goals

To Bring Out the Very Best in Others

I started writing this at the tail end of 2015, and the past few months have gone by in an absolute flash. It feels like just yesterday I was returning home from a whirlwind trip to Europe, starting a new job, and J. was moving in – a short-lived venture, as we bought our house the same week and moved into that in November. I can’t describe how thankful I am for the whole year – one that began on New Year’s Day in a sobbing fit alone on my living room floor, and one that ended with tales of adventure, journeys, growth, new friends, goodbyes, challenges, lots of growing up, and, come Christmas Eve, a beautiful ring on my finger that symbolises not just the never ending circle of infinity, but my own promises, vows, and endless love for this beautiful man. I’m honoured to be chosen by the one I still believe I dreamed into existence, and after a few years of rather terrible Christmases, I can honestly say December 25th was the probably the best day of my entire life. 🙂 We’re just going to enjoy this for the time being – togetherness, happiness, and the brink of forever – but I’m sure we’ll start talking about plans and such in a little while. 🙂 To me, I’d be happy making my vows in our living room in an old white dress- the only thing that matters, to me anyway, isn’t fancy decorations or thousands of dollars on dinners or lights or fireworks – it’s the moments those words are exchanged, entwine around each other, and are launched into the universe for all eternity.

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(That said, I wonder if we can be transported by hot air balloon up into the night sky and exchange vows floating in starlight? A girl can dream :))

I always find years wrap up with a word or two that does a brilliant job of encompassing everything that happened within them; a theme, if you will. 2015 was unexpected. In every way. I had no idea I would meet someone on Instagram, travel the world, lose the people I believed to be lifelong kindred spirits, and instead gain a new tribe of unconditionally awesome, genuine and sincere human beings. I had no idea I’d voluntarily give up a job I loved and end up with the word “Director” in my job title, go through three roommates, buy a house, go off all my medication, have a complete breakdown and go back on it again. I had no idea I’d start working toward a career in photography, or that my fiction, photographs, and modelling would all be published in print magazines. I had no idea I would gain and almost lose everything. I had no idea I’d write enough songs and grow enough balls to somehow find myself professionally recording an entire EP. I had no idea of the kindness of strangers and of friends, and that some of the worst and best days of my entire life would take place within these 365 days. If you are reading this, I imagine your year may have been unexpected, too. Goods and bads, successes and failures… we got through it. And we thrived.

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I added a clip of the MASTERED version of my first song to my campaign page. There are three days left. Click through to hear/please help if you can at all!! 🙂 ❤ I can’t believe this little uke song turned into this!! 🙂 (I also made a Facebook page! #becomingreal)

Work was a huge change for me this year. The circumstances that led to me landing my new position were interesting: I very much enjoyed where I was, because it was a place that not only allowed me to exercise my imagination, but being a creative female in a heavily male-dominated sales environment allowed me to stand out. I was welcomed on board along with my colleague as a breath of fresh air, and I was allowed to run with pretty much every crazy idea I had. (Star Wars Free Press ads and zombie TV spots included). I felt valued, and I had a supervisor who was willing, always, to teach with patience and kindness. I was congratulated and my work shown to the entire salesforce in team meetings and at trade shows. The positive reinforcement and patient encouragement and reception of new ideas was fuel for me, and as a lifelong overachiever, it motivated me to be the very best I could be.

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I now find myself in a much senior position. One in which I have someone reporting to me, and one in which I hold a large level of responsibility when it comes to an entire company’s corporate branding. The title is one I’ve always dreamed of, and upon hire, I was excited beyond belief to hear of a place where everyone’s opinion matters, where innovation is the name of the game, where I would be seen with the potential I could reach, and where I would be mentored to succeed. Leadership is always something I’ve been interested in – as an INFJ I derive my biggest personal satisfaction when I can be instrumental in helping others do well. I’ve just never formally been in a position to do so. This is why I am of the firm belief that anyone, anywhere, can be a leader, even simply within their own community, group of friends, or home.

25c29a664c3adbf6cb0376956dcc3b65I hoped to be given the opportunity to help transform a culture, and I was thrilled at the opportunity. (NF ding!) I want to be the kind of leader, in work and in life, that sees people for what they can achieve, not their immediate shortcomings, and help motivate them to become more. I want to help them see the potential within themselves and encourage them to chase after it. Because this has been done for me, and it has changed my self perception, and my life. I know not everyone is the same, but I think it’s pretty universal that people will respond better to positive reinforcement and tapping into intrinsic problem-solving than they will to fear and repeated messages of you’re not doing it right. Being shot down creates an atmosphere of fear – and results will undoubtedly reflect that. If your leadership cultivates an atmosphere of fear in order to get a job done, the job will get done, but it will not come with the enthusiasm, excitement, or additional effort or creativity that often accompany the most successful of projects. You will feel more likely to stay at home if you’re sick rather than coming in, because you will feel unappreciated and uncared for. If your leadership is one of inclusion, encouragement, and belief in your team – your team will be on your side and want to support and deliver on a project that does have those things. They will want to be your cheerleaders. Absenteeism will decrease, quality will increase, as will a sense of community and of belonging. The resulting job may be the same, but the added unseens, the team spirit, morale, contributors’ confidence, loyalty, excitement and motivation – can only exist when the tone is set from the start.

Am I wrong? I think this can also be applied to life outside of work, too, and it’s something that’s been on my mind a fair bit lately.

I’ve read a lot of John Maxwell’s leadership books in the past, and actually was fortunate enough to spend a few years working in a place that not only offered Lunch and Learns, where the boss gave everyone the opportunity to take part in a leadership course, share ideas, and develop ourselves over a few lunch hours, but also offered a yearly retreat, usually revolving around the curriculum of one of his books. The one I went on was based on the book Put Your Dream To The Test – an overnight, two-day stay together watching DVDs and reading chapters and having group discussions as well as fun dinners and board games in the evenings. This was a non-profit organization with very little money, but with a culture of truly believing in its team members, in unity, in a common goal, and in personal development. They thought outside the box and really helped develop everyone as leaders in their own right, helped them realise what their individual dreams were, helped foster a culture of inclusion where everyone felt safe to express and contribute, and helped develop better human beings. The CEO was actively involved in morning meetings, extracurricular events, and sold me on the idea of creating a personal board of directors (it’s worth reading, for the idea alone) for your own life. A brilliant idea: be selective in those with whom you choose to share your innermost everything, and trust those who’ve earned yours time and time again. A personal board of directors will always guide you in the right direction, without judgment, and certainly without steering you off course for reasons of their own.

I’ve landed myself in roles in the past and felt the familiar INFJ twinges tugging at my heart. Why aren’t people supportive of each other? Why is morale so low? Why are people more concerned about succeeding themselves rather than helping others? I encounter it time and time again. In each job I will try to bring extra things I believe will improve team spirit, increase positivity, and a feeling of belonging and being valued. Things like field trips, parties, pot lucks, MBTI assessments, internal newsletters… things that go beyond day to day duties and actually help people get to see each other as just that: human beings. Human beings whose skill sets are all part of a giant team effort to help the company be successful. When people feel seen, heard, and valued, that effort will multiply. Relationships will strengthen. There will be harmony. When people feel replaceable, or worse, are chastised when brave enough to think outside of the box – you’re not going to get that out of them.

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As a leader in our own lives, I think our goal should always be to help others be the very best they can be. In work, in friendships, in relationships, even in day to day interactions with random people on the bus. Everything we say, post online… everything we write in an e-mail, every tone with which we choose to wrap our words can be interpreted in a myriad different ways because no two people are the same. This is the cause of all life’s misunderstandings and overanalyses! We can choose to learn each other – to put the effort into truly knowing them and how they are wired, what their needs are – communicate accordingly, and watch them flourish – or we can communicate in the only, rather self-focused way we know how – branding anyone who thinks differently “too sensitive”, “rebellious”, “useless”, or “too emotional”. The list goes on. Contrarily, as one often accused of being far too sensitive, I see many people that I personally judge to be “too closed minded”, “too opinionated”, “too confrontational”, or “too cold”. Nobody’s not guilty of this. Anyone that differs from ourselves can easily be called “too” this or that. But if we all took a moment to acknowledge that everyone is wired differently (it’s all just various combinations of brain chemistry, after all), and took the time to see their potential and encourage them to reach for it by speaking their language, I think the world would be a much happier place.

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I used to think it came down to treating people as you’d want to be treated. (Grandmas know best!) But I’ve learned that life is infinitely richer, fuller, and deeper when you treat people as they’d want to be treated. At work? Take the time to learn about your coworkers or employees. See what they react to. Get a sense of their vulnerabilities and strengths, and nurture the latter. If you want somebody to become something more than they are, learn their language and speak it if you want to see results. People blossom when someone speaks to them in their own language, especially when it’s not one’s own.

12346342_10153900478369171_1587333639328318231_nA great example of this recently for me has been working with my friend Dave. Like most of the best people I know, Dave came from the Internet in response to a call-out asking if anyone might be interested in working with me to get my EP out of my head and into being a real thing. I had no idea who he was, but over the past few months he has taken my little ukulele song and transformed it into something people keep telling me “could top charts” (I DON’T know about that, haha). I’m still too nervous to sing in front of people, so in the recording process, he built me a fort out of blankets and room dividers. At the recording studio itself, they turned the lights off in the booth and put candles in there. When I cried because I thought I was doing terribly, I was brought tissues, and my subsequent vocals encouraged for having emotion in them. Every time I missed a note, I’d just be asked quickly, behind my wall of blankets, “that was great, can we try it again?” No reprimanding. No actual pointing out of my cock-ups, even though I knew they were there. Just positive encouragement. And that form of mentoring and leadership brought out the very best in me.

This is what I want to do for others. I want to learn them. In relationships: I’ve learned my “language” is, unsurprisingly, one of words. I like to be told things, and I like letters and notes and messages. Other people may like demonstrations of service (cleaning the house, picking up groceries), or physical affection. People communicate in different languages, and each is valid. I know very well that not everybody needs the same type of communication as I do – I’ve learned that my levels of feeling, caring, etc. can be… intense, and sometimes when good intentioned, can come across as overbearing and actually drive people away.  These are all good lessons – the bottom line being to pay less attention to your own needs and more to the needs of those around you. Becoming fluent in another’s language is like a direct line to their soul, and every relationship, whether at work, home, or in friendships, will flourish as a result. 

Happy new year, everybody. May it be full of harmony, growth, wisdom, fun, reflection, happiness, and adventure. 🙂

Life Doesn’t Stop for Anybody

“Things change. And friends leave. Life doesn’t stop for anybody.” – The Perks of Being a Wallflower

It’s hard to believe three months have gone by. I sit here in the middle of an unusually temperate November, sun shining and snow still a daydream away, and reflect on the weeks that have been with a twang of disbelief. Three months ago, I was still working at a car dealership (and loving it; though as always seems to be the way, the jobs you adore most are the ones that make it the hardest to make ends meet), living alone in a house I was renting from my father. Well, I say alone; Rose makes for the best roommate in the world but has never done much in the way of paying her way.

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panSince then, I have travelled Europe. The love of my life moved in with me, and I gained a cousin, too. I quit my job for a 32% increase in pay, a fancy title, a level up in responsibility, and a whole lot of Lessons In Developing A Thicker Skin. The weekend of the move-in, we also ended up buying another house. Though all incredibly exciting and terribly grown-up, all of this happened within about a month – the resulting excitement being rather diluted by stress and worry. Getting lost in foreign countries, changing friend circles, big new jobs and buying houses I’m told rank pretty highly on the stress scale, so the last couple of months have had their fair share of tears. But I have absolutely nothing to complain about.

I’ve seen lots of complaining lately. Friends, family, colleagues; I’ve been guilty of it myself. Starbucks Cupgate 2015? Makes me want to punch people in the face. I was listening to a news story on the way in to work this morning about a couple who’d planned to get married this Christmas and recently welcomed a baby into the world, after which the groom was diagnosed with a terminal illness. They are instead getting married today, and the city is helping in droves with things like donated photography, videography etc. It’s a true lesson in perspective: nothing, no matter how important it seems in the moment, is more important than loving each other. Our life is finite. Every second spent focusing on something that, let’s be honest, we won’t even remember at the end of our lives, is a waste of a gift. Perspective and gratitude should always be at the forefront, no matter how stressful things may seem in the moment.

This idea was once inspiration for a song I wrote a long time ago. I was working in a position I could only remain in for about six months – when you invest the largest chunk of your everyday life into an environment and a vision, you really have to be on the same wavelength as those surrounding you. Sometimes you enter into new ventures and find, for some reason or other, the way you are and the way things are are incompatible. Sometimes it’s physical – I could never show up at a building site and expect to have a successful career as a 110 lb construction worker. But sometimes it’s mental, and though I pride myself on endeavours of unity, sometimes you are simply outnumbered. You’re a thoroughly sensitive INFJ whose strengths are in words, feelings, ideas and relationships, in a fishbowl of Ts who have no patience for such things, because such things don’t fit the corporate mould. My chorus:

When you speak, can you hear yourself?
The hourglass is upside down.
Will you remember any of this,
When life is on its way out?

Funnily enough, that song was resurrected over the last month by a new friend of mine. During the summer, my band parted ways, and I was left with half a dozen handwritten songs and an enormous longing for people to work on them with. After putting out a plea to every musically-inclined soul I know on Facebook, I was met with interest! Guitarists, vocalists, digital artists, producers! People all genuinely willing to lend their time and talent to collaborating with me. In a burst of disbelief, excitement, and giddy enthusiasm, I somehow went from wishing for people to jam with to creating an entire EP – and this song, which initially didn’t even make the shortlist, became first in line for a complete makeover.

Over the past few weeks, my friend Dave has taken this from a tiny little acoustic ukulele track I threw up on the Internet moments after writing (and promptly forgot about) to… an epic, radio-worthy ballad I’ve fallen in love with. It has more layers than I could count… harmonies, instrumentation, swoops and whooshes and texture and big moments that brought me to tears the first time I heard it. I am so incredibly lucky to know such kind and talented people. Words cannot describe how it feels to look back and remember how terrified I used to be of even speaking in front of people, anxiety-ridden nights spent wishing I had the confidence to let the inside out without fear of judgment… and now feel ready to put my heart and soul out there for the world to see. I’ve been doing it for years behind a computer screen, but to be able to do this now… is everything I’ve ever dreamed of.

Still on topic (trust me), I picked up a book earlier this summer: The Art Of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help. I’ve not followed Amanda Palmer‘s career a whole lot, but I do know she’s married to one of my favourite authors of all time, and I do know that as soon as I saw the title, that book’s contents belonged in my head. I haven’t read it yet – but I think now is the perfect time. I’ve somehow found myself on the path that will lead me to one of the biggest dreams I’ve ever had for life, but in order to reach the destination, I do need help.

I was reluctant to start a fundraiser (stay with me!) because I hate asking people for money. I hate feeling like I’m begging (please never put me in your wedding party if you’re having a social), and I hate seeing all the people see your cause and choose not to help. I take things way too personally at the best of times, so this sounded like a recipe for disaster until I talked to a couple of wise musician friends of mine and learned a few things. Notably: “Crowd funding isn’t a begging platform (which is good because no one likes begging), it’s a sales platform. The people who succeed are those who already have an audience that would have bought the final product; it just moves the chronology of payment around. People contribute to a crowd funding campaign because they feel like they’re buying something they want to buy. And ultimately, they’ll receive something for their investment.”

