity. Everyone who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Every fellow dreamer. Every quiet sign from the universe. Everyone who demonstrated love and kindness, and everyone who demonstrated the opposite, because it showed me exactly the sort of person I want to be. I feel I’m ending this decade as I would a school year, emerging with memories, life-long friendships and relationships built on authenticity, and life lessons I’m excited to carry into my thirties. I always wanted to have confidence, skills, passion, humour, gratitude, wit and compassion. I always wanted those things to be known. I always wanted to love unconditionally, to have such beautiful souls around me that have let me in, to sincerely know them, and to bring the good to their lives that they do to mine.

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On the edge of a new decade, I feel extremely lucky to be able to count many of those once-dreams as realities. I’m excited for my thirties. In a month, I am kicking them off with Fringe festival and friends (my favourite time of year), and with the love of my life on an epic 8-country adventure across Europe. I’m writing songs, building a business, expanding my skills, looking at the stars, and soaking up the sky. I vow to always be striving to be better, to always choose kindness, to not fall victim to what’s easy, and to always try to do what’s right. I vow to make my default attitude one of acceptance and action, to leave a good story behind, and to try hard not to get swallowed by my own fears or emotions. It may take a little while, but by eliminating excuses, procrastination, and shunning negative societal norms, and instead adopting an awareness of our own transience and making the absolute most of it, we truly can map the course of our own lives any moment we decide to.

Small Hands

How often do you think about your body? Its limbs, extremities, face, organs, mind? It’s almost two years now since I fell off that building and smashed up my arm, and I think I’ll always remember how terrifying it was. Not just the pain, but more the prospect of no longer being able to do all the things I took for granted. Simple things, like showering, being able to wash each part of your own body and then put clothes on it. Preparing food for yourself or someone you love. Being able to carry two cups of tea. Driving. Bigger things our limbs can do, like holding musical instruments that make beats and melodies that transport your songs to something new and beautiful. Stretching out to sleep comfortably, and horizontally. Holding a camera to capture moments, holding bags of treasures and presents, or holding another soul dear and close in an embrace of love and appreciation. Doing cartwheels. Since then, I’ve never lost sight of how easy it is to take things for granted. We usually don’t think about impossible, horrid things unless faced with them, but I think it’s important to cultivate an awareness of what we have, because of how quickly it can all be taken away.


walkOur time here is finite
. Unless you’re spending your life working on some kind of cryogenic stasis device that’ll let you wake again in two hundred years and zip about on a rocket ship, every day is another that evaporates with every sunset. When you look back from the end of your life, are you going to say you spent those precious days well? I feel like each and every one will have seemed like an individual gift, as opposed to the ongoing stream we navigate our way through today. At the end, people always seem to wish for just one more day, to spend close to someone they love, or to do something they’ve always wanted to. To live fully and completely, forbidding a single moment to pass by and be wasted. I tend to always be on the go, and I seem to have assumed responsibility for planning most things when it comes to my group of friends. Maybe it’s an INFJ thing, but I like looking at a planner and seeing it filled with things to look forward to. Seeing hours each evening booked up with songwriting, dashing about the city scouting locations for photoshoots, visiting friends, throwing Star Trek parties, or building blanket forts. Those things all totally happened within the last two weeks.

I don’t know if it’s the way I was wired or if it stemmed from earlier years filled with anxiety – I remember arriving home countless moons ago to one empty apartment or another, and having no idea what to do with the remainder of the evening I was met with. I remember living alone and wishing I had plans with people. Imagining everyone I knew taking part in fun activities and making myself so sad I wasn’t part of them. I convinced myself I was everybody’s afterthought. But that was the thing – and here’s where I want to travel back in time and give my younger self a good shaking – a) I was sitting there crying about something without doing anything about it, and b) I conjured it all up in my own head and told myself it was truth. Aren’t those the root causes of so much discontent? The human brain is fascinating, but it can also be a bit of a bastard.

I’m on the brink of turning 30, and I have to say 25 was the year my life started to turn around. Whether it was the sheer exasperation of having played the part of the victim for so long and blaming other things (formative years living in a sibling’s shadow, a trans-Atlantic move, a traumatising high school experience, fear of public speaking, a handful of unfortunate and pretty awful relationships, invented imaginings of people judging me or not thinking me good enough… the list went on), or the carpet being pulled from under my feet when my ex-husband went religion-crazy and having to get a new job, a car, a home, and truly Be A Grown Up – I made that list of 25 things I was sick of wishing for instead of actually being able to do, and did everything in my power to do it. Just do it. It’s a brilliant slogan, but a better attitude with which to meet life. “But what if I fail?” Just do it. At least then you’ll have the sense of accomplishment and lack of regret you get with actually trying. “But what if people judge me?” Just do it. If you have a burning desire to do something, it’s not for no reason. It’s meant to get out of your mind and into the world. It could be brilliant. “But what if I get hurt again?” Just do it. Ships aren’t meant to stay in harbours. Replace all those negative what-ifs with a spirit of forever trying anyway, and perhaps a new what-if: but what if it’s amazing?

You have two hands. Arms. A mind, a voice, dreams, and an imagination. Hopefully, all those things are in working order. I hope today, if just for a second, you reflect on all the things you’re capable of with those gifts. And perhaps do something wonderful with them. I like to give lots of hugs, make photographs, and write stories and songs.

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I think it’s too easy to fall into residing within the confines of what we tell ourselves, believing the walls to be solid and real. These words, these fears, these doubts – we invent them based on worry and we inadvertently live our lives according to them. We tell ourselves all the things we’re afraid of – not being clever or fun or attractive enough, not being wealthy enough, not having enough time – and we go ahead and live as if they were truths. In doing so, we limit ourselves – perhaps it’s a self-preservation thing, in which case if things do go wrong, then at least we already called it – but it’s stupid. We all have the potential, the time, and the physical ability to chase after our potential. So why do so few of us actually start realizing it? Why do we strap sandbags to our sails when we have every capacity to soar?

Bad choices are probably one culprit. We choose what’s easy, and often follow the path of least resistance because we tell ourselves we’re exhausted and that we don’t have the time or patience for anything else. But every day – think about that – every single moment of every single day – is another chance to make another decision. Miss somebody? Reach out to them. Stop waiting by the phone and pick it up, tell them what they mean. Scared of trying something new? Stop sitting and wishing, wasting and wanting, and start doing. It might take more effort than watching three episodes of Game of Thrones, but it’ll be time well spent. More obligations than time? Evaluate. Are the things and people upon which you’re spending your time bringing positive things to your life? I try to stick to the 80/20 rule as much as I can. Spend 80% of my free time on things that are 80% in line with what I want my life to look like, and 20% on necessities (housework, chores, shopping etc.). It’s easy to spend 80% on things that contribute 20% to your life, and only 20% of your time on the things that bring you 80. Doing what we feel we should be doing rather than what we genuinely want to be doing is another. We get caught up in other people’s expectations of where we should be with our lives and how we should be spending our time instead of truly examining if what we’re doing is contributing to our overall happiness. It’s okay to review and switch things up a bit.

Reacting adversely to things beyond our control is probably another habit that’s too easy to get into and only detracts from a happy life. I have to give enormous credit to J. here for being hands-down the most grounded, wise person I’ve ever been fortunate enough to have known, and I’m experiencing a huge and wonderful internal change as a result. Sometimes, things don’t go according to plan. You’re merging into traffic and hit a van full of wheelchairs, for example (#happened), or you visit IKEA to buy a pillow and lose your car keys somewhere in its labyrinthine aisles leaving you unable to get into your vehicle that’s right there. My usual course of reaction: cry, panic, and cry some more. One call to him? My brain stops seeing things as the end of the world and sees them as a minor inconvenience I’ll probably laugh about in an hour, and I’m reminded of all the things that I still have to be thankful for. I think I mentioned before, but in the last few months, I’ve found I no longer need anti-anxiety medication or sleeping pills – things that have been synonymous with life for years. I find myself in shops and car parks and see people freaking out at things that a) they can’t control, and b) really aren’t the end of the world. Life’s too short to be filled with such frustration and anger and tears for such trivialities. Wal-Mart doesn’t have the right brand of cat food? Relax. Take a drive to another shop and use the time to listen to some great music and sing your heart out instead. Then drive home and use those two fully functional hands to pick up that cat and give it a damn hug. Life really is 10% what happens to you, every moment, and 90% how you react to it. Practising awareness can do miraculous things for your state of happiness, stress, and overall well-being.

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I hope today is a good day for you. I hope your spirit is light and you have at least three brilliant things to be thankful for today. I hope that your hands are operational and uninjured, and I hope that with them, you choose to do something wonderful.

“I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.”

This may be my last post of the year. It may not – I always like wrapping up December with reflection, but perhaps just being in the last month of 2014 is enough for now. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately, and a lot of it has revolved around the evolution of strength.

For most of my life, I never considered myself a strong person. I fought so hard against my sensitivity, thinking it weak, and wishing so desperately that I didn’t feel things so very strongly. Then, after reading a lot about INFJs (MBTI’s recent bad rep aside, its roots are still founded in psychology and the understanding of humanity, and it’s got me through a lot in life), as well as realising I’m not the only HSP in the world – I started accepting it instead of seeing it as something abnormal that had to be changed. Handled differently, perhaps, but not eliminated. Feeling things to the extreme is something unique and it genuinely means I care an incredible amount. I’d much rather feel things fully than experience them half-heartedly just to avoid potential heartache.

The thing is, in a few months, I’ll be thirty years old. I’ve had a lot of heartache. I’ve also had a lot of awesome. The good thing about experiencing something repeatedly is that each time you go through it, you can look back and say I made it through. You can reflect on the other things in life that aren’t terrible, and, very importantly, you can count your blessings. You can choose to focus your thoughts. Be consumed by feeling, or feel them and deal with them accordingly. Learning how to process them doesn’t mean they need to be suppressed.

My sensitivity is no longer a weakness. I’ve learned to see it as a strength. But with that change has come a lot of hard work, a lot of reflection, and a lot of practice. Reforming all those neural pathways and stuff that used to see things a certain way; they’re being repaved and lead to a place where everything I once told myself is dying. It’s a good thing.

