creativity buzz kills

Last year, Madeline Bea did a Creativity Boot Camp and she just posted a gorgeous workbook from that session (She’s such an inspiring and generous individual, isn’t she?). Seeing that workbook helped jump start my creativity this weekend. In that workbook, she asks you to list your creativity buzz kills, the things that prevent you from being creative. Call them out by name to banish them from existence.

So here are my creative buzz kills:

* Not having uninterrupted time. When there are things to do or beings demanding attention, it looms large in my head and prevents me from focusing on my work. So even if there is time for me to be productive, I end up whiling it away because my focus on what other things I could/should be doing.

* Using “not having uninterrupted time” as an excuse. As much as not having uninterrupted time sucks, it’s even worse for my creativity if I succumb to it. I know it’s an excuse because, when I’m in the game, when I’m inspired, time ceases to matter. My priorities shift and all I can think about is my project. I fit it in, no matter where I am or what I’m doing. I’ll think about it while I’m in the shower (and forget whether or not I’ve shampooed already). I’ll pull over while driving to jot down some dialogue on a crumpled receipt I’ve dug out of my purse. I’ll stay up until the wee hours because it’s more important than sleep. So really “not having uninterrupted time” is just a red herring for the real issue “I need to reconnect with my muse”.

And last but not least…

* Self-doubt. It paralyzes me. It freezes the words before they even become words. It stymies ideas when I get too concerned with making sure they’re perfect ideas instead of just allowing them to be just that: ideas. But then I read this (apologies for the current Rainer Maria Rilke obsession) from Letters to a Young Poet:

“Your doubt can become a good attribute if you discipline it. It must become a knowing; it must become the critic. Ask it, as often as it wishes to spoil something, why something is ugly. Demand proof of it, test it, and you will find it perhaps perplexed and confused, perhaps also in protest. But don’t give in; demand arguments. Act with alertness and responsibility, each and every time, and the day will come when doubt will change from a destroyer to become one of your best fellow-workers, perhaps the wisest of all that have a part in building your life.”

Discipline the doubt. Demand arguments.

If you see me talking to myself, it’s a good thing. It means I’m actually at work.

What kills your creativity?

On Having The Courage To Leave

Having the courage to leave an abusive or dead-end relationship is hard. It’s hard to know if you’re making the right decision. It’s hard to face down fears about what the change will bring. As a reader wrote to me,

“I do fear being alone and I also fear I won’t do better. But recently I don’t like the man I see or how he treats me and I am now deciding should I stay or should I go?”

Here is my response [slightly edited for privacy and clarity, as it was part of a much longer conversation]:

I’m really reticent to tell people how to live their lives, especially knowing so little about you and your life. The advice I’m going to give here is going to sound very strongly like I’m telling you to leave him. But I believe very much that people can only do things when they are ready to. Otherwise there will always be some regret or lingering doubts. It’s better to act when you’re ready and have no regrets than to wonder (and potentially end up back in the same situation and draw out the pain). The advice I give is based solely on what you’ve given me here too. The truth is, nobody knows the truth of a relationship better than the two people in it, even if they can’t see themselves clearly. Even if friends and loved ones can spot a dead-end relationship from a mile away and in the end they’re right, the part of the truth that really matters is what the two people in the relationship can see.

Ok, so here is my advice, such as it is.

I would say “don’t be afraid to be alone”, and “you can totally find someone better”, and I definitely want to cheerlead you on. But that runs the risk of sounding like empty platitudes and doesn’t give you much practical advice. The only thing I think I can really do is say you need to confront those fears, for two reasons. One, if you truly confront them you’ll probably find they are empty threats. And two, confronting them means looking really closely at yourself and you’ll probably find those fears are actually symptoms of something deeper about yourself. Confronting fears is scary, scary business. But it is SO NECESSARY. And SO SO REWARDING once you get through it. I cannot possibly overstate how deep the rewards are and how fulfilling it is to do this.

It might help to think out would happen if these two fears were realized. If you were alone, if you couldn’t find someone else…what would that look like? What part of it is actually scary? Is there a reason (maybe something from your past) that makes you believe you need to fear this? Then maybe take a look and assess: are those scenarios actually likely, are they actually frightening, are there really no other options? Would you really feel much more alone without him than you already do now?

It is scary and takes real courage to end a long relationship. We tend to sympathize most with the person who gets dumped, but being the one to leave takes real courage too. If you come to a point where deep in your heart you know it’s over, I know it’s scary, but have the courage to be the one to leave. You might find the pain of the relationship ending is not nearly so bad as the pain of it continuing. You might feel suddenly free, like a huge burden has been lifted: one you had no idea was so heavy until you got out from under it.

