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?

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.

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?

On Punctuating Unfinished Sentences

I have a confession to make: I am not very good at sitting in in-between spaces. I would much rather things just be simple for once, thank you very much, but alas, I now know this is not the way life works.

Life is messy, much messier than I would like sometimes.

My dad always likes to remind me that as a kid, I was quite the perfectionist. I mean, I still am now, to some extent. But this was to the extreme. When I was learning to read, my nightly ritual would go something like this. I would pick out a storybook with the goal being to read it aloud to my mother when she came home from teaching dance. First, I would read the book by myself in my room once or twice to get a feel for the cadence of the sentences and the way they felt in my mouth. Then, I would read it to my dad, so he could correct any mistakes I might be making. Finally, I would read it to my mother who would hopefully be very impressed by my grasp of the English language and I could go to sleep knowing I’d done something well that day.

The thing is, most of the rest of life is not like this.

You do not get several chances to provide the right answers for your final exam in high school or that interview for a job you really want to get. Sometimes people are forgiving – they will give you a second chance, or a third if you’re really lucky, but we do not live in a world of unlimited do-overs. At some point, you have to wake up to the mistakes you’ve made and will continue to make throughout your life so that you can learn to do things differently and make new mistakes next time. You can’t normally anticipate a mistake before you make it, either. And sometimes a mistake isn’t really a mistake, it’s just a detour on to a different path than you were planning. That’s why they say vision in hindsight is 20/20.

This all makes the perfectionist in me deeply uncomfortable and a little restless. “I can’t predict the future?” she likes to ask. Again. And again. And again. “Really? Are you sure?”

To which my response will always be no. You can’t. You just have to deal with life as it comes. In one of my favourite quotes by Maya Angelou, she says, “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.” This is resilience. This is accepting the messiness of life and continuing on anyways, even when the going gets tough. Angelou knew a thing or two about this: she was faced with challenges, yet she managed to rise each time, like a phoenix from the ashes, stronger than when she’d gotten knocked down. What an inspiration.

Life has given me a fair bit of practice in throwing curveballs of late. In just a few short weeks, I will be packing up my life and moving to a new apartment a few blocks from where I am living now. This move may not be far, but it is happening much earlier than I anticipated it would. Finding the place was an adventure in itself, both mentally and physically. I searched streets and the interwebs for what felt like forever. It was a stressful, emotional rollercoaster, but I survived the trauma, and I’m excited now. I’m also a little envious of all my things that can be so neatly categorized and organized into boxes.

I think I’ve always liked the idea of boxes more than I actually liked fitting inside those boxes myself. Until I was six or seven years old, I couldn’t comprehend the meaning of the sentence, please put things back where they came from. My room looked like a tornado had come and we had never cleaned up the debris. There were clothes and books and toys everywhere, so much so you couldn’t see the floor. I thought it was weird to be able to see the floor. It unnerved me.

Clearly, I was just a creative mess of a small human being. I used to love making my own drawings and cards for people I loved – forget colouring books, that was boring. I would create and play in my imaginary worlds all the time. Then came time for elementary school. I’m not sure what happened around the time I started first grade, but it was like a flip switched overnight. I cleaned my room, started making my bed and didn’t look back. No, it wasn’t perfect, but it was a start. I loved to collect things; I didn’t yet understand that there was no way I would ever use all these things but found some satisfaction in their acquisition. At least you could see the floor, and each thing I owned had a home in which it lived.

I began colouring in colouring books and on assigned sheets of paper at school, always trying my best to stay inside the lines. Maybe I became aware of the very real risk of failure and the consequences of making mistakes. Maybe I’d spent too much time around scared adults who already existed in that world where you simply couldn’t afford to make mistakes. But alas, this was the time the perfectionist in me truly came out for the first time in my life. She had no qualms taking control of my actions for several years, sponsoring Doubt and Fear so they might back up her message. “Don’t try new things,” she whispered persistently. “You might embarrass yourself if you do, and that would be the end of you.” She always has been a bit of a drama queen.

Eventually, I was forced to confront the fact that life is not printed in black and white the way I’d once believed.