I remember, years ago, a colleague asking me why I insisted on putting myself at the front of a classroom and leading workshops, teaching adult learners, when I was terrified of being the sole focus of attention and actually gave up on my education degree because I knew I’d never be comfortable in front of a group. She saw how much it shook me up, how scared I got, and how I felt like throwing up afterward. Yet I kept doing it, week after week. Why do you do this to yourself when it causes you so much discomfort? I remember struggling with it; I’d read something that I kind of agreed with, but that went against my reasons for pushing myself into things that made me physically sick.

1. Focus on what you’re naturally good at. If you try to be better at something that doesn’t come naturally, you may go from a 3/10 to a 6/10. But if you focus on improving that in which you’re already skilled and/or passionate, you can go from a 7/10 to a 10.

This makes sense. If I practised calculus, I’m sure solving equations might take me three hours as opposed to 12. But it’s never going to be easy, because it’s not something I give a particular crap about.

2. If it’s outside your comfort zone, you should definitely be doing it.

Also agree. Because if I hadn’t pushed myself with things, I’d likely still be riddled with social anxiety, I’d never have tried doing music or making art or videos – things that bring me such joy today. I was blown away with the reaction to this – something someone once told me I’d never be able to sing, because my voice wasn’t strong enough. I hope I did it justice and proved that I could.

Katy Perry - ET Cover

Katy Perry – ET Cover

I started a discussion recently in a local photography and modelling group. I was curious as to why those with low self-esteem when it comes to body image choose to volunteer repeatedly to have their photos taken if all they’re going to do is tear themselves down afterward and point out every flaw. I’ve done it myself – I’m sure there are many of us who’d jump at the chance for some cosmetic surgery or laser hair removal if we could afford it. I was curious to see others’ motivations for doing so, because I’d been there myself. And this train of thought does indeed come back to my original one about the evolution of strength, I promise.

I used to need external validation from others in order to feel good about myself. Many commenters said something similar. But hearing this just made me feel bad, because it’s such a temporary solution. In my early twenties, I was a bit of a serial monogamist. I’d go from relationship to relationship thinking it was absolutely necessary, and only in another person would I find my true worth. When they inevitably ended, so did my entire world. I lacked the self belief and inner strength to feel good about myself on my own. One thing I’ve learned is that needing attention/external validation is not going to elicit inner strength and self worth. I only felt worthy when others made me feel I was needed. But I’ve learned that feeling unsure of your worth is a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you don’t personally know that you matter, then perhaps nobody will ever believe you do. If you don’t feel you do, then do something about it. Make art. Follow a passion. Take up a new hobby. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. It doesn’t matter if you fail, because inside, you’ll have all the validation you need: that you had the courage to try.

Sometimes I like modelling and ending up as a robot mermaid in space. Image courtesy of  the incredibly talented Ian Sokoliwski

Sometimes I like modelling and ending up as a robot mermaid in space. Image courtesy of the incredibly talented Ian Sokoliwski

I’ve also learned that I am the owner of my own time. People complain about being too busy all the time. Too many social obligations, too much work, too many chores, not enough time for the things they want to do. Well, guess what? You get to control what you say yes to. Everyone has the same twenty-four hours in a day. Everyone has to pay the bills. But there are people in the world that still get to do exactly what they want. Why? Because they learn when to say yes and when to say no. We all have desires. Sometimes they involve going to house parties and socializing with thirty people. Sometimes they involve having a friend over and a bottle of wine. Sometimes they involve spending a Sunday morning curled up in bed with a good book and staying there for a good four hours. Sometimes they involve going on adventures, and sometimes they involve going to bed at 8:00 on a Friday night. There will always be demands on our time. But you get to choose whether you spread yourself thin, or put yourself first once in a while. This year, I will be spending more time Google calendaring dates with myself, writing songs, going on photo adventures, and finishing my book.

I used to also let anybody and everybody in. Let me rephrase: I still let anybody and everybody in. I’ve always maintained that by putting absolutely everything out there (come on; I have a blog, a YouTube channel, an active Facebook account and dearest words tattooed all over my body; being known deeply and knowing others is kind of what I live for), you will attract the most authentic relationships with people. They won’t be based on the superficialities of being what you feel you should be. But I also used to need the company of others in order to feel worthy. Learning to love being on my own was a big thing this year. I spent most of it living and being solo for the first time in a very long time. Solitude used to terrify me, but realising just how much I want to learn, make, create and accomplish has made me cherish my time alone, and realise that if I’m going to spend it with others, it will be with a select few awesome human beings; with those people that make each others’ lives mutually better.

I also began 2014 afraid of ever loving again. My heart had soared through what seemed like fairytale highs and been dragged through the most painful of lows. I decided that if I just didn’t invest it, it wouldn’t get hurt. I remember sitting in a food court with a friend saying this, and how I’d given up on magic; that I’d already had it and I was so strange that perhaps I wasn’t meant to find someone that fit, and that I was resigning myself to being a cat lady. I remember being told that was “a crock”. That I had the biggest heart and that I’d been hurt, but there was no way any of this was true. That I’d been “KO’d”, but not killed. I didn’t feel like myself saying the words anyway; and of course they were bollocks. I live to love those dear to me, completely and fully, and I hope with everything I am that those people know it. Now, after a convoluted journey of growth and reflection, understanding and exploration, I feel like myself again. Home, hopeful, and ready for whatever life brings.

f7b5bd0dbd2595f5f12a367f7797f8ecFinally, this year reinforced something I’ve tried to practice for a long time: that happiness is a choice. People may make all sorts of new year’s resolutions in a few weeks, or tell themselves that 2015 will be better… but these are just words, said every year around this time. Words are nothing without action and conscious commitment. 2014, 2015, 2016… life’s going to happen. It’s going to keep happening. The only thing that determines your mental well-being is your own choice as to how you react to it.

The last year of my twenties has been far from what I imagined, but I’ve learned an awful lot. I still have a long way to go, but that’s the brilliant thing about life – it keeps happening, you keep evolving, and you keep learning. Never stop. This Christmas, I hope you spend it in a way that makes you smile. I hope you count your blessings, and I hope you enter the new year equipped with things to be thankful for and dreams to chase, capture, and make reality.

“Never have I dealt with anything more difficult than my own soul.”

I have to look to my last post for advice – from myself, to myself, in times of such fragility. “All your tomorrows start here.” I’d thought that the power of choice was enough to overcome such uncertainties that have hung about for so very long: Finally, I had a small range of motion back. Finally, I was returning to work, settling into a new home, stepping back toward being financially stable, and finally, starting to have the physical ability to do the things I loved again that had been stolen dreams for months. I was starting to sing again, model again, and write again. I was starting to imagine again, and plan, and take action. I was so very excited and moved and frightened by the jellybean video that I had no choice but to get back on course; seconds of life were evaporating and I was compelled to get back to living the heck out of them. Enough was enough.

But then I went back to the hospital, and was told something frightening. That even though the bones themselves were almost healed, the reason I was still in so much pain and had such a limited range of motion was due to being in a certain stage of “adhesive capsulitis“, in which, as the orthopaedic surgeon so vividly put it, the muscles and tendons transform from being flexible and stretchy to “cable-like”; rigid, and from that point, they don’t turn back. I was mortified. It’d been almost half a year; I was holding on so desperately to the hope that it was just slow going. Not permanent. And after this long, they can’t keep providing physiotherapy twice a week, so I’m on my own. With my broom handle, trying hard to force some kind of movement.

And then I quit my job. I’d come back and, understandably, my job wasn’t really there any more. It’d been carved into pieces and handed out to different pairs of hands, and all the efforts I’d put into creating a positive, inclusive culture seemed to have been forgotten, and I felt like a stranger all over again. Shortly after, and on a day I was feeling a little down about it, through random chance, I received a text message from a good friend of mine. A friend of hers had posted something on her Facebook about their company having an opening for a “strong creative writer” with a communications background and social media skills, and my friend told me I should apply. I sent in my resume and cover letter eagerly, along with some writing samples from across the board (yes, even one of my horror stories! #Diversity), and the very next day, I had a call from the Vice President saying she’d arrived to work and been told by three people that morning, “CALL HER”. I was so excited! We met face to face at Starbucks one evening, and we hit it off royally. We’d studied the same very random things at university; we were both into MBTI; had family in the same county in England… we really got each other in terms of values, workplace culture, making an impact, understanding people… it was a wonderful meeting, and I wanted the opportunity more than I’ve ever wanted a job in my life. I actually remember, at that moment, realizing that this was kind of my dream job, in terms of skills, environment, people… and I’ve never had that before.

Then I had about 200 interviews and was made offers elsewhere, but I was focused. And determined. I was sent a few assignments, to show I could actually write, and spent hours throwing in design work too to show what I could do. I met with the president for breakfast one weekend; another great meeting that ended with being told “this was the position for me” and that I’d have an offer within the week! After my references were checked (I cannot convey the depths of my gratitude for all the wonderful things they said!), I was called in for a formal offer (and to make sure I knew “it was going to be primarily a creative writing position” and ask if I was okay with that…haha), accepted, and… I start on Monday. They didn’t even advertise the position. Two of my favourite people in the whole world know people that work there, and I’ve already been in contact on Facebook and e-mail with some of them, and have already been invited on a day out next weekend with a group of them, and received kind words of encouragement from some that had seen the news of the breakup online. They just seem to be a really caring, genuine bunch, and I haven’t even met them yet. I even had a discussion with one about wizard hats and the TARDIS. I’m really excited.

But yes… that happened. Such an intense loss I was unable to do anything for days, and my body, perhaps in rebellion, just kept throwing up and collapsing. I also got sicker than I’ve been in years, and recently realized I’d lost 27 lb. in the last seven months (seven of which have probably evaporated in the last two weeks due to sickness and grief and the sadness of everything). When I returned to work, ALL my clothes were miles too big, and I was told today “I didn’t have to step on a scale to see I was just skin and bones”. Things haven’t been panning out as they were when I last wrote at all, and when there’s stress, apparently my appetite disappears. But I have to remind myself – and my friend keeps telling me – this too shall pass, and everything, good and bad, must have an ending. I was a bit of an emotional wreck for a while, but again I return to my last post and remind myself: the frustration can become the fuel. I’ve forever believed in the power of choice, vehemently so, even when things are at their hardest. But I’m also a creature of intense emotion, and those two things can sometimes be at war. The head and the heart. Both such strong warriors for the same cause, but both so completely opposing at times. It’s hard not to feel lost.

