March 31, 2012

Shades Of Success

When it comes to success, it seems like our culture has created this Hollywood formula of not only how to achieve it, but what it should mean. More or less, that you have to be incredibly good at something (if not the best), that you make a lot of money from it, and above all, you get everything that you want. It's fast, it's competitive, and it's all about getting to the top. Once you're at the top, you apparently have it all. 

Yet in my own experiences, what we're told by the masses isn't always true. Success can, and often does have various different elements. 

Throughout junior high and high school, there was always a part of me that felt I had to work a lot harder than everyone else. As selfish and egotistical as it sounds, it was mostly because of what I had to deal with both physically and emotionally. On top of that, it was as though all my friends were either reaching these big milestones and getting what their heart's desired: a driver's license, a boyfriend/girlfriend, grades and awards, etc. All of it left me scratching my head and wondering when my turn was going to come. I hardly ever talked about it because deep down I blamed it on what I could not control. 

Which brings me to my first lesson: as cliche as it is, everything does have it's own time and it's own place. That was (and still is) an extremely tough one to grasp, because history and statistics and whatever constantly say that we're supposed to have done certain things by a certain age. Yet, everybody is on their own journey, with their own wants and needs, and their own history. 

In order for me to stop comparing myself to other people, I needed to stop giving myself useless deadlines (i.e. I will do this or have that by a specific date or time). When one puts themselves on a race against the clock, it becomes less about the experience and more about just making it happen, no matter what. And one can only plan so much to where it actually works out exactly the way they want it to. It's important to be flexible and open to change when it presents itself. 

But that doesn't mean that one should automatically point the finger at the divine whenever something doesn't go in the direction that they would like. It's important to stop and evaluate (or re-evaluate) yourself every once in a while, especially when you keep getting the same result and find yourself running around in circles. 

With that being said, if you want to achieve something you have to have a vision for it. Looking back on my early teenage years, I think part of the reason why I always felt stuck in a rut was because I didn't have a lot of confidence and I constantly looked to the people in my life for reassurance. Despite what other people are going to say about it, deep down you know you truly are and what you're capable of. When somebody tells you that you can't, turn around and say "watch me!" 

I don't like to look at success as getting everything that you want, because the reality is that what we want is not always what we need. And although a lot of celebrities and public figures seem to have the world at their fingertips, chances are that's not the case. The same is true for any friends and family members that look like they're living on easy street. Somewhere in some way, every person is struggling with something. 

Rather, success can both evolve from doing what allows you have joy, and learning a life-changing lesson. Those types of achievement are the ones that stick the most because they tend to take a long time to understand and they don't necessarily happen right away. I would much rather succeed in this way then going by the "Hollywood Formula" because it's easy to get caught up in being at the top of the food chain. I like being somewhat in the middle and take my time getting there; it allows me to appreciate the journey, as well as the people that have come along for the ride. 

It hasn't, nor will it ever be totally easy.  This year in particular, there were plenty of moments where I thought it would be anything but successful; in general, I felt like I was moving one step forward, yet taking two steps backward. I cried a lot and frequently gave myself a hard time for the choices that I made. 

Yet, failure is only failure if that's how you choose to look at it. In these last few weeks, learning about letting go of what is out of my control. When something bad happens, I don't spend my time trying to figure out the purpose behind it or where I'm going to go from that point on. I just ask God for peace and comfort in the situation and take everything one day at a time. Little by little, I have allowed myself to be vulnerable in group therapy and have been working on doing that with my loved ones. 

Overall, I have succeeded in not giving up and not being completely and utterly perfect. And you know what? I happen to like it. 

I am scared, but I am determined. I'm not certain, but I have faith. And I may be small, but I have big dreams and a big heart.

For anyone that's reading this, do me a favor and never give up on yourself. You might be in a lot of pain, but there is joy to be found. You might be frustrated, but be patient. No matter what you might face, just keep going!

March 23, 2012

Bumps In The Road

As much as I wish that life had this automatic "happy" button, where you could flip the switch and you could be happy no matter what, that just doesn't work. It will always be full of ups and downs, and whenever you're done dealing with one problem, another one always replaces it. It's not being negative, but something I've come to accept. 

There has been a lot going on this week, emotionally speaking. I honestly was not prepared for any of it and it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I will reassure you all and say that it is not a life or death situation, but it has hit me pretty hard. So instead of rambling on about the details, I will share this poem that I wrote. I can't predict what will happen and how long this will go on, but I will share more if and when I feel the need to. 

