What is Success and Where do I Find it?

I haven’t posted in a long time and I am not sure why. I could say I have been busy, but it is more than that. Busy is such a meaningless word. I have been filling up the hours in my days no more or less than usual.  I’ve been scurrying a long from activity to activity, while intentionally avoiding my blog.  The truth is,  sometimes it seems weird to share so openly about my life, and it makes me uncomfortable.   And yet when I don’t, it feels like there is something missing.  Maybe it is because my only true passion is writing, and blogging will probably be as close as I ever get to being a writer, even if it is for my own enjoyment.  It felt good to take a break, and now I am happy to be back.  Maybe writing again will help me deal with my latest identity crisis, as it seems to have done in the past.

Over all it has been a pretty good year, at least from the outside looking it.  I finally finished graduate school and started a new job.  I am in a loving relationship, and I just came back from a wonderful vacation.  Yet I have been feeling  an increasing malaise recently, and I am trying to come to terms with the reasons why.

The biggest reason I’m struggling is probably internal in nature, and revolves around the question of what defines success. I thought I knew what success meant to me, and now I am not so sure. I moved on from my old job this winter for several reasons, burn-out, frustrations about hitting a ceiling, and wanting a change after 20 years.  As a feminist, I believe that I ought to strive to achieve to my fullest potential and I’ve pushed myself accordingly.

Now I am learning that success doesn’t always equate with job title or salary.  Success is about being true to oneself and liking what one does. Neither of which I am experiencing right now. My new job doesn’t seem to fit my personality, despite my being good at it, and it is causing me a great deal of angst. I know I should give it time, but that’s hard to do when I dread going to work each day.  I miss what I did before, and wish I could have found a way to make it work and have some growth without throwing the baby out with the bath water, as they say. Sitting at a desk now looking at spreadsheets all day and going to meeting after meeting is wearing on me. I thought it was the angst of transitioning but it hasn’t gotten any better so I am starting to wonder.

Now I am holding my hands up to the sky, as if there are answers waiting to be captured as they fly towards me in a gust of wind.

I am going to give it some time to figure out what I want.  In the meantime, I will make sure to fill my days with the things I enjoy, like writing this blog.  I will take it one day at a time and try to remember the hardest lesson of all…

Retrieved fromhttps://www.facebook.com/WildWomanSisterhood/

I’ll keep you “posted” on how it is going.

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Courageous Vulnerability

Courageous Vulnerability by Sarah Bryan.

I love the message in this TED talk that was posted in Bright Ideas Collective today.  It is the response to all of the angst, anxiety, and anticipatory worry I was talking about in my post from last Friday.

So often in my quest to achieve my personal or professional goals, I end up numbing my emotions. As Brene’ Brown points out in her talk, you can’t numb your feelings of  pain, grief, or disappointment without also numbing feelings of happiness, contentment, and bliss.

We don’t hear this message very often these days. More often we hear a message that if we achieve X, Y, or Z at any cost, then we will be happy, and we falsely believe we can set aside all of our feelings until we reach our destination.  Learning to accept my feelings was the key component to my recovery process, and it is easy to backslide when I am stressed.

Today I am setting my intentions to accept my vulnerability and to feel rather than resist it, and to welcome the entire spectrum of emotions that may come and go in response to being alive.1415421_10152472366339211_2007634864152853210_oIf I want to be able to enjoy moments like this, then I am willing to accept those moments of uncertainty and vulnerability.

 

Architecture and fond memories

I used PicMonkey to edit this picture of Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. (apparently now called Children’s National Health System). I worked there in the 90’s and have always been fascinated with the building’s architecture. I actually took this picture when I was visiting a few years ago.  Right after I snapped the shot I fell off the retaining wall I was standing on because I was talking on the phone at the same time. I’ve always known that kind of multitasking is not my forte!

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Children’s National Medical Center

I have so many fond memories of working at Children’s National. During this period of my life I was also in school to become a nurse, and it was a time of incredible growth and learning to believe in myself.  It was there that I decided to channel my anxiety and energy into something useful, and amazing things have come out of that experience.

