Deep Breaths (A Rant)

This is a 6-minute read.

Sometimes, existing in this world as a human being can be exhausting.

We exist within this single dichotomy: everything is simultaneously far too much and not enough to fit our definition of the way things are supposed to be.

I often get the sense that I am too much and not enough always, in all ways.

Too passionate, straying too far from the herd we are supposed to follow. Too vibrant, too full of life. Too many ideas on how to change the world. Not creative enough, not smart enough. Not focused on the right things. Not working hard enough to make a real impact. Not enough people know your name.

By the world’s impossible standards, nothing is ever enough. We could always be thinner and prettier and have nicer things. We should do more good in the community and volunteer overseas and spend more time with our families and friends back home. We should make more money. We should be vegan and live zero-waste lives. We should exercise and take 10,000 steps and vote and be tolerant of others all while living our best lives…oh, and you’re not doing enough to take care of yourself. Make sure you do that too.

Does anyone else ever feel as overwhelmed as I do? Who knew life could become so complicated in such a short span of time.

As a Very Curious Individual (VCI), I spend a lot of time learning new things. Life is fascinating. The world is fascinating, but there is also an overwhelming number of things to know. Data can be useless without action, and we are currently in an era of data overload.

Researcher Alex Edmans explains how we are now living in a post-truth world in this TED Talk. When there is so much “evidence” to back up any opinion we may wish to argue for, it is easy to let our confirmation bias to lead us astray. Just because someone somewhere “tested” something, doesn’t make it true. To be pro-truth is to acknowledge that sometimes our initial ideas may be wrong, that there is a difference between opinion and fact, and we must fact-check our sources before sharing our latest findings with the people we know.

The problem is, sometimes we consume and regurgitate others’ opinions without even knowing it.  We are constantly consuming media wherever we go, and all this information can be…well, overwhelming. (I think that is my word of the day.) It can be a challenge to properly process everything we absorb. What do you do with the fact that we only have twelve years to stop global warming from rising beyond 2 degrees C, a tipping point beyond which there is no point of return? What do you do with the fact that these next twelve years determine whether we can learn to live in harmony with the natural world, or exist in climate catastrophe for the foreseeable future? I sure as hell don’t always know what to do with that information. Panic? That’s not going to get anybody anywhere.

Some days, I feel very small and extremely helpless. What can I, as one small person, possibly do to change this very scary prognosis? I want to yell at the world to wake up. I want to kick and scream and fuss until people start to take notice. I want people to take notice but more than that, I want them to care enough that they begin to make a change. A real, tangible change. A sustained change. Not just empty promises, but do everything we can to follow through.

We need little changes to add up to big changes. Every. Single. Day.

When I was little, I wanted to go to the Olympics for artistic gymnastics. More than that, I wanted to make a splash on the international scene. I wanted to be known by people, I wanted to be seen. In all honesty, a small part of me still longs for that platform, but it is not driven by ego or recognition or fame. In all honesty, I don’t think it ever was. To have your work be known and loved by thousands of people gives you a platform of influence, the opportunity to impact real change in the world around you.

To make a sizable difference in the world and connect with people on a deeper level. In all honesty, that’s all I’ve ever wanted.

I am a dreamer. I have big dreams for my life, and some days those dreams are overwhelming. Some days those dreams are terrifying, and some days they’re terribly exciting. It is easy for me to get caught up in this dream world where everything is possible, but then I remember, to achieve great things I must first begin. I need to take the first step. And so I breathe and I come back to the present moment and I get back to work. I learn a lot of things, and I’m just now learning how to put those learnings into action.

All my life I’ve been a dreamer, but this year has been about making those dreams a reality, one small simple step at a time. In the process, I’ve cultivated this new sense of trust in life and its ability to take me where I need to go. Where the world needs me to go. Some days, a lot of days, it’s not easy. I don’t always want to write or stand on my hands for two hours or learn about the devastating impact deforestation is having on climate change. Some days I just want to be twenty and watch Netflix for a few hours and forget about everything I’ve learned. Sometimes I do because life is about balance. And balance includes late nights and nonsense, every now and then.

Other days, life is stunningly beautiful. I look up at the clear blue sky or watch the stars at night, publish a piece of writing I’m truly proud of or come home after a performance and sit and appreciate my little apartment beneath the warm glow of fairy lights I strung up on the wall.

The more you begin to say yes to life, the more life says yes to you.

You’ll know when you’re on the path you’re meant to be on – when you’re living a life aligned with your deepest values, interests and abilities. It just feels right. There is no other way for me to describe it. You may not know what your life will look like three months from today. In fact, you often don’t. But that’s okay because when you are living the life you are meant to live, you are lit up and contributing to the world in a way only you can.

Author and civil rights leader Howard Thurman once said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

What makes you come alive?

Wherever you are today, whatever you are experiencing at this point in time, step back for a moment. Take a deep breath. Inhale for a count of four. Exhale for six. Repeat three times. Feel your mind drop back into your body. Feel the earth beneath your feet. Hear the people all around you. Feel the rhythm of your heart’s own steady beat.

You are okay. This world is okay. (For now.)

What will you do today? What small, yet purposeful action will you take? You are so much more capable than you dare believe. Remember that when you get overwhelmed.

Pause. Breathe. Grow. Repeat.

The Stories We Choose

This is an 8-minute read.

Stories. The stories we hear and tell ourselves on a daily basis contain within them immeasurable amounts of power. They determine how we move through our everyday life, the way we see our future and how we relate to our own story, our past.

Do we trust or do we hide? Love or hate? Show compassion for those we do not understand or turn a blind eye to all those we label as “other?”

I have been doing a deep dive into my own story recently, re-examining my history and the lens through which I view it. It is often a somewhat uncomfortable process, this questioning of all the things we hold as truth. Honesty is one of my highest held values, but I’ve learned that in order to be honest with others, I must first learn to be honest with myself.

For someone who values honesty, I am incredibly good at ignoring facts that are staring me right in the face. I habitually lied to myself for a long time, and I find it hard to forgive the person I was during those years I spent under my own spell. The narratives I told myself often hid in plain sight, simmering somewhere just below the surface. I was too scared to dig anything up for fear of the turmoil it might cause within my life. So I bottled things up, put on a brave face and carried on. Until I couldn’t carry on any longer.

During my teen years, I struggled with my relationship to my body and, inevitably, the food I ate (or didn’t eat.) When I was eleven, I injured my back and as a result, gained a lot of weight and began to look like a woman, the one thing every young female gymnast fears most. My comeback was a struggle until I learned my body could change if I increased my cardio and hours of training while choosing to eat fewer carbs, so that is what I did. My coaches told me how good I looked, and everything was well. For a time.

As the years progressed, I became anorexic at a severity that was just mild enough I could continue to function and train at a high level, albeit not that well. I figured I was still eating food, so there was no way I had become “anorexic.” The word brought about images of girls tied to hospital beds, stick thin and fighting for their lives, and I resisted this idea, hard.

I was determined to be strict with my diet and exercise regime because it made me “feel better” within my body. Nothing wrong with that, right? Wrong. You can be a “healthy eater” and still be anorexic if the amount of calories you burn in a day far exceeds the fuel you take in. My body began feeding on my muscles when my fat reserves had dropped to something nearly non-existent. Still, I held on.

For a long time, every single decision I made was made out of fear.

