That Thing Called Love

Written by Kendra

love heartWhen I take a look around me, my friends tend to fall in one of three camps. Happily coupled having found the right person, coupled on schedule (having secured the job and the house –the next notch on the belt was to get married–so they found someone and they did) and finally, single, like me.

It never bugged me that I was single until I made the very silly mistake of falling in love.

I’ve been in love exactly one time. When it happened it was a coup de foudre, a bolt of lightning, that I kept telling myself could not possibly be real. He was too cute, too nice, too funny, too smart for it to be mutual. But the more I got to know him, the more I liked and it was at least on some level, mutual.

Darkly humored with his feet on the ground, a nice counterbalance to my head in the clouds, we liked enough of the same things (Sci-Fi, mocking politicians) to make it wonderful, and disliked enough of the same things (his love of sports, my stance on drug policy) to make things interesting.

So naturally we messed it up.

I’ve been wondering a lot why so many of my friends– smart, interesting, successful in their own ways–are reluctantly single. And why Mr.X and I couldn’t make things work.

And I think it’s because, well, we think, too damn much. This Huffington Post article touches on it, but while their author narrows it down to very specific reasoning, I think many of us reluctant singles are guilty of a special brand over thinking.

We think love should come to us when we’re ready for it and when it doesn’t, we freak.

Like the guy who dumped a friend because the stronger his feelings for her became the less he was able to deal with them. He hadn’t been looking for love, you see, and to stumble across love when it wasn’t a part of his plans was not something he could do. So he ran.

Another ended things because she was scared at the idea of starting a serious relationship when her life was in flux; she wasn’t sure if she could be what he wanted her to be, but never bothered to give the poor guy a chance to articulate what he wanted out of the relationship.

Too many of us walk away from potentially great relationships – because we fear being unsettled, because we don’t have the degree/the job/the paycheck that we feel we need to “get serious”. The universe has its own timeline, and one that is often better than we could create. The trouble comes, however, when the universe serves us up something amazing and we walk away (time and time again) out of fear, or because it doesn’t mesh with some vague timeline.

There’s no guarantee that it will give us such awesomeness again, so when it does, we shouldn’t worry so much about the details. Just go for it.

Life and love are not a series of connect the dots… now if only I could remember that. 😉

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Love & The Single Girl

Written by Nikki

I’m still figuring out what love means to me.  I’ve only been in love once; it was young, my first, and – not to take anything away from it; it was real and it held strong for years – I don’t know what it takes to have mature, marriage-worthy love.

I almost wrote about that first love, fleshed out the whole story and all its lessons, but then I realized that’s the past.  That’s affected my thoughts on love, but that’s not who I am now.

Now, I’m a single girl, about to turn 30 as she watches all her friends get married and have babies. It’s a weird, in-between place to be, but it’s not a bad place.  Despite what most movies and parents that want grandbabies and our recently married friends may tell us, ladies, it’s ok to be single, it’s ok to not want things in the standard time frame and no, we’re not old maids.

And by the way, I am so sick of movies and books portraying any woman single over 25 as being a workaholic in a high-paying glamorous job, as though a job and a relationship are the only things that validate a person and if by that age you don’t want babies, well, you must be career-obsessed.  Get with it, Hollywood; show me some real women who can’t be summed up in two words.  Can I get an Amen!?

Although I’ll admit, sometimes I let it get to me and I do feel like an old maid; that has definitely been a factor in my QLC.  When I’m a third or fifth or seventh wheel in a mob of couples, I freak out a little bit that I’ll end up alone, working a crappy job in a crappy apartment after a long string of sad endings, friends shaking their head in pity while I dress my cats like kids and wait desperately in bars.  God, please, no.

So there’s a polar division in me; as I stand in the pews or proudly in a bridesmaid dress, beaming on friends upon friends taking vows, I feel two opposite truths:  I want to get married.  I’m so glad I’m not getting married.

From my past relationships, I’ve learned the art of missing, the beauty of companionship, and how to know when it’s not right.  I’ve jumped in over my head and I’ve waded, waiting, cautious.  I’ve learned to recognize what’s not good for me and what my deal-breakers are.  All of those relationships have ended, and that’s a good thing.

I was never the little girl planning her wedding; it never even occurred to me to think about it until the past couple years, when I was suddenly snowed in with save the dates and RSVP cards.  Complaining to my mom (oh I’ll admit, I have my moments of weakness – “Whyyyy is everyone getting maaaaarrrriiiieeed???  I’m soooo left ouuuuut!!), she snapped me back to reality:  “Nikki, if what you wanted was to be married, you’d be married by now.”  Touche, momma, touche.

