Defining What Matters

So many of us live day to day in a constant state of overwhelm. We excuse it by saying, “Once I finish “blank”, I’ll be able to settle down a bit. Unfortunately, sometimes what we proudly and consciously spend our time on, becomes a complete waste when we look back in hindsight. I’ve always loved the quote, “Youth is wasted on the young.” I know when I look back to those days, I wish I’d had the maturity and the foresight to spend time on what matters to me today and let go of what was quite meaningless in the long run. I had so much to prove to so many who most likely weren’t even paying attention, never mind keeping score.

One could argue that what you spent your time on in your youth defined who you are today; “you reap what you sow”. And I do believe that for the most part that is true. But when you reach mid-life, you wonder how much of it got you to where you truly wanted to be, versus where you thought you ought to be. And then the reality of how much time you have left begins to sink in. You begin to realize it is crucial, now more than ever, to leave society’s constructs behind and do what matters, to you.

A crucial part of defining what matters, is defining what doesn’t. This is where a close scrutiny of time spent day to day begins to reveal your priorities, and this is where the disconnect becomes quickly and surprisingly apparent. How much are we doing out of habit, how much from obligation, how much from competition, pressure or otherwise unhealthy sources? Each brick you lay now, builds the path that leads you to your final resting place. If you remain  on this course, will it lead you to where you want to end up? If someone were to ask you what truly matters, would you find yourself devoting any time whatsoever to those tenets on a day to day basis?

Reflection matters, especially in a day and age where we are constantly bombarded by messages and demands not of our choosing. Silence is one of the only places where you can gain true clarity. The other safe harbor is where you engage in the things that truly make your soul happy. It is upon arrival at both of those mental destinations that you start to realize true happiness as defined not by others, but by you. We will all have to cut out the things that don’t matter, little by little, if we are to be true to ourselves in the long run.

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The Self-Help Aisle

  1. “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” -Aristotle

I remember the first time I found the self-help section at Barnes & Noble. I was living by myself on Long Island, commuting to my new job in New York City. I had no car and lived by myself. I exhausted myself enough during the week between my commute and the job to crash early every night. But the weekends during which I did not travel were long and lonely. Sometimes I would travel in to spend a day exploring all the wonderful nooks and crannies of New York City. But during the days I wanted to remain local, I would walk to the local B&N Bookstore and lose myself in the hope of all those shiny new books promising me a shiny and perfect life.

With all the self-help books I have read during the past twenty one years, you would think I would have the peace, fortitude and stability of the Dalai Lama. I’ve read countless books about being happier, being skinnier, being stronger, being bolder, being a better manager, being a better leader, being a better friend, being a better listener, being more in control of my destiny and of course, being a faster reader so that I could read more self-help books! I should be so fabulously perfect by now that you’d be able to crown me God.

Unfortunately, that large investment in all those books never quite got me to where I wanted to be. One and a half years of therapy has gotten me further than another twenty would have in the self-help aisle. What’s funny is that I have surfaced far more questions than answers. But the best part is, I have more hope that ever, that the answers I’ve been looking for are not out there, but are actually buried deep within myself, underneath all of the rubble I have piled on to myself for the last 42 years.

I suspect it will take at least another ten years to answer all my questions, unearth all my issues, comb through my anxieties and surface my depressions. But for all the nights that I woke up at 3am in a panic or hid underneath a blanket in the middle of the day, I believe that true happiness and infinite peace do exist. I know enlightenment as I’ve read about for so many years is attainable. We are all on a journey and this is mine. You happen to be coming along with me for the ride. And somewhere within the best version of me, will be the power to give back to the planet and make this world a better place.

 

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Insomnia

Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night? Do you ever toss and turn constantly and relive difficult situations over and over in your head? How many times did you watch the clock hit 2 am, 3 am and even 4 am? How many times did the alarm begin screaming shrilly after you FINALLY just fell asleep?