Huh. It really is just a chronologically wibbly-wobbly way of exchanging funds for a product. Anyone who donates to this campaign will receive something in return, even if all they donate is the cost of a coffee. Music, handwritten notes, photoshoots, a free CD… all in addition to the knowledge that they helped make someone who was once scared of everything make their dream come true. Any and all funds raised will go to the cost of the production of this record. Two very talented producers have been kind enough to gift a month’s work (so far) to me for my first track, and have given me a good quote on the cost of producing the whole thing, but I can’t afford it. I also want to repay the kindness of those who’re collaborating with me – fellow musicians, singers, and artists (the artwork, done by my good friend Jen, is out of this world), in addition to the cost of physically making this a thing. A lot of people have seen the campaign, and a few amazingly kind souls have been generous enough to support, but there is a long way to go. I have another 57 days, and I know it’s going to go by in a flash.

If you have two minutes and can afford to help in any way, your support would mean more than you could ever know. Story, sample, and link to donate below. Thank you ❤

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 Simpsons, Ratatouille, The Incredibles, Mission: 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.

Black and White in a World of Technicolour

I first encountered the phrase “black and white thinking” a couple of years ago when I met with someone at the local Anxiety Disorders Association prior to starting any programming, exercises or medication. This was probably half a decade ago now, and I remember sitting in a very welcoming lady’s office and noticing that despite probably being well into her fifties, she had one of the prettiest, most inviting faces I’d ever seen, as well as a head of beautiful brown curls. Her face was etched with countless lines, but all I remember seeing in it was kindness and beauty. The purpose of my visit at this point was, after a referral from my doctor, to have a discussion to see what type of anxiety disorder I had. Social? Panic? Generalised? I don’t remember much of what was said, but I do remember her opening a book at a page listing a series of symptoms and feelings, and asking me which I related to. I remember bursting into tears when I realised my life was filled with every single thing on the list, and feeling like it was complete and utter confirmation that I was thoroughly flawed. Broken. I wasn’t able to finish the assessment, and I vowed never to go back—stepping foot inside that building again would be a reminder that I was fundamentally wrong, and I knew if I stayed out, I could pretend. I could do it by myself.

Fast-forward a couple of years and I did end up back in that very same building, taking that very same assessment. I’d done what I could on my own—set up and near-completed a list of everything I was ever afraid of (then, in true INFJ fashion, made another one!), tackled fears head-on (even if they resulted in various instances of throwing up or sobbing my heart out feeling my efforts weren’t good enough), but I still had Serious Issues. We could go back for hours talking about where they came from, but the point was they were still there. At this point, I went through the program. I started counselling and medication and I started doing my homework. I did a lot of reading and a lot of learning, not on how to “conquer” anxiety, because I think I’ll always be a worrier, but how to manage the destructive thoughts and feelings that had buried themselves so deeply into my skin that they’d become part of my identity.

My then-boyfriend broke up with me several times over anxiety-related issues. Each time I felt once again that I wasn’t good enough, and that I had to do better, be more, in order to be worthy of being wanted. I felt like I had to prove myself for two whole years, but looking back, I’m glad things unfolded the way they did. Even if the motivation at the time was fuelled by insecurity, being forced to learn independence and how to manage my thoughts made me strong enough to accept the final breakup when it did happen. I’d learned I needed—and deserved—more than always having to prove myself and beg desperately simply to feel wanted.

That was a tangent, but it leads me back to the idea of black and white thinking. Throughout all that, I was taught that it was a terrible thing, and that it was part of my anxiety that had to be eliminated. Yes, I did learn that sometimes, not being able to see the in-between can blind you to the best solution. It’s horribly self-centred of me to believe that there are only two ways of seeing things and that anything else is completely invalid, but at the same time, I hate the idea of wasting a single day on things that don’t align with what life should be. Trivialities, chores, arguments, Facebook… we have one life, and each day is falling away from us faster and faster as we get older. We don’t know how many we have left. We hope there’ll be lots, but there are no guarantees. None. So on one hand, I do acknowledge that being too focused on not wasting time prevents you from giving time to situations when that’s exactly the thing that others involved may expect or need—but on the other, perhaps more dominant hand, being able to quickly see how things are, whether or not they line up with how they should be, and make an immediate call to action to improve them results in more time being spent on the things that matter. I realise that not everyone operates this way, and I acknowledge the value in devoting time to truly exploring the best way forward. I just have an unequivocable need to bridge any discrepancy between how things are and how they’re meant to be as quickly as possible, so as to make the most of however many moments we’re given on this planet.

BridgeI’m not just talking about times of conflict. I’m talking about goals in life, too. I honestly think if I hadn’t put everything out there for the world to see, I would have had no reason to remain accountable or take action, and I would probably still be huddled away in my cubicle at lunchtime so inwardly full of dreams and so outwardly terrified of judgment and failure. What a waste of this gift of time. When I first met AC, I saw someone passionate about music. Someone who’d begun with the same dream but had been as scared as I was, who’d taken the leap into performing and a year later, fronted a band, had written dozens of songs, and had turned that dream into reality. I wished desperately for someone I might be able to begin the same journey with, and when he was actually open to starting a band with me, my brain quickly weighed out the options in a flash: fight or flight. This was my option to fight the fear that had kept me off stage for nigh on a decade, so I grabbed onto it tightly, all the while counting my lucky stars for the opportunity. That night, I sang something, and made him face the other direction I was so nervous. But a few hours later, we were singing together, and I’d decided we were going to perform publicly in two weeks’ time. I remember him telling me it didn’t have to be so soon, that I could take my time and ease into it. And I remember saying that as scared as I was, it was something I wanted to be able to do, and there was no point wasting any more months being afraid when the opportunity to just do it was staring me in the face. The thing is, opportunities are all around us. If you don’t like something about your life, you have every power to change it. All you have to do is decide to, and take action. It’s been almost three months since we started our little duo, and I’ve got a log of six performance diaries already, music videos of us on YouTube, a rather official looking Facebook page, and photos of myself actually enjoying being on stage. Three months, and already so very much closer to where I want to be—all because of black and white thinking.

Video shoot screencap

I’m trying to walk the line between what I believe to be the benefits of black and white thinking and what others around me may need. Do I try to convince them of my rationale? I think any time someone tries to get someone to see things their way, if it’s done with the intention of bettering things, practices, thoughts or processes, it’s almost a crime not to—only when one tries to convince purely for the sake of being right is the endeavour wrongly entered into. But I have to respect that other people’s methods and ways of doing things are just as valid to them as mine are to me. It’s a strange balancing act, but I had to put it out there. If there’s a situation, a goal, or a life you want to be leading and aren’t, whether it’s ten minutes from the present or ten years away, realizing the discrepancy between what you’re actually doing right now and whether or not it’s going to get you where you want to be can be an immediate call back to the right direction. Things can be as simple as switching your mindset; breaking the cycle of immediate emotion and focusing instead on how your current actions are affecting the big picture. Life is finite, and that’s a scary thought. Why fill any period of time with grey when it could be filled with technicolour?

“It won’t last, so be bold, choose your path, show soul, live fast and die old.”

Yep, one more Frank Turner lyric, and that’s officially cemented the fact that some of his words are going to be added to the sleeve next time around — not those specific ones, but If Ever I Stray had a great message, as did Glory Hallelujah and The Road, and I love his spirit of persisting through knockdowns and the eternal determination to get back up, moving forward, and kicking ass. (Anyone got the new record? Full of the heartache and the gut-wrenching honesty of a relationship breakdown, but portrayed with upbeat rock and roll, Donnie Darko and Rocky Horror references and a cheery piano that will drag you back onto your heels and up to face the world again. I love his ability to declaring that things royally suck in a way that’s ridiculously uplifting and kind of demands a punk rock dance party.)

I digress – today’s lyric kind of reflects a bit of a theme that’s arisen lately, and it called me back to a list I made almost a year ago of things I was going to do before 30.

“You shouldn’t wait for something terrible to happen before you decide to grab life by the throat and live it to pieces (thank you Frank) – but that being said, when something terrible does happen, you do kind of realise that life is short, and it’s probably better off not to spend it on crap you’ll either forget or regret when the end is drawing near. […] Two of the biggest things I’ve learned are that a) time is short, that every second should be spent wisely, and that trivial things should never be prioritised over what ultimately means most in life, and b) shit happens, but the only way it’s going to stop happening is if you decide to take action rather than whine about it.

Blogging about my goal list over the course of the last two years is hands down the reason I kept going. Once you put something out there for the world to see, you feel like you owe it to them to follow through on your promises. And you owe it to yourself to stay accountable, and not look like a lazy bastard. 

[…] So I’m going to make a 30 Before 30. When I made the last list, it wasn’t just a bucket list of stuff I thought might be kind of neat – it was a list of things I was terribly afraid of, but things I was desperate to be able to do (but that most people probably checked off by the time they reached puberty). I want to challenge myself, grow, learn new things, throw myself outside what’s comfortable and hope for the best. I want to learn to stop giving a crap about things and people that don’t factor into the big picture, and I want to focus only on the things that do. I want to learn to accept my weaknesses and faults, and actively try to change them. I want to learn what is most comfortable, and spend some time nurturing that as well as trying what’s not. I don’t want to get to the end without any scars. I want to get there knowing I did something, and I want to know more fully who exactly I am. I think once you’ve figured that out, it’s pretty much time to kick the bucket, but I think there’s enormous value in exploring yourself, learning to be comfortable with what’s there, and challenging yourself to be even more. I think it was good to have tried things I was afraid of, but I tend to give myself a hard time for not having done them perfectly – my goal wasn’t just to attempt them, but to do them fearlessly, and in that respect, it’s hard not to focus on shortcomings. But on the other hand, I think points are generally given for effort, so I think as long as I keep trying, maybe I’ll learn to give myself a bit of a break.  It doesn’t matter what direction you’re going or if you even know where you’re going, as long as you’re moving forward.  And move forward I shall.

[…] I have two years left of my twenties. I still have so much to learn, so much to improve, so much to tackle and so much to try. I have so many goals I want to throw out there into the universe and make sure I always keep working on. I have activities I want to experience, moments I want to share, places I want to see, and project I want to complete. And I want to spend every day focusing on all of them. Nobody, they say, gets remembered for the things they didn’t do. So here goes.”

Life has been such a whirlwind lately that I don’t think I’ve actually checked in with this list, but looking back on it now, I see the first thing on the list was to do with music.

“I want to lose the awkwardness, the terror at the thought of singing in front of a single person, learn to have some sort of presence, and actually not kind of suck at something I actually really enjoy.”

When I wrote that I think I had a handful of lame YouTube videos up, ones in which I’d tried to sing and play but definitely wasn’t doing it to the level I wanted to be. It was like my fear of being heard for what I really am was physically stifling my voice, and I sounded like a little mouse. I so wanted to not be that quiet, whispery singer who only does songs in her bedroom when nobody’s home. I so wanted to sing Big Songs and not be afraid to do it in my own home. I so wanted to prove I could do it, for myself, and eventually, for other people.

So it’s been 9 months. I’ve invested in a lot of music equipment (Psych 101 taught me that the brain will convince itself to make use of things if they’ve been a bit investment), and I can record with a mic and an amp now. I’m still recording off my phone, but that’s not a big issue. I took a series of piano lessons (which didn’t come back as naturally as I’d hoped), and I think I started getting braver in what I was singing and posting to the internet. And then something magical happened. First, I stopped cringing so much and started feeling a tiny bit proud of myself. Second, somebody in a real band told me they preferred my voice to their own singer’s. And thirdly, somehow I joined a band. (More likes = more accountability!)

City of Bridges

The first few jamming sessions were scary. Tonnes of fun, but scary. I think even proper singers will say it’s harder to sing in front of one or a small group of people than a big crowd, because all the attention is on you. But after a couple of practices, I’m actually starting to feel more comfortable – and slightly excited at the thought of performing. In two or three weeks. Yep, I figured if I was going to do this, I wasn’t going to wait another nine months sitting in my bedroom mustering up the courage to do it, so I’m making it as public as possible so I have to stay accountable. It’s just going to be an open mic, but I have a couple of weeks to get my arse in gear, stop fretting, overanalysing and psyching myself out, get excited, and sing like I’ve always wanted to. The topic of why, as an introvert, I want to do these things, is something I’m trying to answer in my head. I think it has something to do with avoiding regret, maybe something to do with proving myself (to whom, I’m not sure), something to do with always becoming more (or at least trying)… but I don’t have a good answer yet. Maybe I will when the idea of performing doesn’t make me want to throw up so much. 🙂

Right now, I’m sitting at about 15% excitement and 85% pure terror. It’ll be interesting to look back in a few months, or a year or two, and see if anything’s changed. Wish me luck?

The Anti-Romanticism of Pathology

I haven’t been writing here half as often as I used to. I’ve been spending most of my writing time on fiction for the last little while (enormous thanks to those darlings who took a peek at my recent short story!), and when I’m not doing that, I’m making various endeavors to learn to play musical instruments, getting more tattoos, and decorating for my cats (seriously, this is in a frame above their food dishes. It is important for me to chronicle this life of mine through writing, but lately I’ve found it slightly hypocritical to do so without actually spending it living. Still, I’ve been taking lots of pictures and recording lots of videos (which I’m sure will come back to haunt me in the not-too-distant future), and connecting regularly with some really awesome people.

But recent life hasn’t all been smooth. I’ve always maintained the importance of eternally moving forward, no matter in which direction, but for a little while over the few months leading up to Christmas, I felt myself being pulled toward a dangerous destination. A place where old, distorted ways of thinking wrapped their way around the progress and masqueraded as reality. And that called for action.

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From late 2011 until about spring 2012, I started to see a counsellor. I also started taking medication for my anxiety for the first time in my life. I went through a ten-week course with the Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba, I did my homework, and after a few months, my case was closed. But toward the end of 2012, I found myself immersed every day in what felt like a pool of toxins that began to insidiously creep in and distort my entire mentality. No longer was I spreading my wings on the vast ocean of possibility, but I was becoming caged, torn between my own vision of capabilities and the person I had to be in order to comply to that environment’s standard. I’ve always been motivated by achievement and surpassing others’ expectations, but when your wings are clipped and all you’re left with is a dream of what you could be doing, you begin to question the capabilities you had in the first place. Everyone around me told me what a huge, positive difference I’d made. But those with authority over me saw nothing but someone stepping beyond their role, taking on too many “extra-curriculars” – necessities, in my mind, for a successful operation – and pointing out all the places things could be done better. I was someone who didn’t fit the corporate mould.

“I’m too good for that, there’s a mind under this hat;” words to a favourite song come to mind. “I speak because I can to anyone I trust enough to listen; you speak because you can to anyone who’ll hear what you say.”

I mean no malice in writing these words, but I have to be true to the reason that led me down the path of old habits and distorted imaginings, things that led me toward the place I used to be. I started feeling that if all my achievements, hard work, creativity and dedication to bettering something meant nothing, then maybe the same held true for myself as a person. Maybe the same held true for my friendships and relationships; maybe I personally felt I was doing all the right things but maybe I had it all wrong. So I started looking for signs. And in doing so, I saw my insecurities manifest from thin wisps of possibility into a corporeal monster that tore away at everything I held dear. Something had to be done. Something had to be done now.

