Be Seen. Be Real. Be You.

“The opposite of belonging is fitting in. Belonging is belonging to yourself first. Speaking your truth. Telling you story. And never betraying yourself for other people. True belonging does not require you change who you are. It requires you to be who you are.” ~ Brené Brown

A few months ago, I wrote about how, after being in a relationship for over twenty years, I have started to explore dating again. I am investigating the unfamiliar territory of the online dating space: something that did not even exist when I was last single. There are so many of different web sites, it can be overwhelming and difficult to know where to start or what to do.

It is a loud and busy environment. It is also not set up for deep and meaningful encounters. Swipe left if you “like” someone and right if you do not. Capture yourself in a short and pithy bio, with posed photographs on the beach or hiking in the mountains. Be cute and alluring and most importantly…vanilla. In other words, reflect back to the other person what they want to see, not who you truly are.

One of the more challenging aspects of this experience so far is learning how to hold onto myself and my own unique sense of individuality in such a public forum. To be vulnerable. To truthfully state my interests and hobbies, even though they may be judged as quirky. To openly share my values and stand behind them, even if this results in alienating prospective partners.

It may sound strange that being open and honest is a challenge for me; but I spent a large part of my adolescence and young adulthood in hiding. I perfected the model of survival through adaptation. I was a master of reading the preferences of my peer group and then camouflaging myself to my environment. Being publicly exposed and potentially judged awakens my natural tendency to conceal who I really am. It brings our the primal desire to fit in and to be accepted: even at the sacrifice of my most authentic self.

The good thing is, this time around, I am able to spot the pattern and lean into the discomfort rather than lose connection to my true self. For me, it is less important to find a partner than to honour the person that I have become. In my heart, I know that the right person will show up at the right time. It may be that I encounter him online or through my social circles. It does not really matter. What remains key is that I allow myself to be vulnerable and truly seen throughout. The gifts that live on the other side of fear are far more valuable than gold, as vulnerably is the birthplace of love, belonging and joy.

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Black and white…more often grey

Woman Makes Heart With Hands In Sunset. Healthy People  Lifestyl

People and relationships are complex. The brain naturally seeks to sort things into black and white categories: good and bad, right and wrong. This simplistic view is almost never accurate. There are too many shades of grey in the world. It really boils down to interpretation and personal preference.

It is important to see a person for their whole self: to note both their generous and self-serving attributes. To step back and pay full attention, over a long period of time, to what they say and what they do. It is all to easy to focus on one behaviour or the other; to paint a simplistic picture. This is a “good” person. This is a “bad” one. Humans, however, are not one-dimensional creatures.

We all have the ability to be both generous and selfish. Thoughtful and thoughtless. Both. And. The level of acceptability boils down to your personal boundaries and values. Over time, it is possible to learn to navigate the complexity of the grey: to choose the people that you bring in close and those you purposefully keep at a distance. To do this skillfully requires a willingness to both see and accept people, with all of their layers of complexity, not just a simplistic version that you create.

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Local Explorer

I just returned from a local adventure with my daughter. We live on Vancouver Island and we spent a week on the road, stopping in three different destinations along the way. All of the locations were within a few hours of our home. During our journey, we enjoyed music, hopped ferries, savoured good meals, hiked, paddle boarded, swam in the ocean and played in the sun. The best part was visiting with friends and family at each stop; and there was a lot of laughter along the way.

It was wonderful to discover all kinds of local treasures, as shared by our hosts. There were lake trails, mountain views, hidden beaches and ocean spits to be explored. Our friends shared their favourite places, which we would never have discovered without their local knowledge and insight. My daughter and I came home feeling full, refreshed and happy. All of this took place within a few hours of home, which proves that you do not have to travel very far to discover adventure.

In recent years, I have also tried out a “staycation”, which entails staying home for your break. There is something really nice about exploring familiar surroundings. The key is not to let chores around the house take over your time. Staying close to home can be quite relaxing, as it offers you the opportunity to be a tourist in your own town, and spend quality time in your community. There is an additional element of mindfulness and intention that is required to ensure you maximize the experience; but it is well worth the effort.

I am always grateful for the opportunity to travel to other countries, explore other cultures and experience the world but a local experience can often be as equally fun and fulfilling. It is wonderful to have an economical option for spending time with your friends and family in a unique and meaningful way. There is so much to discover close to home. It just requires a little curiosity, openness and effort.

