On Taking Breaks & Being Well

TWO THOUSAND SIXTEEN. Its been a productive year. Especially as a member of The Bravery Board- its been, like, very productive. 

For a tiny recap (and I do mean tiny! There is no way to cover all the craziness this year has brought to the three of us in a paragraph) --  In 2016 Madison started a flourishing new business as a life coach, (and has recently been nominated as Beautiful You's International Coach of the Year!) Kate became a mother to a beautiful baby boy, and I pursued my artwork like a madwoman and began writing and performing for my husband's TV show, The Mystery HourIn the midst of all of that, we kept working our day jobs, maintained our relationships, and... AND... we launched The Bravery Board, this crazy thing that has been feeding us and keeping us moving in the direction of health and wellness and goodness that we all so desperately need and crave.

I think I can speak for all of us when I say... whew! There are feelings of gratefulness for how well received The Bravery Board has been in our community, validation that we have been on the right path, challenge as we look ahead to new opportunities and a need for balance, and a bit of downright exhaustion for pushing so hard through a season of getting things done and making dreams become realities. The thrill often outweighs the challenge, no doubt, but that doesn't mean we all aren't a bit tired. 

To handle this whirlwind feeling and to lean into self-care, Madison, Kate, and I decided to take a couple of months off from podcasting and hosting Bravery Board gatherings. We've been mindful to spend time in reflection and thankfulness for what was accomplished in 2016, and to look ahead at new topics, speakers, and plans for the year to come. Slowly but surely, we are chasing our dreams and making them come alive, but I think we all recognized that we wouldn't be able to keep the pace toward our goals much longer if we didn't take a bit of a break.

The realization that slowing down is needed in order to be productive is a slightly new concept for me; one I continue to learn about and make mistakes with. My tendency is to run full-speed ahead until my body catches up with me, screaming to STOP, or SLOW DOWN, or to just DO SOMETHING OTHER THAN RUN! There was the time I was taking 20 hours of graduate school classes in one summer and started getting painful back spasms only to ignore them and land myself in surgery with a disc so herniated I couldn't walk. There was another time I went back to work after having a baby and flat out fell face-first into postpartum depression after trying so hard to be good at ALL OF IT rather than one thing at a time. And now there is this- a December with little travel, little to-do's to check off a list, no Bravery Board things to keep me busy, and I am wrestling with that familiar feeling of being a bit perturbed with myself for being lazy.

Lazy? Really? 

No. I have to tell myself "no" to that nagging anxiety almost daily. I remind myself there is a difference between lazy and rest. Lazy is allowing things to happen to you; watching as opportunities fly by. Lazy is asking other people to do your dirty work whether that's with meager responsibilities around the house or in life. Restfulness is different. Its NEEDED. There are rhythms in life that cannot be ignored and rest always comes into play. Summer leads to fall which leads to winter- a season of dormant darkness. Day always creeps into night where the hours of black seems to last longer than the daylight hours- (any mothers who have been through the first few weeks of breastfeeding an infant can attest to this). Periods of fast and furious working need moments of reflection and rest to be balanced and true. No one can shine their light all the time; they would burn out of precious fuel. 

During the Winter months I struggle with this the most, reminding myself constantly that this too shall pass as I get anxious and annoyed with the lack of ability to go out and do things. As a child of sunlight and plants, I need to be able to roam free, lay in the grass and watch the clouds drift by, eat picnic lunches, and ride my bike through treelined neighborhoods. It sort of feels like its in my DNA- my dad is a huge outdoors-men after all. Typically when Christmas comes and goes, I am left with a sense of melancholy- a reminder in the stillness that I am not living up to all the expectations I set for myself, a reminder that not all is being won and sometimes my body or the sun or the temperature set limits for a limitless mind. 

