The best, most challenging thing you will ever give up

I saw Billy Elliot the Musical last night so the soundtrack notes are still pretty fresh in my head. There were lots of plot points in the story line that do not relate to me. I have never been part of a coal miners strike or desired a career in boxing or ballet but the general “Be You” theme that resonates throughout the telling of Billy’s story was great. If you are unfamiliar with the story, Billy Elliot is a kid who decides he would rather join ballet over boxing. His dad, a hardcore coal miner challenged by workplace union issues, is VERY resistant at first until he realizes how dedicated his son is to this path.

The greatest life lesson Billy Elliot the Musical reinforced for me was the importance of individuality. They even had a song about it. That leads me to the best, most challenging thing you will ever give up…the comparison effect.

Stop comparing yourself to others. Sounds so easy right? Well if it were easy, everyone would do it. I know I would but I don’t always. I made a decision months ago to intentionally minimize the comparisons. I still have to coach myself occasionally that I am pretty damn great as I am. The only person I need to compete with is me. Not in a “I am never content or I’m my worst enemy” kind of way but instead to be steadily progressing myself.

You have to give yourself space to be yourself. Give up on being someone else or trying to be like them. Maybe it sounds ridiculous that this could be an issue but that is what it is.

Social media can be a comparison trap that way. Can’t it? Then I gained new perspective on it. I realized that social media is in many ways a chance to put out what we want the world to see. We control the narrative so people show the fab vacays, flawless selfies, best assets, expensive purchases and happy times (mostly). I found myself comparing myself to people I know but in many other cases, people I didn’t know well or didn’t know at all.

Balance of the internet and real world doesn’t always happen. Though not always the case, in many ways life online is like our own version of reality tv. What happens when you know people are watching? It would be crazy not to believe some things our tv housewives, survivors, bachelors and Kardashians have to say aren’t at least a little motivated by the public involvement of others. Which is why it is not fair for you and me to make the comparisons to them or the non-celebs in your life that you secretly admire. And jealousy is just a bizarre form of admiration.

Reminding yourself that ‘being you is okay’ is so important. A great way to maintain balance is to keep up with your friends, family and significant other relationships offline with the care that people use in posting online. Also actually be authentic online even if you just make happy posts. Be the same person on-screen and off.

My personal privacy policy has always been strict but that changes whenever I recognize people in my life who love who I am. They can handle that I am sometimes loud or sometimes quiet or usually sarcastic or an introvert and always a nerd.

I also began to invest more attention in learning who I am, how I am, how I like to communicate, what my love language is, what being a Sagittarius means for me, what my personality type is, what my weaknesses are, what my strengths are and many other things. I should not have to explain why I am the way I am but occasionally people do not understand my differences. I talk when I have something to say. I struggle with expressing myself out loud. I am internally really happy. I get extremely annoyed at rude people. Laughing is my favorite. I smile a lot but get mad sometimes too. I am a curious person that listens intently and questions a lot. Although I also do have bad days, I do not like overwhelmingly negative/dramatic people in my personal space. No shade. I just prefer sunshine over here.

We all get sick quick of the people who make it seem like everyday is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. My mantras are… Give unto others only what you can afford to reap in karma. Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a battle. Be better to the world than it is to you. Live out good energy and Give good vibes. All solid, tweetable tips to live by.

It takes 21 days to make something a habit. My challenge to you is…Don’t compare yourself to anyone for a week then take it from there for another 7 days. Then another 7 after that. If that means you take a break from your fave sources of online energy, so be it. If you do not know and believe in yourself, no one else is going to. Be you, not anyone else.

How do you practice your individuality?

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Be Prepared: My 3 step De-Stress Bucket List

I am big into memes these days because they often articulate the expression or way I would say things. I find myself just nodding and saying….yesss that’s exactly it. My favorite meme these days is the one that says “When I get a blocked nose I fully sit and think about times when my nose wasn’t blocked and how I took it for granted.” I can relate because every time I get sick, I think like this. Has it ever happened to you?

