Possibly the longest episode title ever – and it doesn’t even scratch the surface.
Taking a wee pause from The Recovery Myth miniseries right now to do some Thinking Out Loud. This episode, something new for me, has no script, outline, or even single subject matter. It’s a mishmosh of some of the biggest things on my brain and the deepest dives I’ve been doing lately.
Inspired by THIS Instagram post, I realized that sometimes the best coversations are long, rambling, multifaceted, and hit everyone in different ways.
In this episode we get down ‘n dirty about:
-Wedding planning and how what people say it’s like is actually NOT the case for me
-Figuring out your limitations so you don’t crash and burn
-A Cheryl Strayed Q+A that changed the way I view the way I work
-My theory about the social media landscape shift
-Some real talk on the real wellness industry
-Tiny tweaks, tricks, and tips to create structure and reclaim your day
Like this episode? Leave a review on iTunes, share it on Facebook, tweet it out on Twitter, or post it on Instagram. Be sure to use the hashtags #WANTcast, #womenagainstnegativetalk, and/or #WANTyourself!
I don’t usually write these kinds of things, but I’m staring at my computer screen blankly in the middle of a Maison Kayser with a too-pretty-to-drink splurge coffee in front of me while I wait for my laundry to be done at the local laundromat and this seems like a good place to start. It usually is.
When I started WANT, I made it very clear that this was not my personal blog. WANT isn’t even a blog at all – it’s a brand, a platform, part of which includes my work as a writer and activist when it comes to what it means to be a fully self-actualized woman in this world. I present personal work, I never work through personal work. It’s irresponsible of me to use this space as a venting ground or pretend like I’ve got answers about things that I don’t. It’s not my job to drag you down into the muck of my struggles. It IS my job to be fiercely honest and use my personal experiences to help lift you up into the you you know you’re meant to be.
And yet. And yet. Sometimes something comes along that is so grating, so disrespectful, and so widespread that I can’t just sit here quietly and watch it happen to literally every single woman I know. Because choosing to be a writer, artist, activist, and truth-teller means that you also choose to be someone who stands up.
I turned 30 this year. I’ve been living with my boyfriend for almost three years now. I’ve made my reflex (writing) my career (writer). I’ve moved across the country. I’m closer to 50 than I am to 5. I found six grey hairs this October.
Apparently, when you hit certain milestones in life – whether an age or life stage – it’s deemed acceptable (dare I say obligatory?) for others to grill you about your life choices. You know the questions. So when are you getting married? So do you want to have kids? Where do you see yourself in five years? And then, there are the questions you get as a creative: Have you thought about monetizing your “blog” yet? How do you make a living? Aren’t you worried about financial security? But what else do you do? Isn’t it time you joined the real world already? You know, I know a guy…
It’s not just the questions that start to roll in, it’s the opinions and advice along with them. You’re not getting any younger. You’re going to regret it. You don’t know what you’re saying. You should try this other thing. I’ve got a friend of a friend who does this and says that, so maybe you should make that happen. Have you thought about making that happen?
On behalf of all women everywhere (because it also seems as if women get this wonderful privilege of their lives being publicly owned property to own stock in) I’d like to say:
I’ve had to learn the hard way (is there any easy way?) that knowing thyself doth not make you immune to others assuming that they doth know better. Marriage, kids, career, location, LIFE. When I was in my teens and early twenties, I thought the key to living a life free of worry and judgement was to know myself so well that being anyone else was out of the question. But as I grew older – especially as I started to inch toward the big three-zero – I realized something bizarre: for as much as we tout self-knowledge and fulfillment in theory, our society still views the individual opinion as a threat. After all the books and memes and self-help podcasts, we’re still out there judging our women for not following a path that looks familiar to our own. Just like recognizing one woman’s beauty does not lessen yours, one woman following her own path does not invalidate you following yours.
And yet. And yet. We preach the self-love gospel and urge each other to follow the beat of our own drum while at the same time judging the way we do it. We tell our kids from a very young age to trust their gut and “be themselves,” but with no guidebook to do so, we’re left with the daunting task of becoming human and becoming whole. It’s no wonder the quarter life crisis, mid-life crisis, Saturn Return, et al have become so widely embraced by our culture. We’re trying to teach ourselves to swim, while simultaneously trying to follow the directions of the people who aren’t in the water, yelling at us from the shore. We’re drowning in opinion.
