Why Focusing In Life is So Hard

You want to know why it’s so hard to focus on your own life and ride your own wavelength of zen? Well, I re-discovered the answer today. Wait for it… Wait for it…

It’s because everyone around you is so DARN LOUD!

The Setting

I wrote this post yesterday during a fit of frustration on the plane to a hopefully calming vacation in Las Vegas while attempting to read My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel amidst the cackles and clangor of inebriated passengers as they become new found airline besties.

The Story (and Lesson):

Listen, I’m all for freedom of friendliness, libation, and acquaintance; but by golly, do they have to be so LOUD? Then again this is a country built on freedom of speech, so who am I to tell the new found besties to sacrifice their hyperactive happiness for my peace and serenity. I mentally rummaged through all the fine print I read inside the safety manual. There was a lot of reassuring information about oxygen masks, life vests, safety devices, and “in the event of an emergency” situations, but nothing about being courteous to your neighbors. But wait, isn’t this an emergency? Am I not being forced to sacrifice my page-turning enjoyment to listen to the loudest passengers that have ever flown on a plane, ever? Doesn’t that warrant some kind of rescuing?

With no way to politely ask these chatty birds to pipe down, I decided to make something of this experience and share the lessons this noise has forced me to tackle. What else am I supposed to do? Do you want me to risk a confrontation, get booted off the plane, and possibly get arrested because I had to defend myself against one of these tipsy passengers when they try to punch my lights out? No! I am saying no to violence and that’s my final answer, for now. Instead, I will take a deep breath and patiently hoped for some desperately annoyed passenger to do what I don’t have the gumption to do — ask them to shut up! Oops, I mean to “please, if you would be so kind, might you quiet down a bit?”

As I become more and more frustrated by each screech and shout, the feeling inside reminds me of moments in my life when I’ve felt trapped, frustrated, limited, and a victim of other people inserting noise into my rather happy place. Those were times when I found it most difficult to focus on my journey. Right now, I would do anything to be able to go into my own head and turn up the selective attention dial to “I can’t hear you” mode but nothing is a match for the voices of Godzilla. The more I think about ways I can tune these various conversations out is the more anxious and tense I am becoming. Under other circumstances I would have reveled in the opportunity to eavesdrop on the fascinating conversations around me. Honestly, they are discussing interesting interpretations of life. The two new buddies behind me are shifting in and out of intellectual conversations about love, relationships, passion, religion, happiness, spirituality, God, and new places to experience once we reached our destination. Our other friends across the isle are adding to the noise with topics including food, TV shows, etc. The problem isn’t them per se — well maybe it is because there is no need to shout at the top of your lungs if someone is sitting right next to you– but it is more the fact that I am not in the mood to listen to their stories at this volume at this moment. I want to read my book during this flight and then reflect on life.

Though quite terrifying– if you really think too hard about it– there’s something quite calming and spiritual about flying. The views, the perspective, and the fact that my life is in the hands of complete strangers surrounded by complete strangers for hours while thousands of feet above the ground is both unsettling and kind of magical. That is until turbulence hits and I am reminded that death could be imminent. Oddly, I am sure that fewer planes have crashed from turbulence than during take off or landing, but I could be wrong. Anyone know? Well, just as a wrote this paragraph I can report that I am entering the first phase of a full on panic attack, so let’s change the subject back to the chatterboxes behind me.

As I said before, in my mind this plane ride included a specific plan for my time– me, God, reflection, and a book, not writing a blog post about my frustration with the noise. I’m sure I would have found “the best method for tuning out deafening voices” in the book about anxiety but I was only able to get to page 32 before the voices of Godzilla destroyed my focus. Still annoyed but determined, I am deciding to start talking to myself — in a healthy way. “You’re stronger than this. Don’t let them distract you. You had a goal in mind, so stick to it!” Typically I would be completely oblivious to the loud mouths around me as they are drowned out by my music or a movie. However, I forgot my headphones this time! Thankfully my other-better-equal half is always thinking ahead and he brought an extra pair. Nonetheless, I didn’t planned on plugging my ears with noise-cancelling headphones; I planned on having an intellectually stimulating experience with my books. As you can surmise by now, their volume has reached the decibel that would interrupt even the most focused person’s brain frequencies! So, I am taking the headphones, but it is still not working.

I am asking myself over and over, “Why is it so hard to just focus? Why can’t you just push through? Is it really that hard to tune them out or are you just being petty?” Feeling defeated, I am reminded of the times in my life when I felt overwhelmed by the noise around me — times I’ve been focused on something in my life and then every voice begins playing in my head (again, not in the DSM-5 diagnosis kind of way). They are the times in which all the negative, positive, confused, logical, irrational, intellectual, and analytical voices/thoughts tell me how to be confident, worried, certain, and fearless all in the same frequency. Ay dios mios! As my mind is shifting to those moments when I’ve asked the same question –“Why is it so hard to just focus?” — I am beginning to recognize a parallel between my focus, life, and the challenge of tuning out noise. I am not sure I really want to confront it, but here goes. Simply realized, the more voices and noise in my head– including my own at times– is the more difficult it is for me to focus on my own life and my own journey.

Some noises are louder than others — fear, other people’s opinions, opposing viewpoints, societal and family expectations, cultural norms, and internal self-talk. At times, it can just be too loud, too confusing, too opposing, too headache producing, and too tiring to combat. Although annoyed at my clangorous neighbors, I am happy that I had the chance to look myself in the mirror and confront factors that at times make it hard for me to focus. Although a critical exercise, confronting these factors one time on a plane is not going make me a master at tuning out the loudest noises in my life. It is going to require mental maturity and mental martial arts!

