The Joy of Surprising Yourself – and Others – with Who You Really Are

Surprising

This past weekend, at almost 35 weeks pregnant, I drove to Vancouver for the SeaWheeze Half Marathon and walked 13.1 miles.

Was this planned? No.

Did I train for it? No.

What happened was I got up Thursday morning, decided to try and walk 5 miles, and when I did so successfully, I figured I might as well give the half marathon course a shot. Maybe I’d get 7 miles in and have a story to tell my son someday: “I didn’t walk the whole thing, buddy,” I’d say, showing him a picture of me at mile-marker 7, “but I did show up and I put forth my best effort. And that’s what’s most important.”

And yeah, I do believe that’s true. Just showing up can be—for me, at least—the hardest part. I signed up for this race back in January, before I even knew this little life would be accompanying every step I take. When I found out I was pregnant, I knew my plans of running were shot. Even the thought of walking it? Crazy talk.

Here’s the thing: I’ve always been the cautious, look-before-you-leap, rule-following type.

Even as a child, I wanted things to be black and white and as painless as possible. The idea of walking a half marathon (at 8 months pregnant) is not something that jibes well with my personality…at all. First, you’re supposed to train to RUN a half marathon. Who wants to be the girl walking at the back? Not only that – is walking even ALLOWED?

I was worried I might get in trouble. (I kid you not; this is how my brain works.) Second, pregnant women (especially in the third trimester) are supposed to take it easy. What if I gave birth in the middle of Stanley Park? What if all this childbirthing prep with my team of midwives was for naught and my sweet little boy was welcomed into the world by an Australian medic on a bicycle who doesn’t know the first thing about labor? (Ok, that’s cheating, I didn’t imagine this person beforehand, she’s actually someone I met on the course…who told me to please not give birth along the sea wall of Stanley Park because she was not trained in midwifery.) And third, walking from the house to the car is enough to make my pelvic bones sigh in agony. Why would I put myself through the pain?

Well, the simple answer, I think, is because I woke up on Saturday morning believing I could walk a long distance and be safe. Believing I could breathe through the pain. Believing this was something I had to try, if only to prove to myself that I have the courage to try something I never before would have believed I could do.

The more complex answer has to do with the matter of childbirth. Um, hello – that’s happening in less than five weeks. This body has to give birth to a tiny human (with, we are assuming, a rather large head, given the size of his parents’ skulls, Lord help me). I’ve always known I wanted to have kids, but when it came to the subject of birthing said kids, I always chose the route of denial, the route of “yeah, well, I guess we’ll deal with that when the time comes…” Well, friends, the time is upon us. This kid is coming whether I’m ready or not.

And sadly, when it comes to pain, I’m kind of a wuss. I prefer the terms “low pain threshold” or “highly sensitive person,” but who are we kidding, I cry when I stub my toe and want my husband to kiss it (my husband, a physician trained in emergency medicine, does not, in fact, kiss my boo-boos, which is probably best for the both of us). Once, when I was three, I tripped on the sidewalk, skinned both my knees, scared the neighbors with my screams, and very earnestly asked my mother if I was, in fact, going to die. This is what we’re dealing with here.

So, anytime the topic of childbirth came up between my mom and me, the message was clear: there’s no shame in getting an epidural.

And thank goodness for my mom’s wisdom, because I still hold that statement to be true. There is no shame in any way a woman chooses to give birth to her child. Only she knows her body and her history, and I am not one to judge either way.

But here’s the thing: when I first got pregnant, I was pretty convinced on the day of labor I’d march into the hospital and demand the drugs: “Give them to me now and do with me what you will!” The sentiment was just get this dang thing out of me. But I have to tell you, over the past 8 months, something has changed within me. Spending time with this new little love and watching my body metamorphose into a living, breathing cocoon for his body to be knit together has been the most beautiful, empowering thing. (I know, I know – some of you are probably humming “pregnant women are smug” right about now, and I’m SORRY. I really am. You can skip this part if you like.)

The more I get to know this new body of mine and the more I read about birthing and breathing and the beautiful design of a woman’s body to bring new life into the world, the more confidence I have that I CAN DO THIS. No longer do I want to march in and throw my life and the baby’s life exclusively into the hands of a doctor. I want to be an active participant, working with my midwife and team of nurses to create the best environment we can to facilitate the birth of my son.

But friends, I will be the first to tell you that this does not necessarily mean I will give birth without drugs. Or that I won’t end up with a C-section. Or that I will be disappointed in myself if I do march in and demand the needle just as soon as the anesthesiologist can get his butt in gear, any more than I would have been on Saturday if I had walked 5 or 7 miles rather than 13. Medical interventions and the care of good doctors are not something to be ashamed of, nor is non-medicated birth an issue of courage over fear. That’s not what I’m saying at all. But for me, it’s an opportunity to try something I never thought I would, or could. And I think I want to take it.

My word this year was “Flourish,” and the main sentiment behind the choice was that I wanted to lean into being more of who I truly am, unafraid of surprising or disappointing others if I acted or spoke in ways they aren’t accustomed to. And while I have to chuckle at the reaction some family members have had in the wake of some of my decisions (mostly pride mixed with disbelief), what’s even more illuminating is the way I have continued to surprise myself.

As introspective as I am, I thought I knew myself pretty well (INFJ, Enneagram 4, harmony-seeking koala FTW!). But in the past few months I’ve heard myself saying “I might be a crazy person, but I think I might try to….” more times than I’ve ever said in my entire lifetime (even more times than during my semester abroad in Sydney, which included skydiving, snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, camping in the outback, and kissing Midwestern boys, just so we are clear). For some reason I feel it’s necessary to add a disclaimer to all I’m attempting to accomplish as crazy in their scope, apologizing, almost, for taking the path less expected. And yet I am deeply, passionately committed to seeing what kinds of creative solutions I can come up with to accomplish all that is burning in my soul.

But maybe I’m not crazy.

Maybe I am more ambitious than I ever knew.

Maybe I just hadn’t tapped into the things that were most important to me.

And most beautiful?

Maybe I don’t need to apologize for who I am and who I am becoming: a baby-toting, grad-school attending mama with a book manuscript stirring within her.

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I tend to believe that God created each one of us uniquely with the opportunity to grow more into who we are meant to be, if only we stop holding on so tightly to what or who we think we are supposed to be, or what the world wants from us. It’s so clear to me that this year has been one of awakening, of pushing boundaries, of opening doors, and of continually asking the question, “Well, why not?”

