The Wisdom of Harold and His Purple Crayon

Ahh the wisdom of children’s books… One of the gifts of motherhood has been rediscovering children’s books. Reading them as an adult, I have discovered a treasure trove of poignant wisdom. My son, like most children, enjoys reading the same story over and over and over and over and… well, you get the picture. The latest book du jour is Harold and the Purple Crayon. Somehow I missed this book growing up but am thoroughly enjoying it as an adult. Oh what a lovely story! If you’ve never read it, you really should go to the bookstore or library and read through it.

As I have been reading this story for several nights now, I’ve had some time to reflect, shall we say, on Harold’s adventure. Harold and the Purple Crayon is about a little boy named Harold who creates an entire world with his purple crayon. Harold goes on a mighty adventure filled with apple trees, dragons, oceans, ships, picnics with pies as far as the eye can see, mountains, and tall buildings until finally he decides it time to find home and go to sleep. I know, I know, it sounds too simple to be profound, but it is such a beautiful commentary on the power that lies within us to bring our dreams to life.

This evening, the beginning of the book really struck me…

One evening, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight. There wasn’t any moon, and Harold needed a moon for a walk in the moonlight. haroldmoonresized_9737

And he needed something to walk on. He made a long straight path so he wouldn’t get lost.

haroldpageAnd he set off on his walk, taking his big purple crayon with him. But he didn’t seem to be getting anywhere on the long straight path. So he left the path…

But he didn’t seem to be getting anywhere on the long straight path. So he left the path…

Sometimes we need the long straight path to guide us so we don’t get lost, to give us security and direction when we are just starting out. The long straight path is indeed helpful. Necessary.

But sometimes we discover that we don’t seem to be getting anywhere on the long straight path. So we leave the path. We have to leave the path for the unknown adventure.

We need the long straight path and we need to leave the long straight path. If we stay on the straight path forever, we lose the opportunity to stretch ourselves and experience the glorious uncertainty of adventure. However, if we are always leaving the straight path for the unknown, then we never establish roots or plant seeds that will one day bear fruit. Our lives need to be a mixture of both… following the straight path when we need security and creating a new one when we realize we are not going anywhere.

What is your heart longing to do? What does your journey look like right now? Do you need the long straight path to keep you from getting lost or do you need to leave the path and set off on a new adventure? Wherever you are on your journey, remember you can choose the path… and don’t forget your purple crayon. ;)

Back In The Saddle Again

Oh my dear, beloved blog! It has been too long! Where has the time gone? Last time I posted, kids were just settling back in school and football season was starting. Now kids are getting ready for break, the football gods have decided who the best four teams in the nation are, and it is almost Christmas! It takes your breath away how quickly times passes!

So let me catch you up on what’s been going on. The Fall was FULL. Full with so many good things, but full nonetheless. I had the opportunity to speak in front of some amazing groups of men and women over the past few months. There is nothing I love more than seeing people eager to live as we were created- with purpose and for a purpose!   I held my first Daring Moms group and another Daring Way™ retreat for women. Both groups were filled with strong, courageous, amazing ladies. It is a true honor to do this work with women who desire change and freedom in their lives. On the personal side, we took my son to his first college football game and enjoyed some great time with family and friends. Yes, FULL indeed!

Although I have been MIA from the blog, I have thought of you often and written about a hundred posts in my mind over the past three months.  They were all really good- Ha! About three weeks ago, things finally settled down with my schedule, and I immediately thought that I wanted set aside some time to write. But an odd thing kept happening- I kept thinking of other things to do. I need to catch up on this. I need to read that. I need to contact so-and-so.

As my procrastination continued, I became more and more curious as to why I still had not put fingers to keyboard. Being the over-analyzer that I am, I did a little soul searching and realized I was dragging my feet because it felt a little vulnerable to post after so long. Vulnerable?   Yeah.

My thought process went a little something like this: It’s been three months since my last post, so this next post needs to be REALLY awesome. Ugh it’s easier not to write then I don’t have to worry about looking foolish. It looks bad that I haven’t posted in three months; that’s not being very dedicated or intentional. I said I was going to a do a read-a-long. Where’s the read-a-long, Mazi???

In short, my self-doubt and self-criticism began to shout a little. As I shared before, having people read my writing feels very exposing for me. I can speak in front of groups of people everyday and twice on Sunday and feel completely at ease. But there is something about having people read, rather than hear, my words that feels more vulnerable to me. It feels more out of my control. When I speak, I can sense if my words are resonating or if I need to re-state something. But when I write, I’m just… putting it out there. Putting it out there for people to read and criticize and judge.

Yeah starting to write again after a three-month break felt very vulnerable. I realized I was out of practice in facing that vulnerability and doing it anyway. My muscles were a little weaker so my self-doubt was chirping a little louder, and as a result, my procrastination skills were a little stronger.

Has this ever happened to you? You want to do something but you keep thinking of fifty other things to do instead. You are really excited about starting something yet you never follow through.  You've taken a break from something you enjoy but you're struggling to find the wherewithal to pick the activity back up.  Why do we put off doing what we say we want to do? Why do we procrastinate??

I think we avoid and procrastinate for a host of reasons. We don’t know where to start. We don’t know what to do. We’re afraid of making the wrong decision/doing it wrong. We feel vulnerable and don’t even realize it. The thing we want to do feels uncertain and exposing. We don’t know the outcome. We sub-consciously know we expect ourselves to be perfect so the thought of having to work that hard/try that hard feels daunting so we stop before we begin. We avoid doing what we want to do, what is good for us for all sorts of reasons.

