How To Take Your Emotional Temperature

My teeth (left side, on the top) are sensitive to cold, so I try to avoid crunching ice cubes on that side or letting anything super chilly hit it in just the wrong way. Every once in a while, though, I like to test to see if the sensitivity is still on, so I’ll deliberately take a big gulp of cold water just to see what happens.

In a similar way, it’s useful to occasionally take our emotional temperature instead of assuming constant and enduring truths about how we feel. Emotions fade, time heals, memory fails. You wouldn’t slap a SpongeBob band-aid on your scraped knee and then never bother to remove it to check how the healing was going, would you? Of course not.

What hurt then doesn’t necessarily hurt now and what hurts now won’t necessarily hurt in the future. And the only way to figure out if you’ve gotten over what used to get to you? *Gasp*, it’s to let yourself revisit past hurts, angers and scars to assess whether they still sting in the same way. And if they don’t? Free up that space in your emotional attic!  We’re quick to bundle our pain into cardboard boxes, tape them shut, scrawl Do Not Open on top and shove them to the dustiest corner of our psyche. But space fills up fast in there. Eventually, you just stop opening the door lest you be crushed under an avalanche of old ticket stubs, primary six friendship bracelets, songs you can no longer listen to, pictures of happier times, texts, emails undeleted, etc.

At least some of that emotional detritus is ripe for reusing and recycling. The statute of limitations on its hold over you has expired and once you discover that, you can sift through it, talk about it, forgive, forget, get drunk and laugh at your younger self, etc.  And then, finally reclaim that prime real estate for other purposes*.

*I am getting there.

A LETTER TO MY SON FOR HIS 10TH BIRTHDAY

20190818_175721.jpgFrom the day I knew you would be mine, Kid, I can’t even lie to you, I was a hot mess of emotions. I did not even have my life all planned out, I was still so young to have a baby. But as you will one day learn – you don’t plan Life… Life plans you and you have to figure out what that is and then figure out what to do with it.

Learning you are about to have a child at a young age is no easy feat. I was selfish, self-centered, and thought I knew the world. I was focused on studying, finding who I am, what I wanted to do, and worried about all the things that don’t need to be worried about. I would soon learn that you would be my life. You would be my drive. You would be my reason. And you would teach me way more things than I could EVER teach you… But even that took some time to figure out.

It was a big scary deal for me. I wasn’t ready when you were born 9 days late. No amount of books or research could have prepared me. What happened when you were born was indescribable. The amount of love that that filled my heart and each fiber in my body the minute I saw your little face was overwhelming. The love I felt for you from day one, the sense of protection and nurture came instinctively from very deep within me and grew exponentially every day. I could spend hours looking at you, and realizing that you have my nose and that part of me is now in you.

At 2 years old, you told me I was your best friend forever.

At 5 years old you said you were a big boy because you were going to big boy school but you still loved me.

At 6 years old you said I was the smartest Mama in the world because I showed you “the easy way to tie your shoes”.

At 7 years old you said you would jump off a wall and kick anyone in the head who tried to hurt me.

At 9 years old, you told me you were going to work super hard in school so that you could buy me a big house and make me proud.

At 10 years old, you tell me not to worry about your birthday not being big because you are all grown up now. This growing up thing is killing me.

A bond between a mother and child is like none other and I never imagined the swarm of emotions that would come with that. I feel your joys. And I feel your pains. I want to guard you from all the crazy in the world and yet I want to see you roam free so you can enjoy the beauty. There are so many things that I want to teach you. So many places I want to show you… But Kid, honestly, the things that I want to show and teach you could NEVER amount to the wealth of lessons, knowledge and insight, beauty, love and inspiration you have instilled in me.

It is my privilege to be your Mom, and I want you to know, there is nothing in this world that makes me more proud, than you.

I want you to know, I need you to know, that you were given to me, as a gift, to teach me what truly matters, and what life is truly about. You taught me how to TRULY love and how to be brave. You taught me how to dream, and how anything is possible. You taught me humility, and courage. You taught me to stand up for what’s right. You taught me that the destination is not always the important part, but rather the JOURNEY we travelled to get there is what’s to be valued. You taught me that patience really is a virtue, but that laughing some things off is just as important. You taught me that, struggles, trials and tribulations will create in us all a strong character and will make for valuable lessons. You taught me what resilience really is by having the courage to be strong and push through all of our struggles with an optimistic mind – for you.

