Good News

Learning to Be On Your Own Side

I am always in awe right around this time of year.

This is because I realize: a) a whole year has just gone by, and b) a whole new year is just about to arrive.

Wow. When did all this happen?!

But in recent years my awe has increased as I've realized I am no longer looking to a fresh new year to solve all the issues and problems the tired old year didn't get around to dealing with.

I no longer wake up on January 1st, New Year's Day, hoping and expecting a miracle to have unfolded overnight.

This is because the miracle has already occurred - and it happened a long time ago. 
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On the Topic of Other People’s Good Fortune

So here we are, on the cusp of another full year of 365 bright shiny new days.

What are you going to do with yours?

I have to admit, I used to spend a LOT of mine wallowing in jealousy.

Oh I was so envious!

Envious of colleagues for succeeding so much faster and more than me.

Envious of girlfriends who had boyfriends.

Envious of friends with fat bank accounts and exciting travel plans (it was usually easy for me to overlook the presence of their boring day jobs while in the grips of yet another jealous fit).

Envious of the beautiful people - the ones who could go jogging in 110 degree heat and still look sleek and sexy and not at all winded.

Envy, envy, envy. It showed up in every one of those 365 days - on the best and the worst and the days in between.

In short, I wasted a lot of fresh, shiny new days wishing I was somebody else living somebody else's life.

I don't do that anymore.

How did I make the switch?

One day I started to tune in not just to my envious thoughts, but to how they made me feel (they made me feel pretty miserable and hopeless, in case you are wondering).

I also started to notice how happy and good I felt when in the presence of rare moments where I felt genuine happiness for someone else's success.

Right around this time, the life coach I was working with at the time told me I should watch with great attentiveness what I was jealous or envious of in someone else's life, because this showed me what I most wanted in my own life.

She was right. She was very, VERY right.

She also shared that the deep resonance I was feeling with those things I was envying indicated I might just have it in me to achieve the same. She told me I resonated with those things, those experiences, because they were already inside me too somewhere. 
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Celebrity Mentors

What is Your REAL Job?

I love. That's just what the f*** I do.

So clearly her work as a writer, author, speaker, teacher, shop keeper and all the rest is in service to her real job, which is "to love."

SO beautiful.

While I am currently hard-put to define my real job so succinctly as Gilbert does, I am working on it. And I know it is not writing, even though I love it the most out of any job I've ever done. 
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45 Years Old and Oh So Proud

So today is the day - I am officially 45!

I have a few friends who are my same age, but most are either younger or older than I am.

So it has been interesting to witness how they approach so-called "milestone" birthdays.

Some say nothing - whether because they don't really care much, or perhaps because they are busy pretending they are a different age and don't want to blow their own cover.

Some make a big deal about it - but usually not in a good way. For instance, turning 40 tends to be one where the reaction has been what I call "negative positivity" - such as, "Well, 40 is the new 30."

Personally, I wouldn't be 30 again for ANYTHING.

I was a single-celled organism well into my 20' least mentally and emotionally-speaking. I knew much less than I thought I knew and felt hardly any of what I did actually know.

I was still stuck inextricably in the thicket of depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder, hopping from school to school, then job to job, then country to country.

I had no idea "me" was comprised of a body, mind, heart and spirit - I thought "my body" was "me" (which also explains why everything revolved around a number on a scale instead of something both more substantial and less simple).

Those were not easy years.

Things got easier later in my 30's....somewhat. I had an early midlife crisis, in which I realized in a flash one day that life the way I had lived it until then was simply insupportable.

In other words, I had to change my ways or die. 
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Animal Mentors

Mentors with Feathers

Approximately three years ago, I went to Cape Cod with my folks for our annual getaway.

While I was gone, I started to miss my parrot, Pearl, very badly.

I was already writing his blog, Love & Feathers, so I started re-reading past posts to see if that would help ease the ache.

It just got worse.

Then I started looking through the photos I've taken of him over the years. Right about that point I realized I had several thousand photos of Pearl - more than every other type of photo I've ever taken (from the moment I was born or when they first invented the camera, take your pick) combined.

Since reading old blog posts and looking at old pictures wasn't helping, my next attempt focused on writing.

In years past, I have often journaled - either through physically writing in a journal or (more frequently) writing songs. So I began to journal out some of my favorite stories about my life with Pearl.

This helped.

It helped me not just feel closer to Pearl on the inside while we were so far apart on the outside, but it also helped me feel less anxious about his approaching double-digit  birthday and how I might cope once he and I are separated by more than just geography.

So I kept writing....and writing. 
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The Anatomy of Hope

"Hope" is not one of those words I've ever particularly resonated with.

This is probably because hope has always felt rather passive - like wishful thinking rather than wishful doing (which I much prefer).