And then the longer we avoid something, the bigger it seems in our mind to actually do make the decision or call the person or submit the proposal. Avoidance doesn’t make things smaller. It makes them seem bigger and even more insurmountable.   We stop practicing doing the hard and uncomfortable things so we forget we actually can do the hard and uncomfortable things.  It is difficult to get back into the routine of doing the things that are good for us and so we keep practicing avoidance.

Sometimes we have to stop thinking, stop planning, and just start doing.  In my case, I had to stop thinking about what would be the “right” topic for my next/first post, and I had to just start typing.   Action is so much more effective than intention. I’ve learned that in my life if I don’t keep practicing being vulnerable, then my doubts and insecurities are liable to take control of my life.  If I want to keep my insecurities at bay, then I have to regularly practice doing the thing that makes me feel uncomfortable.

So I’m back in the saddle again with blogging.   This blog continues to be an interesting teacher for me- it is something I enjoy and actually wish I could do more of, but it is definitely outside my comfort zone.  It feels good to put fingers to keys after so long.  It feels good to be uncertain and vulnerable.  Breaks are good, but we have to know when it’s time to saddle up and start riding again. Let’s saddle up together and start practicing doing the hard, uncomfortable things!   Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent. Practice action rather than avoidance!

What do you need to stop thinking about and just start doing? What saddle do you need to get back on? What are you avoiding that you actually want to do or that would be good for you?  Are practicing the behaviors in your life that you want to make permanent?

The Truth about Anger (Part 2): Getting to the Root of Our Anger

Has this ever happened to you: you are going about your day and something happens that totally ticks you off. You become completely frustrated and irritated as if from out of nowhere. The dust settles, some time passes, and then you wonder Why in the world did I just get so angry? Why do we get angry?? What is our anger really about?

Last week we started a discussion on anger. We defined anger and discussed that anger does not have to be destructive. Stuffed anger is just has harmful to our spirits and relationships as out of control anger. We keep anger from being destructive when we learn to identify what anger feels like in our bodies and how we act in anger.   It’s normal to feel angry; it’s what you do with and in it that really matters.

We left off last week by saying that anger is a secondary emotion. Of all the things I’ve learned about anger, this little fact has been the most helpful. What does it mean that anger is a secondary emotion? Like an iceberg with it's tip rising above the ocean, there is much more going on than initially meets the eye.  It means that there is always another emotion behind anger, and that emotion goes much deeper than the anger that is exploding above the surface. Yes, you may feel angry… really, truly angry. But there is another emotion that is fueling that anger.

Learning to manage your anger means digging past your anger and identifying that root emotion. It is that root emotion that needs to be recognized and shared. Staying in your anger rather than taking the time to understand the true emotion that is fueling that anger will block anyone, including yourself, from really knowing and understanding you. Your anger then becomes a mask that keeps your authentic, vulnerable self from being seen. If we want to develop closer, more intimate relationships, we must learn to lower that mask.

The three emotions that I find are often at the root of our anger are fear/anxiety, shame (feeling insecure or not good enough), and hurt (specifically disappointment). Let’s take a closer look at how each of these feelings can pave the way to anger.

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FEAR/ANXIETY

Anxiety is a feeling of fear or dread of something unknown that may or may not be real. Anxiety and fear are parts of life. Yet, so often when we are angry, if we dig real deep we may realize we are actually feeling anxious or scared. We can feel anxious over everything from running late to church (confession: I snap at my husband more on the way to church than any other time we’re in the car. Lovely I know) to worrying if our children are going to grow up to be serial killers because they won’t eat to green vegetables to wondering if our job is in jeopardy. When we are feeling anxious or stressed, we are much more likely to respond to someone in anger.

Let’s look at how this might play out… Work has been particularly stressful lately and there has been talk of layoffs. The environment is tense, and you are taking on extra projects trying to prove your worth and value to the company despite the air of uncertainty. You also notice that everyone in your life just happens to be especially irritating lately, and you have been arguing more with your spouse and family members. Simply put, you just feel crabby, irritated, and all around angry.

What is going on here is not that you are now an angry person or that everyone you know is all the sudden irritating, but really you are feeling anxious about the uncertainty of your job. Anxiety and fear leave us feeling weak and exposed. We counter that powerless feeling with an emotion that makes us feel “powerful”. All that adrenaline pumping through our veins certainly does make us feel powerful. In truth, though, it is a false sense of power… a false sense of power that is very seductive. That seduction is why we keep returning to the trough of anger again and again when we feel weak and powerless.

If you can slow yourself down and identify the anxiety, then you will be able to handle your anger in a more productive way. You will be able to communicate that you are feeling nervous about your work situation, and you will connect with your loved ones at a deeper level. Understanding that we are angry but then understanding what is actually behind that anger is what allows us to build emotionally honest and vulnerable relationships. Recognizing this connection between anger and anxiety/fear can be a real a-ha moment and learning to honestly and vulnerably communicate your fears can prevent all sorts of unnecessary conflict.

SHAME/INSECURITY

There is nothing that sends us into anger quicker than feeling insecure, unworthy, or not good enough. Feeling inadequate quickly triggers both our anger and anxiety, and in these situations we are inclined to either withdraw or lash out. Take a second and think of a time when you felt insecure or unsure of yourself? In that moment, how did you react to those around you? Did someone else bear the brunt of your feelings of inadequacy?

When we are feeling insecure or wondering if people are judging us, it is so easy for us in turn to become disgruntled and critical of others. When we are feeling bad about ourselves we are much more likely to use criticism and shame as our weapon of choice. We spew our shame onto someone else as a way of disconnecting from the pain of that shame. Looking at this root of our anger takes a lot of courage because we do not like to admit we feel insecure, and we really do not like to pinpoint the things that make us feel insecure. We feel insecure about our insecurities.

