Losing My Hearing: On Being Human.

Losing My Hearing: On Being Human.

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As long as I can remember, I’ve gravitated towards accessible role models. I’m not talking the people who are untouchable but put on a “look-how-down-to-earth-I-am-STARS-THEYRE-JUST-LIKE-US” demeanour for their fans. I’ve always been most interested in the women who you can just SENSE are onto something huge even if you don’t know exactly what everything is – who are doing big things because they feel called to do so – who aren’t concerned with the BS of what things look like, but are ALL-IN when it comes to what they FEEL like. Jennifer Pastiloff is one of those people to me.

Jen and I met back in 2011, at a party for a mutual coworker/friend’s birthday. I was the new kid on the block at the job, and I felt awkward and self-conscious about my childish desire to please others – a trait I felt I should have “outgrown by now.” Couple this with my gregariousness-masked introversion and intense preference for one-on-one conversations, and I was close to crawling out of my own skin. Please let them like me, I silently begged. 

I don’t remember much about that night, but I remember meeting Jen and spending almost the entire night talking to her. This, along with our mutual friend’s emphatic demo of his new water filtration system (#fitnessinstructorparties), would be my overarching memory of the evening.

She listened intensely. She spoke assertively. She was pure kindness. I’d found a kindred spirit – a new friend – and I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I had this gut feeling that whatever Jen was up to, she was onto something big.

I soon learned that yes, Jen taught yoga classes at the same company I did…but she had a LOT of other things brewing. Between her writing, her activism, and her community building skills, she became a beacon for me of what’s possible when you own your talents – ALL of them. She was the first one who got me to really check myself and my anxious brain – Katie, is this true, or are you telling yourself a story? – when I casually said over dinner one night that I “knew” someone didn’t like me because *well look at all the evidence* (spoiler, there was very little evidence). She was one of the first people to champion my writing, and the person who told me to get specific yet relatable when it came to getting people on board with what I had to offer to the world. “People need a gateway that they understand; that they already know and relate to. Get them in the door with that, then blow their minds with what you’ve got to give.” She’s been using social media in a smart, supportive, and community-focused way since way before social media became something that should have a “strategy,” and she’s been supporting women and fighting for the rights of marginalized communities since way before others could see her do it.

That, to me, is one of the marks of a true leader: they make a difference whether you know about it or not.

Jen’s debut memoir, On Being Human, is set to release in Spring 2019, and it’s already getting massively well-deserved buzz. Centered around the touchstone stories Jen tells in her popular workshops, On Being Human is the story of how a starved person grew into the exuberant woman she was meant to be all along by battling the demons within and winning. It’s about how years of waitressing taught her to seek out unexpected beauty, how deafness taught her to listen fiercely, how being vulnerable allowed her to find love, and how imperfections can lead to a life full of wild happiness. The world is about to watch her explode. And so, before they do, I wanted to give you all a chance to meet her, so you too can say you knew her “way back when.”

Jen’s laughter is infectious and her personable candor is a breath of fresh air. Her down-to-earth humor gives you the feeling that you’re hanging with a girlfriend, not simply pounding out Warriors and Down-Dogs. No topic is off-limits with Jen, no issue too personal, no joke too irreverent. Her classes, workshops, retreats, and now BOOK all have one common theme: making your life truly happen. She believes that no dream is too small, no goal is unfathomable. As long as you can see it happening – it can happen.

I am honored to share this piece of Jen’s – about deafness, death, remembering, and rebirth – here today. I know you’ll love it.

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jennifer pastiloff on being human

Losing My Hearing.

The natural history of this archipelago is very remarkable: it seems to be a little world within itself.
—Charles Darwin, “Voyage of The Beagle”

 

After my father died, we left New Jersey with its death and dying and cold winters and fled to Southern California. We were the three of us in a station wagon—my mother, my sister, and I, and it was a simple case of “should we turn left or right?” Which, I’ve come to realize, is the way most of life works.

Door number one: you stay in college, wear turtlenecks, work in a university.

Door number two: you drop out of college, run for three hours a day, wait tables. (And turtlenecks, they’re the devil.)

Turn right: he does drugs “one last time” and dies.

Turn left: and there he is on the sofa in his frayed cutoffs and we never make the trek to California.

So a should-we-turn-left-or-right happens and we choose left instead of right and end up in Santa Monica, where we live next to a man, his two daughters, and their beagle, Darwin, whom they keep locked up in a cage.

Darwin was a mean little dog. But hey, I might be mean too if I was confined all day to a small metal prison inside a dark kitchen. His bark was anxious, filled with accusations. I can see now how lonely he must’ve been in that little box. The kitchen empty, the lights out, and Darwin sitting in his own piss. I’d be angry too.

