I’ve always been a sucker for late 90s, early 2000s rom-coms. The soudtracks! The star power! The good person getting the job and winning the man!
(there’s always the man. more on that in a sec.)
I still love me a good rom-com for sentimental reasons. But the most clichéd ones? They’re now rough to watch. Many require you to majorly suspend your disbelief as you watch a completely problematic and unrealistic situation magically work itself out, and many (at leats many of the early ones) reinforced a trope created in decades prior that looking, acting, and responding in a very particular way will get you what you want and deserve in life.
My main issue with rom coms when I watch them now, however, is this:
In many of these so-called “girl powered” movies, the storyline follows women positioning themselves as experts in a field, but somehow, they’re unable to tackle the problems they’re so good at solving when those problems hit the closest to home (dating expert, advice columnist, wedding planner…you get the gist). That’s usually when the man – or someone else – comes in and saves her or shows her the light. It’s rare that we’re shown how to move forward fearlessly when shit gets real, and how to do it on our own. And the message is that when darkness or hardship looms, someone or something will swoop in to save us and make us feel worthwhile again.
We need a new model for what to do when it all feels like too much.
You can know yourthrough-line, crushCasual Negativity, and be a pro at shifting your self-talk…when life is going pretty well overall. But what happens when the you-know-what hits the fan, and it keeps hitting the fan? What happens when you’re in major need of a WIN, and that win just isn’t coming your way?
Here are five strategies for when life won’t let up:
1.) Focus on getting to NOW-Normal instead of BACK-To-Normal.
When things suck, we want to make them not-suck. We want to “get back to normal” or “the way things were back then.” THEN, of course, being a time when there were limited obstacles and you felt in control. This is totally expected and totally natural.
However, normal NOW isn’t the same as normal THEN. You’ve got a new normal in the Now.
Instead of trying to force old habits into a new set of circumstances, focus on accepting this new normal – not trying to adjust to make things like “what they were,” but maximizing “how they ARE.” What might have been easy or routine for you before simply might not work as well for your lifestyle right now.
Lifestyle and positive habits, then, becomes like a game. What WILL feel good? What WILL stick? Inthis episode of the WANTcast with Lynn Chen, she tells us that when her father died and she was too overcome with grief to do anything, she treated her life like she was recovering from amnesia. Trying things out, from foods to workouts, to see what resonated and what didn’t. ZERO pressure to stick with one thing, and ZERO ties to what once worked.
When life feels the most challenging, do like Lynn and do a scavenger hunt to find your Now-Normal. If something doesn’t really stick, you have full permission to move on. If there’s a spark there, try it again. And again. And again.
I am NOTHING for ANYONE if I am not GROUNDING for myself. And so when shit starts to hit the fan – or when everything, good or not-so-good, feels like it’s coming at me all at once – I schedule what’s called “white space.” It’s time that is all your own, that you don’t plan to fill and don’t schedule over. It’s both everything and nothingness.
It can be an hour. It can be three minutes. It doesn’t need to be formalized “meditation.” It doesn’t need to be productive OR unproductive. But I’ve learned that white space time, time that belongs to ME and ME ALONE, time that’s like the “white space” on a canvas – TBD, no paint, open to possibility – is a deal maker or breaker for me. If I don’t take time to reconnect to myself with no external stimuli or things to answer to, and don’t take time when I need it most, I end up going off the rails.
After I wrote about my Instgram bully, I had many people write to me privately about their experiences with harassment and, specifically, others telling them to feel compassion for their bully as a coping mechanism. And how fucking INFURIATING that can be. For me, it’s moments like these that remind me why I practice white-space-moments on the regular. So that when shit gets real…when I’m hurt, when I’m highly emotionally triggered…I can pause even for a SECOND and remember who the F I am and what the F I stand for.Without anyone telling me who I am or what I SHOULD BE. It’s in these moments, these seemingly-millisecond moments, I’m able to do the thing that’s most proactive, not reactive (see last point). That I’m able to be the way I know I’m meant to be, not the way someone else told me I should respond.
I practice those white-space moments not for the moments I’m necessarily in. But for the moments in the future when I’ll need them most. It’s sunglasses in the subway and walking back and forth outside before I go and join the party. It’s hiding in the bathroom before networking not because I’m scared but because I can’t bear to not be myself. It’s what I do when the stakes are low so I know where to go when the stakes are high. It’s not the most sexy or socially acceptable thing but it’s what keeps me going. It’s not easy work, but it sure is right.
4.) Nix the one-sided emotional labor and replace it with a two-sided emotional investment.
This one is maybe the most profound (and hardest) for me. Emotional labor is what it sounds like: doing the emotional work to make something function. It’s actually a good thing, but becomes dangerous when it is ridiculously one-sided…and in which case, it’s usually the women who are doing the work.
Emotional labor can look like being the one who is constantly dissecting your friend’s toxic relationships and convincing them to see the light (then they do it again and you do it again, and so on and so forth). Emotional labor can look like putting on a happy face for your partner and “being a light” for them as they continuously stew in their own troubles. Emotional labor can mean decoding the unspoken subtext at work so that everyone can actually get things done. Emotional labor is brushing off micro-aggressions because they’re “not really that big” and “not really worth it” andexcusing your bully in the name of “compassion.”Emotional labor is why it’s so exhausting to be a barista or a server or in the service/hospitality industry in any capacity: you’re soaking in the emotions of each and every customer, many of whom are taking their daily aggravations out on you. It’s your job to keep the peace and “put a smile on their face.”
If you’re in the service/hospitality industry, there are going to be parts of one-sided emotional labor that are unavoidable – you need to figure out your own personal boundaries, makes, and breaks. But let’s talk outside of those instances.