When life is good we typically don’t think of how we could have done things differently or better. When days are full of positive things and everything seems to fall into place or be in order, we hardly stop and say, I should have prepared better for this!

In a strange way, the idea of that ‘stuffy nose’ meme became the inspiration for my post. Thanks to two great Hollywood actors this idea of a bucket list came to life in a movie a few years ago. It is a list of things you may not have done before but want to do. I think nothing could be better than a list for managing stress in a way you have always wanted to but never have before.

No one has perfect days every day. You know that right? Bad days come, stress comes but until it hits, we don’t think about it.  Here are 3 ways you can take on a rough day when it comes your way.

1. Stay ready so you waste less time getting ready

We cannot control what comes our way sometimes but we can control how we react to it. We can minimize stress by watching our own words and actions. Maybe the British army was onto something with their adage, Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance. That can mean at the slightest indication a rough day is on its way, keep it at a stream before it becomes an ocean. We don’t get any practice days in this life. We are living life in real-time so it is important to remember the clock only rolls forward, not back. None of us will get to relive a single day in 2015 no matter what. Prepare for each day as though that will be its only entry in your life’s history book.

2. Pay attention to times when your stress usually hits

Know the frequent occurences and make changes accordingly. Does your eye start twitching more or your hair start to fall out a little when so-and-so spends more time than usual around you? Is there a peak busy time at work that happens the same time every year that makes you think about a new career? Pinpoint if there is a predictable meltdown point that you can prepare yourself for better. If you occasionally procrastinate and feel the stress of a looming deadline at work, what about breaking up that project to do a little at a time and eliminate the major meltdown this year?

I remember at a former job we used to plan a major event every year. The project manager for a few years would get so overwhelmed with stress because their planning did not start until the last-minute. So everything was done in the 11th hour and we all felt the pressure. Each year we felt an intense level of stress. A lot of restless nights. It wasn’t fun and everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the event was over. One year someone else took the reigns and gave us a timeline with checkpoints over a couple of months instead of days. We met regularly to check in with each other, we addressed past mistakes and implemented new ideas to make the event better. We finally had no reason to be stressed because we properly prepared and the event was fabulous.That year of change, we were still so nervous it would be a disaster because we ACTUALLY had everything in place weeks earlier than in previous years. We were sure we must have overlooked something. We had free time we didn’t know what to do with. All along we had thought stress was just part of the event like it was written into the agenda. In the end we realized it did not have to be that way.

Life doesn’t have to be that way for you either. Which brings me to my final tip to de-stress your life.

3. Create calm in your life

What helps calm you down? I will share a few things that help me. First off, music is a powerful communicator. Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Indie artists downloaded on my phone. There is a song for every way I feel. Music delivers and evokes a lot of good emotion. Some moods are an excellent excuse to press play on my favorite tracks to give me that peace of mind I need.

I am also a bit of a yogi. I began practicing a few years ago and it is one of my favorite things to do. Yoga is perfect for my introvert spirit. It is about a sense of quiet strength. There is no need to be loud. It is a reflection within…introspection. Yoga is about balance and breathing and connectedness for you. It is an incredibly peaceful and relaxing process. It is also not always easy which is part of what makes it great. It challenges you without breaking you. One day I had a vicious headache after a stressful day. I did a 15 minute yoga session in my living room. I turned on a YouTube video, put my phone on silent, uncurled my mat across the floor, physically turned my lights down to symbolically quiet the intensity of that day. My headache disappeared after that because I gave myself 15 minutes to be. I gave myself 15 minutes for just me.

It can be anything you need to create your calm. Light candles around the house or take a walk around the block or soak up some sun on your patio or spend time every week doing something creative like I do on Sunday while writing my blog.

Whatever simple thing makes you most happy and helps you de-stress to feel most at peace, do that. Do it for you. Your body and mind will be grateful.

How do you de-stress? What is your favorite way to de-stress?

