positivity

A Royal Rant

This Friday marks an important date in the world’s calendar: the Royal Wedding. Now, some of you may be rolling your eyes and hovering your cursor over that red X, but I ask you to bear with me – this isn’t intended to be a gushy post of patriotism (okay, maybe a little), but to express why this event has – and rightfully deserves – captured the hearts of millions across the globe.  (Sidenote: isn’t this the most beautiful wedding image you’ve ever seen?)

Sadly, people’s reaction to my talking about the royal family usually tends to be one of apathy or of utter opposition.  I’ve lost count how many times I’ve heard people say things like “why bother with a monarchy, they don’t do anything”, or even profess “hatred” toward people they don’t even know. In a way, the royal family seems to be met often in the same manner people talk about celebrities – they love to gossip, spread rumours, and thrive on stories that show them in a poor light. Just take a look at your local checkout stand, and you’ll see all sorts of defamatory headlines about pop stars or politicians, sold by the hundreds of thousands and making people throughout the world salivate. It’s awful, but it’s also a strangely intriguing behaviour – why do people try to tear down those in the spotlight without second thought to the fact that behind the magazine covers and paparazzi shots, these are real people with real feelings?

A couple of months ago I read a post from a wonderful writer.  It came following the Oscars, and really made me think:

It’s a night dedicated to people who love what they do, who pour their heart into their job at all hours of the day, and then get a bad reputation for it. They are the only people we don’t whisper about when we’re gossiping. Everyone else receives hushed voices, but for them, we gawk and squeal, and we forget that they’re someone else’s daughter or sister or son or husband. Someone else’s friends and families. They are real people with real passions. And each year, we expect more of them. We have the nerve to complain about the clothes they wear or the colour they dyed their hair. So many people in our world are guilty of the same indiscretions and yet we magnify their lives and their missteps and we forget that they stumble over all the issues that come with being human. We forget that they have to roll out of bed and go to work… that they’re real. They have big dreams, just like you and me.”

Prince William and Kate Middleton may not be movie stars, but they are real people who just so happened to be born into the public eye. They didn’t ask to be famous, they just happened to fall in love. And yet so many people in the world meet the mere mention of their names with an almost reflexive tone of scorn. Why do people do this to anyone in the spotlight? They’ll make judgment on people they don’t know, and spread rumous like wildfire without a second thought to bother questioning if there’s any truth behind them. They’ll jump on the bandwagon and spread criticism like the plague, without considering that the subjects of their scorn are real people with real feelings that can be hurt just like yours or mine.

To me, the Royal Wedding is a wonderful occasion. I love to celebrate anyone’s wedding, but there’s something special about something that only tends to happen once a generation. She’s intelligent, charming, and a beautiful role model and ambassador for England. He was raised by one of the most compassionate, caring mothers there ever was; his life was touched by tragedy and his grieving thrust across newspapers globally. Yet he faces the world with a positive attitude, does work in third-world countries, and has done a lot in his career to make the world a better place. Years ago, entire nations would rejoice at a royal event. People would hold parties and deck the streets and squeeze big groups into living rooms tightly around a little black and white television, celebrating the occasion, united and proud, happy for people that were synonymous with the country they loved so dearly.  There are still lots of people that do this – my heart gave a little leap when I saw the bunting decking the streets of London. But today, a large proportion of people seem quick to vocalise their apathy or distaste. They find reason for fault, create hateful Facebook groups, and the British security have to be out in full force thanks to the enormous range of threats to the royal family from protesters, terrorists, anarchists and anti-monarchists.

Do people really have nothing better to do with their lives than trying to take other people down?

It happens to a degree whenever somebody lands themselves in the spotlight. For every fifty people who’ll be happy for you, it seems certain that there’ll be five that will spread hate and gossip and try to rain on your parade.  A good friend of mine said it well when I last wrote about this sort of thing (after being targeted repeatedly by an Internet troll): “There’s always gonna be haters, and they only get more numerous and louder the more successful you become.”  Which is why I think it’s important to try to counter the negativity thrown carelessly about the world with kindness and support. Don’t join the bandwagon of gossip and rumours – if you don’t like something, keep quiet. Spreading hate isn’t going to do anything except make you look bad. If you’re in favour of something or someone, wear your support proudly on your sleeve. There’s enough pessimism and slander in the world already, and how are you going to feel at the end of your life when you look back and see that you chose to spend the time you were given actively trying to hurt others? Trying to tarnish reputations and ruin occasions of joy. I feel so strongly about this because I’ve been the subject of it, and I don’t want to live in a world where people are quicker to fuel the rumour mill than they are to stand up for somebody.

In two days, two good-hearted, loving people who just so happen to be under the microscope of millions across the planet, are going to celebrate their commitment to each other in a beautiful ceremony that will be talked about for years, at the heart of the country I’m proud to call home. If you have negative thoughts about the monarchy, please keep them to yourself and allow those who support them (as well as those directly involved) to have their day unhindered by hate. There is nothing worse than looking back on your once-in-a-lifetime day and remembering it for something other than the joyous celebration it deserves to be. Trust me. So, this Friday, I will be hanging my Union Jack, making the Royal Chocolate Biscuit Cake, donning fascinators and celebrating the Royal Wedding with my girlfriends as we wonder where on their journey the congratulatory cards we made for William and Kate might be. (Yes, we are secretly twelve years old. :)) 

Think for a second that whether you’re discussing a coworker or a celebrity, there are real people at the other end of your commentary. In this situation, there are real people with real feelings who’ve committed no crime other than falling in love, who would probably prefer an intimate celebration to a national event anyway.  And keep this in mind as you go about your day-to-day life, or your travels across the Internet. 