Eye Strain (When it Doesn’t Make Sense)

The tides have turned
I’ve lost my footing once again
I felt a rush of panic and a twinge of fear
Not sure where I’ll end up this time around

I’m in the middle of a storm of feelings raining over me
Up to my neck in confusion with a hint of bitterness
I don’t know whether to rejoice or to scream
Preferring to convince myself that I’m someplace else entirely
Any place other than the darkness I’m trying to fight off
Maybe it’s not as bad as it seems

I’d rather not get advice
I know people mean well, but I don’t take easily to comparisons
I’ve had too many cocktails of sympathy
Too many shots of “I know how you feel” and “You’re not alone”
Cliches that don't do a whole lot of good

If you want to be there for me
Feel free to put your hand on my shoulder or hold me for a minute or two
I might feel the need to let it out
Pure and uncensored without any apologies

I’ve always tried to see beyond the clouds and haze
There’s always a little bit of light that gives me peace
Knowing that it’s just hidden away for a little while

My eyes hurt from all the strain
I’m doing my best to approach it a different way
Let the answers come when they may
I put one foot in front of other
Even when very little of it makes any sense
I just keep the faith

March 21, 2012

Away From The Wall

I used to not see myself as adventurous type, let alone spontaneous; I have a bit of a type-A personality, mostly preferring to know what is going on ahead of time so that I can prepare for it in whatever way I feel the need to. I wake up unbelievably early to give myself enough time to get ready and have a little quiet time in the morning. I'm not one to wait until the day of to contact someone if I want to spend time with them. And I have this ridiculous thing about "needing" to figure out how I feel about a person or a situation, so that I can properly deal with it in the worst case scenario

There are people who spent most of, if not their whole lives living on the edge. I, on the other hand, have been living straight up against a wall, or at least as far away from the edge as I possibly can. 

In other words, I'm overly cautious. I think about things way more than I should. And sometimes I second guess myself, mostly when something doesn't work out the way I thought it would, and I ultimately wonder what I should or shouldn't have done. 

It's been driving me absolutely crazy. Especially lately, where both a variety of good and not-so-good things have been happening and I can't keep my feelings straight 

I would like to be a little bit more edgy, but not just in the traditional sense of jumping out of a plane or swimming in a tank full of sharks. When I say I want more adventure, I mean more of life's little adventures; the kind of things that most do without thinking about, and may or may not be that big of a deal. 

More specifically, I mean things like going out on the town on a Friday or Saturday night without planning too far ahead of time. Treating myself to something special every so often and not fretting over my bank account. Telling those that I care about (both old friends and new friends) exactly how I feel, minus the fear, guilt or shame. Trying something new that may or may not be a little bit dangerous, yet not deadly. 

For most of my twenty years in existence, the only reason that I haven't gone out on a limb on a regular basis is because of past decisions or painful situations. Without realizing it, I've avoided truly investing myself in any man for the last four years because I didn't want to give it everything I had, only to question whether or not I screwed up if it went downhill. I always said to myself "I don't want this to be like the last time" and somehow it always was. 

In general I have stayed close to the wall because I didn't want to have any regrets; I didn't want to look back and wish that I could have done it differently. 

Yet, I do look back and wish that I could have just done it, period; no worries about what comes next or how whomever will be affected by it. 

Despite all the advice that's given about timing, there are circumstances where the "best" time or the "right time" is whenever you have the window of opportunity. And I know that because I went through that kind of experience last year. I wanted to introduce myself to someone, but I was intimidated and therefore hummed and hawed about it for a month. It turns out that I stressed out about the whole thing when I didn't need to. 

Throughout the last month, the subject of control has become present in conversations, readings, and other aspects. I've written about it several times in previous posts, and the main message has become pretty clear: that there are times where you just have to let go and allow everything to work itself out. It might be scary and uncertain at first, it's all right to map it out a little at a time. There's no law saying that you have to have it completely figured out. 

We're made to believe that certain choices should equal regrets.And while there are circumstances (like purposely hurting yourself or another person) that is grounds for remorse, not every bad decision has to result in "oh my gosh I should not have done that and I'll never do it again!" I haven't always made the best choices, but that doesn't mean they were flat-out terrible. If you get even the smallest lesson out of it, who's to say that it was pointless? 

