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

Advice

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Finding My Flow

 

Findingflow1

I have been a woman of extremes.  Good and bad.  Right and wrong.  Black and white.  Stop and GO GO GO!!!

On my journey I have learned to embrace those gray areas that make life beautiful.  However, it is a lesson that, at least for me, requires some repetition.

A wise friend once said to me:

“you don’t get the lesson until you really GET the lesson.”

It can be hard to let go of those unbendable rules that we impose upon ourselves and sometimes others.  But it is true that in the gray area there is a peaceful flow of what simply IS… neither one nor the other.

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For me, these past few months have been spent finding this flow.  At first, those old familiar extremes tried to resurface as I healed from the end of a relationship and moved beyond it.  That black and white language came right back to me like an old foe and did its best to tell me I wasn’t “good enough” or doing “enough” toward the goals I set at the Elevate retreat.  I read Elevate sisters’ updates and blog entries and did the compare and despair routine.

But then I realized that there really is no timeline when it comes to healing the heart and spirit. And there is no one I am racing against in this pursuit of the best version of myself.

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What I needed was breathing room, impeccable self-care and a lot of fun.

So, I rest when I need rest.  I dance when I want to, and you KNOW I shake my hips to disco! I seek laughter and kindred spirits.  I have been re-feathering my nest with furniture that is true to my unique style.

My house is again becoming a home I want to live in, as is my body and spirit.

I began a food detox to begin to eliminate the things my body is sensitive to.  I have had to let go of the need to do it “perfectly” and have given myself grace during the times I have gone back to the food my body still thinks it craves but then finds out yet again it does not need to be its healthiest.

Lastly, I have found my flow regarding meditation.  The rigid ideas I once held about what a person who meditates does sailed away on that ocean of gray.  There is no perfect number of times per week or minutes spent or location or position of the body that makes it a meditation or not.  What has become most important to me is I am quieting my mind and becoming receptive to whatever message I need to receive in that particular moment I’ve chosen to open myself to it.

Today, this is my truth:

releasing extremes and finding my flow in the space between black and white lets in light and leaves room for it to illuminate all aspects of my life.

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.

 

 

 

 

Forward. Not Backward.

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The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see.

-Winston Churchill

 

I remember the exact moment when I thought of my mantra for the year; the one word that would help keep me motivated, remind me of my goals. It encompassed what I thought my year would be, what I could be.

It was energy, courage, and passion.

The word: FORWARD.

As in pushing through challenges; leaving fears behind; growing and excelling.

Except, moving forward doesn’t always feel like it is happening.

Sometimes, you feel stuck somewhere along the way; sometimes, it takes a lot longer than planned. In my world full of plans, operations, requirements, and deadlines, standing still in not an option.

“If you’re not here to win, get the hell out of Kuwait.”

Amen.

In fact, I was so excited about FORWARD that I decided that I would write about it for this post. I would write about how it felt to move one foot in front of the other during my half marathon. I would discuss overcoming health challenges and the feeling of accomplishment. I would probably do some sort of top five list on how let go of the past and move FORWARD to an amazing future.

Except, you can’t run a half marathon when you’re coughing up lung cookies during yet another lung infection of the year. You don’t feel accomplished when all of those lung infections leave you at home sick, worrying about running out of vacation hours and how work is piling up at the office.  It’s nearly impossible to identify five ways to help others move forward when you would rather watch season four of the Gilmore Girls, the best season IMHO, crying along with Lorelai and Rory as they falter and also, maybe laughing a little too loudly when Lorelai opens her front door to find cats waiting for her.

So what happened?

I have a list of typical excuses: work, stress, polar vortex, side effects from my MS medicine (maybe not that typical), etc. After years of working my way up, my job finally put me in charge of a major policy portfolio and the office’s annual policy conference. I went from being single with all the time in the world to a relationship with a man who ‘actually’ wants to be around me, as opposed to disappearing for a week at a time. The increased stress at work, coupled with a suppressed immune system, left me sick and tired, as well as being sick of being tired.

Of course, we can’t forget about Fran and her deluge of negative comments. This all added up to me giving up my spot at the Marine Corps Half Marathon, since I couldn’t walk a mile without sounding like I had kennel cough.