Emotional labor is taxing, and gives all your good stuff to others while leaving zilch for yourself. You can’t drink from an empty well, so to speak. And it’s when we’re feeling empty, depleted, and emotionally dehydrated that things turn really dark.
An emotional INVESTMENT, however, is different. By definition, an investment is “an act of devoting time, effort, or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result.” Start-ups present investors with data, proof points, and projections for a reason: to let them know their money isn’t going to waste and their investment won’t make them go bankrupt.
With an emotional investment, if you’re devoting your emotional time, effort, and energy to something, you’re going to see a return. Emotional investments might not be two-ways in the moment, but you’ve got proof points that when you need it, you’ll be getting that investment back in your direction. That’s why investors don’t just pour money into companies that sound cool, and why you shouldn’t invest in people who aren’t going to ever give back to you. That’s not being a friend. That’s being a savior, and dehydrating and bankrupting yourself of your most valuable assets.
When you’re feeling like the bad stuff won’t stop, immediately cut ties from one-sided emotional labor. This is the time your emotional investments should be making a return in the form of love, check-ins, and support while you slowly start to build up your emotional funds again. It’s not the time for you to mindlessly spend as you continue to overdraft.
5.) Ask yourself: is this decision PROACTIVE or REACTIVE?
When making decisions during tough, emotionally heavy times, I always ask, “Is this decision proactive, or reactive?” Its a practice that got me through a really horrible breakup in my 20s and it’s yet to fail me. Am I reacting to my situation and letting it dictate my actions, or am I proactively moving THROUGH the darkness, the fear, the anger, the confusion, the whatever-it-is, to make my way through to the other side? Here’s a post I wrote for some encouragement when it comes to taking and embracing the small steps that end up making a huge difference.
Above all, know that the know is not the forever. This is a moment in time – a chapter of your story. And while it’s just one chapter, how you choose to read it will inform how you view the other chapters to come.
The storm will pass and the dust will settle, and you’ll still be standing. But the great thing is, you won’t need saving, and you won’t need anyone to “show you the light.” You get to be the star, and you get to write your own success story.
I knew this moment was coming. While not “big” by industry standards, my Instagram numbers were steadily growing, and between three speaking gigs in two weeks and a brand new collab underway, I was seeing an amount of traction that was abnormal for what I’d experienced thus far. I knew, also, that as my “numbers” began to grow, that so would my trolls. Maybe if I kept things sterile and serene on social, but that’s not my jam, because I believe that if you have a voice people are listening to, you should use it.
But also, I know it wouldn’t really matter either way. I could post about politics or I could post about pomegranates. I could post about body image or I could post about the best bakeries in Manhattan. I could post instrospective captions or I could post a string of vague emojis that don’t really mean anything in particular. I know that women are bullied on social media for just existing (much like in life!), and I also know that the more outwardly successful you are, the more bullying comments you receive. Just go to the comments section of anyone you deem even mildly #famous and you’ll see what I mean.
this was the pic, btw.
I also want to add that this isn’t the first time I’ve been harrassed online. I’ve received DMs on all platforms and seen men tag each other in my posts commenting with wagging tongues or some other disgusting emoji or outburst. But this was the first public-facing comment that was directly directed at me, whose direct purpose was to knock me down and dehumanize me.
I’d like to say I was unaffected and laughed the second I saw it. But when it showed up in my notifications, my heart dropped. I can;t say I wasn’t expecting it – part of me for the last month had been whispering in the back of my mind, Wait for it… – but it still stung. After the first 15 seconds, I shook off the sting and started laughing. I’ve Made It!, I cheered to myself! And proceeded to check out this dude’s account then block and report him, not before (of course) snapping a screenshot for harassment proof and to text my friends. Oh, and blast on my personal social accounts.
I knew sharing this would be a little social experiment. How many people would laugh, how many would get angry? How many would know that this is sadly expected, and how many would be agog that this would happen to ME, “violently positive” (as I’ve been deemed by some friends) Katie Horwitch, who keeps her posts PG-13 at their racy-est and proactive at their most charged? I’ve come to expect a wide gamut of reactions based on the wide gamut of experiences and perspectives all people come into a conversation with.
But what blew me away in THIS conversation was the overWHELMING prevalence of this one comment:
This is obviously a very sad person and we should send him light.
Now, not everyone commented with these exact words. Most came to me in the form of “Wow, what a miserable life he must lead” or “What a sad person he must be” or “Laugh at their misery with compassion” or “Imagine how shitty his existence must be and how badly he must need a hug” or even “By the looks of it, this guy is clearly so sad in life and clearly needs medication.”
I’m not one to downplay mental health issues. But the overarching theme and connecting thread between all of these comments was: he gets a pass because of how hard life must be for him.
I know my friends were well-meaning when saying these things, and didn’t meant to downplay anything. I know this because I know this kind of deescalation is a conversation and perspective that’s been taught. It’s kinder than “stooping down to their level.” It’s more “enlightened.”
It’s the “high road.”
But it begs, no, PLEADS the question: Why is our default response with hurtful men, particularly WHITE men, to play the compassion card, while when it’s a woman or POC, it’s to get angry and spew hate their way (even when they’re NOT actually being a bully, but that’s another conversation)? Why is it that the bully in the situation gets a free pass when the bully is an angry white dude?
I am strong and confident. I’ll be just fine. But some people aren’t. And saying things like “don’t let it get to you, they’re just sad in real life” excuses the bully’s behavior, writing it off as a supporting example of a greater thesis statement about that person’s life. A life that doesn’t involve you, but in this moment, actually does.
