Self

How Wearing Masks Is Stopping You from Living a Full Life

Anyone who knows me, knows I am a Phantom of the Opera super-nerd. One of my favorite lines comes from the beginning of Act II:

Masquerade…

Paper faces on parade

Masquerade…

Hide your face

So the world

Will never find you…

Think about those lyrics, and I’m not talking about fancy-dress balls. I mean masks you wear to protect yourself and your true identity. How many different masks do you wear every day? Are you shyer, more complacent, more self-conscious, more cautious, than you want to be?

Today I want to talk about the different masks we wear as women, and why we need to take them off in order to live our very best life. Because if we go through life too cautiously, our lives will be very empty and unfulfilled.

Are you holding yourself back from deepening relationships?

There is probably someone in your life that you want to see more of. Maybe there is a coworker you want to invite out to lunch. Or the cute neighbor you see every day who you want to ask out for coffee. But for whatever reason, you can’t bring yourself to say what is really on your mind or take that first step. You hide behind the mask of shyness, of keeping the status quo.

What are you accomplishing by not letting more people into your life? What can be gained by pining for someone from afar, thinking about what might have been, and not enriching your social circle? Take off the mask, be brave for 20 seconds, and ask that person out to lunch or for coffee. The WORST thing that can happen is that you get a “no.” And is that really the end of the world?

Is there a problem you know how to solve?

You’re in a meeting, people are trying to solve a problem, and you might have a solution, but you don’t want to look stupid. Or you may feel passionate about a cause, but don’t know how to get involved or you don’t want to offend anyone. The mask of self-assurance prevents you from helping people – not getting involved is easy. And safe.

But you have the power to make a difference. It takes 20 seconds of courage to volunteer an idea. A little more courage to find a group to connect with about the cause you care so much about. Take off the mask of keeping up appearances. Allow yourself to be vulnerable for the sake of others. 

Are you preventing yourself from living your best life?

Maybe your job has golden handcuffs – the pay and benefits are good, but the work is unsatisfying. Or you want to explore changing careers or starting a business. Or you have always wanted to live in one part of the country (or world) and never had the courage to move. Or maybe you want to try a different church, but never had the guts to try. The mask of comfort keeps you from making radical changes in your life.

This is probably the hardest mask to take off because as single women, we have a very real need to feel secure. We are the sole breadwinners, after all. But think to a time in your life – there had to be at least one time – when you made a drastic change, and it was for the better.

Getting that new job. Making that move. Dumping that lousy boyfriend.

How much better was your life after that? How did you summon up the courage to do it?

You owe it to yourself to take off the mask of complacency and make a plan. You have had it in you before, and you can do it again.

I know it is hard to take off the masks and step outside the status quo. But what would be possible if you were your best, authentic self? What would be possible if you stopped hiding your face and the world actually found you?

What was one time you had to step outside your comfort zone to improve your life, or someone close to you? Comment below!

How to Enjoy Your Own Company as a Single Woman

new-yorknew-york-2Radio. Podcasts. Facebook. Twitter. Emails. Snapchat. Phone calls. Instagram. YouTube. Pinterest. Texts. Netflix.

Even if we are single women, are we ever truly alone?

When I think about the ways I can distract myself, it’s small wonder I’m usually uncomfortable with silence. How many of us take the time to proactively shut out the world and just enjoy ourselves for a few hours?

When was the last time you can honestly say you enjoyed your own company – really and truly? Here are five ways to tune the world out, reconnect with yourself, and remind yourself why you are an amazing woman in the first place:

  1. Plan for a day to yourself. Take a sick day from work. Or a legitimate vacation day. Heck, even part of a weekend is fine! Plan on doing things you love to do: a manicure, a bubble bath, a good book, binge-watching Netflix, or downloading an app you wanted to try. Ignore the phone and disconnect from your email. Schedule several uninterrupted hours of goofing off time to charge your batteries and love the company.
  1. Take yourself on a road trip. Whether it is to an art gallery across town or the Klown Doll museum four hours away (hand to heart, that is my next solo road trip. Yes, I am weird.), pick a destination you’ve always wanted to go to and just go Don’t wait for a friend or a date to take you. You are in control of yourself, your car, and the music on the radio. And make sure you have fun when you get there. Take some silly selfies or buy some postcards!
  1. Take yourself out to lunch. I’ve found that dining alone can be intimidating for the uninitiated. (Personally, I don’t mind eating alone when I’m out of town, but it somehow feels weird in my hometown.) So lunch is a great compromise: It’s cheaper, less of a time commitment, and you can try out a new restaurant without splurging on the dinner menu. Of course, if budgets and time are limited, sit-down fast food is good, too. Discretely people-watch, savor your food, and order whatever the hell you want!
  1. Enjoy yourself outside. Go for a bike ride, sit out on the patio, take a walk to the park, or go for a jog. It doesn’t matter if you’re listening to music, a podcast, or just the sounds of nature. There is something primal and soothing about being outside in fresh air. The frustrations of the day don’t seem quite as bad, you get some exercise, and you can allow yourself to simply be for a while.
  1. Allow yourself to think. I don’t know about you, but being alone with just my thoughts can be rather scary. Suffering from depression, I can do to some dark places pretty quick. And frankly, sometimes I don’t want to know what I am thinking. But once in a while, I schedule a brain dump for myself. I get comfy on the couch and spend 5-10 minutes furiously writing on a steno pad. I allow the stream on consciousness flow from my brain to my hand and I write till time is up or my hand cramps up. Read what you wrote the next day. Did something bother you before that seems petty now? Or is something weighing on your heart? What insight have you gained about yourself?

Try one or try all five. By scheduling a little time to rediscover the magic of yourself. You gain a greater sense of self, and I think you gain a little more wisdom in knowing who you are, what you are about, and that you know how to be gentle with yourself. We are all our own harshest critics, but when we learn to love ourselves for who we are, we can start tapping on the brakes of life and learn to just be.

What was the last thing you learned about yourself that surprised you? Comment below!

Where the Hell Has the Plus One Woman Been the Last Three Months?

It’s ironic my last blog post was “What to Do When You Don’t Get the Job.”

The very next day, my boss’s boss sat me down and told me in no uncertain terms that I was no longer employed.

I’m not going to get into the whys, the hows, or the long saga – that is all water under the bridge. Over the next few months, I will share lessons I learned – there were a lot. And suffice it to say, it was heartbreak followed by six scary weeks of unemployment. But I want to explain why I have been on hiatus and why I have chosen to come back now.

I stopped blogging because my biggest priority was self-care: getting my butt out of bed daily, filing for unemployment, getting health care situated, and forcing myself to eat and interact with people. I lost 15 pounds in three weeks, and my depression took me to some scary places. In good conscience, I could not blog about being a strong, independent woman when I was always one sad song away from bursting into tears.

While unemployment is harder than hell, I found a few truths that I can engrave on my heart:

God provides. I am not overly spiritual, but God had a plan for me. I left a job that no longer sustained my and brought me to a new workplace, and I work with nicer people than I ever dared hope for.

Family is everything. To keep my spirits up, all my siblings treated me to a movie. I got out of the house to see several movies and deepen my relationships with my brothers and sisters. My parents fed me dinner every day and let me watch TV at their house in the evenings. That prevented me from going crazy alone in my apartment.

Friends are life. My best friend was a HUUUUGE support for me, inviting me over for dinner, letting me hang out at her house while I applied for jobs, and providing a friendly face. Other friends introduced me to people looking for writers, and I was lucky enough to score some wonderful writing gigs!

Getting unemployment is a joke. Laws vary in every state, but it took my state two weeks to receive my paperwork and another two weeks to process it before I saw a dime in unemployment. Even then, I couldn’t earn more than $90 a week working even a part-time job, or else I would lose my benefits for the entire week. How is that an incentive to have people work stop-gap jobs while they look for work? And the state’s unemployment website made me apply for jobs on it every week. Many of them were either for minimum wage or for jobs like nursing, which I am definitely not qualified for. In any case, my heart goes out to the under- and unemployed.