When I went through a difficult time in a relationship, I made a conscious choice. I decided that I would rather be alone than in a relationship that caused so much pain and made me feel so badly. I didn’t want to have to fight so damn hard to be happy. I was too effing exhausted to put up with any more b-llsh-t. I made a promise to myself (and eventually to my now-hubby) that if I was going to get in a relationship again, it had to be REAL. For real. No lies (to each other, but most importantly to ourselves), no false hopes. Just love, respect, and honest effort – with a few laughs along the way.

There, really, is the key: find whatever it is that will make you happy, and is real. Do whatever it takes that makes you feel honestly good about yourself. It is your life to live. Live it without regrets.

A Letter From A Reader

A while back I posted an article on passive aggressive behavior and manipulation: its symptoms, its effects, and how to cope. One reader responded with her own situation, and we have since had long discussions on how to change the situation she is in. I am sharing her initial letter here (with some edits, for privacy) and my response, in the hopes it might help another who shares the same problem.

Here is what she wrote:

“So interesting to read your own personal take on pa [passive aggressive behavior].  I have been dealing with this for 4 years now and I am mentally exhausted, feel alone a lot and tired of him always trying to prove me wrong so he can claim victim. He buys me things and then gets mad that he did so he slowly punishes me for it and when I question him about it he says it’s my attitude. It’s extremely frustrating and tiresome. Childlike. I always have to run back to him and call first. He will ignore me until the end of time. He is shut down constantly, shows no emotion but is aggressive in the bedroom. And when I show emotion he is like a stiff board. When I am crying he does not even ask why. He told me as a kid he never got any recognition. You did as you were told, end of story. He uses his money as a control mechanism. If he doesn’t like what I do or say he withdraws his financial support for me and he also withdraws himself. And once again I have to crawl back to him. He’s pathetic. If I tell him I like something he will say he doesn’t and say he likes something else. And his tone is nasty. I am always on eggshells when I want to discuss something with him. He charms the world, but those closest to him he treats like dirt. It sickens me to watch him turn on the charm to others and then turn around to me and have a different tone or barely speak to me. If I make suggestions he will never be accepting but may attempt them later on and then tell me he tried something and claim it as his. He doesn’t trust anyone. I always wonder if I am being taped or on a camera or my computer is bugged. It’s a horrible way to live. He only tells me select information and doesn’t give much details. His communication is close to zero. He punishes me all the time by ignoring me and I cannot ask him for anything for thou shall not receive. It’s bizarre. Very confusing life.”

Here is what I wrote in return:

Oh honey, I can’t help but think you must be feeling so very trapped. Thank you for sharing your burden with me. I don’t know your man, but from what you’ve written here, it sounds like he craves power and control. Maybe because he never felt he had any as a child; that his needs went unrecognized, even at times most important to him. And so he turns that on others because he feels it is owed to him. But of course that is just misdirecting his anger, and turning him from victim to perpetrator.

But I truly believe that everyone has a right to two basic things in a relationship: honesty and to be treated with basic human decency. Maybe that really just comes down to one thing. And it sounds like the kind of relationship you’re in as it stands right now is just not sustainable. It will only wear you down more and build greater resentment in you, changing who you are. Then you have to think: is that the person you want to become?

If the answer is no, you have two options. You can cut your losses and run (which I imagine others close to you have already suggested). Or you can try to make something better of it. I imagine you probably love this man a lot (or else you wouldn’t have hung around for 4 years, right?), so there must be some good you see in him. But here’s the kicker: NO ONE CAN CHANGE A MAN WITHOUT HIS CONSENT. We women love to try. But it must be his decision to change. You can change a relationship. You can change yourself. But only he can decide to be a better man; a stronger man. And strength doesn’t come from power over others; it comes from power over one’s own demons. And in his case, if he is to change, he has to decide that love and happiness is more important than power and control. It’s not an easy decision. If you’re going to change this relationship, you have to make it clear to him that he cannot have both. It’s already true: the more power he tries to exert, the less love and happiness there is in the relationship. But he clearly doesn’t see that. To him, that little bit of power gives him a thrill that makes it difficult to see how little true and pure happiness there is. And to communicate this to him properly, you really do have to be prepared to leave and be prepared to accept the possibility that he might choose power instead. You can’t issue an ultimatum: that will only play into his power games. It really just has to be a simple truth: that you are done with the way things are. And that you would rather be on your own than be abused. For that is what it is: abuse.