Today, I am reminded that I have a lot more work to do. It would be great to block out the noise by creating a magical force-field around my head, but I’m sure that would not prevent me from concocting some ridiculous thinking within my own head.

Today, I have learned two things:

  1. I now understand why people invest in quality noise-cancelling headphones,
  2. no matter how noise cancelling the headphones, it’s much harder to cancel out the noise that exist — or you allow to exist — inside your own head, and
  3. be ready to listen and adapt when life speaks.

The good news is that this lesson has made me more of a noise-cancelling ninja and our neighbors alcohol consumption has finally caught up to them! The four amigos are quietly resting. Maybe now I can get back to focusing on my book or at least enjoying the remaining moments of this amazing view in peace and quiet.

Comment below or chat with me!

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Judging People in the Media: Right or Wrong?

It is very easy to forget that other people are also human.

I remember when I was a little teenybopper I subconsciously found slight enjoyment in commenting on other people’s life mistakes/decisions. In a weird way it made me feel more normal, more confident, and more hopeful that — despite not having everything I wanted — I might possibly stand on a higher moral ground than those I chose to judge comment on. I felt the pressure to be perfect, so it was kind of refreshing to know that other people were not. Hooray, someone’s mistakes were bigger than mine!

Back then I would not have considered myself a gossiper, but I certainly had an opinion if asked. In my mind, my opinions were not judgements but rather concerns cloaked in curiosity. Me be mean-spirited and judgmental? No. Never. However oddly enough, the most enjoyable conversations were those about the mistakes of people that acted like they were better than others. “See, that’s why people should never think they are better because life will show us that we are not.” This I would proclaim while thinking myself better than they were. Oh, the irony.

One of the easiest targets I felt entitled to comment on were celebrities and entertainers. There were many I loved, but there were others I thought to be raunchy, slutty, desperate, fake, corny, untalented, ugly, weird, crazy, and/or conceited!  Most of my negativity boiled down to the fact that I didn’t feel they deserved the fame, money, or success they had. I was jealous disturbed that me, my family, my friends, and others in society had to “work so hard to succeed while these celebrities prance around from red carpet to red carpet like the hardest task of life is deciding what makeup, suit, dress, or date they are going to bring that night.” Elite athletes were not exempt from my judgments opinions either: I would say, “you are talented, but you are lame!” Of course I had no idea about the challenges and sacrifices, both physical and emotional, they had to make in order to get to where they were. Yet, I still felt the God-like right to determine what someone else deserved! But you know what? It is very easy to sit back and comment on another person’s life — celebrity, athlete, famous or not —  when we don’t really have to live their life or walk in their shoes.

It might sound like I sat around all day “hating” on other people (which is not really the case), but I do recall the many moments when I projected my insecurities and anxieties onto the easy targets of the world: the famous ones, privileged ones, and the entertainers. They signed up for it, right? It comes with the territory, right? It is the price of fame, right? Well, at least that’s what I told myself in order to justify my judgments opinions. I needed to find something negative in order to explain why my life was less glamorous so I told myself I had more class, purpose, and humility than “those people.” Honestly, deep inside me I really just wished I was rich too! (I still secretly do).

As my teenage years passed, the celebrity issues I read about were no longer so distant from the realities of regular people. Suddenly I knew/knew of people going through similar experiences: divorces, rumors, cheating, drug and alcohol abuse, hard partying, suicidal episodes, and/or new boyfriends/girlfriends every other week. I started to rethink my heavily misguided judgements about entertainers and got the sense that anything could happen to anyone, famous or not. I started asking myself: Would I be able to endure the pressure? How do I know I wouldn’t do that under the right conditions? Would I really be able to react differently than they do? Would my attitude be different if I went through that? How would I feel if I was in their shoes? Would I be happier? Could I handle the constant spotlight of judgment and expectations of perfection? I wasn’t always sure in each circumstance so I changed my opinionated tuned: “Judge less and never think you are above life’s challenges; just hope, pray, and do whatever you can so the challenges allotted for you won’t be the end of you.”

Now in early adulthood, I feel empathy for celebrities, entertainers, and leaders. Social media has not only changed how the world interacts, but it is also impacting how we view each other. When I started college, MySpace was huge, Facebook was only open to college students with a valid school email address, and there was no Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat. Before social media, we had to wait to hear about a celebrity scandal in the local newspaper, on the nightly news, or we just had to speculate about the truth plastered across the front page of the tabloids. Now, everything is front page news on social media and everyone has a comment or judgment that can be posted openly or anonymously for anyone to read at any time. The sad news is that it’s highly likely that one of our friends, family members, or even one of us will be in a position of entertainment, leadership, or fame one day. We/They will have to endure the same public ridicule that we put entertainers and leaders through everyday. There are some people out there that warrant the opinions we have toward them, but those people are far less prevalent than those that don’t deserve it.