So I went to see a psychiatrist. Re-opened my case with my counsellor, who, after a session, recognised where I was and wanted someone who specialised in mental health to help me. I’d been on the medication for about a year, but I apparently should have been getting infinitely more benefit from it than I was.

The assessment consisted of a one-hour booking which turned into a near two-hour session with me, my counsellor, and a young psychiatrist. I think I threw him a little by being so on the ball with my own mentality, and after an extensive fleshing out of my childhood, my cross-continental uprooting, my traumatic experience of a “marriage”, my amazing but heartbreakingly ill partner and my increasingly toxic work environment, he decided I “didn’t fit any one mould.” I learned that within classifications of the various mental illnesses any one person could have, there were “cluster A, B and C trait” characteristics, each subsequent one being less common than the last, but still possibly present. I didn’t have a textbook anxiety disorder. I definitely didn’t have social anxiety, which explains why I felt so out of place in the ten-week program I attended a year ago. I didn’t have generalised anxiety either, but I did have B- and C-cluster traits of a “non specified anxiety disorder”. Additionally, I had the same for borderline personality disorder. He made it very clear I didn’t have BPD   – but my heightened concern about others’ perception of me being “good enough” and continual fear of abandonment fall into that realm.

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The fact that I didn’t fit neatly in one box didn’t surprise me. I never have in any area of my life, and only recently found peace with simultaneously being a fiercely passionate creative with a love for arts and language and an enormous sci-fi, psychology and science nerd with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I never have been typical, and this plagued me for most of my life. But I think I’ve learned to embrace the uniqueness – and so the diagnosis, as it were, didn’t upset me. He recommended a change in medication, some mental exercises, and to check in with my doctor and counsellor regularly over the next couple of months.

“There is nothing less romantic, literary, or lyrical than the language of pathology, diagnosis, symptom checklists. As I read through these checklists over and over again I was struck by the harshness, the crudeness of the terminology. And once the evaluation process began, more and more distinctly unpoetic terms were added to the lists, as the problems quickly grew in scope and seriousness.”  — Priscilla Gilman

It’s hard to put this stuff out into the world, to admit that you’re flawed, but I want to remember the journey. I’m not scared of being judged for it because I know I’m really doing something about it. And I tell myself that makes me brave. On top of that, I am so much more than a diagnosis. I’m someone who takes action when things get sucky, I’m someone dedicated to bettering myself, I’m someone who makes goals and follows through on them, and I’m someone who feels the fear and goes ahead and tries anyway. I’m someone who sees beauty in the universe and feels so very deeply, and I’m someone who’ll be a brilliant friend if you’ll let me. I am so much more than a diagnosis, and this is merely a stop on the map that will lead me to where I believe I’m supposed to be. I know a lot of people are reluctant to turn to medication when it comes  to issues of mental health, usually due to the strange notion that becoming dependent on them is both terrifying and bad. Is it so terrifying when one has something as terrible as cancer and “depends” on medication for a better quality of life? Why the double standard when it comes to issues of the mind?

So it’s been a couple of weeks. The first night I began the new meds I was promptly knocked the hell out for a good fifteen hours, and struggled to stay awake past 8 PM for the next few nights. But that very first day, I was blown away by how quickly I felt so much better. It felt like I’d been living with my heart in a vice that had finally been released and allowed to breathe. I felt free, and it felt strange – it felt like the continual physical tension and weight of anxiety and worry I hadn’t even realised was there was gone. I was just about to go into a brand new job, and I found myself excited, without a trace of fear. It was beyond bizarre. But I couldn’t be happier. This freeing has left me with a sense of urgency – to dive into the world around me and do all those things I’d set out to do, knowing how much easier they’re all going to be. Knowing that the joy and adrenaline will finally outweigh the fear. My first week at work is going swimmingly, and the plan is to get up and perform at an open mic within the next two weeks (without throwing up afterward).

[via]

I think this is the start of brilliant things.

Now I’m Officially Old: Perspective, Fears, Goals and Dreams Before 30

So it’s been a full two years since the 26 Before 26 – which turned into a bit of a 26 before 27, but I think I just about got there in the end. Last week I turned 27 (and got a SWORD from my amazing boyfriend!), and, seeing as I think that officially puts me into the “late twenties” category, I’m going to go ahead and do it all over again. This birthday, I’m going to make a 30 Before 30. I’m going to become Jack Nicholson, except without portraying cancer as a fun adventure leading to some sort of clichĂ©d (and rather irritating) epiphany. You shouldn’t wait for something terrible to happen before you decide to grab life by the throat and live it to pieces (thank you Frank) – but that being said, when something terrible does happen, you do kind of realise that life is short, and it’s probably better off not to spend it on crap you’ll either forget or regret when the end is drawing near.

Yes, some pretty rubbish things have happened over the last year. My ex husband disappeared, went crazy, and came back a different person who left shortly afterward for good waving a crucifix around in the air.  My anxiety got to an all time high, which resulted in a lot of crying, a lot of damage, and a lot of people sodding off. I lived in a hobbit-sized apartment with a git of a landlord who almost lost my cat, charged me almost $1,000 a month, and let my ceiling remain pretty much collapsed for two of the coldest months of the year. I got into a car crash and totalled my boyfriend’s car a week before my driving test. And the man I love is incredibly sick, and I can’t do anything to take it away. Many of my real-life friends are fully aware of the prognosis and day-to-day details, but it’s not my place to broadcast the details across the internet. But it’s really, really hard. So it hasn’t been the easiest year, but it has put things very much into perspective for me. Two of the biggest things I’ve learned are that a) time is short, that every second should be spent wisely, and that trivial things should never be prioritised over what ultimately means most in life, and b) shit happens, but the only way it’s going to stop happening is if you decide to take action rather than whine about it.

Blogging about my goal list over the course of the last two years is hands down the reason I kept going. Once you put something out there for the world to see, you feel like you owe it to them to follow through on your promises. And you owe it to yourself to stay accountable, and not look like a lazy bastard. Blogging’s taken a bit of a back seat lately because I’m spending most of my free time working on the novel. But it’s still important for me to keep some sort of record of 2012, even if it’s only every month or two. To continue to immortalise life as it is, life as it was, to look back on and remember how everything felt exactly as it happened. My words are my legacy, and I’m not going to abandon them. That’s another thing I’ve learned – we all have the same amount of minutes in every day, and complaining about “not having time” for something important to you is incredibly defeatist. If it’s truly important, you make time.

So I’m going to make a 30 Before 30. And this time, it’s not going to be lame! When I made the last list, it wasn’t just a bucket list of stuff I thought might be kind of neat – it was a list of things I was terribly afraid of, but things I was desperate to be able to do (but that most people probably checked off by the time they reached puberty). Reading out loud and speaking to people on the actual telephone don’t make for the most exciting of reading material, and I think I’ve taken enough of the small steps to move onto the bigger ones. I promise it’ll be more exciting this year. I want to challenge myself, grow, learn new things, throw myself outside what’s comfortable and hope for the best. I want to learn to stop giving a crap about things and people that don’t factor into the big picture, and I want to focus only on the things that do. I want to learn to accept my weaknesses and faults, and actively try to change them. I want to learn what is most comfortable, and spend some time nurturing that as well as trying what’s not. I don’t want to get to the end without any scars. I want to get there knowing I did something, and I want to know more fully who exactly I am. I think once you’ve figured that out, it’s pretty much time to kick the bucket, but I think there’s enormous value in exploring yourself, learning to be comfortable with what’s there, and challenging yourself to be even more. I think I’m on the right track. I think it was good to have tried things I was afraid of, but I tend to give myself a hard time for not having done them perfectly – my goal wasn’t just to attempt them, but to do them fearlessly, and in that respect, it’s hard not to focus on shortcomings. But on the other hand, I think points are generally given for effort, so I think as long as I keep trying, maybe I’ll learn to give myself a bit of a break.  It doesn’t matter what direction you’re going or if you even know where you’re going, as long as you’re moving forward.  And move forward I shall.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to truly “conquer” anxiety, or not be a worrier. There’s a fine line between habits and innate personality traits, and hard as I work at changing behaviours and thought patterns, I think there’s always going to be something there that’s simply part of who I am. I think it would be a terrible thing if we could easily change who we are, but I think with enough effort and determination, we can change habits that may masquerade as personality.  I know I’m always going to be sensitive, and I’m always going to have introverted tendencies over extraversion. I know I’m always going to cry when I think of animals being mistreated (even in Pixar movies) or losing loved ones (also even in Pixar movies… yes, I just finished watching Up), or when I feel like I’ve let someone down. But I just have to look at these things and instead of eliminating them, maybe just working on getting them in check, – maybe trying to see the positive side of them is the way to go. Yes, I hate that I’m so incredibly sensitive and cry so often. But I’m proud of the fact that I feel with the absolute maximum capacity I have, and care so deeply about what’s important to me. And if weeping like a Shakespearean B-lister every night is the result, then I think it’s a small price to pay.

I have two years left of my twenties. I still have so much to learn, so much to improve, so much to tackle and so much to try. I have so many goals I want to throw out there into the universe and make sure I always keep working on. I have activities I want to experience, moments I want to share, places I want to see, and project I want to complete. And I want to spend every day focusing on all of them. Nobody, they say, gets remembered for the things they didn’t do. So here goes.

1. Become a proper ukulele player (i.e. learn more than six chords), and learn how to play guitar. I love that I can play – not well, I might add – something whenever I have the desire to spontaneously burst into song, and I love that I’ve made enough lame videos to not be so self conscious about people other than the cat hearing me. But I want to lose the awkwardness, the terror at the thought of singing in front of a single person, learn to have some sort of presence, and actually not kind of suck at something I actually really enjoy.

Thanks Corey for sharing this gem

2. Finish the novel. All 100,000 words of it. Get it published, whether self or through a publisher, and see just one copy for sale in a local bookstore. I’m about a tenth of the way through my first draft right now, and I’m addicted. I love the premise. I love the poor, twisted characters. I love that I have enough fuel from real life stuff and my own mental meanderings to create such a creepy world. Thank you, everyone who’s ever been a psycho!

3. Go an entire month without crying. Right now I think it’d be pretty accurate to say I cry every two or three days. Not because I’m sad or lonely or depressed, but usually about things I care so bloody much about. I cry because of loved ones in pain and me being powerless to do anything about it. I cry because of how lucky I feel to have such incredible people in my life. I cry at the thought of never having met them. I cry when I think about animals in pain. And I cry because sometimes, the chasm between where I am and where I want to be is bigger than I’d like, and I feel like I’m letting people down. I’m not a miserable person by any means, but I feel things with enormous emotional impact. I’d just like to be able to get the physiological consequence of that under control.

4. Do whatever I can to travel home to England or to see more of Europe. I haven’t travelled far away for a few years now, and I miss it terribly. I did take an amazing road trip back in March though, which was pretty amazing – if I can’t go too far, I’d really love to do another one and make it all the way to SF Comic Con. 🙂

5. Get a text sleeve. Or a partial one. I saw this forever ago and absolutely fell in love with it. Now I’m not going to go as big as my entire arm – initially I wanted to go with the same spot as my other arm tattoo, but then I figured a) it’d probably look like I’d been in prison, and b) it’d probably look like I’d been in prison. Plus I’ve never been one for symmetry anyway. So I think I’m going with my other arm, maybe along the back of the tricep, or over the shoulder. I’ve compiled a few of my favourite quotes and hacked them out visually to get this sort of effect. And I can’t wait.

6. Stop picking my damn thumbs. Is this what giving up smoking feels like? Instead of rotting away my lungs I’m mutilating my hands at every opportunity. It makes NO SENSE. I look nervous, it’s gross, it hurts, and it makes my hands look they they’ve fallen victim to the Vidiian Phage – but for some reason I can’t stop digging my nails into my thumbs and peeling them until they bleed. It’s the most disgusting habit ever. I’ve tried fiddling with hair bands, getting manicures, and putting plasters on them… but logic and willpower are disappointingly weak little buggers in comparison to the ridiculous compulsion.  I mean really?

7. Become a more active astronomer. Be able to recognise more planets and constellations without Star Walk. I may accomplish this once my Space Room is completed next month. Painting’s already underway – now to map out constellations on the ceiling, string up hundreds of fairy lights, and make a DIY solar system. I live in the most wonderful and nerdy place in the world, and I love it. I also really want to learn to capture the night sky in a photo.

8. Completely pay off my debt. I’ve started with small things like bringing canned soup to work and taking caffeine pills so I don’t have to spend on downtown lunches or Starbucks (I swear it’s healthier than the ten sugars and colossal amounts of syrup I need in order to get the stuff down). I’ve started eating bachelor food at home, I gave up my gym membership (it takes a good ten minutes just to walk to the kitchen and back), and date nights include building forts and writing by Dollar-store candlelight instead of going out. But one thing I’ve learned in my working adult life is that sadly, you are worth what your job title says you’re worth – not what you actually do. That doesn’t stop me stepping outside the box. I love stepping outside of boxes. This probably stemmed from getting stuck under my bed as a child and being terrified of ever being in one again. My resume may say I’ve been an Admin Assistant for the last six years, but I’ve been a writer, a marketer, a graphic designer, a social media expert, an office manager, an accountant, a curriculum developer, a teacher and a coach. And that’s just in my last two jobs.

I’m all for the sentiment of being the creator of your own destiny, but when it comes to dreaming bigger, that’s not the problem – it’s being financially unable to break the poor cycle in order to do it. Yes, I could take classes in the evenings or on weekends to get myself some sort of certification that says officially on paper that I can do all the things I already can. But there’s always going to be a part of me that refuses based on sheer principle, and there’s no way I can invest thousands of dollars and 100% of my waking time to something that may get me a better sounding title (and subsequent pay package) – that’ll take another decade of being poor in order to pay off. I really, really like the job I have right now. I like the people, the place, and the progressive responsibilities I’m being given. I’m managing okay-ish financially, but for now, it’ll have to do. I know it’s going to take a couple of years to fully tackle my debt, and in the meantime it’ll mean a few sacrifices. But hopefully by thirty, it’ll be under control.

9. In relation to the above, there’s nothing to say I can’t add one based on sheer hope and wishing really hard. By thirty, I want to have a more impressive (and accurate) job title. I have a big goal in my current job, and I’m really hoping that one day it’ll be a possibility.

10. Read 25 books. (I know it doesn’t sound like a lofty goal, but I’m being realistic.)

11. Skydive. Next month I am hosting a party celebrating humanity launching itself up into the sky, and I think it’d be terribly exciting (if predictably list-worthy) to launch myself back down from it. I can’t think of a bigger adrenaline rush, and it’s good to be utterly thrilled every once in a while. I want to jump out of a plane with someone I love, and share the memory for the rest of our lives. (Almost relatedly, I also really want to go zorbing with someone.)

12. Take an incredibly out of character class, like hip hop dance, burlesque, theatre or pole dancing. Just to say that I did.

14. Give a public speech. That goes well.

15. Stop injuring myself and getting bizarre afflictions. I don’t know how, but bizarre afflictions seem to keep popping up that are just downright embarrassing to explain. Last year it was the joints in my hands. It ended up being a few RSIs as a result of living in the pre-Smartphone age, but it got to the point where I couldn’t use my hands. I couldn’t grip anything – couldn’t do dishes, carry bags, hold a pen or straighten my hair. And when people asked what I’d done – I didn’t have a cool bad-ass answer. I didn’t break my hand punching ninjas, I had a random injury I couldn’t really explain.

