Day 22: Obligation or Opportunity?

Authors Note:  This is the 22nd entry in a 23 part series – my reactions to each item on the post 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing.  Please join the conversation.

ImageDuring this time of the year, chances are many of us have been traveling around to visit family, friends, and others with whom we have a chance to connect as we travel back to our childhood and/or family homes.  As we do this – and as we wind down our travel time – consider this:

21. Spending time with people out of obligation. Just because you spent every waking moment of your elementary school days with someone doesn’t mean you have anything in common with her now. There’s no need to see every old friend and third cousin who passes through your city. Be intentional about who you spend your time with and allow yourself to let some relationships fade away naturally.

This one goes hand in hand with the post relating to entry number 20 – “Day 17: Albatross or Songbird” – when we talked about cutting off/banishing toxic friendships/relationships with your life – and entry number 2 – “Day 2: Affirmative Action” – where we discuss saying “yes” to everyone even when you don’t want to do something.  However, this one goes in a little bit of a different direction – in this case, what we’re really talking about is a sense of obligation.

When was the last time you went back to visit your family, and you heard that one of your old elementary or high school friends was in town?  Or better yet – someone’s first cousin, three times removed, was visiting, and they’d really “love it if you’d stop by” (even though the last time you saw this person was in 3rd grade and you have zero contact with them now)?  Unlike saying “yes” to everything because you don’t want to – in these instances, I tend to have this feeling that goes something like this – “I really don’t want to go – but I SHOULD go – because it’s (family/friend/etc.).  If I don’t, (fill in the name of relative or other friend) will be really upset with me.”

Talk about issues colliding!  Here we have a situation in which you DON’T want to do something, that you are possibly connecting with people who add zero value to you at the present moment (or who maybe never did except when you were FIVE), and the “good girl syndrome” all blending together in an obligation casserole.  I mean – how much guilt, regret, disappointment, etc., can you handle all at once?  

Evidently – quite a bit.

These moments happen to us all.  At these times, I tend to focus on what is important to me.  Do I really need to/want to connect with this person? Maybe or maybe not.  Is this a possible relationship that I can reconnect with and really learn from? Could be.  Is this a relationship that – when I was active in it before – brought me joy and/or something more, or that I contributed positively to?  Possibly.

When I consider these things – I come back to what fulfills me and brings me joy.  But I also consider the joy of the other person as well.  I end up splitting these moments at about 50/50.  Sometimes I go and sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes – I’m just too tired to function and I know that I’d be a horrible companion/company for the evening, so I spare my grade school friend and/or relative the bear of dealing with a grumpy JPK.  Other times – I change my mindset and embrace the possible.  I’ve rekindled some amazing connections this way.  

The point of all of this rambling is simple – you have to do what is best for you at that moment.  Go if you want to – or if you feel ready to go . Don’t if you don’t want to.  Never let the lone sentiment of obligation rule your decision, for if you do, you will become a slave to it, and that will never bring you or anyone else around you joy.

How do you handle situations like this?

JPK 

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Day 21: All By Myself – Revisited

Authors Note:  This is the 21st entry in a 23 part series – my reactions to each item on the post 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing.  Please join the conversation.

As we wind down 2013, and we start to reflect on what we want.  I challenge you to consider making a commitment to a relationship with yourself.  Consider the following:

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17. Fearing being alone. There are certain things you have control over — like trying to go on dates, and actively meeting new people — and others which you simply don’t. Finding a life partner (or even a temporary one) is one of those things. You can’t pinpoint when or where or how you’ll meet someone to spend your life with, so stop freaking yourself out over the idea that you never will. And there are far worse things than being alone. “The most profound relationship we’ll ever have is the one with ourselves,” Shirley MacLaine once said. Preach.

Consider who you are and what you want.  Take time to reflect on the moments in 2013 that you truly listened to your inner voice and followed your heart.  Recall the moments that you embraced your dreams and fought for them.  And think about the times that you really championed your values.

This is how you get to know yourself – and how you become comfortable with you.  This is step one in being okay alone.

Alone doesn’t mean lonely.  We all get lonely – and we don’t have to be by ourselves to feel incredibly lonely.  Alone means just that – you simply aren’t with anyone else at the moment.  Sometimes this comes in small doses, sometimes for long stretches of time.  At the end of the day – getting to be comfortable with you really means getting to know yourself and what you love.

