Don’t be afraid to walk away from something (or someone) that is not feeding you or, even worse, is stealing your joy.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
I remember how overwhelmed I felt when I first learned to drive. Other cars were driving next to me, toward me, and maneuvering around me. There were pedestrians, cyclists, and garbage trucks to look out for while obeying signs and traffic lights and keeping command over the gearshift, gas pedal, brake, windshield wipers, headlights, seatbelts and radio. Thank God it was 1998 and there was no such thing as a backup camera, iPod connection, cell phone or built-in navigation back then…I’d probably still be in the fetal position without a license. When I was a brand new driver, my parents and driver’s ed teachers encouraged me to limit the number of distractions so I could focus on the main objective: to get where I was going, and to get there safely. Back then, I would shush my passengers (if I even had any), turn off the radio, go the speed limit, stop at yellow lights, and never even consider changing lanes without signaling. Over time, I got more comfortable behind the wheel of my little green Dodge Neon until eventually I was jamming to the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and sipping Fruitopia while zooming through the curviest snow-crusted streets in central Maine to go visit my boyfriend in Buckfield. It was as if I had become so accustomed to the distractions that I actually forgot to consider the enormous detrimental effect they could have on my main objective.
Lately I’ve been likening my life to that little Dodge Neon and giving some serious thought to the number of distractions I’ve entertained while navigating the streets of life. As many other independent women, working moms and feminists have done, I managed to convince myself over the years that I can do it all and that I don’t need anyone’s help. But here’s the thing: we may feel like we can do it all and we may even succeed for a little while, but over time, NO ONE—not even Wonder Woman herself—can, in fact, do it all. If we continue to entertain every task and distraction without boundaries, our car will eventually get totaled.
I totaled mine a few years ago. When I was married, I took pride in the fact that I worked full time, kept a clean house, fed my family well day in and day out, did all the food shopping, clothes-washing, errand-running and the like. I was that woman who you would see proudly schlepping 20 bags of groceries up the stairs because it didn’t even occur to me to call my husband and ask for help. It worked for a while, but then I got horribly burned out. I was grumpy and tired, and all of a sudden, the things I used to do happily caused a burning resentment to grow inside of me. I had allowed life’s everyday tasks to distract me from my main objective: my family. At the same time, I allowed myself to be overworked and underappreciated at a job that didn’t challenge me or fulfill me, but it paid well. Once again, I was way too busy for no good reason. I had traded in my dreams and goals for a distraction that came in the form of a paycheck. I also held on to unhealthy friendships that were based solely on having fun rather than surrounding myself with people who would build me up and encourage me as I pursued my goals. With these folks, I wasted time gossiping and creating drama that we would later spend even more time trying to quell. All of this was a big distraction from creating the kind of life of life I really wanted to live. I was overweight, overtired, underappreciated, unfulfilled, angry and eventually divorced and able to count my friends on one hand. In other words, I had totaled my Dodge Neon.
But don’t worry…my story doesn’t end there! Fortunately, I serve a God of renewal and restoration. Not only did He get my car out of the junkyard, but He upgraded me to a Bentley! In other words, I’m enjoying my life more than ever (editor’s note to self: and making it look good. Yasss you go girl!). I still have to fight the tendency to spread myself too thin, but I’m blessed to have experienced a radical shift in my outlook. I no longer feel the need to focus on a long list of people and commitments or to worry about satisfying as many as I can. Instead I focus on the things that matter most to me: my personal growth and development, my family, and ministry. If someone or something distracts me from investing in these objectives, then I’ve got to pass it by without hesitation. It’s still difficult at times not to get caught up in drama or wallow in disappointment, but it takes discipline and a discerning spirit to recognize and reject these distractions…and these are things anyone can develop in prayer and in practice. I’ll be honest, not everyone is a fan of the “new me.” I’ve lost a handful of friends and upset a bunch of other folks because I’m no longer the “yes woman” I used to be, and that’s hard for them to understand and accept. But one of the greatest benefits of my newfound focus and aversion to distractions is the peace that accompanies each of my decisions. If I have to say no, I say it without guilt or regret, even if it goes over like a fart in church.
