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. 🙂


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.