Insomnia is something I am determined to destroy this year. I had been doing very well working on my nighttime anxiety and had regulated my sleep patterns for the most part during the week. But this past week reminded me with a swift and hard hand how horrific insomnia can truly be. Not only are you suffering that night torturing yourself over how awful you’re going to feel in the morning, but you get the added treat of dragging your completely worn-out self through the entire following day. The worst part is, you did it to yourself.

You did it to yourself because you feared something in your power went horribly wrong. Or you imagined that some event in your near future would most definitely have a severely negative outcome. You catastrophize and replay worst case scenario under the guise that you are trying to brilliantly devise a picture perfect solution. The problem is, you can’t control everything. Worst of all, you have no faith in yourself under game time pressure.

And then you live the situation in real life. Guess what? It turns out fine. You know why? Because you are far more capable than you ever give yourself credit for. The advice you give everyone else, everyday, you forgot to give yourself. You neglected to pat yourself on the back and allow yourself the rest you so desperately needed.  You refused to cut yourself any slack and give yourself the freedom to maybe make a mistake. You were relentless and vicious in your constant critiques of yourself. Instead of being your own best friend, you became your own worst enemy.

In a world of constant stress and pressure, finding strength within is crucial. Letting go of the illusion of control is possible, I know it is. Someday I hope to get there.

 

 

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Warm Heart, Artist’s Soul

As the sun goes down on another 7 degree day, my heart is warmed by several conversations I had this week regarding my personal identity. I have always prided myself on being “complex.” One of my favorite quotes out there is from Alice in Wonderland. 

I have told a few of you out there that I can go so much darker in these blogs but have been leery to do so. Aren’t people looking for hope and inspiration? But to me, writing is truly about delving into the darkness. Edgar Allan Poe was one of my childhood heroes. Why is the darkness constantly calling me in a world where presenting a smiling, happy face is so important?

I have spent my life becoming a version of polite society’s ideal. I was fascinated by glossy New York Times Sunday Magazines from the age of 7, planning out every aspect of an accomplished life.

If I did what I was told, I would succeed.

If I tested well throughout school and got a good job, I would be happy.

The trick is that all that studying and working leads to not developing an identity separate from all that studying and working. Or at the very least, suppressing it. Or at the very worst, allowing your self worth to completely depend upon your academic and career success.

The good news is that once you start to weed through all of that, you realize that there could be a whole other self that peeks through at times but is never allowed to stay for very long. For me, it’s realizing one of my primary drivers of wanting to write; it is because there is an artist within. I have always known she was there, but never took her very seriously. It was only through a recent conversation with my husband that brought to light the obvious.

You are happiest when you are creating.

This revelation is crystal clear when you roam through my childhood memories. I will save those creation descriptions for a lighter post, because there is definite and complete hilarity there, to which my closest friends will attest.

Of course, I am not running out to quit my job or demean my own career successes. But in my journey of realizing what truly makes ME happy so that I have the energy to give back to everyone else that needs my support, it is clearly nurturing my artist’s soul. And much of that recognition begets that sometimes that soul is a dark one. That understanding is actually the most comforting realization of all. More to come…

 

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New Year’s Reflections

The craziness of December is finally coming to an end and now we embark upon the hope of a new year. I have been stealing quiet moments over the past week to reflect upon the challenges of the past year and the lessons I have learned from them. I always savor this last week of the year because I seem to find more time than usual to open my mind to new possibilities and small revelations. I am also able to take advantage of my holiday gifts, which almost always revolve around comfort; new soft blankets on the couch, fluffy slippers on my feet, a silk sleep mask and heated massage cushions for my back. I meditate more often and regain the clarity of a still mind.

But the true challenge of the New Year is figuring out how tranquility can actually become something enjoyed all year, as opposed to just during vacations. I have been paying close attention this week to something known as “self-talk.” It is all the judgement that you pass on yourself every moment of the day. Much of it has become automatic, so you don’t even realize the negativity you put on yourself until you take a step back and become aware of these patterns in everyday thinking. I found myself erecting barriers that don’t exist outside of my own mind which have made it harder for me to simply live a life of reduced stress and challenge.