Even more than that, using excuses like “what a sad human being” normalizes pushing others down to make yourself feel better. And even MORE than that- and this is what really gets me – it makes the harrassee, on the prey, feel GUILTY for not feeling compassion for their bully.
I see it happen on a small scale in instances like this one and on a more serious scale with my black or gay friends who are told that they should feel sorry for the people who speak such hateful words about them. That, to quote Shakespeare or someone like him, “they know not what they say” and should be sent, to paraphrase, “love and light.”
Well, I call BS on love and light. I call BS on the default of putting yourself in the shoes of the oppressor, whether it’s the man catcalling you on the street or the online troll smearing your DMs with racism. I call BS on it all.
So how do we do it then? In the true spirit of how I write, and WHAT I write, and what others SHARE on this platform, how does this turn into a proactive post offering tools and insight instead of a reactive post venting and offloading emotion?
•SHARE. Brené Brown says that shame can’t live when spoken out loud. Names are shame’s worst enemy and take away shame’s power. When I share things I feel shame around or stuff people say to me that’s meant to tear me down, though, I check my intenitions behind the share. Am I looking for pity or to engage in a hatefest? Or am I posting to expose darkness, to show that this can happen to anyone, anywhere – and we must join forces to take on that darkness?
•Engage with the bully **when PRODUCTIVE and PROACTIVE.** Is commenting back going to help someone learn something or help prove a point when it comes to creating the world you want to live in? Then post away. I thought of posting a comment back to this guy to show others who might be watching how to disarm a bully (my personal tactic is humor and confusion. “I actually thought of this same joke in middle school so I could poke fun at it before any of the mean 12 year-old boys could!” would’ve done it). But this particular comment was so juvenile and nonsensical that it didn’t deserve the time of day – mine or anyone else’s. If the photo or caption had been different – maybe more sexualized or risque – I would have used it as an opportunity to assert my right to portray my body however I pleased. My right to take pride in my sexuality instead of it simply being fodder for others (men) to comment on and make decisions about.
But this wasn’t the case. It was about him leaving a nonsensical comment that didn’t have anything to do with anything except general punny slut-shaming because it’s “funny” and demeaning. It was a classic bully move. This dude didn’t follow me (I checked). This guy didn’t care about what I had to say. He wanted to come into my space, spit at me, and then leave. It would be a waste of my time to try and engage and create a comment war or generate more anger – all on MY page, mind you, which I have worked hard to build and have strict community guidelines around. Namely, don’t be a dick.
I’ve been shamed before for my choices in clothing or maybe a look that “feels” provocative. But those are my choices. I know who I am and I know what I’m doing. And I will always defend that, so that others who might not be able to find the words themselves can have a point of reference if and when it happens to them.
•SCREENSHOT and REPORT hate speech. I’m not talking about silencing voices you don’t agree with. Don’t do that. It’s a reeeeal bad look, to put it mildly. I’m talking about the old PSA of “if you see something, say something.” I’m talking about if someone is coming at YOU or someone else with toxic, malicious vitriol, take a screenshot for your records and then report that shit. Platforms like Facebook are preaching that they have zero tolerance for hate speech and harassment. At the end of the day, they’re businesses. They exist because of us. And their noble claims of being an inclusive, tolerant zone, as much as I would love to say are all about their core values, are most likely ALSO a direct result of a shift in user experience. See something? Say something. Make those platforms do something about it.
Interestingly enough, this also happened the day before the news broke about the US administration’s talks about making it illegal to recognize more than two genders in our country. I shared a post by my friend Kelsey, which I thought was so succinct and well-written. Not even an hour later, I received an extremely nasty DM from someone telling me that I looked stupid and our country looked stupid, and while I was “over here caring about stupid pronouns” there were “people dying from bombs across the world.” Apparently I wasn’t allowed to care about Trans rights *and* international warfare. ::shrugs::
And this is where it all starts to get blurry. How do you interact with, if you even interact with at ALL, people who are yelling AT you and not speaking WITH you, who slam you with hate speech and view life through a very narrow lens of their own making?
I’m still working this out. Right now, I’m thinking it’s futile to argue with people who are hell-bent on interpreting your words, your decisions, and your SELF as they see fit. As a quote shared by brilliant Vienna Pharon and @mytruthnturs said, “self care is also not arguing with people who are committed to misunderstanding you.”
But I am still learning. And next year, month, week, hour, I might feel differently. That it’s important to speak up no matter what, even if the person on the other end is determined to shut you down. Yet right now, I don’t have time for that shit. I have work to do.
When consulting with brands and “influencers,” I’ve heard people say that they feel like having a certain amount of visibility or recognition will allow them to talk about things they actually want to talk about. That once they reach a certain number or achieve a very specific self dictated level of success, the conversational doors will fly open and the soapbox will appear. When that happens, they say, they’ll talk about racial injustices, gender disparities, wage gaps, the whole shebang. When, when, when.
My question to them is always: why aren’t you talking about these things now, if those are the conversations you want to be KNOWN for having??
And this is where I’m at. In this period of unusually rapid growth, it’s even more vital for me to use my voice in the way I know how and know I must. If you’re looking to build a genuine following and highly engaged community online: post your values. Post your Self. It’ll get rid of the noise real quick, and you’ll end up with the people who are Your People. Win win.
Oh, and as for my last name? You’ll notice I didn’t change it when I got married. Katie Tucker is pretty adorbs and could have worked quite nicely. It could have also avoided this lame bullying comment.
But here’s the thing. I’ve spent years making peace with my last name. I’ve spent years emotionally sifting through the self-deprecating comments of my family members about how much it sucks, or women telling women to make the change as soon as they can. I’ve learned to make loving jokes, and I’ve learned to find the power in it.
