Positivity Project Day 7

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This is it. Today is the seventh and final day of The Positivity Project. What a great experiment. I am wholeheartedly willing to accept responsibility for some of the negativity in my life and also to acknowledge that I have the power to change it. I didn’t think reminding myself of three things that I’m grateful for each day would have much impact. I wasn’t sure I’d even make it through all seven days but figured it couldn’t hurt to try. Ending each one of my days over the past week with positive thoughts has helped to change my perspective and find a little peace where before I didn’t allow it. It’s significant because its reminded me that no matter the day or the situation, I can always find the time to stop a moment and appreciate what I have in my life. 

Inspiring Quote: “Don’t let someone steal your tenderness. Don’t allow the coldness and and fear of others to tarnish your perfectly vulnerable beating heart. Nothing is more powerful than allowing yourself to truly be affected by things. Whether it’s a song, a stranger, a mountain, a raindrop, a tea kettle, an article, a sentence, a footstep, feel it all- look around you. All of this is for you. Take it and have gratitude. Give it and feel love”- Zooey Deschanel

Three Things I’m grateful for:

1. Local fruit in season. YUM!
2. Pink Voltage nail polish by China Glaze. It makes me SO happy!
3. All those who read and follow my blog. I’m still amazed that anyone would want to read what I have to say but seeing the little orange light at the top of my screen when I log in telling me someone has liked or commented on a post or followed my blog is pretty awesome. Thank you.

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Time Passes Either Way….

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All night I’ve been stewing over whether I’d write this blog or not…the experience I had today has been bumping around in my brain like one of those little silver balls in an old-school pinball machine, and thankfully it’s done just enough to ignite a little something in me.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit I’ve been in a slump lately; walking around in a negative funk like it’s my J-O-B. I’ve felt frustrated and cranky and all I could do was focus on being frustrated and cranky and it became a bit of a vicious cycle I haven’t been able to pull myself out of.

Today as I walked home from the subway, caught up in my own little world, I spotted a little old woman walking down the street toward me. She was leaning on her cane and struggling with two bags of groceries as she descended the slope of the road that dipped in a steep decline. I pulled my earbuds out and approached her. I kept thinking I didn’t want to freak her out but was almost certain she’d topple over if I didn’t help. She was hesitant at first but allowed me to take the bags from her and walk her home. She had 3 litres of milk and a carton of 12 eggs. I think the bags weighed more than she did. I made light conversation as we walked and as we approached her house she told me how nice her neighbours have been by mowing her lawn and helping her by bringing her recycling and garbage to the door for her.

I had a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach as I listened. Since I’ve lived in Toronto I’ve grumbled about how hard it is to meet people. I’ve complained about the lack of a sense of community and how nobody is willing to help one another. As I stood at this woman’s door with the carton of eggs and the bags of milk and the circulation to my fingers began to fade, my head swam with the knowledge that she’s lived directly behind me for almost two years and I’ve never made the time to know her, even in passing. Nor have I really met anyone else in our neighbourhood. Isn’t it funny how life just passes you by like that sometimes?

We chatted for a while and in conversation I learned that her husband had passed away in previous years and that last year she’d lost her daughter to cancer. None of it was weird or over-sharing, it just was. She said she had lots of help from neighbours and friends from her church but then she opened the door to let her cat out and as he weaved through my feet I bent to scratch his ear. She admitted that she’d adopted him a few years back just for the company. I wanted to hug her. For the billions of people in this world, I wonder how many of us feel lonely on a regular basis? I wonder how many of us could have an impact just by carrying someone’s groceries to the door or smiling and saying hello rather than keeping ourselves closed off.

As I put the groceries down I made a decision. I asked for paper and pen and scrawled my name and number down and asked her to call me if she ever felt she needed anything. I walked home feeling pretty unsettled. I felt I’d not done enough. I still do. Sometimes I think the ones who ask for the least help are the ones who need it the most. It makes my stomach hurt.

That being said, walking away from her house I also realized that by doing something kind for someone else I’d not been so focused on my own negative thoughts. It made issues that seemed important five minutes before, feel silly. It’s easy to forget there’s more to life than the trivial little life stresses when you’re living them. It’s easy to forget that time passes either way.

