There’s something I want to say to you today and it’s this: It’s OK to just dream. Even if you’re not completely ready to act on it. Even if you know you’re not in the right financial position. Even if you’re completely consumed by your 9 to 5 or your babies or whatever else is commanding your full attention. Even if–still dream. Dream big and dream in detail.
I really do believe in the power of visualization. If you put as much detail as you can to your dream, if you allow yourself to believe that it can–and will–happen, you will consciously and/or subconsciously begin to frame your life, your actions, and your goals around it. Quite honestly, it’s hard for me to wrap my logic-loving brain around the idea. As a psychology major, it was drilled into our heads that correlation does not equal causation. As in, just because two things happen in succession doesn’t prove that one causes the other. I can’t tell you that visualizing your dreams will make them come true. But I can suggest that having a clear vision will make it easier to pursue your dreams and take steps towards making them happen.
It has been a dream of ours since we got married to build a home someday. My husband and I enjoy designing and creating, and we also like new stuff (the desire only grew stronger after living in a 50+ year old house where there’s always something in need of fixing or updating). A few months ago, I approached him with a proposal–let’s meet with builders to get an idea of how much it costs to build a home and all that goes into it. And let’s start looking at land to get a sense of what’s available. He was a little hesitant at first. So was I, actually. Neither of us knew if we were ready to leave our home and our neighborhood. And we doubted whether we could afford it. But, we figured, it’s just phase one. It’s information gathering. And being prepared and knowledgeable is always a good thing.
You want to write a book? Start researching how to get published or how to self-publish, find a literary agent you like, reach out to others who have written books and ask how they went about it. Start writing just for the sake of writing.
You want to run a marathon? Find out where the closest race is to you. Or, better yet, research a city you’d really like to visit and find out when their race is scheduled. Look into running plans and how long you’d need to train. Figure out if there’s a running club in your town. Get fitted for proper tennis shoes. Start tracking your steps.
You want to own your own home? Get recommendations on mortgage lenders and schedule a time to meet with someone. Get a sense of where you’ll need to be financially to get approved and what steps you can take to start preparing. Go to open houses, start a list of your must-haves and deal-breakers, research neighborhoods.
Start small. Start somewhere. But just start.
We still don’t know if building our dream home is feasible now or whether we’ll need to wait another year or two. But we started to dream, and then we started to research, and then we created a plan. So, create that Pinterest board (make it private if you’d like), sketch out a plan, get on Google, reach out to experts. Push that fear, that doubt, that logic to the side for a bit and allow yourself to just dream.
When I was 14 years old, and a freshman in high school, my favorite uncle was murdered. He wasn’t just my favorite uncle because he hid chips in my birthday cake or snuck into the backyard at my Halloween party to pound on the windows and scare us half to death (he didn’t earn his nickname “Uncle Rotten” for nothing). He was my favorite uncle because, at the time, my father was divorcing my step-mother in a very ugly end to their marriage and had just started to spiral into a deep depression that would, in just a few years, leave him almost completely debilitated and confined to his bed. My uncle filled that space for me. He wasn’t just like a father. He was a father. He was there to make me laugh and distract me from what was going on at home. He looked out for me and watched over me. He reminded me not to take life too seriously. His presence in my life meant the world.
He was also really, really cool. He bought and sold cars for a living–really cool old cars– drove a Harley and wore leather jackets (this was the early 90s, it was hip back then). The man who murdered him owed him a lot of money and didn’t want to pay it back. So he invited my uncle to his home, shot him a bunch of times in the basement, rolled him in a carpet and left him there. For two agonizing days, all we knew was that we couldn’t find him.
When I think back to that time, the memory I have is of me sitting on the floor of my bedroom, listening to music on my boom box (again, early 90s) which sat atop a short bookcase next to my bed. I remember having been told the news–that they finally found him and he had been killed–but I don’t remember crying. I just sat there for a long time. That’s pretty much how I went through the rest of my teenage years. Sitting on the floor of my life, ignoring the pain, and doing whatever it took to escape it.