One crisp and slightly ethereal day last year, I ran into my friend Michael after I finished teaching one of my classes. Not unusual (we do work at the same place), but this time, his face lit up differently when he saw me in the hallway. Like I was a walking epiphany. “This might sound weird, but I was thinking about your last name the other day,” he started. Oh no, I thought. Here it goes…
“I broke it down and I realized your last name is made up of two labels devised by the patriarchy. ‘Whore’ (or Hor) for sexually empowered women, and ‘Witch’ for socially and politically revolutionary feminists. Your last name is made of up two terms that were created by men to demean strong and powerful women who were viewed as threats. Your last name is basically the most badass, most powerful, and most on-brand last name you could have.”
Damn straight. I’ll take it.
(**my people, for the record, believe in trans rights, believe that black lives matter, believe survivors – and while my people and i might not agree on everything in life, my people like to lean in and get curious way more than lash out and get cruel.)
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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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
The memory just flooded back to me as I drove down the West Side Highway. Or not so much flooded. More like sneak-attack haunted-house-level *jumped out* at me.
Truthfully I don’t remember if the words exactly were you have nothing on your resumé or you don’t even have a resumé or what. But the gist of the conversation was: why the hell should anyone want you to do anything other than what you’re doing right now. You don’t have enough that IMPRESSES ME.
These words, said by a marketing manager at a former job, stunned me. I was too shocked and thrown off to give a good, confident response – and, tbh, probably wasn’t even confident enough at the time to think one up even if I’d been less shocked by the moment.
I noticed today that my face seems softer than it has in a while. Not to the touch, but to the eye. I’m getting the kind of rest I need, and when I go hard for a few days I’m able to block off time to recover. I have a stronger flexibility-structure balance than I’ve ever had before, which means a lot of location autonomy and scheduling freedom, which also means a fraction of the traffic time I’ve ever experienced in my life. This is a very, very privileged position I find myself in. But I know it’s not forever, and I REALLY know it doesn’t come unearned. I also know that the softness reflects something else: a radical self-acceptance and self-curiosity that I’ve worked decades to develop.
I’m 32 now – an age that has always felt special to me. I can’t give you a tangible reason why, other than the fact that I took a lot of “What Age Are You” online quizzes in high school and always got 32, both confirming the fact that I was an older person in a younger body and that I didn’t belong amongst my peers.
The bigger reason, online quizzes aside, is that in my gut I’ve felt that something big will happen this year. I don’t know what and I don’t know when, but just having that objective gut feeling makes me walk with my eyes a little wider and my senses a little higher on alert. I’m looking for opportunities. I’m looking for the magic. I don’t want to miss it.
32 reminds me that I’ve lived my life thus far making the next-right-choice for me at the time, whatever that time was. And so when that marketing manager told me in her office that I Had No Resume, I felt a wave of shame and massive self-doubt.
In hindsight, I can see certain truths about her behavior outside of that room that suggested there was a lot more going on under the surface than I was aware of. I’m a writer, and a professional one at that, and one of my main rules is to never write about someone else’s experience as fact when all it really is is my assumption and interpretation. But on my end: in that moment and the following days after, I played a flip-book in my mind of all the things I’d done until that moment. Had they been a waste? Did I really have nothing to my name?
I might be able to rest well now and eschew traffic for the most part. But this is the Now, not the Forever. I know I have a lot of living to do, and this is merely where I’m supposed to be in this moment. This is a 1/3-of-the-way chapter, not the foreward or the intro or the first gripping pages that set the stage. Because in my life so far, I’ve played SO many parts, literally and figuratively. Rizzo in Grease. Frederika in A Little Night Music (she was 14, I was 21 ::shrugs::). A Parisian model. A broken woman. A personal assistant, a studio manager, a fitness instructor, an editor, an actress, a session singer, a ghostwriter, an insurance broker’s middle-(wo)man, a store clerk, a juice sales maven, a yoga-mat-cleaner, a professional sit-in-hours-of-traffic-and-drive-things-across-town-er, and about 12 other things I won’t name here but had me doing everything from other people’s laundry and hearing their deepest fears to creating little fairy and mermaid dolls out of things you can find at Michaels’ craft stores (*my first entrepreneurial venture as an adult, btw. the company was called Fairy Blossoms).
Point being, these are all things that have made me into who I am today and led me to where I am right now. I did what I needed to do to feel the way I wanted to feel. Not everything I did was impressive. But it’s all a part of my story.
Just like relationships. How many relationships, flings, infatuations have we all been a part of that didn’t pan out? Does that mean they didn’t matter? Hell no. Not every-one is supposed to be *THE* One or *A* One, and that’s wonderful. Because through our relationships, flings, and infatuations, with people or otherwise, we get the opportunity to learn way more about ourselves than we knew before. We get to practice conflict resolution, and reexamine the way we view Love. We get to dig and uncover what is healthy and what is toxic. And then we GET TO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN AND LEARN MORE. And sometimes some of us reach a point where the only natural next step of learning can only happen alongside one other person, and sometimes some of us want to always be learning alongside multiple people, and sometimes some of us go where the wind takes us, and all those choices are valid and beautiful and way way a-okay. The point is, it’s our decisions and our next-right-steps that get us there, and help us make the choices that are the rightest rights for us in our journey of Becoming.
You do not need your story to be impressive to anyone else in order for it to be impressive. You don’t need everyone to be able to see each and every step you take in order for you to climb the staircase. All those steps and all those little-but-huge moments are what build you into a person. Anyone can be a human. A Person has consciousness and conscience-ness and agency. A Person has a Self.
