Today, on my daily walk, I met a woman who complimented my colorful dress and fuchsia lipstick. Rarely do I wear lipstick brighter than neutral, but decided to do so to add a little spark to my challenging day. The woman told me she had purchased bright lipstick but never wore it; and seeing me in mine made her happy. As we continued to talk, she shared things she said made her grumpy and sad, namely a difficult divorce some years ago. We discussed how dwelling on her past was dictating her future, and that she could choose to journey on a new path. Since she said my lipstick helped to brighten her day, I suggested she go home and put on her own. It's not monumental, but a small step in a different direction. I also shared how I sometimes leave post-it notes on my bathroom mirror and refrigerator containing messages of encouragement and empowerment. And often on my daily walks, I look for opportunities to brighten others' days--such as smiling and saying hello; paying someone a compliment; holding open a door, etc. They're small things, but sometimes it's les petites choses (the little things) that can make a difference in someone's day or life--including our own.
 
 
Have you struggled to accomplish something and attributed the struggle to an external source(s) or conflict(s)? Is it possible the struggle is, actually, within--for example, you feel inadequate, unworthy, fear failure, fear success, etc.? To determine the exact source of our struggle(s), it's often necessary to take time to assess and be honest with ourselves--to examine our patterns of behavior, our self-talk, whether/why we look for others' acceptance before acting, whether/why we allow others to limit us. And then we must garner the strength and courage to address the issue(s) head-on so we don't end up living our lives imagining what could have been if only we had faced the struggle(s) within.
 
 
It's been said that what others think of us is none of our business. But many of us spend a significant amount of time worrying about what others think and/or trying to please others, many of whom mean well and/or want the best for us. As a result, some live in bondage, full of fear and insecurities, unable to make decisions on their own. While there are times in life when we need guidance, support, and encouragement, it's important that we learn how and when to forge our own paths, without seeking validation/approval. We're all unique. How can we find our life's purpose or forge our own path if we don't learn to appreciate and rely upon our own faith, gifts, skills, strengths, values, talents, sensibilities, creativity, etc.? Always concerning ourselves with what others think may result in others dictating our life's journey. That makes it their journey, not ours. If we follow their path, anger, resentment, and dissatisfaction may result.

When we forge our own path, there will be mistakes, setbacks, and challenges. They are part of life's journey, and I don't know anyone who hasn't experienced them. Even if we're not successful on a path we take, it's the path we chose. That means we must accept responsibility for it, and the lessons are ours to learn. Is there the possibility of hearing, "I told you so", and "Oh, well", if the path we take turns out to be a bad one? Absolutely. And is it possible we'll need help? Yes.
But it's important to bear in mind that just like we chose one path, we can choose another. It may not be easy, but we shouldn't allow that to deter us. If we want to accomplish something, we should take as many paths as necessary to get there. Many successful people experienced some of their greatest successes after suffering disappointments and defeats on a path they chose. They succeeded because they stayed focused on their end game, and changed or corrected their course as necessary to get there.

In my own life, I've found it's easier to swallow the bitter pill of mistakes, challenges, and setbacks when I'm minding my own business--that is, forging my own path. Truth be told, those who may offer opinions have been there themselves.

 
 
Despite my best efforts, I continue to receive junk mail. The goal of those who solicit us with junk mail is to entice us, whet our appetite, pique our interest, sway our opinions, so we will accept or seek out what they're offering. If they can just get us to open the envelope or read the pamphlet, card, or insert, they may be successful in their pursuit. Some people appreciate receiving mail that solicits them for money, various products and/or services, participation in groups, etc. After all, it's possible something about which they weren't aware turns out to be of interest to them. Sometimes, it might be something they wouldn't be interested in under normal circumstances, but it reaches them at a time they're particularly vulnerable.

There's another type of junk mail we may receive--that presented to us via gossip, negativity, backbiting, discouragement, etc. Sometimes, we see it for what it is and immediately discard it. But what about when we're feeling vulnerable--for example, when someone hurts us and we hear gossip about them, or when we're struggling while pursuing a goal and someone discourages us? Acquiescing to this type of junk mail has a cost. It can permeate our spirit; cause us to make unwise decisions; and/or change the way we feel about someone/something. Personally, I try to treat it like any other junk mail and discard it. Otherwise, I'm allowing something worthless to distract me, and that has the possibility to detract from my joy.

 
 
As we age, many of us have the "pleasure" of experiencing gray hair. Some of us consider it rude, as it imposes itself on us like an unwelcome guest. Stubborn and confrontational, it appears--seemingly out of nowhere--in places it should not be seen. And while to others it may look silvery, bright, and sophisticated, we see it as dull, lifeless, gloomy, and aging. So, in a constant battle, we may pluck it, tuck it, pull it, curse it, cut it, color it and/or cover it--only to have it and "friends" (as if it were lonely the first time) come back again. But there are some of us who accept having gray hair as a natural progression of aging, while still others actually embrace gray hair as a welcome symbol of age and beauty.

Our life issues/problems
can be like gray hair. Forces to be reckoned with, they often make their presence known at inopportune times. We can pretend they don't exist or attempt to cover them up, but they will re-appear until adequately addressed. And when we are able to accept that they're a part of life and deal with them head-on, we build character, gain wisdom and, hopefully, welcome the lesson(s) as part of our maturation process. Those grays . . . those pesky, pesky grays.

 
 
A fictional conversation:

Overcomer: I'm pursuing my dream to [fill in the blank].
Fear: You know you've had some issues in the past, my love. Don't you fear failing?!
Overcomer: Everyone has had issues. What I fear is living a life of regret for not trying to fulfill my dream.