But this year, as the Christmas season winds up and then back down again, I am challenging myself to be stick to this season of rest we have set for ourselves and to be mindful for the need to slow down and soak in the goodness of still quiet air. I've added many candles to my house, bottles of red wine, and cozy socks and blankets to help me transition to the restful cold. Creating simple routines also helps- Coffee in the morning and 20 minutes to read The New York Times has been the most recent ritual added to my delicate weekday mornings of half sleep and burdensome work. When it is still dawn outside and I am already in my office, this helps ease me into the day a bit. Healthy simplicities make the day brighter in the midst of rest and more open for fresh ideas. 

This slower season is teaching me about the natural need for breaks so I can use them as points of rejuvenation rather than boredom or despair. Any season of little responsibility used to bring on feelings of panic because I would equate quiet with anxiety, but now I believe in the essentialness of taking breaks. Breaks are healthy. Breaks are normal. Breaks are needed. Breaks are the times I get some reading done, paint my nails, make tea, take cold walks with my sister-- all of the things I so often complain about not being able to do during times of pursuit and busyness. I am learning the lesson that all things have rhythms; that I have a rhythm and mine tends to slow me down with the cold. Without it I could not rev back up when the sun comes out and grow. I can't wait to start running again, no doubt-- to share new things and learn new things. I cannot wait for all that is in store for The Bravery Board in 2017 and beyond.

But for now, its time for some rest. 

A Few Words about Self Care

Last month I shared a talk at our last Bravery Board Gathering of the year (yay for breaks!) on the topic of Self Care. After every Gathering we record our talks and post them on a Podcast for people to listen to if they were unable to attend the live event. Below is a link to that Podcast-- I share about my own experience with Burnout, the difference between "shoulds" and "musts", and how we all have to let go of the notion that we need to come last in the lineup of responsibilities and tasks we face every day. 

Enjoy! 

 

 

What Makes a Hero a Hero

Hero, as defined by Wikipedia, is as follows:

A hero is a person or main character of a literary work who, in the face of danger, combats adversity through impressive feats of ingenuity, strength, or bravery, often sacrificing his or her own personal concerns for some greater good.

Some people's heroes are sports stars, others are actors or actresses, some idolize celebrities who have "made it," past leaders in history, or even their parents. For the most part, my heroes tend to fall in the category of authors. As someone who is not a writer myself, I've never really been able to figure out why, exactly, authors fit the bill. When anyone asks who my heroes are, artists and counselors- you know people doing professions I do so you'd think I might want to emulate their careers- they just don't come up. Perplexing, I know. But I think I landed on a reason today.

I was at work eating lunch and losing my ability to concentrate so I hopped on to Facebook looking for that quick-fix distraction when I saw an article that a friend of mine posted about Elizabeth Gilbert (Hero. Number. One.). After clicking through the article, I read a post she shared yesterday (apparently I hadn't scrolled down far enough on my feed) where she came out to tell the world that she is in love with her best friend.  Her best friend who so happens to be female. Liz also happens to be going through a divorce to the man she ends up with in Eat Pray Love, and she admitted in her post that her divorce, in fact, was due to her being in love with someone else. 

Between the time I clicked on the post and when it loaded, my mind raced immediately to the judgy-center of my brain. There was no way that my beloved hero would have been so reckless, careless, and unable to deal with her own shit enough that she could cause such heartache. That type of behavior is reserved for people with problems; people like me, not my hero. But as I began to read her beautiful words about love and truth, I realized something. Liz Gilbert isn't one of my heroes because she always has her stuff together and I don't, its because she's got integrity, honesty, and the bravery to be fully human and admit that she doesn't need to. She's my hero because I see her living her life in all its messiness and sharing that messiness in an honest and gorgeous way, not hiding behind walls of guilt or shame or self-doubt, but proclaiming the truth.

"The truth is always an act of kindness, even when it seems like it will hurt. A lie is always an act of unkindness, even when you feel like you are being protective"

So Liz Gilbert, hero to me and many, realized she was in love with her best friend while she was married. She had a choice: know she was in love and do nothing, or act. She chose the latter, being willing to come out with the truth and deal with the consequences. She's human and learning and growing just like the rest of us, seeking truth for herself and attempting to live in that truth, no matter how messy it is. That, however weird it is to say this, is somehow inspiring to me in my own marriage as I wade through messy feelings and want to hide them sometimes out of what I think is a protecting spirit.