~

I’m leading a yoga and writing retreat in The Galapagos Islands and no matter where you go, you hear Darwin’s name. Me? I can’t hear well, so I only catch the tail ends of sentences. Bits of words: tortoise, finch, North Seymour Island, sea lion, lava, Darwin this, Darwin that. It’s rumored Darwin rode on the backs of ancient tortoises. A cacophony of noise. Meaningless to my failing ears.

People say I don’t pay attention. You don’t listen. You’re an airhead, they say. I want to wear a sign that says “Don’t make up stories. I just can’t fucking hear,” but that may be too on the nose, so I usually just drop a few steps back until I am away from sound altogether.

It’s exhausting straining to make out what people are saying. I read lips, but that’s also sleep-inducing. Staring so hard at mouths making their O shapes or their various forms of joy or disgust, it can wear a person out. Sometimes I simply stare into space, because really, what else is there to do when you can’t hear and you’re tired of pretending?

I’m alone in a crowd of people, the bearer of silence among noise. Easily confused by the letters C and D and E. I think Tom is John. I hear my name when it isn’t called. Everything starts sounding the same. Everything starts to sound like nothing. I think of bursts of silence as holy things.

The name Darwin is spoken and I see that little dog trying to bark his way out of a cage. My own drifting off from groups is something like that. I bark my way out of a room until I am gone.

~

Our guide, Carlos, tells us to look up when we get to the South Plazas Islands. “There’s a frigatebird,” he says, and points to a bird soaring overhead. “Their bones are hollow and full of air. They don’t have to flap their wings, so it saves them energy.” He tells us that they often attack other birds. “They are mean birds.”

I think of Darwin the beagle and my own conservation of energy. And how subjective a word “mean” is with its latching-on abilities. You can slap that word, with its simple meat sound, onto just about anything. Mean bird, mean dog, mean girl. How it can cover what we don’t understand. A lazy slab of raw judgment.

Frigatebird. I hear “frig it.” Synonymous with “fuck it,” which seems fitting to me. These sky bullies with their reddish throat pouches that look like balloons.

I often make up my own words to get by in the world. I’ll write down what I think someone is saying and Google it later. Usually I’ve gotten it wrong, but Google will guess close enough and show me the right version without any judgment.

My evolution has been backwards—from hearing to not hearing.

When I can no longer hear sounds I will still hear colors. @jenpastiloff Click To Tweet

During my yoga class, I ask everyone what they want to let go of. Judgment, the word “should,” my anger at my family, are among a few of the things written. I ask my students to step outside onto the grass, under the coffee trees here at Semilla Verde. We stand in a circle, eyes closed, out in the rain in the mud of The Galapagos, and it feels like the right thing to do. One woman has tears streaming down her face. A cat walks by and also a giant tortoise. I think about turning left or right.

We stand in the grass in our bare feet and I ask, “Can you feel how connected we all are?” which sounds like some bad yoga teacher cliche. The cat stops in between us, the woman with the tears down her face looks up, and under the canopy of trees I try to memorize colors because when I can no longer hear sounds I will still hear colors.

One of the women on my retreat hands me a note folded into a little triangle. It says: “The truth is I’m in excruciating pain. The truth is I don’t know how to express myself. ” How misunderstood so many of us are—the woman with the the note, Darwin the dog, me with my bad ears.

~

I’ve bought each person a mini Ecuadorian bottle of champagne for Thanksgiving. (You’ve never really seen a star-filled sky until you’ve stood on the balcony of Semilla Verde Lodge in Puerto Ayora, Ecuador.) We go outside and clink to what we’re grateful for.

Our guide Che Che’s excitement at his job. “Hey guys! Look at that, the male sea lion is surfing!” To see someone so passionate about his job. I’m grateful for that. I want to be that,

This beautiful place,

Spending Thanksgiving with people I choose to spend it with for the first time in my life,

Ecuadorian champagne,

the iguanas.

We clink and drink and stare up at the marvel of a sky.

When we come back inside someone turns down the lights. For ambiance. And there I am at the head of the table alone inside all the noise. It’s too dark to lip-read. I’ve lost my only tool so I drift back to New York City in October. I’m at Le Pain Quotidien, having lunch with the poet Michael Tyrell. We’ve been friends a long time. We’ve traveled to China together, we both received a fellowship to study at Bucknell as poets for a summer. We call each other Bubby, and neither remembers why.

I ask him to read a poem so I can record it. “Mike, read something. I’ll record it and post it. People need to know your work.”

The café is loud and I can’t hear most of what he says between my hearing loss and the clanking plates, but I record him anyway on my iPhone. He’s a beautiful poet. He reads a poem called “Falling Stars” because, he says, that was all he had on him.

I’m not sure I

saw anything bright fall, from heaven.

My best friend calls them bad omens,

anyway, falling stars she calls them.

