Let Go

When I look back on my life, I begin to see what was probably obvious to everyone else: I’ve been a control freak. In college, I tried so hard to find new friends that I effectively scared them away from me. Instead of letting things happen organically, I tried to force it.

As more of a tomboy, I sought out the friendship of boys. And as anyone could guess, that often led to trouble during my college years. I found myself on accidental dates. Or worse: the time I asked an acquaintance out for coffee.

I really wanted a friend and he was someone I admired. I knew he had no romantic interest in me. I just wanted to talk and maybe become friends. He didn’t reply to the message I sent. That’s the last time I remember interacting with him.

There were so many times I did this to myself. I worried and clutched tight when I really needed to let go. Letting go is one of those things that sounds so simple yet always leads to a struggle. It could be key to happiness for so many people, myself included.

If I could just let go of my grip, some of the bad things would blow away. And that would leave my hands open to receive the good things life has to offer. This is the great lesson at this time in my life.

I switched to a new job. It’s not perfect for me, but I really can’t complain. The atmosphere is tenfold better, which was enough for me to accept a pay cut. Except I actually ended up with a raise instead.

Everything seems to be lining up, except one tiny detail: it’s temporary. It could end if funding doesn’t allow them to renew my contract. And as a recovering control freak, that is downright terrifying. (Perhaps this is when I am forced to recover? Can a control freak be forced to do anything she doesn’t want to?)

Maybe life’s trying to help me with this self-improvement project. This job could be exactly what I need in ways I could never have guessed. Worrying isn’t going to help my situation. So I’m trying to just sit back and enjoy the ride, wherever it may lead.

It’s time to let go of the worry, anxiety, and anger. It’s time to start fresh with open, empty palms. That way, when opportunity sweeps in, I’ll be ready to catch it.

Cheers to letting go.

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Photo credit: another.point.in.time via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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Real Life Villains

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Photo credit: JD Hancock via Foter.com / CC BY

You really don’t know what you don’t know until you know it. Wrap your mind around that sentence.

I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster ride. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the past five months have been the most challenging work situation I’ve ever had. I’m not going to go into specifics, nor would anyone really care to hear them. Let’s just keep it simple and say that I found myself in a job that is ill-suited to my skill set and personality. On top of that, I have an antagonist mixed into the situation. I can’t just quit (financial reasons) and finding another job has also been a challenge.

I’ve been trying to take a step back and look at things from a different perspective. Turns out, trying to see things my adversary’s way was helpful, but not nearly as helpful as an outsider’s fresh look on things.

There’s a nice piece of advice for fiction writers that has always helped me with my stories. It is this: Everyone is the hero of their own story. For writers, this means that your villain should not be evil for the sake of being evil. He or she won’t see themselves as the villain, even while committing evil acts. In fact, he or she may feel justified by what they do.

Everyone is the hero of their own story. This phrase can also be used in the real world. Think of your biggest adversary. From your perspective, they are bad people who only wish to make your life more difficult or to stand as an obstacle to your goals and dreams. It’s easy to paint them as awful human beings.

My adversary’s actions often made me an emotional mess. I was angry, frustrated, sad, and hopeless. And then suddenly, I saw the circumstances beyond us both. I saw what this adversary was going through. This wasn’t a walk in the park for either of us. And when I have better focus on the whole of it, I realize that my adversary has it worse.

Now, I’m full of pity instead of anger. It was like a switch went off and my anger was replaced with compassion.

It’s so hard to see beyond ourselves in the heat of emotion. When you’re caught up in the storm, it’s hard to know whether you’re in a hurricane or a tornado. So zoom out. And you might find that your tornado is nothing compared to that giant hurricane along someone else’s shore. This is all easier said than done. I was cemented in place by my own negativity. It took me five months to finally see beyond myself in this storm.

A friend let me in on some information that changed my perspective entirely. It doesn’t fix my immediate problems. But I feel strong. Less weathered. I feel like the lucky one in this.

When emotions spin out of control, it’s easy to burn the bridge without considering the real consequences. So don’t use your adversary as an excuse to act out. Don’t let yourself become the villain. Take a step back. Realize that you can be the hero. But just because you’re the hero doesn’t mean that they are the villain. Even when they might act it out well.

All of us have been the villain at some point or another. Once you realize that, you can move beyond it. You can have better perspective. And perhaps you can be merciful to those who have wronged you. Even if they don’t deserve it.

In the end, it’s a wonderful twist of fate that we don’t get exactly what we deserve. Grace is a mysterious gift. And we could all use more of it in our lives.

Now that I know what I know, I find myself more merciful than vengeful. Life is a crazy ride indeed.

 

The Fire of Failure

Fire. Fire destroys and burns all that it touches. Everything is changed by its caress. There is nothing more than ash when it’s finished. It is the destroyer of all things. Yet it can leave you with a great sense of renewal. It clears the junk away so something new can take root or rest there.