Slowing yourself down and learning to identify that your anger is masking deeper feelings of unworthiness or inadequacy, allows you to begin to address and heal those painful feelings. You can then share what is truly bothering you rather than picking a fight with someone and covering them in your shame-induced-anger.

HURT/DISAPPOINTMENT

Feeling hurt is a raw and tender root of anger, and hurt is often linked to disappointment. Whether we mean to or not, we have expectations. We have expectations for everything from a trip to Target to what our future is going to look like to how a dinner or a conversation or a vacation is going to go. When things do not go as planned or hoped, we feel disappointed and that disappointment may manifest as anger.

This happens all the time, and it is a great example of how we try to bury sharing our true feeling and deflect that disappointment by getting angry. Disappointment-induced-anger can be especially dangerous when we are unaware we had any expectations to begin with. It is in those scenarios when, if we are unaware of our own expectations, we are more likely to react defensively and blame another person. We do this because we are in a fight/flight response and our mind’s automatic response/goal is survival. We try to “survive” this disappointment by shutting down the emotion and turning it into anger. We have to teach our mind’s automatic response that there is another way. In sharing our true emotion, in this case disappointment, we are actually practicing vulnerability and openness, which will create more intimacy in the relationship.

Are you seeing a pattern here? We use anger to shut down and mask the emotions that leave us feeling weak or exposed or uncomfortable. But ultimately, this mask does no one any good. We have to slow ourselves down from reacting impulsively in our anger. Anger that is impulsively fired off injures individuals and relationships. But when we slow ourselves down, peel back the layers, and look at the true emotions behind our anger, we build awareness in ourselves and intimacy in our relationships.

So here’s our challenge. Everyone is going to have a bad day. Everyone is going to have a day where they have a little less patience. Everyone is going to feel frustrated, anxious, insecure, disappointed at times. It is normal. It is okay. The challenge is what are you going to do with those feelings. Are you going to let them turn into anger or are you going to spend some time understanding and sharing them?

Yes, we get angry, but anger is not always our true emotion, so to speak. Often, anger is a mask hiding our genuine heart. If you want to live authentically, if you want to be known and understood, if you want to practice vulnerability, you have to name and share the true emotion behind your anger. That is being emotionally honest. That is letting people really see you. That is how you find your voice.

Think about the last time you got angry. What was the true emotion you were experiencing? What would it be like to share that truth with the person who received your anger?

How would your life change if you made it a practice to ask yourself when you get angry, “Am I feeling anxious/fearful, insecure/not good enough, or disappointed/hurt?” and then shared those feelings with someone you trusted.

What Are You Good At?

I have found the quickest way to bring deafening silence to a therapy session is to ask this question: What are you good at?

Let’s be honest, this question brings any conversation to a grinding halt. My guess is that even the thought of having to list your strengths elicits an internal groan. I’ll tell you anything about myself, but don’t make me say out loud for the world to hear what I’m good at!

Why is it so hard for us to verbalize this very basic and important fact about ourselves?   Why is it so hard for us to say, “I’m good at ________ ”?   It’s like we have convinced ourselves that we aren’t supposed to think we are good at anything and somehow that is the marking of humility. We seem to be caught in this trap of either not believing we are good at anything OR fearing that other people are going to think that we think we are good at something. Heaven forbid! (Insert sarcastic tone) As a result, we walk around thinking things like…

I don’t want people to think I’m a know-it all so I’m just going to keep my thoughts to myself during the meeting.

I don’t want people to think that I’m bragging so I’m not going to tell anyone about my promotion.

I am scared to try this new venture because I don’t want people to think that I think I’m all that.

I don’t want people to think that I think I’m good at that so let me add in how I mess all these other things up and how I can’t do this or that.

I think we all fall victims to this twisted logic at some point. I know I certainly have! When I was creating the copy for my website I basically had to rock and hum I felt so uncomfortable writing about myself. It just feels so vulnerable and exposing, doesn’t it?  What will people think? What will people say? So and so is much better at that so I shouldn’t put that I do that.  All those lovely thoughts raced through my head as Adam Sandler’s voice echoed in the background saying, “They’re all going to laugh at you.” Ugh! The ways we mentally torture ourselves!

And yes, sometimes we really don’t think we are good at things, but sometimes we do not let ourselves think we are good at things, or even try new things, because we are worried how it will come across to others. Sometimes we even struggle to say thank you after a compliment because we are afraid that by saying thank you, the person may think we are agreeing with them! Again, heaven forbid!

And we wonder why we don’t feel good about ourselves and why we are swimming in a sea of low self worth?? Are we even giving ourselves a chance? Are we even leaving a crack in the door that we could… wait for it, wait for it… be good at something?!

Where in the world does this come from? Where did we get the idea that by naming and claiming our strengths we are crossing into this horror of horrors zone of egotistical boasting?

I think women, in particular, have a fear of being perceived as arrogant. As much as we fear being not enough, I think we have an equally intense fear of being too much.   We don’t want to be too loud, too opinionated, too needy, too confident. We find ourselves dancing this delicate cha-cha in which we try to assert ourselves while at the same time downplaying every strength and gift. We live shamed into silence by the question who do you think you are-   Who do you think you are to try that? Who do you think you are to offer that opinion?

Additionally, I think we struggle to name our strengths because sometimes we mistakenly associate having a strength with being the best, and if we find someone who does something better, then we automatically discount that characteristic or ability in ourselves. Well, that isn’t necessarily a strength because Sally Sue is much better at it than I am. What a disservice we are doing to ourselves by minimizing, discounting, or even down right rejecting our strengths!