Since September, I’ve had a weird skin disease that I’ve managed to keep under control with topical steroid creams. Which I learned last week cause a dependency/addiction to be developed – which I already knew, since every time I stopped using it, it would come back – so I’ve just switched to antibiotics and a non-steroidal gel. The withdrawal is absolutely horrifying. The skin around my mouth, nose and eyes has exploded in an itchy, flaky, red, sore ugly mess and I look like I just had a vat of acid thrown at my face. Apparently this is normal, and goes away within a couple of months. I’ve spent all weekend hiding in the dark and I’m dreading facing the world tomorrow. Why couldn’t it be on my elbow or knee or somewhere I could cover up??

Also, this year, I had to have a toenail removed. And in what I can only explain via best guess, the subsequent walking funny did something to my whole foot, and I haven’t been able to put proper shoes on or walk without my foot taped up for the last three weeks. What did I do? I have no idea. I don’t know if it’s torn ligaments, a hairline fracture or a voodoo curse. But I feel stupid not being able to walk and not having a reason why. I suppose the only way I can accomplish this is taking better care of myself. Getting more sleep, eating more vegetables, and doing more exercise. And maybe some more wishing.

16. Learn to be concise. This goes for blogging, writing, e-mailing, even conversing. Nobody has several hours at a time to devote to my two thousand-word ramblings about things that could be described in bullet points. And more importantly, nobody’s going to want to read a book that takes seven pages for a character to leave his apartment and go down a flight of stairs.

17. Go to Vegas, or spend Christmas/New Year’s Eve seeing musicals and ice skating in New York.

18. Stop worrying about things I can’t control. I tend to work myself up into fits of tears over things that often only exist in my head. I need to learn to stop worrying, and have my first instinct to calmly talk about things rather than internally catastrophise them and react accordingly.

19. Focus on quality over quantity. I think part of what they call “growing up” is learning the lesson that it’s not how much crap you have, it’s how awesome your crap is that actually matters. But even though I’ve been putting a lot of effort into embracing my introverted tendencies, things like birthdays still get me down. Last weekend I threw a get-together and must have invited at least fifty people. Knowing this was a Facebook event, I knew that in all likelihood half wouldn’t respond, and maybe a third would come. I convinced myself that even if four people came, it’d still be great, because as a Grown Up, it doesn’t matter how many friends you have, it matters how great they are. But as the event got closer, I kept getting those damn notifications. From people (a lot of whom had sodded off after the events of December, but with whom I still had hope) declining without reason. This shouldn’t matter – it’s Facebook, I’m not hitting a milestone, and grown-ups have things like children and weddings and vacations and evening jobs and all sorts of other obligations. But it still made me really sad and really lonely. It ended up being lots of fun – we had a gathering of a dozen or so, drank lots of wine, listened to good music and played lots of board games (including 12-person Balderdash with Monopoly and Chess pieces), and I think everyone had fun. But I still felt really down about all the people who not even just declined without saying why, but the giant chunk of people who didn’t even bother to respond.

Before thirty, I want to learn to not be so devastated by things like this that are perfectly acceptable and normal, and in no way equal me unequivocally being a giant loser. I have amazing friends, who do amazing things every day, and they mean more to me than I could ever say. I am determined to stop giving a crap about people that really are more acquaintances than anything, and remind myself all the time how lucky I am to have a few absolute stars in my life that made my actual birthday one of the best I’ve ever had. The number of wishes from people, the cards with words that moved me to tears, the incredibly thoughtful gifts, the surprises… I felt like the luckiest person in the world at the end of the day. So next year: no birthday party, or trying to organise something big on a Saturday night. Just a handful of loved ones enjoying each other’s company, and celebrating being here on this Earth together at the same time.

20. Embrace my natural introversion, but do what I can to quell the assumptions that go along with it. Not just those around me, but my own, too. I’ve definitely been learning that it’s okay to spend time in your own company, and not fight my cravings for evenings with no plans like I used to. I’m actually rather enjoying time by myself where I can read or write or play music and not feel like I have to be socialising (and that there’s something wrong with me because of it). But there are all sorts of misconceptions about introverts, and I want to set the record straight. I think it’ll make me feel better, and hopefully make like-minded others feel a little bit better. If you feel like we might be in the same boat, here are some interesting things I learned about introverts from Psychology Today and Cracked – my two go-to sources for understanding the human race.

21. Hug a tiger. I’ve hugged a dolphin (and given him a high five) and it was hands down one of the most joy-filled ten minutes of my life. After my dolphin experience, the trek back to my tour bus included stops at a seal show, petting sweet little birds, and watching tigers clean themselves. JUST LIKE GIANT VERSIONS OF KITTENS. Having a socially accepted and completely content pet tiger would probably be the best thing ever, but since that’s about as likely as scientists discovering a nutrient at KFC, I am more than happy to settle for a simple hug.

22. Learn to swing dance.

23. Have fantastic nails all the time. My appearance has changed an awful lot over the last year. I used to feel the need to tan, have hair extensions, continually be made up, and getting manicures every other week in order to be attractive. But the people who’ve been in my life for the last little while have shown me that none of that matters – not to mention the exorbitant amount of cash it all adds up to. I no longer tan, I box dye my hair, I can go to Safeway without makeup on, and I save myself $45 every three weeks on nails by doing my own. I’ve fallen in love with Poor Person DIY Nail Art – it’s cheaper and more fun than boring old French manicures anyway.

24. Do something big for a good cause. I try to do things as often as I can to make my little corner of the world a tiny bit better. I donate to charities, I sponsor a child, and I’ll buy a sandwich for someone with a cardboard sign if I think they’re genuinely in need of it. But it’s not enough. It breaks my heart that every second there are people losing babies, husbands and wives, diseases taking over and killing amazing people, animals being kicked or thrown into dumpsters or over bridges, people being tortured or exploited or abused, and it along with feeling absolutely devastated and incredibly useless, sometimes it genuinely makes me horrified to be a part of the human race. I want to do something bigger, something more, something that will really do something significant. I don’t know what yet, but I want it to happen.

25. Perform at least three songs at an open mic – with an instrument – and without throwing up afterwards.

26. Change my inner monologue. They say we are what we believe, and perhaps one of the reasons I’m finding it so hard to shake some of my insecurities is because going through the motions without internally believing you’re successful in your endeavours is never going to address the root problem. My thoughts are still a problem – I’ll sit down to write something and tell myself it sucks when I’m finished. I’ll play a song for the Internet and watch it back cringing, telling myself how stupid I look and how bad I sound. If I’m home on Friday and Saturday nights I tell myself it’s because everybody has someone more exciting to be with. Getting this skin infection left me crying and sitting in the dark for days because I repeatedly tell myself I’m not as attractive as others, and this has made me even more hideous. I might be able to carry off being confident by at least doing the actions – but I’m never internally and genuinely going to believe it as long as I keep telling myself otherwise. I’ve started a little exercise – writing down three things I like about myself each night before bed. I haven’t been as diligent as I probably should have lately, but I think it’s a step in the right direction in learning to create my own self image, and not continually relying on others’ assurances, or tearing myself down. The only person that can bridge the gap between how I see myself now and how I want to is me.

27. Be mentally, physically and financially ready to settle down and have a family. I don’t think this will happen by thirty, and as I am right now, I don’t particularly want it to – I’m just learning to love life and tap into what it can be like when you learn the right lessons, and practice the right attitudes. I have so much to see and do and so many memories to make before that time comes. A lot of people my age have now already been hit by the baby bug – I see all the time Facebook statuses about it coming completely out of the blue, and being subsequently unable to think of anything but having a child. I’m not there. At all. In all honesty, the only reason I considered it after I just got married was because the timing made sense. I am so incredibly thankful it didn’t happen – if it did, I probably would’ve been stuck in a meaningless, loveless cycle of settling, disagreements, and obligations. I never would have known what life could be with the right people in it. And now that gift has been given me, I want to live it to pieces with those people. I do want to have a family one day – I believe raising excellent humans is the best thing you can do for the good of the rest of the planet, and it’d be incredible to see part of your soul embodied in somebody else – but I’m not there yet. Hopefully by 30, I’ll at least want to be.

28. See the northern lights. For someone who loves the night sky as much as I do, I still can’t believe I’ve never seen these. I was blown away by the sight of a real, unpolluted meteor shower last summer and I’ve been enchanted ever since. I can’t possibly predict it, but I hope one day in the next couple of years I’ll see the lights dancing across the sky.

29. Inspire someone to change their life. I don’t really blog for traffic any more. But when I first started, the biggest thing I wanted was to be able to be real, and put my hopes, fears and struggles out there, in hopes of finding other people who felt the same things I did. My biggest goal wasn’t to eliminate my fears. It was certainly one of them, but moreso, through taking small steps at a time, I hoped to inspire somebody else to challenge theirs, and live better because of it. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’m determined to help someone become more.

30. Learn chess and win a game. I want to learn all the rules and be able to plan fifteen moves ahead and stop losing all my little soldiers and take that damn king. But more (and rather more nerdily): I want to build more neural pathways in my brain. Like life, what’s the point of having one if you don’t at least try to reach its full potential?

Making this list took a lot of time, mental energy and reflection. I didn’t want to make a list full of things like getting degrees, learning languages, or running marathons. These are the sorts of things you put out there to impress others, like new year’s resolutions, that you never truly intend to make happen – going through the motions of being passionate about something without actually feeling any. I don’t want my list to be full of empty actions. I want them to check off everything on this list and be able to give a genuinely good answer as to why it’s on there. I want experiences, not accolades. I want to do things that require courage and bravery, that will lead to growth, or will yield incredible memories I’ll be able to take to my deathbed. I don’t want it to be a checklist of things to experience before the end, but a list comprising the person I want to be. I want it to be challenging, fun and terrifying – the things I was most scared of on the last list resulted in the most growth because, before doing them, I couldn’t imagine ever being able to. I want it to expand the limits of what I am capable of. I want it to lead me to becoming more than I am.  And if the opportunity for one of my less realistic goals arises on the course to 30, all the more awesome. Just saying. #TimeTravel

Let the road begin…

Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths

“Anxiety is love’s greatest killer. It makes others feel as you might when a drowning man holds on to you. You want to save him, but you know he will strangle you with his panic.”   – AnaĂŻs Nin

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks. You know, one of those annoying splotches somebody spilled on the canvas of the life you want to lead. Have you ever looked at your life as a nice, freshly baked pie? Rhubarb, perhaps, because it’s the best kind of pie.  (It should also probably be noted that I’m writing this at lunchtime, having forgotten to bring something to eat, and trying desperately not to spend on the exorbitance of downtown dining.) Have you ever mentally divided that pie into sections – work, home, friends, love? And have you ever delved in only to find that somebody’s eaten it all up? A vacuous dish you expected to be filled with deliciousness, but instead filled only with an ugly mess of scattered crumbs and regurgitated leftovers somebody decided they didn’t like all that much after all. It’s slightly alarming when you look to your plate and instead of finding things neatly in place, everything is all wrong. I’ve felt a bit like that over the last few weeks, and when that feeling hits, it’s hard not to look to the common denominator and feel that you must be the problem. But can it be you, if you genuinely feel inside that you try desperately to be a good person and do the right thing for every person and in every situation? Or could it be that your intentions become warped somewhere in the transition between your heart and the world outside, and you, simple medium, are oblivious to the final product?

A couple of issues from various areas have surfaced as of late and I’ve been left feeling powerless as to what to do. Take a blast from the past friendship, for example. A few of you may know that December 2011 was a pretty rough point in my life, and the build-up of only partially really dealing with my anxiety effectively led to me doing something awful that resulted in many people in my life wanting to distance themselves. It was a very sad and lonely, but I had no-one to blame but myself. Since then I’ve been determined to right the wrong, and have dealt with it in the best ways I can think of.

I went through a ten-week program through the Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba, and began seeing a counsellor. I started medication and increased the dose so I could get to a point where I wasn’t crying all the time. I did assignments every week and learned the enormous thought distortions that accompany an anxiety disorder. I learned to separate reality from distortion, and reshape my thinking and subsequent reactions to things that before would have had me in tearful hysterics, spouting my twisted imaginings onto those close to me and believing them to be real. I was a horrible person to be around, but the catalyst for really getting better was the self-inflicted isolation. If I wanted friends and loved ones to be around, I couldn’t treat them as I had been, and had to learn new and healthy ways of relating to people. Learn to be independent, to not catastrophise and assume the worst, to stop reading minds and seeing the world solely in black and white, and to stop blaming others for things my mind had invented. I’m in a much better place now, but I’m still not there yet. The slow journey is one that sometimes doesn’t sit well with my impatience, but I know it’s the only way to truly get there.

A handful of people stuck by me six months ago. A small handful of people who wanted to understand why it got to the point it did, and wanted to be there to support me as I got better. To let me know I wasn’t alone. I wish I could re-write the dictionary, add a second volume of words or maybe even add another twenty letters to the alphabet, to conjure up a whole new lexicon of emotions that express the true extent of how deeply thankful I am for those people, and how the amount of love for them I have fills my heart up so full it could almost burst.  But a larger number of people turned their backs. People I’d invested heart and soul and love and vulnerability into told me I “needed more than they were able to give”, and went about their happy lives without being weighed down by a friend in need. It stung. A lot. But I couldn’t blame them.

I reconnected with one of these people recently and we chatted about how things had been since December. I had thought that devoting myself to all the things I had to do to rectify the way I’d been acting may result in some of these people coming back, but I received this message earlier this week:

It sounds like things are really looking up for you and that you’re happy in your life right now and I think that’s fantastic. It took a long time to find what you were looking for, including a divorce, a partner’s stressful family, coping with a boyfriend who has a debilitating condition and then when things got too much, what happened in December. Up until the very last point, I was with you every step of the way, but at the end of it all, there was just nothing left to give. If you have friends now that you know will stick with you through thick and thin and are the rocks at the bottom, that’s wonderful and it makes me really happy to know that you’ve found those people. With that said, I just can’t be that friend – I just don’t have enough in me to be what you need. I’m happy to see you if we run into each other and catch up, but that’s all that I have right now. I’m sorry if that hurts your feelings, but I respect you enough to be honest. I still think that you’re a good person and I’m genuinely happy that things are looking up for you. Thanks for understanding and I’ll see you around.

I think, six months later, I’ve earned the right to feel it’s good to know who your true friends are. The reason for putting so much work into getting better wasn’t to win friends back, it was to be a better person – a better one for loved ones to be around, one who was more equipped to see things in a positive light and not cause undue stress on those I care about more than anything; a better person at work, who wasn’t preoccupied with worry about things that were only an issue in my head; a better person for myself, to have my thoughts and actions be in harmony with my values and what’s most important to me. So I’m not disappointed – the last six months have been spent with a few people who really have become those rocks, as well as learning to be independent, do the things I’ve always wanted, and be more of the person I really want to be. But when life gets overwhelming, I have a terrible tendency to revert to the stranglehold of old thought patterns and behaviours.

When life seems to be beyond your control, it can lead to feelings of despair. I spent many a night alone in my little apartment in the weeks leading up to Christmas sobbing into my poor little cat’s fur, wishing for things to be different. But if I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that nothing is going to change unless you take the action to do something about it. If you don’t like something, change it, don’t just sit there crying and playing the victim of the world’s wrongdoings. If everything seems out of your control, focus on what you can control. Your own actions and attitudes, not the thoughts of others.

