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Life Is a Journey, So Better Enjoy The Road

Success is a journey not a destination. The doing is usually more important than the outcome.
Arthur Ashe

Last week Lisa came home all excited. She announced that she wanted to represent her class in the Student Advisory Leadership Team. Every class gets to pick two representatives (a boy and a girl). Those kids will have meetings with the principal and present the ideas of their class.
She was delighted by the idea of representing her class and asked me if she please could (I had to sign a permission slip).

It was awesome to hear her talk so enthusiastically about the possibility of being a class representative. Apparently, the boys weren’t really into it (none of them showed interest at the time) but the girls all the more (about 12 or so). And, as in real life, if you want to get elected, you need to give a speech. I wasn’t exactly sure how Lisa would feel about that (what do you mean, projection?), but it turns out I was more nervous about it than she was. Man, I can still remember very lively how I wanted the earth to swallow me the few times I had to give a speech at school. She on the other hand happily sat down this weekend and wrote her speech.

What can I say? I’m so proud of Lisa for wanting to help her class by representing them. That she’s aware of the responsibility and that she is willing to take it on.
Since there are a lot of girls that expressed interest, chances are she will not be chosen. And that’s ok. What matters is that she wants to listen to her classmates and represent them to the best of her ability, that she has thought about what this means and wants to take that responsibility.

It’s easy to get fixated on a goal; if we can reach that goal, then we’ve made it. And the goal becomes the only thing that matters, and we forget to enjoy the journey. But life is a journey and the journey won’t stop until life stops. A goal may seem like a stationary destination, but it never is. Even if you reach your goal, the journey isn’t over. And a lot of people are fixated on goals, if I can have this…., if I can be that…. The worst is when you think you will be happy once you reach your goal. It may for a while, but often our goals are not the once that bring peace and happiness. And far more important than the goal is the journey. It’s about the things the learn on our way through life. How to be kind and respectful to ourselves and others, how to be resilient when things get tough.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have goals. I believe it’s important to have goals and strive for them. Just remember the goal isn’t what’s important, it’s the journey. And it’s when we can appreciate our journey when we can feel grateful and have peace of mind.

So, safe travels and remember to enjoy the road.

 

Do it Anyway

A beautiful poem that’s attributed to Mother Theresa. Some say the words were written on a wall in Mother Theresa’s children’s home in Calcutta. It’s adapted from the Paradoxical Commandments by Kent M. Keith.

 

People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind,
people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful,
you will win some false friends and some true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank,
people may cheat you.
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building,
someone could destroy overnight.
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness,
they may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today,
people will often forget tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have,
and it may never be enough.
Give the best you’ve got anyway.

You see,
in the final analysis it is between you and God;
it was never between you and them anyway.

 

Haters gonna hate. Let them, they can’t hurt you if you don’t allow them. It’s a reflection of them, not you. Don’t let anyone take you low enough to do or say hateful and hurtful things. Just let your behavior reflect who you are. You can’t change others, but you can be your best self anyway.

Bent, Not Broken

Bent, Not Broken

Desolate
the reed stands in between the barren fields.
Fighting
the harsh wind and bitter cold.
Head down
hoping to defy the wind.
Severely bent
but not broken.

Until one day
the wind lays down and the sun comes out.
And the reed
rises, glorious and fierce.
Ready
to grow to its full potential.

Quote for Thought

A moment of self-compassion can change your entire day. A string of such moments can change the course of your life.
Christopher K. Germer

How can it be that self-compassion is so hard for most people? We are willing to give others a break, but not ourselves. How wonderful would it be if we could be as kind towards ourselves like we are to the people we love? Nowadays, when I notice that I’m self-loathing, I ask myself: what would I say to a friend? And use these words instead. It feels uncomfortable, and at the same time very comforting. When self-compassion is a habit, it will indeed change the course of your life.

How Average Beats The Gremlin

Photo by Leonora (Ellie) Enking via Flickr

 

Last week I logged in to my Red Tricycle account and much to my surprise, the UPV’s (Unique Page Views) of my best-read article had gone up significantly. At one point it was over 6200. Wow, this made me feel like I am actually a real writer. People want to read what I’ve written. I have something good to say.
Then, suddenly it went down to 290 UPV’s. As it turned out, there was a bug in the system and after it was fixed I had 290. I tried really hard not to be disappointed about it, but the truth: I was. Very much.