I pursued a career in therapy because I personally understood the depths of pain that existed in the world and I wanted to play a role–however small–in healing some of it. The death of my uncle happened during a time when I was trying to find my way and figure out who I was. It also happened in the midst of a whole bunch of other chaos and confusion so, naturally, when I lost him, I lost myself. It took many years to find myself again.
I will never pretend or act like life isn’t hard. I know it is. Sometimes life serves you up a shit sandwich. Seriously. Ages 13-18 for me were a big ol’ shit sandwich (and many of the years before that if I’m being honest). I know what it’s like to grow up in the midst of pain and brokenness. I know what it means to experience loss. And I know how difficult that makes things sometimes.
But I also know that I am not defined by my past. I am not loss or trauma or hardship. I am not my suffering. I have been shaped by those things–of course I have. They have made me into who I am today, both the good and the bad. I am more compassionate and empathic because of them but also more anxious and sensitive to loss. But even that doesn’t dictate who I am. I just have to work around those sensitivities and be conscious of when they’re triggered.
So here’s what I want you to know this Monday morning:
You are not your tragedy, your struggles, or your pain.
Don’t let those things determine who you are or what you will become. Learn from them, feel from them, but don’t let them drive your life. And if you find that they are–if you realize that you’re allowing your past to sit in the driver’s seat–seek help. If it weren’t for the time I spent in therapy, I’m not sure I would have been able to leave my past where it belonged and move forward unburdened by it (thanks, Paige). Maybe your past includes trauma and loss, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe your past is full of disappointment or unfulfilled expectations. No matter what has happened, you are not defined by it. Take time to understand its effect and then move forward. Get up off that floor. You are worth a future unencumbered by the past. You are worth living the life you were meant to live.
This morning my alarm went off as usual (5:30ish) and, as usual, I hit snooze while I checked email, looked at the weather, and allowed myself some time to wake up. Eventually, I got out of bed and stumbled downstairs. Most days, I end up getting down here a little after 6:00am. But this morning, I looked at the clock on the stove and it read… 5:52am. It was the first time I made it downstairs before 6:00am. I was so proud of myself.
Here’s what I’ve been learning through all of this:
It gets easier. Really, it does. I have wanted to wake up before my kids for MONTHS. Actually, it’s probably been about a year now. I first posted about my attempts back in September. That’s September 2017. My first few tries were really kind of pathetic–I think I made it out of bed 30 minutes before everyone else. But it still counted, and I kept trying. And guess what? The more I did it, the more I actually started to ENJOY it. And look forward to it. Me, the night owl, looking forward to rolling out of bed before the sun comes up. With anything, the more you do it, the more you make it a habit, the easier it becomes.
The best way to wake up is to create a morning ritual. I look forward to waking up every morning because I know I get to make myself a cup of coffee, sit at the kitchen table, and journal. I journal the same thing–things I’m thankful for, and things I’m working towards. Gratitude and goals, every single morning. Then I usually write a blog post or work on my website but if I knew I had to get up and immediately get to work, I would be tempted to go back to bed. Having that ritual, something I do just for myself, has really helped.
Positivity is everything. Do you know why people abandon their goals time after time? Because they lose motivation. And why do they lose motivation? Because they stop believing they can do it and they get lost in negative thinking. Nothing good can come from your negative, pessimistic outlook. What you put into the universe is what will be returned to you. And if you think that sounds like some spiritual guru mumbo jumbo, pay attention to how your thoughts affect your actions. The one thing I have worked hard at over the past month is keeping my thoughts positive. Even on the days I completely miss my alarm and get woken in a panic by my kids (happened on Monday). Instead of getting down on myself or wondering if I can do it, or if it’s even worth it to keep going, I tell myself that tomorrow is a new day. And I believe I can do it.
Don’t be afraid to put your goals out there. Now that I’ve announced that I’m trying to wake up early, friends ask me about it. They ask how it’s going and how I’m doing. Sometimes I cringe when the question gets asked. But you know what? It keeps me accountable. I don’t want to say I abandoned my goal yet again. I want to have something positive to report. This is the case with anything. You want to go to the gym 3 times a week? Find a workout buddy. You want to quit drinking? Find a sponsor. We weren’t meant to do life without the support of others. Don’t be afraid to make your goals known–speak them aloud, share them with your community. Better yet, ask people to ask you about them.