When I look at the tabloids, blogs, and entertainment news columns I see stories that could happen to any normal person:

  • Rumored marital problems: If you have ever been in a relationship, then you know that there are ups and downs! Imagine paparazzi and news outlets, proclaiming your relationship or marriage to be over while you’re fighting hard to make it work. Imagine your relationship is totally wonderful, yet every grocery isle claims it’s doomed because your spouse is cheating with someone else in their industry.
  • Breakups and makeups: Now we know that the dating scene can range from very pleasant to pure madness. Can you imagine every dating move you made being stalked and reported by the media? From your one-night stands, to your short-lived relationship, to your quick transition to the next lover, or to the moments you thought you were exclusive but he/she is out dating someone else. Can you imagine finding all that out on social media? Can you imagine being judged for the relationship decisions you willingly chose to make as a grown man/woman by people who probably have less than perfect relationships themselves?
  • Family Drama: Need I say more? Can you really imagine all your family drama being front page news for all your friends, employers, and haters to revel in? How embarrassing!
  • Body Image: Can you imagine feeling like a fashion icon only to later find out that half the world thinks you look hideous? Or even worse, can you imagine those times when you don’t look your best and have to go out in front of the world? Exactly!
  • Hidden Struggles: You may not be an alcoholic or drug abuser, but I am sure if you think hard enough you will be able to identify one person you know that struggles with something similar. But, what’s your vice? How do you mask and hide your insecurities, anxiety, and/or fears? What are the self-defeating behaviors and thoughts you have? How would you feel about having your lowest day chronicled and logged as the most talked about news of the week?
  • Mental Illness or Health Issues: Sometimes we deal with mental and health issues that we don’t necessarily wear on our sleeves. Some are impossible to hide and others we try our hardest to keep private. Can you imagine people taking your private moments for mass entertainment or having cameras and photographers outside every surgery and doctor’s appointment as they dig and hack for your medical history simply for entertainment purposes?

I don’t know why I think about these things but I do. I think about how some celebrities, prominent figures, entertainers, and leaders in our society must feel at night when they lay down to sleep knowing that there are a lot of people out there in the world that would rather tear them down than see them thrive. Too easily we forget that people are human and deserve to be treated like they have a heart. Let’s try harder to support the entertainers we like but NOT pull down those we don’t enjoy as much. Instead of trashing them from our lofty moral seat, let’s just say, “I am not a fan” and keep it moving. The truth is our bashing, hating, disgust, and attacks say more about our internal issues than they do about theirs.

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Me Too: A Glimpse Inside the Mind of One Sexually Assaulted Girl

When the news first broke about Bill Cosby and the numerous alleged sexual assaults, like most of you, I read different posts and articles yet could not figure out what or even who I believed. At first, I did find it strange that so many women waited so long to speak out against Cosby. Why now? Article upon article questioned the authenticity of the women involved and many others desperately tried to defend one of American’s favorite TV dad’s. I am not sure why I personally questioned why the accusers waited so long because I too have been keeping my silence.

Growing up so many people watched The Cosby Show in the hopes of someday attaining the image of one of America’s successful TV families. If you were an African-American living during the prime of the show, you could not help but support and love it because there were not many successful African-American families displayed on TV. Overall it was an endearing show, so Black, White, Asian, or Latino, you probably also loved it. Therefore, when the allegations started pouring in, many people’s first instinct was to deny the reality that a man so adored and loved could have drugged and sexually assaulted so many women.

As more women started speaking out, I started to think that these allegations were less likely a coincidence or a lie. There were just too many women from too many different walks of life. If someone was “paying them” to do this, that person must be a billionaire because 39 accusers (and rising) amounts to a lot of money that I can’t imagine shelling out just to ruin another person’s reputation. From racial animosity to desperate claims for money, the accusers (for the most part) were vilified in the media by citizens and celebrities alike. Well, on July 6th, major news outlets reported that documents dating back to 2005 revealed Bill Cosby admitting to (1) obtaining drugs with the intent to utilize them on women and (2) that he used these drugs on at least one woman. With the release of his dated admission, every doubter, questioner, and supporter alike probably started to change their minds on the subject.

Although the release of these documents confirm the likelihood of sexual assault against numerous women, one major question still remains– why did the majority of the women wait so long to say something? Was it fear, denial, shock, the belief that no one would believe them anyway, or did some of them just lie to obtain fame? No matter what reasons the women have cited for their lengthy silence, some people will never understand or accept it. I feel even worse for the few women who started speaking out years ago and were silenced. Bill Cosby never assaulted me nor could I ever begin to explain or understand how these particular women felt throughout all their years of silence. However, I think I might be able to shed some light on why they might have waited so long because I too was once sexually assaulted.

This is the first time I am sharing this with more than a few people. None of my siblings know. The majority of my friends have no idea. I finally told my mom a few months ago and my father still has no clue (I think). To be perfectly honest, I hope he never reads or hears about this blog post because I think his heart would break, literally. Hopefully my story will help someone understand the emotional and mental maze that begins to form in the mind of someone that has been sexually assaulted. When the assault is by someone you have known for a while or respected for some time, the mental maze becomes even more complicated.