My Inner Gremlin (a.k.a. Ego) left no means untouched to burn me down to the ground. What was I thinking? Did I really think people want to read what I write? Well, you get the picture. My problem is that The Gremlin is not only obnoxiously mean and persistent, but also very loud and knows exactly when and where I’m most vulnerable.

But I decided not to give in to The Gremlin. After a moment (or two, three), I pulled myself together as much as I possibly could. I believe I do have something to say. It isn’t about that ugly little Gremlin that needs others to approve of it, it’s about helping myself and others in our struggle through life. Reminding myself that if it helps just one person, it’s worth it. The only way to beat The Gremlin is to be more persistent than it. I can do that. Yes, I may need a moment or two to catch my breath and lick my wounds, but I will get back up again.

Living in a world that values superficial things like being famous, rich, skinny, pretty etc. makes The Gremlin believe that by reaching those things it will find love and acceptance. No, The Gremlin isn’t very smart. Even if I did make it to all its goals, The Gremlin still wouldn’t be happy. It needs constant praise and admiration from others to be content. Obviously, that’s not going to happen.
And I know I’m not the only one that is being terrorized by a Gremlin. Memes like “I’m not here to be average, I’m here to be awesome” are popping up everywhere.

But, what is wrong with average? After all, average is just most common. And…if everyone is special, that means it is most common and therefore special is no longer special, but just… average. In which case you are still awesome… just like the rest. Is that so bad? Wouldn’t it be great if we all felt awesome and be ok with others feeling the same?
Isn’t that how it is? Isn’t everyone special in their own way? Yes, it’s cliché, but it’s cliché for a reason. Aren’t the people you love so much more special than a random talented person? No matter how great they are, at the end of the day it’s your loved ones that matter.
Who defines “special” anyway? What is awesome to one person, may not mean anything to another. And no matter how much you excel and how special you are, there will always be someone to disagree.

Self-esteem seems like a good tool to beat The Gremlin, right? But the thing with self-esteem is, it only goes so far. It depends on whether things go well; when one can feel better than others. Study shows that when things don’t work out as they “should”, the self-esteem diminishes and/or others are being blamed for poor judgment. Also, those people tend to get angry or defensive when they feel their ego is being threatened (yep, that’s me).
Why? Because self-esteem is based on judgement. Success means you’re good, failure means you’re bad. And honestly, how often do you beat yourself up not being good enough? It has its roots in not feeling ok with who you are and therefore you need to compare yourself with others and be better.

According to Kristin Neff the alternative is self-compassion. Compassion literally means to suffer with (derived from Latin: com means with and pati means suffer). Self-compassion is about not judging yourself, but being kind to yourself and accepting that you’re suffering instead of beating yourself up because you failed. It’s about accepting success and failure as part of life, something that happens to everyone. People who do this are better able to accept imperfections and to handle rejections because they don’t take it too personal.
As Kristin Neff says: “self-compassion is about shared humanity- it’s all about being average. It’s about being a human: We have strengths and beautiful qualities, and we have weaknesses; we succeed, we fail and it’s all part of this shared human condition.

You can be the most talented person in the world, but if you don’t know how to embrace yourself for who you are, it will never be enough. You will never be enough, what you do will never be enough, what you have will never be enough. When we accept failure is part of being human, we allow ourselves to be who we are instead of striving for acceptance by others.
Of course, if you are good, by all means enjoy it, just realize you would be worth as much without it.

Yes, it’s one of those things that is easier said than done. But challenge makes us grow. There are moments that I feel I can never beat The Gremlin. I allow myself a moment to feel and acknowledge the pain, it’s there, if I deny it, it will only grow. Then, I remind myself that I can only beat it by being more persistent than The Gremlin. That I’m only human, that I can learn from failure, that I have a lot of things to be grateful for and that doing everything to be the best me is as awesome as one can be. I can beat The Gremlin.

Do You Think Your Child Doesn’t Have a “Math Brain”? Think Again!

Photo Anthony Albright via Flickr

 

Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than the one with all the facts.
Albert Einstein

My 9 years old daughter has a love/hate relationship with math. When she gets it, she likes math. The problem is that if she doesn’t grasp it right away, she gets discouraged. She then thinks that she can’t do it and wants to give up.

When I was young I never learned the basics of math well. I’ve struggled with it to the point that I really hated it. Being raised with the idea that you possess a fixed capability to learn, I believed that I didn’t have a “math brain” and I just wished I was smarter.

