Letter to My 10-Years-Ago Self, an excerpt: Things I’ve Learned

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[I am participating in a 30-day writing boot camp (and pretty jazzed about it). Our first assignment was to write a letter to our 10-years-ago self, and then finish it up with some life lessons learned. Turns out I had a LOT to say to my 10-years-ago self, mostly quite personal (it’s been an eventful and at times very difficult decade). I surprised myself by writing for a solid 90 minutes and roughly 2600 words. Beats staring at a blank page with writer’s block. Anyway. Here’s the excerpt of the things I told my 10-years-ago self that I have learned in life thus far, including the last 10 years.]

1. Middle-age isn’t nearly as “old” or as bad as people make it out to be. You will really not mind being here. You are much more comfortable in your own skin. You worry far less about what you look like or whether people like you. You are much more comfortable with an attitude of “This is me and I make no apologies for being me.” This especially holds true in regard to your being sensitive and deeply feeling, so very high in empathy. You no longer care if people think you’re “weird” in your depth of feeling or the way you think, or look at you like you’re from another planet. This is very freeing. You now think, “Love me or leave me, this is me.” It has taken you a very long time to fully embrace who/how you are. It’s about dang time.

2. One of the biggest lessons of the decade – and most difficult: You need to stop giving your precious time to people who don’t have time for you (we’re still working on this one – Self, we’re bad at this).

AND

3. Other people’s behavior is not a reflection of you. The fact that some people don’t value you does not mean you don’t have value and worth. Your worth comes from within, not from without. You cannot let people mess with your head and your heart in that regard the way you have in the past. (Self – Be patient with yourself. We have to undo years – nay, decades – of negative reinforcement in this area.)

4. One of THE most difficult things to do is to trust again after being devastated, to be vulnerable again after having been deeply wounded, to reach out again after being rejected. Do it anyway, no matter how terrifying it is; BUT be discerning. Choose wisely. Even then, you can (and will) get kicked in the teeth on occasion. You WILL get hurt. But being vulnerable is how you reach people. It’s how you connect and encourage. It’s who you are and when you close yourself off, you’re not being true to your authentic self. You’re being just a mere shadow of yourself and it just feels wrong. I know this is really tough for you, that it would be so easy to close off and become cynical, and honestly, it will hurt like hell sometimes, but fight that and stay open. Believe me, I know how very hard that is to do, how very scary it is to risk all that hurt yet again, but I have to believe some people really are worth the risk.

5. People will disappoint you. Even if you have very few expectations or none at all, people will still disappoint you. We are all human and flawed. It will happen. It’s how they behave next that matters. COMMUNICATE. Always listen and work toward understanding why people do what they do. Be forgiving.

6. You will disappoint people. You are nowhere near perfect. You are very flawed. This does not make you disposable, not good enough, or unlovable. Own your mistakes. Apologize. Make it right if you can. Again, COMMUNICATE. The people who truly care will not leave you because you make mistakes. You are NOT your mistakes.

7. Your dark periods and tough times will show you who your true friends are. The people who draw near when you are at your lowest or most difficult and not great to be around – those are the people who truly care. They are there for you, not because they need or want something from you or because of what you can do for them, but because they care about you. Keep those people.

8. Everyone has hurts, struggles, insecurities. They are often not visible. Be compassionate. It is not difficult to be kind and give the benefit of the doubt. We don’t know what people are carrying, and we all carry something. Sometimes a word can be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back or a literal lifesaver. Being kind is always an option. It is a choice. Always choose to be kind.

9. You will never not make a stupid face in photos except for that rare selfie (and you know how hard that is!). Give it up and just laugh at all the many derp faces people capture of you and try not to avoid the camera like the plague. I know you HATE having your picture taken, but your kids will cherish those derp photos some day, so force yourself to be in more photos. You know how much Mom avoided the camera and as a result how few pics you have of your parents, especially Mom, and how much you cherish the few you do have. So do it for your kids so they’ll have those precious memories. (It’s not like they aren’t an accurate reflection of your true goofy self anyway.)

10. Laughter and a sense of humor are still – always – one of the most imperative necessities in life and one of the things that makes life worth living. Never lose your sense of humor. There are bad things coming and your sense of humor will help save your sanity.