The mind can become a sinister place when eclipsed by the shadow of anxiety. Every thought is wrapped meticulously in a dark veil of uncertainty, every hope and ounce of positivity choked tightly until all that remains is a core of steadfast fear. Friends become liars, who must be masquerading care and concern. Lovers become impostors, saying the right words but surely secretly wishing you were different. Acts of kindness and affection are drowned before registering as ever having existed at all, and you are left feeling alone, lost, and abandoned, wondering why everyone is suddenly giving up on you. But as real as it may seem, it is a fantasy. A dark place that exists solely in the imagination of those affected, their world becoming distorted as if by some sort of intoxication.  where everyone is an enemy.  Trust nothing, no-one. Become blind to reality and see the world only through a distorted lens of neglect and fear. It’s terrifying, once safely on the other side, to look back and see yourself helpless to an attack of the mind – to have studied psychology and read all the ins and outs of anxiety, yet once in a while still be powerless to its brute force.  There have been a few of those attacks recently, and I’m upset with myself that I still haven’t 100% beaten it, but I have never been more determined. The big difference is that before, I believed my thoughts to be completely justified. Now I can see that they’re not, but every once in a while, I still can’t seem to escape their grip.

I need to learn how to better deal with life when it gets overwhelming. I need to learn how to channel that energy into something positive and productive, to remind myself continually that crying and victimising yourself is the complete opposite of how I want to live. I pride myself on taking action to better things when there’s a problem, not sitting there whining about them. I think I’ve made a lot of progress, but I want it to be always. I don’t want there to be relapses, however few and far between. I want to be better permanently. For me and everyone around me.

But enough of the nervous ramblings. If we’re friends on Facebook, you may have seen there are an awful lot of fantastic things happening in the next little while, and having that to look forward to is my shining light. Soon enough, problems won’t seem so large, work will be caught up on, and all that will be left is awesomeness. In five days (touch wood), after a year of waiting, my divorce will finally be granted. In just over a week, an amazing new friend and roommate will be moving in with me, someone I am so glad to have met – a fellow INFJ with an incredible story who loves reading and musicals as much as I do, and – be still my heart – Moulin Rouge! 🙂  Not long after that, Winnipeg seems to be having a festival celebrating pirates, steampunk and the Renaissance – I can’t wait to get costumed up, watch jousting and dance around to one of my favourite Celtic bands. Then for a night of fancy board games for my birthday, a Space Party to celebrate the anniversary of humanity launching itself into the sky and landing on the moon, and then FRINGE, where the city turns into an enormous celebration of culture and creativity, and old friends come to visit from across the globe. The last few weeks have had their fair share of win too: a 1920s themed, swing dancing games night, being given the captain’s chair on creative projects at work going across the country,and a giant party in the park put on by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, surrounded by fellow space nerds, watching a partial solar eclipse. Summer really is shaping up to be pretty wonderful. And for now, I must focus on the positive. Focus on what’s important, and what’s a priority. Focus on catching myself before I fall, and focus on making the most of every moment I am lucky enough to have been granted. I’ve got a lot to be thankful for. And I’m determined to show just how much I really am.

My Ukulele Decemberists Cover

So… remember about a month ago when I wanted to finally man up and sing in front of an audience? And went into it shaking harder than a cheap hotel bed and came out the other side throwing up? Yep. Fun times. But amidst the terror and the vomit was a tiny sliver of accomplishment – and an enormous desire to be able to learn an instrument (if only to give me something to do with those damn arms), lose the nerves, and be able to Perform Properly. I’ve never been able to play the guitar, so I decided on a ukulele. Less strings, and a way better fit for my hobbit hands. And only $25!

Naturally this first proved a lesson in patience. I wanted it to be in tune, I wanted to know the fingerings of all the chords, and I wanted to be able to read music and play every song I knew immediately. I’m learning these days that one of the things I need to work on most in pretty much everything is learning to be patient. (But “carpe diem” has such a good ring to it…)  But after a week or two of perfecting playing the basic chords in my best carpal tunnel-inducing claw and almost giving up, I figured out the proper way, and managed to bugger my way through a whole song! So here’s my first attempt at playing the ukulele for people. The cat doesn’t count. PLEASE bear in mind that a) I’m a total n00b and have a LOT of work to do, b) I look crap in glasses, c) I’m still terrified of singing in front of people, but d) I really, really want to keep taking these steps – even if they’re scary and even though I’ll probably look back in total mortification – because I love music. I love singing, even if I’m not the greatest singer. And I really, really want to stop being afraid of doing it.

Here goes. (God I wish they’d let you actually choose the thumbnail!)

The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.

“You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.” – Neil Gaiman

It’s seven o’clock on a Saturday morning, and after eight hours of tossing and turning, waking from strange, sporadic dreams every hour or two (one involving dating someone who wore salad for a beard, and getting upset with my parents for judging him on his choice of facial hair), I think I might be having a Writer’s Moment. A few minutes ago I was tucked away with a happy cat in my arms and an electric blanket warming my toes. Snug, but getting rather tired of focusing exercises designed to slow your thoughts and will you to sleep after every attempt resulted in nothing but more consciousness. So I found myself starting to form sentences in my head instead. I wonder sometimes if there’s something wrong with me. Is the inside of anyone else’s head so busy, so full of an endless rapid fire of thought after thought, feeling after feeling? I’m okay with being a deep thinker, but sometimes (usually around three o’clock in the morning), I yearn to be able to shut off the relentless stream of consciousness.  Especially when said stream is composed of a rather irritating mathematics problem I’d heard earlier that day, which barged its way into my head, grabbed hold of every scrap of drowsiness, and proceeded to promptly punch each one out before putting its feet up, lighting a cigarette, and cranking the stereo. (Sidenote: thank heavens I have someone I can call at 1:30 in the morning to solve it for me. Hopefully I still will at the time of broadcast.)  This morning was another restless one, and I found my thoughts wandering to where I was this time a year ago. I gave up on the idea of a lie-in and decided to write about them instead. This time a year ago, it was the night before my wedding, and I was sitting on my bed in tears with my husband-to-be, torn between calling the whole thing off and trying to convince ourselves we could make something so very wrong work.

A year ago, I was writing the following words. It’s hard not to see the signs from every direction pointing out the enormous mistake I’d be making:

It all started last Thursday night with the rehearsal dinner. The plan was to have everyone have a quick run through at the church,  head out to a restaurant that’s usually one of my favourites, then head home for our last night as Mr. and Miss. And words cannot begin to describe how polarly opposite the evening went. The rehearsal itself was fine until the very end, as everyone was departing, when something very dramatic, very unpleasant, very… conniving, and very unexpected happened. It wasn’t the best way to head off to a dinner that was supposed to be a celebration, but we got there, met our friends and family, and ordered what looked to be a fantastic meal. Until the table became a battleground. And we were told they had no beef. Or wine. And it arrived over an hour late. One meal missing. And they refused to give us a discount. And then it broke into a rave. It was kind of beyond ridiculous… but after talking with some married friends, I found myself slightly reassured when I was told “I don’t think there is such a thing as a smooth rehearsal dinner”.

I then arrived home and thought I’d do one last Facebook/Twitter check before logging off for the weekend… when I was met with one of the most horrible things you could imagine two nights before the day you get married. An anonymous comment on my blog, held for moderation, on the post immediately following the one about Internet Trolls and the exceptional cowardice it shows when someone takes the time to invest in attempts at sabotage, and doesn’t have the balls to attach their own name. But since this person’s contact information was limited to “pseudonym@dontpostthis.com”, I have no choice but to respond to it here.

“I wonder if you really should be getting married. You seem so ready to emerge as who you fully are. It seems to me that you could be traveling around the world, doing great and amzing things, playing the field, flirting with all sorts of things.  If your married, day-after-day you’ll wake up with nothing to take you beyond yourself and your husband can only challenge you so much. Really, as exciting as it sounds, how is a theater production going to make you a better person in the grand scheme?

Maybe its just that we’ve all watched you grow so much in the last little while that it seems foolish now to throw all the opportunities that life has to offer to settle with one person in a cold city that really has nothing to offer. When your husband comes home after a long day of work, won’t that bother you that hes content living in a city with his family and you’re so far away from the amazing things you could be doing elsewhere?

When you say, “I do” it may be like your a princess but the very next day it’s just routine and a drag. You can’t be happy with that. I think that married life is going to stop you from growing into the person you’re becomming and I think you know that. You’re going to be stuck and I think you’ll grow to resent the fact that your husband is keeping you down. Well, its not him but its married life. You could be hanging out with so many interesting people, going interesting places. Instead you work (I presume) only 9 to 5 and write about music and doing drama. Already your relationship has limited you.

Sorry Emily but I had to say it. I fear this marriage might just put you in a rut. Every day, the same person… the same place… the same routine. That’s not the emily I know.”

To this day, the author’s identity remains unknown, but it’s interesting to see that despite everything around me telling me to turn around and run, I still went ahead with it. Yes, hindsight may be 20/20, but there’s something unsettling about having gone ahead with something when logic had been flashing neon BAD IDEA signs at every turn. I know there are thousands of people who make the same decision I did – who defy logic and instinct and get swept away in the pressure of having spent a great deal of time and money investing in something, in the fear of judgment, and in the idea that maybe true, fairytale, soul mate love really does only exist in stories and films, that nobody’s perfect, and that maybe this is as good as it gets. It’s unsettling to look back and see how I prioritised what was comfortable, despite knowing that what I longed for was so much more. How many people, I wonder, unwittingly spell their own life sentence of settling for something just because what’s comfortable is an easier option than the risk of never finding what they truly desire?

I had a conversation with The Professor recently, about our past relationships and how we’d both been subject to criticism for some of the decisions we’d made. In my early twenties, likely tying in to a bit of self-esteem issues, I went from relationship to relationship, not spending much time alone because being alone was scary, all the while knowing deep down inside that every one was wrong – that somewhere, I was always wishing for something more. Not the healthiest of way to spend a few years, but then again, perhaps going through the so very wrong allowed me to truly recognize what was actually right and acceptable. Perhaps if things had been too comfortable, I wouldn’t have had any motivation to get out, and the opportunity to meet the someone I was more suited to would have sailed past into the sunset, and I never would’ve known otherwise. Contrarily, he’d spent the same years doing quite the opposite – avoiding relationships like the plague because they never met the hope of what true love should be, spending years in solitude and breaking off potential connections soon after they’d begun because that nudging feeling of knowing they weren’t it was ever-present. It’s funny, the way people spend those first few years of adulthood, and how attitudes to relationships are formed, shaped, altered and evolved, and I don’t really know what it means, but I don’t suppose it really matters, because each path led to the here and now.

I just realized this post isn’t going to end up being big on coherence, but since I’ve been a tad absent over the last few months, I felt a strong urge to write one last post before the year was out. A few noteworthy incidents have taken place recently – my job for one has turned out to be an absolute dream, and I can genuinely say I’d be happy to spend seven days a week there! I’m up on the fourteenth floor of the tallest building in the city (I think), and I arrive each morning to a view of downtown stretching as far as the eye can see, the sun illuminating an expanse of morning cloud cover in bright pinks and oranges, and spend my last hour of the day watching it retire as the lights of the city below slowly come out like stars. I work with a brilliant group of people who seem to accept, like, and even encourage me to be my nerdy self, and I’m somehow seen as the extrovert of the office. It’s become a safe environment for me to be exactly who I want to be, and I absolutely love it.

Six months past deadline, I finally checked off the hardest thing on my 26 Before 26 list – learning to drive. I’d written about it this summer after driving out of the city for the first time, spent looking at the biggest, most glittering night sky I’d ever seen, and the sense of accomplishment outweighed the fear I’d had for so very long. But then winter came, and dropped a whole pile of snow and entirely foreign driving conditions on top of me – three days before my road test. I panicked, but did kind of okay – took the test, parallel parked perfectly, and promptly failed – I got five points too many, for not knowing how to turn the windscreen wipers off. I was really disappointed and cried like an absolute child for a good half hour – I’d never failed anything in my life, and when you pride yourself on overachieving, it feels like the end of the world – but I made my second appointment, and will be trying again right before New Year’s Eve. Fingers crossed I don’t bugger it up this time – although getting into a giant car crash and totalling my boyfriend’s car last week isn’t exactly the smooth sailing I was hoping for. I was driving down a main street on the way to the last of the Christmas shopping when out of nowhere, somebody ran straight through a stop sign to our right and pulled out immediately in front of us. The road was icy, there was less than a second to impact, yet it felt like everything was in slow motion. I could see it coming, I could see there was nowhere to go, and we ploughed straight into the side of the other vehicle in front. The airbags immediately went off – and those are not the soft, cushiony things you’re led to believe will save you from rocketing headfirst out of the window – they’re a sudden, very solid punch in the face, and they emit some kind of smokey gas which absolutely suffocated me. I couldn’t breathe, and the door was jammed, so I couldn’t get out of the vehicle. I looked to my right and saw my love with blood all over his face from the smashed passenger window. I kept saying I couldn’t breathe and scrambling to get out of the car, the door not opening… when the other driver opened it for me from the outside. Apparently The Professor had been trying to help me get out of his side, which I don’t remember, and apparently I’d had the car in park and my foot pressing wildly hard on the accelerator while I struggled to get out… which I also don’t remember. I just remember panic, shards of glass flying into the car slowly as it filled with smoke, and ending up in tears in a fire truck next to my poor boyfriend, whose nose had bled all down his face and onto his coat and hoodie, unable to stop shaking. The funny thing was I knew the other driver – a rich older gentleman I’d done some design work for a few years ago – who gave me an enormous hug and apologized profusely. We exchanged details, and my dear in-laws came to pick us up and take us for something to eat. I felt terrible I’d completely wrecked somebody else’s car – a really great car, too – but was thankful it wasn’t so much worse.  It hasn’t done wonders for my road confidence, but I figure now’s as good a time as any to get back behind the wheel – and hopefully we’ll be mobile again within a couple of weeks.