Suffering is not enough

“Suffering is not enough. Life is both dreadful and wonderful…How can I smile when I am filled with so much sorrow? It is natural–you need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow.” 

Thích Nhất Hạnh

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During our holiday festivities yesterday we got started on the topic of the “resting bitch face” and how at some point in our lives, we’ve all had that moment of being told to smile when we didn’t feel like it.  The women at the table were especially sensitive to these encounters, believing them to be somewhat sexist in nature.  My son-in-law quickly pointed out that it happens to men as well, and  he was tired of people asking him “what’s wrong” because he usually has a serious look on his face.

So how do we “smile” during those tough moments.  Do we pretend to be happy when we are not?  I do not believe that is what he is suggesting in his quote above.  Rather, I believe he is reminding us that we are not defined by the circumstances that happen in our lives.  At the core of our beings, we are radiant and beautiful, and peace can always be found within us.

I chose to post this picture of myself because I was going through a really tough time when it was taken, having experienced the recent death of my brother, my daughter’s illness, and the deterioration of my marriage. I smiled not because I was happy about those circumstances, but because I was able to find a glimpse of peace in that particular moment.

 

 

How to stop wishing your life away

“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.”

Helen Keller

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I can’t wait until the holidays are over…

I can’t wait until it is warm outside

I wish I were thinner

I wish I didn’t have to work every day

I wish I looked like Jennifer Lawrence

I can’t wait to get out of this meeting

I wish I were “normal”

I can’t wait until this class is over

I can’t wait until I see my family

I can’t wait until I retire….

How often do I say these things to myself, essentially wishing for things to be different from how they are in this moment.  The truth is, this moment may be the only one I have so how can I make it count?

I was in a staff meeting the other day and someone said something that really hurt my feelings.

staff meeting

At first I drifted off into a litany of thoughts about how bad that person made me feel and how bleak my future was going to be at work now.   I then realized that I had the power to change the dialogue in my head to something more compassionate.  I am not a victim of the world I see. I don’t need to give anyone permission to rob my peace in this moment. I was able to acknowledge the way I was feeling and give myself the choice about how I would frame that thought and how I would deal with it.  Staying present in the moment was empowering and enabled me to address the person in such a way that acknowledged both of our feelings.  I utilized the tools in my toolbox that I have learned over the years of therapy, support groups, etc to reframe my anxious thoughts.

As a young girl growing up, I drew much strength from reading about Helen Keller.  When it comes to living in the moment, I can’t think of anyone who illustrates an example of accepting one’s state of being more than her.  Before she was given the tools to accept her conditions of blindness and deafness, she was wild and unruly.  Once Ann Sullivan taught her how to reach out to the world around her, Helen was able to bridge those gaps and “see” the world in a different way.  It took a long time for her to learn how to cope and compensate for her disabilities, but she went on to accomplish many great things.

Dealing with mental and emotional illness is no less daunting at times and it would be easy to give up hope.  Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and seek the tools and answers that will allow you to make peace with what is in the present moment.  It will take practice, perseverance, and patience, but it will be worth it.

 

Notice what you are reacting to

500px-Sad_LookNext time you are having a strong reaction to a person or situation, chances are you may also be reacting to something from the past.  Oftentimes, if you take a moment to think about the feelings you are having, you will notice that they take you back to an earlier time in your life when someone or something made you feel that way.  In fact, you may have been replaying a scenario over and over again with different characters and settings, searching for resolution.  Next time you are feeling hurt, rejected, or treated unfairly, try to recall the first time you felt that way.   If you can’t think of anything right away, then let the thought go, with an open mind to allowing it to come to your consciousness when the time is right and you are more relaxed.

If you are having trouble with the concept, I recommend reading Love is Letting Go of Fear. The author, Gerald Jampolsky, does an excellent job of illustrating it in easy-to-read  terminology.