Our life together has not been dramatically difficult. But it hasn’t been all butterflies and rainbows either. And I can only thank you today and until forever for being the awesome little guy that you are, for loving me as much as you do, and for providing a light in our home that helps to keep us all smiling.

As usual, here are a few things I want to say to you as you celebrate your 10th birthday:

  • I want you to know -and I know that you already know- that I love you endlessly no matter what.
  • Don’t change who you are.
  • Don’t change the way you see the world or the way you feel.
  • You can tell by the look in my eyes or the sound of my voice if I am sad or happy. You put your arms around me to make sure I am ok. Don’t stop caring about the people you love and the people around you.
  • Nurture your sensitivity and your feelings, because you can be strong and feel a lot at the same time. This is a good thing.
  • Find your passion and follow it.
  • Be different if that’s what you want to be. Just be and be true to you.
  • Focus and follow through on whatever you want to and sometimes need to achieve. This is important.
  • Now it’s no longer only me teaching you, but you teaching me. I’ve learned so much from being around you and from talking to you.

You truly are my Sunshine…

I want you to always remember… Life is full of amazing things. Always take a minute to smell the flowers by your feet. Feel the Sun on your face. Let the Rain cleanse your soul. Love with all that you have. Laugh with every breath. Live with purpose. Fight for your dreams. Reach for the Stars, Moon and Sun… Believe in you… because I do. And remember, that I will always be here… right by your side… cheering you on.

I promise you that I will hold your hand for as long as you will let me.

Love always & forever – your biggest fan,

Mom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Being Vulnerable

The word vulnerable usually gives me hives. I’ve spent time avoiding it. In fact, one of the best compliments that I’ve ever received from a dear friend of mine was when she said that of all the people she knows, I’m one of the most sure of myself. So, why am I advocating vulnerability today? Why am I telling you to stand under a (figurative) tree in a (figurative) thunderstorm and wait for the (very real) lightning to hit you? Because, sometimes, it’s necessary.

PIC

I’m not talking about vulnerability in terms of tearing your heart out of your chest and pinning it to your sleeve, dropping “I love you” on the third date, going to bed at night with your front door unlocked and your brand-new Phone clearly visible on the dining table. I’m talking about taking off the bullet-proof vest. I’m talking about being glue to the universe’s rubber and simply waiting to see what bounces off of it and sticks to you. It’s about resisting the instinctual urge to give in to your tried and true knee-jerk reaction to conflict, lost love, criticism or being confounded and allowing yourself to feel confused or at odds instead. It’s about admitting that despite living all the years of your life in this body and this mind that you might not know what’s best for you 100% of the time. It’s about being able to say that you genuinely don’t know the answer and trusting that being badly stumped doesn’t meant that everything is going to immediately cave in around you.

It’s scary as hell to contemplate, especially if you’ve been making your way in this world based on moxie, on grit, on the ability to sell your confidence and poise to anyone, whether they were originally intending to buy or not. Letting go of that, even temporarily, is hard. Doing that and letting the world take a good long look at what’s really beneath and not flinching when it tells you  what it sees is even harder. And being open enough to examine what these conclusions are and their validity is pretty much the holy grail of humbling yourself. But ultimately, it’s worth the effort.

The downside of the whole smile though your heart is breaking school of thought, I think being fixated on demonstrating your unimpeachable self sufficiency and iron-grip causes its own kind of damage, even if it’s more difficult to detect. It breeds a certain sort of personal isolation, creates an aura of surety that people might respect and envy, but they don’t necessarily relate to. They simply assume you’ve got everything cased and move on to focusing their attention on folks with whom they can find common ground in flawed humanity. And the longer you meticulously focus on patching every crack in your public foundation and putting your best face forward at all times, the more difficult it becomes to step away from that mindset and the more frightening it becomes to contemplate maybe leaving the cracks as is or even asking someone else to give you a hand in fixing them.

Bottom line?  As much as leaving your decision-making to a majority vote is inadvisable, so is plowing through life like a one-person wrecking crew, unable or unwilling to take or seek counsel from others because that would mean admitting you actually wanted that counsel in the first place.

Sometimes, we all need a fresh perspective or honest feedback or simply to stop running our internal monologues long enough to soak up some much-needed silence. But, you’re not going to get the help you don’t ask for and won’t allow into your life. It’s not about being needy, it’s about being receptive.  And being receptive means being vulnerable, being exposed and maybe getting hit with a bolt from the blue.

