Do the work. Trust yourself. Say thank you.

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Gathered from scraps of paper, sticky notes, the backs of bills, a cocktail napkin, words spoken to Siri, some never posted blog drafts and a recent hallway conversation, these are things I’m learning to live by.

 

  • Be intentional. Wake up each morning and decide you’re going to make a difference in someone’s life.

 

  • Take criticism with grace. If it’s true, find a way to make the change. If it’s not true, let it go.

 

  • When someone gives you a compliment, say thank you.

 

  • Laugh when you can, apologize when you should and let go of things you cannot change.

 

  • Make decisions. When you take to long, you waste a lot of time “thinking” and slow your momentum. Still, when you make a decision, stick to it for as long as it makes sense and allow yourself to change your mind when needed.

 

  • Trust your gut. Especially when you don’t want to.

 

  • Begin. Start now. Don’t wait for permission. “If you want to live the life you haven’t lived, you have to you’ve to do things you’ve never done.” -Jen Sincero

 

  • It’s never too late to start over. If yesterday sucked, begin again. If you weren’t happy with the results of your efforts last week, try something new. The point is, move forward. Don’t stay stuck. Evolve.

 

  • Love hard. 

 

  • Don’t insulate yourself from pain and discomfort. You’ll grow more if you let it in then if you waste your energy building a wall.

 

  • Don’t be afraid of failure; it’s part of the creative process. The point is (see #7) you’ve got to dive in head first, with passion and determination. Acknowledge when things aren’t working and change, quickly. Caveat: Know the difference between the work is hard and this is the uncomfortable part and this isn’t working, it’s time to switch gears.

Wherever You Go, There You Are

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I can’t remember where I heard or read the phrase, wherever you go, there you are, but those six words have replayed in my head so often in the last five months or so that it’s become a habit to say them out loud every time I’m feeling anxious about circumstances I can’t control or worried about nearly anything.

For me, wherever you go, there you are, is a reminder to be at peace with the immediate present and at the same time, it helps me see the past and future also in the same perspective. Whatever happened, happened and the past is a truth that is what it is (i.e. wherever I was, there I was). And for what lies ahead, whatever will happen, will happen–wherever I go, there I will be.

Mantras have played a great role in my life. I’ve always been in constant mental-chatter. I talk to myself all day long. I know how strongly negative thoughts affect my actions, so I practice awareness and adopt sayings or phrases that bring me back to a positive space when awareness begins to escape me. When I was a young runner, my first coach taught me how to be in the moment when tackling a difficult hill or terrain. Instead of denying that I was experiencing the pain from the hill, she taught me to repeat, I love hills, and so, I conquered them one by one. Sometimes, it’s not a phrase, it’s a word, like strength and focus.

I’ve been up today since about 3:30. I went to bed wired and alert, and found myself in the exact same place just a few hours later, so I gave up on sleep, planted on a chair in front of the fire and researched the phrase I’ve been repeating to myself. As it turns out, it’s the title of a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School who, in his book, writes “Just watch this moment, without trying to change it at all. What is happening? What do you feel? What do you see? What do you hear?”

Life unfolds in the present. In the memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about a friend who, whenever she sees a beautiful place, exclaims in a near panic, “It’s so beautiful here! I want to come back here someday!” “It takes all my persuasive powers,” writes Gilbert, “to try to convince her that she is already here.”

Phrases and mantras of positivity and encouragement are like a ladder that helps us reach a little higher than we could without it. I keep mine in a mental catalogue and reach for each of them often. For now, the words I choose to carry with me are simple and six,  wherever you go, there you are.

The Great Big Lessons I Learned in 2015

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“Embracing the vulnerability it takes to rise up from a fall and grow stronger makes us a little dangerous. People who don’t stay down after they fall or are tripped are often troublemakers. Hard to control. Which is the best kind of dangerous possible. They are the artists, innovators, and change-makers.” –Brene Brown, Rising Strong

It’s been a year of change. It’s been a year of happiness, discomfort, pain and excitement. It’s been a year of hard lessons and a year where sometimes one step forward meant a tumble backwards immediately after. There were things that I rocked and things that I screwed up, things that happened that were out of my control and things I will never understand. It’s been a year of consideration with a fierce need for courage.

As I look forward, I’m reflecting on the things I’ve learned–that we are all doing the best we can; that everything, every thing, is unpredictable; that shitty things happen at good times and really good things can happen when it seems like nothing ever will; that there is always another side to the story;  that I am smart, resourceful, strong and resilient (thank you, Katie); that it’s best to be relentlessly kind to others; that patience is a virtue although, it’s never been one of mine; and that I can’t control everything, that letting go is a powerful decision to make.

“The longer I love, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company…a church….a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.” Charles Swindoll

And here it is, the end of another chapter. I leave 2015 behind with this in mind: who do I want to be at the end of the day? 

My mentor once told me a story about change (for the record, the following is the story, to the best of my recollection). He said that he was once an aggressive driver. He said he was that guy who shouted from behind the wheel, even with the windows up, who got frustrated at others’ driving behaviors. And he always said, “that’s just who I am–I’m an aggressive driver.”  I understand this rational completely. I’ve said it many times about some of my weaker qualities or habits–that’s just who I am. Then Gary told me that one day someone said to him, “you are whoever you are at the moment, so if you want to change something about yourself, change it and then that’s who you’ll be instead.”  He said that one day he got in the car and he decided he was not going to be an aggressive driver anymore. He practiced holding in his frustrations and refrain from calling out the other drivers while he was behind the wheel. It was tough, it didn’t happen quickly and there were relapses. But after a while he became more at ease while he was driving. And after a while his urge to shout lessened and the stress dissipated. And then, one day, he wasn’t an aggressive driver anymore. And that’s just who he was. It’s a simple story, but it reminds me that even though we can’t change the past or predict the future, we can control who we are by how we react to life, that our reactions are one of the few things we can control and change.