The most baffling thing is how at ease others are at asking the questions or forcing the discussion of topics that are usually saved as “serious conversation” topics between the people they directly affect.
Before this relationship, I was single for five years. Five years. Contrary to what others might tell you about singledom, they were some of the best five years of my life. I got to know myself in a way I never had before. I honed my passions and found new ones. I became, for the most part, the person I am now. I think everyone should spend a good deal of time single, because it is the very best way to learn who you are at the end of the day. I loved that process.
And yet. And yet. My inbox was flooded with messages from extended-extended-extended family members trying to set me up with their rich friend’s son. While I was finding my way in the editorial world, the number one question I got was whether I was dating or not. And when I began teaching fitness classes and was really, truly figuring out what I was meant to do and give, I will never forget the family friend who instead of asking questions about why I loved it or what I was learning, grilled me about what I wanted to do with my life and made a disapproving comment about how I “wasn’t going to be an ‘exercise girl’ for the rest of” my life. During a time when I was becoming increasingly self-confident and self-expressed, that comment shot through me and sent me sinking back into my own ocean of self-doubt.
Now, the comments and questions look different. Questions about marriage. Questions about kids. Career “advice.”
Oh, the career “advice.”
On one hand, there are people who confuse my professional writing with a personal blog and like to make all kinds of assumptions/ask very intrusive and personal questions because of it. I think this happens across the board on the internet, whether it be a website, blog, Facebook, Instagram, or whatever: whereas the people I’ve met through the internet have become some of my closest, most treasured relationships, there are people who know me in real life who use what I share online to make assumptions about who I am offline.
On the other hand, there are people who think that running my own business and career is “cute.” They see it as an opportunity to crowd source how to run it best, a chance to tell me about their friend who does such-and-such and about how I should really try doing that instead. I guess that, for some people, it’s unthinkable that I’ve actually put deep thought and hard work into this. For some people, it’s laughable that I’m doing something real, that I’m making real change, and most of all – that I am in charge.
Amongst the female freelancers and entrepreneurs I’ve talked to (and I’ve talked to a lot), there is this common thread of not being taken seriously. Our professions are seen as hobbies, our work viewed as wishy-washy. And then, of course, when people don’t understand or exhaust their advice options, they jump straight to the questions that let you know they see your life as partially empty. So when you getting married? So when you having kids? The cycle repeats and repeats. So much energy wasted on convincing others we’re right where we need to be and we’ve got this.
The thing is, most people don’t believe they’re being judgy. They believe they’re sharing their knowledge, they believe they’re being supportive even. They believe they’re offering solutions, and they believe they’re letting you know they want the best for you. They believe they’re making conversation, sometimes. They believe they’re not imposing, and they believe they know where you are and where you’ve been. They believe they know.
But to the people who ask these questions: How much do YOU know? How much do you know, really?
When you ask a woman if she thinks her parter is “The One,” you have no idea if they’re floating on air or if they’re struggling to make each other a priority. When you ask a woman if she’s going to have kids, or worse, ask a married woman if “she’s trying” (which is basically just asking if she and her SO are doing it constantly, or going through the difficult and costly process of IVF or a surrogate – and don’t even get me started on all the questions and judgements that I’ve heard go along with adoption process), you have zero clue as to what kind of emotional baggage that brings up, or if she’s going through a miscarriage, or if she’s feeling distraught because she doesn’t really know if she wants kids yet and that sense of uncertainty scares the crap out of her. When you ask a woman where she wants to be in five years or tell her she should really turn her talent into her profession or comment about how she should be doing things differently, you might not realize she lays awake at night struggling to make ends meet or is busting her ass trying to make money at the thing she loves. You have NO CLUE how much work is or is not going on behind the scenes.
Here’s what I would love to say to these people:
Look. I know you care. I think you care. At least, I’d like to think you care. In an ideal world, we’d all care greatly about one another and support each others’ rise up into our own unquestionably unique life story. But the thing is, I know it’s not really that you care about me. It’s that you care about your relationship to the construct of me. I also know it’s easier to live vicariously through someone else’s experiences than completely own up to and focus on your own. I also know that you not treating these topics with the weight that I do – as in, they’re mine and mine alone – signals you do not respect my answer either way. You do not respect my answer, period. You’re simply hungry for information, hungry for ammo, craving the excitement of being “in the know” or in some cases “knowing better.” You want an in with me that I do not consent to giving to you.
