purposeful living

say yes and do it anyway

When your heart feels compelled to jump on a plane to visit your best friend in the desert and it doesn’t make much sense when you look at your wallet or your calendar, you should say yes and do it anyway.

When the wide-eyed four-year-old asks you to crawl into the cave to explore by his side even though the thought of the lurking spiders and snakes and skin-crawling darkness makes you want to cry, you should say yes and do it anyway.

When the person who makes you breathe the deepest and sleep the hardest and smile the widest asks you to come over, but it’s complicated and it hurts and you’re scared of how messy it feels, you should say yes and do it anyway.

When you’re presented an opportunity to uproot, disappear, disconnect and have a life-altering experience, but the thought of leaving and the prospect of  the life-alteration ahead of you keeps you wide-eyed at night, you should say yes and do it anyway.

“If you are depressed you are living in the past. 
If you are anxious you are living in the future. 
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

[This is widely attributed to Lao Tzu, though widely argued as a bologna attribution. I don’t know who really said it, but I like it.]

I have spent a lifetime fighting the present for reasons I couldn’t explain until recently. I now realize it was fear that held me back from my own life’s moments–fear of those moments being too much for my heart to handle. If it becomes too hard, sitting with the pain feels like it will last an eternity. Surely the heartache will destroy me. If it becomes too good, I know it is only fleeting. It’s temporary. I can’t give in to it, because the crash is fast approaching. The other shoe will drop.

Don’t let in the pain. Don’t let in the joy.

This uncomfortable avoidance of the present moment thrives in haunting memories of my past–the stories I’ve written about how it all plays out, how it all crumbles as quick as it’s built. The anxieties for the future keep my mind spinning. What’s next? What should I be prepared to handle? How does this path ahead of me twist and turn and how can I outsmart it? How can I stay safe? What excuses can I make to avoid risk?

When we cling to the illusion of being cool, the roadblocks to being present are abundant. The pain and the joy and the tears and smiles and the moments that make you clench your heart or steady the butterflies in your gut–they’re all welcome in the present. They’re what makes the present so powerful, truly. And babe, those things don’t make you look cool, they make you look human.

One of the greatest gifts I was ever given was the fast and furious fireball that blew up my life. It came screaming into my seemingly pulled-together world, knocked me on my ass and removed any possible illusion that I was cool. I was painfully human.

It was in the moments–explaining to my eye doctor that “yes, my last name is different”, running into familiar faces with my dirty bras in hand, humbly asking for help over and over and over again–that I became so damn uncool that I could become present­–peacefully, not gracefully, present.

I could stand in the moments of hurt and loneliness and say, “This feels like garbage.”

And I could stand in the moments of joy and say, “This feels so damn good.”

I no longer had the energy to pretend like I had it figured out. My past had betrayed me and the future was a giant question mark. As I flipped my entire existence on its head, all the excess fell away and all I could be was there–standing naked, in the one spot my feet were planted at that given time, feeling whatever was swirling around me.

I found myself routinely standing in the moment, feeling it all, watching my fears for the future and my hurt from the past swirl past me, and doing the thing, whatever it was, that I needed to do without any shame. Calling my dad, taking the afternoon off from work, booking the vacation, sharing my heart, reading the book, going to coffee, writing the real story. I became present, in part because I had to in order to survive. The tiny fire that I still possessed would have surely died had I made any other move than dropping my armor and starting again.

However, I also became present, because I could. Because I can show up and be here–right here–every day. When it hurts. When it feels too good to be true. When the stories of the past creep in and breathe down my neck. When my fear for what the future looks like grabs hold of my mind. I can sweat and fight and cry and yell and laugh and love because it’s real, it’s present, it’s human, it’s mine.

I don’t wish the fast and furious life-crushing fireball on anyone, but with my whole heart, I wish for widespread, peaceful, uncool presence in this one and only life we have to live.

When your heart feels crushed from saying goodbye and the tears creep up and you want to fight it because you’re strong and you’re fine and you don’t want to let it out because you fear it won’t stop, you should say yes and do it anyway.

When you sit across from a friend and you feel compelled to tell them just how important they are to you but you worry you’ll sound cheesy and they’ll think you’re a weirdo, you should say yes and do it anyway.

