Stupendously Imperfect

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At 16 years old, I was pretty sure that the only thing I wanted to do for a living was sing. I had a decent voice, for a kid, and a good grasp on music theory and composition. My ultimate dream was Broadway but I couldn’t act or dance, in my estimation, so I figured opera or some other area of vocal performance would suffice. Unfortunately, I also had a bit of an issue with nerves and, when confronted with a new audience or setting, I would get so nervous that my voice would shake almost uncontrollably and I could barely remember the words to what I was singing. I was a perfectionist and a small mistake (possibly not even apparent to the audience) would send me into a spiral of panic. More mistakes would follow and I would be lucky to finish my performance at all. Anyway, I was interested in a couple of music schools in the Northeast but I didn’t even apply for fear that I wasn’t good enough. Well, that and I had a boyfriend who was staying at home to go to college and I convinced myself that I should stay home too, so we could be together. So instead, I attended a local university as a vocal performance major but quickly realized that I was a very small fish in a much bigger pond than I was used to! Bigger voices with much more experience than my little 17-year-old mezzo soprano. In a nutshell, the semester was challenging for many academic and personal reasons and I walked away from that dream when I decided that I wasn’t good enough.

Fast forward 24 years, and I’ve been gainfully employed in non-musical fields and been quite successful. For many years, my voice was tucked away on a back shelf because that same boyfriend I stayed in Texas for – who later became my first (ex)husband – didn’t like for me to perform in public. (There were some control issues there, my friends.) I eventually found my voice again through karaoke and, nowadays, I put on some amazing concerts. In my car. I belt out pop, country, show tunes (my favorite), and even the occasional opera aria.

But, over the last several years, my kick-ass car concerts just don’t feel like…enough. And I love attending musicals but, as much as I enjoy them, I’m also a bit sad afterwards. I miss performing. I miss harmonizing (loved choir in high school). And I know that the instrument that I have was never trained to its full potential. And I think that’s what bothers me the most: not knowing how good I could have been. My perfectionism and stage fright have continued to be a problem for me over the years and I have repeatedly let that hold me back from getting back into some sort of structured singing. Along with the nagging sense that it’s too late, that I’m too old, that my time has come and gone.

But that doesn’t make the yearning go away.

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So, what’s a 42-year-old, never-made-it-to-Broadway, scaredy-cat to do?

Let go. Let go of it. The perfectionism, the self-criticism, the fear that others will deem me unworthy.

In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brenè Brown discusses what she calls “life-paralysis” and its relationship to perfectionism. “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life-paralysis. Life-paralysis refers to all of the opportunities we miss because we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect. It’s also all of the dreams that we don’t follow because of our deep fear of failing, making mistakes, and disappointing others. It’s terrifying to risk when you’re a perfectionist; your self-worth is on the line.”

Yes. This.

So, after 3 years of telling myself I was going to do it, I finally signed up for a voice lesson. Just one. And I went. And it wasn’t horrifying; it was a bit exciting. So I plan to do it again (barring another damn sinus infection, anyway). What is my goal in taking the lessons? Beyond showing myself what I’m capable of, I’m really not sure yet. But it’s something that I need to do. There comes a point in life where you have to let go of what others think, of what you think you are supposed to do, to be. You have to find the “you” that you lost somewhere along the way, even if you’re not sure who that is anymore.

“Go be whomever you want to be, then.
Do whatever you want to do.
Pursue whatever fascinates you and brings you to life.
Create whatever you want to create – and let it be stupendously imperfect, because it’s exceedingly likely that nobody will even notice.

And that’s awesome.”

~Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Food Prep 101

Thought I’d re-share an oldie….enjoy!