Sometimes things happen that don’t make sense. Bad things can happen to good people. Good things happen to people who haven’t put in the work. People who do bad things are not evil – even they have some shred of goodness left in them, however deep it may be buried. I learned people often act out of fear or anger. Or sometimes they are just very, very confused. The world does not function in black and white, but rather an infinite number of shades of grey. Just when you think you have the spectrum all mapped out, you notice a new tone you’ve never seen before, and you find yourself back at square one.

I’ve learned that never and forever are two of the most dangerous and misleading words in the English language. Or any language, for that matter. They are absolutes, and they trick us into thinking some things in life are permanent and we have been able to distinguish which ones those are. For the longest time, I was convinced I would never live on my own. Look at me now.

Right now, my life is all about sitting in those uncomfortable, in between spaces. I do not know what comes next. But I do know what is important to me, and I do know what I want to build my life around. I am learning to let go of the idea that I have to have the step-by-step process figured out. It is okay to admit there are things I don’t know.

When you admit there is something you don’t know, you are opening yourself up to the answer. It is the key that enables you to grow. It is important not to set up too many constraints or blockades for yourself unless you know it goes directly against your values, or what you want most in life. If it is a bridge you used to get away from something deeply unhealthy, please do go ahead and burn that bridge. And there are a few doors truly are better left untouched. But often there are many more ways to go about life than the ones we limit ourselves to, we could see if we weren’t so tethered to being right.

I am not a huge fan run on sentences or paragraphs that last forever. I am a punctuation junkie – I love to use commas and periods and semi-colons, sometimes in places where it is not necessary. Sometimes I put too many commas in a sentence that should be two shorter ones, or I’ll put a period where there need not be one at all. Learning to write is like learning to live – it is a process of trying things and editing and finding your style. It is a journey I embark on every day.

The grammar rules in life are not so simple, however. In fact, I’m not sure there is even a guidebook to describe all the nuances out there. Sometimes what looks like a period is really a comma in disguise. Or we’ve thrown out the comma all together in favour of an ellipsis, a pause prescribed to last an indefinite amount of time…

Look in the Mirror

Sometimes I wish I could observe the world through another person’s eyes. Perception is such an intriguing topic – every last person on earth today experiences the world differently than you or I. And I mean this in the most literal sense. No two people can look at the sky and see the exact same shade of blue. To some, classical music is the most beautiful sound in the world, and to others, it will put them to sleep. One person may love the taste of mangoes, while another will be left at the mercy of nausea after one bite because of that one time in Guatemala when they contracted food poisoning and that was the last thing they had ate before they threw up for twenty-four hours, nearly nonstop, and they know they are not allergic but they just really do not want to relive that memory, thank you very much.

We all collect a series of assumptions as we go through life about the ways in which the world works, and we tend to expect everyone else to share those same set of rules, too. Even when they don’t.

Travel is one easy way to confront the very things you tend to take for granted on a daily basis. The culture we grow up in heavily influences so many of the decisions we make without thinking, relying on our subconscious brain to do the work. This set of rules is a sort of guidebook for how we should show up in the world, the language we should use and the way we should interpret others’ actions or words. It is so deeply ingrained in us we hardly ever stop to think about it or question where a certain belief came from, we just accept it as fact and move on. We need something concrete to build a foundation on, after all, something solid from which we can act.

Constantly questioning things is exhausting. There are certain evolutionary traits that exist in humans that have enabled us to survive for thousands of years, and this guidebook is one of them. It simplifies life for our brain, just like stereotypes do. Instinctively, we want to stick close to our tribe and avoid the “other.” So it is easy for us to get caught up in the business of living, to forget to reflect or question things at all, even when we become dissatisfied with the way things are.

This is because, until very recently, we simply couldn’t. Our brain was taught to ignore the fact that there might be another way, perhaps just beyond our doorstep. But times have changed. We can override our brain’s tendency to avoid other ways of life. First, however, we must be willing to venture out of our comfort zone and expand our point of view.

There are usually a few rules in our guidebook we skim over, never really taking a closer look into how they govern our life.

During my recent trip to Iceland, I was confronted with one of these rules that owned me for several years in a way I wish it never had. When I was eleven years old, I sustained a back injury that put me out for several months. I had always been a very active child, running and playing both in and outside of the gym, and this sudden inactivity was a shock to my body. Inevitably, I gained a lot of weight in a short period of time. After several months of rest, I returned to the gym, no longer the little girl I’d once been. It was as if I’d become a woman overnight – I hardly recognized this body I was attempting to flip around. Add to this the skin-tight bodysuits and tiny teammates, and it was a recipe for some serious insecurities surrounding my physical form. Thus began a battle between my mind and my body that would last several years.