For now, all you need to do is raise your awareness and be open to the idea that things are not always as they seem on the surface.  This awareness will take practice.  Once you have developed an awareness of these moments, then you will be able to examine your feelings on a deeper level.  Approach this exercise with a loving attitude, remembering that you are doing the best you can, and so is everyone else you know.

 

 

Take Notice of Your Words

Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates.  At the first gate, ask yourself, ‘Is it true?’ At the second ask, ‘Is it necessary?’ At the third gate ask ‘Is it kind?’ Rumi

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Yesterday I discovered this quote posted on a wonderful blog called Source of Inspiration.

It inspired my next challenge: Take notice of the words you choose before you speak. 

I had the opportunity to practice letting my words pass through the three gates yesterday during a challenging situation, and it helped me immensely to refrain from saying something I would later regret.  In fact, my spirits were lifted and I went on to enjoy a beautiful fall day instead of going away from the interaction with feelings of animosity.  After my encounter, I took a long run in the park, enjoying the bright fall foliage, the sunlight sparkling on the lake water, and the smiles on the people’s faces as they passed me on the trail.

clifton gorge hikeDuring my hour-long run, I had time to think about the quote some more and noticed that there was another important step that has been helpful to me when deciding how to handle a situation.  Because of the difficult circumstances in which I grew up dealing with my mom’s mental illness, I learned to suppress most of my feelings and often felt at odds with my own thoughts.  This led to a lot of anxiety and depression.   It has become important for me to have a few special people in which I can confide and vent freely, in order to sort through what I am feeling or wish to communicate.  Writing in a journal is also an excellent tool, as is talking to a good therapist.  This process of allowing my emotions to surface without censorship helps me to identify what I am trying to express, and it is helpful at times to run it by a neutral party first, before taking it to the next level.

One final thought that has also been helpful is to remind myself that I am doing the best I can, and in turn so is everyone else.

 

The Take Notice Challenge

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Who am I? – I am the silent awareness standing behind all this. What am I doing here? – I am here to grow into full awareness of my true nature, which is peace, creativity and happiness.” – Yogani

Today is a special day – as we are able to witness the total eclipse of the moon casting its appearance as the blood moon in certain regions of the globe.  The internet will be blowing up with pictures of this magnificent sight.  Witnessing this event from my upstairs window at its first appearance this morning, I was tempted to run and get my camera.  Instead, I decided to stand there and watch in silence, allowing my senses to absorb this rare occurrence in the moment.  I sent a text to my friend to check it out and advised him to take a picture from the park where he hoped to have a special view.

As I drove to work, I thought about the feeling I had watching from my window in the early hours of this morning.  I thought about how I hadn’t followed my own advice to take a picture and made a mental note to remember that special moment using my senses, rather than my camera.   Fortunately there will be thousands of photos for me to enjoy at the tip of my fingers.

So my challenge during this mental health awareness week, is to set aside time each day to put down your phones, cameras, and electronic devices and just be in the moment, bringing into full awareness what is in front of you.  This simple exercise is a great tool for taking care of one’s mental health in this fast-paced world.

Each day for the rest of the month I will post a reminder to challenge oneself to take time to take notice.

st johns rocks


Learning to Let Go

photo(59)The big day that I have been simultaneously looking forward to and dreading has come to pass.  My daughter moved out this weekend, ending her 2-1/2 year journey since her return home from college.    During our time together we have been the accidental witnesses to each others’ attempts to reshape our separate lives.    Both of us have been in the process of starting over.  My gradual recovery from a painful divorce and her gradual recovery from the eating disorder and depression that so severely disrupted her final years of college have consumed us during the past two years.   Although extremely difficult at times, I may have finally reached the point of succumbing to the true meaning of letting go.   As I put the pieces of my own life back together, I have learned the importance of caring for oneself in order to be of use to others.   In the course of mending my own life, I have more easily begun to back off from trying to manage hers.