 

A little over a year ago, I began a journey. I had a rough start to 2014; January just kinda…sucked. I was dealing with some injuries and health issues and was frustrated beyond belief. I did…

Source: Food Prep 101

The Taste of My World

(Nervously steps up onto soapbox, hoping that, by telling this story, one person out there feels less alone and more understood)

At work this morning, I was waiting to talk to a nurse as she finished briefing a physician on a patient. The nurse commented that the patient had experienced two anxiety attacks during the night and had been given medication for it.The doctor’s eyes rolled a bit and then….”I don’t believe in anxiety attacks. Suck it up, deal with it.”

The doctor’s eyes rolled a bit and then….”I don’t believe in anxiety attacks. Suck it up, deal with it.”

The nurse just awkwardly smiled a bit. In that moment, I desperately wanted to say, “Well, then you’ve obviously never had one.” But I didn’t, because I (otherwise) respect this doctor and must maintain a healthy working relationship with this person. I sheepishly commented with a slight smile, “Well, I don’t know…I have them.”

I was so disappointed that this intelligent, compassionate person, whose work I admire, actually does not think that anxiety is “real”. As someone who has dealt with anxiety for years (and accompanying cycles of clinical depression), I can tell you, without a doubt, that anxiety and depression are medical conditions. I can tell you that a chemical imbalance is involved that causes VERY REAL physical symptoms. That there is an almost palpable difference in the way that the world around you feels, looks, even…tastes. If you’ve experienced it, you know exactly what I mean. If you haven’t, then I sound crazy.

Anxious/depressive cycles can absolutely be triggered and driven by stress, emotional factors, and lifestyle. Prolonged periods of extreme stress can lead to a cascade of chemical changes in the brain, triggering anxiety and/or depression. Can I control my anxiety by making behavioral changes? Sure….to some degree, exercise, diet, sleep, deep breaths, or prayer can help. Can I “deep breathe” a stressful moment away? Maybe. But, do these things just wipe away the overwhelming sense of impending doom that controls my every waking moment? Does a trip to the gym negate that butterfly feeling in the pit of my gut that feels like I’m hanging right at the top of a giant roller coaster drop so that my stomach is up in my chest all…day….long? Can I “deep breathe” an anxiety attack away? The answer is no. (Can you say hyperventilation?)

For an M.D. to suggest that an individual dealing with anxiety should be able to “suck it up” and “deal with it” only perpetuates the culture of shame surrounding mental illness. It reinforces a sad, long-standing stigma and discourages individuals from seeking the medical help that they may need. I certainly hope that this medical professional does not express those sentiments directly to patients. And, as wrong as it may sound, I kind of hope that someday, this person has just one legitimate anxiety attack and gets a taste of the fear and helplessness that accompany it.

I am not weak.

I am not crazy.

It’s not “all in my head.”

Anxiety and depression are real. They are not something to be ashamed of. I am not weak. I am not crazy. It’s not “all in my head.” And people need to be educated about these conditions – even doctors, apparently. If you find yourself dealing with these issues and can not handle it on your own, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Do not be ashamed, do not hide. You are not weak, you are not crazy. There are people out there who know, who understand exactly what it feels like to be at the top of that roller coaster drop all alone.

(Steps down from soapbox knowing that, sadly, some eyes will roll and judgement will be passed. But that’s ok…)

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Food Prep 101

A little over a year ago, I began a journey. I had a rough start to 2014; January just kinda…sucked. I was dealing with some injuries and health issues and was frustrated beyond belief. I didn’t like the way I looked or the way I felt at all. Toward the end of the month, something just clicked. I knew, in that moment, that I wanted to be healthier. I wanted-  and needed- to feel better, look better, and live happier. I needed to be strengthening my body and fueling it properly. So I made a change. February 2, 2014, was MY new year and I set about defining my intentions for the year.