It’s not marriage I’m looking for, it’s a love that makes me believe in marriage.

I’m not jealous of people getting married; I don’t look with envy at the glinting diamonds or the fluffy white dresses.  But when I see my friends – of both sexes – that are excited about getting married, who, after years together, are giggling with joy, no nerves only giddy tears, as they vow forever, that sparks a wonder and a pang of selfish sadness in me.

They know who they are and have found the person who balances them.  I know not everyone who gets married is that self-aware or perfectly matched, but these friends I’m talking about are; they’ve gone into it with eyes open.  They see the challenges ahead and believe it’s worth it.  Forever is a long time, and they’d rather spend it together than anywhere else.

And you know what?  Until I have that, I’m OK with never being married.  In fact, I’ve decided if I’ve never been married by 40, I’m throwing myself a huge damn party with all my friends and family (because, really, when else in your life but your wedding do you get everyone you love in the same room?) and I’m even going to register for gifts.  All right, maybe I stole that a little from Carrie Bradshaw, but…  :)

Also, until then, I am so grateful for and contented with all the other forms of love I DO have in my life. The friends that I know I’ll have forever.  I’d vow on that.  My family, cheering me on no matter how far from them life takes me.  My love for travel: the thrill of the new, independence, and exploration not just of place but of self, and my love for performance: the thrill of collaboration, creating a show like giving birth – painful, joyous and alive.  My love of Thai coconut chicken soup (my mouth waters at the thought!) and Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie (talent crush to the max!) and the feeling of the wind singing in my hair as I bicycle down a hill (sqwoooooosh!!).

But the most important love I’ve found is the love I have for myself.  Slightly cheesy but deeply true.

I like my own company.  I’m not actually lonely at all.  Yes, it’d be nice to find a great big Love, but I don’t need it to be happy.  I love who I am, and who I am is, partially, a product of all those “failed” relationships; I don’t regret any decisions I’ve made.  I don’t have the high-powered job and I don’t have the guy, but, damnit, I’m ok with that.  I am just fine.

Although, if I ever do start dressing up cats and calling them my kids, please stage an intervention.

My dad said to me once, after I told him I’d broken up with my most recent boyfriend-ish guy, “you’re so lucky to have had all these experiences.  You will be more ready than most for a forever relationship, when you find it.”  I think he’s right.

To all the single ladies out there who aren’t waiting for some guy to “put a ring on it,” I say rejoice with me.  We are sure of ourselves, of what we want and who we are, and we will not buckle under societal pressures.  We will be thrilled for our friends that chose different lives from our own, and we will be confident in ourselves; we will trust that we are exactly where we need to be, right here, right now.  Now put your hands up!  Whoa woh woh oh oh oh…

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The Comparison Game

Written by Kendra

A friend sent me a link the other day to a book that a college classmate is having published this spring. My friend stumbled upon this nugget of information in a bit of classmate stalking.

“So and so is a published writer now”, my friend wrote to me with a mixture of jealousy and derision.

Inside a part of me sang.

I can’t deny that sometimes when I take a step backwards and look at the expanse of my life which is long on memories but short on stuff, I’m left wondering if I’ve done the right thing. When I end up at yet another perfectly decorated housewarming, or at a party of someone in a part of town that I couldn’t afford to rent a toilet never mind own an apartment, it’s hard to remember that I’ve climbed to the top of a volcano, gone body surfing in Biarritz, rang in the New Year in Dublin.

It’s much easier to remember that I’m thirty (yep my birthday was last week), unemployed, single, living at home, with just enough possessions to fill the back of my dad’s SUV.

I don’t even own a car.

I wonder if I shouldn’t have used my twenties to ramble, to ping pong, and flit and instead used it to plod the path that society said I should have taken. The path that at 24 I felt was soul crushing, but now staring down at thirty and longing for security, stability and companionship seems comforting in its own way. The path, in other words, that a lot of my friends and acquaintances have taken, to when I take a step back and assess objectively, to mixed results.

It’s hard not to get caught up in the comparison game; no matter how relatively successful society deems you. And the vague sense of unease and jealousy espoused by my friend, who by many measure’s of society is successful, in the shadow of our classmates accomplishments made me feel better about myself.