Cutting the Ties That Didn’t Actually Bind You in the First Place

The older I get, the more I’ve come to believe in reciprocity: the investment you make in a relationship should be commensurate with the effort put in by the other party/parties. I don’t advocate keeping score, or taking it to ridiculous lengths with a mercenary what’s in it for me? Attitude and I acknowledge that some relationships are inherently unequal (parent/child for example), but I’ve sworn off doing the lion’s share of the legwork and heavy lifting in most of mine.

CUTTING THE TIESPicture from Google

I’ve been weeding out my emotional rolodex over the last four months or so. I’ve stopped reaching out to people who rarely respond. I’ve stopped making plans with fair weather friends who consistently get Fs when it comes to follow-through. I’ve stopped forcing myself to hang out with people out of a sense of duty even as I find their personality quirks beyond aggravating.  And most importantly, I’ve stopped giving people the benefit of the doubt and limitless empathy when they’re careless with my feelings or my time.  There have been no confrontations, no accusations, no drama. In fact, the only thing that’s changed is that my relationship stress level has dropped significantly and I’m able to channel the energy that I was wasting being affronted, slighted and overly solicitous of the feelings of others who had little regard for mine into other, more productive ventures. I’m not angry at the people I’ve let go off.  I’m still polite to those I see regularly and I’d have no objection to hearing from those I don’t cross paths with as often, but I have no intention of being the one to make the next and subsequent moves.  I’ve simply ceased putting energy into relationships that had a low or non-existent return.

Most of the hurts we suffer at the hands of others are unintentional. Our pain is simply someone else’s collateral damage. And while it’s true that the majority of people who cause you distress may not have done so out of spite or malice and may actually be decent, upstanding individuals, that doesn’t mean that you should cut them slack in the form of elaborate excuses for their actions or by extending your saintly patience to silently enduring their careless treatment.  Doing so continues to give them power over you, a claim to your limited emotional energy and the opportunity to continue to hurt you by not responding in the way that your vivid imagination dictates that they should, but that history shows that they never will. In other words, you’re still getting the short end of the relationship stick.

Instead, you need to acknowledge the hurt, recognize that it likely wasn’t intentional and then shut down any opportunity for them to hurt you again. Stop emailing, stop calling, stop worrying and for heaven’s sake, stop martyring yourself on the altar of someone else’s indifference.  Cutting these people off isn’t cold or callous, it’s emotionally mature. You’re not hurting these folks, because they’re not actually aware of or invested in you in the first place. They will more than likely not notice the withdrawal of your attention and caring because it held little to no value for them, anyway.  Harsh but true. We’ve all been there.

There are precious few people in this world who are genuinely invested in your happiness and well-being beyond a superficial and perfunctory interest.  Your emotional energy is best spent focusing on and/or finding those people.  Start letting the others fend for themselves.  They’d do (and in a way, have already done) the same for you.

Everybody Has A Hungry Heart: Why Complacency Is Your Enemy

I’m writing this curled up on the couch in my digz. I’m enjoying a nice cup of black coffee* . What better circumstances under which to talk about the dangers of complacency?

Sometimes, when things have been rough for seemingly forever, when we finally catch a decent break or a respite, the tendency is to hunker down and hold on for dear life. Things sucked, now they suck less, you’ve been hurt to death, you’re still alive, what more is there to say? And sure, if the sum total of your aspirations is a port in the storm (and depending on your life circumstances, that’s a perfectly legitimate goal), there isn’t really much more for me to say. But if you have the privilege of harboring grander dreams, visions, plans and wishes (articulated or just a vague longing for something more), complacency is your enemy. It’s your fork in the road – stay here in relative comfort, stability and routine, or keep pushing on toward what it is that you truly want. I’ll refrain from discussing the imperative of staying keen and hungry lest I stray, but you get the drift.