As my fitness journey began, I quickly realized that, if I did not have healthy meals ready to grab-and-go, I’d falter. Several months ago, I decided that I needed to start prepping meals ahead of time and, let me tell you, it has made a TREMENDOUS difference in how I eat. Many of my friends have recently asked for tips on meal prepping so I’d like to offer my advice. Please keep in mind that I am not a dietician; I adhere to a diet that I feel is working for me right now. I certainly would not push a particular diet on anyone beyond encouraging CLEAN eating: whole foods, minimally processed foods, as few chemical additives as possible (including artificial sweeteners…they’re the devil). As long as you are prepping clean meals, and eating them daily, you’ll be in a better place with your health than you are right now.

General thoughts about food prep:

1. Food prepping takes a certain mindset. You MUST be dedicated to it. You must be willing to sacrifice some time; food doesn’t just magically cook itself. I spend anywhere from 2 to 4 hours cooking on Sundays. I have accepted the fact that, to achieve my goals, I must sacrifice some of my time. During this time, we may also have laundry going, we may have a movie running in the living room, I may be enjoying a glass of wine but, for the most part, I am involved in making my food. When you start, it will feel like a chore. Ultimately, it’s no more time than you would spend in the kitchen throughout the week, it’s just all at once! But, as you see the results, you will come to embrace it and feel that the work is well worth it. Trust me on this.

2. Which family members are “in?” Don’t feel like you can’t do advance food prep just because the whole family isn’t up for it. Are you the only one? Fine! Prep for yourself. Just be sure that those who didn’t “sign up” don’t eat your goodies 😉

3. You need support. For instance, if my husband wasn’t also dedicated to our healthy eating journey, I probably would not get through my prep. He is my sous chef, my grill master, and my dishwasher. I produce a HUGE amount of dirty dishes while cooking and he just comes behind me and cleans it all up. I absolutely could not do it with out his help. You may be able to do it alone; just know what you can do.

4. You must be willing to eat the same food for several meals each week. You can’t practically cook five different meals for five different lunches during the week. You will eat the same meal a couple (or more) times…and that’s ok. You don’t really need the variety you have programmed yourself to think you do. There’s actually something comforting in just knowing what you will be eating for each meal. It takes a lot of stress out of eating.

Ready to jump in? Ok…some practical tips for you:

1. Find recipes that are easy to make in bulk, don’t require a bunch of special ingredients, and will keep and reheat well. For example, I try to limit dairy in my recipes, not only for my own health reasons but so that the food will keep longer. If you do prep a recipe that has dairy in it, know that it needs to be eaten first; meals without dairy will keep longer and can be eaten later in the week. Also, keep recipes somewhere where you can easily access them, whether on recipe cards or Pinterest. Whatever works for you. I have a lot of my go-to recipes stored as photos on my iPad so I can just open it up and cook. And don’t be afraid to tweak recipes you may have been making for years to make them healthier. Shake it up a bit 🙂

2. Plan a menu for the week. Some weeks, I may be feeling overwhelmed with life and decide to stick to tried and true stuff because, for me, there is some comfort and stress relief in keeping it simple. Other weeks, I may be up for trying new recipes. You decide what works for you in any given week. Ok, so what all do I make?

-Breakfast: I may prep only one breakfast item (for instance, my favorite high-protein waffles) and make 2-3 days worth. I can easily eat peanut butter toast, oatmeal, or yogurt on the other days, as those are fast and easy to make.

-For lunches, I will generally prep “plates” consisting of a lean meat or bean dish, a grain of some sort (usually brown rice or quinoa), and lots of roasted or steamed veggies. Maybe a chicken, rice, and veggie casserole. Or a Mexican style quinoa skillet dish. And I try to make a soup of some sort every week as well.

-I tend to cook dinners on the day we will be eating them, but I usually at least have some part of the meal prepped ahead of time. I’ll make extra veggies and grilled chicken breasts on Sunday for dinner use, have my favorite salad mix handy. This way, I only have to cook a part of a meal and mix it with prepped items. Maybe I grab some salmon on the way home and cook that and serve it with some veggies I roasted or the soup I made on Sunday.