But again, where does this come from?

Like most of our baggage in life, I think this lovely little suitcase originated in middle school.

In Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, Rachel Simmons discusses how bullying and silent treatments function in female adolescent relationships. She says the worst thing a peer can say about an adolescent girl is

She thinks that she’s all that.

The phrase alone sends shivers up my spine because I know Simmons is right. Simmons says that once a girl is given this label she is deemed as arrogant and cocky and is shunned from the group. It is the social deathblow to a woman of any age and has been repeated in school hallways, dorm rooms, conference rooms, and neighborhood streets across the land as a way of demarcating us vs. her. Every woman, if she is honest with herself, knows the power of this statement because she has either used it to negatively describe another woman or she has feared it being said about her.

We are socialized to fear that if we come across as too confident then we will be ostracized, we will lose the very connection we desire. We end up caught in death grip of feeling not enough and fearing we are too much all at the same time. And so… we start to cha-cha. We try to be confident, but not too confident. We name our gifts, but we give nineteen disclaimers. We accept the positive feedback, but we follow it up with a rundown of how the presentation could have been better and what we left out.  How destructive this thinking is to our hearts and minds!

What if we started thinking differently? What if you gave yourself permission to say, “I’m a good _________”? What if you sat down and named your strengths without disclaimers and explanations? And then- this is the biggie- what if you believed them to be true? What if you believed you really had innate, God-given gifts that have been refined and enhanced by your life experiences? How would your life be different? How would that slice of truth change your interactions, the things you try, how you feel about yourself?

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Discovering your voice, clarifying your purpose, and breaking free of the chains that hold you back, starts with allowing yourself to recognize your gifts and talents. For some of us, that is a scary and uncomfortable task because we live our days downplaying and doubting our abilities. But your life does not have to be defined by the fears of not being enough or being too much. Your plans do not have to be shot down by the shaming question of who do you think you are. You can start living and seeing your self differently. Identifying your strengths and talents is not being arrogant; it is showing acceptance and gratitude for your unique abilities and gifts. Buried talents end up being just that- buried. They do not grow. They do not blossom. They just stay buried in darkness.

What do you need to do to start owning the truth that you are good at, not just one thing, but many things? Do you need to give yourself permission to claim that truth? Do you need to let go of some the old messages that planted negative seeds in your soul? Do you need to take time to discover your strengths and talents? Your strengths need light shining down on them. They need you to boldly name and claim them rather than burying them out of fear, insecurity, or misguided attempts at humility. Steward your strengths, cultivate your strengths; don’t bury them.

So… what are you good at? Come on, you can do it.   I know you can. Take a deep breath and let me hear you say it.

Here’s your challenge: List 10 strengths. Write them down and share them with someone. (In fact, share them below- I’d love to read them!)   It will be the most empowering, exhilarating, and scariest thing you do all week! You’re gonna love it!

You Learn Courage by Couraging

A year ago today, I sent an email that set in motion a series of events I never could have predicted.  Here’s the backstory… In the Fall of 2012, I started reading and thinking more about what it means to live brave and be courageous.  I’ll admit when I think of courage the name Mazi Robinson does not immediately come to mind.  I am still afraid of the dark.  I don’t see scary movies.  I still have weird fears about attics, crawl spaces, and storage rooms and will not go in them by myself. (It is a hard and fast rule… much like my no fruit policy.)  I have no desire to jump out of a plane, bungee jump, or do anything that is remotely adrenaline rushing.  So when I started thinking about courage and living brave, my instant thought was I am not a brave person.  And my next thought was I want to be.

Over the next several months, I learned that living brave was not just jumping out of airplanes, but living brave had a deeper meaning to it.  Living brave means letting others really see you.   It means letting yourself be vulnerable and leaning into that vulnerability rather than running from it.  Vulnerability and courage go hand in hand-  anytime time you are being courageous, you are being vulnerable.   So I got honest about all the things I avoided and ways that I hid.  I started challenging my justifications for why I didn’t do or try certain things.  I started to identify and peel back all of my armor that I thought was protecting me but was really keeping me small and hidden.

How do you build courage?  You learn courage my couraging.  You stop hiding.  You stop avoiding and justifying.  You start doing.

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As I began to make little changes here and there, I noticed a shift within myself.  As I stopped doing some things and started doing others, as I tried new things and let go of old, I started wanting more.  I wanted to try more new things and let go of more old habits.  You learn courage by couraging.  I still felt some intimidation and second guessing- should I do that, say that, try that- but I learned to navigate through that dialogue in my head because I knew it was coming from my shame self, not my true self.  I was on a nice little personal growth journey, and then… and then I spent a weekend in January with a wonderful group of women.

Last January, I was asked to speak at a women’s retreat for a local church.  Let me say that it is not unusual for me to cry on the way home from a speaking engagement.  I usually feel so grateful for the opportunity to speak and teach that crying seems to be the only way to let that emotion out.   But on the way home from this retreat, I cried out of sheer awe.  Later that week a friend asked me how the retreat went, and I told her it had been the single most powerful experience of my professional life.  Because you see these women… these women asked for prayer.  They didn’t ask for prayer for their aunt or their neighbor’s cousin or their co-worker’s niece.  They asked for prayer… for themselves.  They said I’m lonely, I’m lost, I’m hurting.  With tears streaming down their faces they boldly admitted that they were tired and struggling to connect with God, with their husband, with their family.  And they didn’t write it on a notecard or say it sitting down with their head hung.  They stood up with heads held high and were vulnerable.  I have never seen such cut open, let-yourself-be-seen courage in all my life.  I was in pure awe of the vulnerability expressed and the courage lived out.