Before I begin, let me just say a few things. If you are reading this and you personally know me, please refrain from guessing who my assaulter is. Chances are you will be wrong and draw damaging false conclusions in your head. If you have more questions, contact me directly. Secondly and sadly, I have never brought charges against this person, so for that reason I will not include too many details. This post is more about shedding light on the emotional roller coaster that a sexual assault victim may experience. So with that focus, let’s get into the mental maze…

  • Shock: Without getting too deep into the details of who, what, when, where, why, and how (it would be very long and likely blow your mind), I will undoubtedly say that the first emotion I went through was shock. I never in a million years thought that I would be a victim of sexual assault. My assaulter was someone that I respected and interacted with on a daily/weekly basis throughout my high school career. My friends and teammates also highly respected this person and he was very close to some of their families. Never believing this would happen to me is probably one of the reasons my first emotion was shock. I watched movies and shows involving sexual assault and always imagined that I would use some major fight moves to escape such a situation if it ever happened to me. Sadly, my moves failed me.
  • Questioning: “What is he doing? What should I do? How do I get out of here? What did I do to give this person the impression that I wanted this? Were there signs about this person that I missed? What will my parents say? Will my friends– who love this person– believe me? Has this happened to anyone else? What will happen to this person if I tell? And the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, in my case, the biggest question in my head then (and to some extent now) is “what did I ever do to make this man do this to me?” Logically, I know that I absolutely did nothing. All my interactions with this person were always surrounding sports or life, yet this question still baffled me. I can only imagine how this question plagues the minds of other victims of sexual assault.
  • Blaming Yourself: This thought/emotion somewhat follows the many questions. Regardless of the innocence you know you have in the situation, it can be extremely difficult to refrain from second guessing how you handled the situation before, during, and after the act. For me, this person assaulted me numerous times, so I blame myself for not saying something to someone after the first instance. I always considered myself to be a strong person, so I was disappointed that I didn’t speak out after the first instance. Instead I worried more about how all my friend’s lives would change if I said something. This person was a father figure to some of my teammates and others depended on this person’s expertise to open doors for athletic scholarships. If I said something, I might ruin their lives, or at least that’s what I thought at the time. I blamed myself for my silence.
  • Guilt of Ruining the Abuser’s Life: This one might be a little hard for you to understand. Since I spent a significant amount of time with this person, I knew a lot about this person’s life. He was not married, had no kids, had very few friends, spent most time working, and spent little time with siblings and family due to distance. Before the incident I often felt very bad for this person. My friends and I even spent time joking about how he should date different older women that we knew or how he needed to go partying with his friends and switch up the routine of work-home-work. I had pity and in a weird way I could understand how someone like this person could become desperate and dysfunctional. So when I was faced with putting this person in prison and destroying the little life he had, I couldn’t do it. In hindsight, I wish I did. No one deserves what I went though and he should have thought more about his life before he chose to assault young women.
  • Letting other people down:  As I contemplated whether I would speak up, I was torn between the right thing to do and the many people that would be devastated by the news. First, my parents. One of my parent’s biggest warnings and concerns was always to be safe at all times. They did everything they could to keep their children out of harm. How was I doing to break this news to them? I was afraid they would never let me go anywhere else throughout high school, and more importantly, that my little sister would never get to go anywhere without my parents panicking. So, I said nothing. Secondly, my friends. How would they take the news that one of their favorite people was a creepy assaulter? I didn’t know if he was assaulting them too. I tried to watch for changes in their behavior, but I couldn’t find any. In my uncertainty, I kept quiet. In the end, I confronted the person about it (it didn’t go well) and used my independence and maturity to navigate my way out of the assaults and away from that person. The sad news is that I couldn’t avoid being around the person on a weekly/daily basis so I pretended to be okay so that my friends would not figure out the truth.
  • Feeling tainted and unwanted: I know. This emotion/thought makes no sense. Because of all the varying ranges of sexual assault we see in the media, I thought that people might view me as scarred. How will my boyfriend (at the time) react if I tell him I was sexually assaulted? Will that image be in his mind forever? Will he still want me? I was a teenager and these were the thoughts running through my teenage mind. Sad, but true.
  • Comparison: Who am I to complain? At least I wasn’t raped in a back alley by some stranger and then strangled to death. At least I wasn’t molested by one of my family members. At least… At least… At least. You know the saying “someone always has it worse than you?” Well, this is probably a sexual assault victim’s worse enemy. Although what happened to me was traumatic, it was not the worse case of sexual assault that I ever heard. I was not drugged, beaten, or killed. Therefore, I kept telling myself to get over it and move on, to stop being sorry for myself and be grateful that something worse didn’t happen. Why ruin this person’s life and make a big deal when it wasn’t “that bad?” Right? It made no sense, but like I said, the emotions are like a roller coaster and the mind like a maze.
  • Alone and Misunderstood: Carrying the burden of silence sucks both emotionally and mentally. You really want to scream at the top of your lungs about the emotional confusion you are going through, but at the same time you know that you can’t bring yourself to say something (for some of the reasons already outlined in this post). Of course, I thought I never changed emotionally and believed that no one would see the pain that I was in. However, I may have been successful on the outside, but was failing miserably on the inside. It manifested in many different ways. I didn’t want to get up for school in the morning and was constantly late; I felt depressed behind my laughs and bubbly personality; I failed classes in school that as an A and B student I never thought I would fail; I overcompensated in other relationships because they felt safe; and I strained my relationship with my mom because she confronted me on different occasions about the “change in attitude” and of course I always replied, “I am fine.” For a long time, I felt alone and misunderstood. I isolated myself from certain people in order to cope and I would keep many people at arm’s length so they wouldn’t indirectly figure out my secret.
  • Depression: It is a great misconception that the only depressed people are those that never get out of bed, eat tubs of ice cream, cry often, isolate, and walk with their head down. Well, sadly, due to my little secret I can say that I struggled with depression from time to time behind my bright smile and all my laughs. This is not to say that my love of laughter was a facade, but it does mean that sometimes my laughter was to keep from crying. It also means that at night when the laughter stopped, I often cried. Yet on the bright side, I can unequivocally say that it means that my laughter and smile saved me.