teeter-totterThis past spring my daughter took the brave step of writing about her suicide attempt.    It was hard for me to read her post, and I am just now realizing how much I have allowed one day of her life to define my idea of her as a person and to form assumptions about my role in her life.   Since she experienced her first bout of depression at age 14, I have been struggling with how to best help her, and as I look back I can see that there were many times when I enabled rather than helped her.   I often treated her like a fragile being and tried to shelter her from the consequences of her mistakes.  Learning how to best help someone with mental health problems can be challenging, and  I’ve tried to use the advice from this Familie’s Anonymous literature  as my guide:

Helping

My role as a helper is not to do things for the person I am trying to help, but to be things, not trying to control and change his/her actions, but through understanding and awareness to change my reactions.  I will change my negatives to positives; fear to faith; contempt for what he/she may do to respect for the potential within him/her; hostility to understanding; and manipulation or over-protectiveness to release with love, not trying to make him/her fit a standard or image, but giving him/her an opportunity to pursue his/her own destiny, regardless of what that choice may be.

I will change my dominance to encouragement; panic to serenity; the inertia of despair to the energy of my own personal growth; and self-justification to self-understanding.

Self-pity blocks effective action.

The more I indulge in it, the more I feel that the answer to my problems is a change in others and society, not in myself.  Thus, I become a hopeless case.

Exhaustion is the result when I use my energy in mulling over the past with regret, or in trying to figure ways to escape a future that has yet to arrive.  Projecting an image of the future, and anxiously hovering over it, for fear that it will or it won’t come true uses all of my energy and leaves me unable to live today.  Yet living today is the only way to have a life.

I will have no thought for the future actions of others,neither expecting them to be better or worse as time goes on, for in such expectations I  am really trying to create.  I will love and let be.

All people are always changing.If I try to judge them I do so only on what I think I know of them, failing to realize that there is much I do not know.  I will give others credit for attempts at progress and for having had many victories which are unknown to me.

I too am always changing,and I can make that change a constructive one, if I am willing.  I CAN CHANGE MYSELF, others I can only love

 photo(64)I am grateful that my daughter came home to help my father during the months he was being treated for lymphoma.  It was a blessing for all of us.  During this time I have had the security of seeing her in passing each day while creating more distance as I navigate through my own life as an independent woman.  I have been learning to let go and observe as she achieves the goals she sets forth.   Despite her ups and downs, I have watched her build and maintain relationships,  grow and learn in a nurturing work environment, finish her final classes, and ultimately land a wonderful opportunity to launch her dream job as a college coach.  Because of her life experiences she has and will continue to provide support to the kids she coaches who are experiencing anxiety and depression.

tambaAs the time approached for my daughter to finally leave the nest, the push and pull between us was palpable.  I have heard it said that one may actually create conflict with a loved one prior to parting in order to make the good-bye easier.   In this case this tension between us made it easier to step back and allow her to do things her way.   It was hard to watch what I classified as disorganization as she approached moving day.  It wasn’t easy but I  finally realized that I needed to back out and let her dad help her with the move rather than hovering over her in my usual fashion.   It felt good to finally be able to tell her I would help at her request but would otherwise back off.    I can’t tell you how difficult it was for me to watch her pull out of the driveway with no arrangements for a permanent place to stay on the other end.  It was a monumental step and a humbling experience for me to stay behind, allowing her father to be her primary source of support.

poolI hadn’t heard from my daughter for two days, and it came as a complete surprise when she called yesterday to tell me she had found a house and had already starting moving her things in.  What a great lesson for me.  Things happen even when I am not in control of them!   I am amazed at the sense of relief I am now experiencing, knowing that I can provide her unconditional love without trying to micromanage her life.   I am finally able to see that she has coping skills, tools, and many sources of support outside of me.  More importantly, I am finally able to see that our lives are fluid and ever-changing.   The key to emotional resilience is knowing that each moment is an opportunity to start anew, and our emotions and intellect are never in a permanent state of being, as this article about success from News.mic illustrates.