The moment I knew I became my mother (and 6 habits I picked up as a result)

In college, I became incredibly self-aware. One day I woke up and I was sitting in a hustling, bustling cafeteria full of college students. The biggest difference between me and them was I was reading newspapers. Not online articles or 140-character headline tweets but full-length, hard copies of the Chicago Tribune & Wall Street Journal. I got a lot of funny looks when people asked if it was for a class and I replied, “No, I just enjoy knowing what is happening in the world.” In high school and college it can be easy to think the only world that is relevant is your day-to-day world. Those days I also began to enjoy watching the news and hosting lively discussions around current events. All of these were things I used to tease my parents about. “Mom, that’s stuff old people do.” But as a late teen, here I was falling into the trap of becoming an adult. I was my mom.

The silver lining was becoming my mom wasn’t a bad thing at all. Here are 6 other lessons and habits she taught me that I didn’t even resist learning.

1. Avoid touching anything in public restrooms.

Don’t sit on the seat. You can squat but don’t make contact. Don’t flush the handle with a bare hand. Use tissue or your foot. You just never know the extent of germs present in public restrooms but they are present. Who did what and where? It is enough to drive you crazy. Just follow this rule and don’t think about the germs. It even seems a engineering boardroom of mothers thought the same thing as most modern restrooms are full of hands-free amenities nowadays. You will stay healthier in the long run. Trust me.

2. Let people know where you are. 

It is an important safety precaution. I became the friend who tells everyone to let me know they made it home safely. Some friends respond “Okay mom” jokingly but I’m being serious.  We don’t play about safety in this house. Even though I pay attention to my surroundings, have trustworthy friends and avoid crazies, it does me no harm to send a quick text or make a quick call to say where I will be and with whom.

3. You are never too old to get put in your place by a good mama.

Even the viral video mom in Baltimore who went off after finding her teenage son on the streets throwing rocks at police is evidence (for better or worse). I will bet she did not care who was watching or how old he was. For me, I remember I got spanked one time when I was a kid for deliberately doing something I was specifically told not to do just hours earlier. I gave away all my birthday money for my friends to buy candy at school. I learned a valuable lesson that day in the form of — don’t test the waters when mom is being serious. I agree with her decision looking back on it but am glad those whooping days are long gone. I am good friends with my mom more and more as I get older as a result of her parenting skills. We know how to communicate with each other and get on the same page. Other than my sarcastic mouth, I do not get in trouble much anymore but my mom has no problem verbally reminding me even now, “Hey, don’t forget who’s the parent here.”

4. No matter how old you get, you will never stop being her baby so it is best not to fight it.

I spent a decent portion of my teenage years unsure of my mom’s intelligence. Mind you, she is incredibly intelligent but as a kid I didn’t always believe it. I thought I was the clear-cut genius and like Will Smith taught us, Parents just don’t understand. When I went to college and saw first-hand how others were raised and how we were often different in the way we saw, understood and participated in the world, I finally realized how smart my mom really was. Who knew!?

She taught me the foundation of loving people and treating them with respect my whole life. It always amazes me how many people in this world have NOT been taught that or learned it. The right mindset breeds maturity. I was fortunate enough to have a mom be strict enough to show me good standards and values so I would not learn the wrong ones. It also helped her trust me more than worry about me when I came to her with things like the news that I was moving to Central America for 4 months. I will forever be my mother’s daughter and I am grateful for that.

5. You are fully capable of doing things on your own.

At some point when I got older, mom said to my sisters and I, “You’re old enough to cook for yourselves, I’m done.” Ha, good thing for us, my dad loves to cook and so does one of my sisters. They make phenomenal dishes so I usually still let them do most of the work. Even though I did miss mom’s famous wonton meals, such a declaration taught me a lesson in independence. She encouraged me to live on my own before I would ever get married and live with someone else. What I have learned about independence from experiences on my own certainly informs the level of partnership I bring to my relationship. It reminds me there is strength in walking beside the man I love or walking alone occasionally because I also love myself.

6. Pay attention to her while she is here.

My grandmothers are both gone from this earth. I get really sad when I think about that sometimes. There are more questions I wanted to ask. More I wanted to learn from them. Earlier this year I was introduced to an app called StoryCorps. You can record and share the stories of those around you. You choose someone to interview, pick questions and record.