-I also try to brew up some decaf green tea for the week. It’s good for you, tastes great, and helps you shed excess fluid if you’re retaining it.

-And finally, I try to make a healthy sweet treat of some sort as well 🙂

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3. Make your grocery list. Be sure you have staples on hand (brown rice, canned beans, limes, olive oil, sweet potatoes, veggie (or chicken) broth, etc. You know, the basics…) Also, I try not to shop and cook on the same day as it can just wear me out! I detest grocery shopping 🙂

4.  When you are ready to cook, start with a clean kitchen. This may just be my obsessiveness but I can NOT cook in a dirty kitchen. I need clean surfaces, dishes (including all of my storage containers), and room in the fridge to store the glorious meals I will be creating.

5. I cannot stress the importance of portioning out your meals ahead of time. You will need lots of microwavable storage containers. This helps with two things. First of all, if you tell yourself you will just dish out your food in the morning as you are rushing to get out the door, you are fooling yourself. It won’t happen. Secondly, you are more likely to stick to reasonable portion sizes if you are plating all the meals at once: 4-6 oz of meat, 1/2 cup grains, etc… If you do it when you are hungry or thinking about eating the food, you will over-serve yourself. If your fridge space or available storage containers limit your ability to dish out a week’s worth of food at once, prep a minimum of two days worth. Then do another two day’s worth a couple of days later. At night. Not when you are trying to leave in the morning.

6. If you have a buddy who is meal prepping too, that’s great! Some of my friends at work also do some advance prep and then we share with each other. This helps increase the variety and cut back on repeat meals. Just be sure that you and your buddy have the same dietary ideals. If one of you is a strict vegan and the other is sticking to a high-fat, high-protein, low-carb plan, you won’t jive too well.

7. Look for new ideas. Ask friends for tips, surf the web, try new things. Here’s a great post to take a look at from the FB page/website, Clean Food Crush. They also post a ton of great clean-eating recipes.

Now, for those of you interested in more specific info regarding diet and nutrition, I am happy to share some of my thoughts. Like I said though, I am not a dietician or nutrition expert so this is just what I am currently doing that is working for me. My goals have been to get lean, with lean muscle mass, while eating a clean, nutrient-dense diet.

1. Get to know and love fruits and veggies. You don’t have to get fancy. Veggies are often best when little is done to them. Roast (with or without oil) with salt and pepper, maybe some garlic. Or steam and add you favorite dry seasonings. Green is good: embrace broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, spinach, kale, beet greens…they do a body good! Eat fruit but limit fruit juices: too much sugar, not enough fiber. I try to limit fruit consumption to breakfast and lunch.

2. Protein. With regard to meat, we eat a lot of chicken and fish/shrimp. We limit red meat but, when we do eat it, it’s pretty lean. Bison is great. Meat portions have gotten pretty small around here too. I eat about 4 oz per serving, my hubby eats 4-6. As far as seasoning goes, try to stick to herbs and spices. We frequently use lime juice as well. Even soy sauce, Worcestershire, etc. Just avoid oils and fats like salad dressings, etc. And hey, guess what? Gonna let you in on a secret here. Meat isn’t the only place to get your protein 😉 Can you say nut butters? Yum! Get the ones that have no oil or sugar added. Many grocery stores now have the option for fresh-pressed nut butters in their bulk food sections. And, although it is dairy, I love my Greek yogurt. Finally, plenty of veggies and legumes have protein. We eat beans a LOT at our house. All different kinds 🙂  Here is some info on non-meat protein sources.