The Affordable Care Act is a godsend. You may hate Obamacare with every fiber of your being, but it allowed me to get the medical care I desperately needed. I was able to afford my antidepressants to get my through this difficult period, and I know I would have been suicidal without them.

I learn from my mistakes. I am determined not to make the same mistakes in my new job that I did at my old one. So far, so good.

Sometimes all you can do is put one foot in front of the other. The first two or three weeks was the hardest. I would cry because I wasn’t hearing anything back for interviews. I know now HR works on a different timeframe than I do, but it was hard not to feel like a huge pile of poop. Taking one day at a time, an hour at a time, even one breath at a time was a challenge. But I kept walking. And eventually I won.

Now that I am back in a routine of working a new job, I now have the energy to devote to this wonderful blog and I am excited to be back! I missed you all so much!

10 Ways to Grieve When You Have to Do It Alone

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Grief is the price we pay for love.—Queen Elizabeth II

You get a phone call or open an email and you finally get the news you’ve been dreading.

Someone you love has passed away.

There are few things in life that are as profoundly sad or difficult as losing a loved one, be it a friend or family member. Whether it was after a lengthy illness or completely unexpected, it can be enough to knock the wind out of you. You can literally feel your heart break. You wonder whether you’ll ever be happy again.

Facing grief is difficult even if you have people to lean on. But living alone, single women have a difficult time of it. Here are some things to remember when facing the death of a loved one. They won’t make the heartache go away, but they will help anchor your emotions and permit you to grieve at your own pace:

  1. Allow yourself to lean in to your emotions. You might be like me and cry at the drop of the hat. Or you may be stoic when you first hear the news. Whatever you are feeling, the most important thing to remember is that you are entitled to your emotions.
  1. Don’t let anyone tell you how to feel. Western culture has a warped, awkward view of death. We think people should “snap out of it” after a week or two and then carry on with a stiff upper lip. That is quite possibly the worst advice you can give anyone who’s mourning. Tune out all that noise.
  1. Be gentle with yourself. As I mentioned, I’ve been known to cry anywhere and everywhere. Bus stops, grocery shopping, at my desk, coffee shops—I can’t help it. That’s how I deal with it. And that’s OK. Anger, depression, tears…don’t apologize for how you feel and don’t beat yourself up for having those feelings. It shows you are vibrant, caring, and human because you can express what that person meant to you. Even if it means slobbery, messy tears and tons of wadded-up tissues.
  1. Remember grief has no timetable. Every person is irreplaceable and there will never be anyone like the one you lost. You may not feel your loss until days, weeks, or even months after the funeral. And that’s fine. There is no schedule to grieving, and that should never be forgotten.
  1. Reach out to your support network—even if they don’t know who passed away. People who truly love you will let you cry on the phone, over Skype, or in person. Be it your mom, your best friend, your counselor, or a pastor—let yourself be vulnerable and talk about your grief.
  1. Find solace in nature. I am about as far from an outdoorsy person as you can get. But going for walks or even sitting on the porch, watching a sunset help me center me and allow my thoughts to wander. I can pause and remember the beauty in the world, even if it’s just for a couple minutes.
  1. Be there for others who mourn the loss. I absolutely hate wakes and funerals. There, I said it. But I know it’s not all about me. I draw a lot of comfort in seeing friends and family at these services. It is also a sign of respect to the person’s family that you are enough to come. Don’t run away from wakes/funerals, even if you hate them as much as I do.
  1. Think about what your loved one wants for you. The timing of this is probably more after the funeral. But if you have a special connection with the deceased, you know they want you to be happy. Remember this when you reach for your eighth box of tissue or feel like you will never smile again. They would want you to smile. And eventually laugh. It may take time, but you know they want the very best for you.
  1. Do something to honor your loved one’s memory. Develop a good habit or ditch an old one. Do something you’ve always wanted to but never had the courage to. Just do something different to remember. And honor your loved one when you actually do it.
  1. Remember the ties that bind. I see lots of Facebook messages of “Praying for you…let us know if you need anything,” after someone passes away. Follow through when you say those words, and not just with a casserole or a card. If you are in a position to do so, call, visit, or email the family of the person who died. They will be in great need of comfort in the weeks, months, and years afterwards. Loneliness is a crippling emotion, and if you can do something to alleviate it, you are honoring the departed.