And so, to that marketing manager who told me I Have No Resumé, I apologize if you misunderstood my motives. I am building things bigger than what’s obviously linear. I can do hard things and I will do even harder things because I’ve trekked through the forest and never forgotten how the trees made me feel. I don’t live to impress you.I live to become Me.
Well, here I am. Watch me.
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Paying off debt: maybe not the most yogic topic you can think of, eh? Ariel Kiley would disagree majorly. Ariel Kiley is an NYC-based yoga and meditation teacher, teacher trainer, author, and IAYT certified Yoga Therapist. Ariel specializes in stress reduction andSomatic Experiencing® trauma resolution. Plus she’s kind of obsessed with “financial fitness.”
On WANT, we talk about shame, vulnerability, and seeing the light in the midst of the darkness. “How To Pay Off Your Debt” might seem like an odd subject choice for this site..but really, is it?
Financial fitness, as Ariel calls it, can sometimes feel like the final Adulting frontier. The one elusive thing we’re supposed to just *know* how to handle with ease, but few of us do. So we’re left to fend for ourselves, shying away from asking others for help because we don’t want to seem out of control or immature. We’re not out of control OR immature, though – we’re just doing the best we can with the information we have.
Ariel is a Doer: when she says she’s going to do something, she DOES it. So when Ariel first told me about her plans to tackle her five-figure debt, I knew she’d hit her goal. I just didn’t know how FAST she’d hit it. We’re talking eight months, folks.
Whether you’ve got massive bills to pay or want to spruce up your savings account, here’s the 33 (yes, thirty-three) step plan Ariel used to build up her financial fitness. Take the shame out of your money game and read on – then tell us in the comments what step you loved most and can start implementing TODAY.
On June 1st, I made the last payment on my last student loan. I thought I would be making payments on these loans for several more years, but last November I decided to do a full-scale attack and knock them out as quickly as possible. I teach yoga and meditation for a living, so it’s not like I’m swimming in dough, but there are still lots of ways to monetize this career, and I was ready to get super busy.
To my surprise, I was able to accomplish this much faster than anticipated. I totally wiped out over $25,000 in student loan debt within eight months. There was no magic involved, nor big financial gifts. It was a series of small behavior and attitude changes that added up to this big payoff.
After hitting “confirm” on my final student loan payment something wonderful happened — I got Bon Jovi’s song It’s My Life stuck in my head for days. It’s cheesy, but I feel like I have my life back. And it feels amazing.
So in case you’ve got lingering debt you’d like to annihilate too, I’ve made a list of all the most significant shifts that made this happen.
Upon reviewing my finances last year, and realizing I was still lugging around over 25k in student loan debt, I got increasingly angry. I was particularly angry at Vermont Student Assistance Corporation. VSAC’s website is all green and white and looks like it’s an ice cream shop or something, but IMO they are total financial scavengers. I was paying 6.9% on my debts to them and hadn’t made much of a dent in over 13 years. This anger reached a boiling point where I didn’t want to pay just a measly $10-$20 extra each month. I wanted to never sign in to their dumb website again. Anger is fire. It motivates. You can use it to fuel debt-removal!
2. I Decided To
This sounds obvious, but it’s very powerful. You have got to make the DECISION I’m going to do this. No really! I’m doing it. It’s like that quote by William Hutchison Murray: “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.” Decide. Commit. Don’t look back.
3. I Cut Down All Excess Spending
Here I must thank Mr. Money Mustache. He makes frugality a game, he calls it “badassity” to ride your bike instead of drive. Or in my case, ride my bike, or the subway, or walk instead of take a cab. I tracked my spending for two full months and I trimmed the fat EVERYWHERE. Yes, on lattes, on eating out, on impulse purchases like makeup and shoes… there is so much excess spending that many of us do that we don’t even think about. We want it, so we reach out take it, drop our money down and buy it. I cut a lot of that shit out.
4. I Questioned Every Expense
My desires can be very sneaky. For instance, I like to wear sunblock. I can validate my purchase of sunblock cause I’m pale AF and I need to protect my skin. HOWEVER, do I need to buy $45 La Roche-Posay sunblock? No. I can actually use the FREE sunblock that I got in a gift bag that’s been sitting under my bed since last year. And yes, I like binging on the odd Netflix series, I even consider my late-night nature documentary watching part of my education — what’s more valuable to study human behavior than watching animals? BUT, do I REALLY NEED this video streaming service? Upon examination, I found that the answer was NO. So it got canceled. My $90 phone bill got reduced to $40 by changing companies. I talked down the rate of my newsletter service. Questioning EVERY SINGLE EXPENSE that you have is wildly helpful when you want to reduce them.
5. I Created a Zero-Based Written Budget — and Stuck to It
Do you hate the idea of budgeting? Does the thought of writing down your limit for spending in every category of your life totally bum you out? If the answer is “yes,” then you haven’t given it a fair shake. Because BUDGETING IS AWESOME. Budgeting equals success and the freedom to spend wisely. A zero-based budget is when you “give every dollar a name” as Dave Ramsey says.
In the beginning of each month I added up all the money that was in my checking/savings/Venmo accounts, plus all cash, and that was my budget (aside from a few hundred dollars in savings reserved for the unexpected). Then I wrote out a list of each category of spending and planned ahead what I would pay in each one. The leftover money all went to debt payments. This extra debt payment added up to anywhere from $688 (month 1) to $5,073 (month 8).
Sticking to my budget proved to be a fun and satisfying game, not a punishment. I loved the feeling that I was the boss of my money, not at the mercy of my fleeting cravings.