3. Carb control. Carbs are confusing. (When I talk about carbs, I am NOT including the carbs in veggies, although I do limit potatoes, corn, starchy stuff like that. Eat all the veggies you want!) I generally eat no more than one piece of (whole grain/whole wheat) bread/tortilla per day. Believe it or not, you CAN eat a sandwich with just one piece of bread 😉 Or sub lettuce and do a wrap. Brown rice and quinoa are great (my lunch portion is usually 1/2 cup cooked, a bit more for my hubby). Oatmeal is great. I have found recipes for muffins, cookies, cakes, etc., that don’t even use flour (or sugar, butter, eggs, milk, for that matter….there are some good ones out there). Also, when possible, I try to limit carbs at night. We eat our rice, pasta, breads, etc. in our breakfast and lunch and try to keep dinner to lean meats, beans, and lots of veggies.

4. Limit processed or prepared foods. If you must have lunch meat, pick meat with no nitrates/nitrites. Just meat, nothing added. Stay away from frozen foods, aside from frozen fruits and veggies. “Lean” or “healthy” frozen entrees may be low in calories and fat but are generally loaded with chemicals. Learn to make your own salad dressings. Avoid artificial sweeteners!! Chemicals in food make you crave bad stuff AND make you hold onto fat and toxins. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it 😉 I skip so many aisles at the grocery store now…the middle of the store is mostly stuff you shouldn’t be eating!

5. Back to sweeteners: Honey, molasses, REAL maple syrup, real sugar, agave, stevia. Use those if you must. But stay away from the others. They are hidden in everything these days! Avoid corn syrup, etc. You’re better off dealing with the calories from a real, natural sugar than the chemicals in artificial ones.

6. Dairy. Oh, how I love cheese. And sour cream. And ice cream. But they just don’t do a body good, like the milk industry would have you believe. Do I still eat cheese? And ice cream? And sour cream? Yes, I do. But WAY less than before! I used to put cheese on everything, now I limit it. And I limit it to lower fat versions. I use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream so that I’m at least getting a protein punch along with it. And, while my daughter still drinks cow’s milk, my hubby and I are pretty much on almond and soy varieties (and use very little, at that). Try different milks (there are so many varieties) and see what you like. Stick to non-GMO products; avoid carrageenan (additive found in many milks). (Added bonus: my acid reflux has pretty much disappeared since I reduced my dairy intake.)

7. Eat snacks. If you eat mid-morning and afternoon snacks, you are less likely to over-indulge at meals. And I don’t mean a snack from the vending machine or a donut from the break room. Or even one of those 100-calorie packs; those are awful! Find healthy alternatives: fruit, Greek yogurt, nuts, nut butters, even a protein shake or bar.

8. Don’t drink your calories. Fruit juices, sodas, and frappucinos aren’t exactly good for you. I’m not a water drinker myself but I pretty much only drink water and green tea now.

9. Don’t deprive yourself. You have to indulge sometimes. The more you feel deprived, the further off the wagon you will fall when you allow an indulgence. If you must eat something that is less than healthy, just try to do it in moderation 🙂 Going out for Mexican food? Try the veggie enchiladas instead of beef and cheese, with extra beans and no rice. Or the chicken or shrimp fajitas and lay off the flour tortillas and cheese. Decrease the portion size by taking some home for the next day. Is it the best meal you could eat? No. But it’s better than what you would have done and that’s progress. I have even abstained from chips and queso and, if you know me, you know this is a freaking miracle. Seriously. Just keep making little changes and eventually they will add up to a big one.

I’m going to try to start posting ideas, recipes, etc. on Pinterest again. Feel free to follow me, specifically my “Food Prep and Clean Eating” board.

So, my friends, that’s it for now… I hope something in here helps you. Encourages you. Maybe inspires you. The work is worth the benefit and rewards. Your body will thank you for high-quality fuel and you will feel so much healthier! Now, get in the kitchen! That’s where I’m headed 🙂