If someone passes on a rumour, question it rather than continue it. Stand by those you care about instead of keeping quiet while they’re under attack. Take a stand for positivity, and spread love in a world where it seems so easy to spread hate through text messages and cowardly anonymous comments. It’s easy to do what everyone else is doing, but it takes courage to stand up for what’s right. And on Friday, the decent thing is to show nothing but a spirit of congratulations, and allow the Prince and Princess-to-be to celebrate their love just like anyone else. Surely it can’t be too much to ask to allow them to have this one day?

Judas at Easter

I was a little hesitant to post my thoughts on this because on blogs, the rules of conversation often seem much like those of dinner parties: don’t talk about money, politics or religion, and you’ll be fine. Considering the last time I talked about the latter I almost didn’t have a wedding, I’ve learned to tread carefully around the subject: but I’m also torn, because I’m such a strong advocate for being able to have a voice as long as your intention is never to hurt anyone.  Which mine has never been. I was talking with a good friend of mine lately about the phenomenon of cyber-bullying, and he framed it brilliantly: the risk of putting yourself out there is that someone may hear you. Should the fact that no one can please everyone stifle your freedom of expression? Quite the opposite – there will always be naysayers, but you can’t allow others to control your life when in your heart, you know your intent is fundamentally positive.

So. Religion, hmm? The reason I’m posting this today is that something has happened in the world of pop culture that has me fascinated. It’s Easter weekend this week, and Lady Gaga has released a single with the lyrics “I’m in love with Judas” chanted repeatedly over a thumping techno beat. The reaction from religious folks across the globe has obviously been negative, claiming she’s merely attention-seeking and trying to create controversy. In her music video for Alejandro, she dresses as a nun and swallows a rosary. In Judas, she refers to herself as a “holy fool,” a “fame hooker, a prostitute wench who vomits her mind”.  It’s not surprising speakers from religious groups are up in arms. “Because of her fame and the influence she has with young people, one would think that she’d learn to back off”, says Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, claiming her release of the single at the start of Holy Week is just “one more example of her ethics, choosing to stick it to the Catholics again.” But are people even bothering to read the lyrics? Are they simply conveniently forgetting that the majority of poems, works of literature, and most definitely songs use metaphors to illustrate a point?

To me, it’s not an attack on religion at all. Gaga has stated publicly that she is a believer (not that it should matter), and her last hit rocketed to the top of international charts with references to “capital H-i-m” throughout verses, along with the line “I’m beautiful in my way, because God makes no mistakes” sung proudly throughout choruses. I think Judas is simply using metaphor to make a record about falling in love with the wrong person – a subject people have been singing about for decades. “I wanna love you, but something’s pulling me away from you; Jesus is my virtue, and Judas is the demon I cling to…” How is this a deliberate attack on the church? I don’t see how it could be anything other than honest. It tells of knowing what the right course of action is but struggling to let go of something or someone you know is a bad influence. And haven’t we all been in that situation at one time or another?  Gaga’s creative director for the controversial video (out next week) has spoken up, saying that the Catholic Church shouldn’t be up in arms, since its message is anything but blasphemous. “I will tell you now, first off, I’m Christian, and my career is evidence of God in my life, and I think that most people are already thinking about Gaga and blasphemy and they’re premeditating the approach. I think they’ll be very shocked to find out how huge and really groundbreaking the message is, and how freeing the message is for all the right reasons.” Not forgetting that this all happened in the eighties already – I’m sure Madonna’s music video portraying a black Jesus and people dancing around burning crosses was the subject of just as much speculation then as Lady Gaga’s hit is today. And that didn’t stop her  becoming one of the most successful artists of all time.

I’m not the biggest fan of pop music, but I have to give respect to anyone who breaks down the walls of what’s considered typically beautiful, who uses their fame to stand up for the underdogs, who fights against prejudice, and who isn’t afraid to have their voice heard. People stifle their own thoughts all the time, in fame, in life, and even here across the blogosphere. They keep their opinions to themselves and go along with the masses for fear of how other people will react. Throughout history, if nobody had spoken up, half of us would still probably be deprived of the right to vote, an education, or a voice.  As a good friend reminded me recently, “you’ve got to take a stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.”  People really need to stop finding fault so easily, and hand it to those that actually have the guts to speak up once in a while. I love the verse in Judas where she pretty much says “if you don’t like what I have to say, nobody’s making you listen”. Maybe because I’ve so often wondered the same thing about Internet trolls. 🙂

Ultimately, Lady Gaga has inspired a generation to embrace being different, and has stood up for all sorts of oppressed minorities, helping people who were once afraid to be who they were become proud and comfortable in their own skin.  I think this is a great pop song, making intelligent use of metaphor to sing about a subject that’s relatable to all. It’s just as good as Bad Romance, and better than Born This Wa-hey. Enough with making mountains out of molehills, people – can’t we just stop finding fault and enjoy a decent record? But why the album cover depicts her inexplicably as half-motorcycle (I suppose quarter-motorcycle would just be silly), I’m still guessing…

What do you think? Are people just seeing what they want to see, and making an artist look bad to serve their own agendas, or do you believe the hype and think Gaga’s gone too far? I’m really interested  in hearing your thoughts!