Not because, as Calvin and Hobbes so succinctly put it that nothing helps a bad mood so much than spreading it around, but because his jealousy helped remind me that in the comparison game nobody wins.

At a party a few weeks ago I was talking to a guy who expressed jealousy at how much I’d traveled. I was totally jealous that he had a job. The funny thing is, finances aside we were in much the same situation: afloat. His Investment Banking job was poised to end, making business school his only possible option, and his long-term relationship which had been headed towards marriage derailed leaving him totally single.

I guess the truth is there is no such thing as the safe path, the guaranteed path.  There is merely our path, and we can walk it with strength or with trepidation and fear but we will have to walk it nonetheless.

We may as well have a good time while we’re doing it.

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I’m Fiercely Protective. Of Myself.

Written by Laura

After last week’s doozy of a post about money, I figure I might as well keep the trend of confessing my crazies going. Here’s the latest: I’m fiercely protective. Of myself. And I’m not sure I can help it.

I’ve referred to this strong sense of independence before. I’ve admitted to being afraid of those three big words (I need you). And, I’ve admitted that exploring vulnerability has been a big, life changing deal for me. That’s true. Taking on business partners? Vulnerable. Getting engaged five months ago? Vulnerable. Last week’s money post? Vulnerable. Having a money talk with Hunny that same week? Vulnerable.

I’m definitely working on it.

But as I do, I’m realizing that I don’t think if I’ll ever let myself be fully exposed. Like, if I equate it to being naked, I’ll forever be leaving my socks on or something. You know?

Because I’m thinking: there’s a fine line between being totally real and open and sharing your soul, and losing your soul altogether. At least, that’s what it feels like to me. I think I’m starting to push where that line IS, shifting it inch by inch. But for me, it’s probably always going to be there.

I’m absolutely terrified of losing myself in other people. I’m absolutely terrified of forgetting how to stand on my own. And I absolutely refuse to share my soul to the point where I can’t see where mine starts, and someone else’s begins.

I’m not just talking in the romantic sense, either. I’ve always felt the need to protect my soul from everyone. My family, my friends, my boss, my clients, and now my business partners, too. Not because I don’t trust people or love them. I do.

But regardless, I need to know that I’ll still have something left inside if the people and things I know were to go away. I need to feel enough strength of self that I could endure tragedy, loss, divorce, confusion, and simple day to day uncertainties and still have some sense of who I am.

To me, that means:

  • Preserving my self confidence as best I can, mostly by not apologizing for it.
  • Working on internalizing my values so that I don’t let them go, even if no one I know believes in them except me.
  • Being a realist, and expecting that people are going to make mistakes, change their minds, and take care of themselves first.
  • Trying to keep my definition of myself so complex that I’m never just a daughter, or just a wife, or just a business owner, or just a writer. I want to create capacity for things to change and the unexpected to happen and still have something left afterwards.
  • Trusting my instincts so fully, that I believe in them even when others think they’re wrong.
  • Learning how to not let other people’s energy overtake my own. This may sound a little crazy pants, but I think I’m really sensitive to the energy other people project, especially the negative stuff. I need to keep a bit of a shield up so I can feel, navigate through and respond to other people’s stuff, without letting it morph into my stuff.
  • Constantly observing and learning from other people. Observing what they go through and how they handle it. Observing how they make decisions and defend them. Observing how they choose their words in order to bluff, convince, or endorse. Observing how they feel about themselves and in turn, what that means for people around them.

These are my ideals; they’re not absolutes. They’re things I work toward and perspectives I try to maintain. But they’re a work in progress and are most definitely fragile. Perhaps most importantly, they’re where I am right now. And where I might be for a while.

What do you think? Am I crazy? Young and naive? Too guarded? Unrealistic? Idealistic?

I’m curious to know how where I’m coming from compares to where you’re coming from. Go on, spill!

(P.S. Confession #3: Part of the reason I’ve been able to own up to this stuff and share it with you guys is Molly, and her gentle questioning, poking, encouraging, and coaching that I SO appreciate. I love to hate her tough questions; they lead me to realizations like the one I just shared. If you’re looking for some more insight into YOU, or a whole host of other benefits that working with her offers, you should apply for her first-ever scholarship. But hurry, applications are due Sunday.)

{Photo credit}

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All The World’s a Balance Beam

Written by Molly Mahar

Balance. Work-life balance. Work-marriage balance. Account balances. Jeebus. No wonder we’re so bloody exhausted all the time.