The Liz Gilberts, Cheryl Strayeds, Glennon Doyle Meltons, Jedidiah Jenkins, Brene Browns, and Elle Lunas of the world-- those authors who are my heroes-- I admire them because they boldly and desperately search for what makes them tick, what makes them them, and then share their lessons with us and ask us to learn along side of them. They aren't claiming to be special or know what they are doing; they fear vulnerability just like we all do, but they go for it and share for the greater good. They are heroes for that- helping us along our way as we attempt to do the same, maybe in smaller or less dramatic ways, but still the same nonetheless. 

And isn't that exactly who we all are if we share our stories with each other-  heartbreaking as they may be- lifting each other up rather than jumping to judgement? Aren't we heroes when we lean into what makes us vulnerable instead of shy away from it, and be honest with ourselves and our families and friends, even communities? 

Here's to being brave and honest and raw in our weakness. Here's to lessons learned and shared. Here's to making it messy in order to have integrity. Here's to strength in sharing for the greater good. Here's to heroes, likely and unlikely. May you be one for yourself and others today. 

Beauty in The Space Between: Lessons from 10 Years of Marriage

Marital bliss.

Its a term we hear people make about their relationships with their long-suffering brides and grooms in a almost always sassy "yeah-like-hell-its-bliss" sort of way. And its true, marriage can sometimes be anything other than blissful. Marriage is a lot of work. A lot of getting yourself back on the horse of selfless love after disappointments, regrets, feeling misunderstood, or even after the 3rd time of reminding your husband that the dishes smell in the sink and he promised to do them two days ago. (What? Huh? How did that get so specific?) 

In all seriousness and celebration though-- my husband Jeff and I just passed the milestone of 10 years of marital bliss last month. I'm so proud. I can't think of anyone I would have rather spent my adult years with, and he constantly knocks my socks off with who he is and how he loves me. In our 10 years together Jeff and I have had our share of moments; both of the extremely high and extremely low persuasion. He is the one I have experienced my biggest laughs with, most all-is-right-in-the-world moments with, biggest feelings of love with, and also who I have experienced the most despair, disgust, and anger with. Like other married couples I am sure- those moments have been the pinpoints on the map of our relationship. The moments we remember and define our relationship by. Polarizing, yes, and yes, they have brought much change and have been catalysts for growth. But I believe the true beauty in any thing is what it is at its core.  Its when you take away the high gloss and the ugly underbelly that you understand the essence, trueness, and goodness of a thing. Relationships are much the same. 

I believe true love exists in the space between the highs and the lows.

I had this realization the other day when I was digesting some information about the psychological process of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and how it is so helpful to examine our our conclusions about ourselves, our relationships, or the world around us, and how we arrive at those conclusions. I was thinking about my counseling experiences with teenagers who are struggling with something difficult. How they so often come in to my office with a list of complaints, describing everything as horrible, and after I take my due diligence to listen to all the negative talk, I challenge them to think about one or two good things in their life-- and they really struggle to do it. All they can talk about- think about- is how this one really particularly bad thing happened in their life, and now everything is ruined. They get stuck in seeing everything as doomed, not realizing that just by thinking that way that they are dooming themselves.

When I think about some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my quest toward the large life-goal of Being Good at Relationships, I think this is one I've learned a lot about through my marriage. There was a time I would commonly make the mistake of using our high and low points as markers in judging how I saw my relationship with my husband and subsequently how I felt about him.  When Jeff and I would have a particularly volatile argument, even if we made-up beautifully and learned a good lesson from it, I would color how I felt about Jeff in this negative way based on that one unpleasant, seemingly significant event. I would forget practically everything else, allowing myself to spiral into a mind space of focusing on the negative things he did, and it made me sour and unable to see the core of our good everyday experience.