She sees bad things even in the sky, these days—

See those clouds up there, she says,

the government sprays them

to keep us under control.

I have a disease because of them.

There are fibers growing from my skin.

You don’t have to believe me.

I’m used to not being believed.

Last week she said she saw a man

licking a pay phone at the commuter station.

He did it quickly, guiltily—like a shoplifter.

But when he was finished he held his head high,

as if this, by whatever design,

was his lot, and nobody else’s.

As we sit in the dark and people begin spewing their Thanksgiving thank yous, one of the women says, “I’m grateful for the shooting star I just saw,” and I think of Michael’s poem.

I’m useless as the head of the table. The voices make their own little countries, each one its own little word map. Unable to make sense of the words, I close my eyes and decide I must be like the man licking the payphone in Michael’s poem. By whatever design, this is my lot, and nobody else’s.

The first time I acknowledged that my father was gone was Thanksgiving 1983. He had been dead since July 15, but somehow the empty chair at the head of the table that Thanksgiving was the first time I spoke of his absence. “Where is my father?” I asked.

That was the night my mother decided we’d leave New Jersey, our house, bad weather.

I think that perhaps words are overrated. Talking, unnecessary. @jenpastiloff Click To Tweet

Rob, the man who owns the house here in the Galapagos, is a lively Brit who’d gone to Spain to become a dive instructor. He’d somehow ended up owning a coffee farm in the Galapagos, where he now runs a hotel with his Ecuadorian wife and their two small children. He reads my latest work over my shoulder and startles me with his thunderous voice: “Your father sounds like me. Loud and farts a lot.”

I tell him I don’t mind that one bit and that I like loud people.

I do like him. He is about to move to mainland Gyuaquil so his daughter Iona, a dead ringer for Pippi Longstocking, can attend a good school with the kids of the “movers and shakers” of Gyuaquil. He says that he knows Iona will stay Iona, and that what has made her here in the Galapagos—all those morning walks with tortoises—will remain a part of her. I believe him.

I watch Iona pick flowers with the cook’s daughter, an Ecaudorian girl who speaks no English. Each hands me a bouquet of purple flowers yet neither says a word. Purple flowers in-hand, I think that perhaps words are overrated. Talking, unnecessary.

As a volcano erupts and empties its magma chamber, the surrounding rock will collapse into it and leave huge craters in the earth. On Santa Cruz Island, collapsed into the earth, sit Los Gemelos, The Twins, as they are called, two large craters that were once underground magma chambers. Rob’s love of the place is evident. He has taken my group here to explain about natural selection and Darwin, survival of the fittest, volcanoes and moss. I stand as close to him as I can so as not to miss anything.

When I was a child I used to make this weird sound when I concentrated. It was a miserable sound, a godawful droning noise, like one of those old tests that television networks used to broadcast (This is only a test…) For hours at a time, as I colored or read, I would make that sound as if I were alerting the world to something. People made fun of me for it. I forced the sound back into my body and locked it inside of my head.

 

After decades of living in profound denial, I finally accepted that I had severe hearing loss. The audiologist put me in a box, stuck a piece of white paper over his mouth, and asked if I could hear what he was saying with the paper covering his lips. I couldn’t. I understood then that I was going deaf.

Again I thought: words overrated, talking unnecessary.

In a box, locked up like Darwin the dog.

When the doctor said severe hearing loss on top of tinnitus, it occurred to me that the eeeeeeeeeee sound I had made as a child was my way of mimicking what I heard in my head. I was trying to get it out. I was trying to drown it out. Anything to make it stop.

The phrase adapt or die makes sense. I’ve adapted to the constant ringing in my head. When it becomes too much to bear, I adapt by drinking wine. Or by sleeping.

The key to evolution is remembering. @jenpastiloff Click To Tweet

During one of our designated beach days, while we do our best not to accidentally step on the gigantic iguanas all over Tortuga Bay, Rob tells us that some of the kids on the Galapagos Islands don’t know that they live on an island. They have no idea that there is ocean all around them, that there is geography beyond their bodies.

I remember Michael’s poem and the man licking the payphone. This is our lot, I think. Me, the payphone licker, the kids on the island. The frigatebirds. We do what we must to survive.

Snorkeling on Bartolomé Island, I would never know that I am hard of hearing unless I remind myself—and why would I? Why the constant need for reminders? So I just float there for a long time on the surface of the sea, listening to my breath as if through a can. I can turn left or right and it won’t make a difference. My ears, having evolved into something else, are no longer part of my body.

The key to evolution is remembering. The last line of Patrimony, Philip Roth’s memoir about his dying father: “You must not forget anything.” It plays in my head as I snorkel.

Underwater, I remember what causes me pain and how to avoid it. This is our lot, I say to the fish silently.