Because maybe, just maybe, sometimes just showing up with an open mind and open heart are all you need to finish that race.

 

WITH LOVE FROM

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Erin, Adventurer, Storyteller, and Army Wife

Erin grew up in three different countries, leading her to embrace her role as a third culture kid: she loves airports, hates small talk, and feels more at home in a book than in any specific place. Lover of peppermint tea, alpine slides, Stephen King novels, hot yoga, Cadbury chocolate, and karaoke; devoted yet sometimes reluctant follower of Jesus; she lives with her husband, Tim, and their crazy ragamuffin cat, Opal, in a charming blue house in Tacoma, WA. Watch out: she’s bitey (the cat, not Erin).

 

An Ode To Turning 32

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By the time you are reading this, I will have turned 32.

What the hell, people! How did that even happen?

As a kid, I remember wanting to get older as fast as possible: to mature, to drive, and let’s face it, to be in charge. I pushed through high school, college and graduate school with a list of interesting assumptions of what I ‘had’ to do to succeed. I took all the ‘right’ classes, interned, participated in appropriate extracurricular activities (Band of the Fighting Irish, yo), crafted resumes, ordered business cards, and kept plotting each step forward. During that time, I traveled to 15 countries, earned two degrees, fell in love three times, had my heart broken once, moved to four different cities, bought a condo, and worked three internships and two real jobs.

Those interesting assumptions were sometimes right, and sometimes they were incredibly wrong. Yes, I did need good grades and references to get into my graduate program, but no, I do not need to be a political appointee already. Yes, learning a foreign language was helpful in getting a job in foreign policy, but, no, I do not want to live in another country for long periods of time. Yes, I do need to eat mindfully and exercise to maintain my health, but, no, having MS or being curvy does not mean no one will ever love me. Looking back, my youthful idealism, as well as my stubbornness, led to so many adventures, but I am sure that I did not fully appreciate it when they happened.  So, in honor of finally being my so-called ‘dream’ age, and since the blog-o-sphere is obsessed with lists, may I present to you, in no particular order…

Ode to 32: 32 reasons to love being 32.

1. Having my own space: I was able to buy a condo in Northern Virginia right as the housing market crashed, before federal government-imposed mortgage regulations, and right before the stock market tanked. Right place, right time FTW.

2. Schools out: Yay for being finished with college and graduate school, or really any education needed to qualify for jobs here in Washington, DC. Now I can go back for my PhD when I want to… if I want to.

3. I can buy my own drinks: Beyond the financial capacity, I don’t need someone else to ply me with alcohol to feel loved.  I’m getting comfortable in my own skin, and I’m finding my sense of belonging within my soul. Plus, it’s just cheaper to buy the bottle and drink with friends at home.

4. New priorities: In my 20s, my top priorities were: lose weight, get good grades, get a good job, and get a boyfriend (pretty much in that order). Going into my 32nd year, my priorities have changed and/or matured, including manage stress, go to yoga, run a marathon, develop better body image, and love more.

5. Nordstrom: I have always been a big girl. From my early teens until graduate school, I skipped the teen sizes for clothing, first to ‘misses’ and then to the maligned ‘plus-size’ section.  I hated myself for being that big and I hated shopping because the size labels were proof I didn’t belong (and, maybe, not worthy). When I lost a lot of weight in my late 20s, I still hated shopping. I continued to hate shopping until this year, when I found Nordstrom and their (now) free personal shopper service. Go do it. It’ll change everything.

6. All of the books: I’ve always loved reading. I would go to the library and check out five or six books at a time as a kid. I love that it’s ‘cool’ for old folks like me to read young adult fiction like The Hunger Games, The Giver, and/or The Fault in Our Stars. Plus, we still have our amazing ‘adult’ authors like Jennifer Weiner and Gillian Flynn, and so many more.

7. Wearing Hello Kitty jewelry: It’s ok! I promise. It’s gives my otherwise dull business suit a fresh vibe. Yes, that’s it.

8. Not quite cynical, not quite naive: The 30+ version of “Not A Girl, Not Yet a Woman.” I’m old enough to not trust everyone at their word or go against my gut instinct, but I’m not quite jaded enough to stop getting excited about Christmas, birthdays, sea otters, and romance.

9. Skills: After 32 years of emotional highs and lows, I have devloped a fair amount of skills to handle life as it comes my way. Less Hulk smash, more inhale, count to five, exhale, repeat. Even the Hulk can do yoga.

10. DSW: Enough said.

11. Knowing enough about what I want: Whether it’s going through that last bad relationship or quitting a job, I’ve had enough experiences to say “yes, I do want to make out with you” or “no, I don’t want to analyze spreadsheets all day.”

12. Fun leather jackets: You can wear them to work. Even in the U.S. Government.

13. Lingerie: so, there are other lingerie stores than Victoria’s Secret? And they fit all kinds of sizes? and they don’t shame your body? Lingerie for everyone!

14. Seeing the world: when you’re one of those over educated, over opinionated, under loved women, there’s a lot of time to see the world and soul search. I have been to some pretty crazy places in my 32 years, and each place left its mark on my psyche.

15. Not having it all: When I was in college, I thought ‘having it all’ meant working long days and wearing stiff business suits. Now, I feel like I’ve have ‘it’ when my training run feels easy or it’s a beautiful day outside and I get to walk around my favorite spots in DC.

16. Gettin’ it done: With #15 in mind, there’s still plenty of time to get what I want accomplished. Hello Marine Corps Marathon, don’t mind if I do.

17. Dance clubs vs. Netflix: In my 20s, going out on Friday and Saturday felt like an obligation. The “you’ll never be this young and free again!!!” mantra, if you will. But in the past two years, I’ve stayed home , got up early to run 10 miles the next morning, took a nap, and then danced all night until 2am. It’s amazing.

18. Looking distinguished: People stop asking you if you’re an intern when you wear your hair in a ponytail. It’s liberating.

19. Dream guy: While I’ve always prioritized any guy’s sense of humor when considering a relationship, more superficial aspects were far more important five years ago. Now, funny, smart, and kind are crucial while tall, fancy job, and extroverted are nice but unnecessary.