However, we aren’t born with this innate ability. Humans, as we know, are social animals.  We need contact with other people or we will become withdrawn and generally not-so-nice to be around at all.  I love this article from wikiHow on “How to Enjoy Being Alone: 12 Steps (with Pictures)“.  It’s got some great, simple advice on how to enjoy the most important – and longest-lived- relationship you will EVER have – the one with yourself.

So go look in the mirror.  Stare right into the face of the person looking back at you.  Don’t be afraid of them, but ask yourself, “Do I really know them?”  Then challenge yourself to take the time to do so – because I bet you’ll find that they’re a pretty cool person.

Enjoy, and we’ll chat again tomorrow!

JPK

Day 17: Albatross or Songbird

ImageAuthors Note:  This is the 17th entry in a 23 part series – my reactions to each item on the post 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing.  Please join the conversation.

It’s time to talk about relationships that run the course, cycle out, or simply fade away.   Consider this post today:

20. Holding on to toxic friendships. Banish any Regina George-like frenemies from your life ASAP. Life is too short to waste time with people who make you feel like crap.

Let’s start with this.  You are important.  Your opinions and values are important.  And your self-worth and self-concept are important.

Now – let’s move on to this.  You are a person.  People grow and change as they mature.  Think about yourself at age 10.  Were you the same at 10 as you were at 16?  Did you need the same things, like the same things, or have the same self-concept at 10 as you did 16?  What about at age 25?  30?  35?  50?  60?  Do you have the same skills? Are your interests the same?  Do you need to be challenged in the same way?

And finally – are you different now than you were then?

I’m going to guess that the answer to these questions moves in the direction that you are different now than you were when you were younger.  I bet you like some different things, and that you live in a different way.  I’m also going to guess that you would really like to surround yourself with people who make you better, and stronger, and more fulfilled.

However, I’m also going to guess that you have at least one relationship you may be hanging on to purely out of obligation, out of habit, or possibly out of fear.

Please know, I’m not talking about those people that you cherish and that you’ve known since childhood.  Many of these folks in our lives help keep us grounded in a way that connects us to our youth and our beginning.  My sisters and some key friends from high school and college are prime examples of this (Cherie, Stephanie, Sarah, Renee, Tiffany, Shannon, Ed, Alison, Sue, and many others play this role for me).  They knew me when I was very young, and they know me now.  They know my core – and they know when I’m not being true to that core.

However, there are those in our lives that we simply outgrow.  You know who I mean – and I bet you have a few in your lives now.  These are the people that when you interact with them leave you drained and exhausted.  These are the people you have to gear yourself up to talk to, instead of being excited about hearing their voices.  These are the people that when you are in town, you secretly hope won’t find out you’re around so you don’t “have to see them”.  These are also the people you stay connected with on social media that do not add value to your experience; rather, they detract and frustrate you (beyond academic or cognitive discourse) and make your life a more negative space.  Finally, these are often the people who are not supportive, and who passive-aggresively (or sometimes overtly) tear you down in order to make themselves feel better.

I’m telling you to let them go – and let them go now.

You may know the saying – “People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.”  What I take from this quote is that each relationship is different – and has a different purpose.  You will always have people who stay with you for a long time – for a lifetime, even.  You will also have people who stay with you (and with whom you stay) for a short while, or a season.  And you will have still others who are part of your life for some purpose – to teach you something, for you to assist, or for you to better understand – and then this relationship is over.  The season and reason category sometimes are the ones we hang onto far too long.

Remember that we learn about ourselves through all relationships – positive and negative.  If we hold onto those negative relationships – we do nothing but stunt our own growth and close ourselves off from new, more nurturing and possibly the life-long relationships we crave (and need).  So think about your current relationships.  Are there ones that need to go?  Let them go.  Are there ones that need to be nourished because they really are for a lifetime?  Feed them.  And are there ones that have simply run the course of a season?  Then acknowledge the gift of their time and their lessons, and move on.

As I said in the beginning, you are important.  Your opinions and values are important.  Your self-worth and self-concept are important.  And you deserve to be surrounded by those who understand this – and to whom you give this same gift of understanding.

Release the albatrosses, and live with the songbirds, for these are the friends who truly make your heart sing.

Day 14: Killing Me Softly

Authors Note:  This is the 14th entry in a 23 part series – my reactions to each item on the post 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing.  Please join the conversation.