I remember Darwin the dog and the colors in front of me (aqua blue, tortoise grey, inky green) as if they have already vanished, my memory the only sure confirmation of their existence.

I remember my heart, and I hear it, maybe, probably, for the first time ever.

To preorder On Being Human, click here.
Follow Jen on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, at @NoBullshitMotherhood, and at @GPowerYouAreEnough.
This post originally appeared here. 

The New January.

The New January.

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UNLIKE MOST KIDS, I don’t remember EVER dreading the first day of school. I might have had a mini panic attack before starting my senior year of high school (first and lasts always get me), but even those years when I switched schools and had to find all new friends, all that ever bubbled up was excitement and enthusiasm.

Maybe it was my naiveté, maybe it was my upbringing, maybe it was just my personality. But there was something about backpack shopping, picking out my outfits, and pouring over the introductory paperwork all the students at my schools were sent pre- Day One that made my heart so very happy. The impending challenges of a new grade – or in some cases, a new school altogether – never really entered my head. Back To School season was the BEST season of the year.

No matter what our lives looked like in those formative years of kindergarten through 12th grade, once September hits the ground running, we’re thrown back into that mentality of going “back to school.” We prepare for a new start, hope for positive change, and cross our fingers that we’ll be able to handle what life dishes out in the coming months.

Without summer vacations and required reading, though, it can be hard as an adult to draw the line between where summer ends and fall begins. Because although we’d love to have an endless summer, and although the first day of Autumn isn’t technically until September 23rd, we can all feel a shift from the moment Labor Day weekend comes to a close. It’s “back to the grind,” even though most of us have been grinding all year long. And so it can just seem like more of the same – like we lost track of time, and the time of year so associated with taking a breather completely passed us by. Couple this with a built-in programming from childhood to register this time of year as transitional, and it’s easy to feel a little bummed out by the seasonal shift.

While January usually gets the attention when it comes to resolutions, I’d like to argue that September deserves just as much attention as the 01/01 mark.

Autumn is the perfect time to evaluate where you’ve been, where you’re at, and where you’re going. It’s a time for us to bring back that childlike enthusiasm, relentless joy, and even those first-day jitters we had as kids. Because all worthwhile and exciting changes in life bring up first-day jitters, really.

It’s called “Fall” for a reason: just like the leaves break from the brances so the tree can begin its process of renewal, we too should let our old energy-suckers fall off our backs to make way for this new season of growth.

It's called Fall for a reason: just like the leaves break from the brances so the tree can begin its process of renewal, we too should let our old energy-suckers fall off our backs to make way for this new season of growth. Click To Tweet

This month – and this Fall in general – I encourage you to look at what’s worked, what hasn’t, and what your heart truly desires in this moment. Maybe you’ve been skimping on self care and getting a 15 minute sweat in before work is just what you need. Maybe you’ve been so wrapped up in work that your social life isn’t what you’d like it to be. Call a friend you haven’t checked in on in a while. Evaluate what you’ve accomplished this year so far, and how you want to feel by the time the clock strikes midnight on January 1st of next year.

Some thinks I’ll be thinking and questions I’ll be asking myself – feel free to steal them for your own musings:

september

  • Who can I look up to who is doing the REAL work, not just what is trendy, popular, or the easy way out?
  • How can I both grow my business and make my community ATYPICALLY authentic and meaningful?
  • Mornings. Middays. Bedtimes. What are some ways to tap into my energy levels during each season of the day and maximize my potential, even on those days I’m feeling down in the slumps?
  • What things are the most important to do each day…and what things are just “routine addiction”? (ex: if I have a podcast interview at 9AM but wake up at 7:30AM, is it more important for me to fit in a workout like I do almost every morning, or take the time to get centered and prepare for a successful conversation?)
  • Things that make me nervous. If those nerves are created by stories I’ve been telling myself, it’s time to rewrite the narrative by just going for it and doing the damn thing.

There will be challenges in the coming months, of course, and the newness of Fall and Winter will bring all kinds of highs and lows we could never have predicted. But if we shift our perspective to refocus our minds, refresh our hearts, and renew our commitments, there’s no telling what kind of miracles the rest of this year has in store.

Pick out your outfit, grab your backpack, and let’s get on this bus together.

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I Tell Myself Stories: The Need for Validation.

I Tell Myself Stories: The Need for Validation.

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What child is afraid of swing sets? This child was, that’s who.

I was afraid of the swings, I was afraid of the Big Slide, I didn’t venture into the “deep end” until I was seven years old. I stayed the fck away from the monkey bars, and I sure as hell wouldn’t play double-dutch jump rope because I knew without a DOUBT I’d be whipped in the face.

It’s not the failure per se, but the loss of control that frightened me. It was the idea of being suspended in the air, in the water, no top, no bottom, nothing holding me up but sheer momentum and no control of grounding.