20. Responsibility: My nomadic lifestyle provided valuable experiences, but they didn’t allow for tons of personal responsibility. Now, I can reminisce on my work trip to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa while making sure my plants stay alive. (RIP 15 basil plants, never forget)

21. Professionalism: Essentially, I’ve mastered the art of mentally cursing out the moron in front of me while smiling and saying “thanks for your insight and I’ll take that back to my leadership.”

22. Yoga: I am the quintessential Arlington yuppie (but with an American instead of a German car… shhh, no one tell or they’ll kick me out). I found a great yoga studio and community, and I drop phrases like “authentic voice,” “breathe,” and “true self” into everyday conversations. My defense colleagues look at me funny every time.

23. Confidence: Perhaps because of yoga, I’m far more confident in my everyday life than I was 10 years ago. I’m still a work in progress, so I guess I’ll keep going to class.

24. 90s music: I have a weird ability to remember song lyrics and when I heard the song first.  If I could forget the lyrics to NSYNC or Paula Abdul or Mariah Carey I would have the brain space to learn five languages. But each time I hear a 90s song, I can remember the exact moment I first heard it, and it’s amazing opportunity to time travel for three minutes.

25. Self-compassion vs. self-care: I’m a work in progress on this part too, but the distinctions are much clearer now. Understanding my emotions or how I can counteract stressful moments during the day is far more important to learn than simply taking a nap or going to the spa. And while eating healthy is important, I shouldn’t beat myself up for eating some pizza at work because my fatigue was bad one day and I couldn’t walk far.

26. Health insurance: I hope more and more people can benefit from having access to health care. I would be lost without my employer’s health plan, and even if I have to go to battle with them sometimes, I sleep easier at night knowing that I pay $35 instead of $6,000 a month for my MS medication.

27. Wine: It took living in northern Virginia before I really appreciated good wine… I don’t mean Olivia Pope, drink a bottle a night, wine. I mean drinking a glass while watching the sunset on the top of the W Hotel in downtown DC, or relaxing with a cold glass of Pinot Gris after a long work week.  Then there’s all the fun wine pairings, like cheese, meat, pasta, whatever. Until you buckle and go gluten free.

28. Exploration: From juice cleanses to yoga retreats and in depth conversations on politics, religion, and life goals, I’ve been able to explore different culture and ideas to get where I am today. There’s still so much more time to explore and that excites the hell out of me!

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29. Vacations: I took my first vacation in like ten years this past May. I pushed back at work to guarantee the days off, I finally found the right person to go with, and, for the first time, I didn’t have a list of 30 things to do and visit. I spent one whole day at the beach, sitting next to the love of my life, talking, swimming, and having an amazing time. Go on vacation people! Use your paid time off for real recovery, not just for attending weddings and holidays. It’s worth the sacrifice.

30. Falling in love: Once or twice or 100 times. Any heartache feels worth it when you find someone amazing to share your life. Of course, it would be nice to get a heads up from the universe that love will happen, but I suppose that takes some of the surprise out of the whole situation.

31. Friends: The Mindy Project has the best quote about friendship “Best friend isn’t a person, it’s a tier.” I have best friends from every phase of my life. I love that my friends from home (Kevin, Ellen, Annie, JB, and Noah) will always remind me of my weird high school phases, that Erika, Alicia, and Nicole still help me deal with life drama like they did when we were in college, and that my DC family (Kristin, Nikki, Tom, Manmeet, Jonathan, Sung and Cassandra) keeps adulthood fun instead of lonely. And of course, my new best friends, my awesome Elevate sisters!

32. The future: Making this list reminds me that I still have a long road ahead of me. I have time to figure out the next five or six steps in my career, I whether or not I do yoga teacher training, and when exactly I get to take over the world.  How fun is that?

Enjoy the rest of summer everyone!

 

moe headshotWITH LOVE FROM

Maureen , soon-to-be marathon completer, 2014 Elevate Sister.

Maureen is a hopeless optimist, reformed tomboy, and has a strong and snarky voice of reason. She roots for the underdog, which comes in handy being a Notre Dame fan. When not discussing U.S. foreign policy, Maureen organizes fundraisers for her favorite charity, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, attempts to hold crow pose for more than two seconds, and is still trying to figure out who talked her into running a half marathon this spring. If not at work, yoga, or running, you can find Maureen watching shows about handsome vampires or discussing how cute sea otters are.

I Believe In Miracles

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It’s no secret that the introduction to Mamahood comes with the gifts of indescribable, heart bursting love and joy.

It’s heralded into your life bringing uncontrollable smiles whenever you gaze at your cooing bundle of joy. Which is good because that makes it harder for untrained observers to decipher between those and the smiles of delirium while you teeter on the edge of euphoria and exhaustion.

This is right where my dear friend Bri Seeley found me when she asked me to participate in her blog series asking the question “what does it mean to you to be a woman?” This simple question has since evolved into an incredible book project, The Inspirational Woman Project, but at the time I was just trying desperately to remember “big words” so I could be somewhat presentable in the blogosphere to support my friend.

With baby cradled in one arm, I awkwardly tried to help her latch while balancing the phone against my chin and shoulder. As Bri sweetly asked her questions about new mamahood and how it’s changed my perceptions of being a woman, I struggled to form coherent sentences realizing this was the first time I’d actually talked to an adult about more than boobs and poop in the last few weeks. So needless to say it wasn’t the most eloquent contribution to her series. While I rambled on in the official interview (see also: fail on that “somewhat presentable” goal above), what I really meant to say is…

 

Being a woman is magical. Having a baby is pure wonder. The experience of feeling the first flutters of the life, watching your body evolve to sustain it, and to give birth to a perfect, tiny human is beyond words.

Being a woman is powerful.

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For me it has been about defining and redefining myself.

As a child I was a marine biologist, a musician, ballerina and fancied myself an expert in Greek Mythology. As a young adult I was an artist, an athlete, a political (well high school and collegiate) heavyweight and scholar. As a professional, I’ve been a consultant, project coordinator, sales manager, researcher and mentor.

But through it all I was an achiever, a doer, a climber. That was my life. It was the one I felt I’d been grooming for even from my earliest of Type-A, overachieving, captain of everything days. Days that started with turning my Malibu Barbie into CEO Barbie who drove her pink convertible into her New York office, long before Mattel introduced Entrepreneurial Barbie might I add.