Death is never easy to talk about. But by allowing yourself the time and space to grieve, honoring your loved one’s memory, and by being there for others, you are giving yourself the tools you need to cope with your grief. And in your sadness and heartache, you will find comfort and strength in yourself and in others.

What has brought you the most comfort when you’ve grieved? Comment below!

How to Defeat Limiting Beliefs Once and for All: Find Your True Voice

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“I feel fat.”

“I need to be a size 8.”

“I’m a failure as a girlfriend/daughter/niece/worker/student.”

“I just suck.”

Have you ever said anything like that to yourself? I know I have, and it reached its peak in 2011. I thought I was a failure as a friend, a teacher, and as a human being in general. I was surrounded by limiting beliefs, and they haunted every conversation I had with myself.

What are limiting beliefs? They are statements that corner us and prevent us from flourishing. They are statements that you heard so often growing up, that eventually you start to believe them. Statements like:

“I can’t look good at a size 20.”

“I will never find the man of my dreams.”

“It’s easier to be seen than be heard.”

“This job pays the bills. Even if I don’t love it, it’s security.”

But believe it or not, you don’t have to let limiting beliefs ruin your life like they did mine. In fact, you can actually reverse your limiting beliefs and use your inner dialogue as a source of strength and courage.

A couple weeks ago, I finished reading the excellent book Finding Your Voice: Sort Through the Clutter and Discover Clarity, Confidence, and Direction by longtime life coach Joel Boggess. I’ve known Joel for a few years and even though this book was written in 2013, I’ve only gotten around to purchasing and working through it just now.

The book brings up a lot of great points on how to tap into your passions and find how to make it work for you, but my favorite chapter was how to work through your limiting beliefs. Boggess does a fantastic job in the book of identifying, analyzing, and breaking yourself free of limiting beliefs.

Step One: Identify your beliefs. The first thing you have to do is realize your limiting beliefs pop up in the first place. This is kinda hard, but once I realized I was doing it, I was shocked how often I was saying them.

“I look bad as a size 20/22. I have never been this heavy in my life before. I just look gross.” That is one I have been struggling with lately.

Step Two: Challenge your beliefs. Play devil’s advocate. Where is that belief coming from? In my case, it is the echo of my high school bully and the constant media messages we are bombarded with daily to be prettier, thinner, sexier, and just all-round better. Do I really feel gross every day? Is it 100% true I would be happier if I was better perfect? Hell to the N-O, for both questions.

Step Three: Find the antidote. I know my antidote is in my closet. I may be the biggest size I have ever been, but I have assembled a beautiful wardrobe of clothes I know I look good in and am very proud to wear. Also, I know my body still allows me to walk and do yoga, even if running isn’t in the cards right now. It’s up to you to dig deep and find the antidote to your own limiting beliefs.

Step Four: What antidote will you choose to believe in? This is where you begin to plug in more useful, uplifting messages instead of all the negativity.

Ex-belief: “I feel fat and gross at this size 20/22.”

New belief: “I choose now to believe that no matter what my size, I know how to dress in a way that celebrates my body and makes me feel damn good.”

Step Five: Speak the truth. This is probably the hardest part. But you say things over and over to yourself so that the new belief takes root and banishes the old belief. I say it when I look in the mirror, rifle through my closet, and after I exercise. The repetition takes a time and practice, but your brain will get the message.

Let me say that again: Your brain will get the message.

Even though this book didn’t exist when I was at my ultra-low point in 2011, I started learning when I was smack-talking myself. I started cramming my head so full of positive podcasts that in less than a year, I had automatic answers to every single limiting belief that popped into my head. I was my own antidote.

I gained enough strength to rewrite my inner monologue and that is when I was able to blossom. I found a new job, moved, and meaningfully reconnect with my friends and family.

You don’t have to live with your limiting beliefs. Take this five-step formula and try it for one of your most persistent negative beliefs today. It takes training, but the results can only set you up for success!

What are limiting beliefs you’ve run into in the course of your life? Comment below!