Being caught in space. Indefinitely.

Control was my first frenemy. The first one who made me believe I was lost without her, when in fact I was most lost when in her smothering embrace.

When I had control, I looked for cracks in the surface.

Threats everywhere. I look for those out to do me wrong.

And when I had no control…when I was uncertain…I made up stories.

I see the fall. I see drowning. I see the spiral downward.

And I look for someone to save me.

Validation is what we crave when we’re unsure: of a moment, of our place, of ourselves. And seeking it out works in exactly the opposite way we want it to.

We plead for Yesses and get bogged down in our Tryings. We become so afraid, so unsure, SO self-conscious, that we hinder ourselves from moving forward, simply because we’re so scared of falling back. And so we do.

It’s frustrating as hell, but honestly, is it at all surprising? If our fear of falling short is the energy that we put out into the universe, why is it any wonder that we’re always feeling two steps behind?

Let’s not kid ourselves: it helps to be validated. Positive reinforcement…who wouldn’t eat that up? We want to know that we’re worthwhile; that we’re okay.

But when we actively seek validation, we’re being reactive instead of proactive. Our actions become an external comeback instead of an internal process.

When we actively seek validation, we're being reactive instead of proactive. Our actions become an external comeback instead of an internal process. Click To Tweet

We so desire to be loved and told we’re worthwhile, because at the heart of the matter, to feel ineffective is a frightening thing. And when we don’t receive validation – or receive the exact opposite, criticism – we start to tell ourselves stories in order to exert control. We say we’re doing things all wrong, we start to feel as if we have something to prove.

My question is this: Prove what?

We are alive. Here. In existence.

We are proven simply by existing.

 

We don’t need validation in order to be fully and wholly ourselves. That’s OUR job, not anyone else’s. It’s the stories that trap us. The stories of the flailing, the drowning, the stuck-ness in space. Will anyone love me if I fall? Will I be good enough even if no one else says it out loud? If I can’t see it, is it even real?

 

Untangle the trap. Recognize when you’re telling yourself stories by flipping the narrative. Instead of acting and reacting out of FEAR and NEED, be proactive and productive out of LOVE and WANT. Will you get some kind words or praise along the way? I mean, probably. Productive and Proactive are infectious. Everyone wants a little of whatever the most self-assured and got-it-together person in the room is having, and that will most likely get you a nice potpourri mix of extremes; both validation and judgement. The trick is to not let either guide your actions. And if you’re like me and you’re thinking, “But wait. I’m not that self-assured and DEFINITELY don’t got-it-together at ALL” …it makes no difference. Proactive and Productive read as self-assured and got-it-together from the outside. That’s their story to tell. Not yours.

I still tell myself wild stories that I am caught without grounding in space, that I am thought ill of, that I am screwing up and that someone is onto me. That someone else is more qualified, more talented, more beautiful, more special and well-liked. Just More.

And when I tell myself these stories I take the drama, I take the romanticized truths in my head and I ask WHY. Turns out that the story I tell is usually rationally improbable. And that much of my story is actually rooted in a need to be validated; a surface-level reaction. A premonition that I might have something to be sorry about, just by being me. When the truth is that “being me” is the greatest asset I could ever have.

~

So swing high and dive deep. Take a stand and give yourself the credit you deserve.

Trust your actions. Trust your intuition. Because we have everything we need, right here, right now.

Your validation is that your life is happening For you. To you. With you.

Your validation – it’s in your existence.

And so you keep going.

validation

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A Brief List Of Things To Apologize For.

A Brief List Of Things To Apologize For.

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You do not need to apologize for who you are.

You do not need to apologize for:
Your hair.
Your clothes.
Your makeup
Or none.
Your reserve

Or none.

You do not need to apologize for your ideas,
Or your dreams

Or the way you see potential when others refuse to look anywhere but the other way.

And oh! you don’t need to apologize for the way people treat you,
Or to the ones you could not save.

Their missteps are not yours to correct.

The Sorrys and “My-Bad”s, they exhaust and they diminish
They pilfer your treasures and rob you of reason.

Just like to Cry Wolf
Trains you into an anxious state,

To Cry Sorry
Is to always assume that dis-ease is your fault.

You do not need to be sorry for your Words
OR your Silence
And not even the Words your Silence so obviously implies.

The only thing,
ONLY
THING

You ever need to apologize for,

And the
ONLY
ONE

You need to apologize to,

Is not being yourself

To yourself

In a world that so wants you to be anonymous because it’s easier that way.

 

Breaking Out of Self-Doubt

Breaking Out of Self-Doubt

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SELF-DOUBT IS A HEAD TRIP – doubting ourselves, doubting what we deserve and doubting what is real. When we feel a lack of control, when the outcome is uncertain, or even when we latch onto a vague remark, that’s when self-doubt rears its ugly head. It’s a fluttering in the chest and an unsettled stomach; it’s a pounding headache and a gust of wind sending us into a dust-filled spiral.