I chose to eat the way I did in an attempt to control my body. I feared I might get fat if I ate any other way. When I looked in the mirror, all I saw was a girl who was still too bulky, not the shell of myself I’d become. I was never elegant or pretty or thin enough for my idea of beauty. So I restricted myself and kept on running.

Eventually, my parents intervened at a point when my obsession was becoming life-threatening. I began to understand only months into my recovery how thin I had really been. The image I’d seen when I looked in the mirror did not match what other people had seen at all. This scared me more than anything else – the fact that the mind could play such a huge role in my perception of reality terrified me to the core.

Recovery has been a long, winding road with many tears, twists and turns. As I nourished my body with wholesome foods, I put on weight and began to have more energy once again. I had good people in my life there to reassure me when the mind games became too much, and their love helped me find a way through. No, you’re not eating too much. No, you’re not fat. Remember, you trained for five hours today? 

When I came out on the other end, I had treated the symptoms of anorexia. This was a huge accomplishment in of itself. But the underlying root of the problem that had caused this threat to my life, it was still there.

Hidden within the stories I told myself was a deeper belief that was holding me back from living a life of true joy.

Sometime in my early teens, I developed the belief that nothing I did was ever good enough. I wasn’t pretty enough. I wasn’t worthy of a beautiful life. I wasn’t worthy of love. Having grown up in the cutthroat world of women’s artistic gymnastics, my definition of success relied heavily upon outward appearances and one’s ability to be at the top of their field. I may have told myself these things didn’t matter to me, but the stories I’d consumed growing up were embedded in my mind. I didn’t believe in my own story of success – not yet.

My fractured relationship with myself gave space for others to sneak in and further undermine my confidence. I thought I didn’t deserve respect, so I didn’t stand up for myself. I felt I had “failed” in the past, so I told myself I was a failure. I had been known to act out of fear at times, and so I labelled myself a coward.

This is why I say the stories we tell ourselves are so powerful: they literally have the ability to shape our reality, whether we would like it that way or not. We need to learn to seperate the things we experience in life from our deepest beliefs about ourselves.

Language is incredibly powerful, but we use it so carelessly at times. I would like to remind you that having had your heart or trust broken once is different from being broken. Having experienced failure within something you care about does not mean you are a failure. Your outward appearance does not determine your worth as a human being and more than that, you are so much more than enough.

The truth is, the heart is an intricate thing. In time, as we grow closer to certain people in our lives, the lines between ‘us’ and ‘them’ begin to blur. Susan Piver, an author and longtime Buddist practitioner, explains in this podcast how in any deep relationship, the way we treat ourselves becomes the way in which we treat others. If we learn to show up for ourselves with the acceptance that we are ever-changing human beings who can be strong and kind and fearful and angry all at once, we are able to meet our fellow humans with a deeper sense of compassion, knowing they too experience all these things.

In order to be gentle and understanding with others, we must first learn to be gentle and understanding with ourselves.

For me, this year has been a lesson in healing and the value in being honest with oneself. Satya, as it is known in Sanskrit, is the practice of truth-telling in all domains of life. As it turns out, it is easy to say you value honesty, but it is so, so challenging to practice it for yourself. It takes great courage to stand up for what you believe in when you know there is an easier way.

I look back now, and sometimes I wonder what life would be like if I hadn’t chosen bravery that moment back in January that changed my life. Sometimes you make a decision that sets off a chain reaction, and that’s exactly what I knew this moment was for me. Even then. It was absolutely terrifying but I couldn’t bear the thought of staying where I was a moment longer.

My life would likely look much different if I hadn’t tipped over that first domino that led to so much change and heartache. Would I have been truly happy? Probably not. Perhaps, in time. But I wouldn’t be standing in this beautiful moment sharing these words here with you. And that, for me, is enough.

In the end, fear never really disappears. It just manifests itself in different ways. The key is to learn to sit with our fears and doubts and give them space to breathe. Courage does not exist in the absence of fear, but rather, because of it. Do not let your fear write the stories you tell yourself every day. Do not give doubt the pen. You are the author of your own life, even if you forget now and then.

There is no right or wrong in life, only the path we choose. It is, however, vital for us to remember that one, simple fact as we go through our days: we have the power to choose.

So what is your truth? What story do you choose?

Lean In

(This post contains some facts about our current situation on Earth and what you can do to help.)

“Lean into the discomfort.”

This is one piece of advice I’ve gotten used to hearing over the last number of years. It seems to be a common theme among those looking to make a change in the world. As an artist and creative entrepreneur, this advice describes my job on a daily basis – I am to find the emotions and ideas that lie just beyond my comfort zone and venture into their territory. While I try to do this a little bit every day, I often find it’s easier said than done to push beyond the places I’ve been before.

How often do you lean into your discomfort?

If you’re like most people I know (myself included) the answer is not all that often. Deliberately finding the spaces that put us on edge is not generally something we like to do. Sure, there are those few adrenaline junkies out there who love the thrill of not knowing if they’re going to live or die today, but I think most of us can agree we prefer to do the exact opposite – we like to lean away from the things that make us uneasy. We like to walk very quickly glancing back over our shoulder with a smile plastered on our faces just to make sure no one is watching, then break out into an all-out sprint in the opposite direction.

Now, this isn’t entirely our fault. As humans, our brains are wired to run away at the first sign of danger, as fast as our two legs will carry us. It’s the very thing that kept us alive for so long in a world that saw us as dinner. Safety is one of the most basic human needs. But no matter what society would like to lead you to believe, safety is not the same thing as comfort. Sometimes remaining within our comfort zone is the most dangerous thing we can do.

I have been sitting with a lot of uncomfortable topics lately, topics that make me want to just look the other way. Of course, once you know the facts, it’s hard to do that. I know I find it extremely difficult to forget something once I learn the truth, especially within topics like these.

Topics like the fact that there is a prevalence of race and gender inequality, even in our seemingly progressive world today. How women who don’t look like me face challenges I will never know and how if I am not actively part of the solution, I am part of the problem; how there is so much more for me to know.

Topics like my own experiences of rejection and what I am doing to move through that pain. How that pain relates to everyone else’s, and the way in which I treat myself becomes the way in which I treat those closest to me, and I would never choose to be so hard on them.

Most of all, I have been taking a deeper look at the world around us, at this beautiful earth we call home. Global warming is real, people. If we don’t start making changes now, it will have catastrophic results.

I sometimes wish I were one of those people who could make light of a really serious topic, because I believe humour is disarming. I’m working on it, but in the mean time I’m just that person who feels things really, really deeply and wants to take on the world all at once.

The facts are shocking. Only one out of every ten people breathe safe air, according to WHO guidelines. Air pollution is responsible for one in three deaths related to stroke, chronic respiratory disease or lung cancer – including premature death among children. Rising temperatures create worse storms, droughts and heat waves, which in turn leads to an increase in food shortages and malnutrition in countries already struggling to make ends meet.

But the good news doesn’t stop there.  Each year, at least eight million tonnes of plastic leak into our oceans. The world’s largest floating collection of trash lives in the ocean between Hawaii and California in what is known as the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” Often described as larger than Texas, it is home to 79 000 metric tons of plastic. This waste is composed of the usual culprits: plastic bags, straws and bottle caps. What we’re not paying attention to? Fishing equipment. Abandoned fishing equipment makes up for 46% of the floating island, while a majority of the rest waste is fishing gear of a different kind. One in three fish caught never makes it to the plate, and one-third of all commercial fish species are overfished.

These facts are just the tip of the melting iceberg, but they are overwhelming nonetheless. So what does it mean for you? For me? For the seven billion people we share this planet with and the generations to come?