Brené Brown says that courage is contagious.  It certainly is.  These courageous women moved me, and I wanted to be brave and vulnerable.  I wanted to stop giving into my fears of I can’t and what will people think.  I knew exactly what I needed to do, what I had been avoiding doing for a year.  A year prior to this I had the idea for this blog.  I spent all of 2012 trying to convince myself not to do the blog, but the idea stayed with me.  I realize that for a lot of people starting a blog does not seem like that courageous of a step, but for me it was, and continues to be, the definition of vulnerability.    You see, I don’t consider myself a writer.  I have always been incredibly insecure about my writing.   (I am well aware that comma splices and other punctuation crimes litter these pages and am deeply appreciative that no one ever corrects me.  My deep issues with grammar are for another post…) Yes, I speak and teach all the time, but for some reason having people read my words, rather than hear them, feels much more exposing for me.  But the idea of this blog, and other changes I wanted to make in my  life, just would not go away.

February 5th, 2013, I emailed my friend, Kristen, and told her all that I said above.  I told her that this felt like a big step into the arena for me and that I believed she was the one that could bring my ideas to life.  Kristen has this amazing ability to infuse grace and beauty into everything she touches.  I wanted her fingerprints on my daydreams.  I knew that I could entrust my little brainstorms and hopes to her and that she would get it.  From that email, she began designing this blog and events started to unfold that I never could have imagined.  All of my little daydreams that I had silenced with thoughts of you can’t do it and what if you fail finally came to life when I started my own counseling practice in June and a whole new world of experiences and opportunities opened before me.

You learn courage by couraging.

You learn courage by being around courageous people.  I think of all the things I learned in this past year, the most important lesson was that you never enter the arena alone.  You never take your leap of faith alone. You enter the arena with the people in your life that have modeled courage for you.  You enter the arena with the encouragement of friends’ words ringing in your ears.  You enter the arena with the One who will never leave you alone or ill-equipped.

Have you been thinking about making a change recently?  Do you have a dream you would love to bring to life?  Do you want to start facing your fears and living more courageously?  Are you ready to step into the arena?  Do it.  Do. It.  Life inside the arena is riskier; it is more exposing.  Life is messier in the arena, but it is better than sitting in the stands watching others live bravely and boldly.  The stakes do get higher when you put yourself out there.  But let me tell you, it is so worth it.  Maybe it doesn’t feel like it in those first 30 minutes or hours or days when you are still wrestling with doubt and uncertainty.  But one day you will wake up, and you will realize I did it… I survived the uncertainty and I now taste the sweetness of being brave!  

You learn courage by couraging.

You never take your leap of faith or step into your arena alone.  The models of courage precede you, and the speakers of truth and encouragement walk beside you.  And maybe, if you are lucky, God will send you a special friend who can make it beautiful. :)

To those wonderful women last January… thank you.  To Kristen… Happy Anniversary.  Thank you for bringing this past year to life.  Here’s to more daydreams becoming reality.

Thoughts for Thursday- Becoming Real

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REAL is never ugly.

Ah the wisdom of the Skin Horse and the precious, inquisitive nature of the Velveteen Rabbit… I doubt there is a more poignant exchange in all of literature.  Many of us grew up with the beautiful story of the Velveteen Rabbit and his journey of becoming real through the power of love.  It is a story written for children, but I don’t think we grasp the true meaning and depth of the story until adulthood.

The famous conversation between the Skin Horse and Velveteen Rabbit begins as the Rabbit is struggling to feel settled in his new home in the nursery.  The Rabbit worries he isn’t as expensive or impressive as the other toys with their mechanical parts.  He feels he doesn’t quite measure up and feels insecure and less than.  One day the Rabbit decides to ask the wisest of all the toys in the nursery, the Skin Horse, what it means to be REAL.

The Skin Horse gives the simplest, yet most complex of answers.

“Real isn’t how you are made… it’s a thing that happens to you.  When a child loves you for a long, long time… then you become REAL.”

The Skin Horse goes onto say that becoming REAL does not happen overnight.  It is a process.  Becoming REAL isn’t for the faint of heart.  It isn’t meant for those who prefer to be perfect, who prefer a safe life on the shelf.  Becoming REAL happens to those who do not mind the ups and downs life and the uncertainty of love.  REAL happens to those who accept that being hurt may be painful, but it is better than being numb.

Yes, life might leave you tattered and bruised.  Yes, you might have scars that remind you of missteps and fallen dreams.  But, as the Skin Horse so wisely states, once you are REAL you do not care that you are not perfect.  Perfection and having it all together are no longer the goal.  You don’t mind if people see your mistakes and heartaches.  You don’t mind if people see your tears and fears.  Why?  Because you know you are REAL and “once you are REAL you can’t be ugly.”

You can stay on the shelf and avoid any decision in life that may leave stretch marks.  You can keep love and people at arms length for fear of being hurt.  Or you can practice vulnerability.  You can show up and be seen in your life.  Vulnerability opens the doorway to giving and receiving love.  When you believe you are loved and lovable, you don’t mind if you’re “loose in the joints and very shabby” because you know you are REAL … you know you are enough.

REAL is never ugly.  REAL is beautiful and approachable.  REAL is courageous and strong.  REAL is contagious and inspiring.   REAL is never ugly.

How has life and love helped you become REAL?  How has becoming REAL freed you from the yoke of perfection? 