So just recently I interviewed my mom using this app and asked her questions about what she has learned in life, her goals, how life is different than she thought it would be. I got to learn a few new things about her and keep those lessons on a recording I can have forever. I told her this will be the first interview of many. It serves a few key purposes. I get to bond with her on a new level and get to capture her humor and wisdom just in case if she is not here when I am well past 100.

Though we still have many years to go, thanks mom for the lessons so far.

What has your mom taught you?

How to Keep your Closet in Order and your Style on Point

I love second-hand clothes. I would say I am a certified thrifter. I also accept any of my friends or sister’s hand-me-downs that I think I can fit into. I have always kind of operated on the belief that I can make something out of anything I am given. Thus every now and then when I have said yes too much, I end up with a closet full of items that don’t serve me. Maybe you have not been in the exact same scenario but you may struggle with either a closet of too much or too little. I run into both sides of the spectrum. I have an affinity for collecting or purchasing thrift clothes then when I start to pare down my wardrobe, I feel I don’t have anything to wear. So I wanted to share some tips on how I deal with it.

Here are 3 ways to keep your closet in order and your style on point.

1. Wear each item you own at least 1 time this year.

An easy way to do that is start from one end of your closet and go all the way to the other, creating a new outfit for each piece. It will make getting dressed for the day easier, trust me. We all typically do that thing where we go for our favorites and skip over everything else. No more of that. Trying this way will give you a chance to assess every piece in your closet. You kind of have to treat your closet like stores do their merchandise. When pieces are no longer of value, they get discounted until they are either purchased or removed. Stores do not keep items on their shelves forever and neither should you.

If you have the time to take inventory on everything at once, great! If not, just do a piece a day until you have gone through everything. I mean belts, shoes, tops, pants, jackets, skirts, shorts, jewelry, accessories…EVERYTHING. It will feel good when done because now you know what you’re working with.

If the item has been around so long you’re not sure what it even looks like on you anymore, pull out the full length mirror and try it on. Pretend like you’re shopping in your favorite store and trying on something for the first time. You should know within seconds if you want to keep it or toss it. Ask questions like “How does it feel? What did I first think when I looked in the mirror? Does it fit right? Would I wear this in public? SHOULD I wear this in public?

Every time I get into the habit of wearing each item as least once, I have people compliment my outfits. I rarely go on shopping sprees so they are complimenting me on things that have usually been sitting in my closet for months or years. Honestly, if I have an item that I keep on passing over because I can never seem to figure out what to do with it (or I secretly don’t like it but feel bad getting rid of it) and it hasn’t left its spot in a year, I either donate it or throw it out. There is a reason it sits there year after year.

 2. Do a close friend Clothing Swap Party

I love this idea. Ladies and gents can both do it. You can plan an easy get-together with a handful of friends. If you would rather just drop your items off at your local Goodwill or Salvation Army, cool. If you want to get a little more social about it, truly take on the idea of encouraging your close friends to go through their closets too. Share this blog post with them. Make it fun. Have good music, grab a beer or glass of wine, eat good snacks and catch up with your friends in the process. Encourage others to host their own parties by sharing pics on your social media pages. Make it a thing. It is a chance to finally get rid of pieces you don’t need. It also turns this spring cleaning idea from something people dread to something you can look forward to every season or every year.

Tell everyone to bring their plastic bin or plastic bag full of clothes destined for goodwill. You can make free swaps outright or take the idea further and each person charge between 25 cents to $1 or something reasonable for each item. The money collected at the end of the night can be used to buy everyone a scoop of ice cream or if you’re really into changing the world it can be donated to a charity everyone loves.

The Clothing Swap Party gives you a chance to finally have access to some of the gems you always wanted from your friend’s closet. It also makes room for new clothes you may want to purchase from your favorite store in the near future. During the party, you can even include a mini fashion show with your friends and get inspired by new outfit ideas. The next day, one person can take any leftover items to the local thrift shop donation drop.