How do you think asking about marriage makes us feel about this very personal, very private decision that WE have only discussed in a series of “serious conversations”? How do you think your attempts to get me paired off with your coworker’s nephew makes me feel about my ability to find love on my own? Do you know how much pressure I feel when you ask if I’m going to have kids, and when I say I’m unsure and you immediately try and “sway” my uterus and I into impending childbirth? Do you have any idea how many nos or non-responses I’ve received during the course of my career, or the late nights I’ve worked to push something out because I’m running a business, not a hobby?
Moreover, do you realize what a slight this is to me? Prying into how I live my life tells me you do not care about the decades I’ve spent getting to know myself and the person I strive to be. Prying into how I live my life tells me my self-knowledge does not matter. Imagine how it feels, after years and years of learning how to “be myself” and “trust my gut,” to be the subject of your prying questions, your assumptions, your unsolicited advice, and the subtext of it all telling me that I can be myself as long as I okay it with you first.
If you’re one of those people who cannot stop speculating or has this great idea or has “just got to ask” – DON’T.And no, “not asking” is not tiptoeing around anything or walking on eggshells. Just. Don’t.
Here’s what you can do: Ask other questions. Ask someone how they are in their head and heart. How are they physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually.
I promise you, if there’s information they want you to know, they’ll offer it up. But if they don’t, you’ve got to be comfortable with not knowing. And if you’re not comfortable NOT being what you consider to be in-the-know? You might do better by asking yourself why you DO need to be.
As a writer, I make my living (or at least a portion of it, for now) by sitting still and letting the entirety of me hit me like a tidal wave. I love nothing more than to sit alone, still and quiet, on a cloudy afternoon or late at night and use my HSPness to its fullest capacity. I’ve come to be such close sisterfriends with vulnerability that I simply call her Sheer Honest Living. It’s exhausting. It’s exhilarating. It’s me.
I will never stop exposing myself, my truths, and the truths of the world around me I so painstakingly explore and tune into. And yet…and yet. I will always share what is personal and never what is intimate. I will fiercely live my life the way I know how, because I’ve spent a lifetime learning how I function, and my public Sheer Honest Living in the personal realm gives no one permission to use my openness as their “in” to the intimate realm. I allow myself to be hit with the tidal wave because I know how to swim.
And to you reading this? You know how to, too. I know you do. You are a badass. You are a superstar. Whatever you are doing with your life, wherever you are in life, whoever you’re doing it with. I support you a zillion percent.
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The holiday season. On one hand, it’s a time of food, fun and family togetherness. On the other hand… it’s a time of food, fun and family togetherness.
Getting together with the family can bring out all sorts of emotions. No matter how close your clan is or how different you all are, the various personalities at play coupled with the high-energy of the holiday season too often means we end up associating this time of year with stress, obligation and forced oversharing. Everyone somehow gets entangled in everyone else’s business, and come mid-December we’re counting down the days until the parties end and the New Year strikes. What a waste of holiday cheer!
Setting boundaries (mindful boundaries) with our loved ones right now is crucial to not only our sanity, but to our relationships with our relatives. For most of us, we’re only with our extended family a few times throughout the year, so it’s important that when we are all together, we’re working to build the kinds of relationships – and, so cliché, but the kinds of memories – we want to have.
I come from a large extended family, one I’ve been lucky enough to have living closeby my entire life. Because of this, we’ve developed some pretty close relationships – my cousins on my mom’s side are more like siblings, and my extended family on my dad’s side are some of the coolest people I know. But just because we’re two steps away from Brady Bunch status (mostly TV show, not movie) doesn’t mean it’s always peachy. I know firsthand that disagreements within the fam are usually unavoidable, and it can be easy to get into a scuffle when there are lots of different personalities in the room. And that’s not even taking into account the questions, comments, and demands that might just be one step too far. Even the Bradys couldn’t avoid it (mostly movie, not TV show).