Between trying to be everything at once and trying to find our inner Zen master, we’re consistently inundated with, “Slow down, baby. But hey, not too slow now. Don’t forget about your career. And a family. And… and…”

Balance is safe, comforting, and predictable.

“Of course I’ll eat a bowl of cottage cheese instead of that decadent creme-filled crepe. Why? Oh, because I ate a piece of chocolate cake last week.”

Balance is conformity.

“I hate parties but I’ll go anyway just so I can seem social.”

Balance is anti-passion.

Feel into… the passion in your cells – to eat life whole, to innovate, to score, to, as Emerson put it, “leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition.”Danielle LaPorte

Balance is bullshit.

If you’re burnt out from being over-passioned, over-worked, and under-played (like I’ve been), don’t seek balance. Balance isn’t going to solve your problems. They sure as hell didn’t solve mine.

When I feel like I’m about to collapse, I collapse. I’ll spend all day in bed to recharge my batteries with a retrospective on Vivienne Westwood. I’ll take on as many clients as I possibly can and spend days immersed in code and creativity. I “work” on non-work days, just because I want to. I have problems working on Thursdays because we never learned how to get along.

I dive in wholeheartedly and without reserve.

It’s scary to plunge, let alone stay there for an extended period of time. It’s scarier to back off and not immerse yourself in what moves you.

Balance is for wimps.

Or rather, balance is for people that already have what they need: their souls are nourished and full. Maybe they’ve got babies. Maybe they don’t. Either way, they’re looking for something else to move them. Balance — finding that thing or set of things — to keep their lives in this heady state of nourishment is something you look for well-after you’ve found full.

Being a twentysomething (or thirtysomething, for that matter) is about balance in imbalance. It’s a time for head-strong go-getter career-building. It’s a time for whirlwind romances that leave you battered, bruised, and utterly smashed. For some (for me), it’s a time for babies and careers and marriage and life-building and “holy shit, did I just blink and miss the last six months?”.

Balance is for later.

Find strength in the things that move you to work for days on end. Find comfort in the uncomfortable nature of burnt-out. Rise from the ashes, you fiery phoenix, and seek to conquer a second time. Fail on, you crazy diamond. Shine bright. Don’t apologize for being slightly manic, slightly depressed, and entirely possessed.

Leave balance to the nourished.

Let’s embrace our unbalanced selves/lives for what they are: unpolished, unpretentious, and untapped.

[Note from Coach Molly: I’m interested to see what ya’ll have to say about this one!  I would have to say that almost every single one of the women I’ve worked with yearns for balance. But what does that really mean? I’m into balance as well, but just not in the traditional sense of a certain amount of hours for work, a certain amount for chores, and then the little bit of time left for play…

I like to think about it as a balance between actions that produce desired feelings.  So if I want to feel abundant, committed, influential, and sexy (which I SO do!)- I make sure I’m giving energy to actions that make me feel those ways!  And then I also have to pay attention to cutting down the shit that makes me feel the opposite (as in fearful about money, overwhelmed, swallowed up, and blah).  Yes, sometimes this means I’m burning out and then recovering, like Amanda, but it’s my own version of balance…

So what do you think?   Is balance a goal worth striving towards now?  Or would you rather save it for later? ]

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In Defense of the Millennial

Written by Molly Mahar

I’ve often thought of our generation as lazy, selfish, and self entitled.

I’ve never been more disgusted with the laissez-faire attitude toward rape and sexual assault as I am when faced with young men my own age. The fact that homophobic slurs like “fag” and “gay” are now part of everyday derogatory vernacular makes my skin crawl. That television shows like Jersey Shore persist and flourish is a testament to our own self indulgent nature.

We’re portrayed — sometimes unfairly — as petulant and utterly lost behind our curtains of hair.

And then, I started to think about it.

As twenty (and thirty) somethings, the bar is set very, very high. We often look up at these outstanding men and women in our niches and industries, only to compare and fall vastly short. We long for and seek out meaning in our vocations — not because we believe we’re entitled to it, but because we know that a life without meaning is a life not worth living. We’re not working for the weekend. We’re not even working for retirement.

Our deep-seeded desire to challenge the status quo and change the world doesn’t come from self-entitlement or peerenting (wtf, really?). It’s because the world is broken and we want it to be better. Not just for ourselves or our parents or siblings or friends but for everyone. Thanks to the deluge of information on the internet, we watch as disasters and violence and worse befall the world. We donate. We start charities, like Katharine did, but we ultimately end up back at square one.

The stigma remains that young people don’t know anything and that they should leave the big world-altering ideas to the older generations. It’s not like this is new. Every generation that ages thinks that the generation after is useless at doing anything other than being young and self-indulgent and utterly useless.

We get to hear all about how the modern young person is too concerned with having meaning in his/her job. Or that the modern young person mistakenly thinks that they’ll change anything in this world. After all, didn’t we watch Wall Street crumble and take the rest of the world with it?

Oh, but no one went to jail. Oh, and the status quo remains unchallenged.

Whether or not people choose to acknowledge it, the Millennial is an agent of social change, capable of starting revolutions and internet-driven wildfires. The revolution was not televised; it was Twitterized. It wasn’t some stodgy old dude sitting in an office somewhere that said, “Oh, yes. There is an opportunity to connect people all over the world with a social experiment. I think I’ll invent the next big internet… thing.”

Hell no.

It was three young dudes that said, “Y’know what? This is an opportunity to create a social experiment on the web. Let’s get a few people together and make this happen!”

They dreamed it. They worked it. They busted their asses before their experiment took off.

With stories of success like that, it’s no wonder that more and more millennials are leaving corporate and industry long before retirement to do their own thang. The traits that make us unemployable in the traditional sense are the same traits that make us into such an interesting breed of entrepreneur.

Some of us work our asses off to make a few bucks here and there, just because we love what we do. Others expect way too much, way too soon, and end up right back where they started: running reports and praying to the Code Gods that SQL Server won’t fritz out and erase your databases. And still more of us will astound you with how much we can accomplish in one sitting if we’re motivated to do so.

How do you motivate a Millennial?

Show us that our work actually matters. No one likes to feel like their work is being lost in the shuffle. We like to know that what we’re doing actually contributes to the greater good, whether that greater good is in the company or in the world. Yes, we’re confident and ambitious and need all kinds of love to do a good job in our work.

But when we really and truly believe in what we do — whether that’s personally or professionally — we’re capable of great things and great work.

Watch and we’ll astound you.

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Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend

Written by Mary

One of my best friends from fourth grade through seventh grade was a girl named Christine. Her dad was in the Army and she lived in my city with her parents, her two older sisters and her golden retriever named “Sugar.” Their house was so organized and they were so kind and polite; they were the perfect military family. Christine always seemed wise beyond her years, and I was so honored that someone so mature would want to be friends with a hot mess like me.

She is the one that gently told me that Santa Claus is not actually real. She made me try liverwurst for the first time…and I liked it. Her dad had actually categorized and numbered their entire VHS collection and if you wanted to find a movie, you looked up its number in a binder and then found it on the shelf. We usually ignored the other movies and just watched “Shag,” a Phoebe Cates classic. Every month, she got the elastics changed in her braces to match the holiday or season. And best of all, she was my friend.

Christine moved to Italy after 7th grade and after a few attempts at being pen pals, we lost touch. When I was in college I heard that she was back and going to the University of Rhode Island, but again, I didn’t make the effort to find her. Losing touch with people is…awkward. I feel like sometimes it is almost better to remember people the way they were when you knew them best. I liked the Christine I remembered from years ago and I didn’t want to change that.

I found her on Facebook a few years ago and it ended up being perfect – we didn’t try to “catch up” or anything like that. It was a nice way to reconnect and see how we were both doing without trying too hard.

This summer, a post of hers popped up in my Facebook news feed:

“I’ve been diagnosed with leukemia, not given a death sentence. I’m taking a page from the LIVESTRONG Manifesto:

‘I believe in life. My life. I believe in living every minute of it with every ounce of my being. And that I must not let cancer take control of it. I believe in energy: channeled and fierce. I believe in focus: getting smart and living strong. Unity is strength. Knowledge is power. Attitude is everything.’

If you can support me in this, I welcome every word, thought and prayer that you want to send. If you find it hard to be positive, if you’re overwhelmed or sad about my diagnosis, please keep it to yourself. I’m strong, I’m a fighter. I’m facing this head on and I WILL beat it.”

I sat in front of the screen for a long time staring at her words. I was simultaneously so sad and so proud of her for displaying such inspiring strength. She continued to post about her progress and her will to live. She never complained, she was always incredibly thankful and positive. Everything about her outlook made me feel like she was absolutely going to beat this thing. I err on the side of pessimism in scary situations, mostly because I just don’t want to be surprised if something goes wrong…but everything about Christine’s battle made me think that there was absolutely no way she was going to die.

And then she did.

She found out she had leukemia on June 20 of this year and by October 13, she was dead. Before that, she was living happily in Hawaii and had her whole life ahead of her. Excuse my French, but what. the. fuck.

Losing someone you haven’t really talked to in over 15 years is a really weird thing. I almost feel like I’m not allowed to be sad because I didn’t really “know” her anymore. But at the same time, for four very important years in my life, she was one of my best friends. I’m mourning the loss of that little girl who made me feel so special.

Her funeral was today and I tried so hard to make myself go, but I couldn’t do it. I hadn’t seen her since 7th grade and I didn’t want our reunion to be under those circumstances. I’ve been feeling enormously guilty about it all day, but writing about it has been extremely therapeutic.

I mentioned earlier that she was wise beyond her years, and she really was. Sometimes I wonder if she had been here before, especially the way that she truly understood what was important in life. I feel sad knowing that she left this world without ever having the chance to get married or have children, but I feel so happy for her knowing that she made the most out of her time here. Without even directly talking to me, she inspired me via Facebook with her amazing outlook and view of the world. I think she did that for a lot of people. And if folks can say that about you when you go, whether you’re 29 or 99, you can rest assured that you lived a beautiful, meaningful life.

Thank you, Christine.

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The Problem of Comparison OR “So, What About Me?”

Written by Molly Mahar


Working with rock stars is exhausting.

Wait, let me rephrase that.

Working with amazing people is exhausting and not for the reasons you’d think. They’re not divas. They’re not snobbish. They are kind, considerate, beautiful, exhilarating individuals that really and truly shine. I’m blessed to be their friend. I’m honoured to be their aesthetic architect. Dually if I have the privilege of both.

They’re writers and coaches. They’re agents of social change. They’ve inspired many people in their work. They speak and it is gospel. They’ve shaped the futures of countless people just by existing and sharing their stories with the world.

When I sit down to really reflect on the whole “why the living hell would they want to work with little ol’ moi?”, it can be just as empowering as it can be confusing. Here I am — twenty-four years old — rubbing elbows with the biggest, baddest mamajammas (and just plain mamas) online. Really? ME?! Bloody hell, that can’t be right.

I’m the stage manager to their actress; the prop master to their director; and the choreographer to their prima ballerina.

While I may be in charge of crafting things behind the scenes, I can hardly say that what I do is inspiring to hundreds, thousands, and millions of people. What I do is create solutions for problems using design as both my medium and my toolset, where the problem is online aesthetic and visual branding.

In spite of all the inspiration and the unbridled amazing, it can get depressing.

While I’m fairly certain that I don’t require the limelight or for people to pay attention to meeee, working with the online equivalent of rock stars (no matter how clichéd the term has become) is a reminder of how much farther I need to go, both professionally and personally.

Let’s face it: I don’t want to be just a web designer or a mama or a branding specialist or a writer or a gamer or… you get the picture. I don’t want to be just anything. The grand scheme of it is to be as many things as I possibly can be without either exploding or imploding from pressure (be it external or internal).

I’m at least part-way responsible for the online development of these personal and/or professional brands/websites. I’m happy to lift them up and help them shine even brighter.

But it’s hard not to feel left behind sometimes.

It’s hard not to feel insignificant.

It creates a problem of comparison.

I could sit here and rattle off the ways in which I fall short. In comparison. The real problem of comparison creates an ego issue, where my self worth can get tied up in their success. The faster and more expansive their success, the better I feel. The slower and less expansive, the worse I feel.

It’s easy to get caught up in the comparisons, especially when I consider my definition of success: financial solvency and freedom to choose. These are people that can work a few hours a day, travel with their beautiful families (or by their sexy, sexy selves), go to yoga, and still manage to make a significant impact on their worlds.

A year ago, I was busting my ass just to make a cool couple hundred.

Six months ago, I busted my ass just to make a few dollars here and there.

The fact of the matter is this: I am a slave to my own ambition. I’m impatient. I wail and cry and beat on the wall until my hands bleed (no, not really). I beg the universe to give me a sign. Any sign. Anything. I’m often thrown into emotional purgatory as punishment, where I sit in dark rooms and brood about my path for days at a time during Vivienne Westwood retrospectives.

