Forget Resolutions, Just Be Better

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Ever wonder how New Year’s resolutions originated? I did, too. So I did some research. New Year’s resolutions originated thousands of years ago, tracing back to the ancient Babylonians and Romans. Back then, these people used resolutions as a way to appease the gods. As Christianity emerged, Christians also began to make promises to be more devout and cleanse the sins from the former year.

New Year’s resolutions, which are mainly secular these days, have now turned into a joke with the likelihood to keep them very slim. I’m sure they still have meaning to some; if for nothing else than to contemplate the year that has passed.

I don’t make resolutions. I do set goals. But these goals don’t hinge on a new year. I don’t need any additional pressure to “change” my life come January 1st. I want to always be willing and open to change and growth. So why not start every day with the hope to be a better person? I’m not a self help expert or a motivational guru. I’m just a real person with real challenges that loves to write. I don’t have it all together by any means. I just try hard every day to be better. Here are some thoughts on “better.”

Be accountable. This is your life. You made the choices, for better or worse, that led you to this moment. Stop blaming everything and everyone for your situation. Yes, we’ve all had things happen to us outside of our control. Right now at this moment you’ve got to stop thinking that someone or something else is the reason for your current condition. Own your own life! We’ve run out of time to change the past. Stop being stuck in it. Being stuck in the past is like quicksand. If you don’t clear your way out, you’ll sink into it and disappear.

If you are depressed, anxious or both, get help! There’s no reason to suffer. And your spouse, partner or best friend isn’t the help I mean. Yes, having a support system is important, but I mean professional help. There’s no shame in this. Take meds if you need them. It’s okay to ask for help. Because guess what, your life’s not perfect. And it doesn’t have to be.

Stop being so self-absorbed. Try being present with those in front of you. Put your phone away. Look people in the eye. Have a real conversation. Self absorption isn’t just about the self, it’s often disguised by whatever you’re focused on like your children or job. Look, I’m no expert on kids. I’m not a parent. But I have been obsessed with my career. That was my priority. I was always working. And my relationships suffered. So whether it’s kids or career or something else, just remember that if someone is taking the time to be present with you then reciprocate.

Stop waiting for that magical thing to happen that will make you feel happy or successful or some other emotion you crave. It’s not going to happen. Maybe it will, but don’t count on waking up the next day with all your worries gone and a cloak of happiness. I fell in that trap, thinking when I accomplish this professional goal then I’ll finally feel like a success. It never happened. While I still struggle with what “success” means, I’m no longer waiting for that unicorn to ride in with a “You’re a Success” banner. The same thing with relationships. Thinking that if you’ll find the “one” you’ll live happily ever after is utter bullshit. There is no “one”; there are people out there you’ll be more compatible with than others. Ultimately though you’ve got to be right with yourself to have a real, lasting relationship that is healthy. Stop waiting on that happiness train; it’s never on time and will pass you by.

So that’s my non-advice. I call it this because I don’t really think I’m in a position to provide advice. What I can do is tell good stories based on what I’ve learned. Writing this is as much for me as for anyone who reads it. Just remember, you’re still here. You’ve successfully made it through a lot of spectacular and horrible things. The only thing you need to do is just be better.

What I Learned from 2016

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Well, 2016, you sure did not disappoint. It’s been up and down all the way through. And in the end, whether if just by a thread, I’m still here, and I’ve learned a few things along the way.

The year started with a break up; I left I job I loved for many reasons yet it was clear I needed to move on. What I hated leaving were mostly the people. These great people made a lasting impression on me. I learned a lot about myself through the eyes of these people and took some lessons from them as well. It’s a pretty amazing thing when you have the pleasure of being around fascinating people that make you want to just be better.

Since then my professional life has been on the rise. I got back to who I am and what I want to do. I relaunched this blog, which has been such a joy for me. To write about life and share my stories makes me happy. And I am motivated even more to keep telling more stories because of the response I’ve received. I’ve also been able to meet and work with many interesting and intelligent people on marketing strategies. My “day job” is a bit of a bore, but I’ve met many exceptional people.

Of course what took precedence most of the year was the remodel. I spent months with no floor, a few weeks with no kitchen and a few moments when I may have considered going to a hotel alone! And then finally, things came together. I won’t congratulate us just yet. We still have one more ceiling to scrape and two bathrooms, which means we’ll have to share a bathroom for a time.  Good luck to us.

While things have been mostly positive and joyful, the world itself has continued to be challenging. It’s nothing new. Conflict arises over the same things over and over – religion, race, power, money and anything that seems “different.” Have we learned nothing from history, have we really devolved? I’m not an expert on the human condition; I am however an observant storyteller. I’ve seen real anger and fear in the faces of many. Yet I’ve also seen beautiful signs of humanity. One afternoon on the way home, I saw a dog with no leash or human. It’s a busy road. He was definitely someone’s pup based on his good condition. I went to pull over and three other cars did as well. A lady jumped out and scooped him up as he was about to walk into the road. I needed to see that, it gave me hope.