Sometime before adolescence, I’d had an image ingrained in my brain of the ideal body: that was, I should have thin, lean, long limbs and a tiny torso to accentuate my hips. I always admired the gymnasts who had this graceful look over the short, powerful types. When you’re an active kid, it’s easy to maintain this stature. But in time, I grew to envy these long lean girls who could eat whatever they wanted and not worry about putting on a single pound. My body type was something quite different, and I fought, hard.

When I was fourteen, I thought I’d discovered a way to hack my body type to get the look I craved. If I cut out all grains and dairy and ate a diet consisting purely of vegetables, fruit, poultry, fish and a few select superfoods, I found those lean limbs within reach. I started doing cardio five to six days per week in addition to my gymnastics and circus training, and I was terrified of the consequences if I missed a few hours or stepped out of line.

My devotion to this way of life came from all the wrong reasons, and I grew to fear my body.

I would stare at the mirror and pull at non-existent fat around my waist, sucking in my abs as much as I could. Anytime someone took a photo or video of me, I would inevitably hate the way I looked. In the few times I felt I was beautiful, I was nearly always at my skinniest, skinny to a point that scares me to look at now. Ultimately, the image I saw when I looked at myself didn’t match reality, didn’t match what everyone else saw when they observed this tiny girl grow tinnier with every passing month. People I hardly knew were worried about my well being. I was skin and bones and wiry muscle, constantly tired and hungry and cranky.

You are not your body – you are so much more than the figure that other people see. Somewhere along the way, I forgot this little piece of information, and my self-worth became inextricably attached to the way I felt about my body on any given day. I thought this was the only way for me to live; I never criticised others for their lifestyle, I never told anyone they should adopt my way of life. Maybe this should have been a huge red flag, but my brain never got the message. I’ve always been better at helping others than I have at letting myself be helped, and in this instance, it went far too far.

It is easy to lie to yourself for a period of time, but at one point you have to wake up. A little more than a year ago, my parents sat me down and told me this needed to change. For the first time, they managed to get me to see how unhealthy I’d become, how this way of life had become a dangerous habit that could actually put my life in danger if we didn’t do something immediately. Thus, the long road to recovery began.

I think many of our issues about our bodies stem from the stories we learn from the culture we grow up in.

Visiting the thermal pools in Iceland made me realize how much more comfortable people are with their bodies over there. In the pools, you are required to strip naked and shower before you put on your bathing suit and enter the water. Thing is, there are no individual stalls – it’s all communal showers. There is no hiding. But no one really cares what anyone else looks like. Women and girls of all ages adhered to this rule, going about their own business no matter their shape or size. I think it’s a healthy thing for young girls growing up to see this kind of attitude surrounding bodies. There is no fear, no judgement, just acceptance. Everyone has a body with their own strengths and flaws, that’s just the way it is.

While this ritual made me uncomfortable, it forced me to confront the messaging I’d accumulated growing up. This idea that we should all be air-brushed models and do everything in our power to reverse the ageing process is false. Bodies are not meant to be feared; they are meant to be loved and appreciated for all they do for us every day.

I’m not saying these body positivity campaigns don’t still make me uncomfortable. This issue is something I’m still working on like anyone else. I am a short, athletic yet curvy young woman who builds muscle easily with use, and I am learning to own this fact now.

Take a look in the mirror, really stop and look this time. Every body is a good body – so love yours just the way it is.

Uncertainty

Recently, I’ve observed an interesting pattern that seems to recur throughout life. That is, nothing ever goes the way you expect. Even the best-laid plans can go awry sometimes. Or often. Or all the time.

If there is anything life has taught me in the last number of months, it is this: there is great value in being able to go with the flow and adapt to whatever comes your way, for better or for worse. Something that seems like a tragedy at the moment can be the best thing that ever happened to you – and vice versa. Uncertainty is part of the beauty of life. You never really quite know what is going on until you can look back and say, ah, I see it now.

There is no way to anticipate the future, and there is no one straight path to get where you’re going in life, whether you like it or not.

You make a decision, and that decision leads you down one avenue or the next, which in turn leads to the next fork in the road and on to the next. It’s not a matter of right or wrong, but more a matter of choices.