Spread Your Love Like A Fever

“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.”

Those words were from one of the first e-mails exchanged with who is now one of the best friends I’ve ever had. We were just getting to know each other, and he surprised me with saying exactly what I try to live by – tell everyone that means something to you just how much they mean. It’s not always easy, though – these days, you need to be cool, calm, collected; develop a thick skin, hide your emotions, or the world will eat you up. I’ve always been told I’m more sensitive than most. I remember ex-boyfriends telling me to stop crying so much, friends telling me not to invest my heart so much, people telling me if I didn’t get so emotionally attached I’d save myself a lot of pain. I was talking to my friend about this again recently – I suppose we’d been talking about our resolutions and hopes for the year ahead, and in talking about my goal of filling 2011 with passion, it brought me back to the topic we’d discussed so early on. Going all in. Being as open and deep as possible, putting hearts not only on sleeves, but on lapels, buttonholes and pockets, too. Sharing absolutely everything you are without reserve, without fear of judgment. When the other person is on the same page, outside the realm of what the world may consider “normal”, that connection with another human being can be magical. No wonder we became such fast friends.

Less than 8 months ago, some of the people I now hold dearest in my heart weren’t even in my life yet. Now, I couldn’t imagine life without them. I’d like to think I went all in with them, too – and if you’ve been reading for a while, I tend to do the same thing here. Put absolutely everything out there because that way, the ones who stick around know the real you. I thrive on interpersonal connection – not simply having people around all the time, but having a select few with whom you can share the very depths of your soul. I think as we grow up, we tend to believe what we see all around us – that quantity is better than quality: more money, more nights out, more followers, and more Facebook friends equates to a more successful life. We skip the quality in favour of accumulating more quantitatively because that’s what’s normal. We’ll send text messages rather than picking up the phone; choosing the lifeless and ambiguous messages of 140 characters over the real emotion of someone’s voice. We’ll spend hours online rather than visiting a relative, or experiencing the world. We’ll get together for coffee with a friend and talk about work, relationships, or books, but we won’t talk about how grateful we are just to have them in our lives.  We’ll say our goodbyes and leave without a hug. We’ll post status updates and Tweet about everything going on in our lives, we’ll blog about ourselves and talk some more, but we won’t listen. We won’t use the technology created to make us feel more connected to actually… connect. As a group of last year’s troubadours so aptly put it, we are the Battery Human.

I feel so passionately about making the most of the time we’re given, knowing it could all be taken away tomorrow. So, at the risk of defying social normalcies and at the risk of having it trampled, I put my heart out openly to anyone who enters my life, and give it freely to those who stay. It’s taken a beating over the years, and it’s probably got a few more battle scars to come along the way, but at least, at the end of it all, I can say I lived without reserve. I used up all the love I had and spread it to everyone who mattered. Because what good is having amazing people in your life if you never let them know how you feel? If your best friend, or a beloved relative were to be gone tomorrow, if they’ve had any sort of impact on your life at all, if they’ve ever been there for you through something tough, or if they’ve ever encouraged to believe in yourself or follow a dream… the best way to say thank you is to just be honest. Pour your heart out to your loved ones and let them know how much they mean. One of mine did this for me, recently, and it left me totally speechless; all the words I couldn’t voice bundled themselves together, launching themselves in streams from my eyes instead. A very dear blog friend I’ve yet to meet in person did it again today. Words truly cannot do justice to the feeling of warmth and appreciation I felt in reading these posts. People don’t do that, these days, tell each other they’re loved. People keep their hearts in cages locked tight by the fear of what other people may think. And to see someone offer such displays of friendship and emotion felt incredible, and I was left with a sense of deep gratitude, of true blessing, of real worth, and a sense that I want absolutely everyone I care about to feel the same way. They say that to the world, you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world. If there’s anyone like that in your life, why not take a moment to tell them?

I hope my friend continues his dream of being best friends with everyone in the world. If you have a friend, why not give them the very best you can? I hope he continues to use the word “love” more in everyday life, too. I’m going to try to do the same. People may be scared to use it, but I don’t think anybody in the world wouldn’t appreciate… feeling appreciated.

Shelving the Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acceptance: A small step towards ‘A New Earth’

I’ve mentioned this book for a little while now, and lately, I’ve been making an extra effort to really live out the teachings.  Well maybe not “teachings”; ideas? Concepts? I must admit I was a bit of a new kid on the Eckhart Tolle block, having heard of his huge association with Oprah (is there something wrong with me if I’ve never seen an episode?), and shrugging it off as “another self-help author”, but A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose was introduced to me early in the summer, and with the path I feel I’m being called to be on lately, it was rather aptly timed indeed.