I will never forget the day my mom gave me a pair of shoes she had held onto since the 70s. In her mind they were outdated. In mine they were gold. They were wood clog heels, brown leather design on top with an ankle strap, clearly a decade piece that could not be easily replicated even by the greatest fashion designer today. Buying a shoe like that today could easily cost two to three times as much. I loved those shoes so much and wore them out. The leather really began to fade. I walk hard so the heel began to get worn down. Eventually the holes to make the shoe strap tight became just one, the strap became weak and eventually broke. I was so upset because I loved those shoes and I paid $0 for them. I knew my window for wearing them had just draw itself shut.

Which brings me to my third and final point, know when to…

3. Let It Go

Sometimes sending things to the trash is acceptable. Thrift stores and charities ask for new or gently used items for a reason. No one wants what has been damaged or destroyed or broken or really used. I threw moms heels away but eventually got other shoes that became favorites.

Just last week I finally tossed my fave Steve Madden flats. It was beyond time for that. Here’s when I knew all hope had been lost on keeping them. Over a few months I began to notice the glue was getting weak in the right shoe. My foot was starting to protrude against the fabric but I clearly wasn’t ready to let go so I kept wearing them. Then the glue gave way and it was obvious so one day I had this not so bright idea to use my hot glue gun to put the shoe fabric back together. I used too much on the stitches and if you know anything about craft store hot glue, it dries hard. My toes were aching every time I put the shoe on, trying to keep a straight face at work. Some may ask why I didn’t just take them to a shoe repair shop. I happen to know myself well enough to know that would never have happened. I would have been too lazy to make the effort then the shoes would have sat in my closet for an eternity because I just didn’t want to let go. Last week, I threw them away with sadness because they were great while they lasted yet relief because now they’re not just around taking up space.

I have a few other shoes now that I’m like that with. “Once I break them in, it won’t hurt anymore.” Well no, because they were a size too small to begin with but they were cheap and cute so I got them. Meanwhile they never leave the house because I can’t walk more than a couple of hours without being in crazy pain. I never use them and I won’t miss them when they’re gone. Plus now I have an extra space to fill with something I do like and will use! Actually, as soon as I wrote my draft notes for this post, I went in my closet and threw those shoes in my donation bag by the door. Do you have a shoe, an outfit or several that you feel the same way about? What are you ready to let go of?

Maybe your closet is not overflowing. Have you ever work up like…I have nothing to wear! Or stood in your closet wishing for a whole new wardrobe?

I am a strong believer in working with what you have because you probably have more than enough. Sometimes it just may take some creativity on your part to try something different with what you already have. This goes back to my first point. Use what you have. Consider getting out of your old habit of pairing the same pants and shirts together every week. My office environment is business professional so to mix up my outfits I sometimes take a dress, put a pencil skirt over it to get a new silhouette. Now I have a whole new outfit.

Fashion trends cycle. We all know that right? How many times have you seen aviators, boat shoes, high-waisted pants, combat boots, colored or distressed jeans come back in style? It truly is a cycle and your style shouldn’t feel the need to follow many of the rules fashion dictates. I say wear what you want to wear as long as it makes sense to you. Your style should be about you, not other people as much because they will have opinions regardless.

Style evolves by learning what you want or don’t want. You get inspired by seeing what other people wear and figuring out what you like and what you want your style to say. Style can evolve with age or income too. If you understand anything about branding, you may realize what you wear is part of your personal brand. Not that what others think of your style should solely influence what you wear but you determine how you want to be represented.

Your style is part of your resume to the world before you’ve had a chance to speak. Being clued in on who you are helps you understand how the way you dress can affect the way others react to you. You can express who you are through what you wear. Confidence is key here because people judge. That’s what people do and whether it’s fair or not is not the point but because you know they judge, it is important to be conscious of how you want to represent yourself to the world. Style has a decent amount of influence on how you’re perceived so my last piece of advice is know you are and dress accordingly.

Which of the 3 tips will you try this week? I want to hear your progress and how this post helped you get your style or closet in order. If you have any questions along the way, be sure to write me in the comments section.