There was a time in my life when I created a highly regimented schedule and set of rules that I used to govern every decision I made. It was all self-imposed; I thought I knew what I wanted, and I was convinced I knew the best way to get there. I suppose every teen goes through a phase of thinking they know best, and mine just looked a little different than most people my age.

While my peers began to explore an ever-expanding world of choices, I confined myself to a shrinking prison of discipline and all the things that I knew were safe. They went to parties and tried alcohol, and I stayed home and played with new restrictions I could add to my diet. I had a set of exercises I would do each night after I came home already exhausted from a five-hour training session, and I wouldn’t let myself go to bed until they were done. Heaven forbid I touch a piece of chocolate or bowl of potatoes. If I did, the guilt would consume me until I did some extra cardio, even if I had already spent twenty-six hours at the gym that week. Or I might just explode.

It was an extremely limited, stressful way to live, one that was  entirely unsustainable in the long run.

I missed out on a lot during those six years of adolescence. I became increasingly delusional in my pursuit of a goal that was not my own, but rather one I’d adopted from some gymnasts I admired. There was no more passion in gymnastics for me – I was burnt out and tired beyond measure. People I hardly knew were worried about me, but I stubbornly refused the facts staring me in the face until I couldn’t any longer. The illusion came crashing down, and I had to start from scratch.

What do I really want to do with my life? I asked myself again and again. At the time, I had prided myself on being so self-disciplined. I had claimed it made life easier, not to have to make so many decisions. But now I look back and think, maybe I was just scared. Scared of the unknown, scared of failure or doing something undoable I might regret.

It’s funny to think about this now. Within the span of four months following a big decision in January, I had my life turned completely upside down to an extent I did not see coming. I tried to anchor myself to something that was ultimately not meant to last, at least not in the capacity it had existed up until that point. And so it collapsed beneath the weight of so much pressure, and I was free. It was time for a change, yet I was once again terrified of having the world at my feet with nothing to hold me down.

Freedom can be terrifying.

We constantly search for external anchors in life when really, the only anchor we can rely on is the one within ourselves. At our core, we all know what we truly want, whatever that may be. We’re just too scared to go after it because doing so feels exceedingly vulnerable. We tell ourselves it is impossible because we don’t know if it has ever been done. Or at the very least, we don’t know how to accomplish it. Or we’re too busy, or too tired or comfortable for such shenanigans.

Uncertainty makes us uncomfortable, and maybe rightly so. But nothing in life is ever truly fixed or certain, and acknowledging this can give us the courage to take steps where we’ve never been before, to travel and explore.

When we are young, I believe travel is the ideal way to learn and expand the brain. I was so fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel as much as I did growing up. It is a large part of the reason I am who I am today. The world can be one of the best classrooms. Now, during one of the most formative parts of my life, the thought of being tied down to any one place for too long makes me anxious. Travel is the thing I crave.

While seeing how people exist in different parts of the world is invaluable in any capacity, flying solo increases that by tenfold. Solitude enables you to reflect on your experiences and rediscover things about yourself in a way that you cannot do when you are surrounded by the people and places you know well. We need space to hear our ourselves think.

I say “rediscover,” because I believe life is largely not a process of learning about who you are but uncovering the things you already know.

No one can ever know you better than you know yourself, as comforting as it can be to let yourself think otherwise for a time. I am in the process of learning to separate my opinions and emotions from those of the people around me. You will always be influenced in one way or another by the people you spend the most time with, but being aware that it is happening gives you the power to question whose words are coming out of your mouth and dominating your brain.

These days, I am learning to let go and trust in the process a little more. I still believe there is value in setting a direction for your life, but I also believe it is important to take opportunities as they arise. So I’ve decided to do just that, to have ideas and dreams then focus on taking baby steps and the occasional leap of faith when the cliff arrives. We’ll see where it takes me next. So far, it has led me down one pretty beautiful path.

On Healing

Healing is hard work.

Our bodies are truly incredible machines, but we so rarely stop to admire all they do for us. If we break a bone, we set it straight, place it in a cast to so we don’t use it for a while, and let our body do the rest. It regenerates the cells, literally knitting the bone and surrounding tissue back together until we are whole once again. Your conscious brain doesn’t have to do a thing. We don’t have to learn or teach our bodies how to heal themselves – they just do, all on their own.