When you reflect on what you’ve accomplished and how much you’ve pushed through in the last few hours, days, weeks, or months, but you don’t want to get cocky and you know someone out there has fought their way through so much more, you should say yes and do it anyway, over and over again.

You deserve every ounce of a good that comes from being present in life’s joys, and even more, you deserve every ounce of strength and growth that comes from being present in life’s trials and heartaches.

the cool girl

"No woman on earth doesn’t give a fuck. No woman is that cool–she’s just hidden her fire. Likely, its burning her up."
- Glennon Doyle, Love Warrior

To be cool is the dream. We wear the shoes, get the haircut, laugh at the jokes, keep our wandering thoughts tied tight and smiles weak and absentminded. God forbid our voices venture too far beyond the rhetoric of the casual, calm, and the beautiful. The moment we dip our toes outside the crowd we become vulnerable–alone, unsure, stripped down–so we stick with the crew and stay small.

It doesn’t feel right, but it feels easier than the alternative. To step outside and to sit with ourselves long enough to discover what our individual voice sounds like is terrifying. It’s work to dig in to our heads and hearts in order to find what we desire to be; it’s easy to wear the costume and slide into the masses.

Until it isn’t anymore.

I was never cool by any stretch of the imagination. You wouldn’t find me thriving in the halls of high school. I wasn’t the star of the frat parties or the wife with the best casseroles. What I knew I could be, though, was cooled off–the closest I’d ever get to cool.

My feelings weren’t going to help me win any superlatives, so the only answer was to shut them down. I took my ideas, thoughts, questions, sensitivities, passions, and desires and cut them with cold until I became lukewarm–not icy, but by all means, not fired up.

The indifferent environment I built around myself was comfortable enough that anyone who sauntered into my world would not be off put by the harshness of being  frosty or the intensity of being too impassioned. They’d be welcomed graciously by the tepid and uncomplicated face of a simple woman who appeared to be at peace.

My reactions to life’s punches became monotonous and habitual.

It’s no big deal.

I’m not worried about it.

Shit happens.

I’m doing fine.

I don’t care.

It’s cool.

On the outside I didn’t react to the world beyond what was necessary. I ignored the fire in my gut in the moments when I knew I was mistreated, because a cool girl doesn’t speak up. A cool girl doesn’t stand up at the conference table and point to the man who speaks down to her because she’s young and female. A cool girl doesn’t tell her partner that she deserves to be loyally supported, heard, and respected. A cool girl doesn’t raise her voice or fill a room with her ideas or speak her truth­. She doesn’t cry. She doesn’t hurt. She needs no help, has all the answers, and she smiles casually, while remaining perfectly kempt for the masses to see just how together she is.

I wore the mask every day, until I couldn’t anymore.

Historically, finding myself on the precipice of real, vulnerable, human behavior leaves me consumed by fear. I wring my sweaty hands and feel the feelings creep up the back of my throat. I dig my fingers into the back of my skull as I coax the cool girl out from behind my mess of thoughts. I need her to fight the fire in my belly and grab hold of my tongue. I need her to take control. She’s the spokeswoman for my head and heart and she’s cool. She’s the real deal

The problem is when I sit alone with myself and my ideas and thoughts and desires, and I feel the heat creep in, I see her for who she really is. She takes inventory the things inside of me and picks only the traits that look best on paper, crumpling and tossing the rest to the side. She feeds me reminders of how the world works and why we keep our cynicism close at hand–like a loaded shotgun under our pillow just in case something creeps in at night. She straps my heart into shackles and lets it beat just enough that it keeps my cheeks rosy for the cameras, but not enough to feel pain, or worse yet, love.

After years of living, linked arm in arm with her, I found myself once again standing at the edge. I watched the world that I carefully curated behind us–speckled with the appropriate cool-girl milestones, the short peaks and shallow valleys that a lukewarm life creates–and I decided to dismiss her. I didn’t reach for someone to grab my hand and show me how it should look to jump. I didn’t pause to question what they’d say when they gathered and mumbled whatever they thought they should mumble when you watch a grown woman leap off the edge of a comfortable cliff and let the wind ignite the fire she held tight in her chest for a lifetime.

I ripped off the mask and leapt, and I’ve been free-falling since. Some days my mask floats nearby and I claw at the sky, longing to feel the safety of hiding behind it as I let my spokeswoman fight my battles. On others I see it in the distance, recognizing its indefinite existence, knowing the distance between us is necessary for me to find the peace that we once coolly pretended we already had together. 