I lost a lot of hope in this culture during the election. It showed a lot of the worst in people. I don’t believe that some people are all bad or good. I think people are all shades of gray, light and dark pieces in us all. But l learned something very important the morning after the election. I was on the train, earlier than normal. Two middle aged men were standing behind me on their way to offices in skyscrapers. They were complaining about lack of sleep because “They waited so long to call it.” Then one says to the other, “At least there’s not a woman in the White House.”

I don’t believe the race was lost because of gender. I’ve tried hard to dissect how and why things happened as they did. I get that things certainly aren’t as our founding fathers imagined. But I do know that when they wrote, all men are created equal, they meant white men like themselves. Everyone else has had to keep fighting for that equal. Those words I heard that morning helped me understand that I need to keep trying to be a strong voice and force for women in any way I can regardless of who is in office. I’m not burying my head in the sand. I’m going to stay as educated and informed as possible. Someone has to.

The year ended with a simple wedding, joining two people who are more concerned with a dazzling marriage. Marriage, and the wonderful man I now call husband, have taught me so much already. No matter what 2017 has in store, we will weather it together. This is perhaps the best lesson of 2016 – it’s the special moments and time with those we love that matter – everything else is just noise. I’m all for more joy and less noise in 2017. I’ll do my part; hope you will, too.

 

The Journey to Thankful

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Thankfulness is a journey. You don’t get there by sitting still. However, don’t be alarmed. This isn’t a post about how everything happens for a reason, and it will all be okay. If you know me then you know I think most of that is utter nonsense. And if I had to choose between being an optimist or a pessimist, I’d choose to be a realist. Because ultimately when things get out of control, and you are struggling, only you can dust yourself off and keep fighting.

I also understand that through time and reflection, I can now look back at times in my life that I thought were the absolute worst and be thankful. Because without those failures or disappointments I might not be who I am. And I like who I am, at least 67 percent of the time.

The not just broken, but shattered heart.

My heart had been broken before but more like little tiny cracks. I didn’t know the depths of true heart break until I ended a multi-year relationship with a man I had loved without restraint. But love is simply not enough to build a life together. If you think love is enough, you are wrong. There are so many other factors that determine if you can make it in the long run. It took years to heal from this. I acted out; I made bad choice; I put myself in bad situations. Anything to escape the utter hole I felt in my chest. I came out of it though. It led me to a more honest conversation with myself. I’m not completely perfect. I’m not completely healed. Some things simply can’t be removed from your heart. But I am unbelievably thankful for this hurt. It helped me, for the first time, realize that love wasn’t really about sacrifice or trying to shape yourself into what someone else was comfortable with. It gave me a healthy comparison to where I am now. And allowed me to be so very sure that I am where I need to be.

Not every opportunity will be the right fit. Learn what you can.

So I’ve had a variety of jobs: some good, some bad, some horrific, some just mind numbing. I’ve had every kind of boss you can think of: the crazy one, the arrogant one, the leader, the cheerleader, the friend, the idiot, the ghost. I’ve had some bad experiences. Everything from a boss telling me I was replaceable and fat to ones trying to get me to be unethical. One the other side, I’ve had bosses that appreciated me, believed in me and helped me be successful. There were a lot of tears shed and a huge cloud of self-doubt. But I took what I could learn from each of them and sorted it into things I should do and things I would never do. A lot of people dwell on bad experiences in the workplace. I could too. I’ve been sexually harassed, seen my opportunities and paycheck be less than that for a man and dealt with “mean girls” who thought the workplace was junior high. Don’t drag this baggage around. Just know that you can do better. And that you deserve better.

It’s so okay to let people go.

I’ve had to let a lot of people go in my life. It wasn’t always their fault, but a decision I needed to make to protect myself. I had a friend of almost 20 years who I loved dearly. She was family. But she changed. And with that change came a lot of anger focused on me and others I love. So I just let her go. I wish her the best, but she doesn’t get to hurt me ever again. It was so heartbreaking at the time. Now I can be thankful, thankful that I protected myself instead of trying to reconcile and take the abuse. There have been many more that aren’t part of my life anymore because I made the choice to say no. I chose to put myself first. No one else will protect you but you. If you let people mistreat you then you are facilitating that so just stop it. It will be hard. It will suck. You will cry. You will heal. Surround yourself with those that really want you to succeed and be happy. Practice some self love. I’m eternally grateful that I had the courage to cut the cord.

Being sick doesn’t mean you have to be a victim.