The more I learn, the more I see how everything is intricately, inextricably connected. An increase in air pollution means farmers will yield less food from their crops, thus increasing food shortage and malnutrition. When we breathe air that is filled with particles of black carbon that penetrate our bodies’ defences, we suffer from issues like asthma, lung cancer and stroke and must spend more on health care to solve issues that could be avoided in the first place. More plastic in our oceans means fish eat more plastic which means we, in turn, eat more plastic which could be not-so-good for our health. When we waste food, we produce more methane and further contribute to the issue of world hunger. And so the cycle continues.

The good news (the real good news, this time) is this: we, as individuals, can and do make a difference with the choices we make every day. If we reduce the amount of pollution we create by driving less and making a conscious effort with our trash, we will be able to breathe easier and produce more food in the long run.

Of course, these are extremely complex issues. But there are a few things you can start doing, today.

You can say no to straws, bring your own reusable bags and a water bottle wherever you go. You can take the metro or bike to work instead of driving your car and enjoy a little extra sunshine along the way. You can buy food that requires less packaging or no packing at all. You can reach out to your community leaders and bring awareness to the issues at stake.

These are little things, but they are important nonetheless. Start with these. If you’re willing to dive a little deeper, do some research. The truest answers are often the ones we don’t want to hear.

According to the Drawdown, a comprehensive list of the top 100 things we can do to reduce climate change, the single greatest thing we can do as individuals is this: reduce food waste. Food waste accounts for approximates 8% of emissions worldwide. In higher income countries, we waste an average of 35% of the food we buy each year. THAT IS A LOT OF FOOD for such a simple solution. All we need to do is plan a little better, and eat what’s in the fridge.

Related to this: compost. Natural waste produced methane, a pollutant 80 times more powerful than CO2 when it comes to heating our atmosphere. Regular landfills are not equipt to deal with such a potent compound, but proper composting facilities are. Composted food gets a second life – it can be put to use instead of rotting in a landfill somewhere. Ew.

Now, I say these things, but I AM NOT A SAINT. I am only working on them myself. I am working on them one day, one step at a time. Honestly, I find composting gross. I’ve avoided it like a slimy sock until recently. I’ve realized how much of a difference it can make.

There is one thing I have found that collectively could have the most significant impact of all, but it’s something of a taboo subject. Are you ready for it? My third and final suggestion is this: move towards a plant-based diet.

GASP. Did I just say what you think I just said? Did I just imply the “v” word?

Calm down a minute. Please don’t leave this article because I might have just said something you might possibly disagree with. When I say going into uncomfortable spaces, the space of food is one of the tensest spaces, second only to any debates relating to politics. Food is deeply personal. Food is family and friends and good times and memories. Food is the thing that sustains us. Food is something different to every person on earth, but the basic fact is this: food is life. We cannot live without it, at least, not for very long.

I’m not saying you have to stop eating animal products. I’m not telling you to abandon meat. I am not here to bore you with the vices of the modern diet and virtues of veganism, there are plenty of sites out there to do that. But the one thing I will tell you is this: if you are serious about having an impact on our planet, consider adding more plants to your plate. Just think about it. When you do consume animal products, be a little more mindful of where they’re coming from. Maybe choose free-reign and local over the cheapest option out there. Maybe bulk up that meal with baked veggies and sauteed beans.

Food has been a touchy topic for me for several years. I am learning a new way to be mindful of what I eat. I am digging into the things that make me uncomfortable and why I feel that way. I am learning how I can give back to this planet that has already given me so much.

I am always learning. If you go through life with open eyes, you can too. Let these words give you the courage you need to look at something that makes you uncomfortable. Just a little.

Take one step today.

***

Intrigued? Check out these links:

Drawdown.org to learn about the top solutions to climate change.

BreatheLife to learn about air pollution and what you can do.

Deliciously Ella for plant-based recipes even carnivores will love.

Answers (A Pep Talk)

“Ommmmmmm…”

“Whatcha doing?”

“Meditating.”

“What’s that?”

“Meditating. You know, sitting in stillness, breathing, being. Seeking inner peace and contentment with all that is right here, right now.”

“Oh. We’re doing that again.”

“What?”

“This meditating thing. It’s BORING. Why would anybody just sit there doing nothing when there are so many things to do and people to meet and places to see? Sitting still seems like a waste of time to me.”

“Mmmmm. You just don’t get it.”

Patience. I think that’s my word of the year. Or the word of my life. It has been a long, challenging year filled with ups and downs and many moments of “I have no idea where I am going, what am I doing with my life?!” followed by moments of “this is AMAZING!” Figuring out where you are going takes time. Building things worth building takes time. But sometimes I am young and sometimes I am impatient. I would like to have everything figured out NOW.

I will be the first to admit that my brain is hardly ever satisfied with where it is at any given moment, and recently I’ve been trying to figure out why.

Like many people partaking in the mindfulness movement, I long to show up and be more present for my life, but it baffles me why this is a question at all. Life is so beautiful, and we only get to live once. There is absolutely NOTHING I can do to control what happens in my future and NOTHING I can do to change the past, yet this is where my mind likes to stray to time and time again. Why is this? And how can I change it?

There is a time and place to remember the past. There is a time and place to look towards the future. But if we spend all our time watching the horizon or looking back over our shoulder, are we ever truly living?

My brain is a busy place. I imagine it to look sort of like Grand Central Station inside, with millions of thoughts coming and going every single day. Occasionally I’ll hop on a train with one of them and see where it leads me, but the rest of the thoughts are still there, never more than a few thousand miles away.

I’ve been feeling fairly restless lately with too many thoughts, ideas and projects competing for my attention – being a creative person can be busy work at times. My brain has been arguing with itself quite a bit, one side trying to keep track of everything I have going on while the other half tells me I am not doing enough so I better get off my butt and make something happen already or else there will be consequences. What consequences, you ask? I’m not sure either. But apparently, they’re there, like a ticking time-bomb that could explode at any minute if I don’t get moving.

You see, my brain likes to think it can control my life. Therefore, it likes to sit in the driver’s seat and act as the navigator at the same time. It has this need to have some semblance of a plan of where we are going and how we are going to get there at all times, and if it doesn’t? Well, things aren’t so pleasant for the passengers inside. They tend to get jostled around a lot until my brain gets some answers.

The thing is, life does not go according to plan, ever. No ifs, ands or buts about it. If it does miraculously go according to plan for a period of time, you often find the plan wasn’t actually what you were looking for all along and end up pulling off to the side of the road to check your map and figure out why you thought this path was such a good idea in the first place.

While I have grown to accept life’s plot twists as just another part of the journey, some part of my brain has not. It has been deeply aware of the fact that I have been floating of late and has therefore grown increasingly restless. There has been no plan. No direction, no burning passion or inclination to take one path over another. There has been curiosity, and there has been healing. Oh, the healing. But healing takes time, my brain says. You’re wasting time. No, I’m not, I tell my brain again. Do you wanna drive on two flat wheels? Didn’t think so. Neither do I. So we sit. And we think. And we ponder.

It’s easy for my brain to make it sound like I’ve been doing nothing. This isn’t true, either. The results of the work I’ve been doing have just been more intangible than I am used to. There haven’t been any overarching goals or five-year plans in mind. I’ve just been getting back on my feet and following my curiosities, one step at a time.