Oh, another noteworthy event – my tattoo! I got a beautiful old quill pen on my inner forearm a few weeks ago – an eternal reminder of my love for the written word, and to draw me to the activity I love more than anything in the world. I also spent four hours getting black out of my hair for good and going a bold red I really love. I finally feel comfortable and confident enough to carry it off. 🙂

Outside of work and big scary accidents, I really should write about something that’s been quite a prominent feature of my life over the last month or so. I guess it could fall under the category of “general health and wellbeing” – very much so, for reasons a handful of you know, regarding The Professor, but also in terms of really dealing with my anxiety. I think a number of factors contributed to it getting to a breaking point. The thoroughly traumatic dissolution of my marriage, the subsequent moving home, the new job… the letting go of everything that had become comfortable, and immediately focusing on forward movement rather than allowing myself time to heal properly was definitely a factor – and I’m at a point where I’m reframing how I deal with the world; retraining myself and rewriting my attitude to life in general. I’d always felt so strongly that life was short and no moment should be wasted, and only recently am I learning that an attitude I felt so positive actually caused a lot of harm in the long term. By not allowing myself time to deal with what happened and diving straight into creating a new future, the damage was never given the opportunity to be resolved in a healthy way. It began to affect everything around me: I spent every day in a state of constant worry, and subconsciously allowed the fear of history repeating itself to manifest and weasel its way into everything I did. I started getting upset for no reason at all in the real world, seeing tiny, insignificant things as the catalyst for what happened happening all over again, and reacted accordingly. I became an insane person. I’d get into fits of tears and despair over trivial things; I’d take out my worries on those I loved as if they were actually doing the very thing I feared most; I’d worry about being fired for not learning quickly enough at work and was shocked to receive a glowing review from my coworkers and bosses about how I’d done the opposite. “Not wasting time” and focusing so strongly on shaping the future right now prevented me from dealing with things healthily. It came out in disagreements, too – I’d want to move on immediately, when what was needed was some time to cool down, and my insistence on “making the most of the time we have” was the very thing that exacerbated everything. So for the last few weeks, I’ve called that into question. I think my tendency toward impatience definitely plays a part too. I started seeing a counsellor who’s helped me recognise the destructive thought patterns that had begun to take over, and provided me with tools and techniques to catch myself in my tracks, break bad habits, and make healthier choices.  I’ve done a lot of work over the last few weeks, recognised my habits, and been able to react differently – and life has been so much easier. No longer am I consumed by worry, or desperate for reassurance. No longer do I fear being physically alone in my own company – something that had for a long time been a territory of fear and overthinking things, a place to allow my thoughts and worries to take over reality and lead to panic. I’m learning slowly to break the compulsions that almost destroyed everything, and for the first time, I feel genuine. All the endeavors at conquering my anxiety up until now definitely helped me in a way, but those unhealthy thought patterns were never properly addressed. I was building a house before laying the foundations – it’s no wonder everything came crashing down. So I’m starting again. I’m not just focusing on actions lining up with the person I want to be, but thoughts, too – that’s the hard part, but the important part. And at the end of the day, they’re just a habit. And habits can be broken, and new ones can very much be made.

So it’s a few days before Christmas, and after an eventful year, I have a feeling that things paved the way for what’s going to be the best one yet. I’m in a place where everything is clearer – the past, present and future are written in a language I finally understand perfectly, and 2012 is looking brighter than ever. I’m heading into it with more certainty, knowledge, and tools than I think I’ve ever had, and I think those are going to lead to more happiness, confidence, deeper connections, less worry, and a better person for people to be around. I’m not proud of how badly I slipped up, but what are mistakes if we can’t learn giant life lessons from them? The darkness does, after all, define where the light is. I’m looking forward to a holiday filled with real friendship, genuine happiness over obligation, seeing the looks on people’s faces when they open presents I have a sneaky feeling are rather awesome, the Doctor Who Christmas special – and course a good old EastEnders massacre. I’m looking forward to a year where every thought, feeling and event of every day shines a little brighter. I’m looking forward to more tattoos (thank you Frank Turner for the endless inspiration), more risks, more meteor showers, more writing, brilliant music, more laughter, more growth, and life truly, finally, being exactly what it was supposed to be.

Happiest of Christmases to you, and I apologise wholeheartedly for the lengthy ramble. I just felt I ought to note a bit of life as it is here and now before heading into the new year. 🙂 I hope 2012 is everything you hope and dream for. I started this post quoting my favourite author, and I think he’s pretty good for wrapping it up, too:

“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”

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 belief is that in life, people will take you very much at your own reckoning…”

First and foremost, I’m going to commit one of those unspoken sins of blogging: apologising for my absence. (I know. Fired.) I’m in the process of organising, well, my new life, and as exciting, nerve-wracking, and crazy everything is, I genuinely miss being in touch with all of you. Like a lot. After this weekend when I am fully settled into a new place, normality can start to resume, and I cannot wait to catch up with each and every one of you!

Now, in the spirit of returning to our regularly scheduled programming, there’s something that’s cropped up and made itself known in various avenues of life as of late: the idea of discrepancy. Psychology and the study of human behaviour is something that’s always fascinated me, and as a result I’ve done a lot of reading on the human mind and spirit. I’m lucky enough to have studied it at work, too, and the opportunity to have learned counselling theories and techniques to help others has been nothing short of a blessing. It was in this learning process that it first dawned on me what a powerful catalyst discrepancy can be for positive change: if there’s a giant, gaping chasm between where you are and where you want to be (or indeed who you are, and who you want to be), then what could be a more motivating reason for change?

Generally, I think it’s way too easy an option, when things in life aren’t what you’d hoped, to resign yourself to fretting and complaining without actually doing anything about it. It’s an easy option because all it requires is a vocalization of discontent and no actual risk or action to change anything. Making an action plan, as does any change of the status quo, requires courage, because ultimately, we are in the present situation because we can survive comfortably in it. Maybe not ideally, but it’s not killing us, and so subsequently it outweighs the potential risk in shaking things up. But is that any way to live? We only get one life, and it’s ticking away with every passing moment. Why not recognise that discrepancy and instead of using it to fuel a passive negativity, use it to propel yourself toward the future you actually want?

I mentioned earlier that the idea of discrepancy had become somewhat of a regular visitor these days. It first arrived in the form of a quote I received in an e-mail from someone very dear to me: “And, above all things, never think that you’re not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life, people will take you very much at your own reckoning.”  Now, what have I been saying for the last year? That the very reason I thrust myself in at the deep end into all the things I was afraid of was yes, primarily because I wanted to take control of my life and not be controlled by fear; but very much in addition to that, because I wanted to be seen as someone who was capable, courageous, fun and intelligent – someone who could have some sort of an impact in this world. Said impact may be small, but I’ve always maintained that if one person somewhere saw what I was doing and felt they could, too, then all the butterflies, nausea, shaky limbs and potential for humiliation would be worth it. And the desire for that outweighs fear every time.

That being said, here’s the part where I admit my own hypocrisy: to this day, I haven’t been able to cross off the one goal I’d hoped to more than anything. I wanted to stop listening to the inner voices that for so long have occupied my head; setting up residence and plastering the walls of my mind with their can’ts, won’ts, and not good enoughs. I think I’ve made a little progress, but my natural reaction to so many parts of myself is still one of negativity. I see myself in the mirror and instinctively begin a mental list of all the things I wish were different. My weight, height, skin, hair, facial structure… the list goes on, and in writing it down I recognise that I’m talking the talk, but not walking the walk. I tell others to focus their energy on things they can control, and not waste time musing about things they can’t. At the end of the day, we can’t change the past, but by choosing to pave the way for a better future from this moment forward, we’re using our mental energy proactively instead of wastefully. Practising acceptance of rather than resigning to life can go a long way in developing a healthy attitude to carry you through it. Yet I’m not living it out myself.

“If we divine a discrepancy between a man’s words and his character, the whole impression of him becomes broken and painful; he revolts the imagination by his lack of unity, and even the good in him is hardly accepted.”
– Charles Horton Cooley

But as hard as I try to put it into practice in external things, when it comes to dealing with my own self-image, I’m still doing just the opposite. I’ll sit across from somebody at dinner and allow worry to run rampant through my head, worry that the whole time they’ll internally be taking note of all the things that I worry about myself. That I’m too quiet, or not quick-witted enough. That I’m horribly disproportionate, or unattractive. That I thrust open the doors of my heart far too widely and far too quickly, that I’m emotionally too intense, and therefore abnormal or intimidating. That this plaguing self-doubt is scrawled all over my face, a traitor to the person I want so desperately to be. Another friend has been calling me on it lately. Pointing out the discrepancy between my negative self esteem and the positive influence I want to be. When someone calls you on something that is in such stark contrast with everything you’re trying to be, a natural reaction is one of opposition. Nobody likes having their flaws pointed out, and furthermore, nobody likes being called a hypocrite. So I ask myself what’s a more worthwhile use of my time – whining and making a lame endeavour to tell my friend why he’s wrong, or actually doing something about it?

I refuse to be a fraud. I so desperately want to be a person of substance and integrity but I’m never going to be able to make an impact in the world if I can’t apply the same attitude across the board, starting with myself.  I look back at the aforementioned quote. People will take you very much at your own reckoning. If I’m trying to put positivity out there into the world yet cannot apply it internally, then how is it ever going to be 100% genuine? If I say the words, but internally tell myself I’m not good enough, how can they come from a place of integrity? The discrepancy is alarming. And I have to do something about it. I’ve talked about changing my self-image before, but I’ve never actively done anything about it. And that’s hard to admit. I’ve filled my time with endeavours to conquer one-time goals instead of working on changing an entire mindset. Because it’s difficult. But if I want to uphold and spread the idea of being an active participant in the course of one’s life, I have to start from within. Any ideas on where exactly to begin, however, would be greatly, greatly appreciated.

In the spirit of substantial quotes, I end with one from my favourite movie:

 Let’s try this again.

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.  🙂

The Final Countdown

Something rather alarming came to my attention over the long weekend.

Friday, in addition to being my lovely Dad’s birthday, was an alarming reminder: a single month was left in the biggest challenge I’ve ever set myself. An ongoing theme over the last year has been the 26 before 26, the list of things mostly comprised of everything I’ve always wished I could do but had always been too afraid to try. Some of them were simple no-brainers. But the majority revolved around the decision to tackle those things I felt drawn towards yet scared of, and choose fight over flight. Certainly, the former may involve risk, pain, and discomfort. But I’m desperate to be able to one day look back on my life without regret and confidently say that my life became what I wanted it to be the day I decided that fear was no longer an option.

So I have less than four weeks left, and I’m not going to lie: with some of the stuff that’s cropped up over the last few weeks, I’ve fallen off track. But what’s a tight deadline in the grand scheme of things if you’re positively determined to succeed? I may run out of time, but it’s not going to stop me trying. So what have I crossed off so far?

#1: Get in crazy good shape. When I made this list, my level of physical activity was pretty much zero. I never did any form of deliberate exercise, and my weight wasn’t healthy either (too low; not too high). While I may not have maintained the initial level of commitment (a wedding does wonders for your treadmill motivation!), I am proud to say that for a while, I ran three times a week, I became stronger, pushed my endurance, and altered my eating habits. I put on a few more pounds in the healthiest way I could, got my BMI back into the “normal” range, and crossed off #2 in the process – starting hot yoga – as well as #9 – planning meals, eating better – and trying that ominous green monster once and for all.

#6: Write non-blog or magazine material. I really found a passion for creative writing last year, and I think what had been putting me off committing to doing it regularly was the fact that I didn’t feel I really had any worthwhile creative ideas. But then… I did. And I’m diving straight in. I converted our spare room into a “writing room”, attended conferences, and managed to cross off numbers 13 and 20 in the process!

#7: Meet new people. My goodness it feels strange to say that this time last year, people I consider absolute friendship soul mates weren’t even in my life yet. Looking back, I can’t help but feel the universe was at work when I put it out there that I was willing to make myself vulnerable. I was so used to living within the confines of my social anxiety “disorder” that the thought of voluntarily going to a massive meetup, on my own, full of strangers, was enough to make me want to throw up. But in deciding to take that leap, I met some of the most incredible people I’ve ever had the blessing to know, and been lucky enough to call a friend. The acts of attending one meetup group and messaging one stranger on the Internet were the turning points that shaped the path of the last year enormously, and I can’t imagine how different life could have been had I not met these wonderful souls. This one kind of went along with #25: Stop being scared of talking on the phone, and I am happy to say I am no longer one of Those People.

#8: Do real karaoke. I wasn’t sure whether I tackled this one or not, but in talking to a friend this weekend she assured me it definitely did count. I looked back on the original list, and the original goal was to “break into song in front of live people, and not just people on the Internet.” (Please don’t ask for the URL!) It may not have been on a stage in front of strangers, but it was in front of about 20 of my closest friends, and ended up being a totally brilliant night 🙂

#11 was the most frightfully boring and easy item on the list, and barely deserves acknowledgement, but even if it is just for my dental hygienist friend Dani, I have fully implemented flossing into my daily routine. 🙂

#15: Teach a class full of people. Comfortably. It’s amazing to be able to look back on something that’s become so routine and remember how it felt to be absolutely powerless to the same thing a year ago. This was probably the biggest challenge: practising being on the spot, in front of people, and speaking publicly to an audience. I’ve struggled with questions from others as well as myself – why do something that feels so unnatural (Peter Gabriel – sorry, couldn’t help it; bonus points for getting that) when you could focus your time and energy on something you’re good at? I look back on my initial motivation: “I just want to thrive on it instead of being scared, and fuel the nerves into enthusiasm, focusing on the fact I’m in a position to relay information that will help people. Which is way more important than fear.”  It’s not an easy task for anyone to change thought patterns that have been established for such a long time, but the thing that’s helped me most is trying to focus on the big picture. Catching myself slipping back into old tendencies like fretting, worrying about things beyond my control, being too quiet… and just deciding that something else is more worthwhile. Like the fact that I at least tried, or the fact that just maybe, something I say or do might actually help someone else in the process. Speaking to groups has now become part of my job, and I think this is a perfect example of putting something out there into the universe, and having it deliver. 🙂

#18: Go on a blogger meetup. Last year I was absolutely blessed in being able to meet up with amazing people all across the world. I met fellow local bloggers, explored a beautiful city with people I’m honoured to now call real-life friends, and even enjoyed breakfasts and explored science museums with bloggers internationally. As much as I harp on about trolls, the Internet is genuinely a wonderful place, and I’m so lucky to have been able to meet some incredible people off-screen as well as on.

#19: See more of the world. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the above, but I definitely saw some new places over the course of the last year. Mexico, Chicago, new places in England, as well as Spain are all crossed off my list – too bad that wipes my travel budget for the next two years!

I was pretty sure #22 (forgiveness) was going to be the toughest one on my list, but the moment it became reality, I felt the biggest weight lifted off my shoulders. Forgiveness is something I’ve learned is at the forefront of how I want to live my life, and goes hand in hand with the practice of “big picture thinking”.  It’s a tough one to implement when accompanied by the stranglehold of memory, but at the end of the day, the past has already happened, and the only thing I can control is how I face the future from this moment on. Ultimately, holding onto past grudges and baggage is contrary to how I want to live my life, and though pride can be a bitter pill to swallow, I think at the end of the day, it’s way more worthwhile than maintaining any sort of vendetta.

#23: Do something drastic with my hair. I’d had mid-length, boring brown hair for the longest time, so this was the year to step outside the comfort zone. I went jet black, added near waist-length extensions for a few months, then chopped it all off and started going red again. Now I’ve got the bug, I’ll probably end up with something completely different by summer 🙂

#24: Become more spiritual. This was one I was really hoping would come to fruition this year, and over the last few months, I think I’ve really found a belief system that works. I’m still learning, still reading, and still exploring different avenues of expressing faith in a way that makes sense for me, but it’s something I think that’s helped me grow, as well as strengthened already existing relationships.

#26: Set up a professional website. I revamped my writing and design portfolio, and made some snazzy business cards to go along with it. It may not be a thousand-dollar investment, but it’s a long way from where it started!