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Negotiating with Grace

Life is full of difficult conversations. It takes great skill to both advocate for your own needs and empathize with the other person’s position. A successful resolution is one where each party walks away feeling both heard and satisfied with the end results.

I recently finished a short book by Bob Burg and John David Mann called The Go-Giver Influencer. It is written as a parable; and it presents a set of simple, actionable steps that can be taken to negotiate with grace, kindness and dignity.

  1. Breathe: Master your emotions. Retrain yourself to respond to conflict and disagreement by ruffling your feelings. Make calm your default setting.
  2. Listen: Step into the other person’s shoes.
  3. Smile: Set the frame. Whoever sets the frame of the conversation also sets the direction and tone in which it will go.
  4. Be Gracious: Communicate with tact and empathy. Let yourself feel what the other person is feeling, and speak to that truthfully, yet also with compassion. Remember that they are a chime and you are a tuning fork.
  5. Trust: Let go of having to be right. As long as your premise is that your position is the right tone, and the other person’s is the wrong one, you have no chance of arriving at a genuinely satisfying solution.

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Soul Nourishment

As an independent parent, there is limited time for self-care. Much of my day is spent cooking, cleaning, working or driving; but as I have discovered over the years, if I do not make time for the things that nourish me, I cannot fully show up for my child, or anyone else for that matter.

I recently decided to start waking up a few hours earlier each morning, before my day gets started. This time is dedicated to reflection and self-care. I have a rule that I cannot do chores, email or social media. It is solely for activities that fill my heart with joy.

For me, this often includes meditation, reading, writing and movement (yoga or strength-based exercise). After a few weeks of practice, I have noticed a significant improvement in my overall sense of happiness and well-being.

The activities themselves are personal preferences, not the solution. When I show up every morning, it sends a signal to my body and soul that I value them; they deserve love and care. This is the magic. Every day, as I fill my tank before I get started, it not only helps me to sustain myself throughout the day; it prevents me from simply putting one foot in front of the other, and instead, it empowers me to gaze with hope towards the horizon.

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Teens Under Pressure

I recently listened to a great interview by Rich Roll and Dr. Lisa Damour. Dr. Damour is a Yale educated psychotherapist and New York Times best-selling author who specializes in education and child development. She writes the monthly adolescence column for the New York Times.

Dr. Damour contributes regularly to CBS News, speaks internationally, and acts as a Senior Advisor to the Schubert Center for Child Studies at Case Western Reserve University. She serves as the Executive Director of Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls; she is often referred to as “the teen whisperer.”

In the interview, Dr. Damour reflects her extensive experience working with teenage girls. She provides an overview of her findings, as outlined in her two books: Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood and Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls.

As I found her approach intriguing, I followed up by reading Dr. Damour’s book, Untangled. It is a clearly written and accessible resource. The backbone of her thesis is there are seven distinct stages of teenage development. She provides tips and tactics for navigating each of them:

  1. Parting with Childhood: At age twelve, most tweens feel a sudden, internal pressure to separate from anything childlike. Healthy adolescent development requires parents who can handle rejection.
  2. Joining a New Tribe: Belonging to a friend tribe is of key importance to a teen. The fear of being tribeless – distanced from one’s family yet without a peer group – leads to the idealization of popularity and the social connections that come with it.
  3. Harnessing Emotions: The brain remodels dramatically during teenage years. The intense emotions that your daughter broadcasts are what she actually experiences. Take her feelings seriously regardless of how overblown they may seem.
  4. Contending with Adult Authority: Instead of reflecting on why we have the rules, teens focus on trying not to get caught while breaking them. Help her understand the rationale for the rules and the potential for unintended consequences.
  5. Planning for the Future: Help your daughter to develop a growth mindset by celebrating effort over outcome. Focus on helping her to be her best, not the best.
  6. Entering the Romantic World: The parent has three jobs: to alert your daughter to the fact that she has an inner compass; to support her in asking for what she wants; and to make sure she knows how to express what she does not want.
  7. Caring for Herself: Frame your commentary on nutrition, weight, exercise, sleep, sex and access to substances (alcohol and drugs) in terms of your daughter’s developing ability to care for herself. Empower her to make safe and loving choices.

As the parent of a ten-year old daughter, I find Dr. Damour’s perspective to be very practical and actionable. Even though my child is not quite a teenager, she is entering the realm of pre-teen behaviour; and I have already found Dr. Damour’s advice to be helpful in navigating challenging moments.