What I am realizing quickly is that there is much catastrophizing going on in my head in regards to future events to come. This shouldn’t be much of a shock to me, as this is essentially the definition of anxiety. And what’s furthermore even less shocking is the realization that it’s always worse in my own head than what actually happens in real life. I have survived many difficult times in my own life that I never could have even dreamed of. This small revelation is one that should be taught as early as preschool and repeatedly reinforced; you can’t control everything so stop trying. And beyond that, you are much stronger than you give yourself credit for; you will handle what’s coming.

I have heard over the last few months that this blog resonates with people; especially those who understand the struggle of anxiety. If I have made one life better by putting into words that fight, then I have succeeded.  The continuum of angst is a long one and there are people on all parts of that spectrum from “not easily bothered” to “living in constant panic.” But I truly believe that all of us can benefit from listening to the voices in our own heads; they have become automatic and you might be surprised at what you find when you truly listen. My quest is for what our culture has deemed impossible, constant peace. But I continue, because I believe it exists as other cultures have found it. Cheers to the New Year and everyone finding their own version of peace in 2018.

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Are You Happy?

“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” -Joseph Campbell

For anyone who has known me well, and over a significant period of time, you know that I have never allowed myself to be truly happy. I have been an extraordinary actress, complete with a perky attitude and a bright, wide smile. But underneath it all, there has always been a sense that I am missing something. I have always been convinced that the grass is greener elsewhere and certainly not where I was standing. If I reached the next goal, I would be happy. Contentment was only something that might occur in the future. Interestingly enough, my fantasies of perfection always happened to be those situations that were completely out of my reach. Lamenting for the ideal was my only source of tormented happiness.

In therapy, a recurrent theme kept emerging; no matter where I was in life, I only saw what was wrong, never what was right. It is a type of OCD where you can’t get past the flaws; a form of perfectionism towards oneself and therefore everyone around you. You begin to ruin even the best things in your life, because you are convinced you don’t deserve them. And it all stems from a dark place inside, an abyss, where you were never told that you actually matter. No opinions of your own held any value. Perfection, dictated by cultural extremes, was what you were after; nothing less was acceptable.

Therapy teaches you to dig in to the places where you have the most emotional resonance; when do you feel the most anger or the most sadness? Go there, delve down and resurrect those most painful memories. It is in those moments that you find your demons. As Stephen King said,

“We stopped checking for monsters under the bed when we realized they were inside of us.”

It is in that place that you realize why you get so angry when a similar situation pops up, or your eyes well up when something today resembles your greatest loss. It is there that you discover what you have been hiding so gracefully behind your elaborate mask of normalcy.

While this journey that I describe is heart-breaking, it is necessary. It is upon rising out of that pilgrimage that you can truly start to rebuild your life on a stronger, more solid and sustainable foundation. And it is upon that bedrock that you can become your most true and best self. And ultimately,  there is where you discover something called HOPE.

 

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Keep it Light

To me, one of the absolute key components of creating a fulfilling life is surrounding yourself with people who make you laugh. It is one of the main characteristics that you will find in anyone close to me. Laughter has gotten me through the toughest times in my life. There are few feelings as wonderful as releasing all the rough parts of your day through some quality moments of hilarity.

My first year of college was a rough one as the transition to living independently was challenging for me. There were some pretty tough days to get through during that experience. My freshman year roommate was crucial to my survival that year. We used to come home from our days and compete for the title of who actually had the worst day. We had incredibly entertaining stories that probably weren’t hilarious when you looked at them through sane eyes, but our sharing and laughing was imperative to never quitting and moving on to a somewhat stable sophomore year.

“Anne, I failed my midterm” -Lisa

“No really, what’d you get…?” -Anne

“An F”  -Lisa

“Oh.” -Anne

Of course I am a huge proponent of serious education, so don’t get me wrong that I am saying it’s OK to fail a midterm. But I was in uncharted territory back then and it was all part of my overall learning and growing experience. I was stepping out of who I was always disciplined to be and seeing what it was like on the other side. I didn’t stay there for long, but constant seriousness for long periods of time always ends up with a little healthy rebellion.