Having a baby didn’t mean losing that identity. Being a mom just adds another role, another layer to who I am as a woman and what I can accomplish. It’s expanded the definition of my capabilities in ways I couldn’t previously fathom. It’s made me realize the innate strength we’ve been given as women. Because whether I’d ever have given birth to our daughter, whether you ever choose to become a mom, I know now that it’s within our ability. This realization surfaced the most glorious of truths to my conscious.

That whatever dreams we may be chasing from corporate to artistic to maternal, we, as women, are capable of true miracles.

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What will be yours?

 

PS: : Bri Seeley’s blog series on what it means to be a woman has transitioned into a project and book called the Inspirational Woman Project. Check it out for more inspirational women!

Mallory200x200WITH LOVE FROM

Mallory, soon-to-be-mama and current Elevate 2014 Sister.

Mallory is a dreamer, a seeker of inspiration and curator of life’s beauty. A researcher by day, professional pinner by night, she’s often distracted by shiny things and has marked 2014 as the year to end her 90% completion streak starting with giving birth to Zee Shrimpress and launching the first addition to her multrepreneur portfolio – a luxury baby boutique – because who doesn’t love ridiculously cute, tiny things?  When not honing her mad visualization skills with Zee Hubs, she can be found celebrating a circular life in Los Angeles with Puffin Muffin (puppy) and Skittler (cat).

There’s No Such Thing As Ready

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I know two things to be true:

1)      I really want to have a baby someday.

2)      The idea of having a baby scares the bejeezus out of me.

 

I’ve had what you’d call “baby fever” for years. My heart skips a beat when I hold a newborn. I coo over tiny shoes and socks. I actually enjoy Facebook updates from friends chronicling first words, first steps. There’s no downside to baby fever.

 All the delight, none of the responsibility.

However, as conversations with my husband about our future family have become less and less hypothetical, my excitement and my anxiety have risen in tandem.

For instance, do you know how expensive daycare is? I’ve got a pretty good idea.

How do people afford babies anyway?

Where will all the extra stuff go in our apartment?

How will I handle the mess?

Seeing as how I’ve killed so many plants, can I be trusted to keep a human child alive?

That’s just the first few months. The perils of growing up are limitless, alarming. What happens if she doesn’t have any friends? Or he becomes addicted to drugs? What if she inherits my anxiety? WHAT IF HE JOINS THE YOUNG REPUBLICANS? (Seriously.)

The first step is admitting you don’t have a problem, as in

“Lauren, this is not a problem that you have right now. Take a deep breath and calm the eff down.”

 

I’m no stranger to being anxious in the face of change, usually because I’m afraid of making the “wrong” choice. That fear is magnified in this situation because having a child is the one – and let’s be honest, the ONLY – life choice that can’t be undone. That child is yours and yours forever. You can’t send him back when it gets too hard. You can’t say “I changed my mind about being a mother. Sorry it didn’t work out. You have until the 15th to vacate the premises.”

There’s also a selfish part of me that doesn’t want to give up the many advantages of being child free.

  • I like nights out with my girlfriends
  • and sleeping in on Sundays
  • and Netflix binges.
  • I like spending an entire day reading a book because it’s just that good.
  • I like my marriage, and these sweet newlywed years when it’s just us.

 

There are still so many interests I have yet to explore, and passions that are just starting to emerge. If I have a child, will I ever practice the piano? Become a better photographer? Master gluten-free cooking? Where will I find the time or the energy for these pursuits when I am responsible for another person?

And wow, forget about all the things I have yet to do – what about my spectacular laziness? I can’t even summon enough energy to wash my makeup off before bed.

 

Finally, there’s that tiny nagging voice inside that tells me

“You’re not a perfect human yet. What makes you think you can raise one?”

But then, just when I start to believe there is no reason on God’s green earth to ever procreate, I think about a tiny little baby with my hazel eyes and Sam’s blond hair. I think about a toddler who calls me mama and runs into my arms when I walk through the door.

I think about all the joys, sorrows, triumphs, and fails that come with being a parent and I think:

Yes. I want that.

 

It is so easy to get sucked into a shame spiral of negative thoughts and fears. The only thing I’ve found that works is to step back and remember a few items:

 

  • There is no perfect timing, or perfect parenting.
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  • You don’t have to be the most actualized version of yourself before taking the leap….You just have to be present, and loving, and willing to make about a million mistakes. 
  • There will be days when you want to tear your hair out and days when you truly believe the sun rises and sets around your beautiful family.

 

Take a deep breath, open your heart, and you’ll know when it’s time.

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LaurenHeadShotWITH LOVE FROM

Lauren, Gender Studies Buff, and current Elevate 2014 Sister.

Lauren is a lifelong learner, a Broadway musical enthusiast, a chocoholic, and a recovering perfectionist. She is also a Women’s and Gender Studies buff and building community with like-minded ladies is her jam. She is thrilled to have the privilege of participating in Elevate 2014 and to cheer on this group of truly impressive individuals as they kick ass and take names. You’ll find her on Capitol Hill with her husband Sam and her spunky Cavalier Bess Truman.

July Happiness + Coconut Moments

Jackson's Joy

 

During our most recent Elevate virtual retreat, Molly read us a poem by Paul Hostovsky entitled “Coconut” from his collection Bird in the Hand.  I highly recommend it.  You can check it out here.

It explores the concept of happiness, and reminds us that it is available to us in every simple, beautiful moment, if we are open to it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness lately, as I’ve reached the halfway point of my Elevate journey.  When I sent in my application for the year-long program, I was not “looking” for happiness.  I thought I had it, and on some levels, I did.  I was really looking for more.  More friends.  More money.  More productivity and creativity.  Better health.  I wanted to see action in myself.  I was looking to check some boxes off my lists of goals.

And though I have, in fact, checked many boxes, I realized I was missing the mark.  I’m not saying it’s bad to want more.  External objects and achievements are worthwhile goals, but they, in themselves, do not bring true contentment or happiness.  It’s really the process that happens in moments when we connect our lives externally and internally in appreciation of its divine goodness and rightness and timeliness.

Some call it joy.  I call it magical.  Because that is how it truly feels to me when I recognize and acknowledge it.

Connecting the outside world with the inner workings of my heart, and being present for these events consistently, has been my soul’s work this year.