I was in a funk. How can I still claim FORWARD as my mantra when it seems I’m just standing still? 

 

In the mix of all my future planning, self-reflection, rigorous budgetary overhaul, dating, and half marathon training, I received an invitation to my ten year college reunion. I can tell you that I am certain of only a few truths in life, and one of them is this: “Saint Mary’s College laid the groundwork for my success.”

(Other truths include “toasted cheese sandwiches need tomato soup” and “Notre Dame football will break your heart.”)

If I can say such a strong statement about my alma mater after ten years, maybe it’s time to go back and reconnect with my college-self? Maybe, as my favorite curmudgeon Winston Churchill once said, “the farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see?”  I packed my bags, and after ten hours of driving, my friends and I made it to South Bend, IN.

The nostalgia gave me so much energy, and I woke up the next day feeling jazzed and ready to go. Meeting up with old friends, laughing and reminiscing, filled a hole in my heart.

During the second day, I devoted two hours to quiet reflection. I spent it at my favorite place on campus, writing about all of the feels, as the kids say, wishing to stay there forever. I wished I could go back ten years and tell that Maureen about the adventures and travel to come. Then, I thought, wouldn’t it be great if the Maureen ten years in the future came back to visit at that moment? What if we could have three decades of Maureen’s meet up at Corby’s for a beer, reassuring or cheering on each other? Of course, no one wants to rip a hole in the space-time continuum, but still, how cool would it be? I digress.

In that moment of writing to college Maureen, I saw my present with clearer eyes. I saw myself moving FORWARD, letting go of regret, embracing self-love, and smiling with satisfaction. I saw that while I was incredibly sick, I still managed to be a BAMF at work. I remembered that during healthy weeks in February and April, I ran a 10K in 27 degree weather and cut the opening ribbon for WALK MS steps away from the White House. While I was too fatigued to make it out of my apartment, my boyfriend stepped in to help, bringing soup, medicine and hugs when needed. I remembered even though I couldn’t complete my half marathon, I achieved amazing relationship milestones.

 

As for the list of five things to share with others to help move them FORWARD?  I offer a few lessons I have learned since beginning my Elevate journey:

 

  1.  Find your happy place:

    A few years ago, I thought that place was with a guy who didn’t treat me very well. When he went away, I had to find something that was just mine. It turns out, I always had one at Saint Mary’s and I just had to go back and visit.

  2. There is power in forgiveness:

    Last summer, I attended a Jivamukti yoga class where the teacher put on Pink’s “Try”, told the class to think about someone who had hurt us, forgive them, and push through it into wheel pose. So there I was, sobbing while pushing my core into the air. I believe it was the first step to finding my new love. The weight of old regrets and anger was only slowing me down.

  3. Avoid the piles:

    During one call with Molly, I listed all the things that felt out of control and paralyzed by stress. She called this phenomena “piling” where you find everything that is wrong and you merge into one crazy list. When I find myself in one of those moments, I take five seconds to breathe and tell myself to do one of those things for one hour. By the end of the day, I have a few less things on my pile and I can clear my head space enough to deal with the rest.

  4. What about your friends:

    Having a chronic illness like MS can be isolating. It affects every aspect of my life: emotions, energy levels, and thinking. I remember feeling guilty about asking my friends for rides to treatments, extra help with errands, or telling them when I felt scared. I didn’t want to burden others with my stress, but here’s the thing about friends, they want to help you with that burden. I know that I am a social creature, and being a hermit is unhealthy for me long-term. It’s been difficult to let people in, but now that the walls are breaking down through sharing my life with my Elevate sisters and reconnecting with my past, life isn’t so lonely.

  5. Sea otters:

    There isn’t anything special about otters, they are just freaking cute. So, I would recommend finding something that just makes you smile: sea otters, kittens, Christian Bale, whatever.

 

So there you go. I thought I was stuck and spinning my wheels, but things beyond my control still kept me going. I needed to trust the process, allow the things I set in motion in January develop in good time. I’m sure there’s some cliché about patience or something, but I only use Gilmore Girl quotes—“I have no patience for jam hands!” I’ve always been stubborn and impatient. I’ve always wanted things to move faster and go my way.