Still, my brain has been restless, and so what do I do when I’m restless? I research. I temporarily abandon any current projects in favour of figuring out my life beyond those deadlines, spending hours combing through the internet to get a clearer sense of what I want my life to look like at this time next year.

I suppose one could also call this procrastination.

This kind of procrastination can be quite productive at times. Well, not productive in the most acute sense of the word, but productive none the less. All that research soothed my brain to the point where I can now get back to work and know I’ll discover some ideas that were nowhere to be seen before, ideas that will enable me to move my projects forward.

Moderate procrastinators have actually been proven to be more successful and creative than their peers – no, I’m not making this up. In his TED Talk on the surprising habits of original thinkers, Adam Grant explains how he discovered this group of people whom he calls “originals,” and how they function differently from the rest of society. One of the defining traits of originals is that they are quick to start but slow to finish – as moderate procrastinators, they sit in between the people who always finish early and those who start so late that they have to scramble to get everything done on time.

Grant shares the data from an experiment that asked people to come up with new business ideas. There were three groups: one group was asked to do the task right away, while the other two groups were asked to procrastinate by playing Minesweeper – for either five or ten minutes each. Which group was the most creative, you might ask? It was the middle group, the one that procrastinated for five minutes before completing the task. People in this group were 16% more creative than those in the other two groups. Grant explains:

“Now, Minesweeper is awesome, but it’s not the driver of the effect, because if you play the game first before you learn about the task, there’s no creativity boost. It’s only when you’re told that you’re going to be working on this problem, and then you start procrastinating, but the task is still active in the back of your mind, that you start to incubate. Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps.”

It’s reassuring to know my brain is not the only one that works this way. Grant goes on to explain that another defining feature of originals is that they are less afraid to fail than they are of failing to try. In essence, they would rather put forth a less-than-perfect but innovative product or idea if they saw the world could benefit than wait for it to be perfect or worse, let that idea sit up on a shelf until someone else worked up the courage to go do it. If their idea fails for some reason or another, they learn from their experience and take note of what they can do differently next time.

Left unchecked, procrastination can morph into this form of perfectionism that stops us from taking action in the first place. It settles like a fog in the mind that makes us forget what we truly want and dampens the excitement we have for our ideas. This is the most dangerous form of procrastination of all because it is so sneaky, you don’t even notice it. Some people even find this trait admirable.

I used to wear my perfectionism like a badge of honour, but now I see it more as a synonym for crippling self-doubt or fear of rejection than I do a source of pride. I am not proud of the times I have been too scared to try.

My tendency to procrastinate has produced some beautiful ideas in the last week – but my mind has also been wandering dangerously close to the murky lands of perfectionism. I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself, and as a result, I have been suffering from some pretty nasty writer’s block.

When I was in gymnastics, I had a bad habit on beam. There were certain skills around which I had developed very large mental blocks, and this made it extremely hard to actually practice said skills. I vividly remember the feeling: I would be standing on the beam, my arms above my head and feet side by side, perfectly aligned and ready to go. I had performed the skill countless times before and yet, I would stand there, sometimes for five minutes at a time, wiggling my sweaty feet and swinging my arms up and down to no avail. I was paralyzed by the fear that I might land on my head and break my neck and then never be able to move again.

Now, this may sound entirely logical to someone outside of the sport, but it was entirely not. I had never, not once landed on my head. I’ve never even come close. I knew this skill inside out. On competition day, I would stick the skill perfectly, without a single wobble; the next day, I would return to the gym to that same paralyzing fear and frustrating habit of stopping myself before I would even start.

I have no explanation for this phenomenon. I only knew that on these days, my brain became something of a prison cell. I was trapped. It was like I had opened my mouth to speak knowing full well what I wanted to say, only, no words would come out. Choking on your own thoughts is like choking on the air we breathe – no one can see what’s plaguing you, and you can’t see a way out.

Looking back now, I know my anxiety boiled down to this one thing: ultimately, there was no guarantee that anything I did would work out. In life, there never is. Each skill on beam was simply a micro example of this truth – I would know right away, and so I often felt I would just rather not find out.

Since I left gymnastics, I’ve experienced a high volume of what I’m now calling detours – choices I made that didn’t work out. These “failures” hurt at the moment, but I’m still standing and I’m stronger for it.

My brain likes to make life a whole lot more complicated than it actually is. Sometimes less is more and trying harder is not the answer. Sometimes the answer has been there all along. Sometimes you just need to take the first step, then the next, then the next, and learn to sit with the uncertainty that is the beauty of life.

Today, I am hereby denouncing perfectionism once and for all. I AM PERFECTLY IMPERFECT and PROUD OF IT. Because life is not perfect. Life is beautiful and wonderful and challenging and curious but life is NOT perfect. Life was not created to be perfect. We were not created to be perfect. Imperfection is where our beauty lies. Imperfection is honesty and connection and vulnerability and that is the life I want to live.

Maybe, just maybe, letting go of perfection is letting go of the outcome is letting go of everything but this moment right here, right now. Maybe letting go of perfection is showing compassion for ourselves and every living thing on earth because how you treat yourself is how you treat everyone else. Maybe letting go of perfection is being courageous and original and living our best lives, individually and collectively.

You have been given a life – do us all a favour and go live boldly, bravely, in unapologetically bright, vivid colours. Take up space. Wear your heart on your sleeve and live life out loud. Do your dreams, however big or small they may seem because the world needs it now, more than ever. The world will become a better place because we were willing to take a chance and colour outside the lines.

Go live a life worth remembering. That’s what I am going to do.

On Learning

Confession No. 04: I love learning. (One could even say I’m a nerd.)

From the time I was very young, I have been fascinated by many things. I think this is partially due to the fact that I grew up with a father who relaxes by expanding his brain – my dad loves to watch home and cooking shows as well as documentaries on TV, so I grew up watching HGTV more than Family channel, often missing the shows my peers loved to watch.

Before we even began learning the basic principles of multiplication in school, my father was teaching me my times-tables. I loved every research project I was assigned in class, especially when I had a say in the specific topic I would learn about. I would spend hours and hours finding recipes and exercise programs for girls I was coaching and loved to out try new recipes when I had the chance. Around the time I was sixteen, I began reading non-fiction books for fun because, why not?

Over the years, I have accumulated an assortment of facts and knowledge. You never know when a piece of information will come in handy, so I try to soak up as much as I can.

For me, research is relaxing. I am being productive (I tell myself) because even if I don’t use the information for this specific task, I am building my brain muscles and creating new connections between neurons. I love to discover the links between seemingly disparate ideas and pull them together in a way that makes them easier to understand. It is extremely satisfying, this kind of work, and I am lucky enough to get to do it every day.

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received came when I read Liz Gilbert’s book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Gilbert encourages readers to “follow their curiosities” and explains what this looks like in her own life. In this conversation with podcast host Jonathan Fields, Gilbert explains how people often think the opposite of depression is happiness, but it’s not. The opposite of depression is curiosity. The moment you stop believing that tomorrow will be any different from today, that is the moment you will lose your zest for life. Each day is a beautiful opportunity to learn something new, but it’s so easy to forget that.

The truth is, you will never know all there is to know.

I find this fact simultaneously thrilling, humbling, and utterly inspiring. If I will never know all there is to know, then there will always be something new for me to discover tomorrow. Your learning doesn’t stop when your formal education does; in fact, that is when the real learning begins.