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I now count my moments of joy with a gratitude practice.  In honor of the poem that brought it about for me, I call them “coconut moments”: those things in a day that bring a smile and a sense that, though everything is not checked off my list, everything is not as I fully wish for myself and others, though there is still adversity in the world and though I’m still grasping for “more” sometimes, that moment is available and full of magic.

Whether it’s watching my beagle delightfully hang his head out the passenger window, admiring the beauty of a butterfly, cheering a baby frog testing its new legs out, noticing my Wonder Woman figurine that reminds me to embrace my inner badass, or whether it’s savoring delicious homemade pizza, acknowledging these “coconut moments” brings me more fully into my own life and call for revelry!

Today, this is my truth: life’s magic is here for me to experience fully if I am willing to notice and participate.

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Tell me, what are some of your “coconut moments”?

LeighWITH LOVE FROM

Leigh, Lover of Leg Warmers and Zumba,   2014 Elevate Sister

Leigh is a native Texan physician living in Houston.  She is a proud aunt to two smart, amazing and sweet little girls and a mama to a very naughty but charming 10yr old beagle named Jackson.  Currently practicing in an academic setting providing mental health services for a busy county health system, she has a special interest in treating eating disorders.  When she is not working, you can find her swinging her hips doing Zumba, stretching them in yoga class or trying to decide between her favorite beverages: green juice, coffee, and wine.

 

Cheering For The Underdog

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I’m a cheerleader. When I was little I used to go to Seahawks games with my binoculars trained on the Sea Gals. When girls in our Middle School started a cheerleader group, I crafted my first Mission Statement to persuade them of how this group was my destiny bestowed upon me at birth and illustrated by my awesome side split. Think Shark Tank, with a higher “high pony” and bigger bangs – it was the 90’s after all.

Cheerleading is my thing. If it’s motivating a friend, giving career guidance to a mentee, creating strategies with zee hubby – then I’m jazzed, creative, 100% committed, take-no-prisoners, inspired. Inspiring. So much so that in the course of “finding my authentic calling”, I’ve often been told I should be a Life Coach.

But that’s where things start to unravel, because how in the world could I be a Life Coach when I cannot figure out my own life!?

How is it that being a cheerleader comes naturally when cheering for the other team, but that booming, spirited voice becomes frail and disappears into muffled background when rooting for my own team?

How did I become the Underdog by default?

When it’s my life, my dilemmas, my dreams – that I’m too scared to claim – all the sudden all that conviction and grounded belief gets wiped out and replaced with fearful, self-doubting, indecision.

It’s frustrating. It’s maddening. It brings up bile in the form of shame that I fight to force down. It makes me feel lazy, and I end up condemning myself over every little action not aligned with accomplishing the dreams I should be honoring and goals I should be setting. Why did I just watch the sexy vampires on CWTV for two hours (okay maybe three)? How did I just spend the whole night on Pinterest? Did I really just take a nap and waste half the day? I have no dedication. I’m not committed enough. I don’t have what it takes. I’m creating my own destiny of being stuck.

Wait a minute.

 When the hell did my cheerleader become a terrorist?

When I let her. Though it is seemingly difficult for me to make decisions in my own life, I’ve begun to realize that by not deciding to move forward, I am deciding to stand still.

So if I’m making all these decisions anyway, why not start paying attention to what I’m deciding?

Now here I am about twenty years after my first mission statement, reclaiming my inner cheerleader. Reinstating my personal mission statement that “this” is my birth right. Instead of ridiculing myself over every little indiscretion on my goals, I shall proudly cheer for every win no matter how big or small.

 

Writing down my daily intention – GO!

Taking 30 minutes to finish an action on my plan – Fight!

Saying no to something asked of me, but not aligned with my values or goals – WIN!

 

Instead of letting indecision be my decision, I will decide. I decide to make this my official re-commitment to myself and to continually choose me for the win every time.

 

Mallory200x200WITH LOVE FROM

Mallory, soon-to-be-mama and current Elevate 2014 Sister.

Mallory is a dreamer, a seeker of inspiration and curator of life’s beauty. A researcher by day, professional pinner by night, she’s often distracted by shiny things and has marked 2014 as the year to end her 90% completion streak starting with giving birth to Zee Shrimpress and launching the first addition to her multrepreneur portfolio – a luxury baby boutique – because who doesn’t love ridiculously cute, tiny things?  When not honing her mad visualization skills with Zee Hubs, she can be found celebrating a circular life in Los Angeles with Puffin Muffin (puppy) and Skittler (cat).

 


Why I Post My Belly Bump Pics Each Week

babybumplumps

As many of you know, I am pregnant.

My husband and I are expecting our first child (a son!) at the end of September. The hope of a child is a precious, beautiful thing. Being pregnant? It’s strange. It’s humbling. It’s intensely surreal.

People like to talk crap about mommy blogs, but I have to tell you I’m thankful there are so many out there these days – especially the ones where the mamas and mamas-to-be are kind but frank about the realities of pregnancy and motherhood.

I’m thankful that women are creating a space where it’s okay to tell the hard truths (What? Not everyone is elated to find out they’re pregnant? Not everyone spends the whole nine months glowing? Along with extra weight and nausea, pregnancy can bring congestion, extra saliva, hair in weird places, acne in weird places, and a WIDER NOSE? It’s true, people).

I’m thankful for this space, but you know what? It’s still hard to practice.

Sure, I have felt a ridiculous amount of freedom in telling friends about my body woes (and reassuring friends who are also pregnant that they are NOT ALONE in any matter of ailments or fears).

And I am grateful for the grace and the compassion with which my truth-telling has been met. But there’s still this sense of confinement, of working out my inner demons, the hard reality that even in this sweet season of expectation, I have to face myself in the mirror.

And….WHOA, is that image changing.

Since we live thousands of miles from family and many dear friends, I decided to share my pregnancy progress over social media.

Since week 14, each Tuesday I post a photo of my growing belly to Instagram and Facebook and announce which kind of fruit or vegetable is comparable to the baby’s size. And friends, I worry that you may think this is shameless self-promotion, that I am just so in love with this new body and I think you should be too. Nope. In fact, each week I wonder if I will lose another Facebook friend because they are just so tired of seeing and hearing about my belly, certain that I am becoming one of those women.