If you choose this road, I’m not going to lie: it’s not going to be easy. It takes time and commitment. He might beg forgiveness and try all kinds of ploys to get you back. But trust must be earned, and he must earn your trust that you are more important to him than anything else in this world, even himself. He must be willing to face everything it is that he does to try to assert power and control, and he must be willing to give each and every one of them up. You both have to come to terms with what things you do (i.e. what he does to assert power, and what you do that gives him that power) that have allowed the relationship to get to this state and both must commit to changing that. Maybe you can do this on your own, maybe a therapist might help. And remember, actions always speak louder than words. He can say whatever he likes to you: the true test is how he acts. Trust your gut: it knows how to protect you if you listen to it.

I’m sorry to put this in such stark terms. But if you take a step back from the day to day and look at the grand picture, relationships really do come down to some very basic things. But I know (oh my god, trust me on this, I really do deep-in-my-bones KNOW) how painful and difficult this is. If I were with you in person, I’d take you in my arms and give you the deepest hug I could, treat you to your favorite dessert, and just listen to everything you had to say until you ran out. And then I’d hug you some more. In lieu of all that, I hope these words help, for whatever they’re worth.

I wish you strength and courage and hope. And most of all, love.

Jade

——————-

Stay or go, the choice is never easy. In our culture, we focus a lot of our empathy on the person who gets left behind. But leaving is painful and takes courage too. If you are in an abusive, or just plain dead-end relationship, and decide it is time to leave, please check back in tomorrow. I will have a post on having the courage to say good-bye.

Finding The Element

If you read nothing else in this life, read this book. I’ve been itching to write a review of it for two days now and haven’t because…because I don’t know why. Because I had a rule in my head that I had to finish it before urging you to read it, even though I knew I was going to recommend it after reading the first page.

I stumbled across his book after a friend posted a link to the author’s speech. You should watch it first. It will give you a really good idea what his book is about. Plus he’s a really entertaining speaker.

His book is called The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, and oh my is it ever true. He makes a lot of beautiful points about what it takes to find what he calls “the element”: that nexus between aptitude and passion, where what you’re good at meets what you love doing. Through countless examples of really successful people who found success through extraordinary means, Robinson shows how so many people go through life thinking they are not creative, or they’re not particularly good at anything, when nothing could be further from the truth. But true creativity, authenticity, and talent gets crushed by our educational system because it promotes one kind of success, one way of thinking, one route to fulfillment, and it’s becoming ever more standardized and forces children ever more towards conformity.

But when it comes to learning and growing and performing, there is not just one style. He says, “Never underestimate the vital importance of finding early in life the work that for you is play. This turns possible underachievers into happy warriors.” Never underestimate the importance of work that for you is play. We have such a social stigma, don’t we, against actually enjoying our work? People who love their jobs are said to be the lucky ones. Imagine what life would be like if we all allowed ourselves to pursue work that was our passion. Work we hate takes too much energy. It saps the life out of us. Work we love? It gives us energy. It gives us life. And yet, we put ourselves in “sensible jobs” to pay the bills, have stability, etc. because we’ve been told what we really love isn’t a viable option. But as Robinson says, “doing something ‘for your own good’ is rarely for your own good if it causes you to be less than who you really are.”

This isn’t just about personal fulfillment either. If people are pursuing their passions, they work to the fullest of their capacity. Therein lies the magic to maximizing human potential. We don’t just need this as individuals. We need this as a society to grow.

This message isn’t just for the young trying to find their way. It’s for anyone still looking. It’s for mothers with children for whom school doesn’t have a spark, or doesn’t tap into and allow enough space for learning in the area where the child’s heart is. It’s for people looking for a second or even third career. It encourages you to think about how it is you think and learn, in what ways you are intelligent and passionate. And it re-envisages the boundless ways you can use your particular strengths. Maybe you’re really good at memorizing baseball stats. Useless as that may seem to others, who knows…you could just be a really fantastic sports team manager. Maybe you love gardening…who knows, maybe there’s a life for you in landscape design. The point is, it is never too late to try to find it.

He makes a fabulous point about how the education system only prepares for the world as it is now and leaves us hopelessly unprepared for a changing and dynamic future. But the future is incredibly dynamic. Think how much change has occurred just over the past 2 decades. Can any of us say with any certainty what 2030 will look like?