Okay – let’s have a contest.  Let’s see who is the busiest of us all.  Let’s see who can “win” at this “extra-effort” game.  Don’t know what that is?  Let me help.

Consider this post first:

19. Not taking advantage of your vacation days. More Americans than ever are forgoing their (already meager) paid vacation days — despite the fact that we know that people who take time off are more likely to be healthy, happy and productive workers. We swear, no one will die if you turn off your cell phone and head to the mountains for a long weekend.

I think you see where I’m about to go.

Why on earth do we get into these spaces where we think if we work longer, harder and more intensely, we’ll be happier and healthier?  Why do we sit around and, in one breath, complain about how exhausted we are, and in the next breath brag about how we put in a string of 15 hour days and were “so productive”.  Why is it – when EVERY SINGLE STUDY done on multitasking shows that it is not effective – do we continue to say we can relax on a beach and write a policy manual all at the same time with maximum efficiency?

Why do we continue to lie to ourselves?

Perhaps it’s the impostor syndrome rearing it’s ugly head, and convincing us that we have to work harder or we’ll be found out as a fraud.  Perhaps it’s a “keeping up with the Jones’” situation in which we believe that, if we don’t work as long or as hard as others, we’ll get left behind.  Or maybe it’s a misguiding belief that if we work super-hard and put in extra-long hours, someone will come (as Sheryl Sandburg says) and “put a crown on our head”, “call us a good girl”, and give us that promotion we’ve been wanting for so long.

Well – and pardon my colorful Texas language – but that’s bullshit.

Look, I’m no stranger to endangering my own health by not taking time for me.  About five years ago, I suffered a series of anxiety attacks over several weeks time.  I had no idea what it was, so when I finally found myself in an emergency room and the doctor asked me, “Do you want a Valium?” it was both terrifying and shocking.  And it was a wake-up call. 

While frightening, this experience made me realize that I needed to fix things and fix them fast.  I had to take time and assess my own wellbeing, and when I did, I quickly realized that burning the candle at both ends was absolutely NOTHING to be proud of.  I held two, full-time job titles, was teaching a masters-level course, and continued to take on additional community and work projects.  I finally realized that I had put everything else ahead of my own health – and I was slowly killing myself – quite literally.

I started by letting things go, eliminating multitasking as much as my activator-brain would let me (it’s gotten better as time has moved on) and made a commitment to put my health first.  I quite literally had to in order to save my own life.  It was one of the hardest, yet most beneficial things I have every done for myself – and for those around me.

I implore you to not let your own health and wellbeing falter.  Start small.  Take a vacation day.  Take one a month if you can.  Plan for a long time away from the office – an actual WEEK or even TWO WEEKS away (I know – don’t pass out – it’s okay).  Trust me – after you get over the sheer panic of turning off your cell phone and divesting from social media (that one’s tough, for sure), you will find that you are able to finally relax.  Once you relax, you can finally begin to reconnect with what is vital and important to you.  True vacations – and I mean real ones, not simply being out of the office at a conference – are good for your soul and your health.

Day 13: Let it Be

Authors Note:  This is the 13th entry in a 23 part series – my reactions to each item on the post 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing.  Please join the conversation.

Here’s today’s post for our conversation:

9. Holding on to regrets and guilt. “I’m pretty anti-regret,” Lena Dunham said at the 2012 New Yorker Festival. Guilt and regret are two emotions that usually serve to torture the person feeling them. Acknowledge your regrets and guilts, and then move on to the best of your ability.

Friends, I agree with this entry in principle.  Regret and guilt will eat you alive, and serve no purpose other than to (as the post says) make the person feeling them absolutely miserable.  Continuing to wrestle with feelings of regret is simply an act of futility; wrestling with feelings of guilt is either self-imposed torture or it’s a signal that you need to heal a relationship – either with yourself or with someone else.  And unfortunately, women tend to hold on to feelings of regret and guilt far more frequently – and with more intensity – than men.

I struggle with it – especially when it comes  to the many times I’ve hurt myself.  I have said some of the most awful things to myself – sometimes out loud, and sometimes in my own head. I’ve held grudges against people because I simply couldn’t see past my own anger and hurt to try and find a solution or a resolution – even if my role in the situation was minimal.  I’ve beat myself up for not stepping forward and trying something I wanted to do.  In short – I’ve dwelled in long periods of regret and guilt.  Face it – we all have.