There have been countless mornings of talking to my best friend via phone on my way to work where we have turned work situations that were utterly maddening into the most entertaining fodder for hysterics. One of my favorites was finding a grasshopper on the dashboard of my car where the two of us proceeded to legitimately discuss if he was there to enjoy my hip hop musical selections for the day or perhaps was there for some other purpose. I made her google if grasshoppers like music as a serious question. Dialogue below:

Lisa : Dude, do grasshoppers like music?
De: Um, I don’t know
Lisa: can you check?

De: OK

No automatic alt text available.

 

I could go on and on with similar tales and believe me there are plenty of good stories for future blogs that you can look forward to. No matter how tough your days get, remember to surround yourself with those who can keep it all in perspective with a good laugh.

 

 

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Power to the Sisterhood

               “You can always tell who the strong women are. They are the ones building each other up instead tearing each other down.”-Unknown

It is funny to use the word sisterhood, as I grew up an only child. I also have a very challenging and strained relationship with my own mom. But I was lucky enough to have several unique experiences with so many incredible women along the way that I am able to call so many women my sisters. From the women who stepped in as second moms, to the girls I’ve known since I was in grade school, to the teachers who believed in me always, the sisterhood has had my back.

Last week, I spent two days with my female sisterhood from work at a Women’s Mentoring Offsite. We have been grouped together throughout the past four years to transfer our knowledge and support one another on our career journeys. We also look to create unique opportunities for Women in Business throughout our geographical footprint. I could have never imagined the actual transformations that have occurred to all of us as an active sorority during that timeframe.

Last year at our retreat, during a session where we were to bear some of the exhausting challenges we carry with us day in and day out, miraculous bonding ensued. One of the sessions that truly blew my mind proved to me how hard women are on themselves in general. So many of us, who are relatively hugely accomplished, constantly heard voices inside our heads telling us that none of it was good enough. We were always limiting our own potential and talking ourselves out of fantastic opportunities.

Last week, we bared even more of our souls because of the unique trust bonds that we have created. Some of us carry secrets because we believe the world might not embrace our true selves. Some of us carry guilt, remorse and even shame as we try to move forward in this challenge of everyday life. But to each of those threats we all responded with open arms and strong shoulders. When we sit amongst each other, we speak of nothing but support and encouragement. We put out our hands and say, “I’m with you no matter what happens. You can count on me always.” We can say anything within those four walls and not be judged; we can fall and be caught.

All of us felt a surge of pure empowerment as we left those meeting rooms, as though we could actually take on the world. There are so many daunting issues that women face worldwide right now. But when we join hands, we can unite, and take them all on. It’s up to us, and I have learned, year after year, that we are more than capable, even if we don’t always believe it.

 “Still I rise” – Maya Angelou

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Sinatra’s Best Advice

 “Try your best and never give up.  When life gets hard, play harder” -Me to my son

This has been one of my harder years with several setbacks and frustrations. As I have mentioned in this blog more than once, I often seek to calm myself amidst rushes of anxiety and I have found wonderful mantras to meditate upon when things get difficult. Tonight I realized that I will be the source of several mantras for my own children to reflect upon as they go through life.

I’ve thought so many times of the things my father, who passed in 2006, told me growing up.  One of my favorite memories of him is when we used to listen to an eight track tape of Frank Sinatra. We would listen to “That’s Life” over and over and sing at the top of our lungs. Those lyrics ring in my head:

 “I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate
A poet, a pawn and a king
I’ve been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing
Each time I find myself flat on my face
I pick myself up and get back in the race”

I knew my father believed wholeheartedly in those lyrics because much of the advice he gave me was about fighting through when things got tough. As I told my son tonight not to get discouraged and to play hard even when things are tough, tears began to stream down my face. I realized that I should make sure I take my own advice too. And the advice of my dad and Sinatra that started so long ago.