This is not to say I have always loved the process of learning – there have been many times when I definitely have not. I am, by nature, a bit of a perfectionist, and learning can be quite messy at times. I have always had a bit of an aversion to being judged for my learning because I hate feeling like I’ve failed. I can’t say I hated tests and exams because I loved the feeling of satisfaction I got when I did well, but I definitely did not enjoy the criticism that came when I did not. Then again, I don’t think anyone does.

I did well in school because I paid attention in class and often found the subjects quite interesting. If I found the teacher boring or I didn’t understand what they were talking about, I would just do the research on my own. I didn’t really mind taking tests, but the minute my grades slipped below ninety, I would cringe; below eighty, I told myself to work harder – that wasn’t good enough.

Perfection was my highest goal, but that shouldn’t have been my focus. That is not what learning is about.

Learning is the process of growing, of becoming wiser and stronger than you were the day before. Everyone learns in different ways, and I’ve always learned best by doing things for myself. A teacher can speak for hours about a subject, but those formulas and theories will mean nothing to mean until I put them to use. I learned early on that I remembered things better if I wrote them down. The best way for me to understand a language or equation was for me to smash it into bite-sized pieces and repeat the steps over and over again.

These are the strategies that work best for me, but what works for me will not work for everyone. I was able to do well in school because I did the work and figured out how I learn best. This is not the case for many people, however, and it frustrates me to think there are people who leave school thinking they’re stupid. No person on earth is truly stupid – we are all intelligent in our own way.

For the last few centuries, we’ve spent our time focused on the wrong question. The question shouldn’t be, “are you smart?” based on some grades on a paper somewhere. School should be about helping each child discover their strengths and the places they need to improve. The question we should be asking is, “How are you smart, and how can the world benefit from that?”

Sometimes I forget my love of learning. Sometimes I can only see all the ways in which life is hard. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of things I do not know and the uncertainty that goes along with being a new adult. But if I have learned one thing, it is this: no one ever really has everything figured out.

You can look at a stranger and think they have a perfect life, that everything must be so easy and they know exactly where they’re going – but I can almost guarantee this is a lie. You don’t know their whole story. The masters know the secret to mastery is to maintain a beginners mind. The more you learn, the more you understand there is so much more to learn, and so you must remain humbly open to anyone who might teach you something as you journey along your path.

As we approach the beginning of autumn and the start of a new school year, I have to admit it’s a little strange not to be heading back to school. The structure and safety of being in school are, in some ways, all I’ve ever known. They are things you take for granted until you step out into the real world and realize there is so much more at stake. Once you graduate from school, you are responsible for your one precious life. No one will make things happen for you if you are never willing to take the first step.

Sometimes, taking the first step means stumbling. Sometimes it means falling flat on your face. Notice I did not say that taking the first step can lead to failure because you never truly fail until you give up. If you learned something from the experience, you did not fail – you only added to your knowledge of what not to do next time.

These days, my days are filled to the brim with learning: learning about myself and my work and my world, how to process pain and cultivate joy and what it is to be alive on this planet that is just bursting with life.

It’s a beautiful thing, this kind of learning, no matter how challenging it may be. I wouldn’t exchange it for anything in the world. Every day is an adventure when you are acting as your own tour guide because the value lies not in the place you are going but rather the person you become along the way.

So take the time to enjoy your journey and rest assured – one step at a time, you will get where you are going one day.

Who Am I?

Who am I?

I feel like I have been asking that question a lot lately. Perhaps this is normal, given who I am. I mean, what else does an introspective young writer like to do with her time?

When I ask myself that question, a very standard response pops into my mind. It’s one I’ve often given to people I am encountering for the first time. The order may change on any given day, but the answer goes something like this: I am a hand balancer. I am a writer. I am a hand balancer who writes, a writer who loves to stand on her hands. The details of this description, of course, have shifted slightly over the years – but their essence remains the same.

No matter which way you put it, I am a doing. I am defined by the things I do and the things I aspire to do in the future, something that will inevitably change time and time again as I grow through life.

Life is a series of experiments: there are so many things one can choose to do or explore or become. As a young person, all these options can be quite overwhelming, yet somehow, society tells us that by the time we graduate high school we should’ve already chosen one. Growing up is confusing enough as it is, and the pressure to define who we are by our aspirations only adds to the pressure to get it right the first time around.

I am not sure when exactly I became a doing, or how I came to be that way in the first place. All I know is that this method we’ve developed for defining ourselves is entirely unreliable, which leads me to believe we should reach for a new way.

I am very good at letting others know they are so much more than what they do. When it comes to myself, however, I struggle to apply this same truth. If I am not a hand balancer, then who am I?

I have been doing circus and acrobatics for three-quarters of my life – for me, to be upside down IS to be alive. I spent my childhood at my mother’s circus studio and my grandparents’ gym. Many of my best memories and most defining moments happened there.

When I wasn’t walking on tightropes and swinging from the bars, you could almost certainly find me doing a series of cartwheels across the lawn of my elementary school. For my seventh-grade talent show, I performed a piece on the aerial silks. I missed school functions for gymnastics training and circus productions as opposed to the other way around. I was never like anyone else in my school, and so they never understood my discipline or devotion to my sport. As a result, I almost always felt separate, somehow left out.

In eighth grade, I discovered how to hold a handstand; because they take up almost the same amount of space as if I were standing, I could do handstands anywhere, anytime. And so, in typical Maia-fashion, this became my new obsession. Anytime I was bored in gym class or if a teacher left the room, upside down I would be found. Upside down was my favourite way to be. I felt safe upside down.

There have been times in my life when this part of my identity was taken away for a time, and I struggled to find any sense of grounding without the thing I defined myself by. These were some of the hardest times of my life so far – I felt as though my world had dropped out from underneath me and did all I could just to get my head above water once again.

When I was eleven, I injured my back and had to take a break from training altogether. Food became my solace, and I spent the vast majority of my time watching videos and reading magazines about gymnastics, plotting the path of my comeback and rise towards my Olympic dream. I gained a lot of weight during my time off, and coming back was hard, much harder than I’d anticipated. A year and a half later, however, I started to see some success. Gymnastics was still the thing that defined me. I can do this, I thought.

When I tore my ACL five years later, I spent the first six weeks convinced nothing bad had happened. It was just a sprain, a minor setback, and I would be able to compete in three weeks, just as planned. I may have been determined, but determination will only get you so far when it comes to a legitimate injury. When I finally saw a doctor, it turned out I’d been wrong – I had torn the ACL and damaged the meniscus, and I would need surgery to repair both. I was devastated and terrified for many reasons all at once. In an instant I knew this one truth: it was time to move on.

So I left the sport for which I had lost my passion and pursued circus full time. Circus had always had a playful energy for me, and I didn’t realize how intense it could become at the time. You can put unnecessary amounts of pressure on yourself anywhere, and over time my relationship to circus grew strained. I clung to my craft with fear, fear of who I would be without it, that I would lose the body I’d worked so hard to maintain.

When the pain in my wrist became unbearable, it had already been hurting for many months. I was overtraining with bad alignment and not enough strength training to support the skill-base I was working to build. And so for two months, I couldn’t do any handstands. Maybe it was good for the partner work I was doing, but I felt as though I’d lost a piece of myself. Who would I be without handstands? How could I ever be good enough?

Each time I was forced to step away from my “doing,” I spent the whole time focused on doing everything I could to get back what I’d lost. I never allowed myself to pause, to feel remotely happy for any reason – how could I with this piece of me gone?

