My Awesomely Random Life (and Everything in Between)

Choose Gratitude

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I remember when I was in second grade my teacher asked us to write what we wanted to be when we grew up on a note card. At the time, I was bursting with dreams—an astronaut, a singer, a writer, an English teacher just like her. Of all the items on the list, though, there was one overarching theme. When I grew up, most of all, I wanted to be happy.

And so I wrote that on the piece of paper—‘happy,’ a promise to my future self. That scribbled word was a goal, a mindset I would work towards, regardless of the obstacles along the way.

Years later, and more or less ‘grown up,’ I think about that note card often. I think about how it has followed me through the turbulence of my teenage years, the chaos of college, and into adulthood, where honestly, being happy seems like the most important conscious choice I can make.

Being happy, I’ve realized is not something you can pinpoint, grab between your fingertips, or keep. It’s more abstract than we give it credit for. We search as if we’re able to discover it, obtain it, hold it in our palms—but sometimes it’s so beautifully fleeting.

And sometimes happiness is not really a ‘thing’ at all, but a decision. Deciding to live with a spirit of gratitude. Choosing to be thankful, to see the bright side, to love and smile and have hope, regardless of what’s in the way. Accepting that you cannot change everything, but you can adapt your attitude. And letting yourself heal.

Happiness comes from finding peace with where you are. Not because it’s exactly where you wanted to be. Not because you have everything you could ever need. Not because you are wealthy, or in love, or doing better than the person next to you.

Happiness comes for no reason at all, other than because you decide you want it there.

You decide to create it, to make it, to build it out of the circumstances around you. You decide to open the door to it, to let it in, and then to foster its growth in your life, no matter what good or bad moments you face.

You decide that you want to live positively—bringing in good energy and people and moments and exhaling all that is out of your control. You decide that when terrible things happen to you, when you’re broken, when you lose people you love, when you’re left, when you’re exhausted or defeated or angry, that instead of letting the circumstances of this life control you, you want to react with a smile on your face. You choose to say, ‘I can’t change what has happened, but I can change my reaction, my next breath, next step, and where I go next.’

And you walk forward, focusing not on what you’ve lost or has been taken from you, but the knowledge you’ve gained, the love you’ve created, the strength you’ve found, the hope you’ve given yourself, and the wealth of things, people, memories, and moments you have to be thankful for.

So choose to be thankful in the challenges. Choose to see the bright side, the healing, the places you will go and people you will meet next.

Choose to let go of what you cannot fix or control, what you are not in charge of, what is out of your reach. Choose to accept the circumstances of this life, even when they’re imperfect or awful, and instead of wrapping yourself up in negativity, exhale and release.

Release what is not meant for you. Release what has abandoned you. Release what has attempted to destroy you, hold you captive, bring you down. Release the pain you’ve been holding in your chest. Release the anxiety, the anger, the fear.

Release and make a conscious choice—today and every day—to seek happiness and live with a grateful heart.

Because there you will heal, you will begin again, you will grow.

It’s okay to be human

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It’s one of the first pieces of advice I can remember receiving — maybe my dad said it, or maybe I only imagine he did and ascribed the wisdom accordingly because I was little and when you’re little, you live in an insular world like that: “Don’t say you’re bad at something unless you’re going to try to be better at it.”

We live in a society that prides perfectionism as the be-all of virtues, and has bred generation after generation of people succumbing to its pressures. Everyone’s expected to scramble to rise to the top — we just never take the time to tell people which top that’s supposed to be. Of course, the unsaid there is to allow for room to decide exactly what that top is, where it is, what we define ourselves as the best. And when you’re a frustrated little kid who doesn’t understand why you can’t get something right on the first try, you’re bound to let out a few sentiments here and there about how you’re lamentably bad at something.

And as we grow up, we begin to learn that being bad at a few things isn’t awful — it’s human.

It’s refreshing to have flaws, and sometimes, it’s fun to be terrible at things, to revel in ridiculous karaoke sets and botched doodles, to laugh later over that time you tried to make a five course meal and wound up ordering tacos via Seamless as a Hail Mary. Being bad sometimes makes for the best stories. There’s freedom in admitting that your prowess can’t and won’t extend everywhere. There’s something refreshing in an adult who doesn’t just admit their shortcomings, but owns them.

