Archives

Are You Vanilla Ice Cream?

In the past few months, two major publishing houses have shown an interest in publishing the book I am planning to write. Most writers spend their entire life working for the kind of opportunities that have been presented to me, so I do not take these blessings lightly.

Words usually flow out of me like a river, but every time I attempt to write this book, I am dry. Nothing of significance gets put on paper.

I wrote a few chapters and submitted them to one publisher, only to realize afterward that they were terrible (not her words, she was too kind, but mine). I wrote about my journey, my life, like I was an objective observer, a newspaper reporter stating the facts of an event; not as someone who was thrust into darkness and climbed out of it to share the story.

I admit, the thought of actually writing a book terrifies me. The negative voices swirl round and round in my head: What if the readers don’t like it? Who am I to write a book? Who would care about what I have to say? What if people laugh at me?

But, I understand the importance of releasing such thoughts, and I have never let fear keep me from trying something new. It is my philosophy to push aside what others think, throw caution to the wind, and “go for it.” So, what is different this time? What is stopping me?

I have racked my brain for months trying to put my finger on the problem, and then, after a conversation with Dr. Barbara DeAngelis, it dawned on me that it isn’t the fear of failure that is blocking me, but rather my unwillingness to reveal a deep part of myself; my unwillingness to be vulnerable; my unwillingness to step out from the pack.

For most of my life, my identity has been based on my strength, my ability to be in control. I take care of others. I handle situations with nerves of steel. I am the energizer bunny – I keep going and going and going. If I reveal my vulnerability, as this book challenges me to do, I will show a part of myself with which I am uncomfortable. I will be flawed…exposed…human. Am I ready for that?

I am most comfortable somewhere in the middle of life – not blending into the woodwork and not swinging from a star. As Renee Gambino, an income breakthrough strategist, would say, I’m vanilla ice cream.

Writing this book presents me with the chance to make a difference in someone’s life, but in order to do so I must be willing to be authentic, open, and rise above the mediocrity. A true challenge… but a worthy endeavor.

So, after much self-examination, I’m listening to Barbara and writing again. This time with a very different approach – I’m writing from a place of truth, vulnerability and humility. Who knows where this challenge will lead me but it will definitely be an interesting ride.

The moral of this story: If you want to achieve something worthwhile in life, if you want to fulfill a dream or reach for the stars, you must be willing to dig deep to a place that makes you uncomfortable. You must be willing to expose a part of yourself, for better or worse, and you must be willing to stand out from the crowd. We have one life and it is brief. Isn’t it better to be pistachio almond (with hot fudge and sprinkles on top)?!

Advertisements

The Heart of a Friendship

To have a friend and be a friend is what makes life worthwhile. ~Unknown

February is the month of the heart, the time when we celebrate love. We buy chocolate, flowers, jewelry, and greeting cards to profess our undying love to that special someone. But, in all the hoopla of the season, perhaps we forget to honor the affection provided by the people that sustain us and enable us to thrive – our friends.

We hear so much about marriages, committed relationships, and romantic breakups, but I believe we neglect to truly understand the dynamics of what may be the most important relationships in our life – friendships.

Boyfriends come and go, spouses are replaced, children grow up and leave the nest, but our friends will be by our side through it all. If we are blessed, some of them will be with us from childhood until death; and these people know us better than anyone else.

We all have friends. Fate brings friend to friend, then leaves the rest to human nature. We have best friends that stick with us forever, and we have friends that come into our life for a brief period and then go on their way. Whichever role they play, you can be sure they serve a purpose.

According to experts, friendships have a major impact on our health and well-being. Friends help us celebrate good times and provide support during the bad times. As philosopher Aristotle said, “In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge.”

Friends prevent loneliness and increase our sense of belonging and purpose. They boost our happiness and improve our self-confidence. They help us deal with our mistakes.

So … if friendships are so great, why do they cause so much pain?