The Truth About Vulnerability

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Here’s the thing I sort of re-learned about trust and vulnerability this week: I can give it and open myself to be wholehearted and open-minded, but I cannot control what others do with it. I forgot about that little component. vulnerability

These past few weeks someone from my past re-entered my life and I let myself get swept away in it. The tiny little niggling inchworms of doubt prodded at me occasionally and I ignored them and just sort of let it happen. I even let myself be vulnerable and feel joy because of it. Then, like a flashback to high school (okay it wasn’t around when I was in high school but it felt like a high school moment), I logged onto facebook and there was the very honest status update that snapped me straight out of my dream world. It was the words he couldn’t bother to tell me to my face.

Something a little like betrayal lived at the edge of the status update like a crown of thorns coaxing the halo from the head I’d bestowed it upon in error. That jackass. I felt impassioned and alive with the idea that he’d slapped me in the face with his own uncertainty and I wanted to key his car or eat a tub of ice cream or both simultaneously. I stared at the screen for several minutes with my eyes bugging out repeating “Oh my god” to myself like it was my personal mantra. In one amazingly public act of idiocy he’d contradicted everything he’d told me, and made me feel like a colossal idiot. I could feel the rage peeling paint off the walls as my blood boiled.

d42a65f680fb80afbe0abfc0c2e7d665I went through everything in my mind. I’d put myself out there. I’d been vulnerable in terms of letting him come back into my life and I’d been open-minded about seeing if the connection still existed and he’d made me feel like a fool on a social networking site, not directly, but in a way that told me half-hazardly that he’d barked up my tree before he was done sniffing around another. Not. Impressed.

So does my own little personal version of the Jerry Springer show mean I stop putting myself out there and being vulnerable? Nah. You don’t join a sports team only if there’s a guarantee you’ll win every game in the season. I could go through life living in a little bubble- never being vulnerable and allowing others to hurt me (thAwesome-quote-No-I-am-not-singleat’s my natural response) but I think it might make it difficult to experience any potential joy too.It’s a gamble. A VERY wise friend wrote to me and said “There’s no shame in trusting others. It’s shameful when people exploit that”. Preach girl!

He who shall not be named won’t be getting a Christmas card this year but I thank him for reminding me life is a series of learning experiences, good and bad, and courage is about showing up wholeheartedly for each one and gaining value and extracting joy. That’s it. No regrets.

Wholeheartedly

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about identity. I like to think my identity is something that’s constantly evolving and I hope it always will be, but I’ve found some really incredible ladies on youtube that have inspired me to think about what I WANT my identity to be based on. It feels powerful.

The other night I was sitting in my room after a long day at work feeling frustrated and irritable. I clicked around on youtube looking for something that I hoped would cheer me up when I came across a video of a girl named Lizzie Velasquez. She did a talk on Ted Talks. She’s the same age as me. Lizzie has a disease that prevents her from gaining weight. She cannot hear out of one ear and she cannot see out of one eye. Like me, Lizzie has goals and aspirations and dreams and she deals with daily frustrations and struggles to reach them.Life-Quote-by-Brene-Brown-via-PracticalBliss.com_

When Lizzie was in high school someone posted a video of her that was just an eight second still of her face. It invited people to comment on “the ugliest woman in the world”. Lizzie told the story of the day she read the awful comments that encouraged her to commit suicide and a host of other cruel and biting words intended just to hurt. She talked about how she decided what would define her and how it would carve out her life and there she was standing up in front of an entire audience of people and millions more watching from home being vulnerable and telling her story; letting her courage define her.

I was touched in a way I don’t know that I can fully explain. It felt like a hollow little opening had whittled away a space in my stomach. It had filled itself with absolute empathy for a young girl whose beautiful heart just mesmerized me. In the midst of circumstances  where most would have faltered and let it define them, she gained strength.

Next in my youtube quest I found a doctor by the name of Brene Brown. She has spent her life researching shame and vulnerability. She talks about the presence of it in human life and how paramount it is to living whole-heartedly. “The only people without shame/vulnerability in their lives are the only ones without the capacity to experience human connection”, she says.  She talks about the relationship between shame and perfectionism and how it drives self-worth in a culture where it’s taboo not to walk the talk and live the perfect life. People are afraid to make their own definitions.

Brene-Brown-quote-xShe also says “Real courage is telling your story and liking yourself while you do it”. I think it’s my new mantra. The more I think about what I want to base my identity on, the more I realize it’s that. I want to embrace vulnerability and learn how to open my heart and myself to the moments and the opportunities that scare me. I think it’s too easy to shield myself from criticism and hurt and miss out on the moments that truly could be wonderful because I know it doesn’t ultimately protect me from the hurt, it just serves to dull the joy.