But this is where acceptance comes into play. Things have been tough for a really long time, but as sensitive and emotional as this heart is, it’s also full of dreams and a longing to know and to create. To connect, yes, because true human connection is the most beautiful of things, but it is not the only thing. I have to focus on some of the other things. I’ve been seeing friends often (for those who’ve been beside me through everything, I can’t even begin to say how humbled and grateful I am, and how much love I have for you), and I’ve been brainstorming up a fury in terms of creating again. I’ve fallen in love with conceptual/storytelling photography, and have been lucky to have been part of some great shoots (and hope to do more!), but I’ve also always loved digital creative manipulation.

I’ve been so incredibly inspired lately by photographers who create worlds of fantasy and tell stories through powerful, whimsical images… that I’ve decided to try it for myself. I don’t have a fancy camera, but I have a head full of ideas and hands that can bring them to life and I live in a city where the arts community is absolutely thriving. I threw out my ideas, and the response was overwhelming: over the next six months or so, I’m going to be creating my own images, editing them, and telling stories in new and (hopefully) exciting ways. I already have one group lined up for a shoot next month, and I can’t wait to get into the post-production and make something awesome. And literary! I also had someone ask if I wanted to make a music video of one of my songs… I don’t know where I’m going to go with music, now, but people seem to like this one, and it’d be a huge challenge to be in front of a camera, filmed and playing… worried about doing it alone, worried about memorizing lyrics and chords… but I think it’s a challenge I should take on. Especially if someone’s offering their time and creative brain to make it happen.

So… things are hard right now. But they could also turn out great. I don’t know what the future holds at all, and that’s terrifying, but right now I do have things to be thankful for. My incredible friends and family, my imagination, people willing to indulge it, and a new job I think is going to be pretty amazing. I might not be able to turn off my brain’s rapidfire of thought, fear, worry… the list goes on. But I can choose not to be consumed by it, and let what will be, be.

Deep breaths.

Let not your dreams go to waste… (battling some demons)

All my posts come from my blog over at http://proseandconstellations.com.

The year is drawing to a close and with it, a difficult chapter, and as the door to a new one opens I sit in the half-light of the in-between. It’s New Year’s Eve, and yes, traditionally this is a time for goals and reflection (and when have I not taken the opportunity to make a big list to dive into?), but I think I’ve been doing a lot of that over the past five months while I’ve been removed from my life. 2014 beckons with a warm glow, but recently I’ve felt plagued with the old flames of self-doubt I thought had been extinguished.

As I mentioned in my last post, breaking my arm led to a whole topsy-turvying of worlds, and the time has come to get back on board. I’m not fully healed by any means, but I am well enough to do most of the basics, and am hopefully on track for the anticipated full recovery by about August if I put in the work. The routine part of normal life is scheduled to commence on the 2nd, and I will once again join the ranks of the daily workers. I’m scared, because I’ve now been off for almost as long as I was at the job in the first place, and I was by no means an expert in my role when I had the accident. I’d given it my all, and brought in new things to the company (and will be returning with a completed project I hope my boss adores) that I think made a difference, but now I’m going back and I feel like the new girl all over again, except this time, there’s the expectation I should fall straight back into the groove of things. So much happened in the six months I was there, I can’t imagine how much more there is to learn almost another half-year later. I want to go back and show them how committed I am, how determined I am, how I’m worth holding onto… but my fear of not being well-versed or up-to-date enough coupled with pain and limited mobility frighten me.

I think I’ve allowed this fear to fester in other attempts to regain a sense of normality lately, too, and I don’t like it one bit. Throughout the injury I’ve been pretty down about not being able to do so many things that were either part of the things in life I loved most, or were about to become them. In recent weeks, I’ve gone back to music – I can hold an instrument now, and AC and I made a joint goal in November to get 50 live performances under our belts by this time next year. That’s at least one per week, and we’re relatively on track, but after most of them, I’ve found those long-buried voices resurfacing, telling me I’m not good enough. And firmly believing I’m not. I watched an old video I did in my apartment before we decided to start a band, and it made me incredibly sad, because though it was before I’d ventured onto any sort of stage, I sounded better, vocally and instrumentally, than I do now. I know, logically, that if you take five months off from any activity, you’re not going to be a pro when you first try again, but it frustrates me to no end knowing I’m filled with such determination and had the courage to go from throwing up after singing one song in front of someone to being asked to do several shows (and being thoroughly exhilarated by them) – to having a weaker voice, less of a range, and losing much of the progress I’d made in playing. I know I can’t help what happened, but in a linear fashion, logic says I should be better than this video by now. And I’m not. And it’s horribly discouraging. 

The same seems to be happening in another area I was really enjoying before the break. At the beginning of this year, I’d decided to give modelling another go, and over a few months discovered a passion for artistic, conceptual photographic storytelling – something I plan on exploring on the other side of the lens in the new year. I’d done a bit of it years ago, but being cursed with apparently not aging (please don’t tell me I’ll appreciate it when I’m 40; I’m sure I will, but for now it’s hard turning 29 and still looking 20 and trying to be taken seriously in the professional world), I decided to give it another go, and became really passionate about it. Anyone who knows me in person knows I feel HARD, for better or worse, and so when I’m excited about something, I can’t not let it shine. I had great compliments from photographers, took risks, and took pride in being a model who could be counted on to be there on time, prepared, make everyone laugh and take risks for a good picture (not always the best decision), and it was a passion that kept building.

Then it happened, and I watched the world continue on without me. In recent weeks, I had a couple of opportunities to get back on set. I was prepared for the fact that I wouldn’t have full mobility, but I wasn’t prepared for my mind acting like it did years ago. I found myself in a sort of physical and mental paralysis that forbade me from being what I was before, and I didn’t seem to be able to do anything about it. I was completely taken over by having watched the world continue to spin without me and pent-up feelings of being forgotten that I couldn’t shake the feeling of not being good enough. My mind kept telling me: you were great six months ago; you should be better now. Again, logically I know an extended break is going to set anyone back, but I couldn’t stop judging myself. And it made me a poor performer. My photos reflected someone whose fear was overtaking their passion. My own mind was sabotaging the very things I love to do as an artist. And I can’t not see the results of how I was compared to how I am now and not be saddened.

My last post, however, was all about choice. I’ve always believed that life truly is only 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it, but sometimes it’s a really tough battle, even when you’re given the tools with which to choose. It’d be easy to stop, now. But it would go against my entire nature to do so. I’m determined, and always have been, to be better each and every day than I was the day prior, whether as a person, a friend, a lover, a musician, a thinker, or a writer. I also realise the power of acceptance, and maybe I have to take this as a lesson in that. That maybe the reality is that something horrible happened and it did take me ten steps backward. But staying there isn’t the answer. Staying there isn’t me. I have to remind myself on days where the voices resurge that I, too, have a choice, and maybe I can’t help where I am right now. But I can choose how I deal with it. Stop judging myself, and realise that other people probably aren’t judging too harshly either. Start from where I am, keep marching forward, and if I make mistakes or don’t live up to my own expectations, then work harder. It’s what I have to do with my arm, so it’s the same attitude I should have with everything else I’m trying to rebuild. The hard part is that all those things are in their very nature, worthy of being judged. Modelling. Singing. Performing. Writing. All efforts to put something out into the world for anyone to see. But I think to keep going is to keep following dreams, and to be brave. And that’s something I’ve always tried to do.

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I came across a quote recently that I feel may be apt for this situation, and may lead me through the door into a new chapter and a new year safely:

“If you have built castles in the sky, let not your dreams go to waste; just build the foundations under them.”

– Henry David Thoreau

I am finding it tough. But I think if I learn to accept, stop judging, be brave, put in the work, and look at reality, life is going to not only return to normal, but become even more of what I’ve always wanted it to be. I’m determined to make 2014 the year I tried my absolute hardest to make my dreams come true, to fill every moment with love and gratitude, and to try to always make the right choice.

“We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well,” someone once said, “that Death will tremble to take us.”

Have a wonderful new year, and don’t forget that no matter where you are now, every passing moment is another chance to turn it all around.

My Tell-Tale Heart

Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway.

– Eleanor Roosevelt

So many emotions running through my veins, tangling themselves up and forming themselves into words so desperate to launch themselves out into the world with the hope of landing somewhere in a place of understanding. I didn’t know where to aim, so I  turned here.

For the first time in my life, I feel I’ve been filled with a spirit of standing up for myself, for my own being, my own feelings, my own heart and my own worth, and it seems I should preface this with the fact that I shouldn’t have to – everybody is made up of a thousand different thoughts and experiences that lead them down different paths and shape their ideas and viewpoints and lives and very beings… nobody should have to feel they have to defend themselves. But the past has taught me that the Internet, heck, the world, is filled with those who see one veering off the path of formulaic shoulds and seek to judge or offer advice before first venturing in to understand. I know true friends, genuine, caring souls will do that, and I thank everyone for their concern in recent days and, I’m sure, in those yet to come… but I just have to give my heart the floor for a moment; thrust its worn and battered soul back into centre stage and hope for the best.

I always maintained I never wanted to die without any scars. The idea of “living backward” is something I’ve latched onto in recent years; grasping every day and opportunity by the throat and living the fuck out of it, seeing every second as a gift and living with the mentality that if you live life to pieces, there’s no possibility in the world that you’ll get to the end of it and have regret. I don’t want to die without any scars. And my heart is covered in them, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. Because with every one of them has come incredible experience, lessons, growth, memories… the choice to keep going is not an easy one, and I’m sure any sane person would lock it away behind a fortress where it could be protected from the dark depths that sadly must exist if the highest of highs are ever to be experienced… it would be easy to hide away from life, to take time, to barricade myself from the world if just to stay safe. But this goes against my very way of living. Our days are finite. We are filled with an endless capacity to feel… and just because the world’s timeline says our actions and paths must be those that are pre-carved to be societally acceptable doesn’t mean it aligns with mine.

Every time we listen to what someone else says we should be doing, we fall away from what our heart tells us we need to be. Yet we go along with it, because it’s normal. It’s traditional. It’s “the rules”. We grow up, and go to university, and get a degree because that will get us a job. We meet someone, stick it out even though it’s not perfect, and settle in relationships that aren’t so bad and can sometimes be pretty good, and we tune out the gut instinct that tells you there might be more. We get mortgages and houses and have children and work jobs that pay the bills and it’s all so very safe. But why are we given these instincts, these wishes, these strong desires and hopes and dreams if we’re not allowed to follow them? I think we are allowed. I think it’s just scary because it’s so much easier to play it safe and follow the path, and it’s so much scarier to be judged for veering into the forest. It’s so much scarier not having a safety net. But if we weren’t meant to have these feelings of curiosity and hope and passion for something more, why are we equipped with the capacity to have them?