Whether you’re talking politics or your one aunt just won’t stop asking when you’re going to settle down, here are three ways to keep things civil, compassionate and in control without resorting to anger or putting up walls:
1.) COME PREPARED WITH QUESTIONS. You know the saying, “Treat others as you’d like to be treated.” Ask the questions you’d appreciate being asked. If you don’t want to give a play-by-play on your love life, don’t go there with others. If you don’t want to explain your year of “funemployment” to your uncle, choose to ask him about his hobbies, travels, holiday plans or something other than “How work’s going?” You get the picture.
Just because you have boundaries doesn’t mean you’re closed off or not invested. Everyone has their own limits as to what they’re comfortable discussing, and everyone is an open book in other areas of their life. Use your empathy skills to gauge what others might love discussing…and what might make them break out into hives. Showing people how you are both genuinely interested in them and respect their privacy will send off signals that you’d appreciate if they’d do the same. And by the way, if someone is prying, it is perfectly okay to give a vague answer and steer the conversation in another direction. You are in charge of how much you are willing to share.
also, don’t pry into others’ lives if you don’t want others prying into your life.
2.) SHUT DOWN THE NEGATIVE SELF-TALK. From griping about life events to commiserating over body image woes, casual negativity is a bonding tactic – a cheap and easy way to form connections and find common ground. I’m not talking about legitimate, concern-causing grievances (signs of depression, eating disorders, abuse, etc). I’m talking about the emotionally loaded conversations we have simply to bond with one another.
Large family gatherings can be a cesspool for negative bonding sessions. When you hear the members of your family griping about how “bad” they’ve eaten, counter that with a comment on how awesome your aunt’s cooking was, then ask about a recipe. When you notice a conversation about work is veering down a negative road, ask to hear about a hobby someone loves or a recent success. Lead with your own pragmatic positivity, and make a pact with yourself that you will not be roped into feeling bad about yourself just to fit in.
just own your coolness, Cindy.
3.) BE WHO YOU WANT TO BE. Whether we’ve grown up around them our entire lives or only see them once in a blue moon, it can be easy to fall into past roles with our families. You’re a “grandchild” in the mix? You’re still a kid in your aunts’, uncles’, and grandparents’ eyes. The oldest child in the fam? Maybe you’re expected to play that part even though you don’t really feel like you’ve gotten anything figured out yet.
Just because you’re the “kid” in your family does not warrant that you’re treated as such. Whether your aunt is infringing on the way you parent your little one or your older sibling is bossing you around in the kitchen, the holidays are a fantastic time to renew your vow to yourself to be the you you know you want to be. It’s a time of year that can bring out the very best of us – or the very worst. It’s up to us which one we choose. Sure, words speak volumes – saying, “I’ve got this” or a simple, “No thank you” sometimes does the trick – but when it comes to setting boundaries with your loved ones, actions speak encyclopedias.
one of my favorite scenes of all time. it’s a rocky road to a healthy self-image, but you’ll get there.
As impossible as it might seem, you can prevent a disagreement from turning into a disaster if you’re coming from the right place. No matter the topic of conversation or vibe you’re getting from the other person, make sure the underlying emotion you carry with you is love. Be empathetic. Be assertive. Listen to your heart for cues on when to budge and when to stand firm – and on when to speak up and when to let it go.
Most importantly? Just because you’re with your family doesn’t mean you need to morph into a different version of yourself. Ease is contagious – and so is authenticity. And you don’t have to always feel at ease to be authentically yourself. The more you do you, the more they’ll catch on. The more they catch on, the more comfortable they’ll feel doing the same. And that’s the best holiday present you could give them.
WANT Yourself: Do you struggle with setting boundaries when it comes to family – or even old friends? What do you do when you start to feel the anxiety kick in?
There’s a saying I once heard (probably from Oprah) about when it comes to the people you interact with on a regular basis:
“We teach others how to treat us.”
And I used to think that was bogus.
Not that I thought that I was immune to “haters” or tactlessness, but I resonated more with the school of thought that how people treat us is a reflection of who they are, not who we are. Which is true…
Here’s the thing, though: in this state of mind, I was only thinking of others being kind vs. being unkind. At the time, I was a perpetual people-person, the one who was there for everyone, and strongly averse to drama or gossip. Why someone wouldn’t treat me with respect – their own issues withstanding – was automatically viewed as their fault, not mine.