Just imagine if we have to tell our bodies to fix themselves every time we sustained an injury, however minor or major the damage might be. Cuts and scrapes, burns and fractured limbs. How much brain power would that take? Your body may break down over the course of a lifetime, but it is so much more adaptable than we give it credit for.

Beyond major injuries and small daily pains, our cells regenerate every seven years. Your body is able to shape and recreate itself until your physical self is something brand new. Sure, we’ve learned to aid our bodies in the healing process over the years, but the majority of the work done doesn’t need our help. If we take care of our bodies in the most basic way, our bodies take care of us.

If only our emotional lives could be so simple.

When we don’t have to make a conscious effort to do something, it is so easy to take it for granted. Take breathing, for example. Without oxygen, you will die. We breathe thousands of times per day without giving it a second thought, our lungs expanding and contracting like accordions while our veins and arteries circulate blood to all parts of our bodies. It knows to take care of the most vital organs first – the brain and the heart – while we slack on our end of the deal, easily forgetting to take care of those same priorities. We compromise sleep and family time for our careers. We forget to challenge our brains in new ways in lieu of money.

If we don’t take care of our bodies, we receive a series of letters in warning before we get a slap in the face. If we don’t take care of our bodies, they break down. We can’t argue, we can’t deny the evidence any longer when it comes flying at us and we know it’s true. When it comes to our hearts, however, the story is a little different.

When it comes to what we feel inside, we can lie to ourselves a lot longer. We can wear masks and pretend to be someone else, pretend we’re not hurting inside and everything is okay.

Because we can’t physically see the decay, it’s easy to deny when we’re falling apart inside. We can reach a literal breaking point and still force ourselves to keep going, keep smiling and keep moving forward with complete disregard for what is going on inside. In reality, this is no way to live a life. People can smell inauthenticity from a mile away – they can see when you’re not being honest with yourself better than you can. We like to look in our side mirrors and ignore the sign, “objects may be closer than they appear” like we left a pending explosion behind miles ago when really we’re driving with the dynamite in the back of our truck and it’s only a matter of time.

Sometimes I wonder, why is it so hard for us to be real with one another? It must take a whole lot of energy to put on a persona every day. In some ways, our culture is becoming increasingly less tolerant of inauthenticity in comparison with the last few generations. There is a movement towards sharing the struggles we all have in everyday life, towards accepting all body types and bringing awareness to mental health. Yet still, we struggle. Why is this?

Healing of any kind is hard work, but healing the heart is the hardest work of all.

We’ve all been hurt at one point or another in our life. We all have baggage we’re dragging around from past relationships, childhood fears, and the insecurities of growing up. But sometimes we forget what is in these bags we carry with us wherever we go. Sometimes we find ourselves holding onto suitcases of regret and anger and pain we should’ve jettisoned long ago. It begins to weigh us down. If we’re not careful, we can begin to lean on this baggage as part of our identity: the boy who was never seen, the girl who was never good enough. We go into new situations and relationships and find ourselves repeating the same patterns, over and over and over again, because we never dealt with the issues that grew long ago; we haven’t taken time to heal the issues that were there from the start.

Sometimes we just have to open up those suitcases to see if what’s inside is really worth holding on to, or if it’s time to make peace with that piece of your story and leave that bag under a tree by the side of the road. Dealing with the past can be incredibly painful – if you’ve walked down especially dark paths, it is not something you should explore on your own. Healing your heart takes a conscious effort, but it’s worth it.

In his TED talk on emotional pain, psychologist Guy Winch speaks about how we know now that in order to stay healthy, we need to practice first aid and hygiene. When we get a cut, we clean it and cover it with a band-aid. We fail to do the same, however, for emotional scrapes and bruises: things like loneliness, loss and heartache. Winch explains we need to learn to practice “emotional first aid” with the same diligence we do for physical wounds, in order that we may live longer, healthier and happier lives.

Be willing to feel all the feels. Tears are not something to be feared.

It is not your job to unload your baggage on to every person you meet, but I think we can all stand to be a little more honest with each other. Acting is exhausting – I’ve been there myself. I’ve watched others do the same, and it hurts my heart. Above all, we need to learn to be a little more understanding of each other’s stories so that it doesn’t seem so daunting to let our masks fall off when we encounter other people. No one is as shallow as they appear on the surface. If we can remember this, maybe we will remember to see each other as human. Maybe we’ll remember everyone has their own struggles, hopes and dreams; that no one person’s experience is any less or more valuable for the difference in intensity.