I want to clarify what’s happened over the course of the past week… and the past little while. The past few months… the past two years… the past five… I want to be understood. Again, I am hit with this sentiment, but I also – and I guess this is my super INFJ-ness coming out – am hard wired with a desperate need to be understood.

If other people do not understand our behavior—so what? Their request that we must only do what they understand is an attempt to dictate to us. If this is being “asocial” or “irrational” in their eyes, so be it. Mostly they resent our freedom and our courage to be ourselves. We owe nobody an explanation or an accounting, as long as our acts do not hurt or infringe on them. How many lives have been ruined by this need to “explain,” which usually implies that the explanation be “understood,” i.e. approved. Let your deeds be judged, and from your deeds, your real intentions, but know that a free person owes an explanation only to himself—to his reason and his conscience—and to the few who may have a justified claim for explanation.

I was told recently that attachment to safe, neutral, acceptable terms can neither steal nor produce anything of true value… or it can produce an urgency, to live, to feel, to create, to love, to dream… to create a life so full of experience that the heart is so well travelled that when it finally reaches its destination it recognises where it’s meant to be.  Why should we be conditioned to live the life the rest of the world tells us we should? Why should our own timeline be bent and shaped according to what’s traditional just because it’s what everybody else does? Anything could happen tomorrow. I don’t know if I’m going to be on this planet for another day or another ten years or another ninety, but I don’t want to waste a second of it. I have no patience for waiting in corners and turning away opportunities when I know, I know that the path I was on was the wrong one. Let me regain my footing on another that may lead to exactly where I’m meant to be. And if not, let me make my mistakes. This life is mine, and these choices are mine. This heart is mine and this sense of never giving up may be frowned on or judged, but let me do it my wayIt is my right.

I sobbed for a good two hours straight last night at the realisation that with my decisions comes judgment from so many who see things from afar without bothering to take the time to first come in, see what my past has held, whether near or far, and where it has led me. I was the one that was left. Repeatedly. I gave all, and for the longest time, I held onto something that hadn’t been right for a very long time. I think we all have a tendency to do that… to accept what we have, to ignore the feelings of feeling misunderstood and the imaginings of something more. To accept that no two people are perfect and to just make the most of it. I did that. I did that every time I was left and convinced myself that with enough work, things could be perfect. But when the decision was made, for the final time, for the first time I felt equipped with enough self confidence, enough passions and enough truly incredible people in my life that I didn’t have to settle for forever feeling inadequate. So this time, I accepted it. It so happened that in recent months that what could be was illuminated… I did nothing wrong. I came to a realisation that I was worth more than forever being left, forever struggling and fighting for understanding… and I realise that on the surface, it may look like “jumping”, from one thing to another, but we’d been strangers for a long time. Different homes, different friends, and a building of walls I tried so hard to break. It is no-ones decision to judge but mine, but I’m so incredibly saddened that the world jumps to easy conclusions before first hearing, knowing, understanding the path that led to where I am. 

I hold no resentment or malice. The past two years have filled me with incredible memories, gratitude, learning experiences and a growth that’s fuelled me forward to a place where I finally feel at peace with who I am… I feel for the first time it’s okay to be the way I am, emotionality and all. Yes, I’m throwing my heart open again, but I genuinely feel for the first time… it’s understood. It’s recognised. It’s battered and bruised, but it’s filled with an eternal hope. All its past flaws are somehow now seen as strength and beauty and I’m embarking upon something with someone whose heart truly speaks the same language. I’m genuinely happy, and I feel like I… deserve to be. This is my path. Please let me walk it. If for no other reason than tomorrow, it’s my fucking birthday.

What matters most must never be at the mercy of what matters least.

It’s been just over a month since I made the move to living solo, and life since has been quite unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. There have been a lot of adjustments, and not all of them have come easily (especially learning to budget! Seriously, send help), but the biggest change I’ve noticed is that of my own mentality. I don’t know if it’s a result of my new quarters, my new neighbourhood, or the people I’ve been spending my time with, but my heart and mind have been fuelled with a renewed energy that has given rise to a sense of passion, priority and direction. I’m riding on the momentum and I’m happy to report that train shows no sign of stopping any time soon. 🙂 But, in a similar spirit to that of my recent move, in order to make room for the new and exciting, one must first declutter and dispose of the old and useless. 

“I find the key is to think of a day as units of time, each unit consisting of no more than thirty minutes. Full hours can be a little bit intimidating and most activities take about half an hour. Taking a bath: one unit, watching Countdown: one unit, web-based research: two units, exercising: three units, having my hair carefully dishevelled: four units. It’s amazing how the day fills up, and I often wonder, to be absolutely honest, if I’d ever have time for a job. How do people cram them in?”
– About a Boy

I think it ties into what seems to have become the most significant of the five goals I put in place for this year: not wasting a moment of the time I have been given. You hear all the time that at the end of their lives, more than anything, people tend to regret the things they didn’t do. The words they didn’t say, the risks they didn’t take, and the time they didn’t spend investing in something lasting and meaningful. I’ve found that by attempting to constantly remind myself of the big picture, it’s helped me become more mindful of the present-moment choices I’m making, and really prioritise my time. I remember last year writing a post about how I didn’t understand how people made time for work, exercise, keeping on top of chores, writing, reading, Facebooking, or socialising. But if you work on making it a habit to ask yourself if something truly holds the weight in the grand scheme of things you may feel it does right now, you can weed out the wasteful, and focus on the meaningful.

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like the world’s pace seems to be moving faster with every passing day. (Yes, I realise that with that statement comes the risk of publicly channelling my inner old fart.) I think it has much to do with technology:  we’re so used to so much information being instantaneous that we’ve inadvertently constructed the mass illusion that we don’t have as much time as we used to, and that the world is more fast-paced and demanding that ever. Add to the fact that the majority of human contact has experienced a paradigm shift from dinner parties and coffee dates to texts, blogs and e-mails, and we add a sense of isolation to the mix: we feel anxious about all the things we have to do, and we feel we have to do it all alone. Yet our actions are in direct conflict with actually doing anything about it: we spend hours checking status updates, creeping photographs and reading online tabloids about gossip and scandal, and then have the nerve to say we don’t have enough time for the things we need to do! It can be easily addressed when boiled down to a simple idea: if you don’t like something, change it.

A friend of mine recently called people out on it. She’s a giant bookworm, and someone had made a remark about not understanding how she could possibly get through so many novels in a month, irritatingly exclaiming that they wished they had the time to indulge in reading. The thing is, we all have the exact same amount of time – we just choose to spend it differently. Becoming aware of wasteful habits allows us to make different choices, eliminate what’s ultimately meaningless, and spend our time on things that really are important. I like to think this can be applied not just to activities, but on people too – when having an argument, for instance, taking a second to remind yourself that your immediate anger and frustration with someone is probably outweighed in the big picture by how much you care about them. Just ask yourself: if today was your last day on earth, would you want to spend it on something that’s really a waste of time? Would you choose to fight with someone, or enjoy just being with each other? Would you choose to surf the Internet, or do something you’ve always wanted to do? I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve learned to be okay with having dishes unwashed overnight, or laundry not done one weekend. Life’s too short sometimes to get caught up in the obligations to the mundane, and a messy room once in a while can be indicative of time better spent actually living. 🙂

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humour, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”
– Goethe

It shouldn’t have to take getting to your final breaths to realise what matters. We can all be proactive right now. Recognise the faux significance of the immediate and ephemeral. And with people, words, and actions, make a choice to prioritise what’s really important.

So in that spirit, I’ve been doing a bit of an evaluation on my habits. I mentioned earlier that lately, I’ve felt a new sense of passion, energy and direction, and the amazing thing is that I can start reorganizing my life this very moment. One thing I’m guilty of is spending too much time online. Sometimes it’s spent well – keeping in touch with friends elsewhere on the globe, or reading articles on psychology or science I’d still consider productive. But no matter how compelling, reading blogs about people I have no connection to, streaming episodes of Britain’s Next Top Model or The Bachelorette (what? It’s a fascinating study in social neurosis!) or catching up on the latest in the life of Cheryl Cole are not indicative of time well spent. And if this was my last day on earth, these things wouldn’t even be on the list. So I’m determined to start shaping a life I hope will allow me to avoid later regret. Dive into those things I’m drawn to, keep tackling those fears, retrain myself to stop wasting mental energy on worry and insecurity, and peel those ideas, dreams and “one days” from the walls of my mind and thrust them into the real world. Stop wishing, stop wasting, and start living with intent. There are so many things I want to do, and as Mr. Obama recently said, it shouldn’t take the risk of catastrophe to get people to do the right thing. The right thing is making the most of every moment we’re given, choosing the eternal over the evanescent, and learning how to spend our time, thought and energy wisely. The road I’ve been on may have become drained and routine, but the path ahead is glittering. I can’t wait to dive straight in to new ventures, lifestyle changes, and creative ideas over the next little while. I’ve been guilty of saying I don’t have time for this and that for too long. Of course I do. I just have to make room. This may mean less frequent stops in the blogosphere, but at the end of it, I’ll be able to say I lived, and made use of everything I was given. Or at least tried my damnedest.

Stars, hide your fires, for these here are my desires
And I won’t give them up to you this time around
And so, I’ll be found with my stake stuck in this ground
Marking the territory of this newly impassioned soul
Mumford and Sons

Let the next chapter commence!

My New Confusion (and other future album titles)

Caveat: This post was very nearly entitled How to Lose Friends and Alienate Everyone: Further Lessons in Social Suicide. Another: This post is rather long. You may want to put the kettle on. You should really know that this post is not intended to offend, and if incidences of such result, please accept my most sincere apologies. But if you’re reading this, you’re probably fully aware that I don’t hide my thoughts – and this post is simply an exploration of some new ideas, written in the hopes of hearing some of yours.