Some trees, like giant redwoods (or sequoia trees), need fire to spread their seeds. Their cones are tightly closed by resin. Fire melts the resin so the cones can open to release the seeds. They need fire to multiply.

I’m in a period of raging fire. It’s burning much of the good with the bad. I’m hoping for something better to come from it, but even my hope seems burned away. I’m not sure where my life is headed or what exactly is happening. But there’s smoke. I’m covered in it. Will fire renew me as well? I’d like to burn away and start fresh. Somehow, I ended up on a heap of trash instead of a hill.

The hardest part about failure is that no one wants to acknowledge it. Every single person has or will fail. Yet failure is considered taboo. And that’s too bad. Through disaster we become improved versions of what we had been before.

So let’s talk about this. I’ll start by taking my own advice. I confess. I failed. In fact, I’m still living in this failure every day, five days a week. I accepted the wrong job. I was given misleading information about the job duties for this position. That was my boss’ fault. But it was also mine.

I let myself hear what he wanted me to hear. I didn’t listen to my intuition or read between the lines to get what he was really saying. I didn’t follow through with my original “no.” Subconsciously (and maybe on a quiet conscious level), I knew this was not the right job. But I ignored it. Although I still refuse to take one hundred percent of the blame, I’m not the hapless victim either.

Just typing that hurts. I hate to admit that luck didn’t put me here. I am to blame. Admitting that to myself is hard. But there it is for the world to see.

I failed.

And I did a good job of it.

Everyone always says that each mistake is a lesson and I feel like I’ve learned from this. I need to trust myself. I’m stronger than I give myself credit for. And I need to stand up for my beliefs and opinions, because no one else will.

No one else is as invested in my future as I am. That’s just human nature. We’re all looking out for ourselves since many people don’t have a communal attitude towards us, especially in the workplace.

Still, the stubborn side of me cries out that I’ve learned all that I can from this mistake. Can we just end this now? I’ve had enough already. But there must be something more for me to learn. Or maybe my stubborn nature is hindering me from truly grasping the lesson. There’s got to be a reason I’m still fighting this.

When I head out into the world every day, I imagine fire raging inside me and destroying everything so I can start fresh. I just have to decide what to fill myself up with. That’s actually a scary thought.

Anger still festers and it never seems to go away permanently. Frustration and sadness linger. So I try to focus on the good. When contentment and hope get together, there’s no room for the rest of that junk.

So here I am. Still standing. Burning it all away.

From the smoke and ash, I will rise fresh and new.

But not until this fire is finished raging.

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Working for the Weekend

Perhaps it’s just my age. Maybe I feel a little jaded from the bad luck I’ve had trying to build a career. Either way, I see things much clearer than I once did. There’s a very twisted mentality towards work here in America.

There are some in society who believe that you aren’t working if you aren’t bleeding. They believe that we must work ourselves in a hole with no breaks, no crying, no distractions, and most importantly, no enjoyment (This is work after all).

I know work is a part of life, but that doesn’t mean it should consume our lives. And it’s okay to laugh and enjoy it. I’ve worked for too many companies where laughter is forbidden. But studies prove that this “crack the whip” mentality at work is ineffective compared to the simplicity of letting employees take a break or have some enjoyment in their work.

Check out this study about taking regular breaks at work. Or for less jargon, read this article from The New York Times that references it. This study says that people who take regular breaks are actually more efficient in their work. Without breaks, we become stressed out and less effective while we work.

There are also countless articles like this one that talk about the small amount of vacation days that Americans actually use. We end up sick, stressed, and overworked despite the vacation time that we are given. Don’t even get me started on how far behind we are in the amount of vacation days Americans are given compared to other developed countries.

August was such a crazy time at my job. My boss has been on a three-month leave, so I’m doing half of her job in addition to my full-time job during our busiest time of year. Unfortunately, the lady doing the other half of my boss’ job has the “crack the whip” mentality. There were others that agreed with her, so I was outvoted in taking any sort of break.

We were paid to eat lunch, so we were expected to cram our food and get back to it immediately. I would rather have clocked out and been allowed to catch my breath for just a few minutes. And those legal 15 minute breaks that are supposed to be included in your workday here in America? I haven’t worked a job yet that included them (in my 15 years in the workforce). It isn’t about to start now.

At the end of the terrible storm that was August, we had more corrections than I’ve ever had to deal with. So many mistakes were made. Most of those mistakes could have been prevented if we weren’t so overworked and frantic. Most were simply a matter of paying attention, but we were too tired to catch it. We spent a significant amount of overtime dealing with these mistakes in the aftermath. It cost us our sanity and our employer the overtime.