When I was given the opportunity to stand up in front of people and facilitate sessions at work I was terrified. I was sure I couldn’t do it and even went as far as to go back to the person who’d taken a chance on me by giving me the opportunity, to tell her I couldn’t make it happen. She didn’t put her arm around me and say “well..if that’s what you think is right” and let me off the hook. She said “Well…I happen to think you can do this. You just need a little push”. That was it. The very next week I was rushing into her office with the biggest grin on my face, telling her I’d done it after all.

When I watch someone like Lizzie Velasquez I am inspired because she has a choice. She has it tougher than many but it is not an excuse not to put herself out there and be vulnerable. She is the definition of courageous. Her identity is not based on the disease that makes her different, it’s based on the strength that makes her different.il_340x270.488294276_58nr

As a human being and a creative spirit I want to live this. I want to be inspired by the moments in life where I feel most vulnerable and I want to make mistakes and get messy to become a better me. I want to work at living my life with my arms wide open rather than shut because I’m so busy shielding myself from potential harm that I miss the joy. I want my identity to be wrapped up in living wholeheartedly.

Convocating

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The craziest little thing happened the other day- I graduated from university. Someone gave me a degree. I’m a graduand. Many many years in the making but that little expensive piece of paper looks damned good all framed and regal.

It wasn’t all sunshine and unicorns getting to the big day but it was a time rife with trials and lessons and experiences I’ll never forget. I was hesitant to attend the ceremony as most of those I’ve come to know as friends have either graduated or were never in the same program as me anyways. It occurred to me somewhere in the depths of my hesitation and apparent need to down-play my success, that we should always celebrate successes no matter how long it takes to land them. Perhaps the length of time it takes to get where we’re going only means the lessons of our journey have not yet come to a close. So, I attended and admittedly I felt proud.

The grads and their guests were separated upon arrival and us grads were ushered to the basement to receive our gowns. Black cloaked students milled about nervously- some talking to those they knew and some searching for a familiar face. I stood in a corner of the room steadying my nerves by reading the convocation program. I found my name easily amidst the others, each described by our program of choice. Weird. We were no longer just us, we were “Jacob Trilliam, History” or “Angelica Wells, Philosophy”. As I flipped through the book I also noticed a piece about the university’s crest which I found touched me most. The crest often appears with a quote from Virgil which translates “to learn the meaning of reality”.

Leading up to graduation I’d felt disappointed in marks, and was obsessed with the concept of a number on a page which as a university student I’d come to believe measured my worth, my intelligence, and my understanding of the world around me. I lost sight of the lessons I learned along the way that were just for me. I lost sight of who I’d become and I lost sight of the fact that I was learning far more than any class could teach me all along. My courses educated me in English and History and allowed me to appreciate the value of thinking outside of my comfort zone and adapting an out-of-the-box attitude. My life experiences taught me how to become who I am. They taught me the meaning of reality and sometimes it was beautiful and sometimes it was sad. Sometimes I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs and throw a temper tantrum like those kids you see in the grocery store who have zeroed in on some treat they know their parents will never let them have. It was all labour intensive but each success, each heartbreak, each perfect moment and each defeat were the bricks and cement that has made for the foundation of greater things; the things that are to come.

I look back on it all fondly. I have lived an incredible life these last years because I have lived it to the fullest. I have been educated by reading books, meeting new people, travelling, writing, doing presentations and loving those who have experienced the journey by supporting me. Whatever the marks on the page may be (and they weren’t terrible, they were just never enough for my perfectionist attitude), I have transcended a world where that number represents the value of my worth and usefulness because I am as valuable and worthy as I work and make my mind up to be. Perhaps I’ll foray back into the world of academics in the future but I hope I remember not to focus on the value of myself as a percentage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, as I crossed the stage and imagined my scared 17-year-old self stepping on campus for the first time all those years ago, unsure of what would stretch before me, 23-year-old me smiled thinking of all I’d done. They “hooded” me ( It was all very Harry Potter-esque) and I stepped up to the President for my moment of fame. They told us right before entering the stage that our graduation was being podcast around the world. I stuck out my hand as Mr Alastair Summerlee congratulated my achievement and he looked at me and spoke through the applause. I couldn’t hear a single thing. I leaned in and whispered “sorry pardon?” imagining he was bestowing upon me some final words of wisdom I surely couldn’t miss. He raised his voice slightly and said “untuck your hair or else it looks as if you’re being strangled”. Not really the wisdom I was looking for but the man did save me the embarrassment of a picture and a podcast with bad hair, and I assure you his words then, and also the ones he delivered in a speech which encouraged us to make  differences big or small because they all count, are ones I won’t soon forget.