Now, studying the psychology behind human personalities, thought processes and social interactions has always been a passion of mine. Perhaps it’s the science geek in me, but I’ve always had a keen interest in examining the inner workings of something to figure out how and why it works the way it does. Throughout the process of self-investigation, I’ve learned an awful lot that’s helped me become more comfortable in my own skin – desperate desires to be something else have transformed into the aspiration to simply develop and hone who I already am, and an understanding of true introversion, personality type and priorities has helped certain social anxieties evaporate. One thing I’ve learned about being an INFJ (also known as “The Counsellor”) is the tendency to want to fix things: whether it’s a problem in the workplace, in a friend’s life, or in my own, my first instinct is to go into action plan mode and set about restoring the balance. I derive an immense satisfaction from problem-solving, which I think can be a good thing – but on the flipside, it gives way to intense feelings of discontent when a solution cannot easily be found.

Lately I’ve been faced with a bit of a problem – a problem of the soul. Not too long ago, I posted a giant essay on my spiritual belief system – on how I came to believe what I do, what I don’t, and how it shapes my world view. For the majority of my life, I never really had a solid set of beliefs – I was open to a lot of things, but growing up, no one belief system was laid down as fact (something for which I am incredibly grateful; I believe curiosity and learning one’s own lessons results in something ultimately far more meaningful than something that at the end of the day is only somebody else’s version of truth). Over the years, I’ve been exposed to Christianity in various denominations and guises — Seventh Day Adventism, Atheism, Buddhism, Taoism and simple spiritual curiosity, and subsequently have pulled pieces and ideas from here and there to shape what I can get behind, and what I can’t.  As I’d previously written, something I’d decided was that I simply wasn’t able to stick any sort of label on myself: if you do, you acknowledge that you are different from everyone who believes anything other than you, and subsequently participate in the continuation of human division. Instead of uniting and focusing on the main principles of a religion, people get caught up in the politics of what makes “my” denomination different from “yours”. And that doesn’t make any sense to me at all – surely a spirit of unity would make this a better world than a splintered race divided?

You may have noticed I’ve made an ongoing reference to the Universe in many a post, and in recent years, the idea that life events play out as signs from such to steer us toward the right path is something that’s helped me deal with a whole lot of crap. But a recent conversation has made me think of this philosophy in a whole new light: where do the people who are condemned to live awful lives fit in? Sure, we all go through major challenges in life. And I firmly believe every one of us possesses the ability to choose the attitude with which we face those hurdles. Seeing them as signs from the Universe to open my eyes to what’s really important in life is something that’s facilitated dealing with the tough stuff – it’s made me evaluate how I really feel, what I really want, what I’ll bear and what I won’t stand for, and has helped me more and more when life throws curveballs to apply the philosophy that this too, shall pass. But what about those people forced to live an existence in a war-torn country, or people born into families whose households explode with domestic violence? What about those people with terrible diseases, or who lose everything in giant natural disasters? Is the Universe asking them to “just learn from it”?  I’m almost furious with myself for allowing my outlook to become so limited. I feel I’ve done nothing more than observe patterns, hypothesise explanations, and conclude it as fact simply because it’s what suits me. I feel incredibly unsettled if so, because it means my world view extends to nothing beyond my own field of vision. And that’s incredibly small-minded, and in direct conflict with how I want to live.

When it comes to faith in something more, I’ve always harboured a slight opposition toward those who put on their Sunday best, drive past all the homeless people and go to church every Sunday while allowing the words they utter inside evaporate the moment they step outside after the service. I was talking with a friend of mine recently whose mother’s behaviour had wildly affected her view toward religion: she’d attended services daily, preaching love, forgiveness and servanthood, and would get home afterward and beat her children for not doing as they’re told. But read Proverbs 13:24Proverbs 22:15 or Proverbs 23:13-14, and apparently, that’s perfectly okay. And I don’t understand how something that permits such actions could be a good thing. As well, hypocrisy has always bothered me immensely, and I’ve never been able to stomach the idea of so-called believers whose daily actions defy the doctrine to which they are supposedly devoted. I’ve witnessed first hand people who claim to be “good Christians,” yet partake in all sorts of behaviours that fuel division, malice and hatred. I’ve never really fully understood why something that makes people feel unworthy and guilty, and holds the promise of a reward like a carrot on a stick is seen as a model for creating good people. Surely people can be good on the basis of making intelligent decisions and doing good deeds regardless? But that’s not to say there aren’t an enormous amount of truly wonderful people who live lives of integrity founded on their belief in a higher power. The Dalai Lama once said that he fully believed anyone was capable of living a good life with or without religion. I completely agree. I saw this recently, and found it rather interesting indeed.

I see so many hypocritical so-called religious people, and I see just as many non-religious folk going about the world spreading love and making a real difference. I don’t believe one has to have religion in order to be considered a good person. Like I said, if I can’t get behind something 100%, then I can’t call myself a follower of anything at all. So where does that leave me in terms of what up until this point has been my answer to life? No longer does my equation solve every problem. My eyes have been opened to the fact that it has only ever really suited the ones to which I selectively applied it. And that makes me feel nothing more than a fraud, and leaves me stranded at a crossroads of blank signs.

Where does one turn when a belief system has been proved flawed? When one size no longer fits all, yet has provided comfort in terms of being able to deal with life’s challenges? Just because something is comfortable doesn’t mean it’s real. Surely everything would be much more comfortable if we were always surrounded by a nice fluffy cushion – it doesn’t make it real life. But if the idea of the Universe providing signs to steer us each onto our respective life paths is unfounded in terms of the grand scheme of the world, then what the heck does it all mean? On one hand, if life really is entirely within our control, perhaps what’s been a prevailing force as of late is exactly what it’s all about: realising our innate power of choice and making the right decisions even when they’re difficult. That doesn’t really address the topics of causality, free will or determinism, but that’s far too complicated a topic that’s better shelved for future discussion. But on the other, if I abandon the philosophy that I genuinely believe has helped me grow into a better human being, I risk dealing with future blows in unhealthy ways. Plus it doesn’t explain at all why those fated to all sorts of terrible circumstances must live with the hands they are dealt. My belief has allowed me to quickly move forward with life following challenges: knowing that it happened for a reason has helped me accept it, and focus my energy on the here and now instead of futile questioning and endeavours at rewriting an already written past. But if there is no reason for anything and our fate really lies solely in our own hands, then how does that explain why bad things happen to good people?

I realise I’m starting to wax ever so slightly philosophical here. But I’m a geek, and I like my problems to have solutions. Being unable to come up with an answer leaves me feeling a little helpless, and I don’t think any of us deal well with a loss of control. I’m in a bit of a limbo, I think, and I’m not really sure where to go from here. Faith in the Universe, fate or destiny just because it makes things easier sometimes goes against my advocacy for intelligence and education. Yet I can’t help but channel Fox Mulder a little here, and still feel I want to believe. But what I’m not certain about is the real reason why. I’m curious though, to hear of how you arrived at your personal belief system, and why it makes sense for you. How did you come to believe what you do, and what makes your truth real?

Peel the scars from off my back, I don’t need them any more

Peel the scars from off my back,
I don’t need them any more,
You can throw them out
Or keep them in your mason jars,
I’ve come home

– Lyrics from the beautiful Welcome Home (Radical Face)

If you told me a month ago I would now be happier and feeling more at home than I have in my entire life, I probably would have sent you back to the TARDIS to try another point in spacetime after clearly getting the wrong coordinates. I didn’t imagine that in such a short time, what would commonly be seen as one of the worst things that could happen in a lifetime was the catalyst that led me toward the path that genuinely feels more right than anything. I’ve always been a huge advocate for the power of choice, and when everything that’s supposedly certain is pulled out from under your feet leaving you hanging in mid-air, you really do have one: panicking at the loss of control, or shifting your focus toward something you can, and trusting that by allowing yourself to be open to a whole new beginning instead of frantically clinging onto a door already closed, the universe will deliver. And here I sit, a few months later, more secure, happy, and genuinely at peace than I think I ever have been. But I’m not going to lie and say that dealing with people’s reaction to the supposedly abnormal feelings of wellbeing hasn’t been a challenge.

There aren’t a lot of things in life that bother me, but one of them definitely comes in the form of people passing judgment before hearing a whole story, or put more simply: gossip. There have been all sorts of interesting studies about our propensity for talking about people who aren’t in the room, and the psychology of it is rather fascinating. On the plus side, it serves as something that bonds social group members together and can result in feelings of interconnectedness and belonging. But on the reverse, it can destroy friendships and reputations, and can lead one to feelings of alienation, humiliation and belittlement over invented or assumed stories passed through the rumour mill with little to no truth at all. So why is it that the human race is so quick to judge others without first bothering to hear the truth?

As I’m sure many of us experience at some point or another, I’m no stranger to being talked about. I think us bloggers especially may even inadvertently bring it upon ourselves: by putting our hearts, hopes, fears and dreams out there for the whole world to see, naturally there are going to be some old blasts from the past, jealous haters or other Internet trolls that are going to latch onto something you say and use it to fuel spiteful comments or make judgment about you. Something I’ve been tossing about my head lately is something about which I’m not sure how to feel: you know I’m hugely passionate about the idea of giving your all to everyone and everything, but the trouble with always pouring your soul into every open door is the fact that every subsequent occupant will have a piece of you that may no longer reflect the person you are today. This leads to incredible frustration when judgments are passed on those pieces of the past – everyone’s life path is strewn with wrong turns and mistakes here and there, but we become who we are today by learning from them. They’re not one-stop destinations that accurately describe present-day you, but when people’s only impression of you is from a period in which you were learning those lessons, the consequential judgment and skepticism can be hard to take.

Yes, I believe the past plays a huge role in shaping who we are now, but I don’t think we have to wear our history like a map on our face.  Enormous feelings of discontent can evaporate when you realise you have the choice to play along with people’s tendencies to define you by your past, or see yourself as the only true author of your own future. You may have been someone else once, but that doesn’t mean you’re the same person today. If nobody ever learned or grew or changed their ways, what a stale, hopeless world we would find ourselves in. The past definitely shapes who we become, but it doesn’t need to accompany us every day telling us who we “are”. The danger comes when we start to give credit to other people’s decisions that we are the sum of our past mistakes. If we keep telling ourselves the same stories, we start to believe them.  And in doing so, we construct our own prison cells caging us in from our true potential.