I realize now this created a clinginess, an energy of fear that made my training an obsession as opposed to something I truly enjoyed. I grew so attached to this doing and becoming I never took a moment to step back and learn who I am at my core.

About a month ago, my body started talking loudly again. I’d been ignoring a nagging pain in my right upper body for about a year, and my body was telling me it’d had enough. At first, I was deeply upset – I’d made so much progress, wouldn’t I lose it all and be forced to start from the beginning again? I began seeking treatment and inevitably, have had to take a break from hand balancing again.

This time, the process is no less scary than it was before, but my approach to my healing is a significantly different one.

I’ve decided to give my body the space and rest it needs to heal, truly heal from everything it’s been through over the last number of years. Sitting still is not my forte, but I am learning – your body will tell you what it needs if you only listen. My entire right shoulder is shifted up, higher than the left; this lack of blood flow and strength has caused a tilt in my body that will not go away on its own.

Indeed, I do need to go back to the basics and teach my body how to move again. Frustrating as it is, I know this process will enable me to continue to do what I love for far longer than I would if I kept training on a maligned joint. I am learning to be patient because I know it will be worth it in the long run.

I tell myself, love, love, LOVE. I love you, even when you feel broken. You are healing, and you will be stronger and even more beautiful for it, just like those Japanese pots that have shattered and been pieced back together with liquid gold.

I am approaching my healing from a place of love: loving my body and all it does for me every day, love for my craft and who I am at my core. I can still be happy without all the doing and aspiring and becoming. I can be happy right here, right now because life is pretty damn beautiful, no matter where you are.

Last week, I faced that question once again: who am I? Doubt and Fear lingered like shadows around the edges. Who am I, if I’m not a hand balancer? Would people still like me and respect me and want me in their life? Or am I utterly worthless without this skill?

So I began looking for answers. I genuinely do believe we are worth so much more than what we do, I’ve just struggled to define what that means for myself. Often when we let a problem sit in the back of our brain, the subconscious mind will come up with answers. A few hours later, my mind submitted a few tentative answers. A little later, I had a few more.

Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you make them feel.” It’s not always the doing that has the most enduring impact – sometimes it’s the simplest little things that count the most.

So who are you, deep down in your core? I challenge you to stop your doing for a second and just sit with this question. Because I promise you, doing things is important in life, but it’s not everything – there’s something more.

***

Something that has helped me in the past: VIA Strength Finders Test

Be You

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

Alright, I’ll admit it: I have a great appreciation for quotes. I began collecting them when I was young. I spent hours flipping through inspirational books, folding over corners on pages I loved and highlighting ideas that struck me as true. They were things I wanted to remember. When I grew a little older, this time was spent on the computer, which I learned can be a bit of a rabbit hole in of itself. It’s funny, I began to realize, after a time many quotes began to say the same things, just in a different way.

Still, I continued to collect new ones. Quotes would be written down, transferred to notebooks and sticky notes and plastered all over my walls. There were quotes that became like mantras written on the inside of my mind – I would repeat to myself over and over again, particularly during challenging times. This particular quote was first said by Dr. Seuss, and it’s one of my all-time favourites. There is something in those words I find so comforting, even if I’ve struggled to validate their truth.

I would like to tell you I’ve never struggled to be myself, but if I did, I would be lying. Simple doesn’t always mean easy, and I seem to like to make things a lot harder for myself than they actually need to be.

My brain is like a sponge. I am constantly amazed by the amount of information it can soak up and retain. Sometimes this skill can be an incredible asset – I have endless amounts of data filed away for the day it might be useful, studying was never that hard, and I can pick up on new dance choreography with relative ease, so long as I am actually paying attention.

That is the key – focus. Our brains are truly powerful machines that process tens of thousands of thoughts every single day. How do you spend your thoughts? With so much going on in my mind at all times, I know I am very good at entertaining myself. This also means I am at risk of checking out of the present moment if I am bored by what I am doing and losing track of time if I’m interested. This is only sometimes funny when a professor asks you a question and you realize you were actually a million miles away, what were we talking about again?

At other times, my sponginess can be incredibly annoying. I can pick up on the fears, habits and beliefs of the people around me easily, without a conscious thought. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with – we all are. I find I adapt and change in ways I don’t even notice until I do something completely out of character and someone calls me out.

I lose myself in others.

Speaking your truth and living by your values shouldn’t be difficult, but it often is. Not because these things aren’t important to us, but because we have an instinctual desire to be accepted by our tribe, by the people we surround ourselves with. The notion of stepping outside of that can be terrifying. Fear works real hard to get us to fit in, or at the very least do something sensible like following along some predetermined path, we can do that, right? Not always. There comes a point in any life where you have to leap without the assurance of what comes next. You have to live your own story.

It’s funny to look back on my goals from the last number of years, how they’ve changed and shifted course. I can see how the media I was consuming and the people I looked up to at any given point directly influenced the steps I thought I should take.

As a young gymnast, Nastia Liukin was my idol. I watched her fly to Olympic glory in 2008 and dreamed that I would do the same…one day. A little older, I watched acrobatic duos on Instagram attend one of the most prestigious schools for circus arts in the world and I wanted to be just like them…one day. When I discovered author Julie Kagawa’s series, The Iron Fey, I absolutely fell in love with the characters and the way her writing compelled me on a journey filled with romance and plot twists. For a while, my writing began to sound just like hers, but I never took note of this small fact. I would publish a novel and be successful just like her…one day.

I latched onto the dreams of others because admitting to my own dreams made me feel foolish. And vulnerable – too vulnerable. What if someone laughed at me or thought less of me because of what I aspired to become? It’s one way to live with your living, beating heart on your sleeve, and that my friends, is terrifying. So for many years when my dreams came knocking, I politely declined. I took steps on the paths others had laid down before me because, if it worked for them, why wouldn’t it work for me?

My own dreams do exist. They’re there. When I think about them, I can feel my face light up…but then there is the Fear.

I feared my dreams might seem selfish or stupid or insignificant in comparison to the aspirations of those around me. Even as recently as the last few months, I looked to the people who have inspired me to see how they reached their level of success. I considered going to regular university even though my gut told me otherwise. I tried on styles and patterns and platforms like one does hats – which one suited me best?

The answer, it turns out, was none of them. Often the road to our dreams can appear daunting – we see the goal looming over us on a snowcapped mountaintop, distant and far beyond our reach. We have no idea how we’ll get there. The path is unclear, riddled with fog and forks in the road. We are fully aware that some of these paths lead to dead ends while others will help us get further up the mountain. We just don’t know which one is which.

You could follow a path someone laid out before you. You could take every one of those steps and maybe you’ll find success…for a time. This option may seem logical or easy, but the truth is, life doesn’t work this way. The exact combination of steps that worked for others will not work for you because you are not them. You are your own person with your own experience, memories, circumstance and desires. Because you are your own person, you have your own journey to take. Yes, do listen to your elders and learn from those who have gone before you. But do not try to copy their story word for word because I can promise you this: it will not work.

If you can see the whole path laid out before you, it isn’t your path.

For much of my life, I have struggled. I have felt this constant pull: I am simultaneously too much and never enough to fit in. I’m a little different than the people around me, but never quite different enough to be considered a freak. I am a creative but I am also an intellectual…but I am also a hand balancer and baker and entrepreneur and friend. I am passionate about so many things it makes it nearly impossible to become too obsessive about any particular one, because if I spent my time feeling guilty for the time I spent doing handstands or writing or researching all the ways we can help reduce pollution, I would never get anything done.