Friends, this is HARD. For the girl who has been trying to perfect the selfie since before the advent of camera phones with front-facing screens (“Husband! Arm shot!” has been a common refrain in our marriage), I am much more comfortable with close-up pics of faces and smiles. After years of cropping photos to hone in on silly facial expressions (and okay, I’ll admit, my sometimes fabulous hair), I’m exposing my body to the masses – at one of the most vulnerable times in my life.

Vulnerable because: when I discovered I was pregnant, I was already 25 pounds heavier than my ideal weight. Heavier than I’d ever been in my weight-shifting lifetime. At my first prenatal appointment, my nurse asked if I was starting out at my “normal weight” and I burst into tears. I launched into a blubbering explanation of how much transition I’ve been through in the last few years and the stress it’s brought on and the plans I had been making to get back in shape and how the girl in the mirror and in pictures isn’t the girl I expect to see – and she kindly stopped me and said, “Oh, honey – you’re fine! I was just thinking what an adorable pregnant lady you make. Don’t you worry a bit.”

I was thankful for her reassurance, and I wanted to believe her…but I also knew she was trying to calm me down. Sure, I could be heavier, unhealthier, and my situation could be worse. But I also knew that for my height, my age, and most importantly, for me, I was overweight.

This wasn’t just about the number on the scale.

I wanted to be stronger and healthier so I could be better prepared to carry a child. And before I discovered I was pregnant, I was on that track.

I had just committed to training for a half marathon, and had spent hours mapping out a daily exercise plan in my day planner spanning the next eight months, including two shorter races in the spring.

I had begun easing myself into running again, and had been feeling good about the progress I had made.

But now – I was pregnant. And nauseated. And exhausted. And honestly? I felt a bit blue.

My whole plan to get stronger and feel better in my clothes had just flown out the window. Oh, yes – you can definitely exercise when you’re pregnant. And yes – every doctor will tell you to do so. And some women run half marathons while carrying a child, and do it well. But you can’t start training for a half marathon when you’re pregnant and have just spent two months on your couch nursing nausea and watching the entire series of Gossip Girl. You just can’t. Well maybe you can. But I didn’t.

And of course there are other ways to exercise while expecting. But the truth is, running has always been my go-to body-image and body-sculpting cure. I spent three torturous years in elementary school and middle school battling weight issues and the teasing that came with it (kids can be so mean), and it wasn’t until my parents purchased a treadmill the winter of seventh grade that I finally felt like I had some kind of agency over my body.

I laced up my shoes, turned on Sheryl Crow or Natalie Merchant, and ran until the weight melted off.

It’s been something I have turned to time and time again – no matter the season, running has not only helped me lose weight, but has also kept me sane, alleviating stress and promoting creative thought.

And to be honest—I am cringing as I type this—it has often helped me reach my true goal: to be trim and considered pretty.

I will be the first to tell you that I have always had – and still have – ridiculous body image issues. And the worst part is, I feel like I should know better.

In my professional life I’ve been privileged to learn so much from experts in healthy behavior change, body image, and disordered eating. I know that diets don’t work (in the long run). I know that the key to lasting change is eating nourishing food with delight and mindfulness and moving my body in a way that challenges me and brings me joy.

I refuse to participate in “fat talk” and try to challenge (and encourage) friends who are preoccupied with talking about what they should and shouldn’t eat and how they need to lose weight. I’m a passionate advocate of self-kindness coupled with accountability. But dang, it’s hard to do for myself.

Through the months of April and May, my Elevate sisters and I took on challenges to work towards a more positive body image. One challenge was to practice looking into the mirror with kindness, compassion, and love. To sometimes even speak out loud the words of affirmation that we truly long to hear (but don’t always believe). To smile at ourselves rather than grimace at every perceived imperfection.

So I began to spend more time looking at this ever-growing belly, practicing grace. And I committed to snapping a picture and sharing it each week in celebration – no matter how I felt about the image looking back at me.

On a Tuesday morning a couple of weeks ago, I stood in front of the mirror, wearing a maternity dress I hadn’t yet tried on. I loved the way it clung to my curves, showcasing my bump and growing breasts (friends, I’m sorry if that’s TMI, but this A-cup-lifer has to celebrate). And I snapped the picture. I loved it. Until my eyes traveled down and saw what the camera noticed, and I had not: my love handles, captured so delicately in shadow. And I thought –

I’ll try a different angle. No luck. Still there. And then I thought – I’ll just change clothes, I’ll put on something black, I’ll find a drapey cardigan to cover up this mess.

This mess?

My heart sank. The whole point of this exercise was to learn how to look at myself with kindness, to celebrate the changes within me, to embrace the beauty of the woman who is here right now. Without the aid of PicMonkey (um, hello airbrush, weight loss tool, and wrinkle remover!).

So, I took a deep breath and I posted it. And yeah, there is a part of me that recognized I would probably get fewer likes on that picture than the photos where I am carefully draped and posed. But hey – we’ve all got our body issues, we live in a fitness-crazed culture, and I realize some folks aren’t going to feel comfortable giving a thumbs-up to a woman who obviously has not been working out every day of her pregnancy. Maybe I’m wrong about that. I really hope so.

The point is, I am working on being brave. And being brave requires also being vulnerable. And here I am, swimming in the vulnerability pool, buoyed by my love handles. I’m effectively inviting you to go stare at, as Bridget Jones would say, my “wobbly bits.” I’m calling attention to the place on my body I would least like you to see, much less contemplate. I’m inviting you, in a way, to objectify me, like I’ve objectified myself. Like I’ve been doing since I was 13 years old.

But I’m also inviting you into a safe space, a space where we can all be honest about our fears and our hang ups and perfectionistic tendencies and realize that we’re not alone. And inviting you to recognize that speaking the truth about what we battle sheds light on what’s been hiding in the darkness. And there, in the glow, we can see that these fears do not need to hold power over us.

Because now that I’ve put this down on paper, I’m starting to think – who cares about love handles? Is this really what I’m going to spend the day thinking about? And now I’m laughing because – maybe no one even noticed.

My hope – my great, wild hope – is that in exercising this type of vulnerability, I’ll reach someone else who maybe doesn’t love her body today. Who maybe looks at old pictures of herself and longs to be 18 again. Or wishes she looked like her friend who seems to make life look so easy and perfect.

We’ve all got our secrets, friends. We’ve all got our struggles. Let’s be kind to ourselves and each other.

And may we celebrate the beauty we find today – right here, right now, staring right back at us from the mirror.