I’ve had my share of health problems. It’s not been easy. There have been times when I’ve had rows of prescriptions. There have been days of excruciating pain; days where I wanted to just give up. But I will NEVER be a victim. I will fight with every last breath to stay here on this earth for as long as I can. I’ve got work to do. I’ve got people to empower and stories to tell.

It’s easy to become a victim. It’s easy to be so absorbed with your ailments that you can’t see past hospital rooms and procedures. I’m not saying I never had a pity party. I did. I felt cheated, frustrated and just tired of it all. Again, I’m not saying I’ve always been uplifting or thought the glass was half full. I prefer to smash the glass off the table, and say there is no glass. There’s just me, standing up, maybe sometimes with a little help from the love I’m thankful to be surrounded by, and saying this is not the end of me. I’m much too scrappy for that.

It takes work to be thankful. It’s not something that’s natural. Even though you can’t be thankful in the moment (I never believed in a million years that a broken heart, an abusive boss or a cancer diagnosis would be on the list of thankful), time passing can certainly change your perspective. So when someone asks you what you are thankful for this week, don’t just say the normal, cliché answers, dig deeper to the ugly stuff that you never thought you’d be thankful for and realize what an absolute rock star you are for making it this far.

Today, a poem

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I’m busy working on thoughts and ideas. Sometimes you have to walk away from what you are writing and come back to it. So today, a poem. I wrote this many years ago. It’s still one of my favorites. Never think that words aren’t powerful. They absolutely are. And don’t ever think that you can’t come back from something. You may just realize you have wings that work when you take that jump or leap.

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I have this picture
You in that old olive recliner
Me poised on the arm.
We’re mirrored
From the green Izod shirts
To the blonde strands of hair.
It sits in a frame.
It hangs in my heart.
I remember you young & tan
Before too many things
Sank into your skin.
When I had pigtails
And called you mommy.
Maybe time fades pictures, curls their edges.
I’ve taken a million steps away
From that moment
It’s still clear, it’s still happening
Whenever I close my eyes.

 

A Simple Message for All

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I think the simplest thing I can say is be hopeful.

Hope is hard to break. It’s what every survivor has running in her blood.

I cannot offer much, only the hope that kindness will prevail.

My promise is to keep being kind every day. Will you join me?

I believe there are wonderful things about humanity. Let’s focus on those.

And as in every moment of uncertainty that I have faced, I simply ask myself, “What would my mom do? What would she say to me?” I think the answer is she would tell me to keep being who I am and to keep trying to shine light where there may not be any. She would say to always be classy, to never act in anger or hate and to keep hope in my heart.

So I’ll keep shining my light, and I’ll keep doing everything I can to make sure she is proud of me.

This is a simple message, and it is mine to you.

I am more than my body

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Since I can remember, my value as a human being has had a lot to do with the way I look. This is what it’s like to be female in this society or possibly planet. The first compliment to come out of someone’s mouth has always been about being pretty; not smart or funny or any other deeper quality. But for the record, I just want to say that I am more than my hair, more than my blue eyes, more than my shape, more than my skin.

However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be pretty. Of course I do. I wear makeup. I get my nails done. My hair is colored. I strive daily to lose weight. I wear clothes that show off my shape and heels that make me taller. I’m all in on beauty. My thirst for it has never been quenched.  I will never not want to be pretty.

Yet, no matter what I do or what I restrict, I still have doubts. As I get older, the doubts are looming larger. Although I’ve been told I’m pretty thousands of times, it’s not something I say to myself very often.

What I can and do say to myself is that I am smart, creative, accomplished, ambitious and a fighter. These qualities have nothing to do with what I look like. I know I am these things because of what I have achieved. I worked hard to be these things. They are much harder to question than beauty. I should probably be more pleased. Maybe I’m not because when I look in the mirror, these qualities aren’t easy to see. All the things wrong with the way I look are.

I still want to be more than my body. I made a decision about 10 years ago to do something that many women wouldn’t. I had a breast reduction. I’m pretty sure breast enhancement is the most sought after surgery, and here I was wanting them to be smaller! But there were a lot of horrible things about having such a large chest. No matter what I wore, all you could see or focus on was my chest. I’m not sure if anyone ever looked me in the eye. My shoulders and back hurt all the time. I couldn’t wear any type of shirt that was a button up. I once had to order a dress four sizes too big to get it to fit my chest. By the end of alterations, there was enough material for another dress. It was miserable.

Luckily my insurance paid for it because they realized this was a real health concern. The surgery itself was fine. It was outpatient. What took the longest to heal from was just being able to reach out my arms. I have scars. They aren’t so bad 10 years later but still apparent. Depending on what I have on, you can see them. But it changed my life for the better. Now, my chest fits the rest of my body. My neck and back hurt a lot less. I can wear clothes I never could before. It was truly one of the best decisions I ever made.