11. Time is fleeting. It goes faster and faster. Focus on what matters most (people – it is always people.) Spend as much time as possible with your kids. You will blink and they will be graduating, engaged, starting lives of their own. You won’t believe how fast it goes. I still struggle with it some days.

12. Say I love you. Say it often. Tell people how you really feel about them. Never assume they know. You’ve always been aware of this and pretty good about it, but it bears repeating. We both know how life changes on a dime and people are just gone in literally a heartbeat. Make sure people know how you feel about them. It avoids regrets, yes, but even more importantly, they need to know. Don’t make people wonder where they stand with you or question if you even care. That’s an awful place for someone to be. (You know, you’ve been there.) Remove their doubts by telling them. Trust me, they need to hear it, even if you’ve told them before or 100 times before. It can make all the difference if you take the time to tell someone that they matter to you, that you care. Don’t take for granted that you can do it later. Sometimes now is all you have.

We have much, so much to learn, Self. I swear every year we realize more and more how little we know. Hang in there. Here’s to us both growing in wisdom and grace over the next 10 years and to making 10 years from now me/us proud of who we become.

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Thankful Thursday

Today I am thankful for:

  • The weather warning being canceled and only getting a small amount of snow.
  • Notebooks, journals, writing utensils, and quiet time to write to my heart’s content
  • A husband who is a good provider and is allowing me the luxury and support of time at this point in my life to pursue my passions
  • The internet that brings so many people, places, forums, and opportunities into my world, without which I would never have access to or even know about
  • A spark of creativity that just the small act of nurturing it for a bit has been a mood booster.

I hope you are all having a good day. Please know that no matter what is happening in your life right now, you matter. (Hug)

On Movies, Stories, and Buried Treasure

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Awhile back, I watched Life of Pi. It was beautiful. I believe I had read “visually stunning” and I cannot argue with that. I am sorry that I did not see it on the big screen. Some of the scenes literally had us “oohing” and “aahing.”

What’s interesting to me is that one of my kids was kind of interested in seeing it, one had heard it was about a boy and a tiger and wanted to see it, and one had heard from their friends that it was “long and boring” and not worth seeing, so didn’t really want to see it.

I mentioned that maybe they didn’t care for it because it wasn’t your typical exciting movie, but that did not mean it wasn’t a movie worth watching, a story worth hearing. Some movies have a slower pace and require that you give them a bit more of a chance, a bit more of an investment, but they can surprise you.

After it was finished, they were all glad they had seen it. They all liked it a lot and the one who had heard it was “boring” was glad they had not listened to their friends and had watched it with us.

It wasn’t an action movie. It wasn’t wildly exciting and didn’t have us on the edge of our seats. It required some investment up front to get to know the main character, learning his back story, before we could understand the main part of the story.

The movie really was beautiful to look at, but it also had, I thought, many subtle insights into human behavior, and some subtle lessons, woven throughout. It was well worth the time invested.

And this started me thinking …

Sometimes it is the same with people. There are those who are loud or flashy or charismatic or funny or outgoing (all in a good way) and immediately draw our attention, much like an action movie or a thriller. They draw us in right away.

Then there are those who may be shy, or quiet, or maybe who have been hurt and are a bit more hesitant to engage, or are just a bit different from us, so we either tend to overlook them because they don’t draw our attention, or maybe they are just a bit harder to get to know, for whatever reason.

Those people can take a bit more investment, a bit more persistence, a bit more “work” to get to know them. Some of those people may be written off as “boring” or “not worth the time.”

Take the time. Make the effort.

I often think of people as buried treasure, not unlike a sunken ship or a diamond mine. Some take more time and effort to get to the good stuff, but oh the payoff.

People are treasure and to be treasured. I believe I can learn something from every single person with whom I cross paths. I believe that people matter and that they contain a wealth of good things, i.e., treasure, though often we need to take the time to “dig” for it, as it is not always readily apparent. I like to think of myself as a “treasure hunter” and my treasure is found in people.

You may be surprised at what a treasure people are if you invest a little time, if you give them a chance. They are worth it.

Everyone is.

There is not a person alive who does not have a story to tell.

They might not be the most captivating storyteller. They might not have the most exciting story. Or maybe their story is absolutely stunning, just told in a simple way. Maybe they have a story that you need to hear. It could be a funny anecdote that is just the bit of humor needed to brighten your day. It could be the start of a wonderful friendship. It could be a lesson that is life-changing.