Distractions are everywhere. Just like we can’t get rid of the other cars on the road, we can’t completely eliminate distractions from our lives. But what we can do is learn to focus on operating our own vehicle with an awareness of these distractions and the potential danger they could cause if we entertain them.
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
I would eat it secretly so no one else would know and I wouldn’t feel the shame. I increased the frequency and intensity of my workouts to the point of injury, and then being sidelined just made me feel worse and caused the cycle repeat itself. I lost too much weight, then gained it all back (and then some) because I started to binge. Once again, my outward behavior gave the illusion of having supreme control and enviable willpower, but the reality is that I was completely out of control. I felt depressed, ashamed and lonely because I had intentionally pushed people away so they wouldn’t know what was happening. I hated myself and my “weakness” and would stop at nothing to hide it. I considered myself a fraud for encouraging others to be healthy when I was being anything but kind to my own body. I berated myself for having weak faith and said that if I truly trusted God, I wouldn’t even consider going back on my medication. Then one day I got in the car and every time I needed to hit the brake at a stop sign or red light, I wanted to slam my foot on the gas pedal. That’s the day I knew that I needed to get help before it was too late. I decided to confide in a very small group of people who were as reassuring, understanding and positive as I prayed that they would be. They encouraged me to get help and they didn’t judge me. They checked in and offered to keep me accountable. These people helped save my life.
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
In economics, low consumer expectations lead to a decrease in consumer spending. That is, when we feel that the economic future is uncertain, we tend to save more and spend less, leading to a drop in demand. Rule #1 of economics is basically that supply and demand will always find equilibrium, so when demand drops, supply will also decrease until the new steady state is found. When suppliers decrease production, they don’t need as many workers, so the unemployment rate will rise and GDP (the total value of all goods and services produced) will also drop. When consumers hear things like “higher unemployment” and “lower GDP,” it just reinforces their negative expectations, and the cycle continues.
You’re wondering why on earth I just bored you with an economics lesson, aren’t you? Well, I used this very factual and academic lesson to demonstrate this:
Our Expectations Influence Our Outcomes
This statement is applicable in countless areas. If you take medicine with the expectation that it will work, it often will…even if it’s just placebo. If you wake up feeling like today is going to be a terrible day, it probably will be. If you are an atheist, you will live a life based on science and explanation, never daring to take a leap of faith and thus never experiencing God’s miracles or grace. No matter what the situation, our expectations will have an impact on the outcome.
I have lost track of the number of times I’ve heard people say that they lower their expectations in order to avoid being disappointed. In fact, I’ve even done this myself. It seems logical. If we set the bar low, it seems that anyone could meet our expectations, right? Wrong. The problem with this thinking is that our expectations influence our own behavior, which will in turn influence the behavior of others. If you expect the worst from people, you will treat them accordingly, which will never inspire anyone to give you their best. Have you ever been treated like you’ll never be good enough? Maybe your mom always told you that your sister was prettier or that your brother was smarter. Perhaps your boss points out everything you do wrong instead of praising you for the things you do right. How does that make you feel? If you’re competitive like me, maybe your first instinct is to prove them wrong. Perhaps you’ll really step up your game to try to show them your value. While that sounds like a solid plan, there is a problem with it: no matter how good you are and no matter how hard you try, it is very difficult to please someone with negative expectations. Even if you start out strong and are determined to change their mind, eventually their negativity will break you down and you’ll wonder why you even bother. Once in a while this may work and you may get a “wow, I sure was wrong about you!” But if your girlfriend is convinced that all men are cheaters, you can basically be Prince Charming and still stand accused.
How are you letting negative expectations influence your life? Did you fall off the wagon the last time you tried to lose weight and now you’re letting my most hated phrase (“I can’t”) live inside your head? Are you letting your negative expectations sabotage a current relationship because someone broke your heart or let you down in the past? Are you spending frivolously because you operate under the assumption that you’ll never get out of debt and you’ll certainly never be wealthy, so you might as well spend what you’ve got? Are you going to the DMV with a stank face because you assume that no visit to the DMV can ever be anything but unpleasant? Where did I come up with these examples? My own life. I’ve done all of these things, and guess what the outcomes were? CRAPPY. And I have no one to blame but myself.