However, I fundamentally disagree with the post that simply acknowledging regrets and guilt will allow you to move on.  Seriously – come on.  I can name a few things I’m not quite proud of, and perhaps some things that I still carry around feelings of guilt and/or regret about.  I’ve acknowledged them – but that’s not all I need to do.  I believe there are three additional steps you need to take in order to really leave any regret and guilt behind.

  1. After naming/acknowledging the feeling – you have to figure out your part in it.  Did you intentionally wrong someone?  Did you hurt someone’s feelings?  Are you fighting back feelings of complete insecurity and feeling guilty over some of your own behaviors?  You have to figure out what you did – if anything – before you can move forward.  This can be hard – especially when the person you’ve hurt is yourself.
  2. Try and right any wrong you may have done.  You’ve heard the saying that it’s never too late for a thank you note?  I believe it’s never too late for a genuine apology.  However, the longer you go without apologizing, the harder it can be for the other person (or even yourself if the person you hurt is actually you) to hear the apology and accept it.  Don’t forget – other people are dealing with their own stuff, too.  So pull up your big girl pants, and go apologize.  Even if it turns out badly, you at least gave it a try and can move forward to the next thing.
  3. You have to forgive yourself and let it go.  Now that you’ve figured out your role in the situation, and have made your attempt to resolve the situation, you have to let it go.  Forgiveness is truly the only way.  If someone apologizes to you – forgiving them is really the only way to let go of any hurt they’ve caused you.  Likewise, forgiving YOURSELF for any hurt you’ve caused yourself will be absolutely critical for moving on.

That last thing – forgiving yourself – is So. Freaking. HARD!   But without forgiveness, you will never be able to release the hurt and anger, and you will never be able to heal.  You will carry around the baggage of hatred, fear, and frustration until you are  crushed under the weight of its negativity.  Give forgiveness a try.  You may not get it right the first time – it can take practice – but persistence is key and you’ll eventually be able to put that baggage down for a while; maybe even permanently.

Trust me – your life’s journey will feel so much lighter when you do.

(and as a bonus – when you do – or even if you’re still trying to make it to this point – take a listen to Pharrell Williams “Happy”.  I dare you not to dance!)

Day 12: All By Myself

Authors Note:  This is the 12th entry in a 23 part series – my reactions to each item on the post 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing.  Please join the conversation.

This one is a little later than normal – I’m knee-deep in grading final case studies for my class, so I’m asking for a little slack on the time of day!

Here’s what we’ll tackle today.  Please know that I am not a licensed therapist or counselor, so the thoughts here are purely my own:

18. Being in relationships for the sake of having a relationship. If you’re terrified of being alone, the worst thing you can do is jump into a relationship you don’t really want. Nothing good comes from tying yourself to a person who isn’t right for you simply because you feel the need to couple up. As Nora Ephron wrote when she launched HuffPost Divorce: “Marriages come and go, but divorce is forever.”

So many people succumb to the societal expectations and pressure of needing to be part of a couple – of having that life partner – that when they are in a relationship they hang on until the bitter end because “they should”.  The fear of being alone (and the perceived loss of social capital that goes with being alone) is so overwhelming that is can paralyze you into staying in a relationship that isn’t healthy.  Family pressures are also palpable, and if you are married, many people also layer on religious doctrine and implications as well.

I was right there about 12 years ago.  I was in a relationship that was not healthy.  Both of us are good people, but we had been together for so long that the idea of anything BUT being with each other was just unthinkable.  What would our family say if we weren’t together?  How would our friends react?  Granted – these questions were flying through my head – not necessarily his – but they were there.  And so I stayed.

However, after a period of time, I began to feel that the relationship just didn’t work.  When I began to be honest with myself, I realized that I hadn’t been honest with my partner from the beginning about what I wanted or needed.  We wanted very different things – and we had simply grown in different directions.  However, we stayed because of external pressures, and I stayed because I was afraid to be alone.  The decision to end the relationship was a very painful one, but one that needed to happen for both of us to go and find truly healthy relationships.

And truthfully, I was alone for a while.  During that time, I learned a lot about myself, my needs, what I wanted, and I developed a better understanding of my own sense of purpose.  If you’re curious about those lessons – here’s my Reverb Broads post on it from 2011.  Needless to say, the greatest lesson I learned is that I needed to trust myself and be okay with who I was in order to be a true partner in a long term relationship.  I’m much better than I used to be at this – but I still work on it every day.