The emotions and thoughts outlined above are only those of my story. Also, these are in no way a complete list of the possible emotions. I am sure that other people who have been sexually abused can relate, but I also know that I cannot and do not speak for every situation or every person.  It is sad that society and certain circumstances make it difficult for people to feel that they can speak out against respected and well-known people when they have committed wrongdoings.

In our society, some people are dishonest about sexual assault and try to use it as a means to retaliate against other people. Unfortunately, at first the 39+ women in the Cosby case were probably perceived in this light. Now hearing the truth, I feel sad that they had to carry this burden for so long. The emotional trauma that lingers throughout the life of someone that never had the opportunity to share their hurt and trauma is complex. It undoubtedly affected many areas of their lives that they might never be able to go back and change. They often carried the burden alone and had to figure out different ways to hide their moments of confusion, sadness, and even rage. Hopefully, at some point throughout their silence they were able to find healing. For any woman that sat or sits in silence suffering in the mental maze, I stand in solidarity with you.

Yes, Bill Cosby has done great things for American TV, African-Americans in film, comedy, philanthropy, and education, but he might also be a sexual abuser (Technically in the American justice system he is innocent until proven guilty). If guilty, his successes should not trump the pain he has caused many women. Let’s use this as a lesson and if you are still questioning why these women (if he’s guilty) or any other women of sexual abuse took so long to speak out about their assault, I hope that this blog post has at least shed a little bit of light.

If you know of someone who has been sexually assaulted and has had to keep it a secret (for whatever reason), or if you have been the victim of sexual assault, I hope that one day you will be able to share you story. You are not alone.

#breakthesilence

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Dealing with Crappy and Sh*tty Stuff

I was talking to my cousin the other day about some shitty things that have been happening in my life lately. Well, it’s more like crappy things happening to someone else that in turn affected me. I guess this area of my life has just been somewhat of an adventurous ride recently. Naturally at this point I feel the need to say that by no means is it the end of the world or a life-shattering development, but it still has the slight smell of crap (and what others might call “shit.”) But, I digress. After discussing my anticipated responses to the situation, the therapist in her pointed out that the positivity current moving through my mind was something to be proud of. I was a little surprised by her response because despite seeing myself as a positive person I know there are many people out there more positive than even me. Yes, I made the cardinal mistake of comparing my crappy situation and reaction to other people and I minimized my feelings to the too often heard phrase “someone always has it worse.” Nonetheless, I took the compliment and listened.

“Not everyone knows how to see their way out of a situation,” she said. She continued to remind me that too often people become overwhelmed by the moment as if given situations are the end of the world. As she spoke I couldn’t help but think about all the times that I too have been in those situations. I recalled all the times when I felt overwhelmed by the ignorance of tomorrow all complicated by the “what the heck am I going to do” thoughts. I also imagined all the moments in the future that I might be guilty of thinking that circumstances are the end of the world. However, as she spoke I realized the reason I was able to change my thinking from overwhelming and paralyzing to hopefully and positive. The answer: I had the privilege of living through enough tough moments to notice that they never actually were the end of the world. Guys, in some way “time” does have a slightly healing quality to it. If we allow ourselves to learn and mature in and from situations, wounds/pain are eased/healed in time, forgiveness is given in time, solutions are found in time, true love is discovered in time, and stability/success is found in time. Inevitably I will continue to have crappy moments in my life, but as I get older I have discovered that I don’t have to let my life become crap because of one crappy moment… or two…or three. Life is too short.

Another perspective I have tried to adopt during crappy times is the thought that maybe God is testing me. I always think that life is trying to see if I have learned anything in the time that I have been alive. Ok, this might be a weird collision of my belief in God and the teacher inside me, but I really do believe that something-someone out there is watching to see how we respond to “situations.” How else might you explain the fact that typically positive people go much further in life than negative thinkers? There is definitely something to be noted about the perseverance and success of people who find the positive in any given situation (even if they have to dig down deep to find it). For me, one word separates the times in which I am more positive from the times in which I am more negative — faith. Most people associate faith with God (which I personally do), but being hopeful doesn’t necessarily have to be that deep. Listen, I still doubt, question, get depressed, and discouraged about crappy situation, but I always try to conclude my personal pity-party with positivity and hope. I figure if this is a life test to see if I am capable of handling more success or more challenging portions of life I had better try to pass it by rolling with the punches, cleaning off the crap, and adjusting for the next move.

I remember reading about this man named Job in the Bible when I was younger. His life was utterly destroyed. Although he was a worthy man, he still experienced the loss of almost everything. Oddly enough the people around him were trying to get him to blame God and denounce his faith. He did end up crying and mourning his loss, but ultimately he never gave up his faith. I don’t know why but that story always stuck with me. Maybe it is because it seems bad things often happen to good people in this world. After hearing this story numerous times, I still had one question. Would denouncing his faith have saved him from having to experience negative things in the future? Personally, I don’t think so; I think he would have had to deal with both the good and the bad at some other point in his life.That’s life.

Ultimately, when I look around me I see both people who believe that life will get better and those that believe life will always SUCK. In the end, crappy things do happen to everyone. Maybe I am delusional but having the belief that there is always some light at the end of the tunnel, even if I can’t see it in the moment, somehow helps me eventually get through crappy times. If I didn’t think this way, I don’t know how I would handle life. I mean really; even watching the news for 3 minutes is enough to make someone transition from happy to crappy to hopeless. The good news is that for most crappy situations I have experienced thus far,  I can definitely say that there has always been a lesson, a blessing, or something greater on the the other side…. in time of course.

So, what tips do you have for getting through crappy times?