Expecting the best is much easier said than done. It takes balls, guts, faith. You have to be willing to expose yourself a bit (emotionally, not physically…please don’t do that), and there is always that risk of disappointment. It’s easy to be guarded and play it safe, but if you take the easy approach you will get mediocre results at best. If you want your life to be great and you want to inspire greatness in others, you have to dare to have positive expectations and a positive attitude to go along with them. If you strive to believe the best in every person and every situation, I guarantee that you will not only get better outcomes in your own life, but also inspire better outcomes in the lives of others. Positivity is contagious…go spread some around and watch what happens!
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Monday, March 23, 2015
This morning I was listening to a Joyce Meyer podcast, as I usually do while commuting to the city. I love me some Joyce. She has a no-nonsense, tough love kind of approach that I can really dig. I’ve never been one for sugar coating or being handled with kid gloves, so naturally I appreciate Joyce’s direct manner of delivering the truth that I think we all need to hear. Today Joyce was talking about pride, and her message slapped me across the face harder than the 25-degree wind chill.
As I mentioned, I tend to appreciate a direct approach. I like confident people who tell it like it is, but the thing about people like that is that they typically have a lot of pride. How do I know? Well, I’m one of them. You see, I’m a tried-and-true Leo (fellow Christians, please don’t label me a heathen for reading my horoscope every day), and one of our foremost characteristics is our pride. So yeah, I know all about pride. I don’t ever like to show weakness or appear as though I don’t know what’s going on. I like to be in control or at least seem like I am, even when I’m not. I hate crying in front of people and asking for help. I would spend $100 on a taxi ride to the airport before I would ask a friend to drop me off, simply because I hate putting anyone out or feeling like I need them. In the past, I have pretended to know things I didn’t, simply because I didn’t want to come off as less intelligent than those around me. I could go on and fill two more pages with details of my prideful behavior, but I think you get the point. I used to swear that pride and confidence were one and the same, so I assumed that my pride was a good thing. I’ve changed my mind. Now I believe that pride is a way that we compensate for a lack of confidence.
Here are two of the definitions I found for confidence:
“the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust”
“the state of feeling certain about the truth of something”
Let’s go back to my examples. If I had firm trust that I could rely on a friend, why not ask for a ride to the airport? If I felt certain about my own truth, why would I pretend to know something I didn’t instead of just admitting my uncertainty without feeling any less about myself as a result? In both cases, I lacked confidence and that’s when my pride took over. Pride can be toxic because it isn’t real. Pride is our attempt to validate ourselves and present an image of perfection, lest we feel inadequate or inferior. Pride makes us speak when we should listen. Pride makes us doubt when we should believe. Pride makes us isolate ourselves when we should lean on loved ones. Pride hinders progress that can only come when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. It prevents us from being real with others and sometimes it even prevents us from being real with ourselves. Pride can make us believe that everyone is out to get us and that we can only trust ourselves. It can cause us to create a hard exterior out of fear that someone might hurt us. Yes, this impenetrable exterior can protect our hearts from pain, but the problem is that it also keeps out the good stuff, like love.
My pride has:
- Prevented me from seeking help when I had post-partum depression
- Made me feel like I should do everything myself, leading to extreme anxiety for which I used to be medicated
- Caused me to lie about silly things
- Built up a sense of perfectionism that made me feel like I was always falling short and was never good enough
- Allowed my mind to get carried away with thoughts about how others might hurt me, leading me to push them before they even gave me an actual reason to do so
- Forced me to smile and say, “I’m fine” when I am anything but fine
- Prevented me from asking questions that would have helped me learn and advance my career at a more rapid pace
I’ve been working hard at conquering my pride and replacing it with confidence. I won’t lie to you…it’s difficult. Even if we are able to forgive ourselves or those who have hurt us, it’s hard to forget the past and even harder to overcome the survival instinct and focus on self-preservation that many of us build up in response to pain. When I focus on my faith, I worry much less about my pride. Even when I doubt myself, I still have “the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust” – in God. I think we’ve all had times of loss in life when the pain is so extreme that we wonder how we’ll survive…but then we do, and we come out stronger. Remembering this helps me feel safe and allows me to shelve my pride and open the door to my heart. The reality is that I don’t want to go through life keeping everyone at arm’s length. I want deep, meaningful friendships and real, genuine love, and the only way I will ever have those things is to check my pride at the door.