I had to stop comparing.

Shortly after my face-plant in the fall, I did the Joy Equation. I plucked myself out of melancholy and forced myself to recognize joy and to recognize the successes in my own life, not just in others’. I had — scratch that, have — an overwhelming tendency to want to be the best, when the best is often both a fallacy and an impossibility.

And, just like my view of balance, the theory of “the best” is bullshit.

No such thing. You can strive all you want, lovelies, but you ain’t nevah gonna get there. There’s always someone bigger and better than you at whatever you do.

My autumnal face-plant forced my to recognize that.

If I sat back and compared my life to everyone else’s, I would ultimately become a derivative; an unoriginal carbon copy of someone else. I’ve sought my whole life to avoid that. I don’t want to be like anyone. I just want to be myself, whatever that self may look like and whatever that self happens to mean in the grander scale of things.

When I tie up my own self worth in the success of someone else, I hand over the reins to chaos and uncertainty. By grasping the reins tightly and saying, “This is your stop, love. Go forth and prosper.” — I’ve retained control and managed my expectations of the situation.

The problem of comparison is self-destructive.

Ultimately, my success and self-worth are no one’s responsibility but my own. It’s not up to my clients and friends to take me along for the ride. It’s not up to my husband to build me up when I feel dismal (although, snuggles certainly help). It’s not up to you — my lovely Stratejoy family — to agree mindlessly with the things I write about.

I think that the more I explore the notion of self worth and success, the more comfortable I become with knowing there’s no such thing as stability within either of those concepts. It’s a constant struggle. It’s a battle waged on many fronts.

Most importantly, it’s far more rewarding to smile at my accomplishments and connections than it is to wonder, “What about me?”

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In history there are no control groups

Written by Hillary

Some years ago, in the months before my dad died, I read Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. I love his writing, and this was no exception. Despite all the violence and love and adventure in the story, it was a relatively quiet and unassuming line that stopped me in my tracks across the pages. In the middle of a narrative of rebellion and revenge, he wrote:

“In history there are no control groups. There is no one to tell us what might have been. We weep over the might have been, but there is no might have been. There never was.”

I don’t know why this grabbed me the way it did, but in my mind I returned again and again to this matter-of-fact big life lesson: there is no control group that holds steady throughout change to tell me what could have gone differently in my life. I have no idea what might have been at any point in my life, I only know what was and is.

The concept of having no control group helped me a lot when my dad died. From that first moment of realizing what my mom was telling me, I camped out in the reality of the present: this enormity had happened, I had no way of changing it, and there was no use thinking otherwise. What was, was, and that was where I was going to work from. I had the feeling that somehow the world had nudged McCarthy’s phrase toward me just in time for me to desperately need it.

I thought I was pretty well off in grasping this concept. But in the years since then, a comparative might-have-been has slowly but surely slipped into my perception and coloured my understanding of myself, my past, and my place in life. I’m starting to see that as I drag myself toward 30, I’m dragging along with me a heavy sense of loss and longing for the life I didn’t get to have but dreamt of as a teenager and early twenty-something. More or less, the life where I got to feel in any way happy and beautiful and confident and alive. Unlike losing my dad, unhappiness in my life wasn’t a sudden event clearly beyond my control – my life had been under my control all along and in hindsight its unfulfilling reality was full of alternatives.

Without realizing it, I engaged in a comparison between real past-me and might-have-been past-me and I wasn’t able to catch it in time to prevent the havoc that unsubstantiated comparisons can wreak on your sense of self. The game is obviously rigged here, since real-me only knew what she knew but might-have-been-me gets the benefit of everything I know ten years on. My understanding of what would have made me happy in the past has been overlayed with the things I wish now that I had done then. As feelings of missed opportunity and lost youth weigh me down, I wish for my past self that I’d had that handsome moody boyfriend and gone somewhere else to teach English and really bonded with close friends. What my actual past self did pales in comparison – that’s what brought me to here, wishing I’d done some things differently. It’s not that I want these things for me in the present, but a part of me wishes I already had them so maybe now I wouldn’t feel like I missed out on life then.

If I examine it, I notice this life I wish I’d had is shaped by feeling lost and lonely at the time and feeling unaccomplished and under-experienced now. This might-have-been life is filled in with details that look suspiciously like a collage of movie scenes and my take on other people’s experiences. I see a young couple playing on a park bench and my heart wishes so much I’d had that youthful puppy-dog love. Or someone out of college tells me they’re going to another country to build schools and my heart wishes I’d gone on this life-changing experience too.