There's this somewhat overused quote that goes "It's not about what you do, but who you're with." Again, there's a ton of truth in that; my favorite adventures and experiences haven't been wonderful not just because of what I did, but because of who was right there with me when I did it. 

If I'm going to embrace the idea of uncalculated risk, I want certain people in my life to be somehow involved with it. 

For example, I made what one might call a Bucket List for 2012; I kept it within a year's time frame, that way I am more likely to just do it. Among the tasks I want to accomplish are taking a roadtrip (without my parents), spending a ridiculous amount of money, staying out all night, and ride a moped. There are other things on there, but there a little more personal and I can't quite guarantee that I can make them happen all within this year. However, I'm not going to say that I won't try. 

Regardless of the mistakes that are made, who's to say that you're truly living if you're not willing to have the full experience?

March 17, 2012

Painting A Brighter Picture

Believe in yourself.

Believe in what you can do

Just Believe.

I have heard those words a million times over, in some form or another. But in these last six or seven months, they have come to mean very little to me. I am not trying to discredit the power that they have, because it has helped me in the past. Yet as I look back on the triumphs and obstacles that I have faced within this period of time, "believing" doesn't necessarily do it justice.

Rather, the better term would be "envisioning."

More specifically, my success has more or less come from the fact that I could easily see myself doing those things. I could see myself living in an apartment, despite being five or six blocks away from my classes. I could see myself moving forward and living my life without certain people in it. I could see myself growing and maturing, ultimately not being held down by pain or past mistakes.

So far, I think I've done pretty well.

To me, the notion of having a vision for your life (or anything, for that matter) is like painting a masterpiece. Not I'm not an artist per say, but I don't think it would do a whole lot of good just to try and create what you want simply based on what another person is telling you. You have to close your eyes and genuinely see it, whether the idea is being given to you or not.

 Simply believing in your abilities can only do so much. When you can't picture yourself having a positive experience or achieving a particular goal, it's hard to genuinely believe in it. 

In a way, they go hand in hand. 

Unfortunately, there is a bit of a rough side in making a dream into reality. There are times where you'll work your tail off in order to make it happen, and sometimes it just doesn't turn out the way you want it to. Or you become so focused on following through that it consumes you, and you forget to enjoy the journey.

That's why it's important to be flexible and be willing to take a different direction, if that's what the situation calls for. Becoming hooked on every little detail only leads to disappointment. 

One very powerful lesson I've come to learn is that what you want isn't always what you need, and that there is a timing for everything. That can get confusing, especially when you're in a place or with someone that feels so incredibly right. 

I realize that not everyone believes in God, or a higher power, for that matter. But lately I've been trying to get into the practice of staying calm, and ultimately handing the reins over when the time comes for it. As I said in an earlier post, I do what I can and then let God take care of the rest. 

As for my own personal vision, I'm not going to say that I don't have one. I'm a writer after all, so my mind gets creative and likes to take me away into the future every chance it gets. And now that I'm getting older, I do have to think about my future as far as a career and how I'd like to live my life in that sense. 

At the same time, I'm not one to plan it all out step by step, image by image. I'd like to think of it as doing a rough sketch and filling in the colors as I go. I don't want to be consumed with what is not one hundred percent guaranteed to happen, whether it be right now or ever. I'm slowly getting into the habit of balancing the act of enjoying the present moment, and planning for future endeavors. 

Generally speaking, I am painting a brighter picture for myself. With my writing, I try not to look at making millions of dollars, but instead focus on getting my work out there and making an impact on anyone who reads it. In my personal life and relationships, I am surrounded by people where we can both accept each other and take care of each other. And for me, personally? Well, I'm trying not to be a perfectionist so much and just find joy in wherever it may be. 

Don't be willing to settle for whatever life hands you, simply because it's easy or it's what is expected of you. If you have a dream, go after it with everything you've got. If you have a vision, do your best to create it until those doors close. You never know what it could teach you or where you'll end up.

March 13, 2012

An In-Between

One of the great things about being a sophomore is that it has given me a much broader perspective. For close to a year before that, I was testing my boundaries and pushing my limits in an attempt to see where I fit in the puzzle of the collegiate layout. I felt like I had to be this type of person, or I should be that type of person. It was very much a time of questioning and experimentation.

Through it all, I kept hearing the same thing over and over again: Stop trying to be who you think you should be, and start embracing who you actually are!