You Want Me to Share What?!?: Lessons In Vulnerability

I always find it interesting when I discover reoccurring themes in my conversations with individuals.  Although we think we are the only ones, we all wrestle with very similar concerns.  At the top of that list is our struggle with knowing how to open up and share our thoughts and feelings with others instead of stuffing them and keeping them inside.  For many, we don’t know how to open up.  We do not know what to share or where to start, and we are afraid to share because we don’t know how it will be received.  As a result, we keep our story to ourselves, and we use smiles as Band-Aids to cover our aching hearts. We stuff so many of our thoughts and feelings that eventually we end up like a balloon filled with too much air and ready to pop.  We let air out of our balloon by sharing our story, and this means leaping into vulnerability.   This means we have to open ourselves and let ourselves be truly seen.

Sometimes when I encourage people to be vulnerable and share with someone what is going on with them, they usually give me that look that says, “You want me to do what?  You must be crazy!  I’m not telling someone that!”  Beginning to practice vulnerability feels a little unnerving at first, especially if you have spent most of your life guarded behind a series of impenetrable walls.

As I have shared before, I am a huge fan of Brené Brown’s research and writing on shame and vulnerability.  She defines vulnerability as risk and emotional exposure.  Vulnerability is that heart racing moment when you do or say something that pushes you outside of your normal pattern and routine.  Vulnerability is scary because it does feel like a risk to put yourself out there and deal with the uncertainty that accompanies letting your guard down.  Being vulnerable does not mean we are weak, weepy, needy, or clingy.  Being vulnerable means we are strong and courageous because it takes courage to show our brokenness and talk about our mistakes.

This emotional risk naturally begs the question- who can we open up to?  With whom do we take the leap of vulnerability?  Brown says that you share with the people who have “earned the right to hear.”  We share with those who have earned the right to truly see us and know our story.  So what does that mean in practical terms?  We share with those who give us empathy and compassion, who listen without judgment and without trying to offer a solution or a “look on the bright side” reframe.  We tell our story to those who demonstrate discernment, wisdom, and the ability to keep our confidence.  We open ourselves up to those who show up not only for us, but also to us.

So am I encouraging you to lay it all out there for every Susie, Sally, and Sandy to see?  Heavens no!  There is a difference between being vulnerable and oversharing.  Oversharing is not vulnerability.  Oversharing actually inhibits true relationship building and ends up being a barrier to connection.  People overshare for a variety of reasons.  The trick is becoming aware of when and why we are oversharing.

  1. Sometimes we overshare as a way of testing others to see if they can “handle” us or if we are going to be too much for them.
  2. Other times we overshare because we are experiencing something so painful that we just have to purge it from our minds.  We start sharing without taking into consideration if the person is a safe, close friend who will respond with empathy and compassion.
  3. Lastly, we may overshare as a way of trying to create an immediate, albeit false, bond with someone.  We have such a strong desire to create some sort of attachment that we try to jumpstart connection without laying the necessary groundwork to a true relationship.

 

When we begin practicing vulnerability and sharing our story, we want to do so in a relationship that has a strong enough foundation to bear the weight of the information that is shared.  Our level of vulnerability matches the level of closeness in the friendship.  As you grow closer, you go deeper in vulnerability, and as you go deeper in vulnerability, you grow closer.  Vulnerability creates intimacy.

If you are nervous about beginning to practice vulnerability, remind yourself it is baby step process.  Start in the shallow end and work your way into the deep waters.  Remember, we share with those who have earned the right to hear.  This isn’t a race.  There is not a “Best at Vulnerability in Friendship” prize waiting for you at the finish line.  There are people out there who want to know you as much as you would like to be truly known.  Vulnerability is truly the gateway to connection.

What is an act of vulnerability you could take in one of your relationships today?  What is something you could try, create, or share with someone? 

 

Brown, Brené, Ph.D., LMSW. (2012). Daring Greatly:  How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. New York:  Gotham Books.

Thoughts for Thursday- Owning Your Story

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This week I had the pleasure of speaking to Peachtree Presbyterian’s MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group.  What a wonderful group of women!  I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak on the power of our personal stories and what it means to embrace the beautiful and messy parts of our story.  When we choose to embrace our stories we are saying I am going to show up and be seen.  I am no longer going to hide and play up one part of myself while I play down another.  I am going to be brave.

Owning our story takes courage because too often we feel it is easier to stay quiet.   We want our story to be different or we hide or ignore the parts  we don’t like or regret.    Sometimes we remain silent because we don’t know how to make sense of our story.  Other times we worry what people will think if they know this or that part of our story.  Perhaps we  may even suffer from story envy.  Why does her story seem so good, interesting, easy?  Why does my story always seem so complicated, hard, disappointing?

But hiding or holding onto parts of your story out of shame or bitterness means you are letting those painful chapters continue to injure and harm you.  You remain a victim.  Not talking about the broken family, the addicted loved one, the neglectful parent, the regrets, the lonely marriage, and the major life disappointments won’t make them go away.  Staying busy won’t silence those nagging thoughts for long.  Trying to look like you have it all together all the time will eventually wear thin.  You eventually have to face and own those troublesome parts.  If you don’t, they will continue to own you.

To embrace your story, you have to face your story.  You have to dig into the past, uncover the hurts, and rediscover what brings you joy.  In going through this process, you discover the theme and purpose for your life.  You learn that nothing in your life was pointless or a waste.

Embracing your story means you are choosing to be seen over hidden.  It means you are choosing grace over shame, courage over fear.  When you learn your story you can learn from your story.

What is your story teaching you today?   How can you start bravely embracing all the parts of your story?

"You can do that! I am doing that!"