By taking time to reflect, breathe, and refocus, I could see my success. I can see the path ahead me, and I can continue to move FORWARD to my goals.  

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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.

Anxiety Is Not Rational

 

AnxietyisNotRational

I had my first panic attack in San Francisco, 2010. My husband and I had recently finished our first year of grad school, and we were celebrating with a trip to visit friends. We were on a tour of City Hall when I felt my heart start to race, my chest constrict, and a cold sweat break out on my forehead. I left the tour group and raced to the bathroom, where I felt like the walls were closing in for the next 10 minutes.

It was terrifying. It was agony. It was not the last time I would feel this way.

I couldn’t understand what had happened and didn’t really register it as a panic attack until much later. All I knew was that I was on vacation, completely stress free, and out of nowhere I thought I was losing my mind.

I was no stranger to mental health issues even then. Both genetically and situationally predisposed, I had descended in and out of major depression for many years. Depression is a fog, a haze, hard to move through and extremely disorienting until, as quickly as it rolls in, it lifts.

You know those commercials for Cymbalta? Where does depression hurt? Everywhere. Who does depression hurt? Everyone. I know this to be true. I’ve lived it.

I had learned to manage these episodes fairly well, continuing to meet obligations and go through the motions of my day. Down but not out, lonely but not alone.

But anxiety is a different story. If depression is limiting, anxiety is crippling. The fear of another attack keeps you vigilant, paranoid. The worry – “Where will I be the next time it happens?” – makes you plan your escape routes. I hated to sit anywhere but the aisle seat in case I had to make a swift exit. I hated to make plans in case I had to cancel at the last minute or, worse, depart unexpectedly. I hated to leave my apartment because at least at home I felt “safe,” if not immune.

If depression made my day-to-day a slog, anxiety stopped it dead in its tracks.

I would talk to myself, trying to reason my way back to normal. Lauren, you are a rational human. This fear is only in your head. There is no clear and present danger, no reason why you can’t just take a deep breath and get through this.

 

Anxiety is not rational. Anxiety is a vise around your heart.

I was not only anxious and afraid – I was ashamed. Ashamed that someone would find out and think less of me or see the fissures in the put-together façade I lived behind. Ashamed that logic and reason were ineffectual weapons against anxiety’s onslaught. It is unacceptable in our society to have these vulnerabilities, to let people see us be vulnerable…

 

…and yet I haven’t met a single person without them.

It was hard to love myself when anxieties were part of the package, harder still to believe that others could love me this way too. Incidentally, this is one of the amazing gifts of Elevate. Our retreat in January was about baring our souls in an environment of warmth, trust, and mutual vulnerability. Each of these women has her personal struggles and anxieties, and yet they are still some of the most exquisite, complicated, delightful, and daring women I’ve had the pleasure to meet. Their vulnerabilities make them interesting, relatable, real.

I love them more for being vulnerable. Maybe, I thought – just maybe – my vulnerabilities make me lovable too.

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Molly and the women of Elevate hold space for my fear, shame, and anxiety, and cheer the loudest when I prove myself capable of overcoming the same. They are teaching me the value of feeling my feelings and the importance of sitting with my anxiety. I’ll admit, this is not always comfortable.

It’s no use trying to outrun anxiety. Anxiety is faster. It will catch up.

Funny story, though. The times that I let the feelings happen – give in to anxiety, wallow in sadness, accept my fears – are usually the times that I move past them more quickly. Feelings are a lot like people that way. They just want to be acknowledged. Respond with loving acceptance – I see you, I hear you, I love you anyway – and the vise will loosen its grip.

 

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.

Scheduling Sanity Outside of Work

ScheudlingSanity

 

In today’s world, when everyone isn’t working, everyone is still busy. Busy running around. Busy dreaming. Busy browsing Facebook and Pinterest. Busy tweeting. Busy thriving. Busy trying to make it to another day.

 

BUSY BUSY BUSY.

 

There’s been much written about what it means – is it good/bad?  Should people be complaining about being busy, or should they be grateful? – and everyone’s definition is so different.