Picture Perfect Puzzle Pieces: A Story

“Most people think happiness is about gaining something, but it’s not. It’s all about getting rid of the darkness you’ve accumulated.” – Jo Oz @ozlifeadvice

I posted this quote a few weeks ago, but I had to revisit it because it presents such a different perspective on happiness as we know it. Let me begin by stating that I do believe that things and people have the ability to create happiness, or to at least encourage happiness. We would all be liars if we said this is not somewhat true. My family, friends, my wonderful future husband, and having a few extra bucks in my pocket makes me very happy. And to be perfectly honest, I look forward to and hope for more love and more money. Really, who wouldn’t? But when I look at society and within myself there seems to be this insatiable desire to chase happiness at all cost. We chase and chase even more without ever looking internally to examine the thoughts and areas of our past that may be preventing us from finding or sustaining happiness. Some of us still carry negative thoughts, defensive walls, warped perceptions, shallow vision, and sabotaging behaviors that often cause us to overlook and destroy the happiness right in front of us.

Story time: Imagine with me for a moment that you are sitting on the floor in the middle of a medium-sized room. On the walls around you are bright colorful pieces of art neatly arranged against white walls. Scattered in the spaces among these paintings are large framed quotes of what you later realize are successful people of our time. As you put your hand down to begin standing up you hear a crunching noise and the feeling of something small and sturdy beneath you. Around you are about 100 puzzle pieces randomly piled in all directions. Fascinated by the paintings and quotes, you begin walking across the room with your eye fixed on a frame entitled “Keys to Happiness.” As you get closer you notice the quotation is by [insert the name of a person whose success you admire and dream to have]. Eager to see more, you examine every piece arranged around the room noting every signature on the paintings and each name quoted in a frame. They are all from people you admire. Naturally, you begin examining your life and plot out what you might need to do to achieve the level of happiness expressed through every piece. How did they create such beautiful pieces? How did they create such beautiful lives? As you ponder on each piece, you begin to notice that the puzzle pieces scattered across the floor have a seemingly consistent color scheme. You see the shades of blues, greens, browns, whites, and yellows and realize that they might connect to create a larger image. Confused as to why they are randomly in the middle of the room, you begin looking around for a box or someone to explain the odd occurrence. Across the room you spot an intercom and are about ready to push the button when you notice something strange about one of the paintings. Now less then 12 inches away from it, you discover that the painting is actually made up of tiny puzzle pieces! Astonished, you look toward the floor, drop to your knees, and begin trying to assemble the puzzle. After five minutes of intense focus you pick up a few puzzle pieces and find a note: “If you can assemble this beautiful masterpiece, it is all yours.” Determined to own a piece of art, you painstakingly find each proper piece one at a time. While assembling the pieces, you notice that they do indeed fit together but are damaged thanks to you walking all over them. Nonetheless, you carry on building your masterpiece. Halfway through your impromptu art project you make a startling discovery – you are a part of the puzzle. Somewhat disappointed that you might not be building a “masterpiece” if you are in it, you still continue on curious to see what the entire image will reveal. Finally finished, you take three giant steps back to see an image of you with/in [insert the people, things, or places that you envision as your ultimate image of happiness]. In awe, you realize the beauty in front of you but also all the dents and rips you created as you crushed your own picture in pursuit of everyone else’s in the room. As you look around again, you now notice that every beautiful image and success quote in the room is made up of tiny puzzle pieces. Overwhelmed by the experience, you slowly sit back on the floor. While staring at your partially self-inflicted damaged image of happiness, you realize that your beautiful masterpiece could have been as beautiful as the collection in the room if only you had not been so quick to reach for the keys to happiness in someone else’s dream.

The moral of the story: Find happiness in the small puzzle pieces life has given you, because from them will come your image of true happiness. Borrowing pieces from someone else’s puzzle will never quite fit yours perfectly. However, what you can take from their puzzles are (1) the steps they took to learn how to love the puzzle pieces they were given and (2) how they used the small piece to create a beautiful personal masterpiece.

Jo Oz’s quote reminds me to not overlook the light that is inside of me. We have the potential to create the same bright happiness we see in others, but we have filled ourselves with so much “darkness” that we believe that our light is not bright enough to create anything similar. If we were to get rid of some of the “darkness,” I am almost positive that we would see the happiness in the small things, in the people around us, in the present situation, and in ourselves. We would move from chasing happiness to becoming happiness; having become happier, we will attract more happiness; and as we attract more happiness, we will look up one day and see that we are overwhelmed with happiness only to then realize that we never had to chase something that we already had. It gives new meaning to the phrase “I AM happy.”

15 Ways to Not Let a Breakup Break You

We have all had our fair share of breakups. Right? Well, I can vividly remember those times in my life when I called various friends hysterically crying, barely able to form a tear-free sentence, all while gasping for air on account of a break up. In some cases, it felt like the end – like life would never be the same without that person. Despite friends telling me “you will get over this,” in those moments it was very hard to envision the future. Well, truth be told, I always “got over it,” and they were right when they told me someone better suited eventually comes along.

The key factor that always helped me move on was not allowing one unfavorable moment in my life to overshadow the rest of my life. I always moved on, learned, grew, and allowed the next wonderful person to come into my life… and boy am I glad I did. In one case, the “next wonderful person” was the same wonderful person from before, but we needed time apart to figure out that we really wanted “the one” to be each other. Sometimes relationships don’t work out simply because it is not the right timing, or in other words each person is not on the proverbial “same page.”