But I think I’m on the minority on this one. But to me, my breasts don’t make me a woman. They are simply part of my anatomy. I’d even prefer them to be smaller. They just get in the way sometimes. My breasts don’t have any purpose like being a vessel to feed a baby. Even though most men seem to be obsessed with them (unless of course they prefer another body part), I could care less. If I never had to wear a bra again, I’d be happy.

I’m not sure how women get past being more than their bodies. Men often won’t let us. But we share some of that blame as well. I’m not saying that women shouldn’t be proud of their bodies. Show it off if you want. Pose nude if you want. I’m not condemning or judging anyone. I just want the conversation to move forward. I want women to be viewed just as much by what’s inside than outside. I’m not sure what kind of shift will need to happen so that this can be the norm. My hunch is when more women become leaders and are truly treated equally – meaning we get the same pay and the same opportunities – a shift may occur. It’s amazing to think that at 50% of the population, we are still the inferior sex. Many men still want us to think this (been called sweetie or honey lately?), but women do, too. If we don’t believe in ourselves then there’s no way we will ever leave the shadow of men.

So my ask of you, brilliant, feisty women is to really believe we are more than our bodies. It doesn’t mean we have to stop wanting to be pretty. It just means we need to want everything else, too.

The Secret of Shame

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Shame is a terrible feeling, like the worst case of heartburn coupled with a swift quick in the gut. But what is shame really? And more importantly, why do we give it so much power?

Shame is defined as, “the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable or improper done by oneself.” Shame is a nutshell is about self-inflicted pain. Shame doesn’t just stick around in the immediate aftermath. We think we need to carry it around, hold onto it, keep it alive.

Is shame useful? Well, sure we’ve all done things we needed to feel shame over. However, most of us in the world don’t go around doing really horrible things. Yet we still want to keep our shame! That’s not okay. Shame is a secret self-hate that we polish with additional feelings of disgust and inferiority. Shame means we don’t deserve forgiveness or the right to move on.

Shame is something we are taught to feel as a child, as in “shame, shame I know your name.” In a way, it teaches us right from wrong. Then we grow up. As adults, we mess up a lot. But there’s shame to greet us and remind us we’re terrible human beings. We welcome it. We let it cloud our minds, making us completely irrational. Shame doesn’t allow us to let go of what happened. It sticks out its tentacles and lashes on. We’re stuck in shame.

I am not immune to shame. I’ve been my biggest disappointment many times. I’m sure I will be again. Shame doesn’t have a hold on me anymore.

I’ve felt episodes of shame many times in life; the biggest being due to the many bad decisions I’ve made in relationships. I’ve hurt people. I’ve hurt myself. Probably the biggest shame I allowed to invade my life was the shame of divorce. Nobody wants to say, “I’m divorced.” I didn’t grow up dreaming of my divorce, but I certainly knew what it was since I was so young when my parents divorced. Divorce is very common in our culture; some people do it a lot! I don’t think, though, that most people go into marriage thinking about divorce.

My shame about divorce was really about the fact that my ex-husband was not a bad guy. We had problems, but it was never ugly between us. He loved me very much and was good to me most of the time. I hurt him badly. There’s nothing I can do that will ever change that. I’m sure he has healed from it and moved on with his life, hopefully to find love. But the fact is I married someone I didn’t love, and three and half years later, I finally had the guts to say so.

So I became the bad guy. I was the bad guy. He didn’t really see me this way because that’s not the kind of person he was. But others did. So I let the shame roll over me. It was intoxicating. I deserved it all. I messed up both of our lives for a little bit. I never meant to hurt him or myself. Sometimes, we do the best we can.

In the immediacy of the break-up, it was not something I wanted to reveal to anyone. There have probably been many people I’ve known between then and now who didn’t know. And occasionally when I was honest about it, I would get interrogated as to why! Sure, it’s personal, not really something that comes out naturally. But I was a bit shocked that even the doctor’s office wanted to know. That’s right, on the form there was a checkbox for single, married or divorced. Why is this information their business? Does being divorced mean the doctor gives me a sad face? So I knew logically this was ridiculous, but I still checked single. That was shame winning. I was too ashamed to check the right box. Even though, I don’t believe this is information they should be privy; I still felt too ashamed to check the damn box.

So how can we shed shame? It starts with forgiveness. You can hope that you’ll be forgiven by others, but don’t count on it. Instead, forgive yourself. What’s done is done. You can’t change it. You can be accountable and remorseful. You can try to be a better person.

No one is perfect. We are a breed of imperfect creatures. Life is hard enough without the added deluge of shame. If you can shed that shame today, just think of how much more room you’ll have for joy and acceptance.