I’m increasingly convinced too that the one career or one job for your entire working lifetime model of our parents’ generation is becoming obsolete. I think that for many industries and avenues for work, many of my generation will have multiple jobs and multiple careers over the span of their lifetime. Being able to adjust and roll with this requires a great deal of versatility and flexibility. It requires thinking about your skill set in broad, open-minded ways. For many of us, I think even the idea of working for large corporations is anathema to our deepest desires and happiness. Many will venture out on their own, as small business owners, freelancers, or otherwise self-made men and women. And for many of these paths, a college degree is not exactly what it takes to succeed.

Did I just really say that? *gasp* Yes I did. After teaching undergrads at the university level for the past 5 or so years, I’ve really begun to feel that pushing kids into college for that “all-mighty degree” is a mistake (perhaps one of even colossal proportions). We are told that you can’t get anywhere anymore without a college degree. Yet, once you get past the interview stage for most jobs…for how many of us has that degree actually mattered? It’s all about what you can do and what you have done. Meanwhile, kids plunk tens of thousands of dollars into a college education and at least 4 years (now going on 5 or more with budget cutbacks), and most students are just not plugged in. They’re not particularly interested in the subjects, certainly not as interested as they are in what grade they’ll get at the end and so they end up just floating through the whole experience. What an enormous waste of time and money for the students, and of expertise and know-how on the part of professors.

Of course I think education is important. But I don’t like this boilerplate model we’re adopting. I think many students would be far better served taking some time off after high school to work or travel to find out what it is that really motivates them. When they find their passion, then they should go to school for it. They’d get far more out of the experience. And it may be that a university is not the best place for them to learn. For a lot of careers, what employers are looking for is talent, not a GPA and magna cum laude. So it may be that looking into a trade school or a series of workshops and working internships is the way to go. Some guidance and feedback is always helpful. But sometimes people really do just learn best and discover their own unique contributions most efficiently simply by doing.

Anyway, take a look at the speech. If it speaks to you, I urge you to try the book.

you capture – depth of field

I don’t know about all you, but I really needed this week’s challenge. I’ve been so swamped and overwhelmed with work. I’d think of all the things I have to accomplish in a day and waste two hours not being able to start any of it. But in a free moment, as I was snapping pictures for this challenge, I actually realized something.

Photos don’t work so well when all the elements are competing for attention. It’s busy and distracting and screws up the visual balance. The mental balance.

So what do you do? You take just one thing…
…and you focus on it.

You pay attention to what’s in front of you…
…and everything else just fades away.

And you just do that with everything, bit by bit…

Until you get to the last of it…
…and discover it was easier than you thought it’d be.

Then you can just have fun!

And you start running gleefully through the house, taking pictures of random shite.

Everything from statues…

To glass stemware.

Until everyone else wonders what the heck is wrong with you.

…Or…is that just me?

Seemed like a nice lesson for life anyway.

Psst!! My birthday’s coming up and this is what I want!

For more DOF action, check out this week’s You Capture challenge at I Should Be Folding Laundry.

Photobucket

On Passive Aggressive Behavior & Manipulation

Cch! Gawd, what a jerk!I was browsing around my stat reports for my blog – it’s always fun to see what Google search words bring people to my site. I was a little surprised to see a lot of people come across my blog through some variation of key words that involve passive aggressive behavior and manipulation. But then I guess it makes sense because I know I have mentioned passive aggressiveness on my blog before. It is one of my pet peeves, most especially because I, myself, am prone to it and have worked hard to change that about myself. We hate most in others that which we despise in ourselves, right?

Upon seeing how many people find me through those key words, I began to realize it’s probably an issue a lot of people struggle to cope with, most often because they have a loved one who is passive aggressive and they don’t know how to deal with them. I know when I faced this issue, there are a lot of sources online that voice complaints about the behavior, but offer little practical advice on how to cope. So I thought I would put together my own article on passive aggressive behavior.

Why Passive Aggressiveness Sucks:
Passive aggressive behavior is problematic for two reasons. First, it is dishonest. It allows the aggressor to hide instead of confronting problems with courage and integrity. Second, because it is dishonest, it is also impractical. Rather than dealing with problems honestly, it ends up either creating more problems, escalating current problems, or hiding problems until they get too big to handle. Or all of the above. It therefore makes it nearly impossible to resolve issues. Meanwhile bad feelings fester. Fester, fester, fester. Rot, rot, rot. (Ten points for naming what movie that comes from.)

Signs You’re Dealing With Passive Aggressiveness:
So assuming we all prefer not to fester and rot, the next step is to figure out how to identify passive aggressiveness – either in ourselves or in those we love. Because it is by nature passive, it is often disguised as something else, so it can be hard to identify. But once you’re aware of how it operates, it can become pretty easy to spot.