In my daily work, I see people – both young and old – living life paralyzed and emotionally bruised because of a breakup. Sometimes they recover and other times it emotionally stunts them from having new fulfilling relationships. In other cases, I observe people never breaking up with a person – that for various reasons they should not be with – simply because they are scared of what life might be like without that person or because they are just scared of being alone. I know many of us can relate to those two scenarios as well. Whatever the case, a breakup may bend you in all sorts of shapes, but it does not have to break you.

Here are some ideas and tips to get over a breakup without losing your mind:

1. Have confidence in yourself. If you are a beautiful person inside, in due time you will not have trouble finding someone else.

2. Understand and accept that loving someone does not mean you are supposed to be in or stay in a relationship with that person.

3. Instead of spending all your time focused on “getting over” that person, focus on accepting that it probably would not have worked out anyway if you stay with that person. Better now than later.

4. Surrender and trust in time. Either it might work out some day if in time both parties grow and mature, or “time” will help you move on (if you allow it to, of course). Time may not heal all wounds, but it sure gives them new perspective. All you have to do is get there. You may not understand everything about the breakup, but in time it will not hurt as much. So go to sleep (figuratively) and know that eventually one morning you will be at peace with it.

5. Accept that having “chemistry” does not mean that person is “the one.”

6. Allow yourself to feel the “hurt,” but don’t let it consume or paralyze you.

7. Don’t obsess about finding a reason why it didn’t work out.

8. Learn the lessons. Identify those things you ignored or put up with that you should not have and learn from it. All relationships reveal something about you too.

9. Prepare for Second-Guessing. One moment you might feel like you’ve moved on and then… BOOM you start questioning everything again. Once you start wavering too much, all it takes is a sweet word, hot body, or random text to get you right back in a relationship that you probably should not be in. If time has passed and you feel that the reasons you broke it off were minor – and they have been resolved within yourself or the other person – than it is up to you to decide if you want to resume/restart the relationship. But, if the reasons were MAJOR, keep it moving forward, not backwards. Remember, loving someone does not mean you have to be in a relationship with them. Also, blaming yourself for playing a major role in the breakup does not mean you have to go back and “make it right” or give it another chance. You live and you learn.

10. Whatever you neglected while you were with that person, go focus on that. Don’t just sit around. An idle mind will find something to occupy it. Therefore, it will usually be filled with thoughts of the other person. If you want to “get over” them, sitting around is one of the worst things you can do.

11. Depression is a real thing. Some of the “pain” or broken-heartedness you feel might be depression which is natural and induced by chemicals in your body. Don’t go killing yourself because you “can’t get over it.” Talk to someone you trust or go see a therapist.

12. Sometimes the hardest thing is imagining the other person being with someone else. Truth is, you may not even want to be with that person anymore but the thought of them being with someone else still makes you feel strange. So instead, think about YOU being with someone else and envision all the lovely memories and experiences you will have someday with someone new and amazing.

13. Don’t be so quick to give away your forever. Sometimes people are in ill-fitted relationships that repeatedly end in breakups because they are too eager to date, settle down, and get married. I understand that no one wants to be alone, but the rest of your life is a long time (hopefully). Take your time. Grow. Let your life unfold in the timing meant for your life.

14. Forgive them. Then, forgive yourself.

15. Create new memories to replace the old ones. Go to new places; do new things with the people you love and in due time you will see that your life doesn’t end when you go through a breakup. More importantly, you will start to see that your purpose in life is much more than one relationship with one person.

If you need advice or just someone to talk to, comment below!

A Guide to Becoming Whole: An Essential Part of Success and Successful Relationships

And we wonder why our lives feel like a glass filled with holes in which happiness and people dissolve faster than we can really enjoy them? It is much easier to feel incomplete, empty, and lonely in this world than to believe that within ourselves lies the capacity to be whole. Two is supposed to be better than one, so how can we hope that half of us and half of another person will ever equal a dynamic duo. Ultimately, we either believe that as human beings we are born whole, but become pierced and broken over time, or we believe that we are born as weak, broken, empty persons expected to find fullness throughout our lifetime.

Regardless of personal philosophies, at one or more times in our life, circumstance, experience, fear or poor self-image causes most of us to succumb to the feeling of inadequacy. It sucks because we are told that the foundation of successful relationships (of any kind) is built by bricks of individuality and completeness. After loss, hurt, and disappointment, we are admonished that healing is essential to regain our wholeness. But how? How can we fill voids that we often are not aware we even have? Moreover, if we knew how to fill these voids, we would not have them to begin with. They are unique as the pieces of a puzzle, certain to make everyone’s journey to discovering and understanding how to become whole a very individual one. Ultimately, no one can make you whole because no one understands your complete picture like you and God.

So, after spending countless hours of my early years assuming that I was incomplete without particular people, relationships, and other “things,” and after many failed Google searches, internal conversations, broken-hearted moments, failures, and struggles with self-image, somewhere along the way, I started to become whole, or maybe I just started to believe in my already existent wholeness. Let this guide save you time and emotions. Friends, it is time to pick up the pieces, fill in the gaps, and become whole.

1. Acknowledge the areas in which you feel incomplete and inadequate. This may take some digging or honesty with yourself, but it is an important step. As in the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, “admission is the first step to recover.” You may not be an alcoholic, but most people sure are addicted to the negativity that keeps them feeling less than whole. According to Leonard Noel, “acceptance does not mean that we agree with what is happening or that we believe it must continue… Acceptance means that we are able to gaze into the face of the present and say, ’You are in front of me, and I acknowledge you are here.'”