But when kids are little, they’re also shuttled from class to class, sport to sport, extracurricular to playdate, and we begin to form ideas that we’re supposed to be the best at everything. The best friend, the best all-star, the best in science and English and the star of the school play and the kid with whom everyone else wants to trade their lunch. We’re told to excel, to never settle for second place — not just in what we love most of all, but in anything. In everything. Fault isn’t seen as natural strength and weakness, it’s seen as an Achilles’ heel to be rectified. We don’t embrace anything we’re not the best at. We sink in humiliation until we change or feign being at least slightly above average and overall okay. Often, we give up before we have the chance to be better. We write ourselves off before we try to see what we’re capable of.

Being “bad” at something doesn’t take away from the fact that it was your best effort.

Part of owning your flaws is admitting that maybe there’s space to get better. And besides, “bad” is a subjective perception. One person’s “bad” is another person’s extraordinary advancement. Regardless, it’s okay to be at a personal “bad” now and again. Virtuosos are rare, and anyway, they’ve got their own newly heightened standards to live up to and to beat. And for every Beethoven who composed his first masterwork when he was still stringing together how to read words on a page, there are untold hundreds of thousands of people who were crappy at first. Who couldn’t even dream of even so much as touching that sort of rare talent. But no matter how bad they were, they tried over and over. And that is how they got better.

Saying you’re bad at something isn’t the problem. That’s identifying where you have room to grow — so in fact, it’s good to admit it. Especially when what you’re measuring is your own improvement. The problem is getting caught in feeling bad without a desire to change, and what’s worse is having that desire, but not taking the next steps to change. The problem is accepting being “bad” as a limitation. As a sentence. As if there’s nothing in our power to right what we perceive to be “wrong.” And that’s simply not true. Saying you’re bad at something without action is, often enough, little more than wallowing.

Because at the end of the day, the only thing that’s really “bad” is our attitude about how we perceive ourselves.

And if we’re going to call it bad, then we’ve identified what we’d like to change — and it’s now up to us to decide to actually do something about it. To change how we perform, to change how we work, to practice, to change how we structure our day to appropriate our time as needed. Most of all: to change ourselves. And to change our idea of why we’ve been lead to believe “being bad” really is that bad. You can be bad at things sometimes. There’s nothing wrong in that. But dwelling on it will only make it worse. And complaining for the sake of self-pity will get you — and everyone else — absolutely nowhere.

Say you’re bad at something every now and again. Admit to being human. Revel in that if you want to. But don’t declare yourself personally dissatisfied with your ability unless you’re going to personally work to change that. It’s self-respecting at the end of the day, and everybody has to learn to take it for themselves. Or at least, from someone else — as I from my dad, and as, hopefully, you from me.

Fear? Psh, what fear?

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We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down. – Kurt Vonnegut.

Fear. It’s a funny thing, guys. It’s also a very necessary thing. If you go back in history, fear was what enabled the cavemen to identify a dangerous situation. It’s what heightens your senses, pumps adrenaline into your system, and it helps you survive whatever it is that’s scaring you. But life isn’t that difficult anymore — there are fewer stakes raised, and we live in a pretty safe, comfortable environment – relatively speaking.

Because of that, our fears are the things we now manifest inside ourselves. The things we let fester, the dreams we never pursue, the chances we don’t take, the places we never move to, the people we don’t admit to loving, the jobs we never apply for. There are so many things to be afraid of, but most of these things reside inside our own head.

Because what if we fail? What if we never recover? What if, what if, what if?

But what if we don’t?

What if we do the scariest thing of all — what if we actually get everything we ever wanted?

One of my track coaches used to always say that “you should get uncomfortable, because being uncomfortable is where you begin to see changes.” And it’s true — not just in the biological sense that your body responds to harder work by adapting and becoming stronger, but because your mind becomes stronger, too. You begin to withstand the scary things, the things you never thought you were capable of. And in this, you become more resilient.

Because being scared is fucking uncomfortable.

Being afraid is supposed to be fucking uncomfortable — it lights that metaphorical fire under your ass in order to tell you to work towards being more comfortable. But there are two ways you can do this: either retreating, and avoiding the scary thing in the first place, or working through it to the other side. Riding out the uncomfortable and the scary until you’re stronger and things aren’t as scary anymore. Fight or flight. Do or die.

And of course, in order to really understand how to withstand the scary things life throws at us, you have to get to the bottom of why you think it’s scary. Why it gets under you skin, why it terrifies you, why it dregs up memories of all the other times you faced scary things and didn’t come out stronger on the other side. There’s a whole host of reasons, really, and each will vary from person to person, but I think one of the things that connects this fear we all experience isn’t all that unique.

We’re most afraid of being happy. Of having a good life.

Not that we don’t want to — oh, of course we do. But we wonder if we deserve a good life, if we ought to have one, and so this doubt creeps in and we’re left second-guessing ourselves when we have to stand up to the thing that is in the way of our happiness. Of whatever it is we want. After all, what would happen if we wound up getting everything we wanted? What if it all got taken away?

But that is a risk with everything you do. So you might as well face the scary parts head on, because chances are, the outcome you want least might happen anyway. Whether or not you tried.

And if you don’t try, the what if — the magical, fantastical, best-case-scenario — will never happen at all.

My life has had its fair share of missteps, mistakes, ope and oops moments and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Because it’s in that vulnerability, the scrapes and bruises and scars that you grow, you learn, you prove to yourself how strong you really are.

Do the things that scare you.

Get uncomfortable.

Stand your ground.

Speak up, and go after the things you want. Apply for the job, ask for that promotion, buy the plane ticket, take the trip, climb that mountain, tell the person you’re crushing on that you love them – that you’re in love with them, move to a new city.

Take the risk.

And if you do wind up with everything you ever wanted, it’s because you did that work. You put in the effort, you found the grit within yourself, you realized that the scariest things in this world can sometimes be the most wonderful.

We’re scared of change, is all. But change is good for us. Change is how we learn.

And there’s nothing more fulfilling than that.

To Be Brave

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I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be brave lately. Unequivocally and unapologetically brave.

I remember when I was five, my dad sat a very terrified and nervous me down right before my first tee-ball game and told me something that has stuck with me ever since. “Kiddo, it’s okay to be scared,” he said. “But if you allow that fear to sideline you from doing something, anything, you’re ultimately giving away your power. And bravery? Bravery is your superpower.”

Papa Hansen from the top rope amiright?

The truth is bravery is a daily choice, a practice, an opportunity to look fear in the face and do the damn thing anyway.

It’s also so fucking hard sometimes.

The Oxford dictionary primarily defines ‘brave’ as the following: Ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage. According to its definition, there are two primary parts, two very crucial ingredients to being brave – the ability to endure, and courage. I might add that when one is brave, two of these qualities have to co-exist, and they are both of equal importance.

IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND BRAVERY, ONE MUST FIRST UNDERSTAND ITS OPPOSITE – FEAR.

Fear. That dirty, four-letter word. It’s a creeper, a prohibitor. It’s an enemy, and a cruel one at that. Most people don’t like to get to know their enemies, but I am of the opinion that one must not only know their enemies, but also understand them.

If you search “How to overcome fear” on the Googles, InstaFaceSnapBooks and other areas of the inter-webs, you’re bound to be hit with a kajillion inspirational quotes (I love me a good cliché y’all, but for all intents and purposes, I’ll spare you).  The most profound thing I have learned about fear in my 30+ years of life is that there really is no escaping it.

BUT KNOWING THAT FEAR IS INESCAPABLE IS EXACTLY WHY BRAVERY IS A NECESSITY IN LIFE.

When I think of all the people in my life who have been brave, and who continue to be brave (you know you who are, you da real heroes and I am forever inspired by you),  I realize that bravery means many different things, to many different people, in many different moments.

Sometimes bravery means being the person who stands out in the crowd, who speaks up, and is a voice – either the voice they need to hear, or a voice for others. Sometimes bravery means putting up the fight of your life, and fighting till the very end.

Sometimes bravery means going against adversity and owing the remarkable person that you are. Sometimes bravery is taking down those walls and opening up your heart at the risk of it being broken.

Sometimes bravery is simply getting up every day and going through the motions, despite the hurt and pain and struggles you’re going through.

Sometimes bravery means to search for the things and the people who make you feel alive; to take chances, to be a long shot and an outlier. And sometimes, bravery means to be grateful with the state of your right here and right now.

BEING BRAVE DOESN’T MEAN THE ABSENCE OF FEAR – IT MEANS HAVING THAT FEAR, BUT DOING IT ANYWAY.

Was five-year old me scared walking up to that tee-ball tee for the first time? So much nervous sweating, y’all.

And do I still get take pause and get a little (or a lot) anxious anytime I’m standing on the edge of a mountainside ledge, or right before I give a big presentation, or attempt something knowing that I might fail and fail harrrrrrd at it? Absolutely I do.

But you know what, that’s okay. That’s good, great, even! If you’re afraid, it probably means you should do it. And the more times you do it, the less scary it gets.

Being brave is hard, but so is living a half-life based on fear. So do the things that scare you, and take those risks.

After all, that is our superpower.

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When I was younger, I remember my mom and dad telling me over and over to enjoy the little moments, the here and nows, because life has this weird way of going into hyperdrive with every passing year. I never really got it back then; but as I look back on the last few weeks, months and years, their words ring truer than ever.

Life moves damn fast.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about that lately; the things I’ve done, experiences I’ve had, adventures taken and the incredible people I’ve met along the way. I’ve also realized that there is so much that I have yet to do and see and accomplish. And all of that comes by sticking a giant middle finger up to fear and taking big risks. Someone wise recently told me that life begins outside of your comfort zone and he couldn’t have been more on point with that. It was a reminder, and the kick in the ass I needed to get back to doing just that.

Here are 20 little things I’ve learned that life is way too short for:

1. Not petting just all of the doggos.

2. For loose ends, for feelings that were never acted upon and gestures that were never taken.

3. Not asking for a raise because you’re afraid of being denied. At the very least, you’ll learn what you need to work on so that you get one the next time around. Or it will give you confirmation to take your talent and drive and skills where you will be given that opportunity to grow.

4. Not applying for that job because you’re afraid you’re not qualified enough. Speaking from personal experience, you’re probably not giving yourself enough credit. You are a fucking rockstar. And you’ll never know what could happen unless you try. So try! Reach out. If nothing else, they’ll know who you are and remember you. That first impression is priceless.

5. Not introducing yourself to people you admire because you think they’re above you. They’re not, and they were once where you are now. They remember that.

6. Wearing heels when you want to wear flats.

7. Wearing flats when you want to wear sneakers.

8. Living for the weekend. There are seven days of the week, seven opportunities to see that show and go to that dive bar and stay up until the wee hours with your best friends, laughing until it hurts.

9. Letting the actions of other people dictate your own happiness. FOMO is a real, 21st century phenomenon. Just because it’s real doesn’t mean it’s not bullshit. Live your life offline. Photo-worthy opportunities will arise naturally because of that.

10. Not telling people how you feel, whether if it’s that you love them, or that you have a great idea, or that you feel used or alone or scared or happy. Express yourself, at every chance you can. The people who care about those feelings are the ones to keep around.

11. Worrying about those five pounds. Kids, trust me when I say that nobody but you knows they exist.

12. Not standing up for yourself.

13. And your work.

14. And what you believe in.

15. And what you deserve.

16. Holding onto a grudge. There is great power in forgiveness, in others and yourself. You never know what’s going on with someone behind closed doors. Practice kindness and show compassion. The world could use more of that.

17. Beating yourself up for a mistake. Apologize once, and then work to make it better, but also remember to forgive yourself for being — of all things you might have the audacity to be — human.

18. Not watching cheesy movies or listening to catchy pop songs because you think you should have better taste than that. Netflix is full of fluffy rom-coms that do nothing but provide joy. Thinking you’re above a little lowest common denominator happiness just means you’re denying yourself potential happiness. It doesn’t make you any more high brow than anyone else.

19. Filling your life with so much unnecessary stuff just because it was cool or hip or you wanted it in that moment. You can’t take your mounds of stuff with you. Stuff doesn’t mean anything in the long run. You can’t put a price on the memories you make and the experiences you have. Sometimes practicing impulse control is only getting us ready and excited for the stuff that’s really worth it.

20. Not eating dessert. Like I said, you can’t take it with you, and that includes whatever jiggle you earned from eating that really delicious cookie. Or donut. Or cookie-flavored donut. Life will be sweeter for it.

Life moves damn fast.

So take the damn chance. Get on that plane, send that person an ‘I’m sorry’, tell them that you love them, that you’re IN love with them. Drive all night to see someone in the morning. I don’t care if it makes you vulnerable, if it exposes you. Expose yourself. Open the hell up.

Let life fill you with hurt, with happiness; let it weather you, let it teach you. Let it inspire you, let it break you down and build you up. You are here to risk your heart. And create moments and experiences and do things that equate to living a “F*CK YES!” life.

Please don’t ever forget that.

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The smiles will be lost to memory long before the laughter stops echoing in our heads, and the hazy feelings will linger in varying degrees. The hangovers will be forgotten as soon as we say, “Never again,” so intently in the moment, so disingenuously in reality. We will immortalize these memories one pixelated, filtered photo at a time. We’ll text and call and post and tweet that we’ll do it again, do it soon, do it together.

I was 11 the first time I ever said goodbye to anyone. My grandmother was ill for a long time, and we knew it was coming, but that didn’t make it easier. We grieved, we coped, and we honored her memory. She’d lived a long and incredible life, and inspired everyone she knew, me especially.

Years later I said goodbye to another person I loved, though it felt different, harder in a way. It was a few days after my 24th birthday. My cousin who had been dealing with severe depression took his own life. There were so many questions left unanswered, and guilt, a feeling that I could’ve done or said something to prevent this from happening. I was inconsolable. Not only because I missed him — I did and still do, terribly — but also because he had so much to live for. We all did. We were so young. Youth is often wasted on the young, as they say.

He hardly had that chance to waste it though, before it was wasted on him. It felt unfair. It was unfair. Loss always is.

 No matter how much we try to evade it, loss is inevitable.

It hurts every time, and we can’t outrun the hurt. We’re not supposed to. And that will be okay. We will grieve and mourn. We will honor and remember them. They are indelible, not just on our minds, but in our hearts too. We will learn how to live anyway, not quite for them, but not without them either because still, we will keep little pieces of them with us always.

Because living in the here and now is less about living fast and risking the consequences, but more about living deliberately — making our lives worth living, and living them the way we would have with the people who maybe didn’t have the chance we still do. So we laugh more and stay up later and travel further and run faster and take bigger risks and love harder. We search for that one mark only we can make in someone else’s memory, in someone’s life, in the great expanse of knowledge and in the world. And we don’t stop until we find it, and even then, we keep going. We keep living.

Though we may one day be gone, our memories won’t be.

How we made other people laugh and think and feel won’t be, either. The things we did and said and made and contributed will be our legacy, and whether it’s conscious or not, we aim to leave good ones. Legendary ones, even, in our own small ways.

So laugh louder and hug fiercely and brave the late nights that turn into early morning hours as best you can. Make more, do more, stop worrying about the possible negative outcomes. The ends will outweigh the means as long as you keep pursuing both simultaneously. Love someone so much your heart is fit to burst, and love as many people as you can this way. Love everyone this way, if you can help it. Everyone deserves that kind of radical love, and being free with your love doesn’t make it any less special.

Make a tiny masterpiece out of caring for another person. Start with a small bit of wonderful.

You’ll eventually realize that was always the only thing you needed. 

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When you think about the person who has a big heart, who cares deeply and cares hard, it probably conjures up a lot of assumptions.

They cry at movies and get weepy at commercials (woof, it just got dusty in here all of a sudden). They care about strangers more than they do themselves sometimes, they light up at the possibility of helping someone or making them smile — even if they have nothing to give in return — and feel things so strongly and so deeply, that those feelings often make their decisions for them.

They lead with their heart instead of their head.

You might mistake this person for being impulsive, for a ‘leap before they look’ kind of guy/gal. And in a way, you’re right. Because the head says ‘wait’ but the heart says ‘go’. And they’re not the kind that can ever sit still when their heart is telling them to run somewhere.

But painting them simply as someone who has too many feelings and too big of a heart, who doesn’t have enough of a head on their shoulders to really think things through isn’t giving them enough credit. It’s writing them off as someone who is just feelings. As if feelings aren’t valid or strong or worth noting.

The truth about the person who leads with their heart instead of their head that you’re probably too afraid to admit? They’re braver than you.

The person who leads with their heart instead of their head isn’t afraid of the possibility of failing. They’re too busy making memorable moments and soaking up every inch of life to worry about the repercussions that may come back to hurt them. They’re more concerned about doing what feels best to waste time weighing and outweighing options that may never even see the light of day.

They’re too busy loving, and in turn living, to unnecessarily linger on the possibility that something might be the wrong choice.

The truth about leading with your heart is that it’s the scarier choice. It’s the riskier option. More can go wrong when you leap instead of look, when you love instead of hold back, when you feel instead of giving into fear. It’s the bolder choice; the choice that leaves more open to come back and smack you with negativity and pain.

Which is why it is a choice that should be commended, not shamed.

So to those who lead with their hearts and not their heads, who are constantly giving without expectation of receiving, who unapologetically have those hearts on their sleeves for the world to take a piece of: I commend you. 

You are brave in a world that so often tries to make souls like yours afraid of what they’re feeling. You take risks in a world where doing just that is an act of rebellion. You put yourself out there when everything realistically is pointing at you to do exactly the opposite.

You remain loving in a world that is often so unkind.

Never apologize for being that person. Never make your love smaller to protect yourself. Never repress what you want to shout from the rooftops.

Because you are someone who leads with their heart and not their head, and that is brave.

And that is beautiful.

And the world needs more people

just

like

you.

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