I cracked open the book one night in the bath. I don’t often take baths because I get terribly bored, and I don’t often read in the bath because everything gets terribly soggy, so this was slightly out of the ordinary. However the experience remains ingrained in memory – I’d put some on pretty music, lit some candles, and had the window half open so a breeze seeped in, refreshing against the steam coming off the bubbles. I’d grabbed a bath pillow and began to read. At first, I was a little hesitant. The first chapter was about the first flower ever to appear on planet Earth hundreds of millions of years ago, opening up to receive sunlight, marking an evolutionary transformation in plantlife. A bit New Age, if you ask me, but I kept reading the analogy, in which he refers to human consciousness – a similar transformation, which has already begun, which, if every human being decided to focus on purpose and awareness, be free of the Ego, and of all the self-imposed limitations and negativity perpetual thinking gives rise to, could bring about a “New Earth”.

Once I passed the first chapter, however, I was hooked. I carried it everywhere and found myself sitting in coffee shops nodding along as I highlighted something on pretty much every other page, wishing there was a way I could steal the words away from the page and install them into my brain where I’d forever be guided and reminded. It’s not a religious book, but the author makes reference to a variety of different religions and spiritual practices, not to add to the reader’s beliefs, but to create food for thought, and hopefully, a shift in consciousness.

One of the main notions of the book is that we, as humans, are trapped in our own minds. Our Ego wants to have an identity, whether good or bad, and we are also conditioned to thinking that if we have more, then we will be happy. Along with thinking and wanting more, comes focusing on lack – lack of money, of friends, of attractiveness, of happiness…  “If the thought of lack – whether it be money, recognition, or love – has become part of who you think you are, you will always experience lack. Rather than acknowledge the good that is already in your life, all you see is lack. No matter what you have or get, you won’t be happy. You will always be looking for something else that promises greater fulfillment, that promises to make your incomplete sense of self complete and fill that sense of lack you feel within.”

The author explains, in a way different from other books I’ve read, that it’s not the Ego itself that is bad, but our identification with it that causes the most suffering. If we identify ourselves by our jobs, our possessions, even on the flipside, by our suffering or hardship – as long as we perpetuate that identification, we are not simply living in the present and accepting things as they are.  The goal is to raise personal awareness of our behaviour, allowing ourselves to simply be in the present moment, rather than getting caught up in in thinking about and reacting to it, or living by the roles we give to ourselves. And aren’t we all guilty of that?

The way we go about the world is shaped, in large part, by our past experiences, by our inner critic, by our fears and by worrying about what other people think of us. We act differently, though maybe only very slightly, around different groups of people. We may act one way around our partner, another around his or her family, another around our boss, and yet another around our closest friends. We ever so subtly fall into different roles shaped by how we want society to see us, or by past hurts or anxieties. Some may have a heightened sense of Ego, going about the world in fancy suits and filling homes with expensive decor, fuelled by the notion that more is better. Some may have latched onto the other end of the spectrum, carrying the weight of their past hardships or present sufferings with a frown on their face and a cloud over their head. The book teaches it doesn’t matter what identification we have with the Ego, as long as it has an identity. And the only way to truly be at peace is to recognise that, detach from those thought patterns, detach from the material things that are ultimately ephemeral, and detach from worry about things over which we have no control.

I took a LOT away from this book, but most of all, I took away the power of awareness and acceptance.  The moment you notice a pattern of behaviour that is no longer working for you, recognise it, change it, and you are on your way to becoming more enlightened and living a more purposeful existence. Instead of allowing reactive emotions to take over in response to unfavourable life events, accept them as they are. Instead of feeling wronged or holding on to grudges, just let them go. And, though painful sometimes, accepting the path a loved one has chosen even though you may believe it’ll end badly. People ultimately only learn from their own mistakes.  There was a great section about peace vs. drama which is something I think we can all identify with, explaining that though we all want peace, there’s something in all of us that also wants drama and conflict. We’re not acknowledged, we have an argument, we feel wronged somehow, and the mind races to defend itself, attack, or blame someone else.

“Can you feel that there is something in you that is at war, something that feels threatened and wants to survive at all cost, that needs the drama in order to assert its identity as the victorious character within that theatrical production? Can you feel there is something in you that would rather be right than at peace?”

The Ego would rather be right than at peace, and the only way to lessen its grip is to become aware of it – the voice in our head that “comments, speculates, judges, compares, dislikes… etc.”  You can catch yourself in these situations, and choose to accept and be happy, rather than insisting at any cost you be right. Since I finished the book I’ve caught myself out slipping into old thought patterns that are ultimately Ego-driven – reacting in arguments, becoming upset over situations I can’t control, worrying about things, and beating myself up. None of this does anyone any good and is never going to pave the way to being at peace, and I think this book should be mandatory reading for everyone who’s concerned at all about finding happiness, and living a good life of intent, peace and purpose. If everyone lived by the teachings of this book, the world would be a very different place indeed. But as with all big movements, they start with a small step. And if I can introduce someone to this reading material and it impacts them the way it did after it was introduced to me… then I’d like to think this was mine.