Maybe we can learn to let each other in so we can help each other heal, to make the workload a little lighter and make the road seem a little less long.

To Be Vulnerable

People. It always comes back to the people.

Until this year, I never realized how important people are to me. How I care so much that sometimes it feels like too much, how I love to do little things for the people in my life and I’m fascinated with their stories.

Before she passed away when I was five years old, my grandma Betty wrote me a letter that I was to read when I’d grown up some and reached my late teens. That letter sat in boxes, on shelves and in hidden safe places for years, until I turned sixteen and my mother passed the letter on to me. Grandma Betty was such a strong, caring and patient woman. She knew how to stay calm – that woman had a zero tolerance policy for nonsense. She did raise four boys out in the country after all. I’m sure my dad and his brothers were quite the hand full.

I have one very vivid memory of staying with Grandma up at our family’s cabin for a week in the summer when I was three. It was just the two of us. I don’t remember everything we did during that week, but I do remember how grounding it was to spend that time with her. One day, when we were coming back from the market, we drove into the little gravel driveway in front of our humble cabin, and Grandma’s face went very still. She stayed perfectly calm, telling me how we were, “just going to stay in the car for a little while.” A huge, brown mama bear came lumbering down the road with her fuzzy cub not far behind. I remember watching curiously as the bears moseyed on up the road, minding their own business. Grandma explained to me, the bears weren’t looking to cause any trouble, but if mama bear felt anyone was endangering the safety of her cub, she wouldn’t hesitate to attack. I think the same can be said for most humans – I know in myself, if I see someone mess with a person I care about, mama bear will come out and I will stand up for what I believe in.

Many of the things that define who we are at the core of our being are defined before our fifth birthday. Grandma Betty didn’t know me very long, but in her letter she nailed so many essential aspects of who I am that are true to this day. I share my my grandma’s belief that people matter – they are important and their opinions count. The first time I read some of the things she hoped I would do and become, I remember being overwhelmed by the sensation of being so well understood. Grandma did love to people watch.

“I know you will grow up to be a thoughtful and caring young woman who values her own strengths. I know how hard it is going to be for you to be a young woman who cares for others but still recognizes the importance of yourself.” This is a tightrope I know I have always struggled to walk.

Being in close relationships of any kind is one of the most challenging things in the world, because you can’t control what other people do or say. But it also one of the most rewarding.

When I care for others, I love with my whole being. I dive in and entrust them with pieces of my heart, pieces of who I am. The minute I want to really get to know a person, I walk into those relationships with my palms facing the sky, open and honest because I don’t know how to be anything else, because that’s who I am.

The willingness to be vulnerable can be seen as a weakness, or it can be seen as a great strength. But know that it does not make anyone fearless. Vulnerability is terrifying. It is living with your beating, bleeding heart on your sleeve. It is trusting that others will not take advantage of your willingness to do and be and care with every fibre of your being. And that trust can be oh, so hard.

Sometimes vulnerability hurts. I have cuts, minor burns, and a few jagged scars criss crossing the surface of my heart. We all do. You can choose to let that pain make you bitter and cynical and closed off from the world. Or you can choose to accept it, to let it make you stronger and let those be lessons learned, to let yourself be healed by the love of those around you.

Because vulnerability can be painful, but it can also be so deeply fulfilling to let others into your corner of the world.

I walk into the world with open palms because for me, there is no other way. The alternative is far more painful than anything I’ve known and oh, so lonely. In order to be honest with others, I’ve first had to learn to be honest with myself. Now I know that in order to truly love others in the way they deserve to be loved, I must first learn to love myself for who I am. I have to define who I am and what I believe, because you attract what you are, not what you want. People in life are a mirror, and the ones closest to you are a reflection of what’s going on inside.

For a long time, I’ve been frustrated – I feel like I never quite fit in anywhere, that I never had one person or one clique or one group that was my own. I’ve always felt loved by many but I was never the first person they’d call. Maybe one day I’ll find that. Maybe not. Maybe it’s easy to see all the spaces I don’t fit because instead, I’m meant to spill into all the cracks that others can’t fill. And maybe that’s okay.