15 Things I Learned From My Summer Vacation

We just returned from our summer vacation. As we were driving home from the airport last night and then while at home unpacking, I was running a replay of sorts through my head. It was a great trip: we spent 2 1/2 days sight-seeing in Washington, D.C., then drove to our biennial family reunion at a resort in the mountains of Virginia. All of our travel plans went off without a hitch. We navigated the D.C. subway system to and from the airport with our luggage and managed to get our rental car picked up and dropped off in downtown D.C. with no difficulty. The hotel I had picked was convenient, quiet, and clean. These are things I generally stress over (and did) but all went well so I say, “Yay me!” And our time with family at the resort we go to every other summer was wonderful. The kids got along, memories were made, and goodness, we have a lot of good cooks in our family 🙂
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Panoramic view at our resort in Virginia
 
As I got ready for bed, my mind was still going full-speed ahead, despite being exhausted (and stuffed full of Tex-Mex. We HAD to load up on the way home from the airport. Thank you to Chuy’s for the warm welcome home). What was I thinking about, you ask? This:
1. I overpack. Always.
2. When traveling to the East Coast in summertime, a flat iron is absolutely unnecessary because it’s futile. I took one and never even bothered to use it…not once. Save the space in your suitcase. Ponytails. That is all.
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Ponytail. Oh, and an elephant. Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian
3. There’s really no need to pack a bunch of snacks for travel. You’ll still end up buying overpriced stuff in the airport or asking the flight attendant for 5 extra bags of pretzels. And the baggie of crackers, granola bars, and goldfish in your backpack will just get pulverized when you cram your personal item under the seat in front of you.
4. My anxiety over how our daughter would behave was as unnecessary as her anxiety about the trip. She did better than ever, her best vacation yet.
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Having fun with her daddy at the Washington Monument
5. My child IS capable of playing by herself! I caught her coloring, down by the water, while we were at the condo. She stayed out there for almost half an hour, completely on her own. This is unprecedented with no electronics present.
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Playing by herself
6. Although I didn’t eat perfectly, I did a hell of a lot better than I normally do on vacation. The lifestyle and diet changes I’ve been making are sticking and I didn’t feel deprived when I opted for healthier meals over my normal vacation style eating. And on top of the miles of walking we did, I even exercised on vacation. Me. 5 times in 9 days. I know, right? Who knew they even had gyms at hotels?  😉
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Dog-tired tootsies after miles of walking on day 1
7. I enjoyed canoeing. I’m not a “water sports” kind of gal but I really enjoyed it. The nice weather and beautiful scenery (lush trees and a bald eagle sighting) no doubt helped. And the fact that I’ve been exercising and really improved my upper-body strength probably made it more enjoyable as well; I liked the workout it provided (Full disclosure: I counted this excursion as one of the aforementioned “5 times” I exercised). And my Eagle Scout husband, who used to canoe rapids back in the day, helping me figure out how to do it all certainly helped too 🙂
8. Lion cubs practicing their pouncing skills is the cutest…thing…ever.
9. Abraham Lincoln really was a pretty amazing dude. I think I most enjoyed Ford’s Theater and the Lincoln Memorial.
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Lincoln Memorial and Ford’s Theatre
10. The carousel at the National Zoo is absolutely gorgeous. I happily rode it and felt like I was about 5 years old as I went round and round on my lion!
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View from atop my lion, carousel at the National Zoo, Smithsonian
11. I’m glad I did all of the laundry before we left. And did a load before we left the condo. My over-planning and anal-rententive habits do pay off sometimes.
12. My house is so pretty. I appreciate the hard work we’ve done decorating and landscaping even more after spending a week in a condo decorated in polished brass and floral everything.
13. Three cats home alone for a week can generate an astounding number of “dust-bunnies”. Or “hair-bunnies.” I seriously need to swiffer. Now.
14. No bed is as comfortable as my bed. With my sheets.
15. There’s no place like home.
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Dorothy’s ruby slippers, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian.
All photos property of “Crazy Much?”

Four Before…

Lists. I love lists.

Lists make me feel like I’m productive, organized, and efficient. I love making them, executing them. Heck, I like color-coding them. I could probably make a list of all my lists. As an anxious and high-strung person, lists help me feel more calm and in control.