It’s funny, because at the same time, I was consistently feeling lost inside myself, pulled in twelve different directions, and reaching with all my might for a hazy life vision and career trajectory that had seemed to morph into something I could no longer control.
What I realized is that changing the way others treat us isn’t just about “treating them the way we’d like to be treated,” or kindness vs. cruelty – it’s about managing their expectations.
When we feel an imbalance in who we are or who we think we should be, it’s a red flag that something else is going on below the surface. Whether it’s a lack of clarity in through line or that awful feeling of being uncomfortable in our own skin, our body-mind-soul trifecta will always let us know that something’s going awry. Most of the time, we just don’t choose to listen to those signs.
Every text message, email, conversation and interaction is a way we teach the people in our lives how to treat us. Whether we’re responding to work requests at 11pm, saying “yes” to every single invitation/obligation/favor, or staying out late for that last round of drinks when we’d rather be cozy in bed, each decision we make is a little piece of our property. Time. Energy. Values.
Way too often, we give that property away. And way too often, it’s because of one thing: we fear what will happen if we don’t.
How many times do we stare down at our phones or computers answering every single email, text message, gChat, etc like rapidfire? Sure, timeliness and efficiency are important – but every time we respond to something that drains us instead of fuels us, or simply can wait until we’re free, we’re unconsciously telling others that THAT is how we conduct our lives. To get overwhelmed and angry at the requests, pushes, and pulls coming at us is usually not the fault of anyone else but ourselves.
In general, people don’t want to overwhelm you, stress you out, or steer you further from the you you know you’re meant to be. They’re just taking cues from how they see you’re living your life.
Setting boundaries doesn’t have to be a dramatic shift. How do you teach others how to treat you? By being thoughtful with the way you present yourself and respond.
A few small-but-huge examples of how to teach others how to treat you:
IN YOUR CAREER: Whether it’s via email or in the middle of a meeting, many times we’ll talk a certain way in order to be liked, to make others feel included, or just to give off a “good impression” of being a team player. Sometimes it comes from modesty. Sometimes it comes from empathetic skills in overdrive. But as we’ve talked about so many times, confidence is not synonymous with narcissism or vanity. Instead of using filler words like “maybe,” “kind of,” or “just,” state your case as fact. Be the authority on what you think and what you know. We’re so attuned to thinking this is bitchy. It’s not. It’s owning yourself and owning your power.
ON THE PHONE: Remember when all we had were land lines and “message machines,” as we called them in my house? Remember when we needed to memorize people’s numbers, and if we needed to reach someone while we were out, we needed to find a pay phone or business that would loan us their line? Somehow, we all managed. Just because we’re now all reachable right away doesn’t warrant a response right away. Not feeling that text message? Wait to respond. Need some solitude and the phone rings? Let it go to voice mail and call back later. If there is an emergency, usually people will find a way to get ahold of you (think multiple texts and calls one after the other). In more cases than not, whatever is happening
GOING OUT: I don’t know about you, but I usually hit a wall at about 9:30pm when I’m out socializing. Any later, and my introverty HSP self does an energetic nose-dive from the high board of fun into the pool of self-loathing and anxiousness. I used to think that there was something wrong with me that I didn’t want to stay out late, even if just with family members, close friends, or small groups. But what I’ve come to learn and accept is that not only am I not a night owl, but it takes me about two full hours from leaving a social event to wind down and fall asleep for the night. When you’re ready to leave, people might sometimes give you shit and beg you to stay. That can feel good. That can make us feel wanted. But stand your ground. Say no to events that begin later if you’re not feeling them, and if you are, give yourself the permission to leave whenever you’re feeling it. No apologies, and no hanging around when you’re energetically drained. The more you do this with grace, the more the people you love will understand this about you. Just give them the chance to know that part of you. People don’t want you to have a bad time or pretend – they want you to be YOURSELF. (Danielle Beinstein and I talk a little bit about this in her WANTcast episode.)
So often, we don’t set these tiny boundaries because to us, they seem just that: tiny. But it’s those small instances, over and over, that end up making a HUGE difference for the better. In all areas of your life.
WANT YOURSELF: Tell me – how can you (or how do you already) set small-but-huge boundaries with others in your life? Whether it’s at work or in your personal life, tell me one thing that you do to own your power and manage the expectations of others?