Without the mask or my spokeswoman nearby, I  feel it all with an intensity that knocks me off my feet over and over again. The decades I stuffed away released as if they were spring loaded deep in my gut since the beginning. They became tighter inside me with time and pain and my bullshit make believe, until the springs couldn’t compress any further and my body couldn’t hold it and my heart was ready to either stop beating altogether or break free from the chains and the lies and the attempts at doing, being, feeling so fucking cool.

When I find myself reaching for the mask, which I do, often,–feeling hurt from the past, feeling uncertainty for the future, resisting joy and love and happiness for fear that pain is on the other side–I always come back to one question.

Just what is it that I am actually afraid of happening?

In any moment that I call on my spokeswoman because I’m certain whatever is happening inside of me is too much, I am absolutely petrified by my fear that once the pain starts, it will never stop.  

What I realize now is when I hold it tight to my chest, not only do I feel it, it also can’t escape. It has no place to go except inside of me. My fear of the feelings inspires me to clutch it closer, as if hiding it from the world will also hide it from me, and it burns me up until there’s nothing left to burn.

Despite my attempts at inspiring it away, casually leaned up against the wall in my cool-girl leather jacket and Ray Bans, the pain exists regardless of where it’s harbored.

Inside or outside.

When we are pulled together or falling apart.

When we sit at the popular table or stand alone.

With the trendy haircut or bed head.

It doesn’t fall for our bullshit and sees right past our cool costume.

And here’s the kicker:

When we drop the games, throw our mask into the wind wear our  vulnerability on our sleeves, the healing  can finally start.  

spoken shame + dirty laundry

Brené calls the shame triggers we harbor deep in our being our shame gremlins. They whisper in our ear, “you’re not good enough,” and giggle under their breath as they watch us shrink. They hold us back from speaking up, opening our hearts, and telling our story. They are as debilitating as they are ugly, and we all have them­­, adopted from our upbringing and escorted into our own adulthood.

When we speak shame, we cut it off at the knees, Brené Brown says.

Our palms sweat, hearts race, stomach drops, and we feel flooded with emotion. From here, maybe we run away, keeping our secrets to ourselves, we appease, attempting to mold into whatever we think the world is looking for, or we fight back, lashing out, putting up our armor in an attempt to protect our hearts.

Last Saturday I found myself sitting in my local laundromat—a place that has developed incredible symbolism for the state of my heart and mind as of late. My apartment doesn’t have accessible laundry facilities, so I drag my basket of dirty clothes to the land of coin-operated machines a few blocks from my house on a weekly basis.

When I fold my laundry I think a lot, likely because my hands are busy and my brain has all the room to roam. I often wonder if the others around me are navigating the intimate corners of their minds like me. It looks like we are awkwardly folding our underwear in a shared space, but really we are in the thick of it, working to solve life’s mysteries one roll of quarters at a time.

Brené calls the shame triggers we harbor deep in our being our shame gremlins. They whisper in our ear, “you’re not good enough,” and giggle under their breath as they watch us shrink. They hold us back from speaking up, opening our hearts, and telling our story. They are as debilitating as they are ugly, and we all have them­­, adopted from our upbringing and escorted into our own adulthood.

As I sat in the laundromat, head down, foot-tapping, headphones drowning out the buzz of a dozen dryers, two familiar faces walked in the door. A few moments passed and I felt them standing over me. My palms sweaty, my heart racing, my stomach in my worn out Chuck Taylors.

They were colleagues from my ex-husband’s former employer—the employer that fired him months ago, which sent us out of town, which ultimately led to the routine carting of my laundry to a public place, too poor for a house with a washing machine, divorced. They handed me a roll of quarters as a part of the company’s “Random Acts of Kindness” marketing campaign. I didn’t want to take the quarters. I wanted to slide under the chair and scream. My gremlins came together in harmonious laughter, watching me shrink and shrink and shrink.

The shame-resilient have characteristics that allow them to recover from shame, stopping it before it spirals out of control, Brené teaches.

·      They can recognize their gremlins when they show up.

·      They can reality-check the messages that are feeding these triggers.

·      They reach out for support to tell their story.

·      They speak their shame.

Shame exists in our lives, regardless of how hard we fight it. It’s our responsibility to become familiar with it. If we desire to live wholeheartedly, we must know when to recognize when shame’s at the table, because, without a doubt, it will find its way there on occasion.