Often times I think we miss out on beauty, love, and truth by allowing our emotional reactions to a low we are experiencing to cancel out all the middle and high ground we have in the other areas of our lives. 

For me, an argument or disagreement I had with Jeff tended to cancel out the good parenting moment we shared in reaction to our cranky toddler, or the lighthearted laugh we shared, or the comfortable silence between us while reading late at night. I couldn't SEE that stuff because I was too bitter, fearful, and worried about the argument we had; stuck on the thought that we would never solve it. I was acting like the teenagers I counsel, struggling to see that they have the power to choose how they react to and see their lives. And while they were stuck being negative after one particularly sour event, they were missing the boat on all the goodness around them.

How we see our lives, in essence, is how we live our lives.

Now I am more focused on seeing the beauty of the here and now, understanding that it leads to me living in the beauty of the here and now… The meadow of our common every day experience that we walk on way more often than the peaks and valleys. Its a great place to be. Instead of obsessing about a particular moment which leaves a mark, I take it for what it is, reflect and allow it to teach me, and then move on. Now when I get into a tiff with Jeff, as all married couples do, and I’m tempted to spiral into a state of How are we ever going to fix this? We just fought about the same thing again!-- I challenge myself to see it for what it is. An argument. The end. 

I think its important that when we evaluate anything in our lives, whether it be a relationship or a situation or a job or whatever, that we take caution to avoid the trap of allowing the extremes define how we see the thing. The reality of our lives is that nothing is ever going to stay in the state of our highest highs or our lowest lows. Our lives and our relationships settle somewhere in between that space, and that is a beautiful thing.

 

*pictures below are from our 10 year anniversary trip to Greece- Athens and Crete. (A high point!) We had a great time learning about Greek culture, snorkeling, and taking in some amazing sunsets. 

 

 

Community and Self Care: What do they have to do with each other?

Striving. If I could use one word to describe the current state of my life in a very neat and tidy way, striving would be it.

Striving for new opportunities in my career and creative life. Striving for balance in being a new(ish) mom. Striving to maintain friendships and a healthy marriage. Striving to find sanity amongst the gazillion things I pile into a week to meet my goals and spend time in the areas I care about and am responsible in.

Striving is a great word; a go-after-it-you-can-do-it! word. But it’s also rather… well, exhausting.

As a counselor I work with many individuals who, like me, are mired in a place of striving. They may be dealing with heartbreak, loss, difficulty developing healthy relationships, struggling in their careers, or with hefty anxiety. Whatever the deal is, they are striving to improve, which is often an uphill battle with a lot of work involved. What I typically find myself repeating to each of them is that when the going gets rough, you should always, always, be practicing some sort of self-care.

When striving becomes overwhelmingly stressful, we often try to plow through the situation as best we can, leaving our interests and passions as last priorities. I have been the victim of many  crash-and-burn situations when I’ve tried to put my head down to just get through a hard time in my life, and have forgotten about the things that bring me joy. Because of that, my philosophy has become that when times get tough, we should lean into the things that make us come alive. We need pillars of self-support when we are dragged down and striving to meet hefty goals. Drawing, running, walking, journaling, cooking, sewing, getting out in nature, yoga, reading… whatever works, do more of it is what I always say.

Recently, however, I ran into a problem where all of the self-care I preach about just wasn’t helping. Like, at all.

I would recognize my anxious reactions to stress as reminders to schedule some fun into my life, so I would carve out time to read that inspirational book I’d been meaning to finish, or try to fit that yoga class into a busy day, and end up feeling even worse. I was left with a giant “Now what?” feeling. A “What-is-wrong-with-me-I-am-a-counselor-for-goodness-sakes” feeling. Wasn’t I supposed to have this all together?

Then I remembered a word of wisdom Brené Brown shared on a Magic Lessons podcast with Elizabeth Gilbert. Brene makes a strong statement about the antidote to shame being empathy. I was definitely feeling shame. I was definitely feeling empathetic. For myself. Then it clicked. Empathy is a connecting word. Connecting with others. Oh…

Then it clicked. Empathy is a connecting word. Connecting with others.