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In my own life, I’ve come to associate it with a whirling-dervish-sense of semi-exhaustion. Because of my unique work schedule – coming in usually at 4pm and leaving at 1am – in theory, that leaves plenty of space for awesome. Go work out! Go get coffee with a friend! Go run errands! Go clean your bathroom!

 

GO GO GO.

 

Herein lies the problem. If you’re like me, with a job you want to do well, side projects you’re working on, books you want to read, TV you want to watch, food you want to cook, people you want to call…sometimes, your free time gets piled high with so many commitments, it starts to feel like work. True story: a friend of mine recently asked me to the movies on a late Saturday morning, and I said no, BECAUSE SLEEP.

 

When even the fun, social, seemingly mindless things in your life start to feel like too damn much, it helps to give them some structure and value. That may sound like work in itself – more scheduling?!?! More commitments?!?! UGH – but if they’re really important to you, you’ll make time for them, look forward to them, and enjoy them immensely.

 

Here are some general guidelines for how to satisfy your cravings for stability, structure and being-on-top-of-things. Because for me, as a 27-year-old, there is no better feeling than feeling like you have your sh*t together.

 

Write it down. Or: Schedule yo’self.

Whether it be Google Calendar, a notebook or, my organizational powerhouse of choice, my Erin Condren planner – take some time to write out how you’re spending your time. When are you most productive? What energizes you? What are you doing that feels like a waste of time? What can you cut out for something better – can two half-hours of Interneting become an extra hour of sleep/time to read/a great episode of Friday Night Lights followed by an 18-minute conversation with your friend who just watched the same episode? The lesson, as always: Friday Night Lights is never a waste of time. And, you can’t know how to optimize your time unless you observe it carefully

 

Create a morning and/or evening routine.

There’s something powerful about starting the day on the right foot – no matter how well you slept, how crappy yesterday was, how daunting the day ahead seems – mornings are an opportunity to win the day. My current morning routine involves my alarm going off, followed by me checking email, Twitter and Pinterest for half an hour in bed. So it needs work. My best mornings involve strong black tea, followed by a solid run, and a #recoverybanana with some avocado toast and a smoothie. I love my evening routine – it’s making a mug of tea as soon as I walk in the door, and if I can’t get to sleep, a podcast. But there is always tea, a soothing, fragrant cup telling me to take it easy and look forward to tomorrow. If a “routine” feels too much, try it this way: do one thing in the morning that energizes you (coffee, exercise, free writing, texting your friend to say hi), and do one thing in the evening that soothes your mind (tea, meditation, a funny podcast or book, yoga).

 

Staples.

This might sound like the most “duh” thing ever, but it’s not obvious when your work schedule goes bonkers and you barely have time to eat and OMG WHAT DAY IS IT. Pick an area of your life, or a hobby – money, food, exercise, reading, watching, writing, whatever – and do 2-3 tasks surrounding it on a regular basis. Two criteria: 1) They need to feel good to finish. 2) They need to be simple. Consistency is the name of the game here. Put the same amount of money in your savings account on the 1st of every month. Have go-to recipes you don’t get tired of, no matter the season, with just a few ingredients. Watch the same TV show live at the same time each week, also known as Life Before DVRs. Only read two books at a time. Go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday.

 

Weekday wonders.

Similar to above, but with a 7-days-per-week twist. Do a different-but-related thing every day of the week. For example, if you’re doing exercise…on Sundays, you run; on Mondays, you do yoga; on Tuesdays, you bike; on Wednesdays we wear pink. Or, if the seven days seems like too much, pick one day of the week and make it special. I’m thinking of instituting #FancypantsFriday once the weather cooperates and makes it feasible for me to wear a dress every Friday.

 

Gold Stars.

Or: miscellaneous tasks that make me feel like a boss. Clean your makeup brushes. Finish an important book. Send one networking email. Drop off your dry cleaning. Make a doctor’s appointment. Pay a bill. Wash my sheets. I’d love to hear some of yours.

 

As a creature of habit, I love doing the things above to help wrap my brain around the mess that can sometimes be my life. But it’s a beautiful mess. So go carve out 30 minutes to make an epic lunch for work, take an hour for a walk, or clear out four hours for House of Cards – just know that you’re doing the best you can to be great.

 

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.