So when the “bucket list” trend started gaining momentum, you would think I’d have jumped right on that. But I didn’t, not right away anyway. And I had a good reason. It wasn’t the idea that it was morbid, like I’ve heard some people say. It was just that I couldn’t think of much to put on it. Three items does NOT a list make. (Ok, technically it does, but that would just be a sad little list of life’s ambitions.)

Anyway, I finally decided to make a “Forty before Forty” list. I guess I was about 36 or 37 at the time but I stalled and didn’t actually start working on it until about 38 ½. And I didn’t take the time to write any of it down until I turned 39. Finally, I started writing things down. The first 7 or 8 things came quickly; after that, I had to dig a bit deeper. I think I got up to about 20, maybe 25 items and then….bam. Brick wall. Surely I was forgetting some things. Surely, there were goals and dreams I still wanted to pursue. New hobbies? Adventures? But, no…I was stuck. And let me tell you: it was a bit depressing. How I could I not come up with more things I wanted to do? Am I that boring, for real? Anyway, I finally told myself that it was okay if my “FORTY Before Forty” list didn’t actually have forty things on it. I was the only one who knew anyway.

So, I marked a few things off this year: a trip to Disney World, some concerts… but the fact that all of those other items were still sitting there, with my 40th looming, was bothering me. Why would I procrastinate on things I WANT to do? (In retrospect, if they were SO important to me, I probably would have done them already and wouldn’t need to make a list. But, hey, life does get in the way sometimes and we have to remind ourselves of the things that may have gotten away from us. We have to be reminded to stop and smell the roses, right? Hence, the expression.)

So anyway, here’s the part where I impart some wisdom on you all. Are you ready? If you’re going to make a bucket list, a “Thirty Before Thirty,” “Forty Before Forty,” – whatever – GET ON THAT SHIT NOW! Seriously.

For a chronic list maker, like me (who also suffers from anxiety and puts WAY too much pressure on herself), nothing is worse than not being able to mark everything off your list before the deadline. And, ladies and gentlemen, that deadline is 6 months away. SIX months. And I’ve done, oh, maybe seven or eight things on my list. And another one or two are in progress. So, instead of my list being this wonderful focal point, this way to enrich my life as I head into my forties, I’ve simply stressed myself out and set myself up for failure. Failing to complete a list of things that I want, but don’t need, to do by an arbitrary, self-imposed deadline. A list of things that includes some items I’ve failed to do up until this point in my life because I made stupid choices along the way. Regrets, even. Things I’ve already punished myself for missing out on once and, now, I feel like I’m fucking it up again. Do you see my point here?

I’m not saying not to make your bucket list. Make it! By all means. Just don’t start writing it on your deathbed, savvy? Write it NOW. Make your “Forty Before Forty” list on the day after you’ve celebrated your 30th birthday so you have 10 years to ENJOY pursuing these items you want to ENJOY and you don’t lose the motivation behind them.

So, I’m paring down my list. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not eliminating anything. I’m just narrowing it down to the most important things. The rest, while still important, will simply get moved to the next list. And that’s ok.

So, I give you my “FOUR Before Forty” list:

1. Take a long-weekend trip to Napa with my husband.

2. Continue on my fitness journey, with the goal of being in the best shape of my life (to-date) by my fortieth birthday, eating a health-conscious, nutrient-rich diet and exercising effectively on a regular basis.

3. Continue working on our home dynamic, to improve my relationship with our daughter and make life at home more peaceful. This includes finding a regular, reliable babysitter to ensure that date-nights happen about twice per month.

4. Start taking voice lessons.

These are the top four. Do I still want to grow a veggie garden successfully? Yes. Do I still want to read all of my favorite author’s books? Yes. Get published? Attend a women’s retreat? Bust out of my introvert shell and volunteer at my daughter’s school? Yes, yes, and yes. But I don’t have to do all of these things in the next six months.