Some people get really judgy about all the different financial “gurus” and “experts”. I think that the reason they are so critical is that they are looking for a reason to avoid their own financial issues. Instead of bitching about whether I liked the personality, political ideas, or facial hair of various “experts”, I just listened to all of them that seemed to have something valuable to say. I found that no one teacher had all the answers for me, but pulling from different systems brought it all together. That said, Mr. Money Mustache and Dave Ramsey proved to be the biggest influences.
7. I Used the “Cash Envelope System”
This system is brilliant. Basically, all expenses that you don’t need to mark as business expenses or keep track of, you just set aside cash for. My cash envelope system was very crude. I wrapped my stashes of cash for the categories of Groceries ($250), Dining Out ($100), Coffee ($40), Laundry ($25), Fun ($50), Giving ($25) in Post-its in my wallet. Apparently when you feel cash leaving your hands it registers in pain centers in your brain. This causes people who use cash to spend significantly less than those swiping cards, or god forbid, using something like Googlepay — which doesn’t even need a signature or a pin. When you feel your money leaving, you spend less. Setting aside the cash forces you to adapt to that budget. When the cash is out, no more buying.
8. I Made a Game of Accountability
When I decided to really DO THIS, I decided it would be interesting to post the journey on YouTube. Partly, because I figured that if I pulled it off, recording that journey could be informative and helpful to others. But even more so, I knew if I posted it live, I would have to be accountable to my choice. So by making it a game of making videos and sharing online, that upped my accountability and motivated me to save more and earn more so I could make a great uplifting video the next month.
9. I Paid my Debts Smallest to Largest*
This is a Dave Ramsey thing. He says that our psychology is much more significant than “the math” so he actually recommends paying off your debts smallest to largest, regardless of interest percentage. So even though I wanted to pay my biggest student loan debt first (the one from VSAC that made me so angry!), I had to pay off two smaller ones (originally they were Sallie Mae, but were sold to Navient). Seeing this progress really helped fuel and motivate me.
10. I Found ‘Pleasure Workarounds’
I enjoy a new $500 dress just as much as the next gal. You know what else I like? Dinners out at world-class restaurants with iconic chefs where I don’t look at the price of anything and order whatever I want. You know what else I like? Impulsive trips to exotic and glamorous places. Plus I really enjoy fancy hotel rooms. But you know what? That sh!t wasn’t going to get me out of student loan debt anytime soon. So I found ‘pleasure workarounds’.
This meant that instead of going out for a whole meal, I’d go to a beautiful hotel lobby and order a really nice cup of tea (I am partial to the Meadow Tea at Ace Hotel). Or instead of planning a trip overseas on my own dime, I used the Law of Attraction to create an opportunity to teach in London where all my expenses were paid. Instead of new clothing, I decided to take extra morning time to get ready mindfully and really appreciate the clothing I already own. The takeaway? Pleasure workarounds work!
11. I Stopped Magical Thinking About Fantasy Income
I’m actually curious if you have this issue too, or if it is particular to my mind. I’ve got this idea in my head that the really big-income opportunity is always right around the corner. I have this thought that if I just invest in that program, or write that book, or whatever, suddenly my “ship is going to come in” and like, half a million dollars is going to drop into my lap. This has caused me, over the years, to invest tons of time and money into things hoping that they will produce gobs of income. And to be honest, none of them have worked out. If anything, it’s the learning I did while pursuing them that led to other, more organically and gradually growing aspects of my income. So I stopped magical thinking about fantasy income over these months and decided to focus on where my money was ACTUALLY coming from. It was a total relief.
12. I Got Humble and Stopped Feeding My “I’m Special” Ideation
Facing debt and doing the cost-cutting/extra-buck-earning details to get out of it quickly is humbling. While taking on this process you have to admit, once and for all, that you are not a princess. You have not been “discovered” and swept into a life of fame and wealth. You are just regular old Joe/Jane who is sick of being in debt and there are many ways to earn that money that will really help you get there, but they aren’t all fancy-pants. For me this meant teaching more yoga classes at hours I’d rather be sleeping. It meant saying “yes” to work I didn’t feel like doing. It meant getting un-special and just getting the job done.
Admittedly, I did have a major program that I “starred in” come out on Daily Burn during this time, I taught at Yale with radical chef Elizabeth Falkner, and I did get to do a few glamorous things like travel and do photoshoots. But juxtaposing this glamour with those early mornings and extra private sessions, kept it quite real.
13. I Did What I Know How to Do to Make Money
This is related to #11. Instead of getting in my head that I needed to create the “next big thing”, I just buckled down and did what I know how to do: I taught yoga classes, taught meditation, I led trainings, I worked as a blog editor, I put together yoga programming, I did coaching, I helped people get stronger and more flexible in private sessions. I just did what I know how to do. That was enough.
14. I Maximized My Earnings by Also Doing What I’ve Been Wanting to Do
Yes, I did the regular stuff to keep my earnings up as stated in #13. But I also took action on projects I’ve been wanting to do, but hadn’t gotten around to. Like my Business of Yoga Success Course. I’d been thinking of doing that for years. Plus putting a therapy ball training on the books. My financial freedom journey helped me pull the trigger and actually do what I’ve been thinking about doing. This also included special workshop themes, trauma resolution work, and other coaching approaches.
15. I Took My Business Seriously
Here in the yoga world things can get a little mushy-gushy, gooey-spewy. But once I got on my budget and made the decision to do this, I got more clear about my business. Sometimes people reach out to me wanting to do privates but don’t actually schedule until months down the road (if at all). I don’t have time for this. I do a call with them immediately and schedule if they want to schedule, and if I sense it’s murky, I let it go. Plus I don’t care to tiptoe around money talks with studio owners. I don’t have energy for vague rules around space rental. I have a business and I need to take it seriously. In the past few months when I’ve encountered other systems or people that I can tell are wishy washy or unprofessional, I’m OUT. It’s a waste of my time.