Self-doubt is a form of armor, I’ve deduced. When I start to doubt myself – my capabilities, my relationships, my character – I formulate questions or negative statements in my mind to protect myself from hurt or disappointment. Because if I’ve thought of it first, I am prepared. Disappointment won’t come as a surprise, I tell myself, because I have made the doubt a part of my truth.

I am sick of it.

~

I am sick of doubt, and how utterly exhausting the process is. I’ll feel the fluttering in my chest and start to devise little tests…tiny ways to see if what I am receiving is deserved, or if I’m actually properly suited for the task at hand.

I do it all the time. And I know I’m not alone in this.

It’s like essay writing in a high school English course: a thesis statement can’t just stand alone, so we create supporting evidence to prove our point. We fall in love too fast for our own liking, so we place our partner on a tightrope and look for signs that it’s “just not right.” We’re offered a new job or responsibility that’s a tad bit scary and outside our comfort zone, so we jump to the What-Ifs and Screw-Ups at the opposite end of success. If we’re looked at in *That Way* or talked to in *That Tone* or described as merely “Nice” instead of “Amazing,” the same unanswered question always arises: Am I good enough?

It’s so simple to say things like “Just get over it,” “Don’t worry, be happy!” or my personal (and least-effective) fave, “Haters gonna hate!”

But the truth is…I will never advocate to “just get over it,” because I know that feeling exists for a reason.

With doubt comes a drought of self-worth. But every drought is accompanied by a fantastical rain.

So why should it be any different when it comes to our souls?

As uncomfortable as it can be, we need to let doubt run its course – yet simultaneously and consciously work through it. By learning how to deal with those pangs of self-doubt, their duration and impact will naturally become less and less. Yes, we DO need to experience it all – but if we allow doubt to fill our minds with every possible outcome as a means of protection, we miss out on growth and experience. We shield ourselves from hurt, yes – but then what? The would-be thrill of joyful success is replaced by mere relief of a changeless plan.

I don’t know about you, but I refuse to live my life simply “relieved” that there were no bumps in the road.

~

Doubt is a matrix in which lies the root of our purpose. We doubt what we’re best at and what makes us unique. 

And so when we start to doubt, it’s simply a sign we’re not grounded. We’re losing our footing in who we are.

Doubt is a matrix in which lies the root of our purpose. Click To Tweet

When you feel yourself jumping ahead and creating supporting examples for your thesis statement of “I Am Not Enough,” dissociate from the situation at hand. Feel the doubt and the instability, then act on the polar opposite: What makes you feel most grounded and at your best? Is it talking to (or texting with) friends or family? Watching movies? Singing to yourself, baking a pie, simply strolling and soaking in the eclectic architecture around you? Whatever it is, do it. Do it now, for at least ten minutes straight. And I promise you, by the end of those ten minutes you will feel that there is no one better to be than who you are in this very moment.

Is it a distraction? Kind of. A quick fix? Maybe. But sometimes we need something other than big-time soul questions, because sometimes those are questions we’re not in a headspace to answer.

I get asked questions all the time about how to shift your self talk “for good,” like there’s one definitive answer and a simple solution that works for all. But it’s way more complicated than that. Some of us respond better to asking deep, strategic questions right off the bat (see this list for my go-tos). Some of us need a physical reminder of our worth before the questions can even come. Doing something that makes you feel your MOST grounded and at your best – feelings that doubts tries its hardest to hijack – is the simplest way I know to make a positive, proactive shift in the moment to remind you of who you really are (and that person is pretty awesome). The big thoughts and soul questions come easier when we can look at our reactions through a proactive lens.

The big thoughts and soul questions come easier when we can look at our reactions through a proactive lens. Click To Tweet

I am slowly learning to shed my armor, and realizing that the only protection I need is a good sunscreen and a wide umbrella. I’m planting my feet and realizing that the more certain I am about what makes me feel good from the inside out, the less I allow doubt to deplete my self-worth. Because it’s been tapping into my reserves and sucking me dry for way too long.

My spirit is about to be awakened once again, and I can’t wait. Grab your umbrella and join me.



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Braving The Wilderness: 4 Big-Time Takeaways From The Most Important Book Of The Year

Braving The Wilderness: 4 Big-Time Takeaways From The Most Important Book Of The Year

Community Tips + Tools WANT Women

A couple weeks back, I got an email from the Community Manager at The Fullest, an online magazine I adore that’s dedicated to contemporary culture. It was short, sweet, and to the point: We’ve got a book club series we do in LA and NYC. Would you want to host one?

The answer was obviously an enthusiastic “YES.” (Possibly surrounded by every single celebratory emoji I could find on my keyboard.)

As the little kid who would get in trouble for staying up late to finish every single installment of The Boxcar Children and Babysitter’s Club, toted around all 1400 pages of Les Misérables in my eighth grade backpack, and would usually rather stay in with a trilogy than go out on the town, book clubs are MY JAM. Learning about different perspectives, stories, and revelations, then being able to discuss them with others, isn’t just satisfying to the inner binge reader in me: it calms a very specific social anxiety I sometimes get when I realize I’ve taken a conversation way past the surface-level and the others aren’t feeling it.

When I’m talking about a book I love, I’m unfiltered and all heart – and usually discussing it with people who are on the same page (no pun intended). Just like any worthwhile piece of art, discussing a good book brings out a part of me I sometimes hide in fear of not “fitting in” with those around me.

So when The Fullest told me I got to choose my own book to discuss, it was a no-brainer. If I was gonna go there, I wanted to really go there. I was going to choose the book ABOUT fitting in.

~

Braving The Wilderness by Brené Brown (whom I oft refer to as HPB – High Priestess Brené) is hands down the most important read right now in our current cultural climate. In actuality, it isn’t only about fitting in – it’s about belonging. There’s a difference between the two, and the fact that so many of us are looking for the former and disregarding the latter is why I truly believe it’s the most important book of the year. Maybe the most important book of the decade. And maybe – no, certainly – the most important book for every single person to have in their hands right now. It could save relationships, save communities…and help us save ourselves.

Some questions the book brought up for me:

When do you feel the biggest sense of belonging? The weightiest pressure to fit in?
Where in life can you write yourself a permission slip to be yourself?
Do you trust others? But more importantly – do you trust yourself? Like, really, truly. Do you TRUST yourself? In what ways can you trust yourself more?
What truths are you telling yourself that might actually be of your own making?
Why, as an introvert, can big groups sometimes feel more comforting than one-on-one experiences?
Where does dehumanization exist, and how can you combat it?
Why are we all so lonley and doing so little about it???

Considering that what ended up being a two-hour book club discussion wasn’t nearly enough time to dig into every single powerful point (and that I’d planned for the discussion to last, oh, 45 minutes or so), starting to dive into all of them on here could result in a whole other book itself (Braving Braving The Wilderness?). So I’ve narrowed it down to some of my favorite points made, and some of the most universal of the universal truths Brené so beautifully lays in front of us to do with them as we will. And man oh man, I hope we do Good with them.

If you read ONE book this year, make it this one. Here are four of my top takeaways:

braving the wilderness brene brown

1. True belonging is the exact opposite of fitting in. One of the reasons this book gets awarded the Katie Horwitch Award (patent pending) for Most Important Book Of The Year is this world-rocking thesis statement. The book begins with a Maya Angelou quote that pissed Brené off:

You are only free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.

True belonging, Brené learns, is about belonging to YOURSELF first and foremost. True belonging is being fully yourself wherever you go, and being called to stand alone. True belonging “doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

Fitting in, then, is the exact opposite. Fitting in is trying to mold yourself to fit a situation, a clique, a stereotype – whatever it is that will make you less like YOU and more like THEM. This simple yet ridiculously profound difference explains a lot. Mainly why so many of us feel so shitty even when we feel we’ve acclimated to whatever group we hoped to become a part of. It’s why so many of us are so lonely even when we’re far from alone. We belong to everyone…everyone else but ourselves.

I’ve been in the “self-improvement”/wellness/mind-body/whatever-you-want-to-call-it world for a while now. I’ve heard the phrase “Belong to yourself” before. That statement alone wasn’t revolutionary to me. But the dichotomy of belonging vs. fitting in WAS. And when I thought deeply about the phrasing and jumbled the words a bit, I noticed something I’d never thought of before.

I belong to me.

To me, I belong.

In my opinion, I belong.

True belonging is about full possession of yourself, sure. But it’s also about BELIEVING in your capacity to belong wherever you go.

True belonging doesn't require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are. - @brenebrown Click To Tweet

2. Don’t study the moment. Be in it. One of my favorite little snippets of storytelling in Braving The Wilderness comes when Brené is about to go on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. She’s walking down the street with her manager, Murdoch, the night before, and he calls her out on how “not-present” she just was at dinner with the Super Soul producer.

She says to him:

Brene: ‘I’m doing that thing I do when I’m afraid. I’m floating above my life, watching it and studying it, rather than living it.’

Murdoch: ‘I know. But you need to find a way to stop and bring yourself back here. This is a big deal. I don’t want you to miss it. Don’t study the moment. Be in it.’

That HIT me. Hard. How many times have we completely missed out on experiencing greatness – big deal, big-ass things – because we were too preoccupied dissecting the moment? How many times have we unknowingly lost love because we were so busy analyzing every little gesture, glance, and word to see if it matched up with our preconceived definitions? How many opportunities have we failed to seize because we were too busy trying to be what we oh-so-carefully deduced the opportunity demanded of us? How many Big Deals have we missed because we were too busy studying them and not enough time being IN them? It hurts my head to think about all the potential moments I’ve missed in the past because I was too busy dissecting them or too preocuppied with “Am I worthy? How do I make myself worthy?” Big-ass things are only big-ass things when we trust ourselves enough to live within them. Otherwise, they’re just a bunch of Somethings that once happened at Some Point.

Don't study the moment. Be in it. - #BravingTheWilderness by @brenebrown Click To Tweet


3. Silence leads to storytelling.
 Yup. Boom. I’m a pro at this. I’d just never heard it put SO succinctly.

I am an expert storyteller, and I bet you are, too. We tell ourselves stories to fill in the blanks – not because we’re all masochists, but because we’re trying to make sense of the broken pieces. Maybe you weren’t chosen to work on a project because your manager needs you to have availability for an even greater task that’s coming up a few months down the line – but without asking a simple question or two (spoiler, try “Why?” to start), your brain probably decides it’s because you’re ill-equipped or pissed someone off. Maybe your friend didn’t call or text you back because they’re going through a tough time and feel overwhelmed – but without checking in, you might assume it’s because you did something wrong. Maybe your date let out a long SIGH at the end of the night because they got a text from their manager on their day off – but without asking, I bet you assume it’s because they’re sick of spending time with you.

These are all just small examples, but small examples turn into big stories. And the big stories we weave for ourselves are made up of multiple threads of actual or perceived truth upon actual or perceived truth. Every story we tell informs the next action we take  – and sets the stage for how we’re going to react to the next thing that comes our way.

Our lives are our collection of stories. So what kind do you want to tell?

We tell ourselves stories to fill in the blanks - not because we're all masochists, but because we're trying to make sense of the broken pieces. Click To Tweet

4. Bullshit is in a whole other ballpark than Truth and Lies – which is why it feels so wrong. I always thought there were two options when it came to communication: telling the truth or telling lies. But it turns out, most of what I was referring to as Lying was actually something else. Bullshitting.

Brené describes truth and lies as opposing players in the same game. BS, however, completely disregards the game. She quotes Harry Frankfurt’s book On Bullshit and says, “It’s helpful to think of lying as a defiance of the truth and bullshitting as a wholesale dismissal of the truth.”

She goes on to say we use bullshit to talk about things we don’t understand. To be a part of a conversation based on what you guess “your people” think about it. And it’s what creates black-and-white ideaologies of You’re Either With Us Or Against Us.

Oof. LOL to how many pages I dogeared and underlined in this chapter.

I always tell my husband, Jeremy, that his biggest strength and biggest weakness is that he’s able to see all sides of any situation. For the LONGEST time, this frustrated the hell out of me. Just agree with me! I’d silently stew. Don’t you think that’s just HORRIBLE?? I’d ask, words loaded, out loud. I couldn’t get over that he just wouldn’t choose a point to be for or against.

I grew up around adults who jumped to conclusions fast and expressed opinions even faster – and I have what used to be painful memories of being “put in my place” and silenced when I tried to see all sides.

I know I’m not alone in that kind of upbringing. Because look at our country. Look at our world. We wouldn’t be this way if we weren’t, generation after generation, either overtly or passive-aggressively either silenced or forced to pick sides. We are living in Bullshit Nation.

The solution to this? Brené says we need to call out bullshit…with CIVILITY. “Speaking truth to BS” doesn’t mean pointing fingers or placing blame. It means disagreeing respectfully and getting curious about where opinions and information come from.

It's helpful to think of lying as a defiance of the truth and bullshitting as a wholesale dismissal of the truth. - @brenebrown Click To Tweet

While Jeremy’s see-all-sides and ask-all-questions approach can be frustrating when I just want him to show me he has an opinion that’s all his own, I know he’s right. Our opinions can be loaded. And there is no way we can evolve into the people we want to be – individually or collectively – if we give up on each other and don’t get curious about how those opinions came to be in the first place. There is no way we will ever find a sense of belonging if we keep choosing a culture of Fitting In.

I say it on the WANTcast all the time, and I’ll say it here again for the people in the back: I truly believe that curiosity could change the world. And with the help of Braving The Wilderness, it just might.

 


Thank you to The Fullest for asking me to be a part of your book club! To get involved with The Fullest, click here.

WANT Yourself:

Have you read Braving The Wilderness yet? What are your top takeaways from the book? If you haven’t read it yet, was there something in this post that piqued your interest? Should I host another discussion of Braving The Wilderness either in-person or on IG Live?????


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