There has always been some part of me that has been aware of what makes me unique, and what sets me apart from others. I am definitely one who likes to "stop and smell the roses" or at least slow down and appreciate the small joys that I am given. I observe tiny little details about things or people that otherwise tend to go unnoticed. I have an extremely sharp memory, and when something or someone impacts me in a positive way, I can recall almost every single thing about that experience

My reasoning behind that isn't solely because I almost didn't live past infancy. It is true that life moves incredibly fast and that you only get so many opportunities to do certain things. But there was also a time in my life where I spent nearly five years steeped in depression and self-loathing. I was in a dark place,  where I questioned whether or not it was worth it to keep going or to fight through it.

When I think back on it as both an older and wiser woman, I try not to think of it as a waste. I've come to learn that everything does have it's own time, and maybe I wasn't meant to start pulling myself together until now. But that dark period has motivated me to seize every moment that I can, and soak it in for what it's worth. It is what enabled me to choose to get help when I did. I clearly remember saying to myself "I don't want to spend any more time wallowing in all of this. I want to get better and move forward."

That being said, it doesn't mean that I'm immune to hardship or pain; it just means that when it does happen, I will choose to approach it from a different perspective and handle it with grace, dignity, and strength.

The second aspect of my true self is that I have a very diverse and multi-faceted personality. I like doing a multitude of things with different people, and I don't allow a singular aspect of my life to define who I am. I've grown up perceiving myself as sweet and kind, almost to the point of being slightly naive. It wasn't until recently that I noticed that I have a fierce and feisty side; the side that tends to both surprise and scare anyone that gets to know me well enough.

I realize that some may take that as me being fake or superficial; after all, how does one have multiple sides to them without having ulterior motives? In my case, I think it just happens naturally. That's how I've come to define authenticity as a whole; when you're being authentic, you don't have to purposefully try to pull it off. It just shows.

What I mentioned above has often been a discomfort for me simply because I am afraid of how others will take it. Being vulnerable and telling it like is has been a huge blessing, but also a little bit of a curse. There have been acquaintances  that have never fully turned into friendships because they don't know how to feel about who I am. They might be intimidated. They might be scared. In turn, they either keep me at a distance or walk away completely. 

Whenever that has happened, I've wondered whether or not it has anything to do with me. And if it does, what do I do about it? Do I dumb myself down a little? (or just around specific people). Do I keep my writing (especially blogging) even more under wraps then it already is? Am I being vulnerable too much, too soon? 

The reality is that I cannot control how anyone sees me, or the choices they make as a result. No one forces them to make the kind of decision, so I can't blame myself when I was simply being myself. 

And besides, I've discovered that when someone decides to cut you off for no apparent reason and with no explanation, you really didn't need them anyway. 

Concerns aside, I am proud of myself for how far I have come in the last six months or so. Living authentically has helped me to not only gain a better perspective, but it has allowed me to cultivate stronger relationships with my friends and family. Overall, it has taken a huge weight off my shoulders because I'm no longer using the majority of my strength and energy to craft this near-perfect presentation of myself. 

And as scary as it may be sometimes, it's important to have the confidence to share your gifts and abilities with the world. I put a lot of myself into my writing, especially on this blog. I do my best to be honest and real with people, along with being genuine about what I choose to share. 

Yet, the best way to be authentic isn't just by talking about who you are, but by living it out through your daily life. Again, it's not something you should have to constantly try to do. Just be. That's a tough one for me because I make these little mistakes and tend to beat myself up for them. But the more comfortable you become with your flaws, the easier it gets. 

My main struggle now a days is being vulnerable; when to open up to certain people, or even if I should. I recently spent the weekend with a few close friends of mine, and was in turn introduced to some of her friends that had come into town. There were several times where I found myself discussing things that I normally wouldn't talk about with someone that I had just met, at least if I had time to think about it before the conversation happened. 

Then again, I felt comfortable and at ease with these people. When that happens, I tend to live in the moment and say whatever comes to mind. Since then, I wonder if I should have watched myself more closely. Yet, I look back on it and think of how nice it was, and how I still have memories of it nearly two weeks later.

As time has passed and I have become more confident in myself as a whole, I have felt both liberated and relieved. That is one of the greatest feelings that can come from embracing your own uniqueness. The joy of understanding that you're not doing it to prove anything to anyone, or to gain their approval. You're doing it because it is simply who you are as a person.

 In a world full of editing, doctoring and all-out superficiality, having the courage to demonstrate the kind of boldness is a gift. Don't let it go to waste at the expense of someone else.

March 07, 2012

Stream Of Consciousness: Eyes Wide Open

The last time I wrote a post like this, I was agitated, frustrated, and worried. So much so that I was frequently feeling like I hadn't slept in days, and became distracted from important tasks that needed to get done. I blamed this mildly off-kilter period on not having fully recovered from my birthday celebration and Dance Marathon. I blamed it on other people not calling me back when I was trying to make all these plans. 

But in these last couple of weeks, as I have spent time writing in my journal and participating with my cell group, along with being around other friends, I've realized something. While the above may have been part of it, there was an obvious factor that I refused to acknowledge: I was trying too hard to be in control. 

Subconsciously, I think that is one of, if not the main reason why I worry so much, and why other people might do it as well. Worrying becomes a way of trying to control something that is otherwise uncontrollable. Maybe not in the literal sense, but I've always justified it as a way of preparing myself for the worst-case scenario. And by preparing myself for the worst, I somehow think that it will lessen the pain of what may or may not happen. 

Most of the time, it never works; when all it said and done, you're either left wondering why you wound yourself up in the first place, or pissed that you tried to protect yourself from pain or heartache and it still hit you anyway. 

But the fact remains that we as human beings can only do so much to get what we want; we can plan our lives out in this perfect design, and put every little ounce of effort into it in order to make it happen. Unfortunately, stuff happens when you least expect it and those plans end up in a scramble. 

And I know this because for the majority of last year (and for a good portion of last semester), I believed that I had to follow this clear-cut blueprint of what you were supposed to do in college (particularly your freshman year). I thought it would all be so easy, and as time went on that was definitely not the case. I had to learn (and am still learning) how to roll with the punches and let go of things that I can do nothing about.

I actually have a little saying that goes "Do what you can, and let God take care of the rest." There are times where it's difficult to live by, because I frequently put the blame on my own shoulders when something goes wrong, or doesn't turn out the way I wanted it to. Out of habit, I have a tendency to push myself until I can't physically or emotionally do it anymore. I fail to remember that I have done my very best, and from that point on the situation is in God's hands. 

Looking back on it, I was so up in arms about spending time with my friends and whatnot because of a slight realization that dawned on me not too long ago: this period in my life is going by so incredibly fast, and it's a time that I am never going to get to live through again. I don't want to do what I did in high school by living too far in the past and focus on too much on the future. I want to live in the here and now while soaking up every moment that I possibly can. 

Yet, a couple of weeks ago, I was doing exactly what I did in high school: I was so focused on not wanting to miss out on certain things that I couldn't see what was genuinely important: that it's not just about the activities your participate in, but who is by your side participating with you. 

For example, there was one particular weekend where I decided to go downtown on a Friday night by myself (my roommate was supposed to come with me but backed out at the last minute, and I was not about to spend another weekend cooped up in my apartment). I figured that I would either run into someone I was already friends with, or meet a few new people while I was there. It turns out I was correct on both counts; but neither stayed with me for very long, and I actually spent most of the evening on the dance floor alone. 

That's not to say that it wasn't a good night, or that it's a bad thing to spend time alone in general. However, it was one of those things where I probably would have enjoyed it more if I had been surrounded by people that I care about. Just recently, I did have a night on the town with some of my  friends, one who has become like a sister to me. And I can honestly say the whole experience was nothing short of incredible. 

Choosing quality over quantity can be a hard practice to live by, mostly because of the cultural obsession with numbers. Bigger equals more. More equals better. The more experience you have, the better you're off when it comes to dealing with specific situations. 

I think it very much depends on the person; some feel more comfortable with having a laundry list of where they've been, who they've met, and the accomplishments they've achieved. It all comes down to what you put into it, and whether or not you're willing to look at the bigger picture in order to get something out of it. 

In my case, college is not just about what you do on the weekends, or how often you do it. It's about what you learn, who you meet and get to know, and how you're able to grow and mature from all of it. 

More often than not, I have to take a deep breath, stay calm, and put the concept of patience into practice. I've seen with my own eyes that things always tend to work out one way or the other, even if it's not exactly the way I want it to. 

Don't be upset or afraid in certain happenings (or people) in your life are rare and far and in between. It's an indication that you have something wonderful, and that you should simply take it for what it is and appreciate it in the best way that you know how.