16. I Said YES to Unexpected Ways to Make Money
During this time I was contacted by my dear friends/colleagues at Tune Up Fitness about joining the blog editing team. I would not have considered this were I not on my debt-free bender. But given the fact that it’s kinda draining to ONLY teach yoga, I considered it. Then I took it. And you know what? I LOVE IT! I’m having so much fun in this position. Who would’ve thunk it?
17. I Sold Stuff
Dear Craigslist, you’re so cool. I didn’t think I “had anything to sell”. But you know what? I was wrong. As it turns out, a family in Queens really wanted my plant pot collection. And a lady in Crown Heights was happy to take the grill that I had inherited from a friend off my hands for $40. Plus some furniture went out the door. I actually would’ve sold a lot more stuff if I had more time. I got rid of a lot of clothing and tchotchkes. But I did the math and figured I’d make more $$ teaching than selling small items.
18. I Unloaded the Past
Part of making this shift to being debt-free, was also making the shift to let go of the material stuff that was weighing me down psychologically. For instance, I have been carrying a “boyfriend box” of old stuff from exes for a while now. I’m a Taurus which means I’m a bit sentimental and a bit of a hoarder. But I decided enough was enough and got rid of not just the boyfriend box, but hundreds of other things that had been given to me that carried energies I didn’t want to carry into the future.
19. I Gave Gifts and Showed Gratitude
Apparently part of attracting wealth is having an “abundance mindset.” And part of having an abundance mindset is being generous. During these last eight months I have felt very, very grateful. First, I’m grateful to several incredible individuals at Daily Burn, Equinox, Tune Up Fitness, Yoga Sole, Dou Yoga, Prema Yoga BK and more who gave me great opportunities and discounts. I’m also grateful to people in my life like my family and friends who bring so much wealth of spirit and heart to me. As such, I wound up sending out lots of flowers, thank-you cards, and “I appreciate you” texts. NOTHING I have done, I have done alone. Everything has been because someone gave me that opportunity and gave me support to do what I do. I feel that more than ever now.
I also make a point to thank all of the waste removal workers in NYC that I encounter. Especially people changing the garbage in the subways. I stop and give them a little bow and say “thank you for your hard work.” There is almost always a great moment of warmth and uplift between us when I do that. I am really grateful to these people for keeping the city clean and beautiful. They work really hard doing something low-status and potentially dirty and they should be shown gratitude and appreciation.
20. I Refocused My Intention Every Morning
There is a reason I’ve been dragging this debt around for SO LONG. It’s because society normalizes it. Lots of voices talk about “good debt”. All the time people promote “treating yourself” and say dumb stuff like “you deserve it” about expensive items and empty-calorie foods. I deserve what? To be broke and chubby? I deserve to be financially strapped and unable to zip up my favorite dress? No. I don’t deserve that. And I don’t want it. But those messages are STRONG, man.
So every single morning I get up and write out my goals. I refocus on what I’m trying to accomplish by writing it down. Then as I move through the day I’m able to discern those voices I don’t want to listen to from my own voice within.
21. I Listened to Tons of Podcasts and Read Tons of Blog Posts
Yo. There is a shit-ton of inspiration out there. And I’ve been soaking it up. I may have dropped my Netflix subscription, but YouTube is free and I watch all kinds of videos of other people paying off their debt. It inspires me. Mr. Money Mustache’sblog posts are hilarious, full of amazing frugal ideas, and super motivating.The Minimalistspodcast gives so many great ideas on how to “live better with less.” Dave Ramsey has dozens of callers each week into his radio show sharing their financial issues and receiving live advice — also telling the stories of their success. Over these past eight months I have kept a steady stream of ideas and inspiration pouring in to keep my motivation up.
22. I Ate Really Good Food… At Home
My dining out budget each month was $100, which doesn’t get you far here in NYC. So I made sure, with my $250 grocery budget, to buy really great ingredients like fresh fruit & veggies, nut butters, hummus, herbs, sauces, cheese… stuff that I was excited to come home and eat. Yeah, I’ve eaten a ton of oatmeal too. But I like oatmeal. It gets the job done.
23. I Let People Take Me Out to Eat
I have some very sweet friends (and family members!) who have been totally supportive of my debt-free mission, and super generous over these months. As such, I have been taken out to some absolutely delicious dinners and lunches. These meals were even more special than past meals out. Partly because they were rare. Also because of the deeply kind gestures of the people close to me. They were fortifying on so many levels.
24. I Created a Support Network
I have not been alone in this. First, there is the mysterious group of people (between 100-1,000 per post) that watch and encourage me on YouTube. Then there is the killer circle of whip-smart witchy girlfriends with whom I did a formal financial coaching group for several months. Then there is my sister who is a rockstar earner and also on a major mission towards financial freedom. My mom, who has never been one to pour over financial spreadsheets, has hopped on board and also started becoming more excited about money and budgeting with me. Plus my dad, who is kind of a numbers geek, has patiently (and seemingly with genuine interest) waded through numbers with me on looong phone calls. My support network has helped me feel really, well, supported. It’s awesome.
25. I Took Others’ Encouragement to Heart
Sometimes on YouTube I get a really simple comment like “great job! You’re doing awesome! You got this!” Instead of just brushing past it, I take it to heart. Someone I don’t even know took a couple minutes out of their day to write that. So I fully receive the message and send them a big thank-you out over the sky to wherever they live (often across the world). This gives me a real boost!