If you are interested in learning more, I suggest that you start by listening to the interview with Rich Roll. It provides a high level overview of Dr. Damour’s overall philosophy and approach. If you check it out, let me know what you think!

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Seeing is Believing

I recently listened to a podcast where Oprah spoke to the profound impact of advice, given to her by legendary poet, Maya Angelou: “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” It is one of the single most important lessons that she has ever learned.

It seems so simple. Believe a person’s actions, not their words. Actions do not lie. But when I think about it, there are so many times in my life where I have ignored the obvious when it does not line up with my perception. It always results in disappointment and heartbreak.

The human brain wants to rationalize the world: to line up reality with our desired state and explain away any inconsistencies. Reflecting back, I have done this myself in all kinds of relationships: romantic, personal and professional. I whitewash negative behaviour when I spot “potential” in a person or I focus on what I want to see, rather than what is really happening right in front of me. The irony is I am always “surprised” when the person proves to be who they said they were in the first place.

My focus going forward will be to remain present with reality. To allow the truth to reveal itself, without an argument. Who shows up when they say they will? Who does not? Who follows through on their promises? Who does not? It really is that simple. Armed with good information, I can then make decisions on who I allow into my life and who I keep a distance from. A strong and loving community is such an important part of nurturing overall health and well being: with a tribe of loving and kind friends, colleagues and family, anything is possible.

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Strong not Skinny

For most of my youth and early adulthood, I struggled with body image issues. I consumed a lot of popular culture; and I wanted to emulate the women that I saw idealized in television, movies and magazines. I held myself to an impossible standard and I believed the lie that being skinny guaranteed access to happiness, love and success.

Over the years, I have learned that this is far from the truth. If you do not hold peace and acceptance inside, it does not matter what you look like on the outside. No one else can make you feel worthy and valuable. This belief needs to come from yourself.

As a forty-three year old woman, my focus is now on cultivating strength and joy within, rather than trying to fit into any external ideal of perfection. I aspire to be of service to my family, friends and community; and my aim is to age with grace and dignity. I can only do this if my body and mind are strong, fit and healthy.

Living in this stressful and busy world, it is extremely helpful to have daily practices that anchor and ground you. In order to do this, I follow a low inflammation diet and I practice a range of strength practices every week. Here are some of the ones that I enjoy the most:

Meditation: Meditation is a practice that spans across cultures and it takes many different forms. It is scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and depression, and improve attention, concentration, and overall psychological well-being. The basic premise is that you create the space for your feelings and thoughts, allowing them to come and go: observing them with curiosity and not hanging on to any one thing. The timing varies on what works for you. You can do it in as little as five minutes a day and in almost any place: while sitting, walking or washing the dishes. The key is to use your breath. To explore how to meditate, there are great free tools available, such as Headspace app.

Walking: I love to go for long walks. I walk for an hour or more, a few times a week, to get my heart rate up and to build muscle. I love being outside, breathing in the fresh air and spending time in nature. Even in an urban setting, there are often trees and greenery to enjoy. This is the time that I most enjoy listening to podcasts. Some of my favourites at the moment are: Rich Roll; Marie Forleo; The Tim Ferris Show; and Coffee Break French.

Yoga: Yoga is not only good for the body, it is also nourishing for the mind. It is an amazingly versatile practice, which offers everything from restorative to power-based options. You can do it in as little as ten to fifteen minutes a day. I love the idea of growing into a ninety year old woman who can bend over and touch her toes. Yoga is my anchor and I highly recommend that you explore it. The great thing is you no longer need to find a studio to try it out. There are some fantastic free resources online that you can now access at home. A few that I like are: Do Yoga With Me and Yoga with Adrienne.

Bootcamp / High Intensity Training (HIT): Muscle density is important for healthy aging. After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade. Age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia is one of the most important causes of functional decline and loss of independence in older adults. Less muscle means greater weakness and less mobility, both of which may increase the risk of falls and fractures. Building muscle does not mean bulking up; it is about creating an overall lean body structure and maintaining a healthy, stable body weight. I really enjoy taking a bootcamp class in my local community. The trainers are fantastic, kind and encouraging; and there are participants of all different ages and abilities. I am in and out of there in forty-five minutes; and the class is different and varied every day. If you do not want to go to the gym, there are also some great free resources online that you can follow at home, with a mat and some hand weights. I enjoy Christine Salus’ HIT workouts.