There’s no small measure of guilt involved. Shouldn’t you be grateful for what you have, especially if you know what it’s like to have nothing at all? Why can’t you be happy with what you’ve got? Why do you have to be so greedy, so hard to please? But it’s not about greed. It’s not about being dissatisfied with 500 million, when what you really want is a cool billion. It’s about realizing that while this job lets you pay the bills and keep a roof over your head, you break out in hives at the thought of doing it for the next 30 years. It’s about acknowledging that while your current significant other is a wonderfully caring, understanding, interesting person, he or she isn’t someone you could ever envision yourself yoked to until death do you part. It’s about not sublimating your long-term desires for the sake of short-term stability. I’m not advocating immediate break-ups, resignations or speed-dialing, but I am recommending that you take five or ten minutes this holiday season to give some thought to what you want and to look at your present circumstances and the decisions you’re currently living out. Are they supporting this idea of your future self? If not, just what are they providing you with – Security? Stability? Acceptance? Happiness? Peace? True Love? A timeout from feeling as if your whole life has been spent thanklessly grinding it out?

Maybe you’ll decide that things are good enough for right now. Maybe you do need this period of intellectual shore leave to recoup and recharge. But while you’re getting your groove back, keep the bigger picture in the back of your mind. Don’t let a temporary hiatus become a permanent one and don’t let a comfortable routine lull you into forgoing your something more. Stay sharp and you’ll eventually be ready and eager, even to trade the rules &regulations  for more blood, sweat and tears. The Boss (GOD) would surely tell you the same thing.

How To Put An End To It

 

skeleton(Photo credit:Google)

When working on a project, how do you know when to stop?! I could go on editing forever. I’m never completely satisfied, I think I’m done, but then I wake up the next day and want to change something, and then find myself changing nearly everything. This is a chronic problem and keeps me from finishing any project I start.”

Recently, we had a meeting for all the employees at my job. During this meeting, we had to break into groups for a rousing afternoon of brainstorming. After all the flip charts and markers, each group leader had to present their team’s findings to the rest of staff. One of my colleagues said something that perfectly (albeit inadvertently) answers your question: “We need to start working to tolerance, not perfection. Our clients aren’t paying us for perfection, so why are we giving it to them for free?”

While his words do apply to our industry, they should also become your new mantra. From now on, instead of waiting to fall in love with your manuscript, newsflash: (it probably ain’t gonna happen, baby), as soon as you get your draft to a point where the thought of it doesn’t make you dry heave, you’re done. Hit it and quit it. No incessant tinkering or fiddling or angsty red inking. Drop your pen, step away from the laptop. Hit send, hit print, shove that stack of papers in a drawer and don’t so much as look at it for a month. You are no longer working to perfection. Tolerance is your new benchmark. Embrace it.

THERE IS A LIGHT THAT NEVER GOES OUT

You can tell a lot about a person by how they act at the end. I’m not talking about death (although, I’m sure that’s illuminating as well), but the end of any big stage or circumstance – school, a relationship, a job. Or more precisely, you can tell a lot about a person by how they act when they know the end is coming. Do they put their feet up and coast? Mentally check out? Bury their head in the sand and refuse to acknowledge what’s happening? Come down with a case of maudlin nostalgia? The temptation is to start rewriting the hindsight history, being a little more charitable or a little more mercenary, whatever serves to the soften the inevitable blow. It wasn’t so bad. God, am I glad that’s over. You do what you have to.

But on the whole, aside from death, we very rarely treat goodbyes as permanent. We move, leave jobs, graduate, but we promise (sincerely or otherwise) to keep in touch, to hang out, to see each other around. We deny that we’ll likely never associate with the ones we’re au revoiring again. Even in the case of break-ups, unless one party relocates to eastern Siberia, there’s still the specter of running into the one you used to love in the supermarket check-out line or tagged in a mutual friend’s facebook photo album. There’s always the door and human nature dictates that we’re loathe to ever close it all the way, for better or worse.

And to a large degree, social media has provided us with the perfect cop out to avoid doing this. No one is ever truly gone in a Google able world. Forget about Paris, we’ll always have Twitter. Technology means that we can check in, keep tabs, lurk in a dark corner, observe from afar. It both prevents us from making a clean break and convinces us that we’re holding up our end of the “stay in touch” bargain 140 characters or a single status update at a time. It’s cold comfort, but we’ll take it anyway, whatever keeps us from having to watch the closing credits scroll by. The Endafter allis just a little too uncomfortably black and white for most of us to embrace.

ONLY YOU CAN SAVE YOURSELF

You have to save yourself. Not Jesus, not Buddha, not Dr. Or Prophet Owuor, not a new job or your next relationship. You can get help – get therapy, get a dietician, get an education – but you’re still the one who has to sign on the dotted line. It’s both liberating and terrifying to contemplate. I can rescue myself and if I don’t, I’ll sink to the bottom of the Atlantic faster than the Titanic.