Reframed in the context of "faith" (another process that remains very much a mystery), hope makes a bit more sense, since faith implies that at least someone or something else (assuming the entity or concept one has faith in) is taking action towards what is being hoped for.

But recently I read a brand new take on hope in Brene Brown's new book, "Rising Strong."

She writes:

Hope is not an emotion: It's a cognitive process - a thought process made up of what researcher C.R. Snyder called the trilogy of "Goals, pathways, and agency." Hope happens when we can set goals, have the tenacity and perseverance to pursue those goals, and believe in our own abilities to act.

Snyder also points out (as conveyed through Brown) that "hope is learned."

At this point it occurred to me that I probably haven't learned it.

But I do really like this new way of approaching hope - as an active process, not passive wishing or waiting.

Brown goes on to mention that the development of hope is a by-product of struggling in life. Adversity, failure - this is the stuff hope is born from.

Oddly, I have had plenty of both of these, and yet I didn't learn hope from them. 
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A Sure Fire Way to Win Your Own Self-Respect

Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life — is the source from which self-respect springs. -Joan Didion

I will confess I know little about Joan Didion (although from what I read on Wikipedia just now, it seems there is much worth getting to know).

But when I found the quote (above) in another book I've been reading, her words instantly captivated me.

I thought - "Aha! 'Accept responsibility for one's own life.' Yes, yes, yes - that is what feels so much better about my life today! I have accepted responsibility for my own life at last, which is why I can now feel so much respect for myself!"

Although I would imagine "accepting responsibility for your life" and "self-respect" will means something slightly different to each of us - depending on what our specific vulnerabilities and strengths may be.

For me personally, it means I no longer automatically look around for someone else - a mentor, a coach, a boss, a parent, a peer, a significant other - to handle my problems and recognize my successes.

It means that, while I may seek out a mentor's insights or input, I now get to have the last word in any decision on my personal table.

It means I now trust myself to be enough to handle whatever my life brings me on any given day.

Most importantly (for me at least), it means I am now the one in my life who is most invested in my own health and happiness.

I have more to lose - and more to gain - through how wisely and well I navigate each moment of my life than any other being on this planet.

This means I care more than anyone else what happens to me....and I also "man up" to stick up for myself when needed (whether there is anyone else around willing to do it or not).
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The “Aha” Moment & Other Honest Lies We Tell Ourselves

A few weeks ago I wrote about my experiences with reading Brene Brown's new book, "Rising Strong."

...or at least those experiences that related to reading the first 30 pages or so.

I have now read another 40 pages and have again had to hit "pause" to process.

Speaking of processing....did you know our brain gives us a hit of dopamine (a neurotransmitter and pretty much the best drug ever created) every time we successfully complete a puzzle?

The puzzle could be a Sudoku page, a crossword puzzle, a game of Hangman...or even a story we tell ourselves.

It could be an "Aha moment" - when all the pieces fit or the dots connect and what didn't make any sense at all is now suddenly, wonderfully clear.....

And did you know that, in these moments and flooded as they are with feel-good dopamine, our brains don't care if we solved the puzzle/rescued the stick figure/interpreted the signs correctly.

They just care that another puzzle is complete so they can get their drug-of-choice reward.

What this means, according to Brown, is that we can and probably do tell ourselves incorrect stories and have inaccurate "Aha moments" all the time.

Brown refers to a neurologist named Robert Burton as the source of this newfound knowledge, sharing this from his work in "Rising Strong:"

Stories are patterns. The brain recognizes the familiar beginning-middle-end structure of a story and rewards us for clearing up the ambiguity. Unfortunately, we don't need to be accurate, just certain. 
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Good News

Choosing “Now” (and why it is worth it)

Right before I graduated from college, I got offered a job that paid quite a lot.
So of course I took it. Right away I paid off all my student loans and saved up a bundle of cash.
But even though I was raking in the green (in fact, I had more money at that time than I have ever had before or since!) I couldn't buy a cup of coffee without feeling guilty for spending what I felt sure I should be saving for later.
In short, I didn't feel I deserved the coffee now if it came at the expense of the later needs of my future self.
Unfortunately, I was also still really sick with my eating disorder in those first post-college years, so lots of other things besides my relationship with my own cash were still upside-down. Even worse, the job itself also made me sick - there were more than a few days when offing myself literally seemed preferable to another day spent all trussed up in hose and heels and, well, hell.
During those three extra-long years, pricey cups of coffee temporarily eased my angst. Thoughts of all the rest of my cash that my future self would have to spend during her retirement did not.
This was because I could barely myself imaging surviving the day I was in, let alone a day 30 or 50 years forward when I would finally have "enough" and wouldn't have to work anymore.
So I bought my little cups of coffee and worried, and saved the rest for my retirement and worried. 
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