I’m beyond thrilled I decided to stick to this list – and I’m glad I did it in a way other than New Year’s Resolutions, which have the tendency to evaporate mid-January along with the last of the mince pies. I can honestly say it has contributed immensely to the shaping of this past year, which was genuinely my best one yet, and I think the biggest lesson is that life really can be exactly what you want it to be when you make the decision to become an active participant in shaping it, and hold yourself accountable to the words, actions and thought patterns of the person you’ve always wanted to be.  That being said, I still haven’t finished. I have just over three weeks to check off the remaining nine goals:

#3: Learn a choreographed dance
#4: Do a cover of a really popular song in a completely different style
#5: Get my driver’s licence, or at least take lessons
#6: Make traditional English food
#12: Stop hating how I look
#14: Perform something in front of my coworkers
#16: Become entirely debt-free
#17: Volunteer somewhere
#21: Finish my back tattoo

I realise that some of those are pretty much impossible to complete in three weeks – there’s a year waiting list and a thousand dollar deposit required to fix my tattoo, which probably isn’t happening this month, and I’m not sure anyone can get a full on driver’s licence in twenty-four days – but I’m absolutely committed to at least trying everything before the clock strikes midnight and I turn into a pumpkin turning 26. I’m not a hundred per cent sure how just yet, but the countdown is most definitely on!

If you’ve set goals or resolutions over the last year, how are you doing with yours?

A One-Way Ticket to the Rest of my Life

Recently, as you may have read, I came to the decision that it was time for a bit of direction. I was full of ideas and dreams – but had no plan in place to help them become part of reality, and it was high time that changed. In years of late, I think I’ve become more of a big-picture thinker – whether the current situation is life-shattering or miniscule, I try to think of how my future self would look back on my current course of action. Perhaps that’s why I have such difficulty understanding people’s choice to perpetuate rifts and disagreements – we’re only given a finite time on this earth, so why choose to waste time on something futile? 

This mentality has been the fuel for the newfound decision to take direction of my life. I don’t want to look back in fifty years time at my twenties and say I wasted them, settling for a job that, though pleasant, doesn’t exercise my strengths or passions. I don’t want to say I wasted these years surfing Facebook, watching back episodes of Star Trek, or saving for a rainy day instead of spending time actually living. I don’t want to live in a state of the perpetually unfinished – an education once started but never complete; an idea for a story once hatched but never written; a dream once borne but never transitioned into actuality. Now is the time I can make the choice to take control, and though the thought slightly terrifies me, there are three things that have been swirling around my mind, desperate to escape the confines of the immaterialised and take shape to become the rest of my life. It’s easy to talk about dreams and bucket lists that have no set expiry date, meanwhile being perfectly content to coast through the day-to-day without taking any risks. I’m happy that I started my 26 Before 26 last summer – it’s pushed me through my 25th year and made me grasp opportunities, take leaps, and do things I’d always dreamed of, but never had the proverbial balls to try. But these were all small things that though in part, add up to me becoming more comfortable with myself, don’t ultimately influence the grand scheme of things. I may be more comfortable in front of a group, and I may have developed a few new skills, but this isn’t the stuff of great magnitude. This isn’t stuff that charters the course of the rest of one’s life. 

But these three dreams, these three swirling ideas that wrap themselves around my day-to-day, may very well be just that.  I only have three more years as a twenty-something, and I need this decade to close on accomplishment. Three more years, three big ideas. It’s going to take patience, dedication, and financial hits. It’s going to take a shift in priorities, lifestyle changes, and lots of perseverance. It’s going to take a heck of a lot of faith, and a few big risks. But I can’t break this pull I’m feeling; I’ve been offered a one-way ticket to a threefold destination, and there’s no stopping the train. One of these stops involves higher education. One of these stops involves my biggest passion in life, and the pursuit of the ultimate dream. And one of these stops  involves something that wasn’t on my radar this time last year, but now seems the only way forward. Over the last few weeks, I’ve taken small steps into this new territory – and I’ve never felt more strongly that life is becoming exactly what it was meant to be.

Second Star On The Right, Straight On ‘Til Morning

It hit me a few days ago, while looking through recent posts, drafts, and randomly jotted ideas, that a great deal of what’s been on my mind has subconsciously been revolving around the idea of direction. Titles talked of ships lost at sea, of searching for clues, and of living in the void – the paradox of knowing what I want, yet having no map nor compass to tell me where I am going. [Sidenote: I am in love with this tattoo, but my wrists are far too small!] As was pointed out several times toward the end of 2010, last year was one of finding myself. Scratch that, creating myself. Taking steps to take an image embedded on the walls of my mind to a living, breathing girl who finally gets to call the shots. Eliminating the deadweight and breaking through those self-contructed ceilings. My life is accompanied by an ongoing list of goals, of things to strive for, because I believe in continual growth and continual experience, and that the only life worth living is one dictated by no other but yourself. But until now, those goals have paved the way to a vague and hazy destination. I’ve had no direction. I’ve aimed for the sky and hoped for the best without giving second thought as to what constellation I want to land in. I think there’s a lot to be said for living in the present moment. But I don’t think it hurts to have a bit of a plan.

I was talking to a friend recently about how our younger selves envisioned our grown-up lives. We joked about how we thought we’d have husbands, children, degrees, and own our own homes by the time we hit 25. When we were younger, it seemed like the only option. The road was paved straight and smooth, and marked clearly along the way. My parents did it by 22; 25 would be easy! So what happened? I think life happened; the very thing that occurs when what you are told as a child that what you should be doing with your life doesn’t line up with what you want from life. Of course, I wanted an education, a career, a relationship, and the proverbial white picket fence. I still do. But I think, as with so many things, lessons only sink in the way they were supposed to when they come from within. I’ve learned in life that one must forge their own path of their own devising, being allowed to stray and get lost and learn things along the way. One can be told to do this and not to do that, but none of it’s going to mean anything if it isn’t intrinsic. The realisation has come lately that what I am doing in my day-to-day existence does not necessarily line up with what I want to be able to say I did with my life. And if nothing else, discrepancy has to be the fuel for change.

In my early twenties, my problem was that I had no idea what I wanted. I didn’t know what the path looked like or if what I was being told to do was what I really should be doing. I remember struggling, at seventeen, to figure out what I wanted to do in University. I was always drawn to English and Psychology, even advertising, but I was told I’d never get a job in any of those fields, and that people “spend years paying lots of money and getting into lots of debt to get degrees they never end up using.”  Still under my parents’ roof and rule, I tossed the ideas aside, and continued with my application for University with no idea what I was working towards. As long as it wasn’t what people had told me I couldn’t possibly pursue, I figured simply being inside an academic institution for nine or ten hours a day was enough to say I was on the right path.

But then life happened. I moved out, spent money on furniture, broke up with my then-boyfriend, got kicked out of our apartment, and had to go crawling back home. Except my parents had downsized when I’d  moved out, and there wasn’t any room at the inn.  I spent three weeks on a sofa in the basement surrounded by laundry and boxes, all the while hunting for my own place. But I couldn’t get my own place without making more money. And I couldn’t make more money while I was still in school. So then began the chapter of adult independence. I had to work to live, and I didn’t have the money to pay for schooling, rent AND food. So I very reluctantly eliminated the non-immediately-essential.

The years since were full of life lessons, and I wouldn’t change my twenties for the world. Yes, they may have been full of heartache and moments darker than I’d ever dare share, but they also taught me who I wanted to be. The Universe will always provide hints as to what path you should be on. If you aren’t listening, it’ll just try harder until something catastrophic zaps you with a lightning bolt and literally throws you back on track. If you are listening, you’ll be led to where you’re meant to be. Lately, I cannot seem to shake the feeling that in fifty years and I look back on my life, I’ll be filled with regret if I never took the risk of following my passions. There’s a fire in my heart waiting to shine brightly and every day I choose to spend updating someone else’s spreadsheets is another day I haven’t followed my dreams. I know what those dreams are now, and they involve great risk. Throwing everything that’s comfortable and routine up into the air and taking a big giant leap into unfamiliar territory. They involve following a rocky path without streetlights or signposts along the way, with no guarantee of a destination; no guarantee that at the end of it all, the dreams will come true. But I suppose that’s where having faith in the Universe comes in. And you know what? It hasn’t let me down once.

The near future may be shaping up to be wildly different than I’d thought just eight or nine weeks ago, when the clock struck midnight that cold, bright New Year’s Eve. The path may be as unclear as the Marauder’s Map to a Muggle. But sometimes, I think you just have to take a leap, follow that star, and trust your instincts as your guide… knowing that whatever happens, you’ll end up at the right destination. I wish I could talk about it in more detail, but for fear of jinxing things, I’m going to have to wait until it’s real… but for now, I’ve decided to stop playing it safe, and take action. To stop wishing and start doing. To forge my own path, having faith that it truly will be the right one for me. Let Project: Rest of my Life commence… now. 🙂

2011: The Year of Passion

A week or two before the wedding, our videographers (I want to call them cinematographers, because their stuff is so ridiculously beautiful) invited us over to film some “interviews” with us individually, to include in our highlights video (due in January!).  I sat upstairs watching Frasier for 15 minutes with a very large, very friendly cat while he was whisked down to the basement studio, where he was asked questions about me, him, us… where we’d met, what we liked to do, what our first date was (thank heavens we answered the same thing!), and which word we’d use to best describe each other. I was caught off guard when they’d asked me for my word best describing him. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know I’m far from a girl of few words. I have Lots to Say about Lots of Things, the wordcount only growing the more I care about something. (Thank you for continually putting up with me!) To sum up someone in a single word wasn’t something that came easily, and I blurted out something awful like “calm” (?!) – but had to ask him, after we were finished, what he’d chosen for me.

“Passionate”. I smiled when he’d told me, because it wasn’t the first time someone had said I do things with my entire heart. I think 2010 has been the year of growth, the year of choice, the year I’ve put on the shoes that always seemed two sizes too big and clamped my feet down hard until they fit comfortably. The year I finally realised the true power that everyone holds, to live the life you’ve always wanted. Not in the material sense, with a timeshare in Jamaica or the big fireplace in the living room, or the kitchen with shiny pots and pans hanging from the ceiling. Not the working kind, with a nameplate on your door, fancy letters following your name on your resume, or a personal assistant. Not the kind where you can take a day off to do whatever you want, whenever you want, because all those things, though nice, don’t make life life. They just occupy little corners of it, but by themselves, aren’t really the be all and end all. No, what makes the life you’ve always dreamed of living is the attitude with which you choose to face it. It’s so easy to coast through simply waiting for “one day”, when we have this or that, when we have more money, or friends, or the perfect house or job or partner. It’s so easy make excuses for life not being what you want, while sitting there doing nothing about it. I wanted to stop being afraid. I wanted to stop letting circumstance team up with the inner critic and shackle me down, away from everything the world has to offer, and everything I never believed I could offer the world. 2010 was a year of determination. 2010 was a year of growth.I don’t think the door needs to close on that determination, but I think 2011 is a time for another door to open, and the spotlight to shine on something else. I want it to shine on passion. I want to continue to try my bloody well damnedest to be better, be more to the world, have more of an impact, and I think the only way to do that is to tackle absolutely everything with absolutely everything I have. I want to read more books and take more notes, jotting down beautiful sentences and locking them away in memory for future inspiration. I want to teach more classes, speak more publicly, more confidently, and more passionately, desperately trying to make my delivery line up with the passion I feel inside. I want to love harder, not just in my relationship but in my friendships and family relationships; have my Dad over and cook him something that took absolutely hours, but that we’ll enjoy an incredible amount. I want to do more with my friends, see art exhibitions, throw more dinner parties, laugh more, and tell them more often how much I love them. I want to attempt everything on that list, even the tough stuff, and give all of it all I’ve got.  I want to learn more about psychology and science, study more Middle English, observe humanity and social interaction with fervor and keep more of a record of life, emotion, and introspection. I want to take more photographs, see more sights, spend more of my time filling it up with experience and future memory, and less time in front of a computer screen. I want to make my little cat feel like the most loved creature in all the world, even if it means spending an hour playing catch and dangling fishes on strings instead of watching EastEnders. I want to take care of myself and always choose health over convenience. I want to follow through on the dreams I’ve been keeping locked up inside my head, keeping prisoner from the possibility of soaring, for fear of failure. I want to sing whenever I want to with every fibre of my being, without hesitation or reserve. I want to see all the sights and soak up all the sunrays of faraway places. I want to make a plan and stick to it knowing that sometimes we have to go through the tough stuff to get where we were meant to be, and I want to face everything with a spirit of grace, dedication, acceptance and awareness.

2010’s been great for growth. But 2011 is going to be fuelled by passion and hope that by the end of it, I’ll be that much closer to doing what I was truly meant to be doing… and being who I was truly meant to be. What are you hoping for in 2011?

Gift Giving

It’s the holiday season, and I’m sure most of us have spent the last few weeks scouring shops and websites in hopes of finding the perfect present that will undoubtedly light up the face of a loved one come Christmas Day. Gifts of all sizes are wrapped in pretty paper and adorned with ribbons and bows, and tucked under a warmly glowing tree for safe keeping, until the day arrives when they get to do their job: make someone’s day. Gift-giving has undoubtedly been on many minds these last few weeks, and I’ve seen no shortage of wishlists floating around the blogosphere – but today, I want to address something else related to gifts: those which were given to us at birth.

In some way or another, we are all gifted. Some of us are fantastic listeners, great writers, artists, or musicians. Some of us understand chemicals and equations, or the inner workings of technology, and some of us are born to sing or spread a message throughout the world. Some of us are born to be on the stage, and some of us allow our imaginations to soar onto the pages of books published by the million, working their way into the hearts of a generation. Let’s think about that for a second – because there are so many of us out there who’ve written about hopes and dreams and secret passions, yet used fear and excuses to not explore and develop them. “But what if I’m not good enough?” has become something of a mantra throughout the collective consciousness, resulting in thousands of potential gifts being locked up and hidden away, quashing any potential in the slightest they could have to make this world or someone’s life that little bit better.

I received an e-mail recently from a man whose story I was lucky enough to hear last summer, Patrick Combs. He had an interesting point about worldwide phenomenon Stephenie Meyer*, the biggest selling author of the last two years: she almost didn’t submit Twilight to publishers because she thought her writing wasn’t good enough. [Pause.] Potential irony aside, clearly by taking a leap of faith in offering her gift to the world, she found her calling, made millions, and won over the teenage masses with tales of angst fantasy, romance and adventure. What if dear old J.K. had never allowed Harry Potter to see the light of day? What if she continued to write on trains and in coffee shops, and kept the stories bound in paper journals, only ever given to her children and perhaps a few friends? By choosing to give her gift to the world, she helped a generation move away from their Playstations and fall in love with reading all over again. Patrick had further interesting points:

Five years ago I had a strong sense that I wanted to be a speaker and I became one. But now I’m back to wondering what I should TRULY be doing with my life, and now the ‘What to do with my life?’ question seems more important than ever. First off, the panic I’ve felt this week stems from a deep seated fear: Fear of missing my calling.

Wouldn’t it be awful to miss your calling? What could be worse? Also, I’m certain that “success” isn’t what I’m after. Simply reaching the top is not what I’m out to do. I’m out to give the gift I was meant to give – whether doing so ultimately makes me rich, middle class, or poor. Famous, notable, or unknown. Getting to the top of your field can’t be as important as becoming what you were put on the planet to become. Fulfilling your calling has to be the peak of the pyramid. Giving your gift – the one gift you can and were born to give – must be the ticket.

via carolineeez.tumblr.com

I’ve seen countless people going through their lives – myself very much included – being held back by feelings of inadequacy. I believe we were all given gifts the day we were born, and we are all drawn toward certain interests, hobbies and passions so we can tap into them, open them up, and give them to the world. Yet so often, they are held hostage, hidden away untouched and unused, and never given the opportunity to shine.

As I’d mentioned, I’ve seen a lot of wishlists floating around in the last few weeks leading up to Christmas. TV boxsets, makeup, gadgets, and mp3 players may result in a smile for a few days, but they are all temporal. Why not choose ones that could last a lifetime? We’ve all had great Christmas presents, and we’ve all had one or two pretty rubbish ones. Why is it that when it comes to a naff Christmas gift, we don’t hesitate in going straight back to Best Buy on Boxing Day to exchange it for something better, yet when it comes to the gifts we’re given in our very souls, we’re perfectly content to accept the useless (fear, anxiety, and self-doubt), and refuse to enjoy the brilliant?  On my wishlist this year, I want to open the great gifts. The ones I want to someday offer to the world through compassion, song, speech and written word. I want to make the choice to accept and recognize them instead of settling for a cheap, half-hearted knock-off tainted by what I’ve settled for for so long.

This Christmas, in the spirit of gift-giving, ask yourself if you’re ready to give yours. Follow those passions and release those fears, do what feels comes naturally, and go after what makes you bubble with enthusiasm. Cultivate your talents, listen to your dreams, and follow your heart. You never know whose Christmas you might end up making the best yet.

* While we’re on the subject of Twilight… (I’m sorry :))

Sometimes, when we fall, we fly

It’s been almost a quarter of a year (blimey!) since I posted the list of things I wanted to do before I turn 26. This means I’ve used up 25% of my timeline! Unmonitored resolutions can end up being lost in the universe, never having had the chance to have an impact on a life. I think it’s a good thing, when you make goals for yourself, to check in every once in a while, and make sure you’re still on track. Especially when the whole reason for doing it is a big one. I look back at old posts, sometimes, and see that scared, frail girl, and it propels me to keep trying – every tiny victory, no matter how small, is another slap in the face of fear. I know anxiety and worry are things that plague so many people, and I know how helpess they can make you feel. I want to do everything on this list, everything that ever terrified me, and hopefully one day, be free of it all – it’s been my biggest dream for a number of years now. I feel like I’m in a way better place – I still can’t get over the fact that my job title is now Facilitator – but it doesn’t mean I’m what I’d consider confident yet. I still wonder why I was picked. But it’s an ongoing process of choosing fight over flight, and I’m hoping, with enough practice, one day, it’ll feel natural.

So, that list? Here’s the lowdown on the progress so far:

1. Get in crazy good shape.
2. Become a hot yoga person.
These were the “physical” sort of things on my list – as we established last week, fitness isn’t something that’s been a big part of my life, and I’ve always used back pain, being too busy, or not being able to afford memberships as an excuse. Over the last three months I’ve told myself to stop being such a princess and suck it up: I’ve been doing exercises for my back several times a week. I’ve also begun sticking to my goal of running more than once a week, and took an introductory month of hot yoga (while it was cheap). I even got Sweet started too – he totally fell in love with it and ended up going more often than I was! Unfortunately the price has gone up – so right now, I’m exploring other options in the city, and hopefully finding somewhere less riduculously priced. I loved hot yoga – it was incredibly calming – the first session was done by candlelight with a live acoustic musician! – and I can’t deny it helped my back significantly while I was doing it.

5. Get my driver’s licence.
I renewed my learners, and the card came in last week! Which means I’m legally now able to be behind the wheel. I’m going to start taking lessons with my Dad ASAP – I only have another 8 weeks before the snow hits!

7. Meet new people.
Since I made the list, I started going to local Meetup groups and sought out some new local penpals (despite the potential to look a total weirdo in the process!). In the last few months, I’ve been blessed to have met some incredible people – people who bring joy, inspiration, encouragement, and real friendship to my life. One of them had to move away – which was pretty tough, but the texts and long distance phone calls make it that much easier. Another couple of them, I soon found out, live a few blocks from us, and have become friends with Sweet, too, and the last few months have been filled with many a night of great conversation, laughs, song, life stories, and dreams, and I’m so incredibly excited they said yes to being part of our wedding party in December!

9. Plan meals, be healthier, and cook better.
Adjusting to planning meals a week ahead of time has been a challenge, but luckily Sweet is a whiz in the kitchen and has been whipping up all sorts of healthy, delicious stuff! (Note to self: share recipes!) I’ve also been good nutritionally, and have been starting every morning off with a Green Monster full of spinach, fruit, vitamins and nutrients. Blended fruit and veg is so much more convenient than eating it. And, thanks to your AMAZING outpour of advice, I’m learning to snack healthily throughout the day too, and not starve myself.

15. Teach a class full of people without being scared.
I’d taught small groups before, but last month, I had my first full on class. THIRTY. ADULT. LEARNERS put up with me for a couple of hours, teaching them about customer service and good habits of successful employees, and actually enjoyed it. The feeling I got after finishing was indescribable – I actually felt like I’d made a difference, and I couldn’t wait to start developing the rest of the materials. Self awareness, communication skills, interview techniques… are all modules I’m going to be responsible for in the coming few weeks. I’ve been given a position where I can pass on information that could change people’s lives for the better – and I have to remind myself that’s so much higher a priority than my own fear ever will be.

18. Go on a blogger meetup.
I was thrilled to meet Stephen and Aly in London a few weeks ago, and this Friday, I leave for 4 days in Chicago! I will be sharing pyjama parties, sightseeing, brewery tours, secret bars, skydecks and fancy dinners with some of my favourite people in the world – words cannot express how excited I am to meet Ashley, Brittany, Nate, Jen and Phampants – two more days until they get the BIGGEST HUGS EVER.

19. See more of the world and soak up every last drop.
England and Spain were amazing, Chicago next week will be so much fun, and Mexico will be jaw-dropping. As will, perhaps, my bank account balance at the end of this year, but you only live once.

20. Do more home decor.
We rent our house, which, though wonderfully homey, has rather bare cream walls. Last month I splurged and bought some of my favourite pieces of art, framed them, and hung them around the house, replacing some old TV and band posters (sniff). I also printed some pages from medieval manuscripts and had them blown up and framed, so all along wall beside the stairs is now historical artwork that indulges my nerdy side – and looks just lovely.

21. Finish my tattoo.
After the disastrous results of attempts one, two, and three, I finally found someone who’s going to finish the thing – make it completely different, completely beautiful, and completely new. T-35 days until the appointment!

The verdict: I think I’m doing okay! I’m far from being close to the finish line, and I’m not going to deny, some of the hardest ones are still to come. Some are going to be fun, some scary, and some still seem near impossible – but I’m determined to try. Doing this experiment has been a rollercoaster of emotions, so far, but I think it’s worth it. I just feel I need to prove I can be the person I want to be – and not the person I was. Yes, the past helps us become who we are today, but it also has no control over how the future unfolds unless you let it. A blog friend of mine said it well last week:

Too many of us live behind walls of our own design. We hide our true selves because we feel weird, or that we won’t be accepted. We feel that we need this acceptance to live; we need to feel normal, related-to, and understood. Many of us, however, don’t feel understood. We might feel loved, appreciated, welcomed, and accepted, but rarely do we feel understood.

So many of us let this fear of nonacceptance rule our lives. We keep our hopes and dreams and true selves locked away, worried about what other people might think if they were ever to see the light. And it’s a shame. It’s a waste. And it leads to an unfulfilling, unmeaningful, hollow existence.  I think we can all choose whether or not we allow those walls to stay up, or if we want to break them down and put ourselves out there. If you’re met with adversity from putting yourself out there, you have the choice as to how to take it. Is it going to dictate the way you live your life, or are you going to take control of your own? At the end of my last day of being 25, I don’t know if I’ll have achieved everything I set out to do. I might try and fail miserably. I might get hurt. I might get laughed at, and I might get gossiped about. But at the end of the day, I’ll have tried. And if, somehow, I manage to do it? I want anyone who’s ever lived by the reigns of fear to believe they can break free too. For now, I’ll keep trying. Fight over flight. In the eternal hope that, as a favourite blogger shared, “first, you jump off the cliff, and you build wings on the way down.”

Did you set goals for yourself this year? New Year’s Resolutions, or Four Simple Goals perhaps? How are you keeping yourself on track?

The Broken Mirror

Note: I actually wrote this two and a half weeks ago in a fit of tears and I’ve been contemplating whether or not to post it since then. I tossed around the idea of password protecting it for a while and decided on just putting it out there. Hiding it went against what I strive for: sincerity.  And though I realise posts after the excitement of the wedding competition should probably all keep riding  the wave of the upbeat (and don’t worry, I’m okay, and said upbeat WILL return pronto), as I’ve mentioned in blog posts prior, I’m not one to pretend everything is sunshine and unicorns when behind the screen, it’s not.  I may be shooting myself in the foot and alienating readers with this, but I’m hoping, contrary to what I’ve sometimes seen around the blogosphere, people might be drawn to the genuine rather than stories about cupcakes and puppies.  But if this does push people away, I apologise in advance. I just have a really hard time sugar coating things when being real is so important to me.

This brings me to the issue at hand. Remember the List? Of course you do; I’ve been writing about my endeavours to tackle it since before it went public. I was talking about it earlier this week with someone, and I started worrying about the items that were going to be rather more difficult to achieve than others. Anyone can start exercising, or make smoothies, or floss. Anyone can make new friendships, or do karaoke, or learn to speak publicly with enough dedication and hard work.  But what happens when something on your list seems to defy the way you’ve lived your entire life? I panicked a little when I revisited Number 12: Stop Hating How I Look.

How can you change the way you feel about something when the reality of it stares you in the face on a daily basis? What if I suddenly wanted to like, I don’t know, rap music, or root beer – things I’ve experienced, disliked, and subsequently formed an opinion on.  I wouldn’t magically be able to start appreciating them when I already know I’m not a fan. I feel like it’s the same with how I look, as painfully awkard and superficial as this sounds. Every day I look in the mirror, or at pictures, and I think how repulsive I am. I want to Photoshop my nose because it’s hideously huge and I don’t understand how the rest of the world doesn’t see what I see.  Every time I sit across from someone I worry if they’re secretly looking at my face and seeing what I see when I look in the mirror. Ugly. I was trying to explain myself to this person and found myself breaking down in tears at the thought of getting my wedding photos back – being completely natural and happy on the day, only to get the photographs back  in a few weeks and be appalled at how awful I looked.  In all honesty I’m dreading being the centre of attention and the subject of every photograph because I feel like every snapshot is another piece of evidence in the case that proves how unattractive I am.

This person asked me if outward appearance was important to me. If, in my list of goals for how I want to live my life, physical beauty or lack thereof was ever part of my equation.  Every fibre of my soul wants to say no – because I know I would never judge someone based on how they look.  But the reality is that a large part of the rest of the world does.  There are countless studies on the human face in relation to partnerships, career opportunities, satisfaction with life – and every study proves that those who are considered to be more attractive do better at work, have higher salaries, larger groups of friends, and more satisfaction with their lives and relationships than those who feel, or are considered to be, unattractive.  I know with everything I am that outer appearance doesn’t matter in the slightest, but I also know the way in which the world works.  I genuinely feel uncomfortable in front of people, not just because I’m afraid of public speaking – and that’s something for which I’m able to take steps to tackle – but because I fear everyone in front of me is thinking the same thing about me I do.  I can’t help but feel if I had plastic surgery, and looked how I want to look, that worry and self consciousness would disappear and I would be free to enjoy life, to be in front of people without fear and just do a better job, to be less afraid of getting out there into the world and making a difference, achieving my potential.  How I feel about how I look is holding me back. But unlike social anxiety, it’s not something over which I have any control.

Anyone who’s been reading me for more than a couple of weeks will know I’m a huge advocator for taking control of your life. If you don’t like your circumstances, have the strength to dive in there and actively shape them into what you want them to be.  I let fear and negative self talk rule my life for far too long – you all know that, and you know I’ve been jumping at everything I used to be scared of in the hope of becoming stronger for trying.  I want to be comfortable in front of crowds? Jump right in and start practising instead of hiding on the sidelines. But the goal of being able to not see myself the way I have for so long – I don’t know where to even begin. I don’t know how to change a thought pattern – which sounds so hypocritical, considering I’m the biggest advocate for changing your thoughts in order to change your life. This person told me she doesn’t want me doing something drastic like surgery because she’s “seen me take the hard path before, and this seems like the easy road.”  She wrote me a message earlier in the week:

You have transformed your life in ways I could never imagine, overcome huge struggles and you’re a better person because of it. I’m so proud of you. This is why I’m challenging you to once again take the difficult road of self-loving that I’ve seen you undertake time and again these past few years. I guess the reason I don’t see the need for you to resort to an extreme tactic to fix this ‘problem’ is that I’ve already seen you overcome so much that I don’t see how you can’t overcome this as well! Think about everything you’ve overcome… and I know it seems hard, maybe impossible, to see yourself liking the way you look, but just think, a couple of years ago would you ever have talked openly about your fears, would you have gone outside without makeup on, or seen yourself speaking in front of classes of people week after week, being on the radio, befriending STRANGERS… you probably never would’ve seen yourself loving those either! Don’t you see? Everything you’re feeling and saying now is just a repeat of what you’ve already overcome! With the same hard work and dedication you’ve already put into your life, you can overcome this as well. That’s why I don’t see the need to resort to such drastic measures, because I’ve seen you conquer challenges before and it’s made you stronger. I know you can get through this as well.

I hear the words and I know they’re true. I know with hard work and determination anything is possible. But I’m stuck right now, in a place where I feel there’s no way of seeing things any other way. I know I’ve said the same thing before about old habits, old thought patterns… but this time, I don’t see anywhere to ‘jump in’. I feel hypocritical encouraging others to change their thoughts and habits, to step outside what’s comfortable and grow and come out stronger on the other side. Putting time and thought into something so negative defies how I strive to live my life, and I feel almost ashamed to be writing about something so superficial. I want to smack myself when I think of the good I could be doing with my energy, when I think of how lucky I am to live the life I do… but I can’t seem to shake it. Is this just another on the list of insecurities I’ve had for so long, another challenge that can be overcome? It’s not body dysmorphia – isn’t that just when people feel they’re overweight and lean toward anorexic type behaviours… I don’t have any problems with my weight. That’s a lie (see? I can’t sugarcoat things). I do. I’m 104 lbs right now and I still feel like a whale after I eat a big meal. But I don’t skip meals or throw up or anything. I’m just naturally small framed and consequently the slightest bulge stands out a mile.  To me – and so, in my head, to everyone else as well. I just want to be able to overcome it – all of it, not to be seen as attractive by other people, but to feel confident in myself so I’m not held back so much, so I don’t shy away from people so much, scared of what they might be thinking.  I want to be able to be comfortable and confident. I want to be able to contribute to the world and this seems to be the one destination to which I can’t see a clear path.

I’m sorry for the uncharacteristic downer. I’m so sorry to write about something so superficial but I’m not going to pretend these thoughts aren’t in my head. This is me, this is my life and my thoughts, ramblings, ups and downs, the lot. I appreciate if you’ve made it this far. I just needed to be honest with how I was feeling and get it down, and if people stop reading, or judge me… well, those who are only around for the good times aren’t worth worrying about anyway. I’m not looking for comments on this post… I just had to get it out. But if you could go vote for me over at Weddingbells today… I’d really appreciate it. You guys are wonderful. And I’ll be back to normal next post, I promise.