And it comes down to choice.

There is a difference between choosing not to do something and being genuinely unable to manage it. Is my body physically capable of running a marathon? Yes. Have I chosen to commit the time and effort required to train it to perform this task competently? No.  It’s not that I can’t run one, I just don’t choose to do what it takes to run one. Most of the things we believe we can’t do and we tell ourselves we can’t do fall into this same category. There are very, very few examples of achievements or undertaking that are just impossible for us, end of story. I can’t fly. We can’t cure cancer. You can’t grow three inches taller as an adult.

We always have choices; it’s just that some of the choices are difficult or time-consuming or unpalatable or labor-intensive, so we’d rather pretend they don’t exist. We do a quick mental cost-benefit analysis, decide we’re not willing to spend what is required and deem whatever it is beyond the scope of our abilities to tackle and then we sleep easier at night. Harsh, but true. I genuinely worried that removing that safeguard of being able to say I simply couldn’t manage X from my own thinking would lead to a tidal wave of guilt. If I could do all the things and I wasn’t doing all the things, clearly I was slacking.

That hasn’t happened. Instead, in recent weeks, I’ve started shifting my mindset away from looking a life as a capricious and overwhelming storm and me as a rag doll it tosses around. I’ve been realizing that I’ve been giving away my power by telling myself a story in which I have no choices and all of my actions are reactive and instinctual rather than deliberate and thoughtful. I have to do X. I wish I had the strength for Y, but I just don’t. Contrast that with I could be doing A, B or C, but for the present, X meets my immediate needs. This doesn’t mean it is a long-term commitment; I can reassess its value whenever I want and/or change course. How much more empowering is it to say, “My immediate needs are shelter, food and clothing. My job provides me with the capacity to meet these needs, therefore I choose to commit my time to working at it” than it is to say, “I hate my job, but I can’t find anything else. The economy sucks and I’m just stuck here.”

In both cases, you’re working at a job that is less than ideal, but in the first example, you’re asserting your agency and acknowledging this is a choice you make in order to derive certain benefits and in the second, you’re denying your agency and casting yourself as a victim of circumstances who needs outside intervention to succeed. Guess which version of you sleeps better every Sunday night?

Waiting around for rescue is demoralizing and anxiety-inducing. You feel as if your happiness is at the mercy of the universe’s benevolence and a dose of blind luck and you have no way of predicting when or even if you’ll ever be graced with either. The best you can do is squint at the horizon. And that’s why it’s just as maddening as it is relieving when you snap out of it one day and realize that this whole time you’ve been sitting on the pile of boards that you could jury-rig together to make a raft to float yourself off this sad desert island for good. Sure, you might have to use a coconut as an improvised hammer, but you have the carpentry skills to make it work.  We all do. You have to save yourself. No one else will do it for you. Start building.

SHOE-BE-DO-BE-DO

 It is said that confession is good for the soul.  In my case, it’s more that confession is good for the soles.  I admit, I am a shoe lover.

Some may have a wine collection in their houses.  If you had visited me, you’d have found a shoe ‘cellar’.  It wasn’t stocked with Manolo Blahnik shoes and exotic leather but, instead, I was overloaded with racks of my ‘mtumba’ and new shoes.   

Truth is I’m not an obsessive collector of all things and don’t need. Nonetheless, with shoes, I had the mentality of the pack- rat that is- and couldn’t part with any shoe in which we’d comfortably traveled together at least one enjoyable  kilometer walk.  By that point, the shoe and I had created a personal bond.  We were attached at much more than just the foot.  The end of some relationships often warranted a tearful ceremony before giving them away to my cousins.  But then something changed.

I happened upon a stream of numerous articles on more beneficial usages for old shoes than stockpiling them or giving them to people who have shoes already. I knew that each time I moved on to the latest shoes, like some pathetic footwear philanderer, that there might be some more kilometers left in my prior pair.

But then my compulsion came up against my compassion. Many of these articles came with pictures and videos of young people without shoes. I realized there comes a time when even the strongest of obsessions must come to an end. I will give my old shoes to children’s homes and they might find some feet.

I know that they’d be going on to a better life.  They’d breathe the fresh air again, feel the trails under their soles, and bask in the warmth of a loving touch on their heel counter.  It is time for me to cut the proverbial shoelace.