I think there are two principle characteristics that guide passive aggressive behavior. 1) It seeks to deflect attention away from the real issue because the aggressor fears direct confrontation about the real problem, and 2) It seeks to deflect blame away from the aggressor so they can tell themselves it is not their fault.

What does this look like? Passive aggressive manipulation can manifest itself in many ways. Here are some of the most common ones:

Tit for tat scoring: This looks something along the lines of “Look at everything I’ve done for you. You owe me this in return.” Of course people should give equally in love and one should be wary not be taken advantage of. But I’m talking about a particular attitude here. If you approach love in a way where you keep a tally sheet of brownie points and who owes whom what, chances are you’re not approaching love in an honest, open and giving way. This behavior hides the fact that the aggressor does not feel comfortable simply asking for love. Instead they resort to a power dynamic where they give first, so they feel they have the right to make a claim in return. That way, if the other person does not give in, he or she becomes the ungrateful party and the aggressor can feel comfortable in the myth that they have the moral upper hand.

Self-martyrdom: This is the one I’m most prone to doing because I grew up around people who use this a lot. But there came a day when I discovered how toxic it is and I vowed to myself I would try everything I could to not do this. Self-martyrdom is when you don’t want to do something, but go along with it anyway – but you pretend it’s because you’re doing it for the other person. Usually it’s accompanied by a statement like “Whatever you want to do” or “If that’s what you want, fine by me” – except that it’s not fine by you. It deflects attention away from the fact that you are unwilling or unable to simply state what you want, but it absolves you of responsibility because you tell yourself you’re doing it to make the other person happy, you’re being accommodating, you’re not rocking the boat. Meanwhile, you do things to sabotage the situation. You might drag your feet or put up barriers so what the person wanted doesn’t actually happen. Or you might put on an air of suffering to send the other person the message that you’re doing this for them even though you don’t want to, so you try to make them feel guilty for being so selfish. Really, it is the self-martyr who is being selfish, for though they are giving, they are not giving openly and with love. If the giving is genuine, then you genuinely are pleased just to see the other person happy. You do not carry any hard feelings about it.

- Smoke and mirrors: This tactic is a particularly difficult beast to deal with. When this happens, the aggressor actually creates a problem that really isn’t a problem to direct attention away from the true problem. Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, I have a real, true life example to illustrate (names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent):
Sally’s mother always loved horseback riding and she wanted her daughter to share that love. Ever since Sally was little, her mother got her lessons to ride. But as Sally became a teenager, she decided she didn’t want to ride anymore and she was tired of always being pushed by her mom to ride horses. So one day when Sally was supposed to go to a lesson after school, she went with a friend, Jessica, to play by a creek. She missed her bus home and therefore was too late to catch her lesson. She lied about missing the bus and told her mother the bus had been late. She asked Jessica to confirm the lie. When Jessica got home, she told her own mother the truth, but asked her to lie to Sally’s mom if she called to check with her about Sally’s story.
So you can see, the lies just escalate. Now look at the problem from Sally’s mom’s perspective. Clearly she is facing a problem with her daughter where she wants her daughter to do something, but Sally doesn’t want to do it. But the problem is, she has no idea that this is the real problem. She just is upset her daughter missed a costly lesson. Even if she discovers the lie, then she is going to be focused on the fact that her daughter is lying to her, but she won’t know why. In truth, Sally simply lacks the courage to honestly tell her mother how she feels. So she creates a different problem—showing up too late to go to her riding lesson: a problem that she may find less daunting to confront so that she doesn’t have to face the real issue—that she doesn’t share the dream her mother has for her, something she probably feels both angry and guilty about. But what is the result? Total confusion. Not problem solved.

- The Hapless Victim: This card is most often played by the incredibly insecure. This is the “I can never do anything right” card. This person is constantly waiting for someone else to do for them what they are too afraid to do for themselves, usually because they fear failure. And yet, they almost invite failure because it provides further evidence they need help. They can point to it and say, “See? I was never capable in the first place. You should never have made me do that.” It gives them an excuse to fall on their sword and it absolves them of responsibility for themselves. But the truth is, they did not put in an honest effort. Meanwhile, you are tempted to do for them because it would be easier, faster, and invite less trouble. But the more you give in to this manipulation, the more you end up feeding their comfort in the insecurity blanket.