Never stop striving for better. I could be satisfied waking up at 6:00am. It gives me a solid 45-60 minutes on my own before the kids wake up. But it’s not quite enough time to get done what I want to get done. So, my goal is 5:30am. Eventually. I know I’ll get there if I keep working towards it. Goals are easiest to accomplish if you break them down into smaller chunks. Set an initial goal, meet it, then set another. Keep challenging yourself and never stop striving for better.
Seeing that clock this morning felt great. It feels good when you’re meeting your goals. But if I could add a 6th thing to this list it would be this: Don’t give up. I have been working towards an early morning wake up for a YEAR. At least. I’ve been thinking about it for many more. If your goals seem too difficult, or if you’re having trouble just getting started, pause for a moment and look at what’s getting in the way. You might have to tackle something else first (like, say, getting your baby to sleep through the night!). But don’t ever, ever give up. Your dreams are worth it, and you are too.
Do you ever have those moments where you’re stopped in your tracks by a thought that maybe you took the wrong path in life? It happens to me every so often, and actually just happened a few days ago. I was getting ready for the day, thinking back on our trip to CA, remembering how much Ava loved being by the ocean and how she came alive at the beach, and I was suddenly struck by the thought, “What if we made a mistake settling down in the Midwest?” Should we have followed our dream a long time ago when we imagined moving to CA? Mind you, we are in the process of closing on a plot of land where we hope to build our forever home. So this thought was a little more than unsettling to me. And, of course, because my mind enjoys roller coasters, I spiraled down the loop of shoulds. Should we back out of our land? Should we sell our house and move to the coast? Should we become one of those families who live in a tiny home and use all our extra funds to travel the world? Silly little mind.
Dreaming is something I’m really good at. It’s one of the things I love about being an entrepreneur. In fact, I love that part of running a business–planning for the future, setting goals, and dreaming big–more than I love the actual work of the business (more on that in a future post). But it can get me into trouble too (see above).
I’ve had to work hard to train my brain–the left side of my brain–to kick into gear when the right side wants to flutter about in dreamland. As I was imagining packing up our lives and moving to the beach, thinking about how good my husband looks all tan and toned and my daughters with their sun-kissed blonde hair, my mind shifted to another memory. We had just landed in Chicago and were in the baggage claim picking up our luggage. A woman approached us with a lost Southwest drink ticket and offered it to us for our next trip (she must have seen the glazed look in our eyes after a full day of travel and knew exactly what we needed the next time around). We thanked her (and took the ticket, we’re no dummies). She then proceeded to engage the girls in a friendly conversation, asking them where they went, and commenting on their Minnie Mouse stuffed animals, clearly a token from their trip. Her inquiries were gracious and genuine and after she walked away, I leaned down to my oldest and said, “See, honey, that’s why we live here. People are so kind to one another here.”
As quickly as I remembered that memory, I remembered all the reasons why I moved to and stayed in the Midwest. I remembered why Cory and I decided, in that first year of our marriage, to plant roots in this part of the country, and why, after getting pregnant with Ava, we believed moving closer to his family was the right move for our new family. It wasn’t exactly the glamorous choice, moving to Indiana. And I would be a very rich lady right now if I had a nickel for every time someone asked me how I ended up here from CA. But this was our dream too, and I’m very grateful to be living it out.
That’s the thing about dreams–they can change. They’re amorphous in that way, able to be shaped and transformed by new circumstances.
In those moments when you’re ambushed by the should spiral, I think it’s helpful to ask yourself if the dream you’re being reminded of is an old dream, a dream you’re currently chasing, or the twinkling of a dream in the future. (If it’s a dream that was never yours in the first place but something you picked up from Instagram or Pinterest, have a little chuckle and toss it back.) If it’s an old dream, thank it for stopping by, be grateful for the memory, and remember all that occurred to get you where you are today. If it’s something you’d still love to pursue, but not right for right now, write it down, store it away in your heart, and promise to come back to it. It’s not right for right now, dear dream, but maybe someday. Life has a funny way of coming full circle, and I truly believe that it (Life, Destiny, the Divine) will fulfill the desires of our heart if we remain open to them. Even if those desires end up looking a little different in the end.
