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.
Are you living, or moving toward, the life you want to live? Many are not, for myriad reasons. One reason I hear often is risk aversion based primarily on the fear of failure and/or past disappointments. As a result, folks get "stuck" going through the motions, just hoping things will change. And while they may be uncomfortable in their current status, some take comfort in their discomfort, as counterintuitive as that sounds or may be.
As we know, things don't always work out as planned. But oftentimes they do. And those of us willing to take risk(s) try to take calculated risks. But the nature of life is that some risks, especially the greatest risks, are incalculable--unknown. The key in moving forward--beyond the unknown--is to be willing to accept that there are things beyond our control, and that there are always lessons and opportunities for growth.
There are risks in taking action to live the life you want to live. Likewise, there are risks in not taking action--for example, living lives of regret, complacency, and mediocrity. So why not take a step or two in the direction of pursuing what you want out of life? As the old adage says, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
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.
I used to complain like it was a badge of honor. Life was bringing me down, and I wanted everyone to know. I couldn't see it at the time, but being a constant complainer was a drag; it only served to make me feel worse about my life and, in the process, bring down others around me--at least those who did not also have complaining spirits. But as the adage says, "water seeks its own level", so I spent plenty of time with others with complaining spirits. Tragically, we were our own support group. Being around others who weren't in the group--you know, the grateful, joyful folks--was uncomfortable and annoying. What did they have to be "happy" about? They, too, had problems, so they were just faking it so everyone would believe their lives were great, or their problems weren't as bad as mine. That's how I used to think before I found, and committed to, joy. Back then I seemed to be more interested in complaining than taking action(s) to change my circumstances. I sometimes took "comfort" in bad circumstances rather than taking the risk of stepping outside my comfort zone to make things better. That was too scary. Have you ever been there? I should have been afraid of killing my soul because that's what was happening. No doubt, there were some circumstances that were beyond my control. But if I couldn't change my circumstances, what about working to change myself? Nope. I was mired in self-pity, so that option didn't occur to me at the time.
Now, I'm in a different support group--one for grateful, joyful folks. Some think joyful people don't need support and encouragement. To the contrary, we need it like everyone else--maybe more--since there is always something or someone trying to steal our joy. Don't get me wrong, I still complain from time to time, but it's no longer my way of life. As I've written in a previous blog post, joy is now my default mechanism. I've got more blessings than problems. When I focus on my problems, I overlook my blessings--all that's good in my life. And even in my problems I can find blessings if I'm willing and able to look beyond the immediate. Honestly, if I found benefits in having a complaining spirit I might regain an appetite for it. But there's no value in it--not for me. So, I'll stick with being one of those grateful, joyful folks. The rewards are great!
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.
Life is full of change--schools, jobs, relationships, locations, seasons, life phases and stages. Some people just accept change as a necessary part of life, some actually embrace change, and others resist change of any kind. For many, it depends on the particular change since, as we know, change can bring excitement, exhilaration, and joy, as well as pain, sadness, and devastation, or some combination thereof.
One thing is certain: change will occur whether we accept it or not. It's how we handle the change that makes the difference--whether we transition with the change. While I know that technically change and transition are the same, I believe change can occur without us making a transition. For example, the season has changed from summer to fall. If those who live in less temperate climate conditions refuse to make that transition and continue to dress for summer, they may suffer when the temperatures fall significantly. Change without transition.
Some changes are more subtle than others and it may take a while for us to notice. But once we recognize a change, it's important to make a transition in our actions, thoughts, and/or attitudes. Absent transitions, we may become stuck, stagnant, apathetic. Even painful change can result in hope, growth, and new opportunities if we're willing to make a transition. Some folks are so resistant to change that they would rather be unhappy, miserable, and dissatisfied in their current situation (i.e., job, relationship, financial status) than transition into the possibility of something better. You know, that old "devil you know" issue.
Some transitions are more difficult, and take longer, than others. And while major changes can be challenging, we need not become permanently unhinged by them. For example, if change introduces limitations into our lives, we can transition by focusing on and celebrating the limitations we don't have. We're better served by embracing what's possible rather than impossible. Refusing to let go of what was prevents us from fully enjoying the present and moving forward. Even when it's difficult to accept change, it's important to remain open to it. Accepting change and making transitions may be the difference between realizing our dreams and regretting that we didn't pursue them. It may be the difference between living a joyful life and living life on the sidelines. Transitioning with and through life's changes . . . it's up to us.
