the sunny side & old nonsense.

Over the last five or so years I’ve worked a LOT on my anxiety and self-confidence. I’ve come a very long way, and I’m very proud of that (I’m proud of being proud of myself, okay? It makes sense and it feels awesome so just deal with it). The last two and a half years in particular have been transformative for me as I’ve learned to really like and understand who I have become. There are SO many things that have helped me along the way (people, books, making mistakes, etc), but there’s one thing I want to share right now. I guess it’s technically two things, but they go together so we’ll call it one:

MY QUOTE MAGNETS. I know it sounds super cheesy, but approximately two years ago I bought two magnets at Barnes & Noble and they have happily framed many of my days these past couple of years. I chose them intentionally for their message, and placed them appropriately so I would see them when I knew I’d need them most.

Here’s the first — I stuck it on a coffee maker at work so that every time I stood there to brew coffee I would have a few seconds to read it. Over and over I read it. It didn’t ever not make me feel better. It didn’t make all my stress magically melt away, but it served as a reminder to stop, breathe, and remember who I was trying to become (even if I wasn’t that person right that second):

“Promise yourself to be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind. Look at the sunny side of everything & and make your optimisom come true. Think only of the best, work only for the best. Forget the mistakes of the past & press on the greater achievements of the future. Give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to critize others. Live in the faith that the whole world is on your side as long as you are true to the best that is in you.” – Christian D. Larson

I have a hard time with believing the whole world is on mind side, because even though I’m quite the optimist, that feels a little naive. However, I like to think that much of the world is on my side, because I’m a good person and I think most other people are, too.

The reminder to forget mistakes and press on was (is) always timely, and I certainly would love to be so strong that nothing could disturb my peace of mind. And I can’t tell you how often the reminder to invest in my own improvement rather than spend energy criticizing others helped me bite my tongue and change my focus.

Here’s the second one — it moved around for awhile, but settled on my nightstand. That’s where I’ve found it has done me the most good — as the last thing I see before I go to sleep:

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Oh, to be unencumbered with my old nonsense! This one always helps me breathe a sigh of relief. It reminds me that it’s not just okay not to beat myself up — it is advisable that I not do so. Own up to mistakes? Yes. Learn from them? Of course. Make it right when you can? Definitely. But wallow in them and let the guilt and regret keep you from BEING AWESOME as you face a new day?

I think Mr. Emerson would advise against that.

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joy in the journey.

One year ago today, I stood at my front door — MY front door — for the very first time. I took a deep breath and treasured this moment before the movers arrived. This is MY house!

 
Then, rather anticlimactically, I couldn’t get the door open for awhile because the lock was jammed.

 
Still! It was a special moment. I couldn’t help thinking of it today. I’ve mastered just the right way to turn my key so it doesn’t jam, and I’ve learned to love the odd little quirks of this house — MY house.

 
As I look back over this past year, I think of a really valuable lesson that I’ve learned from my home. Before I moved in, I’d made a study of Marie Kondo’s, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up. And while I am still pursuing the tidying methods, the thing I feel like I have mastered, and that has really changed so many areas of my life, is her teaching on loving your home. She teaches her readers never to speak ill of their home. To love it, cherish it, take care of it, because it takes care of you. Doing this has changed me for the better in two significant ways.

 
First, it has changed how I feel about where I live. Daniel and I have agreed never to complain about our home. We regularly talk about how much we love her (yes, it’s a her, and her name is Vera, thank you very much). That doesn’t mean we don’t talk about the things we want to change about her as we have time and money to do so. But we have learned to simultaneously love her just the way she is, and aspire for her to be even better. We just make sure to focus our talk in a positive way, and being conscious of how we speak has made all the difference in how we think and feel. And loving the place where I live has made a huge impact on my emotional health.

 
Second, I’ve learned to love other imperfect things in my life, and strive to improve them at the same time. For so long, I’ve been so focused on how to achieve perfection. It was always so frustrating to me that there was always something else to improve. I often felt overwhelmed and exhausted by the journey to the ideal, because I realized I’d never get there. I often despaired, wondering what was the point of trying if I would never arrive.