Making a Dent

Before I properly get into today’s post, I just want to say a huge thank you to those who reached out and offered words of understanding and encouragement on my last post. I want to write back to each and every one of you because none of you had to say anything, but like good friends, you did, and I have to say how much it meant to me. I’ve been a little absent around the blogosphere this past week because of the biggest arts festival ever happening right now  (post to come!), and friends in from out of town who I get to see once per year… but I will definitely be visiting/writing/commenting back to each of you very shortly. Just had to say how thankful I felt last week to be part of such a caring community. ❤

Now, onto a new week! Close to six months ago, I had the honour of writing something for ItStartsWith.Us. I wrote about the definition of the word “success” and how we choose to measure it in our own lives in ways other than monetarily.  If you’re not familiar with the project, ItStartsWith.Us is a group of people across the globe headed by the wonderful Nate St. Pierre, who band together and make it a focus to have a positive impact in the lives of those around them. “Each and every one of us has the ability to change the world by touching lives in this way. And when we hear stories about the positive things others are doing, we become more aware of the opportunities we have to make a difference for the people around us.”  The team get an email each week with a small, 10 or 15 minute “mission” – things like buying coffee for the stranger in front of you, writing a letter, baking cookies for your neighbours, or telling someone how much they mean to you. Little things that, when you think of them happening all over the globe, add up to make this world a little bit better. “Being a part of the team is always free, and there’s no pressure to do the weekly missions. Do them if you want, skip them if you want. I like to think of them as a gentle reminder to keep our eyes open to the good we can do as we walk through this life.”  It’s a project like this that makes me proud to be involved.

Think about what would happen if our mission for the week was to write a brief letter of encouragement to a terminally ill child. We pick the biggest special-needs hospital in the country . . . and every child in that hospital gets 50 letters. What will every postal worker say when they deliver 20,000 letters to that hospital in a single week? What will all the staff members say when they see the effect on all the kids? What will all the family members say when they’ve been touched with such a demonstration of love from strangers? None of these people will ever forget what happened to them that week, and they will tell the story to others for the rest of their lives. And what did it cost you? 15 minutes and the price of a stamp.

There’s also the Love Bomb project – a division of ISWU -a group that comes together every week to drop hundreds of “love bombs” (in the form of a simple comment left on a blog) on those who need it most. This has only been going a few months, but so far, we’ve dropped love bombs on new parents whose newborn babies have passed away; young girls whose everyday life is a battle against depression, the inner critic relentlessly professing her worthlessness; someone living with MS in enormous fear of its worsening; and, recently,a beautiful young artist recently diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative and incurable eye disease that will eventually cause her to lose her vision altogether.  We know it’s near impossible to take away the pain and distress of situations like this – but when someone suffering sees an outpouring of hundreds of comments from around the world, telling them someone cares, it really makes a difference.  Signing up and taking part only takes five minutes per week, and I’d love if some of you hopped on board with this. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how I needed to prioritise my time and make sure I was spending it on things that mattered – and let’s face it, how much time do we spend online surfing Facebook, reading posts, updating statuses…? We’re bloggers. We live online. We can all take five minutes out of our week to make a difference in the life of someone less fortunate than us.

I’ve been part of the blogging community for a little while now, and I feel blessed to belong to a group of such kind, generous, compassionate and determined souls. I’ve seen people band together in the past for a good cause, and it’s been nothing short of astonishing.  The support this community shows for each other is remarkable – through the good, through the bad, and through the downright competitive!! If ItStartsWith.Us and the Love Bomb Project aren’t already on your radar, and I know many of you are already on board, please take a second and think about how little effort it can take to contribute toward making a huge difference in someone’s life.

Find out more about the projects here and here.

Pandemic

I started my new job this week, and things are definitely shaping up to be a whole new change of pace!  I am still title-less, but the month of July is going to be filled with training, curriculum development, out of office visits and tonnes of learning.  (AND VOTING. PLEASE. DID YOU DO IT YET? :)) It’s massively different than what I’m used to, and I must admit first day I was so overwhelmed and anxious about all the new responsibility I made myself physically sick and subsequently missed the next two days (I’m a winner, I know), but the nerves I think are finally subsiding a little.  I’m thrilled to be part of a brand new project which is going to put me in a position that will not only push my boundaries (I’m going to be facilitating about 6 different modules – huge for the whole public speaking thing) but also put me in a position where I can really help people. One of the first things we were told was that the focus of this project was going to be not only helping the community, but empowering people – giving them tools and opportunities that will help them change their lives for the better. And that make me really proud. Along with teaching, I’m going to be doing some admin, some promotion and marketing, and toward the botttom end of the list – health and safety. Now, I may be a strange candidate for holding any portion of responsibility regarding other people’s safety or health (I think I made my stance on the government’s encouragement of mass vaccination quite clear during the H1N1 outbreak) – but thinking back to that got me thinking about the idea of what constitutes the idea of a pandemic – something which, when it comes down to it, causes widespread action in regards to something contagious.

When you hear the word, you automatically think of outbreaks of scary things like SARS, H1N1, Bird Flu… even the Bubonic Plague, and the masses subsequently running on something not too far from hysteria, having bought into the combination of newsreaders telling scary stories, but more accurately, fear. Fear is as contagious, if not more so, than whatever outbreak happens to be circling the newspapers.  Did I know anyone in my city affected by any of these so-called pandemics? No, I knew a bunch of people who, upon the encouragement of lunchroom gossip and television sets, rushed to the nearest doctor’s office to have something injected into their bloodstream, or started wearing surgical face masks in the street. The fear of contamination was more contagious than the sickness itself.  The word “pandemic” is defined as prevalent throughout an entire country, continent, or the whole world; widespread over a large area; general; universal. So why are we conditioned to evoke a negative connotation in response to hearing it? If something like fear can become pandemic – why can’t something more positive take over the masses?