Had we been given the breaks we should have been given (both legally and ethically), much of this could have been avoided. I wouldn’t have had to dedicate my entire month to work. I came home, showered, and was too tired to do anything, even the things I enjoy. I went to bed early every night because I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Every morning, I would cringe and sigh as I lay in bed. My life had been consumed by work without my permission.

Now, I’m not against working hard and I’m not saying we should all be lazy. But if you work hard, you should be allowed to play hard. Better balance in our workplace could help both employees and employers. If everyone wins, why do we resist?

I know a LOT of Americans who deny themselves breaks and buy into this mentality. They are shamed otherwise. They’re told that breaks are a sign of laziness. To work hard is to never stop. They are told that hard-workers don’t need breaks. That we can do it all. The way our society has painted “hard work” is slave labor. It’s wrong. I don’t know why we are so keen to destroy ourselves or let someone else destroy us. I’d rather thrive.

Working hard doesn’t mean all those things that “Corporate America” has burned into our brains. We can work smarter instead of longer. And smarter means we all win. Breaks are not evil. Laughter is acceptable at work. We can work AND enjoy it. That will make us better, not worse employees.

My millennial generation has watched companies promise great things to their employees (like pensions, improved wages, etc) and not follow-through. I distrust my employer and the government. Neither will follow-through. The government isn’t going to take care of me in retirement. And when I reach a certain age, my employer may eagerly trade me in for a newer (i.e. younger and cheaper) model. It has happened to people I know.

This whole situation has showed me the bright side of entrepreneurship. I feel braver now. And though starting my own business is a scary concept (my husband and I are still rolling this idea around), it’s starting to seem more inviting. I don’t want to reach retirement just in time to die. I want to have a high quality of life. And I hope work can be a part of that. Too many people have worn out their health from employers who demand that they work as slaves. Instead of enjoying their retirement, they are sick and frail by the time they get there. I’d rather have less money and more health.

Take a well-earned break today. And make a better tomorrow for yourself. One that you deserve.

It would help all of us if we stopped working for the weekend and starting enjoying all aspects of our lives, work included.

Happy Labor Day!

Rock My World

There is such romanticism about foreign countries, especially when you are single. Long before I met my husband, I dreamed of meeting a foreigner who would marry me and take me far away from my humdrum life in the States. I’ve always been an adventure-seeker. And that sounded like the adventure of a lifetime.

Looking back on it, what I really wanted was someone to shake up my views and my world. I wanted to be challenged culturally and individually. I wanted someone to rock my world. And I got it.

I’m not jetting off to Australia for months at a time (maybe when we retire?), but I am having quite the adventure. Husband has shaken up my views in so many ways. We have come from very opposite sides of the spectrum in various ways. And we tend to pull each other closer to the middle ground.

I think there is a tendency to be less flexible when you are at either extreme. Just take two people with two very different opinions. If they are both fully convinced of their opposing views, they will not likely change those views after a debate. But when someone is in the middle ground, they are hearing and understanding both views, finding a place of understanding between them. And that place can shift as understanding shifts.

In some ways, like housework, this means the house is not as clean as I grew up with, but more organized than what Husband is used to. In bigger ways, I am less stingy when it comes to helping someone out financially, while he is more careful with his spending than he used to be. We balance each other out.

This relationship has shaken up our stiff views. Being with him has challenged the presumptions I’ve always held. It has forced me to back up what I believe. And that is fantastic. It has helped me foster my individuality. That’s not to say my thought process has been torn to shreds, but now I know more about where I stand and why. And sometimes I’m firmer in my original viewpoint than before. (I can’t say I stay in the middle ground all the time, but I don’t think anyone should linger there with every opinion.)

My husband is a procrastinator, while I’m more of a planner. I used to be stuck on the idea of something working out perfectly and in the perfect time. Now, I realize it’s going to happen when it happens and there’s not a lot I can do about it. For instance, he tends to push it when it comes to putting gas in his truck. There have been times when we barely made it to the next gas station. It used to fill me with sheer panic. I would imagine the worst-case-scenario and convince myself it would happen that way. My heart would race and I would wonder why I even decided to step into that truck at all.

Though I still hate it when he does this, I have learned to breathe and ride with it. Worrying is not going to help the situation. And it almost always works out in the end, even if it doesn’t come with the best immediate circumstances. He is teaching me to live as dangerously as I dream about. Talk about keeping me genuine. A true adventure-seeker doesn’t cry when the gas runs out. Now, as for helping him with the procrastinating….I’m still working on that.

Real adventure is never what you expect it to be. After all, the reason it is an adventure is because of the risk and the unknown direction. It’s not predictable or it wouldn’t be an adventure. I may not be hanging out Down Under, but I’ve still got my adventure right here. And he continues to rock my world.