It could be buried treasure.

Onward

December 31st is usually a time for reflection for me. I usually look back on the year with maybe a bit of frustration with myself, certainly a bit of melancholy for how quickly time passes, and always to find moments of joy for which to be grateful. Some years they are more difficult to find than others, but there is always something.

I had hopes for 2014, plans, serious expectations of myself, and none of it really came to fruition. I’ve decided that beating myself up further over my failures is pointless, and it would be wiser to redirect that energy into a renewed determination to do better in 2015.

The past 4 years have been very difficult in various ways. They have certainly been very rough emotionally. Stress has been a nearly constant companion far too often since early 2011; that was one of the few years I can ever remember being absolutely eager to bid goodbye and good riddance to and firmly turn my back upon. It didn’t really work though, as in some ways 2011 sort of slowly crept back in and then finally demanded that I feel and face the things I didn’t have the luxury of doing in the middle of it all in 2011, made more difficult by losing a major source of support and encouragement. Of course, 2014 presented its own challenges, as each new year does. All in all, it’s just been a rough couple of years and I am so very ready for a good year.

This next year will bring more changes that are inevitable and very good, but also cause those twinges of mixed feelings. Those I look forward to, even though my mind can scarcely comprehend how it is possible that time has passed so astonishingly quickly.

I have hopes for 2015. I hope to learn to teach my inner voice to encourage me rather than berate me, to build me up instead of tearing me down. I need that voice to believe in me. If I can just get that voice to start believing in me, I think there is much I might be able to do. I dream of touching lives, one at a time, with my words, with my writing, with a simple heartfelt hug, just to let one person know they matter.

I’ve decided not to set goals for the year, but rather for each month. I’m going to decide what I want to accomplish each month and challenge myself to follow through with those things for 30 days, then assess what I’ve accomplished, what I need/want to do next, and set the challenges for the next 30 days. A 12-month goal seems so daunting and like a huge unscalable mountain. I think I will accomplish much more if I attempt to climb small hills, one at a time, for 30 days. By the end of 2015, I hope to be able to look back and see more accomplishments than failures, to be less frustrated and disappointed in myself, and to hopefully have laughed at myself and experienced more joy along the way.

The last few years have definitely felt like they have taken more than they have given, and I’ve spent too much time stressed out and emotionally wrung out. I’m going to try to change that. I’m going to try very hard to focus on loving people as often as I can, when and where I can, and as hard as I can, and if they accept it, yay, and if they don’t, I’m going to love anyway and just try not to dwell on it. I’m going to try to teach myself to reject rejection and not internalize it, to just love and let go.

The years are flying and time feels ever more fleeting and infinitely more precious. I don’t want to waste it on negative feelings or thinking, and I’ve realized this past year that I need to value my own time more highly, as I do others’, and be more discerning where and how I spend it. I am trying to live with more intention, and it is my heart’s desire that the omphalos of that intention is always love.

Love comes in many forms, and even though you may be waiting on romantic love, if you have the love and loyalty of family – be it blood or chosen, a staunch pet, or a single unwavering and indefatigable friend, you are rich indeed in a way many are not.

As we leave this year behind, I want to say to anyone who has lost someone this year that I know how emotionally difficult the turning of the year can be. There are the mixed emotions of wanting to put some distance between you and the pain of loss, but there is also the gut-wrenching realization that this is the end of the last year, the last memories, you will ever have with that person, that they will have have no part in this new year, and that is really rough. I know there is nothing I can say or do to ease that, but please know that you will get through it, and to you I offer a hug of silent understanding.

For 2015, for all of you, as well as myself, my sincerest wishes are for hope that remains unshakeable, love that is steadfast, faith in yourself as well as someone who believes in you, and peace in your soul.

Happy New Year!

and the last ((hugs!!)) of 2014

Tuesday Truths

I realized today how much I like quiet sometimes. I need it. There are times I think hey, I should turn on some music to break the silence, and then I don’t, because I am enjoying the quiet. I think sometimes I need it. Like this week when I’ve been fighting a migraine and have 4 nights of basketball games with loud buzzers and crowds of noisy people, the quiet is necessary to try to balance myself out. I value people who can be comfortable sharing quiet with me and not feel the need to fill it.