It’s tough not to listen when it feels like the rest of the world’s definition of you is stuck on who you were, overlooking the possibility you could have done any sort of growth since. For the last few weeks, I have been infinitely happier, more content and more secure than I can ever remember being. Lame sap that I am, I told someone recently that in hindsight, it seems that until this point, I’d been living with only ten percent of my heart and simply assuming that that was what life was. Feelings of intense wellbeing and the loss of fear and anxiety that have been such fierce companions for so long are now, for the first time, daily occurences, but people are having a hard time believing it, and tend to meet my mentality with suspicion. Lately, I’m filled with such passion, joy, and a sense of certainty – it feels like I’ve been living in a world of black and white and I’ve finally stepped into technicolour. But why is it so hard to believe that I’m fully capable of being happy? 

The reason I’ve been able to move forward so quickly is, I think, through acceptance. It was one of the goals I wanted to implement this year and it’s something that’s helped me see things with incredible clarity. I look back on the last few years and see so clearly that I was settling; on the surface, going through the motions of what one would assume to be a relatively typical life, yet on the inside, wishing every day for things to be that little bit different. Wishing I didn’t have to worry, or second-guess. Wishing I didn’t have to wonder about what was being said behind my back. Wishing for contentment, security, and genuine happiness. Wishing for compatibility. Wishing for the feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach to go away, and wishing that the stuff of fairytales existed in the real world. Wishing I didn’t have to wish so much. Looking back, I know without any shadow of a doubt that that ongoing feeling of discontent was a sign from the universe, and I’ve learned that if something feels wrong, it probably is, and no matter how much you overlook it, go along with a pretense or invest in endeavours to fix it, if you are on the wrong path, something spectacularly catastrophic will happen to open your eyes, and force you onto the right one. It’s happened before, and as a result, it made it that much easier to recognise this time around. I’m genuinely grateful for things taking the direction they did, because they led me to what currently feels like the best chapter of my entire life. And when you know in your heart that things genuinely happen for a reason, that things weren’t right, and that the only thing you can control is the here and now… it makes getting on with the future that much easier. Another goal of mine this year was not to waste any time. So why not choose action? Why not grab hold of opportunities life throws your way and have faith that they could be amazing? I can understand holding onto the past if you’ve lost something that was. But when it was something ultimately uncertain and at times, destructive, why not allow yourself close the door behind you and step into a brighter future just because it may not be the social norm?

There will always be people who’ll judge. There will always be societal pressure to do things a certain way, and there will always be questions, rumours or misunderstandings. There will always be people who will define you by your past actions, but at the end of the day, only you know your true heart, and the person you are today. The past will always be there, but it cannot be changed. The only thing any of us can ultimately control is our life from this point on. So why not leave history where it belongs, make the most of our time, and focus on a better future? If you’re making the right choices for you, gossip and judgment can’t really hold that much weight at all.

So it goes…

FINALLY, after what feels like absolutely months, I can say I’ve returned to the online world! I feel absolutely horrible I haven’t been able to keep up with you or write back to your lovely comments, but last week, with the help of a team of wonderful boys, I moved, got The Men in, the Internet hooked up, and am currently in the process of catching up on everything. Come to think of it, this may take another week. 🙂 

Unsurprisingly, a couple of things that seem to have worked their way into my mind as of late and taken up residence are the ideas of risk and change. If I were to describe the events of the last few months, you might wonder why said mind hasn’t handed in its proverbial resignation (seriously, when DIY espionage, treason, and a hundred-and-eighty-degree turn in life path, people, relationships, accommodation and finances all crop up within a few weeks of each other, sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh!). But in keeping with one of the goals I wanted to put into practice, I seem to have latched on tightly to the notion of acceptance, and consequently hitched a surprisingly comfortable ride through the last few weeks. 

Every hand we are dealt by the universe is accompanied by a choice of reaction, and if the last year has taught me anything at all, it’s the power that lies within every one of us to choose our response. For a long time, it used to be panic, and despite the best counselling efforts of one Mr. Adams, crap would happen, and I’d fly into a fit of despair. The rug would be pulled from under my feet, everything would go up in the air, and I’d find myself scrambling frantically in an attempt to maintain some semblance of control. But at the end of the day, panic is just one option of many. My boss once described a metaphor for change that’s stuck with me to this day: a trapeze artist swings through the air, and unless she takes a leap of faith in grabbing onto the next bar, momentum will slow to a stop and she will be left hanging.  There is a comfort in holding onto what’s comfortable, held back by the fear of free-falling through the air, heart racing, nerves pounding, not knowing when or where the next bar will come. But if you don’t take a leap, you’ll be left hanging, until the only way left is down. Sometimes a leap of faith is exactly what’s needed to launch you toward bigger and better things. 

breaking at the seams, heaving at the brace
sheets all billowing, the breaking of the day
the sea is not my friend, the seasons they conspire
yet still I choose to swim, and slip beneath the tide
James Vincent McMorrow, If I Had a Boat

It seems that lately I’ve become incredibly passionate about the idea of change. I think without it, one stifles all possibilities of future growth, of becoming more, of doing more and seeing more and exploring our unchartered potential… I don’t want to get to the end of my life, look back on my map and see that the ship never left the harbour. Someone once said that ships are safe in a harbour, but that that wasn’t what ships were for. I want to look back and see trails across stormy seas through torrential rainstorms and bands of pirates, up to new countries and through new sights and civilizations, stopping for treasure and beautiful sunsets and meeting a plethora of all sorts of fascinating people with whom I’ll share stories and build memories and from whom I’ll learn great lessons. I want to see it full of adventure and culture and colour, and I want to be left with battle scars that tell the story of a life well lived. I don’t want to settle for what’s comfortable. Settling’s better left in Catan. 

One does not discover new lands without consenting to
lose sight of the shore for a very long time. –
André Gide

I recently met somebody fantastic who has the words “so it goes” etched across his arm. Apparently I’d been living under a rock, and wasn’t familiar with Kurt Vonnegut (!), but in its stark simplicity I think it’s the perfect summation of an attitude with which to face life. Everything you could need is packed into three simple words that simultaneously accept and dismiss absolutely everything. Which is brilliant. There has been no shortage of people lately asking if I’m okay, telling me I must be doing terribly, and expressing confusion or doubt when I genuinely tell them I’m fine. These three words encapsulate the spirit with which I want to live: crap happens, and at the time it sucks, but it’s fine. We keep calm, as they say, and carry on. We focus our energies on forging a better future, not on futile attempts at rewriting an already written past. 

So in the spirit of great change and acceptance, a natural successor would be that of risk. It’s hard to imagine any change taking place without taking a risk first, but we seem so conditioned to construct walls of caution and fear around our hearts that we inadvertently become prisoners of our own design, and go through life staying in one place, allowing fear of hurt or failure to cage us in, outweighing the hope or potential of something more brilliant. It’s sad that people’s first reaction to my state of mind is one of surprise – why not choose to be fine? Why not take big leaps into creating the future? Why waste time on things that have already happened and doors that have been closed; why not learn their lessons as fast as you can and move on with life’s next chapter? If you take a risk and things work out, you’ll be that much happier; if they don’t, you’ll be that much wiser.

I was reading an interesting article recently about a study on the number one contributor of happiness. Money, health, attractiveness, popularity, and a hot sex life were all expected answers, but according to a report by The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “all these mentioned life goodies were topped by the biggest life goodie of them all: autonomy – defined as “the feeling that your life – its activities and habits — are self-chosen and self-endorsed.”

This makes sense, when you take a moment to contemplate how lovely autonomy can make you feel – and how miserable its absence can make you. In fact, when you’re upset about something in your life – a  break up, a job problem, your weight – it’s usually because you’re feeling as if you’re no longer in control of this area your life. “Having a strong sense of controlling one’s life is a more dependable predictor of positive feelings of well-being than any of the objective conditions of life we have considered,” says Campbell.  A University of Michigan nationwide survey also sings the praises of autonomy – reporting how the 15% of Americans who claimed they felt “in control of their lives” also raved about having “extraordinarily positive feelings of happiness.”

It’s all about how you choose to react, and I believe that with a focus on choice, action, acceptance and attitude, risk really can be a win-win thing. Life happens. We just have to allow hope to be of greater weight than fear, and be active participants in shaping our future. The possibilities are endless if we only take a leap once in a while, and, as they say, choose to build wings on the way down.

Here’s to change, to taking big, giant leaps into the unknown and risking your heart for the sake of possible brilliance. Here’s to resilience, to the power of choice, and to making the most of every precious moment we’re given. Here’s to everything that’s ever been, everything that ever will be, and to shaping everything that exists in the here and now. Here’s to great stories, battle scars, epic lessons, and infinite potential. Here’s to writing the next chapter. Here’s to risking it all, and hoping for the best. Here’s to life. After all, we only get one.

Twenty-Six

Today marks the start of a new beginning for me in more ways than I’d initially anticipated. This time last year, I was turning twenty-five, and after really taking a good look at my life, I set about making The List. I had every intention of tackling everything on it, but having experienced several of life’s most traumatic events in the last two months (resulting in a stress score off the chart), apparently I’m sitting about an “80% chance of stress-related illness in the immediate future.” Excellent! I’m not one for excuses, but then again I’m usually not one to deal well with underachieving either, so to facilitate being okay with falling a little short, I have to give myself a bit of a break.  

Making the list had to be one of the best things I’ve ever done – it forced me to get outside of my comfort zone and really put ideas into action. The past twelve months have been full of introspection, growth and self awareness, and for the first time in my life I can say that I’ve been an active participant in becoming the person I want to be. The biggest thing I’ve become aware of is that life can take the course of your desire if you consistently make an effort to take action, and turn “I wish” into “I will”. But as much as I like to think of this mentality as a strength, it has come to my attention in the last few weeks that it can be just as much a weakness. I think taking control of your life is a really good thing. But beating yourself up for not being where you want to be isn’t quite as healthy.  A friend e-mailed me a couple of weeks ago with this very idea, and it really took me by surprise: 

“I love that you’ve been setting goals to stretch yourself over the past year, but sometimes I’ve felt a little like you might be forcing yourself to bend in directions that are uncomfortable instead of focusing on accepting and loving yourself – which makes everything easier, and every challenge you take on more achievable! I’ve been reading a book that’s really resonated with me, and I think it would be a really timely thing for you to start reading while you’re going through all of this uncertainty and change. It walks you through the author’s process of working on the parts of her personality and heart that haven’t been working for her, and takes you through accepting yourself. It also shows you how to set boundaries for how other people treat you, how to be more compassionate, how to stop trying to force other people to live up to your expectations of them, how to be more vulnerable and how to stop trying to prove you’re worthwhile to yourself. It’s really moving and insightful, and I think it would be an incredible read for you to check out!” 