I’m looking forward to 2016, to the not knowing, to the challenges and the lessons and all the good things that come with the tough stuff like vulnerability (I’m working on it). In 2016, we will not be afraid to ask ourselves, who do I want to be at the end of the day? And then, maybe more important than asking the question, we will not be afraid of going after the answer.

Life’s too Short to Worry. Life’s too Long To Wait.

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1. Be Authentic. The most powerful asset you have is your individuality–what makes you unique. Don’t put too much equity in other people’s opinions.

2. Trust the process. Expect plot twists.

3. Work hard and you will always benefit from it.

4. Create. Do. Make things. Innovation in thinking is not nearly enough.

5. Travel as much as you can. It is a humbling and inspiring experience to be reminded how much you don’t know.

6. Strive for grace. There’s always room for more grace and there’s always another chance to embody it.

7. “Do Good.” The Golden Rule actually works.

8. Read everything. Read with an open-mind and a child’s fascination.

9. Go out on more limbs.

10. If you want to change, change. You are what you are until you decide you are something else.

11. Connect in real ways. Life is visceral. Get off your devices and connect with real people in real-time in real culture.

12. Instinct and intuition–learn to feel and trust them.

13. Let passion guide you. The things you are passionate about are not random. They are your calling.

14. If you like to eat pretzels in bed, eat pretzels in bed. Occasionally. Don’t abuse your own power.

15. Be a dreamer AND a doer.

I’ll Be On My Way, Just As Soon As I Shave This Yak

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There was a guy who wanted to mow his lawn one afternoon but had lent his lawn mower to his neighbor. When he asked his neighbor for the lawn mower, the neighbor refused.

“Not until you give me back the five other things you’ve borrowed from me!” said the neighbor.

The guy went back to his house and gathered up the things he’d borrowed from his neighbor. As he did that, he realized he had a problem–he had lost the sweater his neighbor brought back from Tibet years before.

The sweater was made of Yak’s wool. So in the middle of the night, the guy found himself breaking in to a zoo, sneaking in to the yak pen and shaving a yak to the get the yak hair to weave yak yarn to make a yak-hair sweater so he could give it back to his neighbor, get his lawn mower back and mow his lawn.

What does yak shaving represent? The “fiddly” tasks we let get between us and our goal–the excuses we make or the steps we insist need to be taken in order to launch something perfectly.

The guy should have just bought a sweater, gotten his mower back and mowed his yard.

We spend time yak shaving instead of doing because yak shavings tasks are in our control. We let ourselves believe that in order to accomplish our dreams, everything needs to be perfect. We spend too much time perfecting, or heading to the zoo to shave a yak.

Yak shaving shields us from facing the things we fear. It prevents us from ever really creating, doing, putting our work out there. But we need to start. Do it. Any of it. Maybe it doesn’t have to be a big plunge. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be something. Small bites. Small steps. One imperfect thing at a time.

 

Sensitivity Is Not My Weakness

connections

I can remember a moment on the phone with my mother when I was in college, overwhelmed and crying. Between my sobs, my mother said something that has stuck with me since: “Why are you so sensitive, Erin? You really need to lighten-up.”

My mother wasn’t the first or the last to say this to me. All my life, people have told me that I was “too sensitive,” “very  intense,” “so emotional.” And I listened and told the same things to myself. The world has always affected me deeply. I felt everything and built an analysis of life rather than an experience of it when I was with others. For years, I tried to solve my “intensity” problem by controlling my situations. I was private about many aspects of my life, not wanting to burden others when they had things to deal with of their own and I started hiding bits of me away. I thought of my sensitivities as weaknesses, out of my control, which made me vulnerable and exposed.

Eventually, things fell apart. I was married, had a respectable job and a life that didn’t fit me at all. It was a life that I had constructed based on my analysis of what it should be instead of where my experiences led me. I left it all behind and I learned to embrace the sensitivities and emotions I have always run from. I learned that we are all participants in life, not just observers. I learned to trust myself.

Intensity still runs wild in me–that will undoubtedly ever change. On a trip to D.C. last month, Matt lost me in conversation when I couldn’t stop looking out the restaurant window at a young guy, wrapped in a tarp, clearly on drugs and standing in the snow and wind.  I have sleepless nights when I can’t solve problems that cause others discomfort. I cry when I read sad stories or stories that remind me of the power we all have to affect one another’s lives. But now, for all of these things, I am grateful. There was some merit in part of what my mom said to me that day. I do need to lighten-up; not everything is as serious as I take it. I learned that life is easier than I think it is (and thinking about life is hard). It just is. It’s life. And we are all doing it.

In in my future quests to “lighten-up” a little more, I know that, at the core, I will still be emotional and intense. Instead of trying to change that, I’m challenging myself to embrace the times when I feel vulnerable and exposed–in hopes that it will inspire others to do the same.

“Our obligation is to give meaning to life, and in doing so to overcome the passive, indifferent life.” Ellie Wiesel

PS. The Ad Council released this video, “Diversity & Inclusion–Love Has No Labels.” It touched me deeply and yes, I cried a little. We are all just looking for connections in life.

 

 

 

 
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