Fear: But what if you fail?!
Overcomer: What if I succeed?

Fear: Let's talk about that. Don't you fear what success can bring?
Overcomer: I'll let you know when I get there.

Overcomer: Fear, there's something I need to tell you.
Fear: What is it, dear? You know you can tell me anything. And you can count on me to point out your weaknesses so you don't get beside yourself. I'll always be here for you.
Overcomer: That's the problem. I've been in bondage because I've allowed you to keep me focused on my weaknesses. While I'm mindful of my weaknesses, I've decided to no longer be controlled by them. Instead, I'm focusing on my growth, my faith, my strengths, and the lessons I've learned. To that end, I need to tell you that your lease has been terminated, effective immediately!!! I took the liberty of packing your bags.
Your stuff has been taking up way too much space in my life. Bye, bye.


 
 
I've found that life is a lot like sticky glue. We often become attached to, and leave traces on, the things, people, places and circumstances we touch.
 
 
It's difficult to listen to the radio and/or television, or use the internet without being  subjected to something hateful, vitriolic, demeaning, and hurtful about someone or some group of people. Sometimes, we allow others' views to influence our opinions, attitudes, and actions towards others.

TODAY, what if we:

  • Have a conversation with, or say hello to, someone who differs from us in: age, appearance, culture, ethnicity, race, religion, sexual preference, political leanings, socioeconomic status, attitude, etc.? Try to understand a viewpoint different from our own? How can we understand others if we maintain distance from them? Why do we judge or criticize what we don't know or understand? Why do we paint others with our broad brush of intolerance based on our lack of knowledge or understanding, our fear, perceptions, assumptions, preferences, etc.? Why must we agree with someone, or be like them, to love or care about them or, at a minimum, treat them with dignity, kindness, and respect?

TODAY, what if we:

  • Lend a helping hand to a stranger? We're all strangers to someone and need a helping hand from time to time.

TODAY, what if we:

  • Show compassion to a homeless, or less fortunate, person in need? Why do we shun those we perceive to be "less than" or "beneath" us? Many of us live from paycheck to paycheck; are fearful of losing our jobs and benefits; have significant education, credit card, medical, and/or other debt, and know that it's nothing but the grace of God that we are able to keep our own heads above water.

TODAY,
what if we move outside our circles and our comfort zones and treat others the way we want to be treated? What if we loved--or tried to love--our neighbors (our fellow man/woman) as ourselves?


 
 
Are you carrying a load that's too heavy for you to bear? Problems here, problems there, problems problems everywhere--for example, with your family, in your relationships (personal, business or both), your finances, your job/business, your health, etc. Whether it's a problem in one area of our lives or in several areas at the same time, our problems can wear on us . . . literally. The weight of our issues may be written all over our faces as it's sometimes difficult to shield the external from the internal. We may not even realize we're wearing a scowl unless or until someone asks if everything is alright. Heavy loads can change our gait--the way we walk. Our shoulders may hunch as if we're carrying the weight of the world on them; and our heads may hang a little lower. Heavy loads can cause pain and agony--either of which can change our disposition. And if we're not careful, the weight of our problems may have social, financial, emotional and/or physical consequences.

We've all carried heavy loads at some point. While it may sound overly simplistic, I've found that the only way to lessen the weight of my load is to put it down; stop carrying it. To address what I can and move on. That doesn't mean I no longer care or that the problems are resolved; just that I can't/won't carry them anymore. Sure, it's easier said than done, but it's something I practice regularly. And when I say practice, I mean make the attempt so I can get better at it. Of course I fail from time to time, but each time I try to look for the lesson lest my joy be tempered. Because it's easy to become stuck agonizing over things beyond our control. And while it may seem as if time has been suspended--especially when we become engrossed in, or consumed by, our problems--life, in fact, goes on. So we, too, must go on.

Here's how I get there. I ask myself three questions in the face of an issue/problem:

1) How important is it?

2) Realistically, can I do anything about it?

3) Can I handle it on my own?

If it's important and within my power to do something about it, then I attempt to find a solution. If I'm unable to find a solution on my own,
I seek assistance from my support system or otherwise. If I'm unable to find a resolution after seeking assistance, I must accept that the problem is too heavy for me to carry.

Sometimes, I can clear my mind with a long walk. Meditation works for some. As a Christian, I believe there are some problems only God can work out. Their weight is too heavy for me to bear, whether alone or with someone. So I pray and release them because even though they may be too heavy for me, there's peace in knowing I don't have to wonder if God can carry the load.

 
 
Have you ever walked away, or distanced yourself, from a situation you thought was detrimental to your joy only to find that wasn't the entire solution? When I'm in this position, it's usually because there are emotions associated with the situation that I haven't dealt with. So I do my level best to muster the strength and courage to walk out of the situation but step in to any corresponding pain, sadness, anger, etc., and deal with it head-on for however long it takes. Now I know there are plenty of folks who do whatever is possible to avoid dealing with their emotions. If that works for them, fine. But in my life, I've found that trying to avoid my emotions results in carrying baggage. And that baggage gets heavy and begins to weigh me down. Without attention and resolution, the weight of that baggage may then begin to weigh on other aspects of my life. There's certainly no joy in that.

I once had a professor who said to students unprepared for class, "[y]ou can pay me now, or you can pay me later." He made it clear that, as with most other debt, paying later meant paying with interest. For me, this concept likewise applies to emotional debt. Sometimes it's not possible to handle debt (of any kind) on our own. It may require assistance--for example, debt counseling, debt forgiveness, etc. Whatever it takes, I want to pay those debts as soon as possible. The only time I want to carry baggage is on a trip. My goal is: no trip, no baggage.