Monday, March 16, 2015
Those are all words that have been used to describe or diagnose me before. Perhaps that’s why I spend so much time in my head. I like to analyze, understand, plan, and be in control of my circumstances. I like to be prepared for what’s going to happen before it happens, and I’m often thrown into a serious funk when life throws me a curveball. But you know what? I’ve been thinking about my overthinking and I decided it has to stop. I believe that overthinking is one of the best ways to kill the joy in and take the fun out of just about any situation.
When I was pregnant with Jordin, I remember going to the hospital for some minor spotting around the 5 or 6-month mark. The doctors checked me out, told me we were both fine, and sent me home. I should have been relieved, but instead I went home and worried about what COULD happen to my precious baby. All that worrying landed me right back in the maternity ER, and this time they told me my blood pressure was through the roof. My unnecessary worrying took me from a healthy, safe pregnancy right into the danger zone.
Whenever I’m late, I sit behind the wheel of the car, fuming at all the “incompetent” drivers around me. You know, the ones who take more than .00005 seconds to react to the light turning green or those who go the speed limit. Sheesh, some people! I sit there thinking about how others will think of me when I walk in late: like I’m disrespectful, irresponsible and have no regard for other people’s time. I am certain that people will judge me, and as a result I spend the entire trip fraught with worry that causes a pit in my stomach. Even though I can’t do a thing about traffic and no amount of worrying will change that, I speed, freak out, park like I’m legally blind, and run inside like Usain Bolt, only to find out that nobody gives a single crap that I’m 3.5 minutes late. Nobody was sitting there thinking about me or judging me…they were just enjoying their coffee and waiting patiently for me and the three other late people to show up.
Lately I’ve realized that my overthinking is taking the joy out many of the important relationships in my life. It has made me reactive instead of proactive. It has put me on the defense, and I’ve become one of those people who put up walls so nobody can get too close and possibly hurt them. I’ve been living in the past, remembering what one single person did to betray me. Dwelling on that has made me worry intensely about the future and wonder who else might betray me. By living in the past and worrying about the future, I’m sacrificing my present. For example, I’ve been dating a wonderful man since August. If I had a checklist of the top 10 things I want in a man, he could probably check off at least 9. He’s patient, understanding, loving, driven, handsome and knows how to communicate...and that’s just the short list of his good qualities. So WHY ON EARTH do I allow myself to worry about what COULD happen instead of just enjoying what IS happening? Rather than enjoying every second of the limited time we get to spend together, I sometimes worry about how he spends his time when I’m not around. Instead of focusing on how much fun we have together and how compatible we are, I get lost in thoughts about the future. How will it all work out? What if it doesn’t? What if I trust him and he disappoints me? Or, my personal favorite: what if my overthinking ends up driving him away?! My goodness. What a colossal waste of my time and energy!
I’ve recently become hyperaware of my tendency to overthink, and I decided that I have to stop if I want to have any peace in my life. I don’t want to be so busy worrying about the future that I forget to enjoy the present. There are many great things happening in my life right now, yet there are nights when I lie in bed feeling sad or unfulfilled at the end of the day. I realized that it’s not because I don’t have anything to be happy about; it’s because I am not allowing myself to be happy about the things that bring me joy! I’ve never been a negative person, and I don’t plan to start now. As the saying goes, knowing is half the battle. Now that I know what I’m dealing with, I can change it. I have to be intentional with my thoughts. I have to bypass the negative thoughts, the fear, and the unfounded worry so I can focus on the positive things, my many blessings, and the things and people that make me smile. That doesn’t mean I’ll never feel sad or fearful again; I am human, so I certainly will. I can acknowledge these feelings, but I don’t need to live in them, and I won’t.
As a Christian woman, I know that God has a plan for me. He has brought me through some pretty challenging times and dark days. There were times when I felt like I couldn’t survive the pain of my circumstances, but the keywords are: He has brought me through. And I know that he will do it again and again, so really, what is there to overthink and worry about? Absolutely nothing.