No, I’m not the right combination of just enough and not too much to fit in or be anyone that I’m not. But I AM the perfect blend of elements to create a very unique compound: I am perfectly me. And you are too.

I hereby declare that you have permission to stop being anyone you’re not.

So go be you.

On Getting Unstuck

I am a writer.

It has never been hard for me to say those words. I am a writer, and I’ve been telling people I am a writer from the time I was eight years old. I know of many incredible writers who had trouble stating this same fact until they had something to show for it: a viable career, a substantial income, a few successful books published. When I was young, I never had this same need for external validation and I didn’t know the stigma attached to the profession, so I was never shy about the fact this was who I was, who I wanted to become. No one else got to decide if I was a writer. A writer is someone who writes. I write, therefore I am a writer. End of story. No questions asked.

We are who we are, simple as that…except for when it’s not.

I still consider writing to be a respectable profession – we translate stories and information for the world. I believe this is essential. But the world does not always agree. As I grew older, I became aware of this discrepancy, and so there were times where I have conveniently forgotten this vital truth. I got busy doing other things. I surrounded myself with people who did not understand this deeply intellectual side of me, and so into hiding it went.

The thing is, I am a writer. Writing is the thing I cannot-not do. It is how I make sense of my thoughts every day, how I connect and interact with the world. We are more than what we do and yet, so much of who we are is manifest in what we do. There are some things inside of us that just need to come out. To tell me to stop writing is like telling me to stop breathing. I cannot stop if I wish to live.

Perhaps I am being a little dramatic when I say I consider writing to be essential to life – I am sure I could go on living without a pen in my hand or a means to share my words. But if there is one thing I have come to know about myself it is this: a Maia who is not writing is an unhappy Maia. Sometimes the lack of time or mental space to write is the thing that causes the unhappiness, and other times I am certain the unhappiness causes the lack of writing. Either way, it is a signal that I need to take a step back and re-examine my life because something needs to change.

Writing is an extension of the core of who I am.

We all have something like this, some character trait or thing we do that is just quintessentially us. What is that thing for you? Some people I know are the funniest people in my world. If they stop cracking jokes, I get concerned. Others are singers or builders or they love to cook and have people over at their house to enjoy a lovely dinner. It doesn’t matter what your “thing” is, but I promise you there is something only you can do in the way you do it. And I know I grow deeply unhappy if that thing is not in my life.

In the last couple of weeks, I have been struggling real hard to get anything decent down on paper. I’ve tried starting many essays like this one here, only nothing I wrote went anywhere. I would sit there with my pen and paper for two hours and come up with nothing to show for it. Less than half a page of coherent thought and a million unused words later, I would give up and turn to another task.

It became something of a vicious cycle. It is hard not to feel like a failure when nothing you do feels good enough. I began to feel as if I was climbing a steep sand dune with the wind blowing viciously in my face, effectively preventing me from making any progress at all. One step forward, three steps back. Two steps forward, four steps back. On and on it went until this week I said ENOUGH. I am done with this stupid cycle and feeling sorry for myself.

All artists struggle with creative blocks from time to time. It is simply a part of our profession. I have found, however, that these blocks don’t just show up with some greater reason for being there.

It is so easy for us to get stuck in a loop of seeing all the things that aren’t working. Inevitably, the more we stare at these things without doing anything about them, the more they start to show up. It was like I was looking for confirmation that I am a failure. We have to be the ones to recognize when we have fallen into a rut. We have to be the ones to physically shake ourselves to get moving again, to get out of the space in which we are stuck. No one else can do this for us.

There are many reasons we can become blocked at any given time, but the biggest one is this: we fail to take care of our bodies, the home in which our creative mind lives. So often we take for granted all the amazing things our bodies do for us on a daily basis, things to which we do not give a second thought. They breathe without us asking them to and carry us wherever we need to go. They heal themselves when they are sore or broken, and enable us to take care of the ones we love most.

Our bodies can handle a lot, but they have their limits too. When we are approaching the edges of our limits, they will give us warning signs with increasing intensity until all at once they yell STOP. At this point, they will sit down in the middle of the road and throw a tantrum like a cranky toddler, refusing to go anywhere until you give them what they need.

Allow me to remind you of something we all like to conveniently forget from time to time: you need to listen to your body.

Sleep deprivation is not a badge of honour, and it really does matter what you eat. Our bodies were made to move, so make sure you move yours every day. Water – drink more water. If you are thirsty, you’ve waited too long. Also related to water, crying is good. Not crying means not dealing with your emotions and without release, where do you expect all that pent-up energy to go? No, working more is not the answer. I repeat: if you are feeling depleted or numb from emotions you are not dealing with, working more is most certainly not the answer. I am speaking from experience when I say, please find a way to let it out. Your heart will thank you for it in the end.

We need to take care of our hearts just as we take care of our bodies, especially after we face something as painful as rejection or loss. If we don’t, it can severely undermine our confidence moving forward.

I am especially guilty of this. The Japanese say, “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” For much of my life, I have worked to live by this proverb. When I faced injury or rejection, I always tried to see the opportunity within hours of the hit. I am not very good at staying down for long. I like to pick myself back up again and keep moving, keep busy, keep doing things and searching for new goals when an old one doesn’t work out.

I am not very good at sitting with emotional pain, but in the last number of months, I have learned. Emotions are funny things. If we do not deal with our feelings as they come up, they will get stuck in our bodies, potentially causing physical weakness or pain or injury. As I am working through a long-term physical injury of my own, I am learning to observe sensations as they come up, which effectively triggers memories. Sometimes someone would make me feel uneasy or angered by what they said. Never speaking up for what I was feeling, I would shove it down and hold tension in my right shoulder instead.

Most of all, I have been struggling with a lack of confidence in myself. Read: constantly standing with poor posture, slightly deflated to make my body seem smaller than it really is.

Ah, Doubt, my old friend. That little voice in your head that constantly undermines everything you do and likes to ask you if you’re really good enough. Like, are you sure? I saw this person over there and they’re way better than you at this thing you’ve only been doing for three years. I mean, yes, they have double your experience but anything you do is worthless next to them, so what’s the point?

Yes, I am a writer. But that phrase carries with it a little more doubt than it did eleven years ago. This is a curious phenomenon – I’ve put in thousands of hours into honing my craft and yet…Doubt sees my experience as nothing. Worthless. It has been a challenge for me to validate my experience because there are no degrees behind my name. I did not graduate from university with a BA in Creative Writing. I did not go to grad school to become a certified Poet or novelist or writer of creative non-fiction. I’ve opted to attend the school of life instead, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my education thus far. The best part is this: it’s never-ending.

I am a writer because I write. Not because I have some paper hanging on my wall that says I am a writer. In fact, it is entirely possible that I have more experience than some people who do. And I do not say that to be cocky, I am just stating a fact. I am a writer because I write and I will continue to write and share my writing for as long as I have things to say.

Yes, there will be periods where I am not feeling inspired. Yes, there will be hard days. But I can and will choose to show up anyway.

There is a fine balance between being kind to yourself and making excuses on a daily basis. I was falling into the later until this morning when I woke up and declared I would write (and publish) this essay. This is a balance I am continually seeking to find – life is changing all the time. If there is one thing these last few weeks have taught me, it is this: choose your commitments wisely. If you make a promise to yourself you will do something, the follow through is the most important part. This is how we build confidence in ourselves. This is how we learn to trust.

Rise

Hope. What is hope?