So What Do You Do?
If you are dealing with someone who is behaving in a passive aggressive way, there is really only one thing you can do: refuse to be manipulated. If they behave in a way that you can tell in your gut is just not honest (and I think our guts are pretty reliable when it comes to these things, especially with repeated offenses), the only thing you can do is to call them out on it. Try really hard not to get angry with them. Most often, the aggressor does not even realize they are acting in a manipulative way. Remember principle #2? They are busy convincing themselves that they are the victim here. They’re not only lying to you; they’re lying to themselves. Just try to calmly point out what they are doing and ask them to tell you what it is they really want. Understanding them can at least help build tolerance. But honestly? You’ll probably be lucky if they can take a step back, reflect, and tell you openly what they want. Still, you can refuse to let them have power over you. You are the captain and steward of your own emotions. Take a step back, take a deep breath, and try to insist on speaking honestly. After enough times of this strategy not working, the aggressor will have to find some other way to behave to get results they want. Hopefully, they’ll come to honesty sooner rather than later.

What if you recognize these tendencies in yourself? Well, for one, congratulations for being willing to be honest with yourself! That is an incredibly difficult thing to do! But as hard as it is to break old habits, having the courage to face your own faults is probably the hardest part. Once you realize what you’re doing, it becomes incredibly easy to spot when you do it again. And you know what? It’s okay if you slip up – as long as you face up to it when you do. It is okay to come back and say, “Wait, I’m sorry, I didn’t say what I wanted to say. This is what I really meant.”

One Last Point:
One of the keyword searches I came across in my stats was asking something to the effect of: can two naturally passive-aggressive people be compatible? Well, yes, they can be compatible. The question is: can they have an honest, open and healthy relationship; one that strengthens and supports, rather than weakens and undermines? The answer there is yes too. It is possible to change your behavior. It is possible to overcome your natural tendencies. But it does require commitment. If you can recognize these symptoms in each other, you can agree to be committed to helping each other move past your fears. You can agree to help each other face problems with courage, knowing you are doing it together. You can commit to helping each other find true happiness. It’s not about acting perfectly wisely all the time. It’s about just being honest, even when you are afraid.

Facing problems in relationships is tough (Oh my god, is it tough). And it gets even more difficult when we become hijacked by fear or pride. But when it does get tough, all you have to do is focus on this one thought: I would rather be happy.

Have you dealt with passive aggressiveness in your life? How did you cope with it?

*Image courtesy of http://www.marieclaire.com/sex-love/advice/tips/giving-a-relationship-ultimatum

tell it to me tuesday – a letter to our sons

When I think of myself having children, somehow I always seem to picture myself having a son. Although there are many reasons I would love to have a daughter and there is no logical or rational reason to expect I would bear a son, it is always a son I imagine.

And if I had a chance to tell him something (other than that I love him), I would probably tell him something very similar to what my father used to tell me. My father always used to tell me to be a lady. What would a lady do or say? That is how I should behave.

So, I would tell my son: Be a gentleman.

It is not old-fashioned to be a gentleman; gentlemen are timeless. Gentlemanly behavior is not weak, nor does it seek to put others down. Gentlemen act with respect towards others as well as themselves.

Gentlemen take ownership. Of themselves, of responsibility, and of their lives.

They live not just for pleasure, but for a higher purpose.

Gentlemen give of themselves to their nation and their community. Whether it be through military service, civic duty, or mentorship, gentlemen do not subscribe to the notion that they are an island.

Gentlemen act not with narcissism, but with pride.

Think of your legacy, not just when you reach the tail end of your days, but also as you move through this beautiful thing called life. What legacy will you leave behind?

Have a dream of who you wish to be and what you wish for your life. Then go out and chase it with everything you’ve got. You can be anything you want, but you do have to work for it. Sometimes we succeed; sometimes we fail. But the most important thing is to put in the very best effort you can. And only you can know whether you’ve given it your very best. Be not afraid of failure, for failure happens to everyone. It is nothing more than the opportunity to learn and try again. The only thing to fear is not being true to yourself.

As your grandfather would say: Be true to who you are, and for that, you must know what your values are. Stay true to your values and you’ll never go wrong.

TITMT

The Rules
You can respond in any way you choose. You can give a fictional response or a true one. You can use words, sentences, and/or photographs. If you have a blog, you can link it with Mr. Linky below. Please be sure to include “Tell It To Me Tuesdays” in the post, and link back to this post. Feel free to use the “Tell It To Me Tuesday” button available to the right. If you don’t have a blog, but want to join in, you can just leave a comment. Please follow the rules. I don’t want to have to delete links. I like links! Don’t make me delete them.