I used to consume news all day long. I would listen to NPR on the way to work, on the way home, and any time I was in the car. I would follow all the major news publications and read the latest articles. I’m an activist by nature so it’s in my personality to want to know what’s going on. I’m also Type A and like to be in control–somehow, even though I feel completely helpless when it comes to the injustices of the world, being able to learn and hear about what’s going on made it a little better.
Until I realized that consuming all that news, all that bad news, was making me angry. Not outwardly, necessarily. I still went about my day and functioned normally. But I was churning with exasperation and frustration on the inside. And it was starting to come out in little ways. Like snapping at my kids or my husband. Or having a more negative outlook at work. I didn’t want to be as affected by things that I had no control over, I wanted to be a good steward of all the blessings in front of me.
So, I took a little break. I started listening to podcasts in the car–uplifting podcasts. With speakers who made me feel awesome and inspired. I stopped clicking through to all the articles on Facebook. I cleaned up my newsfeeds so what I saw more often were posts about all the good going on in the world. And it worked, it really did. I didn’t feel so angry any more. I didn’t feel surrounded by so much negativity.
Until recently when news broke about children being separated from their parents at border crossings. Suddenly, it was all over every one of my apps, from almost everyone that I follow. Friends were speaking out about it. Favorite writers and creatives too. I couldn’t escape it. The same thing happened when children were drowning at sea trying to escape the Syrian war. For a long time I tried to shield myself from the news until one day the picture of a toddler washed up on a Greek shore pierced its way through my feed and demanded that I take notice. My heart broke in that instant. And I stopped being silent.
My heart broke again this morning when I woke to the news of an audio recording of children wailing for their parents in a detention center. I didn’t listen to it. I didn’t have to. I know what a wailing child sounds like. I can imagine what my own children would sound like if they were alone and terrified in a foreign country.
I don’t want to speak out about this. I don’t want to acknowledge this kind of horror exists in the world, let alone my own country. I’d rather go back to bed and pretend I live in a world of pump-you-up podcasts. But it’s my Hippocratic Oath as a therapist to demand this inhumane policy end. It doesn’t really matter how you feel about immigration. It really doesn’t. There is no justification for separating children from their families. NONE. The severity of trauma this is causing will affect these babies for the rest of their lives. And I’m not being hyperbolic about it.
If you haven’t heard about the ACEs study, I encourage you to look it up (click on the link for more information). It was a study undertaken by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers of Disease Control & Prevention in the 90s but followed for long-term effects for many years. ACEs stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences–trauma occurring in childhood. Across the board, the study revealed that childhood trauma was related to health, social, and behavioral problems in adulthood. Problems including smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, and obesity along with depression, heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, and a shortened life span. The more ACEs you have, the higher your risk. That shortened life span? That also includes suicide.
You really cannot underestimate the effect of trauma, especially for children. Nor can you underestimate their vulnerability and innocence. To rip them from their caregivers is cruel and heartless and there is no earthly, spiritual, or legal argument to defend it.
In times like these, I always ask what I can do to make a difference. I can speak out about it and spread the word. I can financially support organizations who are enacting and supporting real change (Together Rising is a great place to start). But I can also hold our government accountable and make my voice heard in that way too. A bill was recently introduced in Congress to stop the policy of separating children from their parents and keep families together (The Keep Families Together Act). Please read about it and insist your representatives vote in its favor. It’s a Democratic-introduced bill but was developed in consultation with child welfare experts such as the American Academy of Pediatrics. This is NOT a political issue, friends. Both sides can argue about immigration all day long. I get that it’s complicated and laden. This isn’t about that. This is about the well-being and welfare of children–the future of our world.
The bill is also supported by UNICEF, a nonpartisan humanitarian organization working hard to care for children around the world. They published a letter in support which you can read here. President & CEO, Caryl Stern, wrote the following, which is all we need to know on the matter:
“Children need to be defined by their age, not their borders. Regardless of immigration status, children are children first and need to be treated as such… Children bear no responsibility for the political differences in our world. Every child I’ve met, on both sides of our border, and around the globe, only wants to be safe and protected with hopes for a bright future.”