 
A good example would be my body. I have an ideal in my head that I know I cannot achieve. For years I waffled back and forth between getting pumped up and doing everything I could to get there, and resigning myself to a “what’s the point” unhealthy attitude. Now, I feel that I’m able to love my body for what it is, and also take note of the things I should improve without immediately spiraling into self-loathing. But it’s incredibly important to maintaining my sanity that I never complain about my body. I never make self-deprecating jokes about being fat or ugly, because those words can start to sink in.

 
The same applies in my work. Before I officially began my job as a manager, I felt that I needed to read every book, learn every lesson, know every answer, so that I could be the ideal leader. But that’s stupid and unrealistic. I will constantly be reading and learning throughout my career. It was naive to assume that I could — or even needed — to know everything before I could begin. As I look back over my first experiences in a leadership role, I’m able to identify what I could have done better, without hating myself for making mistakes. Instead, I am appreciative of the learning experience that that first year was. I try hard to talk about what I’ve learned, rather that what an idiot I used to be. Keeping it positive keeps me grounded.

 

In retrospect, this idea that how we talk about things directly affects how we feel about them is something I learned very early on in my marriage, too. I once received some very good advice to never gripe about my husband to coworkers and friends, because the more you say it, the more you feel it. As I find opportunities to speak well of Daniel (there are many) I find myself feeling more appreciative of him. This doesn’t mean ignoring major issues, or deluding yourself into thinking your partner is perfect. It’s just a helpful trick to stay positive instead of fixating on the negative. I’m so glad I’ve learned how effective this practice is with my home, and so many other things.

 
So, thanks to Marie Kondo, my beautiful home, and some good marital advice, I’ve learned to love and treasure the imperfect while still striving for improvement. I’ve found joy in the journey to perfection, and am at peace with never reaching my destination.

let’s do this the easy way.

Something shifted in my perspective several months ago.

I was complaining to my husband about how the right way to do things was always harder, lamenting that I was so lazy and prone to taking the easy way out like the rest of humanity, when he shocked me by saying, “Actually, the right way is most often the easy way in the long run. It just seems hard in the short term. It’s about your perspective.”

Mind. Blown.

He’s right! Think about it: eating right and exercising seems like the harder way to do things, at least for me. But that’s just because it’s more time consuming and expensive in the short term. I have to cook, buy fresher — often pricier — food, plan my meals ahead of time, etc. That seems harder. But the truth is, in the long term, doing those things is SO much easier (and cheaper) than being sick and miserable later on in life. It’s far easier to make a few good decisions each day than to have to battle the consequences later on.

The same thing goes for my house. I always procrastinate doing the dishes. I just leave them in the sink thinking it’ll be easier to just do them all at once later. WRONG. By the time I get around to it, they’ve all built up and it takes forever, and most of the time I can’t even finish them in one load, so I end up having a sink that is constantly full and a cabinet that is constantly empty. The easy way would be to take care of each item, one at a time, as needed.

We’ve even talked about this concept before in my job. As a manger, so many times it’s easier to avoid giving regular feedback because it’s awkward or difficult, and often feels petty or nit-picky. But the truth is, it’s so much easier to consistently provide folks with little pieces of feedback, rather than letting those little errors build up over time until they cause a real problem that requires a big sit down talk.  Or, in reverse, it’s much easier to get defensive and ignore feedback from our coworkers in an attempt to protect our own feelings. But in the long run it makes our lives more difficult when we make it hard for others to communicate with us, or if we refuse to allow ourselves to learn and grow. Being open about giving and receiving feedback also lessens anxiety in the workplace, because we all know that we’re being upfront with each other on a regular basis, rather than saving all our concerns and criticisms to be unleashed at an annual performance review.

The same perspective can be applied to relationships too — it feels easy to just gloss over the little things that hurt your feeling or drive you crazy, but if you don’t deal with them as they come up, they eventually build up into a great big fight that your poor partner never sees coming. And when things get heated, it feels easy to say the first cruel thing that pops into your head, but it actually makes your life much harder as you have to spend considerably more time rebuilding a relationship than you would have if you’d just had the self-control to keep your comments civil.

I don’t know about you, friend, but I’m resolving to do things the easy way. To take care of my body. To do the dishes. To be open about feedback. To communicate clearly, regularly, and honestly. And to remind myself that this way – the right way – is actually the easy way.