I’ve been so driven by the idea of “if you don’t like something, change it” lately that the idea of becoming the best version of myself completely passed me by. I still very much believe that anyone can make a conscious decision to make choices that correlate with the life they want to live and person they want to be, but after reading my friend’s e-mail, I can’t shake the idea of us all being programmed with our unique personalities, tendencies, preferences and eccentricities for a reason, and that if we just focused on honing what we already had instead of trying to be something that didn’t come naturally, that might just be the ticket. I’m definitely going to pick up the book. 

This is a question I remember struggling with at work on occasion, too. It first came up when I first started at my job a couple of years ago when delivering presentations, giving tours and facilitating group workshops were added to my job description. At the time, I was a nervous wreck seeing a therapist for an anxiety disorder, and the thought of speaking up in the lunch room terrified me, let alone standing in front of a classroom full of people. But I so desperately wanted to be someone who could speak publicly with confidence that I was determined to throw myself in at the deep end. Maybe it’s my lack of patience, but when I want something, I don’t waste any time in trying to get it. People say to take small steps, but I hate the idea of taking the scenic route when you could shoot straight for the destination; use more time in the place you want to be and less time getting there.  Again, a strength and a weakness. The reason I do this is because I try to remind myself at every opportunity that we’re each only given a set amount of time on this earth, and I don’t want to waste a second. It’s a common mentality that any new venture or major change is “going to take time.” But I can’t seem to get behind that. Things don’t have to be half as complicated as people sometimes make out. Sometimes things really can be as easy as asking yourself if your current behaviour is in line with how you want to live your life, and if not, making a switch. Anything new is going to be uncomfortable at first. It’s through making a decision to stick with it that things become easier – focusing on the big picture, and choosing to make every action and decision in correlation with what you want that to be. 

Random tangent over; back to today. One year since I made a list that changed my life. I want the next year to have just as big an impact as the last, but I don’t think another twenty-seven goals is the way to do it this time. I don’t want to spread myself too thin. The list has inspired me to take control of my life, and rather than tackle a bunch of one-time endeavours, I’d much rather focus on a handful of things that I can put into practice at every opportunity of every day in the hopes that this time next year, they’ll have transitioned from hopes to habits.  All that being said, here are my goals for 26: 

  1. Don’t take the easy option. The things that are worth doing are often at the end of the most treacherous path, but they say that with great risk comes great reward.  I want to make a conscious decision to always prioritise courage over fear, and do what’s right instead of what’s easy or convenient.   
  2. Stop wasting time and go for the things that matter in the long run. There are infinite avenues this could be applied to, and though people say I may be young and have the rest of my life to do lots of things, I could also be hit by a bus tomorrow. I want to live every day as if I may not have another one, and use up every last drop on things that matter. Time spent dreaming is wonderful, but not quite as wonderful as time spent living.
  3. Work hard on being the best version of myself I can be. Sure, I might want to be someone who’s comfortable in front of a crowd, someone who can think on their feet, someone with the strength to not take things personally and someone who lights up a room. This past year, I tried. But that’s not me. I’m an introvert, and I need to learn to be okay with that. I’m a deeply emotional creature, and I’m not going to stop feeling for the sake of avoiding potential heartache. Instead of trying to change things or seeing parts of myself as weaknesses, I want to learn to embrace them and somehow, see them all as strengths.
  4. Practice acceptance. A book that changed my life planted this seed in my mind, and it’s taken root in my heart and grown inside my soul. Related to the goal of not wasting time, I want to live in the present and focus my attention on this point forward instead of this point backward. Everything that happens in life has already happened, and we all have a choice as to how we’re going to react to it. We can linger for hours, weeks or months over events, but spending time musing isn’t going to change something that’s already taken place. But though none of us can go back and change the past (I may think differently after my TARDIS arrives), but we can choose to accept it for what it is, and the only thing we can control is our own course of action and the spending of our own time and mental energy. The past truly has no power over the present moment, and as said book’s author stated, “negative feelings are resistance. Whenever they arise it is a signal to wake up, get present and get out of your mind. Pain is self-created as some form of non-acceptance or unconscious resistance to what is.” By simply accepting what is, I want to free my mind to focus on a better future from the present moment on.
  5. Invest my heart and soul fully into every relationship. I refuse to hide who I am, and if anyone is going to be in my life, I want them to be in it for who I truly am inside. Genuine human connection is one of the most wonderful things in the universe, and life’s too short not to take that risk for the sake of not getting hurt. I return to something one of my best friends once said: “I have this dream of being best friends with everyone in the world. I’ve also always been a proponent of using the word “love” more in everyday life. People in general are just a little more scared to use it I guess.”  I want to give my heart to the world. If it gets trampled a little, it’ll earn a few battle scars and garner a few war stories. It’ll build character, and it will always bounce back. People that are important to me deserve to know that at every opportunity. 

A common thread throughout these goals is risk. And I don’t think it could be said any better than in the words of one Mr. Roosevelt: 

“Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” 

Here’s to a year of putting it all on the line, taking risks, and living with passion and integrity. Here’s to hoping that with practice, it’ll all become second nature. And here’s to hoping that this time next year, I’ll be that much closer to being the best version of my genuine self I can be – and be comfortable in my own skin. Huge thanks to my good friend for inspiring my path for the year ahead.  🙂

What would you do if nobody was watching? Scratch that, what would you do if EVERYONE was watching?

I’ve been thinking about this question ever since having a discussion with a colleague last week, who was telling a story about how he’d had his girlfriend over one night, and somehow her phone had dialled her dad, who’d become inadvertently privy to everything they’d been discussing. When they realised what had happened, initially they panicked – but my co-worker said that the question (and reaction) had been rolling around his head ever since.  People always talk about the measure of a good, honest person as lying in the actions they take when nobody is watching. But what about the flipside? What if you knew that someone you cared about, or wanted to impress were watching? What if everybody was watching? Would you modify your behaviour? And if the answer is yes, does that mean you’re not a person of integrity?

This may not be a comfortable question to ask yourself. I’ve been asking myself for the last few days, and I must admit, the process has left me feeling somewhat uneasy. As I’m sure is the case for most people, we all like to think we’re people of our word. But integrity isn’t simply not lying; it’s the unity of our thoughts, words and actions regardless of company or circumstance. Integrity is when what we think lines up with what we say and what we do no matter whose presence we may be in. There is nothing to hide, no divided loyalty, no masks adorned or games played. There is no difference between what we appear to be to a stranger, and who we are inside, or who our closest family knows us to be. Yet if we all think we’re people of integrity, how come we all know someone who can talk the talk but not walk the walk? Something doesn’t add up. I can easily list a dozen people who claim to value health, yet choose to be a smoker. More who’d claim never to steal anything, yet regularly download movies and music illegally. I can think of people who’ll say they value their spouse, their children, their job and their own wellbeing, in that order. But when you take a look at their bank account or their Google calendar, it’s full of trivial expenses on ephemeral feelings of joy – rounds of golf, or wings and beer with friends, and an arrival home at 11 PM to the wife claimed to be at the top of the list of priorities.

Unfortunately, I think integrity is losing its value. The majority of people spend so much time focusing on reputation and how other people see us that there’s no reserve left over to focus on being the most authentic and genuine person we can be. In today’s society, image is a greater priority than integrity, and it may seem unnatural to focus energy on the reverse. So if all anybody cares about is how other people see them, by prioritising in the same way, each of us contributes to a superficial society – one in which our time and energy is spent on creating the best personas we can to impress different people, rather than on building a unity of thought, words and actions.  When I first started blogging seriously, I had a couple of goals: one, to have an outlet in which to pour my hopes, dreams and struggles honestly, to hold myself accountable to growing, and not to hold back; two, to one day reach some of those dreams, maybe overcome a couple of those hurdles, and in the process, hopefully inspire someone somewhere else and make them feel they could do the same.  But being able to have a good influence on someone requires them to put their confidence in you, and nobody will put their confidence in someone who’s not credible, and the only way you build credibility… is by having integrity.

The thing that made me uncomfortable in asking myself if I genuinely do have integrity wasn’t the anecdote of having a partner’s parents on the other end of an unintended phone call, or visualising a neighbour outside my open window while I happened to be in a wild fit of over over-emotion and stubbornness. The thing that made me feel uneasy came in the form of a question from a fantastic book I’m currently reading, a chapter of which ended thusly:

The people closest to you know you the best, and are therefore in the best position to discern your consistency as an employer, leader, spouse, parent or child. If you asked the various people in your life how you are doing in the area of integrity, how do you think they would respond? 

A. You live by the highest standards, and you do what you say and say what you do.
B. Y
ou’re consistent most of the time and easily engender trust.
C. You could stand to become more consistent in words and deeds.
D. You’re a mystery – people rarely know what you believe and how you’ll act. 

As I read, something sunk somewhere in the region of the pit of my stomach. I desperately wanted to answer with A, but I knew it wasn’t entirely true. I’m not to proud to admit that I’m full of words and declarations of focusing on the big picture, on what’s ultimately most important in life… yet am all too often quick to voice my frustration or others’ wrongdoings.  I tell other people to practice forgiveness and focus on creating a better future, yet bring up things in the past that cannot be changed by my harping on about them.  I say one thing yet often practice entirely another. I moved on to B. I could settle for second place, right? I think I’m consistent most of the time, and I like to think I engender trust from others. But I’m not the one who decides whether or not that’s true. C. I could stand to become more consistent in words and deeds. On reflection, this is the only one so far that I can agree with wholeheartedly. At least I didn’t get a D – I am certain I wear my heart on my sleeve, and am not afraid to open up my life like a book for anyone to peruse. I’m positive I’m anything but a mystery. But a C doesn’t sit well in this over-achiever’s heart.

So I revert back to how I dealt with everything else I wanted to change over the last year, and decide to just make the choice to go with what I want to be rather than what I am. Make a conscious decision in every passing moment to act in accordance with my values, and not the fleeting emotional temptations of the moment. It’s tough, but it’s not impossible. And, as Aristotle once said, we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. And with enough practice and dedication, we can all become precisely what we want to be: people of utmost integrity.