Next week’s challenge: Complete the phrase “It all started…”

how to fall in love…with yourself

Awww...idin't dat cute!!A reader posed this question on yesterday’s blog and it’s such an important one. How do you learn to love yourself? It’s such a personal journey and I doubt it’s truly easy for anyone, but it’s something we don’t usually talk about and share with others. It’s sometimes too difficult to put into words, even as you’re going through it. We only manage to come out at the end and say, “Love yourself!”

Sometimes it’s far, far easier to love others than it is to love ourselves.*

As someone once said, “we are the sum of our experiences”, (I can’t find the source – everyone seems to quote this person without attribute.) so the only thing I can tell you is my journey. And I can say it took me about 14 years of solid effort before I got to a phase where I could truly say I had arrived.

And it first started with a moment in which I stood up for myself. In high school, I had a group of friends who weren’t really that great at being friends. I finally had one betrayal too many, and so I left. I wasn’t confrontational or anything – I was far too meek for that – but I just decided I had had enough. And I stopped spending time with them and moved on to a different group. (Pretty radical for junior/senior year though, I guess.)

Into college, though, I still needed my friends’ approval a little too much. Of course, we all like approval, but I couldn’t tell there was anything to like about me unless I had a mirror: someone reflecting approval back at me. Whether it be parent or friend or authority figure, I needed someone to tell me I was worth liking, because I couldn’t see it. Objectively, I knew I got good grades and I wasn’t totally uncreative, but I always used to say I didn’t trust others to see it. The truth was, I didn’t see it unless someone was telling me I was good. I needed a social mirror, but that mirror is finicky and inconsistent. It’s not like people stream compliments at you 24-7…it’d be weird if they did! But in the moments when I didn’t see active approval, I also could not see my own worth.

Then…it took another act of betrayal, this time, a far more devastating one – one in love that made me see how I had not stood up for myself. How I had not acted with self-respect. How I had given and given, only to be betrayed. That made me angry enough to say “No more.” I had gotten to a point where I knew what I wanted: marriage. I wanted someone who loved me. And I didn’t want it to be so.damn.hard. anymore. It took so much effort before, trying to be the perfect girlfriend, the one worth loving. I couldn’t do it anymore. I vowed the next time it had to be for real. The next time, I could not be the only one carrying the entire weight of the relationship. ‘Cuz I just did not have the energy anymore.

I took a lot of time for self-reflection. It took me a long time to process what I wanted from life. And to be honest, part of it came from having a stable, loving relationship, that – after a lot of hard work at the beginning – reaped enormous dividends of  stability. It was like, having figured that part of my life out, I was suddenly free to figure everything else out. I had a foundation that was solid, and then I could work on everything else. It doesn’t sound that empowered to say I needed someone else to provide stability before I could figure myself out. Maybe that’s just how I operate. Maybe that’s just how things just happened to fall in place in my life. Maybe I just needed my heart to heal first. I don’t know.

But I did put a lot of effort into just plain old self-analysis. A lot of it was about figuring out what events in my life stood out in my memory, and seeing how my parents and other life experiences shaped me into who I am now. How they formed my desire for family, my values, my difficulty with trust – all of it, the good, the bad, the ugly. And a lot of it was about figuring out what I really wanted in life – what would make me happy: a family, a varied, challenging and flexible career, words, good food, travel. And I went out and chased it. The rest was about figuring out what kind of person I wanted to be (partly by noticing what it was I admired in others). And I worked on that too.

After a while, the pieces started to fall into place. Step by step the career falls in line. Step by step I make little achievements in being a more well-rounded person. And finally, I just discovered I didn’t need the mirror anymore. I could see myself – both the good and the bad – and I knew my worth and I didn’t need others to tell me (as much). (Usually.) Compliments and hubby support are always welcome.

Looking back on it, I think falling in love with yourself is much like falling in love with someone else. And I’m not talking crush, I’m talking the real thing.

1. It starts with respect. Extending a little respect for yourself and learning to treat yourself with respect is essential.

2. Just like bridging the gap between warring factions, it also requires understanding. Take the time to understand who you are, where you came from, and who you want to be. With a little understanding, you’ll find something worth respecting…and maybe even something worth liking.

3. Give yourself time. Time to learn to trust yourself. It sounds kooky maybe, but sometimes, I think the problem is we don’t always trust ourselves to behave the way we wish we would. But once you set your intentions and commit the energy to being who you wish you were, eventually you’ll catch up.

And one day, you might just wake up smiling, realizing you’re just thoroughly happy and content. And it’s because you’re in love.