According to the dictionary, "masquerade" means "an action or appearance that is mere disguise or show", or "to assume the appearance of something one is not". Masquerading is nothing new. Older folks say it's been happening "since the beginning of time." You know, folks putting on airs; fronting, if you will.
Why do some folks masquerade, so much so that their lives often appear to be a masquerade ball? Who knows, maybe they're trying to keep up with the Joneses. And just who are the Joneses, and don't they know the Joneses have problems, too?! Some may masquerade because they envy their peers. Some may masquerade because they want their peers to envy them. But some may masquerade to hide pain--for example, the pain of brokenness, shame--broken lives, broken hearts, broken finances, loneliness (even those in a relationship), abusive relationships, depression, etc. For those of us who aren't masqueraders--at least not now--it's often easy to judge the "facades". But would we do so if we could see the pain and tears behind the masks?
One of the inherent dangers of masquerading is that we get so good at wearing our mask(s) that no one--not even those we want to know us--can see what we want them to see, including that we may need help. Masks can create distance and prevent us from truly connecting with others. So, before we ask others to see us, it's important that we see ourselves. Some of us are wearing so many masks that we don't even know ourselves. And sometimes we get our masks confused--wearing the wrong mask for the wrong occasion.
How exhausting, masking ourselves from ourselves and everyone else. But we can only hide out for so long. Because life has a way of making us drop our masks--at least temporarily. I don't know why this image came to mind, but have you ever seen someone snatch off their wig because it was too hot under there? Sometimes, life brings the kind of heat that causes us to snatch off our masks, or they inadvertently slip. In those instances, it's important that we've taken care to ensure that what's underneath the mask--our true identity--is a work in progress, no less worthy of being seen. And don't worry so much about what others may think . . . they have their issues, too.
I have observed through myself and others that many of us can identify the source of our scars--be they physical or emotional--no matter when they occurred. For example, someone 60 years old can probably tell you the scar on their arm resulted from falling off a swing at age 10. Presumably, a scar represents healing. But as we know, an external manifestation of healing does not always mean complete healing. And even when it does, we sometimes have a tendency to recount the pain and source of the scar more than any resulting lesson(s). That seems to be human nature.
I've been working on reframing my scars. It's something I started after my surgery. Because the surgery and my recovery were very difficult, I could easily look at my scar and see it as nothing more than a representation of surgery. But I can't look at my scar without seeing it as evidence that I'm alive . . . I'm still here . . . I'm still standing. Often, the pain a scar represents can be a great source of healing, learning, and inspiration. We have the ability to decide what our scars represent to us. That helps facilitate total healing. As for me, whether it's seeing the beauty of life from a surgical scar, or deciding an emotional scar will inspire me not to let anyone steal my dream(s), I'm choosing to reframe my scars.
How about you?
Living My Joy
Many of us spend significant time and effort trying to manage, enhance or maintain our outer beauty--for example, our hair, face, clothes, image. Do we spend as much time and effort on our inner beauty--our souls, who we really are? Because at some point, there will be cracks in our exteriors. In those instances, will the light of our souls that shines through be bright or dim?
As human beings, our lives have many layers. If the layers of our lives were peeled back, could we honestly say our inner selves are as beautiful as--or more beautiful than--our outer selves? If there were such a thing as a "SHA" (Soul Housing Authority), upon examination would our inner selves be written up with numerous concerns? Do we do enough self-examination to be able to assess honestly the state of our inner lives? How about to assess whether the things others say to and about us are true? We tend to agree with the positive things others say to and about us, but dismiss the negative things out of hand. But we know the truth (about the positive and the negative)--that is, if we're being honest with ourselves. Sometimes, we can dismiss things legitimately because we know the person doesn't know us or have sufficient information. And, sometimes, if/when we know someone has an agenda behind what they say to us, it's "convenient" to ignore them. But there may be value in what they say. We shouldn't miss a message just because we have an issue with the messenger. At a minimum, we should be open to examining whether there are issues that need to be addressed.
I believe that without adequate attention, time, and effort to pursue inner beauty, it's difficult to live and sustain a joyful life. Without internal work, our external beauty becomes our priority. But external beauty will not sustain us. Life's dark moments will come. There will be cracks in the exterior. It's what's on the inside that will strengthen us and provide light on our paths. It's the inside job that will help to keep that light bright.