So, when my daughter started to show aversion towards math, we knew we had to do something. Much to her dismay, we decided to have her do extra math daily. We explained to her that we did it, because we believed that she can do it, that she just needs to practice more. We told her that education isn’t about getting it at once and doing it perfectly, but rather making mistakes and learning from them. Not that it made much of a difference, to her it just felt like we were out to get her. But, at some point we noticed she was doing better at math. More importantly, she noticed it. She still didn’t like it, but she slowly started to believe that maybe she could do math.

This school year we have been very lucky with her new teacher. He tells the kids that they can learn anything and helps them to believe in themselves. Telling them, not only it’s ok to make mistakes, but that your brain actually grows most from making mistakes. And even though we have been telling her it’s ok to make mistakes, it wasn’t nearly as powerful as when her teacher said it.

Having someone else tell your child they can learn anything can be a powerful tool. Because of this wonderful teacher, we discovered Youcubed at Stanford. Here you can find all kinds of short videos about the science behind learning math (or anything else for that matter).
Jo Boaler, professor of math education at Stanford University, puts an end to the myth that a lot of people still believe about (especially math) having a “math brain” (or not). She shows kids how science has taught us that anyone can learn anything, that struggle and making mistakes are good, because it makes our brain grow. She tells how believing in yourself and not giving up are important to succeed and it doesn’t matter if you’re slow. It’s about understanding what you’re doing.
Whether you’d like to stimulate your child to believe in themselves or encourage your child to make mistakes and learn from them or your child just loves science, Youcubed is a wonderful resource.

Meanwhile, the best we as parents can do, is let our kids know that we believe they can learn math or whatever else. Professor Boaler (about 5 minutes into this video) gives a great example of an experiment in which students had to write an essay. All students received critical feedback on their essay. But half of them got one sentence extra, saying: I’m giving you this feedback, because I believe in you. These students did significantly better a whole year later with no other change.
Let’s encourage our kids to dream big and let them know we believe in them.

 

Owning my story 2: the power of authenticity

True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.
Brene Brown

Of all the things I struggle with, self-acceptance is probably my biggest challenge. And when I look at society, I know I’m not the only one (though admittedly there are times I feel like I am). People spend a lot of money on appearance, whether it’s plastic surgery or expensive possessions, because they care how others perceive them.

We humans are wired to live together, we all have the need to belong somewhere. The question is, where do we want to fit in? Do we want to fit in in the superficial world that tv and magazines show us? The world in which being skinny, pretty, famous, successful and making a lot of money is valued?
Or do we choose to be with people who accept themselves and others the way they are and are ok with nobody being perfect (and for the record, being rude to someone under the pretense you are “just being yourself” has nothing to do with acceptance, it only shows how much you still need to learn).

It shouldn’t be a hard choice, but for many (myself included) it is. We want to feel accepted and connected to the people around us. And from a young age on, we are taught the things we need to do to fit in to earn acceptance. Boys wear blue, girls play with dolls. A boy who wants to dress up and play with dolls? Still not accepted by most people. Best case they think he’s weird, unfortunately there are still people that think it’s his own fault if he gets bullied. While really, we should be supportive, because he is being him.

Growing up, we hardly talked about feelings in my family and you certainly didn’t want to air your dirty laundry. Also, I learned that it was better to take yourself down, so that someone else couldn’t. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that no one else can take me down, unless I let them. Only you have the power to take you down, either by doing it yourself, or giving your power to someone else.
And of course, as with most things, the concept is simple, yet the realization may be a little more challenging.

Authentic me, I’m still looking for me. I was 9 when my parents divorced and I was the oldest of three. My mother was very depressed and I felt responsible for both her and my siblings. The result was that I identified so strongly with my mother that when I went to live on my own I literally had no clue who I was. Usually puberty is the time when we take distance from our parents to develop our identity. Not me, I did what I thought would help my mother, be a nice girl, not make any trouble, be there for her when she needed me, look after my brother and sister. And somewhere along the way I lost myself.

When I realized, I literally did not know who I was, I started working on myself. I read books and went into therapy. Slowly, step by step, I am finding myself. I still have some challenges ahead, but then, I believe life is a journey and that we need to keep learning.

Keeping things to myself and putting on a mask has brought me a lot of pain and sadness, I’ve lost friends over it. Because I would always say I was doing ok, even though I wasn’t. But I felt like I couldn’t keep on saying that I wasn’t doing well. And sometimes I would actually believe myself when I said I was doing ok (I’m a little hard headed, I still do that sometimes). What did I have loose? Could thing get any worse? And so, I decided to open up and get honest about myself. Yes, it was scary, it will probably always be a little bit scary, and that’s ok. That means I’m getting out of my comfort zone.
And it was the best thing I could’ve done. I was overwhelmed by all the sweet, positive, heartfelt responses. Sometimes even from people I didn’t know. It made me realize how many people really care about me and also, how much we need one another to be open and honest, because that is the only way to really connect to others. That is the power of being authentic.