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Photo credit: graphistolage / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Whatever Comes Next

Sometimes in the midst of chaos and turmoil in life, things just seem to work out for the best. A few weeks ago, my husband and I left town to visit family. Our lemon of a truck had been threatening to blow its transmission for a while, but it was holding fast, so we took a chance with it on the highway.

As can be expected with that introduction, the truck broke down. We were stranded a few blocks from my sister’s house. We managed to get it back to her house, but it was certainly not going to take the highway.

My husband and I just sat in silence. We were at a loss of what to do. Both of us had to work the next morning. As it turns out, my brother-in-law works at his family’s car dealership. We decided it was time to bite the bullet and take out a car loan. So we stayed another night and rode with him to the dealership the next morning.

On his lot was the truck we had been looking for when we bought The Lemon. Our sad saga has a happy ending. We now have a more reliable truck. It all worked out for us. Fate. God. Whatever you feel comfortable calling it. God was watching out for us.

It’s easy to play the victim. To believe that the world is against you and nothing will ever go right. But when you give in to that temptation, you set yourself up to fail. And let’s face it, in America, we have it very well compared to other countries. Some of our complaints are ridiculous in the grand scheme of life. I believe they call it “First World Problems.”

Anyway, no one can win them all. But failure doesn’t define us. What defines us is how (or if) we dust ourselves off and limp back into the fray. Our favorite heroes in books and movies don’t give in after failure. Those are the types of people we root for because those are the types of people we all wish we could be. And we can. It’s just a shift in mindset.

When a wrong has been done to us, we can claim to be the victim and wallow in it or we can shake it off and move on in the best way we know how. Opportunities will work out if they are really meant for us. That truck was waiting for us. We didn’t just settle for it. It was our truck before we even pulled into that car lot.

Now I don’t believe our entire life is ordained to play out in a nice, neat order of steps. I believe we have the free will to change it. Our choices affect the outcome. But if something is truly meant for us, it will find its way to us, even if it has to come through the back alley. Let’s hope we have the sense to accept it when it does.

As the saying goes, “It’ll all come out in the wash.”

Right now, there are a lot of uncertainties in my life. With uncertainty comes opportunity. But even opportunity can be a little scary. There is something to be said for people who jump out of the box that society places them in. They refuse to get too comfortable. That cozy box can easily make one fearful of all that lay in wait outside.

It’s not easy to step out of your comfort zone, but after you’ve been out of the box enough times, it starts to get a little less scary. Sometimes it surprises me how the smallest thing can make me so nervous while something much more vast in scale is just a shrug of the shoulders. I swear, it’s all in our heads, this madness.

I’m ready for the next uncertainty. Scary as it is, I believe the benefits will outweigh the fears. I am ready. I won’t lie and say I’m not nervous. But I am ready for whatever comes next.

 

It’s Okay to Love Art

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I’ve always excelled in school and book work. I didn’t particularly love math, but at least I didn’t loathe it. I was curious about the world and how it worked.

Biology and environmental science drew me in. But I found that although I had the aptitude to excel in the scientific classroom, I really didn’t care to know why the sky is blue. I just loved the fact that it grows darker and lighter depending on where you look. It’s a privilege to see how it explodes into beautiful colors in the right conditions. Real scientific, huh?

I can excel and flourish in science and math, but I really just want to observe life and create. I’m curious to why things happen the way they do, but I hate the step-by-step scientific process to figure it out.

When I’m really honest with myself, I realize that I’ve never actually been good at the scientific process. I get bored doing things in an exact, precise way that never changes or is challenged.

What I love is the human condition. We are capable of such wonderful beauty. And at the same time, we can be so terrible that the acts we commit are unspeakable. We are conflicted. We are not one thing, but many and all at once. It’s our greatest feat to be so varied and yet sometimes so predictable in nature. It’s a mystery, even as we think we have it all figured out.

Just because you’re artistic doesn’t mean you can’t excel in science and math. But equally, just because you excel in science and math doesn’t mean you can’t create. I am many things, all rolled into one. Varied and yet predictable. We all are.

Considering how long I’ve identified myself with science, this is actually kind of ground-breaking for me. I now have permission to be what I’ve always been afraid to be: creative. I’ve let the world beat it out of me. Everyone says you can’t make a living by being artistic or creative. You must be able to do well at math and develop analytical skills. Don’t try to think outside the box; just follow the rules like everyone else. Don’t rock the boat.

But innovation comes from these things.

I’ve been so convinced that I can’t make a career out of creativity that I’ve been successful in not making a career out of my analytical skills. I’m frustrated in my career because I’m not being true to who I am. They say follow your passion and the money will also follow. I’m finally starting to understand what that means. I haven’t been making a career because I’ve been trying to force myself to fit into a field I don’t belong in.

It’s time to break free. It’s time to be me. Free. Creative. Artistic. Me.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

 

 

Photo credit: Matthew Kenwrick / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND