Challenge: Seeing Greatness in Everyone

What if we treated every person we meet as a great person, someone capable of doing wonderful and amazing things?

What if, instead of dismissing their ideas, interests, dreams, and goals as silly or unimportant, we encouraged them to pursue and explore those things, even if we don’t quite understand them yet?

What if we believed that each person we meet had a purpose to fulfill, despite any shortcomings or failures that we observe or assume?

What if we believed that each person we meet is trying their best, even if their best doesn’t look like ours?

What if we looked for ways to help someone advance in their life, career, or personal growth, without shaming or insulting them for not knowing beforehand?

How would that change our interactions?

How would that change our view of humanity?

I think it could possibly change the world.

The Double Standard of Pleasing Others, and Why It Matters

There are two conflicting pieces of advice I’ve heard throughout my life:

  • “Don’t spend your life trying to please others!  Do what makes you happy!”
  • “You’re not going to have any friends if you keep doing what makes you happy!”

On the one hand, living a life to please others is an empty shell of a life–been there, done that.  But since I have begun my own slow journey out of people-pleasing, it is astonishing how many people have felt the need to take me aside and quietly tell me that what I’m doing FOR MYSELF may “upset” people or “turn them off.”

Intimated in this private admonishment is the idea that I should change my behavior to something that others expect, something that others like.  It is as if I should “explore my individuality” and “be myself,” but “not like THAT!”

It seems laughable in a way to put it like that–it reveals the guilt, shame, and fear tactics so often used by people.  But when I first started receiving criticisms like this, it messed with my head quite a bit.  I found myself thinking, “Oh God, could they be right??  Am I doing something wrong?  Being more vocal, present, and assertive could cost me friends?”  The pleaser mindset–or rather, the empty space where the pleaser mindset had been–ached with a familiar fear from the bullied and ostracized child I was:  would I become fully myself at last, only to find I was myself all alone?

Now, however, I am beginning to crawl out from under that fear, and my blurred vision is coming clear.  I am aware now that those who asked me to change my behaviors were seeking to control me, to violate my boundaries as a person because I was doing things they could not understand, or chose not to understand.  I am aware now that these tactics are used by people who believe that their world ought to be orderly and understandable, and those who do not do things in an orderly and understandable manner are frightening.  And I am aware now that sacrificing my boundaries to keep their friendship was simply counter-intuitive; they would not be able to accompany me to the heights and depths of personal growth that I wish to explore.

I can be acquaintances with the folks who sought to control me, and so I am to this day–nothing will change my good regard for them, and I know they still care about me too. But I can no longer be slave to their limited ideas of what a good life looks like, and I can’t stay worried about their opinion.  Too many of us are out here already trying to be “good adults,” “good parents,” “good kids,” “good spouses,” “good employees,” etc., and are losing ourselves in the process.  I have to be who I was meant to be…even if that means some will never understand. ❤

How to Not Shut Others Down

We must remember this for critiques, criticisms and judgments in the future: statements shut others down, questions lift them up.

It doesn’t matter what you’re critiquing or how bad you think it is. If you ask questions, you’re helping someone else build and refine their dream. But if you just look at someone’s work and dismiss it, saying “oh, that’s absolute garbage,” then you’re just shutting them down.

Note here that I’m not advocating the use of interrogation! Being interrogated sucks about as much as being shut down. Instead, ask open ended, thoughtful questions that ignite their imagination, present an exciting new viewpoint, or give them interesting new considerations to mull over. Help them explore their idea, and they will naturally improve upon it right before your eyes.

I firmly believe if we do this with everyone who comes to us for advice, we will encourage rapid and beautiful growth in them and their work. I also know from experience that if we stick to harsh and critical statements, we are stomping out their garden before it’s even begun. I know which kind of advice I’d rather receive!

Why was college the happiest time of my life?

I was reminiscing this evening on my college years (2003-2007), and it occurred to me that these were the happiest years of my life so far. But why? After all, I am engaged to a wonderful man, employed part time as a tutor, and am free to do whatever with my time otherwise. What’s so bad about today?

Well, for one thing, back then I was younger, had less chronic pain, and had had less trauma to recover from. I was also in an environment with lots of people learning and growing just like me–people who loved the creative stuff I was doing, people who were just figuring themselves out and let me be me, people who were mentoring me and encouraging me to succeed. And I was succeeding at just about everything I touched academically (well, except math, which is a lost cause with me, LOL). Most importantly, I was doing all the things I loved–writing, reading, playing music, writing music, and singing–whether anybody else liked it or not. I felt fulfilled, free, and blooming for the first time in my life, even through some heartbreaks.

Cut to today, 12 years after graduation, and the picture looks very different; despite the successes I mentioned, there are quite a few shadows. I have only just regained my freedom after a decade of locking myself in a mental and spiritual prison called fundamentalist Christianity, which I did mainly to find a place where I fit after college. I am a failed middle school teacher, a failed retail worker, a failed masters degree holder, and a failing singer, struggling with even the simplest concepts after 20 years of performing with bad habits. I am battling widespread pain, having more symptoms of PCOS, sleeping very poorly, and going to doctors’ appointments a fair number of times a year (even though it’s better than it was a few years ago). I’m utterly stymied creatively, stuck between the opposing ideas of “this is crap, no one will ever like it” and “this is too good, someone will just steal it if I show it to them.” The people I have around me are no longer in the excitement of blooming–they’re just being, or maybe struggling to just be, and meanwhile I feel like my bud got frostbitten. It sometimes feels, when I look at everyone else’s life, their happy marriages, their steady and fulfilling jobs, their kids growing up, that I am behind everyone else in the game of life, that I did something wrong.

But maybe that’s the key–because of the slower pace of my life and the physical conditions I battle, I’m forced to look at everyone else’s life, the way I didn’t at all in college. Then, I was so focused on my own blooming, and I was surrounded by others who helped in that worldview. I did what I liked with my creativity, and the opinions of others didn’t intrude into my mind as often because I knew I was successful anyway. Today I am a bit older, a bit wiser, and frankly crushed by my past failures. Sometimes I’m not so sure I have anything worthwhile to say, even on this blog, or that I make any art worthy of even being looked at. And as an “adult,” I also feel crushed by the societal pressure and financial necessity of making money with my vocation. (Back in college, I had no bills to pay, thanks to the hard work and myriad sacrifices of my parents.). It sucks to realize I might not ever be able to support myself with my physical disabilities. And it sucks more to see how much I’ve failed, how many wrong decisions I’ve made, how disappointed I am in myself. Every time I want to play the piano, write a new piece of poetry or fiction, etc., this absolute mountain of disappointment stands between me and the joy I used to find in it all. What used to feel easy now feels too difficult, pointless to even try. “Why bother? You’re just gonna fail again, like last time,” is the ever-present refrain. Even though I am very brave, I do get tired of fighting that logic after a while.

In this moment, though, I am reminded that the blooming me still exists within, underneath the failures and disappointments. I am more successful now than two years ago when I was unemployed. I am in less physical trouble than one year ago when I was severely anemic from the side effects of PCOS. I am better than I was in 2016 before I began getting PTSD therapy. I am writing again, sometimes, and I have a small writing group. I have my voice teacher who doesn’t think I’m a failure (somehow, even though I give her a hell of a time during my lessons, LOL). Occasionally I do fight to get over that mountain of disappointment to play my compositions again. AND this year has been more successful than any year before, because I’m finally turning the tide of the battle against clutter and disorganization in my house–a battle that has raged since before I was even born.

College was a happy time for me, but now I’m out here breaking generational curses, caring for my body’s new needs, and dealing with a literal ton of unfinished business…maybe that’s why I had so much time back then, and why it feels like I have so little time now. Maybe this is why I feel so frazzled–because the battle is harder than ever and there’s tons of important work being done on multiple fronts. Maybe Then was a time of discovery and self-realization, and Now is a time of clearing away so that the creative life I once thought of can be lived in full. Maybe I can be 34 and still blooming after the frost.

Holding Space

This summer has brought with it very good news and new challenges packaged with it, and it’s also been a time of massive decluttering in our house. The spare bedroom, which was once overrun with mice and stacked almost to the ceiling with stuff, is now nearly a habitable room again–all it needs is a new mattress and box spring, plus some closet cleaning and dusting.

I used to be ashamed of this room; I used to just shut the door and pretend it wasn’t a problem. But with the help of younger friends and family to move and carry things over the course of several summer work days, we soon will be able to have a guest stay the night for the first time in nearly 20 years. Every time I pass the room, I smile, even though there’s still some mileage left to go.

I’ve also been decluttering some in my heart and mind, though this has been going more slowly. Holding space open to organize my stuff is easier than holding space open to organize my thoughts! Plus I’m VERY forgetful, especially these days, and often have to relearn or be reminded of mental areas I’ve already reclaimed from the stacks of self hatred, depression, guilt, etc. Just this morning I’ve returned to a self help book that reminds me I need to hold space open for my emotions to process, too, which would be like opening up a shaken Coke…but I digress. 😂

This concept of prying open the closed spaces in my house, my mind, and my heart is frightening and yet freeing. I kinda don’t want to get into the mental and emotional stuff because I don’t know if I have the oomph to see it through…and yet all the awesome progress I see in the spare bedroom reminds me that I’ll be glad I held the space open, afterward. ❤️

Productivity and a Positive Turn

Over the last couple days, I’ve been slowly rebuilding some positive frameworks in my life. One such framework is to do one task every hour to help me feel like I’m actually getting stuff done, and it’s helping.

The key to this is my phone and its noisy reminders. I am the kind of person who does not think to look at written reminders and planners–if it doesn’t make noise at me constantly, I ain’t bothering with it, LOL! So I set a reminder to go off every hour and bug me every minute until I do something productive.

It kinda ticks me off sometimes, and I usually end up shouting “shut up!!” at the phone a few times (LOL). But that annoyance most often leads to me getting up and choosing a task from a written list I make every day. The first day I did this, I completed 15 tasks in one day!! This after two months of absolutely nothing getting done–I call that progress!

I find that this is helping with the crushing depression I’ve been suffering for a while. I hate feeling non productive, so maybe this burst of productivity will help turn things around in my head. Who would have thought an obnoxious reminder could do so much! Haha!

A Different Life

Has anyone else had that feeling where everything you used to do seems to belong to a different person and a different life?

That’s what’s going on with me these days. Even writing and music seem to be part of another woman’s life, a part of a self I forgot. Sometimes I can recapture it for a moment, but it doesn’t last. I know this is depression, and really bad depression at that. It’s worse than it’s ever been, and that’s saying something.

I tried to get help last month, but the therapist I was placed with kept going on about how I wasn’t doing enough to change my circumstances…kept throwing all these advice things at me like I’m supposed to just magically have the energy to do it all now that someone else has told me what to do. Sorry, dude, that just ain’t flying. Also I don’t like being subtly blamed and guilted for having this numbness and nothingness in my head. Pardon my French, but fuck that. I got enough negative shit in my head without someone else adding to the pile. I tried being my own therapist for a few weeks after that, since I’m often called on to help others through their crises, and I’ve been told I’m pretty good at it. But alas, my words don’t work on me; they’re just hollow advice that reeks of desperation and clutching at straws. It was a long shot but at least I tried.

Even though I hate the thought of it, I think it might be time to try medication. I’ve tried modifying my behavior, but it never produces any long term change…I always end up numb and empty again no matter what I try, and I’ve tried a lot of stuff over the last three decades. If I have to take a daily pill to be functioning again, so be it–I already take a daily pill to keep from bleeding to death, so I guess it’s not that big a deal. (Part of me wants to feel shame at needing meds to survive, but I’m just too damned tired for shame anymore.). I just want my life back–maybe I don’t have to chase all the different lives I’ve led over the years, but I do want to finish my books, get them edited and published, and progress more in my vocal training. I also hope to be married sometime this year, but I have to survive that long first. (we’re waiting on some hopefully good news coming through soon, so I’m pretty sure the anxiety of waiting is making the depression temporarily worse. Doesn’t make it easier to slog through every day though.)

A Pleaser’s Personal Hell

Pretty much everything I’ve ever done, everything I’ve ever achieved, has been because I did it for someone else. I really wish that was an understatement right now.

This covers a lot of things:

  • Getting good grades through school: please family & teachers, have good standing with authority figures
  • Doing kind things for others: please them so they won’t get angry/hurt me later
  • Attending church: please fiancé’s family, have good standing among members/community
  • Participate in exercise: please doctors so they’ll stop banging on about my excess weight
  • Allow ex boyfriends to push my personal boundaries (putting it delicately): please them, keep them from cheating/abandoning or hurting me
  • Engage in various hobbies: please cool other people who also do the hobby, make friends to feel less alone

About the only things I’ve ever firstly done for myself are writing and music, and even my joy in those has been ruined now because I found out I could please others with them. Now every time I write, every time I compose or sing, I’m haunted by the thought that “someone else might not like this,” or the opposite, somehow more devastating thought: “who even cares anyway? I’m the only one who’s seeing/hearing this.”

It seems stupid, maybe, but I have never really lived outside this pleaser mindset. I just flat don’t know what it looks or feels like to do something just because I’m committed to it for myself, just because I alone care enough to make it happen and I’m the only one it will affect. Even stuff like brushing my teeth is done because I was tired of costing my parents excess money at the dentist’s getting cavities fixed. (So I basically do it because I’m cheap…wow.)

When it comes to doing things for others, however, I push myself very hard to always come through. I often can do more than they asked for, even, because I want them to be happy (and because I don’t want them to be mad, to be honest). I’ve done some amazing things with motivation that comes from others’ expectations and hopes. But when it comes to doing things just for me, I cannot muster that same energy. The place where I usually reach inside myself for motivation is empty; I end up talking myself out of doing it, because “I’m the only one who cares anyway,” “I guess it doesn’t really matter,” “meh,” etc. Even writing for this blog has been like this. I go through times where I’m REALLY motivated to write, get a few posts out…and then I slip into days and weeks of inactivity because very few seem to care, and if they don’t care, how am I supposed to? Without the shrill, harrying call of “OTHER PEOPLE EXPECT THIS SO DO IT NOW DO IT NOW DO IT NOW”, all I’m left with is just…tired.

I am sick of giving up on personal projects because of this soul-tiredness. I’m sick of being exhausted of life itself, of having to fight just to exist. If this were my best friend going through this hell, I would be at her side counseling her, listening, encouraging her…but because it’s me, it just doesn’t take. I can hear the fakeness, the hollowness in any encouragement I try to give myself. My voice, my words, my music–all seems stifled by this feeling that if it’s not pleasing to others, it’s not worth a damn. (Maybe there’s also an element of “I don’t matter enough to take care of.”)

I’m fighting through this to go to voice lessons, to pursue my interests, see my friends, to seek happiness wherever I can scrounge it up, but again and again I come up against this utter absence of motivation. I want my damn SUCCESS already, the reward I’m owed for what feels like decades of hard mental and emotional work for other people, but instead I’m 34 years old, pretty much unemployed, facing defeat or lack in every direction, now looking up at a sheer cliff face called life, and I have no climbing gear. And no one else sees this mountain but me. 💔

The Most Heartbreaking Thing About Being Disliked

(This post is a bit all over the place, sorry!)

Often when people write about others disliking us, the “others” are described more as a faceless mob, just “haters,” unimportant to our daily lives. It seems a bit easier, at least to me, to brush off the negative opinions of others who don’t really know us. But what about when the people who dislike you are also those you loved and trusted? How do you deal when you still care about them and love them, but they greet you with sneering hatred or disapproval?

I have spent a large part of my life dealing with various folks who ended up hating or disliking me, even though I treated them with as much love as I knew how. The heartbreak of each of those instances still resounds in me to this day. Some, I later learned, were jealous of my talents and accomplishments; others were justifiably afraid of me and the overwhelming emotions I suffer; still others just apparently didn’t like me being who I am, creative and weird. But I still find myself thinking about these people, these former loved ones, and feeling weird guilt/regret for how negatively things turned out.

I never want anyone to feel active dislike/hatred, anger, pain, or fear because of me, because I know how hard those negative emotions are. Yet I am human, and thus capable of causing this kind of suffering in others without meaning to. I know I can’t control others’ emotions and reactions, but I’m still left raw by how they feel, too. Days like this, I find myself revisiting these messy heartbreaks, some of them almost three decades old, and wondering how I can ward off a situation like them in the future. At 34, I still am not sure how to guard my heart and mind against others’ emotions and reactions to me, and I don’t know how to get rid of the resulting guilt and regret. (I can pretend it’s not there, but not forever.) I also don’t really want to turn off my compassion and caring, either.

Anybody else ever struggled with this? Kinda feel like I’m talking all around it, lol, but maybe this makes sense?

My Surprisingly Fun Evening Routine

I never thought I’d be the kind of person who has a routine for nighttime–back in the day I just fell asleep whenever I managed to get my brain to hush, with no preamble. But a combination of factors has given rise to my slow accumulation of nighttime systems that make me feel better come morning.

Since I just finished my 30-minute evening routine for the night, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on all the practices I do at night to get better prepared for bed. There are some unexpected practices here–read on to find out some road tested ideas that help me have a much better night. Here’s what I do, in order:

Tooth Care

This was the first step I adopted, and for good reason–I was tired of getting cavities and having to have thousands of dollars in dental work done! Since adopting this routine, I now very rarely get cavities anymore, and I experience little to no gum pain and bleeding like I used to. Getting rid of all the food bits and bacteria before I do nothing for 6-8 hours is key!

To begin, I usually pull up either a playlist of music or an interesting YouTube video I can listen to. Then I begin brushing with my child-size toothbrush (great for folks like me who have small mouths!), moving always in small soft circles angled toward my gum line, beginning with the front teeth, top and bottom. Once done there, I will either go to the bottom left or bottom right section of teeth depending on my mood (LOL), brushing the outside surfaces, biting surfaces, and inside surfaces. Usually I’ll finish off the back sides of my bottom teeth on this run too. After that I’ll move to the top section above the ones I just brushed, then the back sides of my front teeth. Then I’ll do the opposite side of my mouth the same way, bottom section and then top.

After all that, I’ll brush my tongue, getting as far back in my mouth as I can without gagging. (This does double duty–gets rid of bad breath AND helps with the tongue tension and gag reflex I am battling as a developing singer!)

A rinse with warm water, and then I’m off to flossing using a long-handled flosser (which is a GAME CHANGER!! Seriously, could not floss without it). In between each tooth, I run the floss a few times, angling it back and forth to get out as much stuff as possible, and I rinse the floss in between sections of teeth. Another thorough rinse with warm water after flossing, and I’m done with tooth care! This usually takes about 5 minutes total.

Face Care

Since I’m in my mid thirties now, I always put at least some moisturizer on before bed to protect my skin from drying out overnight. I very rarely wear makeup, and I refrain from touching my face throughout the day, plus if I over-wash my face I can start breaking out very badly, so I don’t wash my face every night. This takes about 30 seconds to a minute.

When my face feels like it needs it, though, I wash with some cleanser and a small, surprisingly gentle and inexpensive facial scrubber (found them at Dollar Tree, 2 for a buck!!). The scrubber exfoliates and spreads product evenly so I feel like I get a good clean. (You can definitely over scrub though, so take it easy on your face if you try this!) Paired with some super soft baby washcloths for rinsing, this routine leaves my face very smooth and soft, and ready for moisturizer. This additional step adds about 4 minutes.

Hand and Lip Care

I sleep with a fan on in my room, both for noise and to dispel hot stuffy air (my room is consistently the hottest in the house, ugh). This means that my skin generally gets super dried out all over, especially in the winter, if I don’t do something about it before I go to sleep. So to avoid “alligator hands” and “snakeskin lips”, I smooth lotion on my hands and put on lip balm, usually with petroleum. This takes about 1-2 minutes.

Muscle and Joint Care

Finally, I get in bed, turn on my TV, flip to YouTube, and pull up a video of my very newest nighttime routine: bedtime yoga! (That link is the video I use every night, and it’s great even for non-flexible beginners like me!)

Before starting this super gentle yoga flow, I generally woke up feeling like absolute dog poop–horribly sore and stiff all over? like I’d been run over by two buses and a steamroller during the night. I was also very skeptical that a bedtime yoga routine could change that. I thought I’d be bored or in pain doing these poses.

But instead, I’m actually enjoying doing yoga this time–I’m in bed, so I’m not experiencing the pressure and pain I usually feel trying to do stuff on the floor. I also get to enjoy how the fan blows over me like I’m at the spa, and the coolness comforts me as I stretch away some of the daily aches and pains. I do what I can, listen to my muscles when they holler for me to stop, and don’t pressure myself to be some kind of yoga hero.

I do still wake up feeling like maybe one bus hit me during the night, but even after just 10 days of practice, I’m already getting a bit more flexible. Hoping I can keep this up and see even more improvements over time!

Summary

I find that this evening routine helps me relax and have some fun in the evenings, even as I’m taking care of my body in specific ways. Is there anything you’d adopt from this routine? Let me know in the comments!