I’ve struggled to find my way out of these feelings. They feel bad, often non-sensical, and I don’t want them to get space inside me. And a few weeks ago, a friend unknowingly put up a small exit sign for me. She said: “You know, all these life things I expected to have and was so sad for so long when I didn’t get them…I can see now that it doesn’t matter because I wouldn’t have been happy with them anyways.”

This seemed important. It put real-me smack in the middle of might-have-been-me’s comparative life. So I asked myself: Would I – the real me, just as I was – have been happy with a moody high school boyfriend, and was I ever the type to make doe-eyes on a park bench? Well…no, to both. When I think about it that way, a little part of me pushes back with all its might against the tyranny of might-have-been. This part remembers the real past-me feeling like no matter how lonely I was, I didn’t know someone I actually wanted to date, and thinking white people going to volunteer en masse in low-income countries for “the experience” was ethically questionable at best.

It seems like in leaving the real past-me out of my longing for that might-have-been life, I glossed over the fact that I didn’t have a lot of these things precisely because I didn’t want them. And by stamping a TOO-LATE label on them I’m side-stepping the other question: Do I – the real me, just as I am – want these things now? For most of these ideas, the answer is probably no.

There is no control group for life, no way to gauge the alternative to what was. But comparisons inevitably sneak in, and when they do I will have to deal with them:  the real me got what she got and was how she was, and that’s a done deal. If there is anything I long for for her, tough luck. Her choices stand. But if there’s anything I long for right here and now for ME? That is where I can actually get somewhere.

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You Owe It to the World to Be Yourself

Written by Heather Rae

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” –Oscar Wilde

I recently finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a chronicle of Gretchen’s life as she spends a year following the advice of happiness gurus and researchers alike, attempting to make herself happier.

As part of the project, Gretchen made a list of Twelve Commandments, or overarching principles, that she would use as a guide during her year of improved happiness.  The first of these commandments was:  Be Gretchen.

At first glance, this particular commandment didn’t stand out to me.  You’ve probably heard this advice innumerable times — from your mom, your dad, a teacher, a friend.

Just be yourself.

I always took this advice to mean to act like yourself.  Such as, if you’re in a new social situation or meeting new people, just act like yourself and people will like you.

But here’s what I’ve come to realize:  there’s more to that advice than simply acting like yourself.  Be yourself also encompasses accepting yourself. Be proud of who you are; don’t apologize for what you like and what you don’t like.  Embrace the personality traits that make you unique, that make you you.

For instance, I’ve never been one to get really excited about going out to bars or clubs, especially late at night.  Sure, I’ve had some fun times on the dance floor until the wee hours.  But, in general, I enjoy going to sleep early.  I like waking up when the sun rises, not stumbling in from a night on the town and heading to bed.

For years, I felt bad about this tendency.  I had many friends that liked staying up late and going out at night. In an effort to not seem boring, I attempted to make myself enjoy those things too. When I did go out with them, I usually had a great time — so I took that as a sign that obviously I did enjoy being awake at 2:00 AM, mingling with other night owls at the bar.

But here’s the thing — though I may enjoy that scenario on occasion, I can honestly say that if I followed that routine every weekend, I would collapse.  My body, my personality — I’m simply not made for it.

I’ve known for years that I’m an introvert.  I enjoy alone time.  Baking cupcakes, reading a good book or spending a weekend on an art project — that’s my idea of a good time. And yet, it has taken me years to accept these things in myself, to stop trying to change myself in an effort to fit some mythical mold of what society deems appropriate.

Are you an introvert, extrovert or somewhere in between?  Embrace the person that you are.  Don’t force yourself to be something that you’re not, simply because you think that’s the way you should be.

Don’t force yourself to like things just because you think you should enjoy them.

If you’re surrounded by a bunch of books worms and academics but what you really love is karaoke and rock climbing, then by all means, honor what you love.  Stand out from the crowd.  Be bold.  Be different.  Don’t attempt to squeeze yourself into a mold that simply doesn’t fit. Find the things that you enjoy — the things that make you feel like jumping out of bed in the morning and rushing off to do seize the day.

In the end, those are the things that will make you happy.

A happy person brings more joy to those around them than an unhappy person.  Thus, you owe it to the world to be yourself.

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