When things are hard, it’s difficult to see out of our clouds. But grit is so important. Keep fighting and things will get better, always.

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Nutrition for the Soul

“Take Time to do What Makes Your Soul Happy”-Unknown

I’ve been reading seriously for about a year now about physical nutrition. I’m forever trying to get healthy and get to my ideal weight, while constantly falling prey to eating due to stress and emotions. I truly believe that if you get your sustenance right, the rest falls into place. Our bodies thrive given the proper fuel. I’m still on that personal journey but know I will eventually get there in my own time.

What I have found to be just as important, and something I’ve been more vehement in protecting, is getting the proper nourishment for my soul. My stomach growls when it needs food and weakness begins to set in. In kind, my mind and heart wear down without qualified refreshment.  Of course, that type of replenishment requires one of the hardest luxuries to find: time.

We are all in a game of survival on this planet. While certainly more evolved than the animals in the wild, we still have needs that must be met. We don’t have to hunt for our food in this day and age, but every day is still filled with all the stresses of paying the bills and feeding our families. Who amongst us would not love to simply spend our entire days doing only the things we love. Alas, we must make a living.

But what truly separates us from the wild is the burning need for connection, understanding and peace. And just as important as making time to cook nutritive meals, we must make time for the restocking of the spirit. In order to give, we must refill. I believe that all of us need very different things to keep ourselves truly happy, but we need to make the time to understand what those things are, and demand the time to do them. The simpler those activities can be, the more realistic they are to accomplish.

Do you truly give yourself the time you need to rejuvenate?

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Take a Risk

“We are all living in cages with the door wide open” – George Lucas

I have always suffered from anxiety, ever since I was a little kid. I’m sure there’s tons of reasons for it; some hereditary, some conditioned. But it’s gotten worse as I’ve gotten older and with the additional responsibilities of work and family, life has little to no tolerance for it. I know I’m not alone in this condition, as I have this conversation several times a day with my co-workers and friends. But this year I finally took a step that I had been avoiding for years. I started therapy and it’s been the best decision of my life. I believe that burying our issues, like I had done for 40 years, truly leads to future implosion. The weight lifted from my shoulders has been tremendous. I will forever be an advocate for people getting the mental health assistance they need. I view my transition not as a stigma, but as an honor.

A life-changing moment happened for me a month or so ago, as I was wide awake at 3am, panicking. I was so sick of the insomnia I was experiencing and was combing thoroughly through my brain; sifting through the golden nuggets of therapy I had taken in over the last year. A recurrent and key theme was that I had spent my entire life trying to be perfect. There was no room for error, ever.  Either you did it right, or you didn’t do it. On top of that, I never EVER took a risk. Why would I actually take the chance of looking foolish or falling on my face? I began to think, maybe that belief was truly the root of my stress. I found a few inspirational quotes which drove that point home. The most notable quote was:

“Celebrate failure; it means you took a risk”- Unknown

It was as if the combination unlocked, the gates opened and I was finally able to break free. Only, those gates were never actually closed in the first place. It was only me placing my own restrictions upon myself. I don’t have to remind you, that’s no way to live.

As I opened my eyes to daily life, I saw others out there taking real risks with incomparable rewards. Most notably, my friend John just started a blog about how he retired from banking in the US, moved to Cambodia, and became a hotelier. His blog is here and it is truly an adventure to follow:

 [https://adventuresofjohnnyg.wordpress.com/] 

How inspiring it is to see others truly living their dreams. But they all had one thing in common: they got over the fear of failing and started thinking about what could go right instead of wrong.  Once I got over my analysis paralysis of over-thinking how/when/why/where and for whom I would write, I have delved in and started my blog. I stopped thinking of “for whom” and started writing “for me.” I am now confident in my thoughts and I want people to hear them. And if I can help just one person along the way, it’s all icing on the cake.

What would you do if you stopped being your own inner critic? Which dream would you begin?

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”- Anais Nin

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