How you you like to stay strong? Tell me in the comments below.

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Free Solo: Dare to Dream

“You see things as they are and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were, and I say, ‘Why not?'” ~ George Bernard Shaw

I recently listened to a fantastic interview that Rich Roll did with documentary filmmakers, Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin about their Oscar-winning film, Free Solo. It captures the journey of climber, Alex Honnold, to become the first person to free solo climb the 3000 ft granite face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, without a rope or safety equipment. El Cap is considered by many to be the epicentre of the rock climbing world. It is a vertical expanse stretching more than a half mile up—higher than the world’s tallest building. Jimmy and Chai give a behind the scenes perspective into the unique challenges faced in making this film. It is a great interview and I highly recommend you listen to it.

I am personally petrified of heights. I generally have no interest in watching extreme sports or following rock climbing but this really story captured my imagination. Alex Honnold knew from an early age that climbing is his destiny; and he has spent his entire adult life relentlessly honing his craft. All of this work culminates in his dream to free solo climb El Cap: something which has never been previously achieved by another human being.

The film is particularly compelling as it not only captures the climb itself but it gives you an inside look into the close knit nature of the community, which includes legendary climber Tommy Caldwell, filmmaker and climber Jimmy Chin and Alex’s girlfriend, Sannie McCandless. Although they are each deeply concerned for his safety, they support him wholeheartedly to achieve his seemingly impossible dream: not knowing what the ultimate result will be. Death is a very real possibility for free soloists and Alex fully accepts this as a potential result.

I love this movie as it reminds me of the importance of following your heart and living the life that is most authentic to you. No one else needs to understand your dreams, as they are unique to you alone; but you need to be willing to pursue them with a singular focus and determination. Alex fully embodies this philosophy of life. He lives his life from a place of clarity and driven passion that is very rare. Watching this film stirred something deep in my heart. I was left feeling very inspired about what a human can accomplish if he puts his mind to it. I encourage you to check it out.

Befriending Resistance

In my effort to live a healthy and creative life, I am learning to become intimately familiar with resistance. The more I move towards living in alignment with my heart, the more resistance shows up. It stands with its hands on its hips, demanding to know: “Who do you think you are?” It pushes me down the safe road, rather than the one that requires risk and growth. Sometimes it is vocal, opinionated and yelling in my face. Other times it is quiet, stealth and whispering in my ear.

Resistance does not want me to exercise. It is angry every time that I put my runners on at lunch time. It puts its heels down and starfishes its arms out as I move towards the door. It tells me that I am too tired or I need to finish my work. It encourages me to go out with a friend instead or give myself a break. My saving grace in those moments is the knowledge that that I never ever regret going and I always regret missing it. This becomes my mantra as I push past it and go.

Resistance tells me that I deserve to eat chocolate cake and drink wine when I am out for dinner. It taunts me, it tells me to loosen up and enjoy myself more. It can be very persuasive and charming when it wants to be. It likes to think of itself as the life of the party. When I wake up in the middle night with an upset stomach or a racing heart, it is nowhere to be seen. It is these moments that I can finally hear my body speaking and I am reminded why I choose not to eat certain foods for my overall health and well-being.

Resistance is dismissive of my desire to write and be creative. It lays a heavy blanket of sleepiness on my shoulders and it gently encourages me to crawl back into bed for some extra sleep, rather than keep on trying. Or it laughs at my mistakes and awkward attempts, in an effort to shame me into giving up. It takes everything in my being to keep going: a trust in the knowledge that this is something I need to do. Even so, getting the words down on the page often feels like moving through mud. This is why it is so important to break the process into small, turtle steps so I can keep showing up. Once I find my flow, I am reminded of why I need to do this work, and how it fills me with joy.

As I become more familiar with resistance, I am realizing that it is not going anywhere soon. It is my constant companion on this journey; and the more I push against it, the harder the struggle becomes. I used to think that resistance got an automatic say in my actions and choices. Its voice is so loud and persuasive, it is hard not to give it a decision-making role. I am realizing now that this is not the case. I am ultimately in charge. The choice is up to me.

If resistance is here to stay, I have decided that the best tactic is to try and befriend it. It is attempting to provide me with information and play a role in my life. If I extend it some friendliness, it may be of assistance. I now see that the directions it provides me can be helpful. I just need to reconsider how I interpret them. When resistance shows up, it provides me a clear road map of where to go. I just need to take its advice and head in the opposite direction. It really is that simple.

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