The other day I was having coffee with a friend and when we were about to leave, she said let’s get together in two weeks, I want to keep an eye on you. That was so sweet and made me feel so accepted. That morning I was ok-ish, and I felt better during our coffee, but that really made me feel cared for. That was so powerful.
I guess I must be doing something right to have a wonderful husband and some awesome friends 😊 .

 

Owning my story: the beginning

You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.
Brene Brown

Hustling for worthiness, that’s what I’ve done for as long as I can remember. Never good enough, only visible when I got high grades or was “a good girl”. Always trying to be perfect so others would like and accept me. Always trying to stand outside my story, because I was ashamed of it, of myself.

For years now, I’ve been working on myself, trying to learn how to deal with things differently. I’m making progress, but I realize that I still haven’t fully owned my story. I tried to leave out the most important part, love and empathy for myself. Because deep down there I still feel I’m not worthy of love and belonging.
But you can’t truly live when you’re always wondering what someone else will think. Besides, it’s not the example I want to set for my daughter. So, it’s time to own my story.

The concept is quite simple, the execution is slightly more challenging. I’m a perfectionist, because perfectionism is safe. It keeps you in your comfort zone to minimize the chance you screw up and get rejected. Because, what’s not to love when you’re perfect? Except, I’m not perfect. No one is. Imperfection is part of being human. And it’s only when we can accept that, that we can start owning our story.

But people are creatures of habit, especially if it’s safe. Of course, I know perfectionism isn’t healthy. But it’s easy, it’s safe and I’ve done it for so long that it has become my default setting. I will have to reboot my entire system.
But, where to begin? Honestly, no clue. I’ve been thinking of what might help me. The best I could come up with was going back to therapy and creating some new, healthy habits. Not too much and not too long, because I want it to be sustainable, it needs to last for the rest of my life.

Since I’m someone who needs structure, I decided to mark it on my calendar. It’s not so much that it needs to be done right that second, but this way I get a reminder. For me that increases the chances of actually doing it. I decided to start with two new habits and set a timer for a small amount of time every week day. This time is mandatory, if I decide to do more, that’s fine. I just want to create a habit by doing it daily.

The first thing on my list is to meditate to start my day. I will set the timer for 10 minutes. This forces me to take some time to relax. Sometimes it comes easy and I continue after the mandatory time. Other times, those 10 minutes seem to last forever. And that’s fine, just as long as I do it.

The second thing is to take time to write every day for at least half an hour. If it’s not on my calendar, I will only do it when I feel like I have inspiration. If I ever want to become a writer, I will have to start making it a habit and above all, practicing. It’s my first step in getting out of my comfort zone. I’m terrified that I will never be read, that I will never make it to the point that I write an actual book. But if I ever want to get there, I will need to take risks. Ironically, I’m trying to teach my daughter that failure isn’t the end, but a starting point. It’s a start from where you can begin to learn and grow. Practice what you preach.

Not a daily habit, but something I’m trying to be mindful about, is what I tell myself. When I notice that I’m having negative thoughts about myself, I will replace it with more helpful thoughts. The other day I met some people and when leaving most of them were talking to one another. I just felt so socially awkward that I just left silently. At that moment, I beat myself up for being like that. When I noticed that, I acknowledged my feeling of having wanted to do something differently, but I also let myself know I am ok. I went there to meet those people in the first place. I could have just not gone there. So, instead of focusing on the thing that I wish I had done differently, I focused on the big thing that I had done.
Like Brene Brown says: “If we own the story, then we can write the ending”.

September: National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

Imagine, you have been walking all day and somewhere along the way, you got lost. You’ve been walking around for hours and the day is coming to an end. It’s getting darker and darker, you can hardly see where you put your feet. You need to find shelter soon. Then, suddenly your foot slides away and you tumble down. A long way down. Like Alice into the rabbit hole, except, there’s no wonderland, just darkness.
There you are on the bottom of a pit, it’s ink black and freezing cold. You try to keep calm and carefully explore the place. Panic starts to grow when you realize the only way out is to climb up and the walls are almost smooth. You have no gear, just your bare hands and feet. You scream, you yell, but no one hears you. But you don’t give up easily and so you start to climb. It’s hard, almost nowhere to hold onto and you slip and fall. You try again in another place. A little higher this time, but your foot slips again and you’re back down. Desperately you try over and over and over again. You keep on trying, days go by, weeks, maybe more. No matter how high you get, you can’t see the slightest ray of light. The walls are to high and to smooth for you to climb back up. You give it your all, but you’re tired, so tired… You’ve used all your supplies. Finally, you reach the point where you just don’t have anything left, no food, no energy, no feelings, nothing. All you want to do is just sleep and for this to be over.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. I know there are a lot of people who consider suicide to be selfish. And I can understand that when you’ve never been in a severe depression. Someone may seem to have it all; a good job, a loving family, a lot of friends. Why do that? Why leave everything behind when you have so much to live for? The thing is, when you’re down in that pit, you can’t see that anymore. There’s nothing but darkness and no matter how hard you try to get out of there, you can’t get high enough to see some light.

Having gone through a severe depression myself, I can understand that someone may come at a point in their life that life is just darker than you ever thought darkness could be. When you feel like you are nothing but a burden for the people around you. I’m very grateful I never reached the point that taking my life seemed like my only option, but I’ve seen enough darkness not to judge someone who does.

The only way to help people overcome depression and prevent possible suicide, is to get rid of the stigma surrounding mental illness so people won’t feel ashamed to seek help.
Unfortunately, there are still a lot of people that don’t take depression seriously. Like kickboxer Andrew Tate (honestly, I had never heard of the man before, but apparently he is some kind of famous) tweeted that: “depression isn’t real” and those people are just “too lazy” to change their lives. It’s so sad when someone who is famous throws his unfounded opinion on a topic he clearly knows nothing about on social media. This reinforces the stigma surrounding mental illness and only prevents people from seeking the help they so desperately need. It’s good to see that other (really!) famous people like J.K. Rowling take time to retort.

I’m not asking anyone to understand suicide, just to think (hard) before you judge a person. You don’t know what someone has been through. It’s sad enough that someone decides to take their own life. Instead, let’s open up about mental illness and create a safe environment for people to seek help.
On this site you can learn more about mental illness and find resources if you’re interested.

 

 

 

Depression as Purpose?

Have you ever wondered what the purpose of your life is? I have. Many times. Ever since I did my first NLP training I have this feeling that I want to help people, I just don’t know how. But lately I’m starting to think that maybe it is to create awareness for mental illness. Whenever I feel insecure about my posts I keep reminding myself: if there’s just one person who gets something out of my writing, then it’s worth it. It’s not about me and my insecurities, it’s about helping people. And in this way, my depression and all my suffering hasn’t been in vain.

Depression is a part of my life like… forever, really. Not just me being depressed, but also growing up with a mother who suffered from it. For years I haven’t talked about it, but in recent years I’ve begun to realize how important it is to open up about it. Not just depression, but mental illness in general (I just often refer to depression because that is what I know best).

Living with someone who is depressed is hard. I can’t make it prettier than it is. It’s hard because the person who is depressed has so much going on that there’s no space for anything or anyone else. That’s not because they don’t want to, but because at that moment they just can’t. But that doesn’t make it any easier for the people that have to live with it, because they have needs too. And that’s why it’s so important for them as well to get rid of the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Stigma does not just prevent people who suffer from mental illness to seek help, it also prevents a lot of people who live with them from talking to people about it and seeking help for themselves. It’s hard on partners when they have to do the extra work in the household because the other person can’t do it, or to explain to others why you’re not going to that party. And, since I have a soft spot for children, especially thinking of young kids with parents who suffer from mental illness, because they depend on them. Often kids don’t know (exactly) what’s going on but they do live with the consequences of their parents illness and that can have a great impact on a child. They are so vulnerable, don’t know what is going on and often have not yet learned the resources to survive this.
Whether it’s your partner or your parent, if you live with someone who has a mental illness, you need help too. Even if it’s just a good friend who will listen to you.

Today I came across a beautiful article in which psychologist Stephen Hinshaw tells about his book: “Another Kind of Madness: A Journey through the Stigma and Hope of Mental Illness”. It is a memoir about his life growing up with a father who has psychotic episodes. It’s not in the library (yet, I hope) so I haven’t read it yet, but I definitely will. But just the article itself is a great read for everyone who is interested in mental illness. Especially if you have or know kids that grow up with a parent with a mental illness, please do read this article!

P.S. If you have questions feel free to contact me, I will do my best to answer them.