 

 

I’m interested to hear your experiences. What ways have you found that you’ve been inadvertently taking the hard way out? Feel free to shoot me an email, or leave a comment below.

take the compliment

Taking a compliment can be awkward and uncomfortable, but learning to do it like an adult is important if we want to improve ourselves and our self-esteem.

For most of us, our first instinct is to refuse the compliment. Example:

“Emily, you look really pretty today!”

“No! I am such a mess today. I just rolled out of bed — I’m so embarrassed!”

I’ve observed this behavior in myself and others for quite some time now. I’ve learned there are several different reasons that people do this.

  1. They don’t want to be perceived as arrogant.

These folks fear that if they accept a compliment others will think they are vain or conceited. A reasonable response, in my opinion. However, low self-esteem isn’t en vogue anymore. We’re adults: accept the fact that you are pretty awesome most of the time. Aunt Eller (from the musical, Oklahoma) says it best in one of my all-time favorite lines:

I'd like to teach you all a little sayin'
And learn the words by heart the way you should
I don't say I'm no better than anybody else
But I'll be damned if I ain't just as good!

2. They want to hear more.

This is my least favorite reason that people refuse compliments: they want you to elaborate. They want you to convince them that they really are great. This may be because they are vain, but more than likely it’s because they have incredibly low self-esteem and are begging you to help lift them back up. Responding in this manner may inadvertently discourage the kind people in your life from complimenting you again in the future. Why? Because you exhaust them when they do. Their kind words are clearly not ever enough, so they eventually won’t bother.

3. They are distrustful.

Our culture is so passive-aggressive and sarcastic that it makes taking unexpected compliments very difficult. If we are truly caught off-guard by someone’s kindness, many of us become suspicious of the complimenter’s motives and fear that we are either being manipulated or mocked. This one is hard to improve on as the receiver since we can’t control the motivations of others, but it’s still important for us to consider and understand. Understanding this perspective can help us be sure we are not complimenting others with ulterior motives. Doing so perpetuates a disingenuous culture.

While I’ve been guilty of all three, and still struggle with my reaction to compliments, I try to anchor myself with these words:

“Thank you!”

I still fumble and bumble and blush, but at least I don’t have to struggle with what to say anymore. I just say, “Thank you.” It doesn’t insinuate that I disagree, nor that I already knew I was the coolest thing since sliced bread. It doesn’t invite more praise. It is not obnoxious. It is short, sweet, and honest. It is polite. And now that I can accept a compliment, I can allow myself to feel loved and encouraged.

 

PRO TIP: Collect encouragement! When someone gives me a compliment, I often write it in the notes section of my planner. If I get a kind email or text, I screenshot it and save it in a folder on my computer. If I get something handwritten, I save it in a box with my other notes. That way, when I’m feeling down, I’ve got ready-to-read encouragement. It’s super-helpful, and eliminates the need to fish for compliments when I need a boost.

positively confrontational

I don’t know why confrontation is always thought of as negative.

That’s a lie.

I know exactly why. It’s because confrontation is uncomfortable.

I used to be a very non-confrontational (and therefore very passive aggressive and deeply self-conscious) person. I was constantly having to read between the lines of what friends and coworkers were saying. I was jumping to (often incorrect) conclusions about how others felt about me. I was not telling anyone how I really felt. I finally got fed up with the constant anxiety, and decided I really needed to be more open with others so that they could be open with me. Here are some of the things I’ve learned in my quest:

1. Confrontation can be positive.

You don’t have to  go in swinging. Being willing to confront a difficult issue with someone — rather than letting it fester and destroy your relationship — is an act of love. So do it lovingly. Be calm, respectful, and honest.

2.  It doesn’t have to be an ordeal.

It can be (and much of the time SHOULD be) a short and to-the-point conversation. There’s no getting around that fact that confrontation is uncomfortable — why drag it out?

3. You’ll feel better afterward.

Even though the conversation may be hard, inevitably I feel about a thousand times lighter after it’s done (provided I haven’t gone in swinging or drawn it out far longer than necessary). We avoid these conversations to spare ourselves the discomfort, but I’ve found that living with the unspoken tension is often far less comfortable than simply having the talk.