 

WITH LOVE FROM

ECurlettElevate (1)

Erin, Adventurer, Storyteller, and Army Wife

Erin grew up in three different countries, leading her to embrace her role as a third culture kid: she loves airports, hates small talk, and feels more at home in a book than in any specific place. Lover of peppermint tea, alpine slides, Stephen King novels, hot yoga, Cadbury chocolate, and karaoke; devoted yet sometimes reluctant follower of Jesus; she lives with her husband, Tim, and their crazy ragamuffin cat, Opal, in a charming blue house in Tacoma, WA. Watch out: she’s bitey (the cat, not Erin).

 

I’m So Excited; Should I Try To Hide It?

Megan Is Excited

 

One of the things I’ve always told myself – as a personal mantra, something that rings so incredibly true for me that I live by it no matter what – is:

I will never apologize for being excited.

(Click To Tweet)

I have the tendency to get giddy over a variety of things, most often dog sightings, a perfect iced coffee, and goals by the US Men’s National Team. This giddiness is often accompanied by strange noises, uncontrollable giggling (to the point where I have to put my hands over my mouth to quiet the laughter), dancing, swirling a scarf over my head, TWEETING IN ALL CAPS, texting with emojis, and silly-faced selfies with obnoxiously long hashtags. I’ve embraced this part of my personality, until very recently. A harsh reality dawned on me.

Do I need to grow up?

None of the behavior I mentioned above is particularly ladylike, mature or professional. After one recent fit of excitement, I thought to myself, YOU ARE ACTING LIKE A FOOL. STOP BEING SO DUMB AND GET BACK TO WORK.

Whoa. Of all the crappy things I’ve ever told myself, this one cut into me. Deep.

After dabbing my misty eyes and writing out how I felt about this whole thing, I took a few deep breaths.

This is fine, I said to myself. It’s all part of the process of figuring out who you are and who you want to become.

My next thought process was, How do I harness my excitement while still being myself?

The answer is, I can’t, really.

At our Elevate retreat at the beginning of the year, we all chose ways of being, and one over-arching theme for the year. One of my “ways of being” was Be Excited, and my word for the year is Fly. How am I supposed to fly when I am consciously reigning myself in? Do I just try to express my excitement in more quiet ways?

But wouldn’t that be against so much of the authentic, live-out-loud, be-yourself wisdom at the heart of what this year is all about? Yes.

So the solution is, as they say, simple but not easy.

Stop worrying about how I look to other people. Ground myself and grind it out when the excitement wears off. Continue to channel my excitement towards work and play.

(Click to Tweet)

Now that I think about it, I get a deeper understanding of where my excitement comes from. I grew up as the youngest of three. I’ve built amazing friendships with tons of people younger than I am, and I’ve loved seeing so many of them grow as people. Now, I am one of the youngest Elevate sisters. I marvel at the wisdom, grace and poise of them all, and am so grateful we’re all on this journey together. I hope to embody those qualities more and more as I take flight.

Growing older doesn’t mean I need to leave my excitement behind. I never want to lose it or take it for granted. It’s what carries me out of bed in the morning, what fuels me at work, it’s a part of who I am. How I express it will probably evolve, but the essence – the somewhat childish, bright-eyed wonderment for something amazing that has or is about to happen – will remain.

And although it can make me question my own adulthood…I accept it, and if it gets me in trouble, I’ll live with the consequences.

 

 

meg 200x200WITH LOVE FROM

Meg , Sports Fan, Dog Lover, 2014 Elevate Sister

Meg is a huge Boston sports fan, who happens to live out her passion by working at ESPN. She’s also a writer, ridiculous dancer, Pinterest-obsessed cook, and dog lover. She feels alive when she’s at a game, at the beach, in her kitchen and in New York City or Los Angeles. She’s never met a cup of tea she didn’t like. She is in love with the focus and friendships Elevate has brought into her life.

When The Other Shoe Drops

red heels hanging

I want to tell you a secret. I want to tell you about my life. My life that is both wonderful and blessed, and that I’m grateful for every day.  But my secret is that I’m ashamed.  I don’t talk about the real circumstances of my life to most people because truthfully, I’m uncomfortable with it. Maybe even embarrassed.

 

So, here it is.  This is my life, currently.  I am 35 years old. I have an amazing husband and a beautiful 15-month old son. I live in a fabulous oceanside community, in a large 2700 square-foot, 5-bedroom house.  I have a huge bedroom with a walk-in closet and giant ensuite bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub.  I have my own office in this house, and so does my husband.  My son has his own room, we have a spare bedroom, a sitting room, a dining room, a family room, and a fabulous kitchen. We also own a second house in another suburb. And yet a third in another province

 

We have two cars, a Mazda and a Mercedes.

 

When I have to check a box for annual family income, it’s always the highest number: $200,000 +. Our monthly budget is almost half of the annual salary of my first full-time job.

 

We’ve had enough money to travel the world whenever we wanted – Los Angeles, Vegas, New York City, France, Spain, Thailand, Ireland, Australia, Mexico, Italy, Scotland. Our son has been on 10 airplanes already in his young life.

 

We want for nothing. We are fortunate, and we are incredibly blessed.

 

Maybe you’re thinking….is she for real? Is this one of those posts where she reveals that this is actually her 5-year vision? When she says, “ha, just kidding! I actually live in a 2-bedroom condo and drive a 1999 Toyota, but one day, I aspire to have all this!”?

 

Nope. This is my life.

 

This is my life, and I’m not putting it out there to brag.  Although reading it back, I am fighting the urge to hold down the delete key and erase, erase, erase all these details. Maybe substitute them for some generic comments about how we are comfortable and live a normal, average life with a nothing-to-brag-about income.

 

But I won’t do that. Because this is my life, and these are things you need to know about me to understand what I’m about to say. These are the things that make up my life and contribute to one of my biggest secrets:

 

I fight a shame battle every day. 

 

Because I am not the one that is financially responsible for all this abundance.  I am the one that quit her full-time job 7 years ago to chase dreams and find happiness.  I am the one that spends more money than she contributes to the household. I am the one that has big ideas, that have big expenses, and big time commitments.  I am the one that has spent the last half-decade finding herself, and being supported (emotionally and financially) the whole time by an amazing husband.