In short, it can. Think about fashion trends – throughout the ages people have seen someone famous do something different, and rushed out in efforts to imitate their style or attitude. This may not always be for the best (Crocs anyone?), but it’s a mass movement to copy something based on personal admiration.  Health movements have also swept nations (just look at Atkins and Green Monsters), and people across the globe have dropped their current habits and adopted new ones in the hope of bettering themselves.  Spiritual teachings on how to become a better person have been written in books and shot to the top of the national bestseller list, sparking a movement of positivity across book clubs, across friendships, and across the globe. An idea to make the world a better place can pop up in a single man’s head, and before you know it, it’s become an international project with people across the globe hopping on board, all hit by the contagiousness of spreading joy onto the lives of others. Movies like Julie and Julia can inspire nations to learn how to cook; shows like Glee can inspire thousands to sing.

And then there’s blogging. Since I started blogging properly, not even a year ago, I’ve been inspired by people around the world who’ve set goals for themselves, pushed their boundaries, and written about their endeavours to become stronger, healthier, better people. I’ve lost count of how many 101 in 1001s I’ve seen around the blogosphere and have been inspired by other people’s 30s before 30 to create my own list of goals, which inspires me to grow every single day. You could say it’s contagious – hundreds of people reading hundreds of posts about growth and empowerment causing a “pandemic” of positivity. I love it. How great would it be if next time we witnessed something bad spreading – fear, gossip, rumours or hatred – we chose to instead spread something else? Combat the contagiousness of negativity and be the turning point to instead disperse something better. No dictionary tells us pandemics need to be bad. It’s often easier to go along with the masses.  The phenomenon of mass hysteria proves that the strength found in numbers can allow people to do things that would be considered insane if they did them solitarily. But we’re all capable of rising above what’s popular. We just have to practice prioritising, and thinking for ourselves.

In which I celebrate 25 with Internet strangers and…

It has come to my attention that within a matter of weeks I will be turning 25 (contrary to popular belief – when asked how old he thought I was, my stepmum’s son replied “16”!!).   Since my last birthday, I’d like to think of the year so far as the year of finding myself in this world.  It sounds dreadfully cliché, but I feel like I’ve really been… awakened?  And maybe even grown more in the last 365 days than I have in my entire life. I’ve been reading a lot of blogs recently that talk of new chapters, of goals and determination, awakenings and realizations, and it makes my heart happy to read that so many of us are going through such positive transformations.

I’ve heard the term “quarter-life crisis”, but I don’t think the word ‘crisis’ is that fitting at all. It would be fine if, upon reaching our mid-twenties, we all went into a panic about time running out and not having long before thirty and OMG what do I do with my life everyone else has a degree and a house and a baby on the way and WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME. But these days, instead, it seems this generation is waking up. Questioning and exploring and pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones. Not being content to settle, or let people tell us we’re not good enough.  Proving our capabilities to the world and learning to love ourselves. Maybe it’s just a blogger thing, maybe it is generational, but whatever it is, it’s making me smile.

Since my last birthday, I’ve been on a mission.  I’ve really tried throw myself into terrifying situations, knowing that the only way to overcome them is to take a leap of faith and throw myself in headfirst, assured by the hopes of coming out the other side unscathed, and for the most part, relatively untraumatised. Learning to weigh my priorities, and realising fear is never going to outweigh the desire to grow, to serve, and to inspire. I’ve added to my education, I’ve had doors close and new, shinier ones open.  I’ve grown in my faith and been amazed at the unfolding of the grand plan in front of my eyes, but I still have so much to learn.  I’ve come out of my shell of an existence and led meetings, taught classes, and serenaded the Internet, Broadway-style. (I’m sure that’s going to resurface on my wedding day.)  I’ve learned to give myself a break and actually have a little bit of self-belief – an ongoing effort that I hope one day may become effortless.  It’s been a year of a 180-degree change, and so many  amazing things, and for all of the above I’m eternally thankful.  But I’m still fuelled by the desire to keep learning and growing, and I want the year of 25 to be even better. I want to continue this journey of learning, of growth, and of becoming someone who’s capable of contributing something good to the world. To continue to document my story in the hopes of encouraging others to begin theirs.

In the next couple of weeks, I’m going to come up with a new list. 26 before 26. Twenty-six new things I’ve never done before that will keep my horizons open and keep pushing me forward. Twenty-six dreams to achieve and twenty-six experiences to make my little corner of the world that little bit better.

Looking back at this past year, the ups, the downs, and the incredible difference a change in attitude can make just fills me with excitement at what 25 could bring.  But first, I have a question for you all.  After seeing what you guys got up to in Vegas, who else could I ask how to celebrate? Last year I was put on a glider plane, taken shopping, and ended the day with friends at a local wine bar, surrounded by laughter and sparklers.  I do have a handful of wonderful people I love dearly, but my relationships with them are separate of their relationships with each other. Ideally I’d love to have a costume party, or a posh wine and cheese cocktail night like a Proper Grown Up where everyone got dressed up in dress shirts and cocktail dresses. With endless rounds of Cranium and Balderdash, surrounded by great music where everyone would get along with each other like a house on fire.  But I don’t want to put anyone into an awkward situation where they don’t know anybody. And I don’t want to force anyone to do something they’re not interested in!  (Like a cheese rolling competition – you can’t tell me this wouldn’t be the funnest thing EVER!! Anyone? Hillary? :))

So how do I celebrate 25? My birthday falls on Father’s Day this year, so naturally I’ll be spending most of the day with my Dad. And two nights before, I’ll be meeting a bunch of awesome Internet strangers – apparently the city has a group of local “creatives” who meet up at a local pub monthly and share projects and drinks – which can definitely count as part of the festivities!!  But SATURDAY NIGHT is still open… and your thoughts as to how to spend it would be greatly appreciated! And yes… a mass group Skype date definitely counts as a suggestion. As does a one-man World Cup party. 🙂

Go!