26. I Imagined a Better Future
What will life be like when I’m financially free? Is a question I regularly pondered. Then I took the time, either in my imagination or a journal, to play it out. When I’m financially free I will be able to be more brave with my career moves. I will feel confident speaking boldly and honestly about my beliefs and values. I will take time to study more books and participate in more trainings. I will feel a greater sense of inner worth, as opposed to inner deficiency. I will have much more freedom to think about where I want to live, what I want to do, who I want to do it with… I will be able to be generous towards organizations and individuals who need help. This imagining was intensely motivating. By painting an inner picture of why I’m doing this, all the harder stuff like budgeting and working longer days felt positive instead of like a drag.
27. I Smiled at Money and Thanked Every Bit of it That Showed Up in My Experience
You know that thing people seeking wealth do where they pick up a penny off the street because they don’t want to say “no” to any money? I think it might’ve come from that book Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Or maybe it was in Think and Grow Rich. Anyway, I rarely do that. When I see a dirty penny on the street, I do not have the urge to pick it up. But you know what I do instead? I look at it and think to myself “amazing! There’s money all around me! What an abundant world I live in!” Then keep walking.
The other thing I do, is every time I get a paycheck or a small fistful of cash from a private client I smile at it and enthusiastically thank it for showing up in my life. I also thank the person who gave it to me. Both when they gave it, and when I’m home filing it to be deposited in the bank.
28. I Ignored Wussy Whiny Messages
As mentioned in #20, there are surprising amount of people who will try to talk you down from your badassity when working extra hard and “depriving” yourself of stupid things like lattes. There are people that think you are doing too much and burning out. When I encountered wussy whiny messages like this I paused and did a little inner reflection, having thoughts like this:
I make many thousands of dollars each month strolling around barefoot in plush, warm, beautiful high-end environments inviting people to stretch their limbs and breathe more deeply. I listen to music of my choosing, I wear incredibly comfortable clothing. I have deep and pleasant moments with absolutely wonderful, evolved, intelligent people. When I’m not at yoga studios I’m in lovely homes throughout this city with working toilets and all the fresh water I can drink. I sleep at least 8 hours each night in a soft, warm cozy bed under a leak-free roof. I eat fresh organic vegetables and grains. When I feel a little blue I have layers and layers and layers of support both emotionally and financially to fall back on. I think I’ll be okay. Now let’s get back to work!
(There is a teeny bit of wisdom in the caution about not burning out, which is why it’s good to diversify your earnings — so you aren’t overly taxing yourself by doing the same thing constantly.)
29. I Remembered My 13-Yr-Old Inner Hustler
When I was 13 my dad said I should earn my own money so I got a job at the local farm pulling weeds in a pumpkin patch for 4 hours each day at $5/hour. When I was 14 my best friend Christyn got me a job at the local Italian restaurant for $5.25/hour washing dishes. A year later I was promoted to prep cook and I made $5.75 rinsing the flies out of the lettuce, cleaning and slicing up calamari, prepping giant mounds of pizza dough and all kinds of other random tasks. And I loved it. I took great pride in my hard work. Maybe it is all the episodes of Sex & The City I watched in my 20’s, but sometime between then and now I got soft. I developed a distaste for scrappy uncomfortable hard work. But this debt-annihilation stint brought me back to that scrappy teenager who mopped many, many floors to get a taste of the great freedom and opportunity that money provides.
30. I Broke My Lease With No Penalty and Moved to a More Affluent Neighborhood
It is usually not advised to move while hauling ass to get out of debt. Moving can be extremely expensive. But I knew my lease was coming up for renewal, I knew the price would go up, and I also knew that I wanted to move to a more affluent and socially vibrant part of NYC. I had been living in a small apartment on the far side of Prospect Park long enough. So I scoured list serves and wrote my ideal apartment attributes: view of the East River and Manhattan skyline, cool funky loft space, living with three funny/interesting/inspired guys (cause I like that show New Girl).
Then I found it. A big funky loft space in DUMBO overlooking the river with three young funny fun brilliant men. To move in I had to break my lease. But I didn’t want to pay extra rent, and I wanted to get my deposit back. So I wrote a totally kind and open email to my building manager 10 days before I planned to move, and he agreed. The deposit check is in the mail right now. Very little financial loss for a huge neighborhood gain. Boom.
31. I Let the World Provide
As previously mentioned, I was offered some really lovely things over these eight months, trips, meals, tips, trades for other services I could benefit from. The last night of April I recall my grocery budget was drained, I had nothing good to eat, and I came across a business giving away free vegan dinners at Equinox where I had just finished teaching a class. Yes please! At the end of a yoga private the student offered me a giant round loaf of sourdough bread from She Wolf Bakery — I’ll take it! Plus many more free offerings crossed my path. I trusted that with a goal this clear, the world would provide. It did and I said “yes”.
32. I Practiced Contentment
In the Yoga Sutra there is this word “santosha” which means “contentment”. Instead of entertaining the parts of me that wanted more/better during these months, I regularly returned to this idea of santosha — of being content with what I have. And when I did this every single time I looked around I saw that I have SO MUCH. What more could I possibly want?
33. I Trusted My Ability to Change My Reality
I’ll be honest, you didn’t need to read all the points in-between. The two most important ones are #2 and this #33. If you don’t believe you can change, you can’t. If you believe you can, you will find a way through every single challenge, every roadblock. You will see a world of interesting opportunities and fascinating quandaries to solve. This debt-freedom happened because I decided to do it, and believed it was possible. Period.
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.
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:
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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