 

I am ashamed to say that this has gotten to be quite comfortable for me. I haven’t taken it for granted – I am grateful every day -  but I’ve certainly enjoyed the time, space and financial freedom to explore and play.

 

And so, last month, when my wonderful, supportive, brings-home-the-bacon husband decided it was time for him to quit HIS job, and chase a dream or two of his own, I won’t lie and say that I welcomed this decision with open arms.  In fact, I was terrified, and frankly, a little bit angry. 

 

Just a month ago, I was the girl who grew up on Kraft dinner and hand-me-down clothes, embarrassed by the abundance in her life, and anxiously waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Now, I suddenly find myself stressing that I’ll be discovered as the “kept” woman, the trophy wife, the money-spending dream-chaser, who is terrified to step up and show the same emotional and financial support to a husband who wants to live his dream too.

 

My shame has done a complete 180. The other shoe has dropped. And I’m left with a ton of selfish questions….

 

What’s going to happen to MY life? To MY dreams? What am I going to have to give up in order for my husband to pursue his big dreams?

 

Yep. This is my life, currently. Or maybe, this is our life.

 

Eran - Stratejoy picWITH LOVE FROM

Eran, Photographer, Risk-Taker, 2014 Elevate Sister

Upon taking a leap of faith and quitting her “grown-up” job in 2007, Eran has spent the last 7 years conquering fears, exploring options and checking off all the “to-do’s” on her life list.  A true Renaissance soul, Eran is not satisfied doing just any one thing. Photographer, singer, music-arranger, Sound of Music enthusiast, writer, micro-manager, traveller, French-speaker, dreamer, wine-drinker, risk-taker, and most recently, mama to a gorgeous and giggly little boy – these are just a few of the titles Eran wears on a regular basis. Eran can be found on Twitter @eranjayne.

 

The Ups and Downs of Life (or How I Learned to Love The Dip)

Sage Grayson Ups and Downs of Life

 

Lately, there’s been an incessant drumming inside my head as if a burly slave driver were pounding away to get me work harder.

ba DUM! ba DUM! ba DUM!

Call your clients! ba DUM!

Fix your website! ba DUM!

Send that email! ba DUM!

If I were prone to having migraines, I’m sure I’d have a doozy by now.

This busyness has me feeling burned out and turning inward. I’m not trying to do my usual amazing work. I’m just trying to get through the days. And just forget about taking time for self-care or relaxation.

With Molly on maternity leave, I’m feeling more pressure to keep chugging along on my own despite the fact that she gave us a stack of summer reading books and my Elevate Mastermind sisters are active in the Facebook group.

But try as I might, I still feel like I’m trudging through a waist-high river of mud.

 

My work-life slump reminds me of a fabulous little book The Dip by Seth Godin. He explains that our lives are like bell curves. They rise up to a certain level of happiness and ease, and then zoom back down again into a pit of despair and struggle.

That low point is called the dip, and it will leave you wondering “Where’d my mojo go-go?”

 What people don’t realize is that there’s another curve upward just beyond the dip. The levels of our lives go up and down like waves on the ocean. The dip is not the end. It will go back up again, but loads of people quit during the dip.

Intellectually, I know my current low point is just a normal dip, but the trick is to find the strength to keep going so I can reach that lovely upward curve that’s just beyond my reach.

 

Here’s what I’m doing to get out of the dip. ba DUM!

 

Get Support

Dips in your work and life are good at isolating you from the people who could help you get through it unscathed. As sad as it sounds, I felt too busy and stressed out to spend time talking with my Elevate sisters on Facebook or Google Hangouts.

It’s hard being a business owner when it seems like the people around you don’t truly understand the struggles of an entrepreneur.

So I finally got over myself and reconnected with one of the Elevate ladies. In fact, I sent her a blubbering, rambling message that had “crazy pants” written all over it. (Sorry, Leigh!) But the response I got back was filled with love and compassion…something I haven’t been giving myself lately.

I also asked another entrepreneur friend to be my business accountability partner. Once a week we talk about our successes, challenges, and how we can support each other. It makes the dip seem less deep and scary.

 

Make Boundaries

A great way to climb out of a dip is to make some boundaries in your life. Think of boundaries like the fence surrounding a dog park. A cute doggie can run around and be free from his leash while safely inside the park.

Within your own boundaries you can be free.

(click to tweet)

I was noticing that my business hours were spilling into my family and personal time. It felt like I always had to be working, whether it was 7:00 in the morning or 10:00 at night. So I recommitted to taking the weekends off and stepping away from my laptop as soon as my husband got home from work.

Batch scheduling also helps me define my boundaries. By grouping similar tasks together (such as answering my emails at once or running all my errands on a single day), I save time and my sanity.

 

Raise Standards

I recently attended a retreat for entrepreneurs, and the host said something intriguing, “Where there’s stress, there’s a lack of a standard.” Since my life can get pretty stressful, I had to find a way to create my own standards!

One of the first things I did was take the time to dress up every morning, including fixing my hair and makeup. No more yoga pants for me!

When I act like someone who gives a damn, I attract more positive energy to me. And positivity is a lifeline to pull yourself out of a dip.

I also took a leap and raised the prices for my one-on-one coaching packages. I didn’t want to stay in the dip, so I needed to take command of my time. By raising my prices, I’m making more money yet have fewer clients. It’s been liberating to hold myself and my work to a higher standard.

 

The Beat of Life

Getting lost in a long slump or dip feels exhausting. But you know what else has a dip? A heartbeat.

Think of that swiggly line on an electrocardiogram. It does up and down, up and down, with the beat of your heart. The dip is not the end—it’s life.

Here’s an exercise I do to center myself when the dip is getting the best of me.

Put your hand on your heart. As long as your heart is still beating, you’ll make it through the dip. Promise.

(click to tweet)

The dip of your heartbeat is steady and constant and reassuring. And it always goes back up.

 

Can you feel it?

 ba dum…ba dum…ba dum…

 

Sage-GraysonWITH LOVE FROM

Sage,  Life Editor, Wife, 2014 Elevate Sister

Sage Grayson is a professional Life Editor who helps ambitious career women edit their habits, routines, and mindsets to balance their happiness at work and home. On lazy Sundays you can find her reading her more than 30 magazine subscriptions and enjoying cups of jasmine green tea. She lives in the suburbs of San Francisco with her husband Chris and pit bull Skyla. You can find Sage at SageGrayson.com, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube.