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Category: The Year of Living Fearlessly

It doesn’t take Oprah to find your authentic self

It doesn’t take Oprah to find your authentic self

Have you ever seen one of those “entertainment shows” (term used rather loosely) that take a self-assured, confident, smart, beautiful woman with inner strength who has life by the….horns and watch these shows put this woman (or women) into a suit/costume that is the exact opposite of who they are?  You know, where it is a great sociological experiment to put the skinny model in a fat suit or the brilliant Harvard MBA  with a high powered career and dress her like a “frumpy housewife” all in the name of “learning how the other half live” for a while?  (I’m looking at you Tyra Banks.  You, too, 20/20.)  Some of these shows- when done to sensationalize how horrible it is to be “the other half”–  make me want to smack the ratings grubbing producer and send them into the Brazilian Rain forest without a survival guide.  Just for the sociological experiment of course.  But that really isn’t the entire point of this.  Sometimes- those rare sometimes– it turns out that it isn’t just poor little pretty Britney crying that “OMG, I am so fat! Make it stop!”  Sometimes they actually do something that surprises not just the women who are doing this experiment but the people around them.

At first, these women are the same.  It doesn’t matter what is on the outside, they are confident and know what is on the inside.  They are fully tapped into their authentic selves.  And?  They are confident nothing and no one can shake that.  But after a day, two days, three days, a month…they begin to react not as the woman inside the “costume” but as the woman the rest of the world sees.

The beautiful, skinny model no longer gets the adoring looks and attention she has always known.  It causes her to react to the way she is treated- to what people assume she is when they don’t look further.  She begins to hold her head down when she is walking, not quite looking anyone in the eye.  She is no longer the first to speak up, if she speaks up at all.  She hears the rude comments and begins to cry and is truly hurt deep down inside.  With her self-esteem at an all time low for her, she feels beaten down and broken.

Or take the brilliant Harvard MBA executive who becomes the old stereo typical stay at home mom who spends her days with her kids or running errands or volunteering somewhere.  She begins to be treated as someone who can barely manage a grocery list.  Her “mom jeans” and sweater sets are frowned upon and she is rarely taken seriously unless she is talking about household affairs, PTA or Johnny’s latest accomplishment- and then rarely is she truly taken seriously.  Surely this frumpy mom couldn’t know anything about the stock market, foreign affairs or politics.  I mean, just look at the way she dresses!  She doesn’t even wear makeup everyday.  She must be “just a mom” and therefore not worthy of the intelligent conversations offered up at business dinners or get-togethers.  She belongs on the playground with the “other mommies” and before you know it, she begins to act less self-assured.  She buys into the lie that maybe she isn’t as smart as she thinks she is.  Maybe it is a man’s world and she does belong just on the playground.  Her authentic self may be able to command a board room and handle multi-million dollar accounts but when she is treated as less than, she begins to feel less than. She begins to believe that she IS less than.

What happened to these women?

I suppose as a society we are quick to judge what we see and what “truth” we have been told.  Take the woman above.  A stay at home mom is the “truth” that is told.  Her dress is not the most fashionable.  She doesn’t look high-powered but perhaps a bit overly tired.  Is that who she really is?  Is that her authentic self?

Well, yes and no.  It is who she feels she is after repeatedly- I mean time and time and time again– being treated in a way that isn’t true to her authentic self.  When it comes to the collision of perceived reality and personal reality, sometimes perceived reality wins even for the woman inside the suit who knows better.  She knows who she really is.  Yet, her heart is broken by the reactions and actions of others based on  the way they perceive her to be because of the “truths” they are either told or choose to believe on their own.  However, her authentic self is not lost.

After a while, that authentic self fights back.  From deep inside the suit, the pain and the reality she has been living– which is not reality at all– become too much for her authentic self to bear and her authentic self begins to emerge and beg to be let out of the suit, out of this experiment.  It hurts too much. You may first see it as a fierce look in her eyes.  It may come from a retort to a comment that went just a bit too far.  Or you may not see her authentic self come out until piece by piece the suit is removed and she has a chance to stretch both her body and her mind, refresh her emotions and feel once again at peace with herself– her real self.

I think that is true of all of us.

At one time or another we step out of our comfort zone and try new things.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  It’s in the trying that matters.  Over a year ago I put on a new suit that I truly wanted.  It fit like a second skin and I was happy.  But bit by bit, piece by piece layers were added to that suit.  Some by me and some by others.  The more that was put onto that suit the heavier it became.  The harder it was to wear and still be my authentic self.  There were times the “real me” would scream so loudly to get out but by then the suit was so think, so heavy and attached so strongly, I couldn’t break free.  In the Spring I knew it cost me too much personally to continue wearing it.  I tried to brutally claw it off to get back to the real me. But let me tell you something.  The process of ripping, tearing and clawing at something that is attached to you like a skin just scars you more.  You have to go through a process to take it off.  Though I was succeeding, I had a long way to go.  I made mistakes.  I hurt myself, my family and some friends.  To those I could offer an olive branch, I did.  Some accepting it and everything was put in the past to move forward.  To others, the olive branch was thrown down and walked away from.  There is and was nothing I could do about other people and how they react and choose to respond.  I was working on getting myself back and didn’t have the energy to argue, fight or try to make my side heard.  It became counterproductive to what I needed to do and who I truly am.

The beginning of summer I learned about finding the authentic me. I spent a week with people I love who love me.  Not only do they support me but they love me in spite of me.  During that week, the suit started to melt away in a beautiful and pain-free way.  I learned that the ones who love me not only accept me as I am but they expect me to be who I truly am.  It was a wonderful time of letting go, healing and getting to know myself again.

But that wasn’t the end.  It just doesn’t happen that easily.

In July my family went through a crisis.  I think all of us at one time or another (at least once) go through something that so thoroughly, completely and irrevocably changes you.  Sometimes it is a wonderful event. Sometimes it is traumatic.  But there is a moment, a time in life that you can exactly pinpoint, where everything changes.  It doesn’t matter if it is something everyone can see or just those close to you or even something only you know happens.  The point is, nothing will ever be the same after that moment.  Ever. Things that seemed so painful lose their sting.  Things that seemed so important become trivial.  Things you thought you would struggle with for a long time to get past are suddenly no longer roadblocks in your mind or heart.  You move on.  You have to.  You are not that person anymore.

I would never wish the events of my summer on anyone.  At all.  But I am forever grateful that I was able to be where I was needed, go through I needed to go through and come out on the other side the person I am now.   Through crisis I mended fences that should never have been put up in the first place and found an amazing friend on the other side. A gift that I wanted, needed and came to accept through a crisis situation.   I grew closer to people I love and have a tighter bond with them that nothing in this world can ever loosen.  I found strength in myself  I honestly didn’t know I had.  I found peace in a way I have never known. I learned lessons about life that will forever be with me and keep me strong when I feel broken.

That suit?  It completely melted away.

I thought I would find “the old me” underneath waiting to emerge.  That didn’t happen.  I found a new version– a better version– of the authentic me that I never knew I had the capacity to become.  I never want to be the “old me” before my suit wearing days.  Ever.  A part of her is still with me but what I found when the real me emerged is so phenomenal and strong and at peace that I gladly put the old me in the past and embrace who I have become.

What about you?  Are you struggling with a “suit” that doesn’t quite fit anymore?  Do you need someone to stand beside you and say, “I believe in YOU and I will be here for you if it hurts to find the real you!”?  Let me know.  I’ll stand in that gap with you.  I’ll hold you hand or your heart and be someone you can know cares.  Or have you recently been through something that has brought you to a point where your own “suit” melted away only to find a wonderful new authentic you?  Share it with us.  Those stories always help us feel connected.  Your story, declaration or simple “I’ll stand by you, too” can make a huge difference to someone who may need to hear it….even if you never even know it.

“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.”

“As someone told me lately, Everyone deserves the chance to fly”- On Moving Forward

“As someone told me lately, Everyone deserves the chance to fly”- On Moving Forward

There are times in life when circumstances back  you into a corner.  Times when those you trust betray you and those you have come to rely on turn their back on you.  It is in those times you find the people in your life who truly do have your back.  The people who genuinely care. You can see through the masks that people wear and into the reality of their hearts.  The truth of the matter is at those times, it can break you.  It can take you and slam you down with a force you didn’t know existed in your world.  At those times when you have felt abandoned and all alone you should look around through your tears and see who and what truly matters in your life.  The sad fact is most of those times come at a high price and with great pain. It is a bit like hitting rock bottom in addiction.  There is no where to turn and no where to go but up.  But the beauty of it is when you stop and look around– feeling in your heart that without a doubt that you are standing alone– you see the people in your life who genuinely care about you and love you.  Those are the true people in your life  you can depend on, trust and open  your heart to when you are at your weakest.  Those are the people who will hold your hand when  you need it.  The people who will love you unconditionally and stand beside you to weather the storms of life.  The reality is you probably are not as alone as you thought you were.   You just weren’t looking in the right places.

For many of us a time has come or will come when your circumstances or the people you have chosen to surround yourself with will bring you to your knees, break your heart or back you into a corner where you can see no way out.  Rather than focusing on the pain or the intense feelings of loneliness and anger you are bound to feel, take a good look at who is still standing with you.  Take a really good look.  Those are the people you want in your corner.  Those are the people whose opinions and truth you want to rely on at that time.  Those people who are ready, willing and able to drop everything to see you through the hardest of times– those are the people who do truly care and support you.  The ones who are willing to give you the benefit of the doubt through your successes and failures.

Now, I am not saying that the other people who choose to turn away are people not worthy of your time, your prayers or your friendship.  But those are not the people you should depend on to make your life choices or help you through the tough times.  Those are not the people you need to depend on in a time of pain. They are merely people who have been brought into your life for a reason and a season.  They  have brought a life lesson with them.  They have brought to you something you can take away.  They are no less important in the grand scheme of things.   They are your life teachers.  Sometimes they are gentle and kind teachers who come and go from your life and bless with you with what they have brought to you.  Sometimes there are those people whose lessons are brutal and painful.  And sometimes those lessons are ones that you would never learn if it were not for the suffering they bring to you.  They are just as important to your growth as a person as the people in your life that you know will never abandon you, abuse you or leave you when things get rough.  They serve as a catalyst for a life lesson.  People that somewhere deep inside- when you can think clearly through the pain or anger- that have led you to the path you should take or off of the one that will destroy your very soul.

My Mom always said life isn’t fair.  And it isn’t.  However, when the chips are down and you find out who stands with you, supports you and will be there for you, you should be thankful.  Just as you should be thankful for the ones who broke your heart.  Not in the same way, yet nevertheless their importance should not be diminished because you are hurt.

So what do you do in those times when  you are broken and beaten down?  You reach up, take the hand (or hands) that are offered, stand up, brush yourself off and move forward.  Hopefully you’ll find yourself a better person for the life lesson they have brought. Even if they were brought to you at a great cost or with pain.

This week I learned many lessons.  Some that had me in tears of pain for days.  Some that have me in tears of extreme gratitude.  And some that just opened my eyes in general to the reality– and not the perceived reality– but the actual reality of  people, situations and circumstances I have allowed into my life that are toxic to me and my family.  For that, I am truly thankful for those people and situations.  They brought with them a lesson for a season.  A lesson of fire and pain but a lesson that I can not only carry with me but use to help and guide others when I see them go down a similar path.  It is an opportunity to share my experiences with others and let them know they are not alone when they find themselves beaten down and broken.  I’ve learned our experiences are not for nothing.  They are not trivial.  We have not suffered them in vain.

I suppose what I am saying is that you should not regret the decisions you have made and the people you have had in your life.  If your lesson has been learned and those people are truly there only for a season and simply for a single reason, you will find peace in moving forward.  You will have learned what you needed to learn and the loss, though it can be painful, has served its purpose.  Yes, even those who break  your heart.  There is a reason and a lesson. When you learn it, you will grow, be stronger and see things much clearer as you let them go.

But never, ever forget to take the time to thank those who are there for the good and the bad.  The ones who stand with you when you succeed and when you fail.  I am talking about the people who will always stand beside you and support you and will be honest with you from their heart and from a place of love because those are the people you can always be free to hand over your heart to and know that it will be cherished and not broken.  Just remember to thank those people in your life who are truly and genuinely there for you.  They are your blessings.  They are your true gifts in life.  Blessings to lean on through your sufferings and to cheer with you through your celebrations.  And in return, you will grow with them and be able to hold their heart in your hands and cherish it and take care of it with gentle hands just as they have done for you.

Lessons are learned.

Seasons change.

And people leave.

Those who don’t turn their backs and walk away…well, count  your blessings.  Never take them for granted. I know I never will again.  For I am blessed.  Broken hearted but full of peace for I know now without any doubt in my mind, I do not and never will stand alone.

With the help of those friends standing with me…

It’s time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes: and leap!

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Diving off the high dive– One day at a time

Diving off the high dive– One day at a time

“Always do what you are afraid to do.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

There was a time in my life when I was fearless.  I felt almost invincible.  I never feared new situations, new people and loved new experiences.  The only fear I would readily admit to was my fear of heights.  But for the most part, I lived life to the fullest. Fearlessly.

I used to say I don’t know when I became afraid of life but the truth is I can look back and see when it happened.  April 6, 1992.  I was living my fairytale life. I was young, healthy, married to my best friend and pregnant with our first child.   With a picture perfect pregnancy, we eagerly awaited the new addition to our family.  On that day we went to what was to be a typical OB check-up.  But it became anything but typical.  On that day we found out our little boy had died in utero.  My idyllic life shattered.  I was not invincible.  Death could take me by the heart and slam me to the ground.  After giving birth to my son, nothing inside me ever felt the same.  Life scared me.  I knew that everything could change in a heartbeat- or lack of one.

I had changed.  My outlook had changed.  I was afraid.  Not in ways you could always see but in ways that pulled me deeper inside myself.  Years later after delivering two very healthy babies, I was living life more fully but never to the fullest.

Maybe that inner fear is one of the reasons I fell so deeply into my addiction.  I was a broken, fearful, unhappy woman.  The drugs were just an attempt to mask it all.  Then somewhere deep inside myself I found the courage to admit I needed help.  With a lot of hard work and a lot of help from amazing people who were also beating their addictions, I began to live life more fearlessly.  In fact, for a few months, I was fearless again.

I had looked death in the face and kicked it to the curb.  With my new found friends, I was living life.  I was riding on the back of my friends’ Harleys.  I was going to Karoake with them.  I was meeting people I would never have met otherwise and seeing a side of life I would never have known.  And I embraced it.

A few months into my recovery I became pregnant with my daughter.  There was nothing about that pregnancy that was not filled with fear.  It went as far as being told that she, too, would probably die before birth.

Enter fear.

My daughter was born perfectly healthy.  I searched again for the fearlessness.  I began to find it again.  I tried to find it in big ways.  (I should have been looking for it in small ways.)

When my Mom became so sick and I sat by her side watching her die, Fear took over again.  It completely grabbed me by the throat and choked out whatever fearlessness I thought I had found.  This time, Fear stayed around much longer.  The very core of my being was shaken, tossed around and thrown to the ground.

This year I decided to do something about it.  A project- if you will- began to take root in my mind.

The Project

I decided the only way to conquer living fearfully was to do something about it and begin my path to living fearlessly again.  One step at a time.  One day at a time.  I wanted to see if  I could do it for at least a month before I openly blogged about it.

One year.  A new challenge every day. Nothing huge or outrageous.  Just simple acts that help me move forward in an attempt to challenge myself away from the big and little things that can cause me to withdraw or let fear win.  This is not an experiment in trying to find perfect happiness in a year.  It is just my way of taking small steps, small challenges towards living fearlessly.

Some things will be bigger than others.  Some will be as easy as simple acts of kindness.  Acts that I would normally think about doing but never actually put into action.  I may find inspiration from books, blogs, friends, suggestions, movies, self-help books etc.  But every day I will do something to force me outside of my comfort zone a bit.  And I know there will be many times I will need to explain why a certain act is stepping outside of my personal comfort zone.

I have been successfully doing this for one month.  I have kept a personally diary that I will copy over to the blog as soon as I can so you can follow along.  Nothing huge yet.

Here are some examples:

  • I reached out to a friend from my past where our friendship ended badly and we talked things over. It felt good to let that go.
  • I went to lunch alone without any props (you know: books, phones for texting etc) and just enjoyed being alone and enjoying myself.
  • I called a tech service rep just to tell him how much I know his job must be thankless but how much I appreciate that he is on the other end of the phone when things go haywire. (I didn’t even have a tech problem.)
  • Those of you who know me know I am terrified of mascots in full uniform.  At a recent hockey game when the mascot jumped RIGHT IN MY FACE, I did not scream, run or cry.  I actually reached out and touched him. (I missed the photo op but do have witnesses.)

See?  Simply things.  Small steps.  Hopefully big results when all is said and done.  It may seem crazy but if you know me, that is nothing new.

Learning to find the courage to live fearlessly!
Learning to find the courage to live fearlessly!

I am open to your challenges.  Bring ’em on.  Now, nothing that is illegal or involves nudity.  No ONE wants that.  What do you suggest?  Challenge me.  One thing a day- some big, some small and some just random acts of kindness that we all think about doing but rarely follow through with.  They can even be daily steps towards a bigger goal. (Jogging? Queries? World Domination? Kicking out Leno and bringing back Conan? You get the idea.)

You see, what I hope to find at the end of 2010 as I ring in 2011 is a Jennifer who lives life fearlessly.

Are you with me on this journey? Do  you want to join me on this project as I take a jump off the high dive one day at a time?  I’m climbing the ladder and am ready to jump!

(I will add the link the the daily challenges as soon as I get them all written up from my journal to my computer.  BUT, I will keep you updated here until then.  Just so you can help hold me accountable. Are you in?)