Happy New Year!  Yes, you read that correctly.  Happy New Year!  For me, the real new year begins over the course of several days at the end of August.  I suppose years of living under an academic year calendar can get pretty ingrained in your mental clock. Nine to ten months of hard work followed by approximately two months of slowing down, taking vacation, and planning for the year to come- this just makes sense to me.  After all, how does anyone have the energy to “begin anew” after the stress and busyness of the holidays?  Mistletoe! For many of us, Summer is our time to slow down, or at least make more of an effort to slow down.  Summer is our time to recharge before we get back into the full swing of things with Fall.  Summer ends with last minute trips to the pool, purchasing of school supplies, and preparing for new adventures.  Over the past few weeks, I have loved seeing pictures of my friends beginning their new years by sending children back to school or off to college.  Everyone seems to start these new years full of hope and anticipation of what is to come.  A new year is a good marker to start afresh, try some new things, and get rid of the old that is holding you back.

As I look ahead into my “new year,” a certain viral video of a speech given at Georgia Tech’s Freshman Convocation ceremony has completely captured my attention.  If you have not seen it, it is a must see.  People have labeled it as “Epic.”  In less than a week it received over two million hits on YouTube, and I think over a dozen of those probably came from my computer.  I cannot stop watching this video.  It makes me smile every time I see it, and I always let out a little chuckle at the end.  I have been trying to pinpoint what it is that strikes me so much about this young man’s speech.

First of all, you have to give the guy props- it is pretty incredible he had the nerve to do this.  Epic... indeed.   This sort of display falls under the same category of the nerdy guy getting the girl at the end of the movie.  It’s heartwarming to see the underdog do the unexpected.  Would we really care as much if this video came out of a notorious cool-guy-party-school?  Probably not.

Second, if you have watched it as many times as I have you might also have gotten a kick out of the older gentleman in the House of Lords type bib and robe sitting in the background.  He looks bored beyond his years at the beginning of the video and then he completely perks up when the young man goes for gold.  I imagine he’s thinking what the rest of us are thinking:  “Is this really happening?  This is awesome!”

And then third, I suppose my fascination is due in part to the fact that my own freshman welcome ceremony was so lackluster and the opposite of  “epic”.  The only thing I remember from that event was the student government president talking about the benefits of eating a bagel because it was time efficient food.  A crowd rousing, cheer inducing, stand-on-your-desk moment it wasn’t.

But let’s be honest, the reason the video has become so wildly popular and it is so appealing is because deep down inside, wouldn’t you love to have those guts?  Wouldn’t you love to actually follow through with the wild and bold idea you had in the middle of the night weeks or months ago?  Wouldn’t you love to start your new year off with a bang?  Wouldn’t you love to have the courage to face your fears and exclaim in a triumphant voice with 2001: A Space Odyssey theme music playing in the background “I am doing that!!”  That college sophomore taps into that part of us that we all long to unlock.  He taps into that part that wants to dive doubt-free into a new year or a new experience.  He speaks to that part of us that always wonders, “What if I did ______?  That would be crazy if I could actually do that!”

As you anticipate your new year (even if your year doesn’t start in September), what is the idea that has been floating in the back of your mind?  What is the idea that just won’t seem to go away?  What is it you want to try or change or begin anew?  What is the item on that grand to do list that you keep telling yourself, “Not this year, not now… maybe when I have more time, more money, etc.”  What is keeping you from training for the 5K or half marathon or full marathon?  What is keeping you from putting out your resume to some new companies?  What is keeping you from changing some relationship patterns in your life?  What will be your “Freshman Convocation speech” moment for 2013-2014?

To paraphrase my latest viral video obsession, if you want to start changing that bad habit in your life, this is your new year- you can do that!  If you want to try something new, this is your new year- you can do that!  If you want to throw off the bowlines and sail into the unknown, this is your new year- you can do that!

Welcome to the next season of your life!  You can do that!  I am doing that!

Have a great week and Happy New Year!

Stubbed Toes, Stubbed Hearts

We’ve all been there.  Maybe it’s the middle of the night or the middle of broad daylight.  You’re walking along minding your own business following a path you have taken a thousand times.  You’ve walked in and out of this room and around this furniture at least a dozen times that day already.  But this time you cut the corner a little too close and… BAM! You stub your toe.

Pain instantly starts coursing through your toe, up your leg, and across your body.  You simultaneously suck air through your teeth, howl, and unleash a torrent of choice words.  You wonder why anyone would be so foolish as to put a dresser in that location.  You wonder if the offending dresser has perhaps taken a life of its own and turned against you in reaction to not being dusted lately.

Yep, we’ve all been there.  Think for a moment about what you do right after you stub your toe.  What is your natural physical reaction?  For most people, they will instantly bend down and try to cover the injured piggy with their hand as if they are trying to protect it in case the corner of the dresser decides to strike out in anger again.  You hide the injured toe under the shadow of our palm as if the slightest breeze or sliver of light might do more damage and increase the pain.  You cup the toe protecting it from further harm.

You hide the injury.

You protect the hurt.

Toes aren’t much different from hearts.  We’re traveling along a path that is well known.  We’re content in a job we’ve had for years.  We’re satisfied in a relationship we’ve been in for decades.  We’re living life, minding our own business, and then BAM!

We stub our heart.  A stubbed heart can bring the strongest soul to his knees.  The hit comes out of nowhere.  We wonder how things all of the sudden changed.  The hurt and anguish moves through our body, taking our energy, our sense of safety, our joy, and it leaves us with anxiety, insomnia, and unanswered questions.  A stubbed heart throbs with pain.