The word friend is defined as “a relationship of mutual affection between two or more people; a person whom one knows, likes, and trusts.”

We all have a preconceived notion of what a friend should be; we place expectations on relationships based on our needs. But sometimes we use the word “friend” to describe anyone with whom we have contact. We project the intimate bond we desire onto a person where no deep bond exists.

To avoid the pain of an unrequited friendship, it is important to recognize that there are different kinds of relationships and varying degrees of affection attached. When it comes to friendships it’s not one size fits all. Some people are great for Friday night outings. Others are partners for work events. Some people are not willing and/or able to commit to a relationship on a deeper level. And then there are the people who offer unconditional love and trust – they are always there, no matter what. They are the ones by which we set the standards for everyone else. But, they are a rare gift, not the norm.

Each of these relationships has a unique purpose for our life and as such should be valued. Just as a financial expert advises to diversify investments, the same is true in friendships. Invite people into your life that bring different personalities and skills to the table – they will broaden your horizon and enrich your existence. But, to avoid heart break, see each relationship for what it is. Just as you wouldn’t rush into a romantic encounter without some courting, don’t place too many expectations on a friendship without getting to know the person. When you take it slow, you will be able to objectively evaluate the relationship and the role a person will play in your life so you won’t be disappointed.

Even if a friendship doesn’t develop the way you want, acknowledge that you simply have different needs. Treasure the relationship for what it is and release your expectations; value the gifts it offers.

Through the pain and through the triumphs, friendships are the treasure of a life well lived. As Emily Dickinson said, “My friends are my estate,” and I couldn’t agree more.

 

Nothing is Impossible

During Thanksgiving dinner I was relaying a story about how I was planning to become a member of a local government board. Without skipping a beat, my 21-year-old niece looked at me and said, “Yes, Aunt Joanie, you can be on the board.” I replied, “I know, I am going to be.” She then said, “Of course you can if you believe it.” To which I stated, “No, really, I am going to be on the board.” She came back with a resounding, “Yes, I believe you can!”

At this point I was laughing hysterically because I realized that she was reinforcing what she believed to be wishful thinking on my part. She was cheering me on guided by the advice that I (and her mother) always offer her: that anything is possible with a positive attitude and belief in oneself.

Even though I was actually appointed to the position and wasn’t referring to making a wish come true, I was so proud of her (and shocked that she actually listened) for getting the message.

And what a powerful message it is: anything is possible when you believe in yourself!

Think about that for a moment … anything is possible!

When was the last time that you truly believed anything was possible, that you could achieve a goal or make a dream come true?

It isn’t always easy have the confidence to believe that you can make anything happen. The routine of daily life beats you down and often you’re left jaded and depressed. Fear has a way of sneaking in and governing the way you live. Naysayers remind you of your shortcomings until their beliefs become yours too.

Climbing out of the rut we call life can be a challenge. But, guess what? You have the power to change every aspect of your existence. But, in order to do so, you have to do two things: you must decide what you want and you must believe you can do it. Everything else will follow; you will find a way.

As another year comes to an end and a new one begins, with endless possibilities, it’s the perfect time to examine where you are in your life and where you want to go. Once you know the direction, create an action plan, educate yourself, and get moving!

Remember … nothing is impossible when you believe Im Possible!

Out with the Old and In with the New

Recently, I was in a round table discussion in which we talked about interpersonal relationships. A repeating theme of the conversation was that people felt like they were replaceable, that there was no value given to them and/or a relationship by a friend, partner, family member, or employer.

Hearing so many people express the same feeling made me start to wonder if we have become a society of disposables. It reminded me of an expression my mother used to say: “Out with the old and in with the new.”

It seems like just about every aspect of our life today is disposable. We throw away televisions, computers, clothing, phones, food, furniture, and so much more.

By contrast, when I was growing up, we fixed everything. There was a neighborhood television repairman. We ate leftovers for dinner. We took our shoes to the local shoemaker for new heels. Baby diapers were cloth and appliances were kept until they could no longer be repaired. We drove the same car until it died on the road. And most marriages lasted “until death do us part.”

While it is true that we have more conveniences and opportunities than our parents and grandparents, I believe our ancestors had something that many of us lack – the ability to attach to and appreciate what they had.

Today, we want immediate gratification. If it’s broken, an old model, or not working the way we want, we simply throw it out and replace it with something new, something upgraded. Is it possible that we are carrying our new disposable/replaceable mentality into our relationships?

How many people do you know that “cut off” contact with someone with whom they had a disagreement? They end the relationship and find someone new to fill the void.

How many marriages suffer from infidelity because of boredom or not having particular needs met? One spouse moves on to someone new, often breaking ties with their old partner and even their children, and creates a new family.

How many employers replace or demote an employee for a minor infraction without giving the person a second chance? They hire a replacement.

If any of these scenarios sound familiar to you (I know they do to me), perhaps it’s time to examine how we interact with others. Are we looking for a quick fix? Would we be willing to cut someone out of our life because we are angry? Are we considering replacing a spouse (or have already done so) before exploring every avenue to repair the relationship? Would we fire an employee without giving it a second thought?

If you believe that you may have adopted a disposable mentality, now’s the time to make a change. Start nurturing your relationships – put in the time and do the necessary work. Appreciate and value what you have (material items and relationships) and stop keeping one eye open looking for something better. Empathize with others before taking action. Repair something before tossing it in the trash.

If you feel like someone who has been replaced, remember that we can’t change or control other people and how they behave, but we can change our behavior. We can change the way we respond and the way we treat others. And, little by little, perhaps our treatment of others may just start a movement in a more positive direction.

As Michael Jackson so eloquently stated in the song, Man in the Mirror, “If you want to make the world a better place take a look at yourself and then make a change.” Who knows, one day we may all learn to treasure the “old” and forget the new.

Are You Still Looking At A Closed Door?

The past two months have been excruciatingly painful for me on a personal level. An event occurred that led me to believe that I could salvage an important relationship and I spent most of my summer trying to do just that. I did everything humanly possible to put the broken pieces back together and to try to create something new out of it. A relationship that I believed could be wonderful.

In my mind everything was perfectly clear. There was no reason why it couldn’t work out. I had a logical argument and strong feelings so everything made perfect sense. At least to me.

But, sometimes, even with the clearest vision, things don’t go as you plan or as you would like. By hanging on, I set myself up to be hurt on a daily basis, to the point where I could no longer tolerate the pain.

I finally came to the realization that in order for me to survive, thrive, and find peace, I must accept the situation, let it go, surrender, and move on. And while this may be a decision I didn’t want to make, and is perhaps the most difficult thing I will ever do, it will be the most self-loving.

The let it go and move on cycle applies to many areas of life. You may have to let go of a relationship or significant person. Or you may have to release a painful experience like losing a job, a financial loss, or the death of a loved one. Beginning the cycle is difficult because we tend to hang on to what we know – what is comfortable – even if it is pain.

According to spiritual leader, Thich Nhat Hanh, “People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”

But holding on to the familiar, painful past keeps you stuck and creates an environment in which you can become physically and emotionally sick. You feel the pain day in and day out and that’s no way to live.

Usually we do not decide to release people or events until the pain of holding on is so unbearable that we feel we have no other choice. We are forced to accept the situation and mourn an important part of our life. And this acceptance and mourning is vital in order to thrive; we must let go of the past.

Letting go is an act of will, a decision to let go of the person, event and circumstance. It is the choice to move on. To let go you must surrender your control and admit that you are powerless over other people and situations. Once you relinquish control and accept what is, you can begin to embrace the change and get on with your life. You can learn from the experience and allow it to make you stronger and wiser.

Is it always what we want? Hell no!

Is it easy? No!

Is it worth it? More than you will ever know.

Don’t be afraid to seek help. Find a support group, spiritual director, therapist, coach, or trusted friend. And remember to have faith. I chose to relinquish my control and turn it over to God. Once I stopped begging for what I wanted and decided to ask for the strength to follow what He has planned for my life, my entire perspective changed and I found peace. I am now looking forward to the next opportunity.

As Helen Keller so eloquently stated: “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one, which has been opened for us.” Don’t spend so much time looking at your closed door that you miss the wonderful doors that are opening up for you.

Slow Down You Move Too Fast

Recently a friend who was contemplating separating from her husband gave me a call and asked my advice. A few years ago when my emotions were spinning out of control and I was in the throes of my marriage breakdown I would have shouted “Divorce the bastard!”

Now, two years post-divorce, I have gotten off the emotional rollercoaster called relationship breakdown and a cooler head prevails. My advice to her: slow down you move too fast!

What’s the rush to get a divorce? Unless you or your children are in physical danger, why rush? Divorce can be a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

When my marriage was breaking up, we both got on the merry go round and didn’t know how to get off. I hurt him. He hurt me. I hurt him again. He one upped me. And so on and so on and so on. If only we had someone that loved us both sit us down, shake us, and say, “Get off the ride!”

I’m not saying that divorce isn’t the right choice in some cases; sometimes it’s the only thing a person can do. But when one in two marriages end in divorce, perhaps we need to slow down.

So, if you’re in the middle of a breakup or thinking about initiating one. Slow down. Breathe. Seek counsel. Confide in a trusted friend – one who will not fuel the fire. Put your pride aside and extinguish your anger. Open your heart. Talk and talk and talk until you can’t talk anymore. Listen. Remember why you fell in love. Do anything you can to work it through.

Think about how things will be down the road a few years after the dissolution. A new girlfriend or husband. Children from other relationships blended into your family. Financial upset. Loneliness. Regret. It is estimated that within five years, one-third of divorced couples regret their decision to split.

While the grass may look greener on the other side, remember that’s because of the manure.

Slow down. What’s the rush? You have plenty of time for forever.

Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

How many times has someone told you that he or she was going to do something and then it never materialized? How many times have you promised something to another only to let that person down?

Promises are powerful. They are given to fulfill a need of another. When someone makes a promise it is usually made with the best of intentions and in that moment, the person believes that he or she will be able to complete the offer. Then the person goes off like a busy little bee, involved in the tasks of daily life, and his or her words become a distant memory.

The problem is that the recipient of a promise remembers every word said. Often, spoken words are a life jacket to a drowning person and that person clings to them for survival.

After my mother and sister passed away (my last two remaining nuclear family members) and my divorce became final, a few people told me that I would never be alone, that I was a member of their “family”; I was their sister. Surviving unimaginable grief, I clung to those words as a source of comfort. Then, as time passed, holidays came and went, special occasions were celebrated – graduations, birthdays – and no offer of inclusion was made.

My story is just one example of the many letdowns people experience. What about a child who is promised your attendance at a dance recital or sporting event? A boss that is guaranteed a completed task? A friend that is offered help with a problem?

Heartbreak and disappointment are the result of empty words and offers made in haste, even with the best of intentions.

The next time you are about to make a promise think about what you are going to offer. Take time to reflect before you state it. Weigh the pros and cons and examine your life situation to be sure you can fulfill your end of the deal. Think about the long-term ramifications.

Be honest about your capabilities. Stop being a “yes” person or “the big man on campus”. You can’t please everyone and it’s much better to do nothing or say you can’t do something than offer an empty promise.

Examine your motivation for making the offer. Are you trying to make someone feel better for the moment? Do you want to be liked? Are you trying to gain something for yourself?

Remember that your words may only be words to you but to another they can mean the world. If you’re not sure that you can fulfill a promise, then don’t say anything. Adopt the rule in life to say what you mean and mean what you say.