The dictionary defines hope as a verb: “to look forward with desire and reasonable confidence; to believe, desire or trust; to feel that something desired may happen sometime in the unforeseeable future.” I have been struggling with this word a lot lately, particularly in the last number of months. Maybe I should have looked up the definition a little sooner, maybe it would have given me some insight into the piece of the puzzle I was missing all along.

The concept of hope does not resonate with everyone, and I have had an incredibly hard time understanding why.

What is it that enables some people to keep going with a smile on their face even after enduring extreme hardship, while others give into the darkness after hardly anytime at all? Why wouldn’t everyone want this ability, this capacity for staying strong? I asked myself again and again but never got any closer to an answer that made any sense and satisfied my need to know.

I thought it was hope, but the definition I just read is not what I am describing at all. This definition means living in the future instead of showing up for your life as it is. It means not-so-blissful ignorance, sometimes refusing to change course when the winds shift. It is the hope that can be a false friend at times, fickle in the face of fear. It leaves you dreaming of a better day but often fails to get you to stand up and take action when the world pushes you out into a bloody fray.

Maybe hope isn’t the word I’m looking for after all. Maybe it’s something else, something more poignant, more capable of withstanding life’s raging storms.

The essence of what I see is a resilience, a stubborn joy and a love for the present moment, whatever that may look like at any given time. It is a willingness to sit with discomfort, to know that nothing is permanent and that this too shall pass. Life is constantly changing but this quality, this is the friend you can always count, the one that sticks around even after you’ve told him to go away.

Know there is beauty wherever you are right now, whatever you are celebrating or struggling with or holding on to through the night. Let yourself feel and cry and laugh and dance as you wander along your path. There is an ebb and flow to be found in living; if we let ourselves ride the current we will find there is a lightness of being, of life. A life raft is no longer necessary when each of us becomes our own light.

Buoyancy.

Buoyancy – that’s the word I’m looking for. Be your own life buoy in the ebb and flow of life. Be gentle with yourself but also don’t be afraid to take action. Through the heaviness of the things that weigh us down, each of us can rise.

Give and Take

Confession No. 3: I am not very good at asking for help.

Does anyone else ever feel this way? I have a feeling I am not alone.

In his recent book, Give and Take, bestselling author Adam Grant shares that there are three kinds of people in the world: givers, takers and matchers. We all show up in different ways in the world, falling at different points along the spectrum in different areas and at different points in our life. Our tendencies can change, but we tend to have a default setting we return to time and time again, evident in the way we approach our relationships and interactions every day.

The names for these categories are somewhat self-explanatory. Takers go through life with the goal of accumulating more than everyone else, winning at the expense of someone else. They have no issues putting their needs before someone else’s. Givers do just the opposite – they habitually put the needs of others before their own. Givers give without the expectation of getting anything in return, sometimes without a thought of their own well-being and oftentimes at their own expense.

Matchers are the most common among us, falling somewhere in between. This is the way many people go through life, simply following others’ lead. When matchers are surrounded by givers, they too will become givers. When they are surrounded by takers, they will match that level of stinginess and look out for themselves, because who else will? Matchers operate on a kind of transactional basis, looking to get out of a relationship exactly what they put in – nothing more, nothing less.

For most of my life, I have tended to lean towards the giver end of the spectrum, but like anyone else, my relationship with give and take has been a complicated one.

In elementary school, I remember cycling through a few best friends, never really secure in my social status in the hierarchy that we all know exists, even at that age. I was never like the other kids – I lived a life that was very much foreign to my peers, and they could never understand me for it. Even as a child, I lived a life of discipline. Training and spending time with my family were the most important things, and I often spent my free time writing. I was fairly gifted at a number of different things, but I also worked hard to achieve a level of skill with intention. Both creative and mathematically inclined, my education continued beyond the walls of the classroom. My dad and I would practice numbers in our basement, and I loved to do research on the topics that interested me.

My grades were always good and the teachers liked me, the quintessential “teacher’s pet.” I think this caused some jealousy and insecurity among my peers, who never seemed to stick around. One day I would look up, and the girl who I thought was my best friend had ditched me for someone else, leaving me alone once again.

There was never any explanation for this abandonment, and so I never really understood why they’d left. What had I done wrong? I thought I’d only been generous with my time and my energy and this was how they chose to respond?

As it turns out, many people don’t know what to do with this level of generosity. Receiving makes them uncomfortable when they don’t know what to give in return.

Things improved a little in high school. I still found myself in a number of friendships that didn’t work out, ones that would be there in the times that served them but chose to leave in the times that didn’t. For some friends, they found it easy to be around me when I was hurting but disappeared in the times I was going strong. Others turned to me when they needed a listening ear and left as soon as they’d figured everything out.

People will come and go as you go through life – only a few will really stick around. These are the true friends (I’m looking at you, Natasha!) who you can really count on, the ones you know have your back. But even within these friendships, I have always struggled to ask for help. I am much more comfortable being the helper than the one in need, much better at giving advice or holding space for someone to share their thoughts than I am receiving it. I don’t want to be a burden. I’ve always struggled to believe I deserve this love when in reality, we don’t have to do anything to deserve it. We all do, just the way we are.

In some ways, I find it much easier to be vulnerable with people I barely know. Once I reach a level of closeness with a person, I find it nearly impossible to keep anything from them and yet I fear what they may say when I do share my thoughts. I am terrified of what they may think of me, that they may judge me for my fears or insecurities rather than support me as I know I would them.

We are all our own worst critics. What we don’t realize is that the closer we get to another person, the more we blur the lines of seperation between how we treat them and how we treat ourselves.

Susan Piver describes the phenomenon in this podcast and in her book, The Four Nobel Truths of Love. The easiest example can be found in romantic relationships. Once we have been in a relationship for a while and have surpassed the infatuation stage, discomfort and conflict can and will arise. We grow frustrated with our partner for the little things we do, and it becomes easy to focus on every little thing that annoys us. In the moments we find ourselves angry or irritated, the natural course of action is to lash out. In reality, we should do just the opposite: take a step back and observe the problem from a distance. A relationship a mirror that reflects back to us what is going on inside. If we cannot be accepting and gracious with ourselves, how can we expect to be understanding of others?

In this way, the biggest thing we can do to improve how we show up in the world is improve our relationship with our self. Where do you need healing? Where do you need help? Learn to view yourself through a lens of understanding: sometimes you are strong and awesome, sometimes you are in pain or tired or weak. Sometimes you are a pain in the ass and other times you are not – this is the way it should be.

We could all learn to be a little more understanding of ourselves and the people around us, especially givers. With their willingness to put the needs of others above their own, givers often end up suffering at work and in their personal lives. They are at an increased risk of developing depression and eating disorders and even take lower salaries at work.

On the contrary, givers who can learn to fill their own cup and give from a place of plenty, these are some of the most successful people in the world. They thrive in the midst of fulfilling lives because they are willing to give so much of themselves in a way takers and matchers do not. People may feel slighted when takers succeed but they celebrate the success of givers. The attitude of abundance is contagious – and the world needs it now more than ever.

I am learning that asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather the acknowledgement that you can’t do everything on your own, which you can’t – trust me, I’ve tried. Being vulnerable enough to ask for help shows the people in your life you trust them. Relationships are a balance of give-and-take that, like all things, takes time to learn.

Each day when you go out into the world, you have a decision to make. You can operate from a place of scarcity – where there is never enough to go around – or you can operate from a place of abundance. What do you choose?

To fear or to trust?