Much like that stubbed toe, our natural inclination is to protect our stubbed heart.  We want to hide and cover the heart wound.  We don’t want to let anyone see.  When we have experienced loss or heartbreak of any kind, we naturally react by withdrawing and isolating.  It is too painful to rehash the events.  It takes too much energy to put words to the disappointment.  No one may understand why our feelings have been so hurt and by trying to explain we might end up being more hurt.  We hide our stubbed heart under the shadow of our silence and retreat.

The only way to assess the hurt done to that stubbed toe is by removing the protecting hand and letting light shine on it.  Then you can see the extent of the damage.  Then you can see where the toe was hit.  You can see what needs to be done to fix and heal your injured toe.

The same can be said for our stubbed hearts.  The only way we can begin to heal our broken hearts is by allowing the hurt to come out of hiding.  We move out of our isolation and our silence, and we let light shine on the heart wound.  We talk about what happened.  We let others see the injury and come alongside us to offer support and empathy.  We let light shine on our stubbed hearts because then we can see where and how we were hurt and what we need to do to heal and repair that emotional wound.

When you experience hurt, loss, grief, or disappointment, it is so easy to retreat into yourself and keep all of that inside.  You tell yourself no one will understand or you don’t want to be a burden or some other self-defeating reason for why you should stay silent.  Pain and heartache will happen in life- it is the most unfortunate guarantee in life.  There is no amount of careful stepping that will protect you from loss and hurt.  But coming out of hiding, letting light shine on your loss, and talking about your hurt will diminish that pain.  Your stubbed heart may be throbbing today but removing that covering of silence and isolation will place you on the path to healing.

Has your heart been stubbed lately?  What would it look like to uncover that wound and let light and openness begin to heal it?

Skinny Jeans

Skinny jeans. I have stared at them for a few years. I have eyed them with suspicion and contempt. Can they really be that comfortable? Isn’t it exhausting pulling them on and tugging them off? Don’t you eventually start to lose circulation in your legs with that denim stretched around them? A friend of mine repeatedly tried to convince me of the benefits to a good skinny jean. I told her she must be delusional. She told me that I needed to get over myself and just get some skinny jeans. I told her never. Fast forward to this past Fall…

I love to read, and I tend to read in themes and seasons. Meaning, I like to take a whole season and read about a particular theme. This past Fall I decided to engross myself in the topics of shame and grace and specifically the work of Brené Brown. Brené Brown is a shame and vulnerability researcher and the author of Daring Greatly, The Gifts of Imperfection, and I Thought It Was Just Me. In her writing and research, she discusses the seemingly universal struggle with feeling worthy and believing we are enough because we live in a world that floods us with messages that we are not good enough, productive enough, thin enough, successful enough, etc. When we wrestle with feeling not enough, we grow quiet. We leave out parts of our story. We avoid situations that make us feel exposed. We hide in routine and people pleasing and attempted perfectionism. We try to live like an Impressionist painting in art museum- we want people to stay behind the red rope so we look impressive from far away.

The more I read, the more it forced me to come face to face with my own ways of hiding and retreating and the true reason behind them. I started honestly admitting why I avoided certain situations and things in life. I recognized that some of the rituals and routines I have adopted are really ways I was giving into this fear of not being good enough.

Oh and as for my suspicion, contempt, and adamant rejection of skinny jeans? Well that fell under the categories of hiding, retreating, and avoiding, too.

I realized I was caught in a cycle: every time I retreated or avoided a new experience because I felt insecure or unsure, the not good enough feeling won and got stronger. Our actions reinforce our thinking. If we never challenge the beast, then we’ll never believe it can be defeated… and we end up being the ones defeated.

Brené Brown goes on to say that the antidote to feeling not good enough is learning to embrace vulnerability rather than avoid it. What does this mean in practical terms? It means we have to first get really honest with ourselves about all the ways we hide and retreat. We have to admit the things we are waiting to do once we are (fill in the blank) enough. Are you waiting to have people over to your house once it is decorated enough? Are you waiting to share what has really been going on in your life once you are put together enough? Are you waiting to truly enjoy summertime and pool parties and beach vacations once you are thin enough? Are you waiting to finally pursue that calling or hobby or family time you desire once you are financially secure enough? Once we identify the ways we are hiding and what we are hiding from, we can start practicing vulnerability.

Vulnerability defeats the beast.

Practicing vulnerability means opening ourselves up to life and to others, which means opening ourselves up to risk and uncertainty. Practicing vulnerability is a choice. We choose to come out of hiding. We choose to have a voice. Practicing vulnerability means verbalizing the struggles and worries that race through your mind late at night. It means telling the parts of your story you wish weren’t there. It means trying something new despite your self-doubt or nervousness.

It means wearing the skinny jeans.

Practicing vulnerability does not always mean you make some major life change or unload your entire personal history over one lunch date. It may mean making just a slight change in your life that no one may notice but you, but that slight change begins chipping away at that deeply rooted not enough feeling. You then discover how to break the cycle: new actions help reinforce new thinking. One small step creates a ripple effect. I took my small step in a pair of Curvy Skinny Jeans from The Gap.  Each one of us has a “skinny jean” in our life.  Each one of us has something we avoid doing or don’t share with anyone or have stopped doing because we feel too exposed or are worried what people will think.

So what is your “skinny jean”? What is something you could try that you’ve never done before? What is something you could share that you’ve never shared before? Anytime you do something different, whether it is a big or small thing, and you feel that little wave of nervousness, you are showing courage and practicing vulnerability. Pushing yourself out of your rituals and routines builds up your vulnerability “muscle” and frees you from your not enough thinking. Embracing your “skinny jean” could start the revolution that just might change your life.

 

What are you not doing because you are waiting to be _______ enough? What is your "skinny jean"?