2. Uncover the experiences that started creating “voids” in your life. Once you acknowledge the areas in which you feel there are a voids, you also need to start the process of understanding how they got there so that you can forgive whomever needs to be forgiven, and then forgive yourself. In reality, no one has that much control over you to permanently create a void in your life, unless you allow it. You just might need to take back that piece of yourself that you gave away. 

3. Identify the behaviors and negative coping you have used to deal with and cover up the voids or hurts. Often, we do not even notice that we are not whole or that we are broken because we are so good at telling ourselves that we are okay. Sometimes it is by examining our behaviors that we see that we are overcompensating for the incompleteness that we feel.

4. Consider your self-image. In order to become whole, or accept the fact that we are whole beings separate from others, we must believe that we are capable of and strong enough to be whole. Of course we all have imperfections, and might always have them, but imperfections do not always equal inadequacy. Think positive, be positive, and then have a positive self-image.

5. Accept your uniqueness. Most times we do not feel whole because we feel inadequate in some way. It is critical to accept and find peace in the fact that we are different and were created to be different. We typically strive to be different, but spend more time comparing ourselves to others than working on being unique. If we always look to complete ourselves with what other people are, we will never be whole. Someone else’s uniqueness was never meant for you.

6. Understand your reasons for wanting that relationship. I am inserting this here because being whole is important for having good relationships with other people, especially relationships with “significant others” or spouses. However, many people chase relationships instead of wholeness all because Jerry Maguire said “you complete me.” No. They should make you better, not make you.

7. Understand that people’s behaviors are not always your fault. Most of our feelings of inadequacy come as a results of what other people have said and done to us. They do or say something. We blame ourselves. They support and echo the blame. We try to change ourselves to “fix it.” Then, they find something else or become a prick about another thing. Maybe sometimes it is your fault, but in other cases, they are the sole issue and source of the problem. Do not internalize and degrade yourself for something that is not even your issue. Some people have major issues and their behaviors originate out of those screwed up issues.

8. Don’t let society make you feel incomplete. Now this is a hard one. The images and norms that bombard us make it difficult to not feel empty or inadequate. I don’t know about you, but some of what the Joneses, celebrities, and other people have is quite attractive. But, we must be careful not to judge ourselves against another man’s standard which will likely change in the next five years. In many ways, society is warped. Trying not to internalize every thought and image it shoves in your face will be essential to feeling whole. Have or have not, maybe physiological voids at times, but you are still a whole soul.

9. Maintain your wholeness. Arriving at a place where you feel whole does not mean you will feel that way forever. It is important to maintain a positive self-image and constantly keep your mind polished. Things that go untouched accumulate debris. Such will become your feeling of being whole if you do not maintain it. Be willing and committed to investing in YOU.

10. Protect your wholeness. Inevitably, there will be times when you will lose people that were intricately woven into your life. In many ways, they might have been crucial in helping you maintain the feeling of being whole. It is in those times that you have to try your hardest to accept the loss, find some piece of closure, or heal. Be careful not to fall into the trap of quickly “replacing” them because subconsciously you feel lost and incomplete with them. This might be hard. In other situations, protecting your wholeness will be less about who you lost and more about who you choice to add or allow in your life.

Hopefully, you found something in this post that has helped you become more whole as a person. Now that you are whole, go out and help someone else get there, but be patient and remember that it did not happen for you overnight.

11 Questions to Help Clear Your Vision

Sometimes our vision can become cloudy without us even realizing it. Most days I wear contact lenses, but over the weekend I wanted to give my eyes a rest, so I threw my eyeglasses on. After about five hours of moving around my house, I noticed some dust particles starting to stick to the lenses on my glasses. Honestly, the only reason I noticed the specks was because the glasses almost fell off my nose as I bent over to set up my television for my Breaking Bad marathon. The dust wasn’t really bothering me, but I knew cleaning them was the right thing to do, so cleaning it was.

After mounting them back onto my nose with certain clearer vision, it dawned on me how important it must be to deliberately clear our vision in life as well. I started to wonder how clouded our vision must becomes over time from experience, people, emotional debris, and secondhand mental pollution. Vision = what we desire, what we believe, what we accept, and what we seek to reproduce. For the most part, what we believe, think, and desire are partially results of what we see, with hearing being the other culprit sense. The real danger lies in the fact that we might not be aware of how clouded our personal vision has become. Certainly it was not until I cleaned my glasses and noticed the marked difference in clarity that I became more aware of my blurred sight.

As we move forward in life and this year, do not forget to take the time to periodically clear your vision, whether daily, weekly, or monthly. One general way to evaluate clarity is by checking your life. Most times, our thoughts and intentions are reflected through our lives, through the people we choose to surround ourselves with, and by our overall productivity. Vision may not be completely adjusted overnight, but checking, evaluating, and realigning it (if necessary) usually does not hurt.

Questions to Help Clear Your Vision:

1. Are your relationships healthy?

2. Are you happy with how you spend most of your time?

3. Who are you listening to?

4. In what ways are you allowing society and those around you to influence your actions and life?

5. On an average day, are you thinking more positive thoughts than negative ones?

6. Do you know what you believe and are you confident in what you believe?

7. Are you as confident in yourself as you should be?

8. Do you have an idea of your next steps in life, whether small or large?

9. What is holding you back or weigh you down?

10. Are you healed from past negative experiences?

11. Are you happy?