Battlefield

So, I’m going to hazard a guess that my absence from the blogosphere lately, on top of several vague tweets and a thoroughly emo Facebook photo didn’t go 100% unnoticed. I say this as a result of something I hadn’t imagined happening: a complete outpouring of love, concern and support. This community has been incredibly kind to me in the past on many, many occasions, and through good and bad, I consider myself blessed to have built relationships with so many of you. Real life friends have become pillars of strength, and so many some would call “strangers” have offered solace and guidance – but someone once told me that a stranger was “just a friend you hadn’t met yet”. So many of you have truly shown the meaning of real friendship over these last few weeks whether the distance between us is five blocks or five thousand miles. So for all the e-mails, texts, hugs and phone calls, please know that the gratitude I express through saying “thank you” here can only reflect a small percentage of the magnitude of how very deeply I mean it.

I’m not going to go into details of what happened over the last couple of weeks, because this is partly the story of others, and it’s not fair for me to put something out there if it’s not one hundred per cent mine. But a lot of you already know, and trust me, everything you’ve expressed, advised and warned me about has been looping on repeat inside. I never thought Jordin Sparks would be my new best friend, but the only way I can describe what’s been going on inside me is in terms of visualising a battlefield.  I’ve had two sides raging against each other in my mind; one comprised of soldiers of shock and armies of anger under a ruling hand of disbelief; the other of heart, of hope, and of forgiveness. There seems to be a middle ground of reason which doesn’t seem able to join with either, and sits rather uncomfortably on the fence as both sides battle for its allegiance and the right to call it theirs.  In about twenty minutes, it will be reckoning night, and there can only be one winner. This is a fight to the death.

Supporters of both are cheering on loudly; banners of fear and betrayal held high as the opposition’s cries of compassion fight for the victory. Each believes wholeheartedly that they are battling for the right reasons, and I find myself sitting somewhere above it all, watching from afar. But the clock is ticking. I need to join a team. How could it be so difficult to choose between two sides so completely and utterly at opposite ends of the spectrum? One side’s soldiers wear shades of grey; a monochromatic army of emotion past and horror realised. As a fabulous song reminds me, everything they’re fighting for is like punching in a dream and breathing life into the nightmare. The ghost of disillusion hovers like a weight over them all, penetrating their swords with the stranglehold of memory, fuelling the fight to rage on. The other side, by contrast, doesn’t seem to have a uniform, but though in and of themselves they bear no semblance of cohesion, juxtaposed next to the resistance, are united with a sort of glow. Their cross-shields are emblazoned with symbols of love and hope; giant doves adorn armour and shimmering spells are cast across the battlefield, taking down dozens of greys at a time. In the heat of war, neither side seems to notice their torn observer, and I find myself praying for some kind of sign. The team to which I pledge allegiance will pave the way forward, and it is not a decision to make lightly.

The clock ticks loudly, an obnoxious reminder that my time is up. As I close my eyes in those last remaining seconds and surrender the decision to a blind leap of faith, the banner of a lone soldier catches my eye, and I see him looking directly at me. The rest of the field becomes a blur as our eyes lock in a simultaneously fleeting and eternal moment, and suddenly, my decision is made. The answer had been sitting inside of me the whole time, and was scrawled in giant, shining letters across his flag. Philosophy. I had to do what I did in every other walk of life, and apply my philosophy just as I would to anything else. I’ve always been a firm believer in humanity’s ability to choose their reaction, and no matter how difficult any situation may be, we all have a weapon of choice. My mission over the last year has been made evident time and time again: choose the right one. Fear is a trusty protector, and has been relied upon in battle after battle to shield from harm. But it’s only one weapon. A weapon that also blocks out the sun, and along with it, the potential for everything wonderful.

We cave so easily to the option of self-constructed walls around our hearts in misguided endeavours to keep them safe. The temptation to hold on tightly to those things from the past is almost sirenesque (did I just make that word up?), but like those sailors stolen from the seas, doing so only results in destruction. The power of acceptance has been pointed out to me in the past, and I think the lesson here may be to simply accept that in itself, and work it into my life’s philosophy. It’s an ongoing and ever-evolving mission statement, but I suppose in the grand scheme of things, that’s what life’s really all about. As I touched on earlier in the week, my philosophy already includes choice, love, forgiveness, integrity, and a focus on the big picture. At the end of the day, every one of us is only human, and if every person on the planet held onto all the hurts and pains from the past in order to protect themselves, this world would be a terrible place indeed. I think my lesson here is to focus on life from this point forward, not backward. Reaction to something that’s already happened isn’t going to stop it from happening (space-time continuum issues aside), but I believe accepting it, leading with love, and focusing on shaping a better future is the way forward.

We all have a choice. I just hope my heart is leading me in the right direction. Here goes…

Shelving the Past

Recently, I had the pleasure of going for dinner with one of the most insightful people I know. We only see each other once every few months – he’s often travelling, touring, or teaching yoga day and night – but every time we get together I leave feeling incredibly uplifted and inspired.  We got onto an interesting topic last time we got together – the past – and how we have the tendency to hold onto it.

People always say the past helped them become the person they are today. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that – the past can be full of hardships and mistakes, as well as growth, deepening of relationships, and happy memories. Of course the past helps us become who we are today. But there’s a difference between allowing it to shape who you are, and allowing it to define who you are. We all have the choice between looking back on past experiences and archiving them in the vault of memory, or pinning them to our proverbial jackets for all to see in every walk of life.

We talked about the things from the past we’re guilty of dragging around with us into our present. Traced negative self-talk back to events in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood to find its origin. As you know, two of my bigger struggles are speaking in front of people, and dealing with how I look. The self-destructive things we allowed to be planted in our youth and grow into poisonous weeds that tangle around our every thought, holding us back from reaching our true potential.  I was in the middle of trying to explain how it feels to have a continual loop of self-detriment running through your head, worrying that the nerves and thoughts about yourself on the inside are going to spill out somehow and everyone will see exactly the same things you do – when my friend interrupted me with a smile.  “But they’re just stories“, he laughed.  “They’re all just stories we choose to keep telling ourselves; they’re not real.”

I’ve always been an advocate for the power of choice. Not blaming things or other people when things are crappy. Not waiting for tomorrow to roll around before deciding it can be a good day after all. Choosing hard work and determination over fear of failure. Questioning rumours rather than contributing to their continuation. Swallowing pride over perpetuating a grudge. But I’ve always had trouble with choosing not to beat myself up over things out of my control. I listen to the voice that tells me I’m not fun or attractive. That I’m too quiet, too awkward, too ugly. I let it hold me back in social situations and I allow it consume my thoughts. But after this conversation with my friend, I felt I really could let go. Close the door on the past experiences that lead to these unhealthy thinking patterns, acknowledge them for what they are – “just stories” – and choose to let go of them.

All sorts of things can happen to us throughout life, and unfortunately, as often as there will be people to lift you up and enrich your life, there will be people who hurt you. They may be deliberate, or they may be completely unintentional – but they can fester in the mind and take over a lifetime if you choose to let them. But there’s something incredibly powerful when you come to the realisation that you are choosing to perpetuate those stories you tell yourself, and you can choose to close the door. When you realise that you’ve had the choice all along to either be defined by the past, or keep it where it belongs. The past definitely shapes who we become, but it doesn’t need to accompany us day in, day out, telling us who we “are”. The danger comes when we start to believe we are the sum of our past mistakes and hardships. Labelling ourselves “awkward,” “ugly,” or “a sufferer” of this or that. If we keep telling ourselves the same stories, we start to believe it.  And in doing so, how we limit what we can become.

When you realise you alone have the power over those stories, it can be as simple as closing the book. Storing it on a shelf somewhere, always there, but up high and out of immediate sight – instead of carrying it everywhere, a heavy weight dragging down on the soul.  Choose how much credit you give those stories, and ask yourself if they’re really worth perpetuating. Choose to learn from the past, and then to let it remain there.  Choose whether you want to limit yourself by others’ definitions, or to let go of them and set yourself free. None of us need be a slave to stories.

Is there a book you’re dragging around with you that would be better off shelved?

Guest Post: The Power of Choice

This post is part of the Guest Blog Grand Tour over at Life Without Pants – an epic journey of over 75 guest posts. Want to learn more about Matt Cheuvront & see how far the rabbit hole goes? Subscribe to the Life Without Pants RSS feed & follow him on Twitter to keep in touch!

2009. What a year, huh? As December winds down, Christmas and New Years on the Horizon, we take time to reflect on the year that was. Throughout the year we get so caught up in our fast paced lives that we neglect to see how much has really happened. But as it all draws to a close we reminisce over the good times and the bad, the obstacles we’ve overcome and challenges that have come before us. And then, at least for me, I give myself a pat on the back, because odds are, the year behind me was a lot more productive than I thought.

This year has been especially difficult and also extremely rewarding for yours truly. If I used one word to describe everything that happened, it would be “transition” – changing jobs, changing homes, getting engaged, leaving friends and family and making new ones. There’s been a lot of change – it wasn’t easy – but I can sit where I am today and tell you that I’ve learned more about myself in the past year than I have in the past five.

I’ve reflected on life lessons learned this year over on my blog – but I wanted to take a different approach and share with you one of, if not the single most important and empowering thing I’m taking away from this year: The power of CHOICE.

We talk so much about a belief in fate versus free will. Fate will tell you that when you’re born, your path is pre-determined, that no matter what you do, the man upstairs has his mind made up for you – and you’re simply here to serve in that purpose. Free will takes the opposite stance – encouraging that you have the power to do anything you want in life, that your fate it what you make (Terminator, anyone?)

I believe in neither.

Instead, I believe in choice, the only thing that we CAN control. Let’s face it, we don’t have a say in everything that happens in our life. But it isn’t about fate – I’ll never admit that my path is predetermined. Life is going to throw you a shit storm from time to time, it’s not all slow pitches over the plate, there are going to be curves and sliders – things that will throw you off your game and keep you guessing – sometimes even striking out.

But what we CAN control is the choices we make every single day. Options are put before us and we have the power to make the right (or wrong) decisions – to mess up and learn from our mistakes, to overcome great obstacles through perseverance and persistence. Once you start believing in yourself and the power you have to make those choices, the sky is the limit for what you can achieve.

2009 has been an amazing year – not an easy one – but one I will never forget as a turning point in my life. And I know that I will never regret the choices I’ve made that have gotten me to where I am today.