Last night was a prime example of how ridiculously high in empathy I am. My youngest is playing basketball this year. Our little guys played a fantastic game in only their third game – against the same team that defeated them badly their very first game when our boys were still trying to learn to work together as a team. It was an extremely tight game with the lead going back and forth all night and ended up in overtime (we lost by 3 points).

One of our boys fouled out towards the end of the game and sat down, put his face in his hands, and cried. I think he was both frustrated with himself and felt he’d let his team down (he’s one of the better players). His mom was nearby and said,”Aw, he’s so sensitive” (she is similar), but I felt so bad that he felt so bad that I ended up wiping tears. I made a point to tell him he did a great job after. I really should get waterproof mascara for any time I’m out in public. I guess by now I shouldn’t be surprised by unexpected salt water spillage since it’s a not infrequent occurrence with me. Yeesh.

If you’re looking for profound wisdom or regular polished writing, I’m probably not your blog. If, however, you are looking for honesty, stream of consciousness, sometimes deeper thoughts and heartfelt writing, and loads of compassion and empathy, then you’ve come to the right place.

I hope your week is going well. (Hug!)

What Is the Best Thing that Anyone Has Ever Said to You?

What is the best thing that anyone has ever said to you?

A friend posed this question to me awhile back.

I’ve been pondering this for awhile now, and I know there is something I am forgetting, a moment when I remember saying the exact words “that’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.” The fact that I can’t recall what it was now is driving me batty.

I can say that I have been told several times that I am easy to talk to and, even better, the words “I trust you” and “I trust you completely.” When someone says that to me, especially someone who hasn’t really known me all that long, or maybe not even actually met me but communicated with me only through some form of the written word, that means the world to me, that they have that much faith in me, that they feel they can trust me with their more private selves, and I value that incredibly highly. I don’t even know how to aptly put into words how that makes me feel. Deeply honored.

However, one instance in particular does stand out in my mind.

A few years ago while we were out shopping, my kids opted to take a rest around a patio table that was set up in the store while we went to check something out. (My oldest was old enough to be responsible for them.) When we returned, there was an older gentleman sitting at the table with the kids, chatting.

He told us who he was, his age – in his eighties, I believe, and a bit of his personal history, that he had met all kinds of people in his lifetime. He then went on to tell us that he had been chatting with my kids, and what a pleasant exchange they’d had.

He said he wanted to take the opportunity to let us know what a nice little family we were, that my children were well mannered, bright, and how he was impressed with their answers to his questions about various topics. He even went on to say that he thought my youngest could become President one day, that he had leadership qualities, and that he would certainly vote for him.

What really got me, however, was when he made a point to say that as parents we were really doing something right, that we were raising really great kids.

As someone who more often than not has wondered if I am doing anything right as a parent, who has often experienced self-doubt and felt like I have floundered badly, this was really something to hear.

I have keenly felt the loss of the benefit of being able to go to my own parents for wisdom and parenting advice, or even encouragement, so this struck right at the heart of me. After he left, I welled up with tears – and am again now just thinking about it as I write this – and I don’t think I was able to speak much for awhile.

For a complete stranger to take the time to get to know my children a little, to see such good qualities in them, and to make a point to offer such words of encouragement and praise about parenting them, that has really stayed with me, and is truly one of the very nicest things anyone has ever said to me.

“Thirty-Two Plus a Few, Thirty-Four Plus some More”

Do I enjoy growing old or do I fight against it?

Yes.

There are things to dislike about growing old.

Duh. Of course there are things to dislike about growing old. The list is long! There are the dreaded wrinkles and sags. Our bodies begin to creak and groan. Things begin to grow in weird places. Hormones can get whacky. We don’t recover as quickly as we used to or have the same amount of energy we once did. We have far more responsibilities than we did in our younger years. Some days we feel old and tired.

I’d like to say I proudly declare my age and embrace it, but I really don’t share it. People seem to think I look younger than I am, and I rarely feel the need to disabuse them of that notion, I think in large part because my mother ingrained in me when I was younger regarding a woman’s age that “a lady never tells and a gentleman never asks.” She had a thing about no one knowing her age, and for a very long time I really didn’t know how old she was. It might have had something to do with the fact that whenever one of us kids would ask her how old she was, her answer was always, “32 plus a few” and a few years later, “34 plus some more.”

But wait, there’s more!