What are you waiting for?

I remember, maybe a little less than a year ago now, my first (and perhaps only) true light bulb moment.  Do you ever find yourself in a place where all around you, you can see things in life you wish were different? The year from summer 2009 – 2010 has been one of self-discovery for me, and it all began with that moment.  The moment when it dawned on me, for the first time, that my circumstances were never going to be what I wanted unless I took the steps to make them that way.

If you’re reading this on my blog, you’ll know that I’ve written on and off about my past struggles with anxiety.  I think this is the first time I’ve ever written about them in the past tense. If you’re reading it on Samantha’s (I’m guest posting for her today; do check out her blog, as she’s just wonderful!), then I should probably give you a little bit of a back story.

This time last year, I was seeing a therapist for a social anxiety disorder. I don’t like the idea of therapists, really. I also don’t like the term “social anxiety,” and I especially dislike the word “disorder”.  It evokes images and feelings of being afraid, of allowing something to control you, and of something being wrong with you. Although perhaps that was the motivation I needed – I’ve learned over the last little while that the bigger the discrepancy between where you are and where you want to be, the stronger the motivation to change.  I think it was a result of years of low self-esteem – with friendships and relationships, I often latched on to whoever showed the slightest interest, even if it probably wasn’t a good idea to have them around.  I learned my lesson the hard way – got kicked out of where I was living, had one ex-boyfriend jet off halfway around the world never to come back, and had another gradually sap about $12,000 out of my bank account, start doing drugs, and get arrested for physically abusing me in the street. I think these things, combined with my ongoing self-doubts to make me want to retreat from the world. I gave in to the inner voices that told me that I wasn’t good enough.  That I wasn’t worthy enough to be treated well, and that I had nothing of value to offer the world. That I should keep my mouth shut, because everyone would see how useless I “was”.  I was terrified. But I allowed it to happen.

Looking back, I want to take hold of my 22-year old self and give her a good shake, but at the same time, I have to remind myself that things happen for a reason. If it hadn’t been for the bad, I never would have been fuelled to grow in order to find the good.  I think in life, we can be nudged slightly, reminded that what we’re doing isn’t good for us. This can be in the form of a simple daydream, wondering what our life would be like had we made a different choice.  Or a series of negative events paving the way of a relationship; warning signs to get out.  Unfortunately, if we allow our self-doubts to win, bad circumstances are going to continue until something catastrophic has to happen in order for us to open our eyes and truly listen.  What happened to me was a megaphone in my ear telling me to alter course from the road I was taking.  And had it not come to that point, who knows where I may be now?

One night last summer, it was a low point. I was upset that inside, I so desperately wanted to be able to break free of this fear that was holding me prisoner, and offer myself to the world, hoping to find friendships and new situations, and growth in my career.  I wanted to be happy, to be content and comfortable in my own skin, to be able to stand up in front of people and do something inspirational without being plagued by nerves.  I was upset because things weren’t the way I wanted them to be.  I wasn’t the person I wanted to be. And on came the light bulb; a literal shining light of hope on my self-induced darkness.

Dreams are never going to become reality unless you become an active participant in calling them into action. 

I’d been wishing and waiting for things to be different… without doing anything about it. It’s so easy in life to victimize ourselves, because I think, sadly, people have a tendency to gravitate toward the things that don’t require as much effort. I was upset that things weren’t the way I wanted them to be, yet I hadn’t played a part in making them happen. Silly girl! I decided from that point forward, things were going to be different.

I made a list of all the things I wanted to be able to do without fear. All the things I wanted to be without worry.  A great piece of advice I got was remembering to remind myself that I only have a finite amount of mental energy. I will never be able to control what other people think of me, so instead of using that energy worrying about judgment, I should use it to focus on the things I can control. I can control what I put out into the world. I can control whether I allow myself to take risks with the hope of coming out stronger on the other side. I can control how I take the words of others.  “This is a big change,” I was told, “and it’s not going to happen overnight. These things take time.”

But why should they?  We all have a choice in how we decide to live our lives, in the way we choose to see the world, and in what we put into it.  Just because I’d spent the last twenty-something years making the wrong ones doesn’t mean I have to ease myself into making the right ones gradually. Every day is a new opportunity to change everything, if you only have the determination.  Since last summer, I’ve made the choice instead of retreating, to dive headfirst into everything that scared me.  I can choose whether I allow things to control my life, or if I want to control my own.