*I can hear the jokes already, and it might seem odd I would post on such a topic when so much of our culture is so self-absorbed, self-involved and entitled. But that’s not the kind of love I’m talking about. It’s not about narcissism or vanity, selfishness or a “me-first” mentality. It’s the kind of love that frees you to love others more deeply. It’s the kind of love that allows you the space to give back to the people around you.

confession

The past year has been a little rough on me. It was the first year of my husband’s and my marriage, which while blissful, is a transition. But add on top of that another shift for me: I had decided to take the year off of teaching to focus on getting my dissertation research done. I was in the data collection phase, which required doing a lot of interviews and observations “in-the-field”, thus requiring a flexible schedule that teaching just did not allow. We’re very fortunate that my husband makes enough for us to afford me not having a salary for a year without too much financial strife.

But I did feel a heavy, heavy emotional burden. In ways I didn’t even articulate to myself, I felt I was a burden. My husband didn’t do anything to cause this per se. This was guilt I put on myself. Since leaving my parents’ home, I’ve always brought in my own salary. Through college, I weaned myself off their financial support and slowly built up my own financial independence. Money isn’t important to me, but somehow the fact that I make money for myself meant a great deal to me. It meant I was independent, strong, capable, responsible. It made me feel good about myself (or at least contributed to my sense of self-worth).

But this year of not only not making money, but also incurring student loan debt on top of that as I finish my degree, made me feel like an incredible financial burden. And in ways I didn’t totally articulate in my head, I tried to “make up for it” by doing more around the house: more than my share of cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, washing dishes…to “earn my keep”. Trouble was, it’s not like I wasn’t working at all. I was still working on my research, writing, and keeping a fairly full schedule…and then doing all the household work on top of it.

My mom and my husband’s stepmom both saw something was afoot and warned me several times that in marriage you can’t think of money as “his money” or “her money”, but as “our money”. But none of this really made an impression on me. I agreed, but that did nothing to assuage my feelings of guilt that I wasn’t putting in my fair share. And because I didn’t feel I was putting in my share, I cut back on as much of my extra expenses as I could: I stopped getting haircuts, I stopped wearing more than a minimum of makeup, I stopped going to yoga, and so on. Meanwhile, my husband freely bought the things he wanted (within reason, of course). If there was something he knew I wanted, he had no problem buying it for me (so generous, I thought in my head). And so he believed his wife wanted for nothing. Except that if I had a desire for something, I had to ask him to help me buy it: in essence, I had to ask his permission. So on top of the guilt feelings, I also had a deep sense of male patriarchy and inequality in our relationship.

Even after I started teaching again, I kept up the patterns that had started to develop. And that’s when the burden really began to add up. I became grumpy, disenchanted, and positively sour. A serious expression was my default face. My husband’s stepmom even tried to offer to help out financially so I wouldn’t have to teach…because she could see I was changing. I wasn’t the same person anymore. My parents started getting concerned. Finally, over Christmas, my mom had me watch a film called “The Human Face” with John Cleese (if you have Netflix, you should really look it up – it’s fascinating, funny, and less than an hour long). This film was all about how our facial expressions have subconscious effects on our relationships. She said I always used to smile, and she wanted me to watch this because I’d lost my smile.

I didn’t think very directly about all this after watching the film, but I know something was happening underneath. I’d finally had enough of my self-imposed burden. Shortly after the new year, I talked to my husband about it. We talked it through and he simply said I cannot and should not feel guilty, that this is what marriage is about, it’s sharing, and it’s helping each other when we need help and not feeling like we owe each other like tallies on a tally sheet. I don’t know if it was what he said, or if I was just finally ready to hear it, but ever since then, I haven’t felt guilty and I haven’t felt unequal. And we’ve reasserted fair shares of the household chores back to the way we used to do it.

And I’m making greater efforts to smile, and discovering my smile comes back easily again.

I think this speaks partly to the new generation of feminism: figuring out the proper roles, since they are no longer defined for us. Before society told us what was fair and what duties belonged to whom. Now we have to negotiate that for ourselves. It gives us greater freedom, on both sides in a way, but with freedom comes the need for communication and negotiation. Part of the negotiation is with our partners in life, and part of it is with ourselves, so that we can let go the burdens we try to carry, even when they’re too much, even when they’re of our own making.

What have I learned from this?

Marriage Lesson #1: Learn to share, and that sharing means knowing how to give and to receive.

Life Lesson #3,486: Sometimes we smile because we feel happy. Sometimes we smile in order to feel happy.

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