If you are in a relationship and you’re having some doubts – take some time and think about why you continue to stay.  Understand – this will take being brutally honest with yourself, and most likely will involve the assistance of a therapist (I used one – I highly recommend them).  Note that I said THERAPIST not FRIEND/SISTER/MOM/BROTHER/etc.  During any time of personal turmoil, you need a support system.  Your friend/sister/mom/etc. can be that for you.  However, unlike those who love you most, a therapist can be objective, which can help you challenge your own assumptions, perspectives and feelings.  This is the kind of interaction you will need in order to grow.  Your support system can commiserate with you over a glass of wine.

Please understand that I am not advocating for anyone to leave their partner.  That is not my intent.  I am simply advocating for you to go on a journey of self-reflection and discovery, to better understand who you are and what you want.  Talk you your partner about what you are feeling and why.  Perhaps you can grow together; maybe you won’t.  But in the end, you will have developed a far stronger relationship with yourself – and that’s a relationship that will last throughout your entire lifetime.

Day 10: You > Me?

Authors Note:  This is the tenth entry in a 23 part series – my reactions to each item on the post 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing.  Please join the conversation.

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Comparison is a killer – and when we compare our own real lives to someone else’s life on social media, we will always lose.  Consider this entry from the post:

8. Comparing your real life to someone else’s virtual one. Spending a ton of time obsessing over your own online life can be anxiety-provoking — but so can obsessing over other peoples’ virtual personas. Research has shown that Facebook addiction is correlated with lower self-esteem. And who wouldn’t feel bad sitting in bed on a Monday night scrolling through your ex’s vacation photo album or the enthusiastic statuses your friend in the fashion industry posted during a celeb-filled party? Instead of playing a constant game of comparison, which studies have shown can actually magnify feelings of depression, just close your laptop and enjoy the present. At least it’s real.

What a powerful message – and one that (again) women largely ignore.  You know what I mean – you look at some of your friends Facebook or Twitter feeds – and its full of amazing pictures of them doing amazing things, talking about their latest promotion, their kids awards, their family traditions, their fitness triumphs and their amazing new publication/car/award/outfit/etc.  Immediately you begin to feel bad.  Little messages begin to play in your head, “Why can’t I get (insert thing or honor here)?”,  “Is my job good enough? Shouldn’t I have a different role by now?”, “Their family looks so happy, how come mine isn’t that happy?” and even “I wish my (job, life, career, friends, kids, house, personal record, etc.) was as good as (insert name of amazingly perfect friend).” 

Here’s the bad news – by comparing yourself to others, you classify your life and yourself as “less than”.

Keep this thought close to your heart – just because someone didn’t tweet about something negative, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It doesn’t make them better than you, or you worse than them.  Maybe they are having a hard time dealing with a situation, and choose to keep that private.  Perhaps they are in denial about hardships in their own lives, and are using social media as a way to keep an image of their lives they truly want.  Or maybe still, they simply want to share joyful moments to keep things in a positive frame.

I get it, I really do. I don’t really have the luxury to shut off social media at some points during the year, so there are times that I will do things for my own psychological self-preservation.  I have some friends on social media who enjoy sharing about their accomplishments and successes.  I do celebrate them – I love it when people succeed and are excited about it – but I’m also a realist.  Sometimes, I have to own that I am simply not in the headspace to see/hear/read the Facebook announcement – and then get notified every single time someone likes and/or comments about it – and react positively.  I am human, after all.

Blissfully, there are tools on social media that can help.  I have hidden specific posts before, turned off additional notifications, or blocked someone’s feed for a short time.  These actions allow me to come to grips with my own demons (and we all have them) before I jump back in and publicly embrace their success.  Perhaps you feel this is petty; perhaps you don’t. However, it’s worked wonders for me, and allows me to be a better friend, family member and colleague.  I love my peeps – but I love my own wellbeing, too.  By using these tools I’ve found ways to be peaceful, supportive and celebrative of both others and of me.

To sum it up – continually comparing yourself to others is emotional and psychological death.  Enjoy who you are, celebrate your successes, deal with your crap, get to know yourself again, and celebrate the success of others in ways that are meaningful (and healthy) for you.

Now go post your success on Facebook!  Trust me – you’re pretty cool. 🙂