It started off incredibly hard. Just because the mentality is shifting doesn’t mean the physiological signs of anxiety shake off so easily. The first workshop I facilitated, I went in trembling and stuttering. The first workshop I came out of, after telling the students why I decided to give it a shot, I left to the sound of applause. It was the best feeling in the world.  A tiny victory that fuelled my desire to keep growing, keep trying anything and everything that used to terrify me. It’s definitely been a journey of ups and downs – chairing meetings to a room full of people twice my age is intimidating, facilitating a workshop as the youngest person on staff is daunting, singing to the Internet was nerve-wracking, and sharing my story perhaps the scariest of all.  But I’m determined to keep trying. Of course there are things still on my list. Real life karaoke, speaking to a class of 30 instead of 10, and reading my writing in a couple of weeks in a public bookstore to a bunch strangers.  I’m still apprehensive. But determined to come out stronger on the other side.

Sometimes, all it takes to change what you don’t like about your life is making a choice and sticking to it. Having the courage (or at least pretending to!) not only to recognise what it is you don’t like about your life, even if it’s admitting past mistakes, but to venture forth and take control.  None of us need be a prisoner of fear.  We have every right to be able to be the person we want to be.  You can’t control what other people are going to think about you. But you can control what you put out into the world. And if it’s positivity, and determination to better yourself and the lives of the people around you? I don’t think anyone could ask for anything more.

Quickhits of Happy

This week has been going all sorts of wonderfully, and I had to share with you guys – in bullet-pointy goodness:

  • On Tuesday, I officially started in my new position at work. I arrived like a total keener at 7:15 after the long weekend, and the first thing I did was not setting up my computer… it was decorating!!  I have two big windows, blinds, tonnes of space for photos and plants… I absolutely love it! I must admit that it is a little different having my own space and I do miss my old officemates, but we’ve started making plans outside of work. Which is lovely 🙂 I’m learning tonnes in my new role, too, and am being given all sorts of marketing and promotion responsibility – which is perfect!
  • I also secured some contract work through a good friend, which has been keeping me busy and allowing me to be creative, and gain some more design experience (for a pretty big company, too), all adding to the portfolio. Three hurrahs for networking, and big thanks to ItStartsWith.Us’s Nate St. Pierre!
  • Great Skype dates with blog friends and surprise packages in the mail are awesome. Thanks to Jen for the beautiful handmade apron!
  • Tonight I start my Creative Writing class – as much as I love blogging and writing articles, I’m looking forward to more imaginative writing opportunities too, and hopefully I’ll meet some new people while I’m there. I’m excited, but I kind of feel like a bit of a noob never having attended the college before 🙂
  • More good news came this week regarding Nan – last time I wrote, she’d taken a turn for the worse, but this week, after speaking to my dad, it seems our prayers were heard – the reason for her confusion was because she was being put on morphine and sedatives constantly – which was awful. She’s been moved to a different place, where she has the option for pain killers but is choosing not to take them, and is being given rehabilitation exercises to help her get better. My dad spoke to her this week, and said she is sounding much like herself again – I’m thrilled!! Thank you SO much for all your kind thoughts and prayers…
  • And perhaps the best news of all this week is that Sweet and I will be visiting her in August. We decided instead of taking a honeymoon after the wedding, it was more important to go see Nan so they could both meet before the wedding, and I’ll get to see my friends, my home, my country… and show Sweet where I grew up. We leave for England on the 5th August for ten days, and already have our first day planned sightseeing, taking in a West End musical, museums, and staying over in a posh hotel. Ooh, and Stephen? International blogger meetup? 🙂  The rest of the trip will be spent visiting Nan, travelling by train like proper tourists, catching up with old friends, and hopefully a day trip or two to Ireland or France while we’re there. Our pockets are definitely hurting, but I think it’s most definitely worth it. I can’t wait to tell Nan the news, and to see her again – she’ll be over the moon!!

What are some highlights of your week so far?

Ups and Downs

So, the past week has continued to be an incredible turnaround of events, most of which extremely positive! This weekend, Sweet and I spent some good quality time together with sushi dinners and Star Trek marathons, went out for a little dancing, reconnected with some old friends and spent time with new ones. On Friday, I also got the news that at work, they’d found a need for me to stay in a position for another three months guaranteed, with the hope that within those three months, the new position they proposed for will be created, which will become permanent.  So, until 2nd July, I am officially not going to be unemployed! I’m also moving into a new role with another project, focused almost entirely on design and marketing (!), and as of next week I’ll be officially in my very own office. With blinds and a door and everything. Which makes me feel rather grown-up indeed 🙂

Sadly though, I got some pretty bad news this weekend about my Nan.  The doctors had decided the surgery on her shoulder would be too risky, and so they’ve moved her into a rehabilitation hospital.  She started the week off wonderfully, in great spirits to be out of a hospital bed and into her own room with a TV and company… however by the end of the week, things had worsened. Considerably. She’s refusing to eat or drink, doing abnormal things (which were very disturbing, one of which involved flushing her false teeth down the toilet so she can’t eat solid food), wandering off, and just being generally “antsy”, as my Dad put it. She’s also been drugged up on morphine throughout the day – which isn’t a long-term solution, but nobody seems to be doing anything to focus on a lasting plan for her.  Sweet and I have been praying for her strength and her recovery, and hoping this is just symptomatic of the stress of moving and the morphine… hopefully a physiological response which can be rectified. I can’t bear to think of my Nan like this.

This week is extremely bittersweet. I’m flooded with a combination of relief, worry, excitement and hope, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned recently, it’s the power of positive thinking.  Thank you so much for being here, all of you, not just this past week, but in general, through the bad and the good.  If you could spare a thought or a prayer for my Nan today, it would mean the world.