And that’s ok.

What Do You Know?

 

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As I jot down these thoughts, these thoughts that have been swirling in my head for months, I am in a coffee shop. All of the tables are full, mostly with people who are working. Laptop or tablet in front of them, coffee in hand. Some look like students, with thick books sprawled open. Some look like they are tackling business. A job interview at one table; a father and son discussing church at another. Still others, like me, appear to just be filling time. I look around and wonder if any of them, like me, just had overwhelming anxiety, sitting in an empty house, and needed a change of scenery to just flat-out keep from losing their shit. I wonder if the cute guy two tables down from me is reading emails. Or is he surfing social media or online dating sites? Or maybe, trying to write a difficult letter to a friend or loved one? Shopping for electronics on Amazon?

Point is…I DON’T KNOW.

When I encounter you, you encounter me at the coffee shop and we either avoid eye contact, smile impersonally, or exchange brief pleasantries, possibly make an instantaneous assessment of each other based on what we look like or the expressions on our faces, WE DON’T KNOW. (For instance, the lady who just asked me if “anyone else is sitting here” at my table. My big table that seats four. She doesn’t know that the simple act of her asking me that question gave me a moment of anxiety, the anxiety I left my house to escape. She doesn’t know that I’m more comfortable with three other empty chairs at my table, that I prefer my little introvert’s bubble to buffer myself from the crowd of people in the shop with me. But if I didn’t want other people nearby, why didn’t I just stay at home? I don’t know…so how could she know? So now we’re sharing a table. And it’s not so bad, really.) We don’t know each other. We don’t know each other’s joy. We don’t know each other’s struggle. I don’t know if you are thrilled with your life right now, if you just graduated from college and landed your dream job, if your husband left you last night, you found a lump this morning, or if you are about to enjoy your last triple venti caramel macchiato before you drive your car off of a cliff. Brutal? Yes, but WE DON’T KNOW.

And the older I’ve gotten, and the crazier I feel inside this head of mine, I realize that this is the reason we should always extend kindness to others. Everyone faces a struggle at some point, everyone is fighting a fight. Stop and think about the hardest trials you’ve endured, the toughest path you’ve walked. It may be in the past; you may be traveling it now. Think about how sad, scared, or anxious you were. How mentally disconnected you were at any given moment; perhaps, even as you stood in line to order a warm, soothing cup of joe from your favorite barista. Now, back in the present, same coffee shop, imagine that the person who just inspired you to sigh with annoyance and roll your eyes because they took too long to order their drink is in that SAME place mentally right now. How dare she be so exhausted from being up all night with a sick child? How dare she be so preoccupied with her impending divorce that it takes her 30 seconds to order a cup of coffee while you are ready to order and get out of here (when, let’s face it, you probably didn’t even really have enough time to stop in the first place)? In her mind, she may not even notice your sigh. Or she may be fighting back tears, screaming inside, “YOU DON’T KNOW ME!”

Ouch.

YOU DON’T KNOW what that person needs at that moment. I don’t know. And they may not have a damn clue either. But, what I DO know, and I can promise you this: kindness will not damage where they stand right now. It can’t. A warm smile instead of an exasperated sigh. A quick “hello” instead of eye-contact avoided. Picking up the dropped keys for her while her arms are full of a crying baby and a diaper bag. As an introvert who will happily avoid eye-contact with the sole stranger walking toward me in a long, empty hallway, this is often not easy. And it may not be for you either. But here’s my second promise to you: it won’t hurt. And it may mean more to someone else than you will ever know.

*Side note: the lady who invaded my space and the hottie I was wondering about from two tables down are now talking to each other. Sounds like they had some sort of casual acquaintance with each other already. But they both “needed to get out of the house” because they work from home. Change of scenery, cabin-fever, a need to interact without actually interacting, whatever. I’m listening to them talk as I type this and grin because they have no idea I’m writing about them 🙂