As the laundromat customers doted over the kind-gesture from the men with the quarters, the floodgates were opening. I thought about leaving the quarters on the table. “I don’t want their fucking money,” I steamed. I thought about abandoning my clothes, jumping in the car and going until I didn’t feel anymore.

When we speak shame, we cut it off at the knees, Brené says.

I grabbed my phone and texted my best-friend:

Doing my laundry in the laundromat makes me feel like I’m trash. It makes me feel like I can’t support myself. It makes me feel weak.  I’m 28 years old, living in a rental house, with a roommate. Being seen with a pocket full of quarters, surrounded by my own dirty clothes, makes me feel shame.

When he was fired from his job, I was so angry. We worked so hard in our careers to be the best, probably because we were better at being the best for work than for each other. Knowing that they know he was let go makes me feel shame.

I couldn’t keep my own marriage together. I don’t know how to love, and I don’t know how to be loved. I’m alone and I am heartbroken. Being seen without him, with a new name, back in this town makes me feel shame.

I went back to my pile of clean clothes. I folded the bathrobe we stole from the hotel he proposed to me at, I thought about the work I’d put into my career over the years, building something from nothing, I thought about the night I had before, smiling like a boy-crazy teenager in the company of a new man. I looked at the wide grins on the faces of my laundry-comrades, armed with rolls of shiny, new laundry-change, and I took a breath.

I cut it off at the knees. 

a plea to cut yourself some slack

We can't even begin to live a life with purpose, filled with work and hobbies that fill us up, loving the best we can and nurturing ourselves the way we deserve if we don't recognize when the thing we need the most is a break.

This weekend I found myself curled in a ball with a high fever and body aches totally unable to even begin to pretend that I was tackling much more than brushing my teeth. I knew it was coming too. I'd run myself ragged for the last 6 months, gambling with my body over and over again. To make things worse, I haven't been so hot in the emotional department lately. I've exhausted myself playing tug-of-war with my heart and my brain, and I'm just tired. 

This morning I am fighting through the flu-hell, buzzed from DayQuil and coffee, and I want to have something incredibly inspiring to tell you. I want to tell you that my fever nightmares showed me the path to happiness and I can now present the keys to life in 5 simple steps in the post below, but I can't. I am as tired today as I was yesterday. I am as heartbroken today as I was yesterday. 

What I do know is this: If you know you need to cut yourself some slack, please do it. 

If you are wearing down from life, physically or emotionally, please just pause. Take a breath. Go outside. Call a friend. Take a nap. 

We get so caught up in the hustle. We glorify being busy and fill our schedules to the brim with work, passion projects, self-improvement tasks, and chores. We push forward every day proclaiming our strength and power. We are women who can do it all, hear us roar. 

But can we really roar if we don't stop to catch our breath? Today, I argue strongly, no, we can't. We can't even begin to live a life with purpose, filled with work and hobbies that fill us up, loving the best we can and nurturing ourselves the way we deserve if we don't recognize when the thing we need the most is a break.

Here are a few ideas to get you started on how you can cut yourself some slack this week. Join me in picking one (or ten) and not letting guilt creep its way in. You not only deserve this, you need this. 

  • Cut one thing out of your calendar for the week. Reschedule an appointment, take a rain check on a social outing. There's always time to do it again. 
  • Get the coffee with the stuff you like. Just don't count the calories today, OK?
  • Watch Netflix on your lunch break instead of running errands. The post office will be there tomorrow.
  • Rock the messy bun. Use the dry shampoo. It's not the end of the world.
  • Skip spin class and go for drinks with your girlfriends. Talk about what's really on your mind.
  • Close your email. Call your parents.
  • Put your phone on airplane mode and go for a walk. Listen to your favorite music or podcasts. Don't you dare check your email. 
  • Cut some corners on dinner tonight. You don't have to do the Martha Stewart thing evvvvvery day. 
  • Take a mental health day. You know when you need it. Just take it.
  • Send the call to voicemail. You can handle it another time.
  • Plan a schedule-free weekend. No plans, no chores, no pants, whatever.

And the thing that might be the hardest, but also the most important...

  • Let yourself feel whatever it is you need to feel right now. Stuffing it away doesn't do anyone any favors, especially you.