4. Not everything needs to be confronted.

SURPRISE! Didn’t see that one coming from Miss Confrontational, did you? It’s true, and I actually feel pretty strongly about it. When you get in the habit of confronting important issues and begin to reap the benefits of having open relationships and getting things off your chest in a healthy way, you may find yourself addicted to confrontation. Be careful. Before you put yourself (and your unsuspecting friend) through a difficult conversation, be sure that you are asking yourself: is this worth making a fuss over? Trust me on this one. I’ve learned the hard way.

 

As an exercise, next time your friend makes a passive aggressive remark, try calling him out on it and see how it goes. My prediction? He’ll be embarrassed, sure, but he’ll also probably tell you what’s actually wrong. Suddenly you will have opened up a previously clogged line of communication simply because you cared enough to ask.

Here’s an even more challenging exercise: call yourself out next time you make a self-deprecating joke.

Confronting yourself can be just as uncomfortable — and just as important — as confronting anyone else.

 

NOTE: I have gone over and over this piece. I even posted it once, and then immediately deleted it. I’ve just had the hardest time bringing myself to share it with you, which seems particularly ironic in a post about openness. The truth is, I felt guilty for sharing it because not all of these ideas are totally original to me, and I struggled with how to properly credit those who have taught me. So, I will calm my conscience by being open about the fact that I’ve learned none of this in a vacuum.

I have learned from friends, coworkers, bosses, books, and my own mistakes (and some successes!). I’d be happy to recommend a plethora of reading material and wise people for you to talk to, if interested.

tidying up

I’ve started a funny daily ritual the last month or so. It’s basically a turn down service… for myself. Sometime in the hours before bed, I tidy my bedroom, turn off the overhead and turn on the bedside lights, fluff the pillows and turn down the covers. That way, when I’m ready to turn in, I snuggle up in a hotel-esque oasis. It makes the every day event of going to bed feel luxurious.

Now, I haven’t started putting chocolates on my pillows yet, but maybe I will.

I got to thinking about this the other day when I realized it’s been almost exactly a year since I started the process of “Kon Mari-ing” my life. I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, for my book club last March and it really did change my life.

I am far from perfectly tidy, and I’m not going to try to summarize her book here. It should be required reading for all humans, so I’m just going to recommend you purchase it and read it yourself. What I do want to do here is tell you that my life was forever changed by that book — not because I learned the best ways to fold clothes and stay organized — but because I learned how to create an environment in which I can thrive. Her philosophy changed my relationship with things, with money, and with my home. Tidying Up was also one of the first meaningful interactions I had with the idea of good energy making an impact on one’s life — an idea I plan to explore further in future posts.

All this to say, for those of you who (like me) are on this journey of self-improvement, I think The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is an excellent place to start.

i do what i want

I do what I want.

I really do. The past year I’ve been making a conscious effort to do what I want — and perhaps more importantly — not do what I don’t want.

This may sound incredibly selfish or irresponsible, but I disagree.

This idea first started circulating in my brain a couple of summers ago when I felt a lot of social pressure to attend a number of baby and wedding showers. I decided I would only go to the ones I actually wanted to attend, because if it were me, I wouldn’t want anyone coming to my shower because they felt like they had to be there. It was such a relief! I felt I had control over my life, that I could make my own decisions, and maybe the best part was that I was able to feel genuine enthusiasm for the events I did choose to attend. I want to have that same feeling of freedom — of acting out of choice, not obligation — in everything I do.

This doesn’t mean I enjoy every single thing I do. For example, I don’t always enjoy doing the dishes, but I do it. But I don’t do it because I want to do the dishes, I do it because I want to be helpful. If I didn’t want to help, then I would most certainly not do the dishes. I don’t always enjoy cleaning the house, but I want to live in a clean house, and so I choose to clean. I don’t always want to get up early and go to work, but I do it because I love my job and I want to do it well. It’s a choice I make every day — not an obligation.

Of course, in reality, we are all obligated to do certain things, but I do my best to avoid acting out of obligation. If I really have to do something, I try to find a reason why I might want to do that thing so that I can find joy in doing it. For example, I am obligated to pay my mortgage every month, and the truth is I want to do that, because I want to be a responsible adult, and I want to live in my beautiful house.

If this perspective still sounds selfish to you, consider for a moment how much more it means to you when someone pays you a compliment or does you a favor — not because they have to do it, but because they want to do it.