The thought hit me smack in the gut. I was focusing so hard on giving empathy to MYSELF that it had turned into yet another form of self-centered striving, ignoring the fact that I am a person meant for community and connection. I was being ridiculously hard on myself when I was incapable to lift my own mood or I wasn’t able to give myself grace and perspective.

If there is anything that kills momentum in recovering from stress the most, it’s overly focusing on yourself.

I was definitely doing plenty of that. I was not allowing for the healing salve of connection to come in and take my gaze away from my problems which offers a fresh breath of perspective to aide the process of healing.

Now, when all of my striving is taking a toll and I feel overwhelmed and rough around the edges, I still practice self-care, but instead of slugging it out on my own I recognize my need to look to others for connection. Sure, I allow myself some time to stop for that latte or to go for a long walk, but lately I have been tempering my “I can take care of myself attitude with a healthy dose of humility and understanding that I need others in my life and I need to be in theirs as well.

Now, when all of my striving is taking a toll and I feel overwhelmed and rough around the edges, I still practice self-care, but instead of slugging it out on my own I recognize my need to look to others for connection.

I can’t say that my intense striving has subsided in the slightest, but instead of mostly focusing on how I can take care of myself, I pick out people in my immediate vicinity and just ask them how they are doing. We can all stand to take our focus off ourselves sometimes and turn the lens on how we can best see the person across from us, whether that be at work, in our homes, or in our communities. Interact with them, Connect with them. See if it doesn’t heal you in ways you cannot heal yourself. It’s so simple, and yet it tempers the striving with a little bit of being.


This post originally appeared in the Yellow Co.  Blog and was published in March, 2016. 

Thoughts on Simplicity Now and Then

 

I want to give and take from my children and husband, to share with friends and community, to carry out my obligations to man and the world, as an artist, as a citizen. But I want first of all- in fact, as an end to these other desires- to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can.    

- Anne Morrow Lindbergh / A Gift From the Sea

This excerpt is from a book that a friend gifted me two summers ago, which honestly changed my life. She picked it out for me as we were perusing through a glorious old book store. I told her I was getting ready to go camping on the beach with my sister, and her eyes lit up. As she handed me the glorious old book with browned tattered pages and an 80's cover with a picture of a seashell on it, she said, "YOU NEED THIS." And she was right. Oh-so-right. Up until that point I hadn't considered my need for simplicity or to be in the moment, and I certainly hadn't searched out books on the subject. At the time I had a one-year-old son. I was 31. I was on the brink of changing, no-- completely blowing up-- my worldview and how I saw myself, but I didn't entirely recognize it at the time. I needed someone to speak wisdom about how to stay sane amidst the many hurdles modern life, parenting, and aging throws at us as we try to become more of who we want to be in our relationships and our inner-selves. This book held the beginning of a revelation and revolution I needed then, and continue to need now.

"May the outward and the inward man be at one"   - Phaedrus

I picked this book back up last week after the same friend who gifted it to me mentioned she had given it to another mutual-friend. It was equally as life-altering the second time around. Back when I read the book for the first time, I wrote a blog post summing up how it had truly captured what I needed in my life at the time. A reminder that to feel at peace I must have my inner and outer selves be congruent. Its funny how reading old journals or old blog posts are equal parts pleasurable and painful, given that many of the same desires of the past I still desire now.

From that post--

How very quickly one starts to realize when spending  several days in the open air just how much one can do without. So much of my life is spent in a distracted haze-- worrying about all the little things that add up to one big thing. Appointments, self-imposed deadlines, dates, friend outings, daycare, being sure my son is learning at the correct pace. None of that has much to do with furthering my inward self. While at the ocean enjoying a simplistic life, I thought for quite a while about how modern life offers a certain sort of severance. Lindbergh writes, "This is not the life of simplicity but the life of multiplicity that wise men warn us of. It leads not to unification but to fragmentation. It does not bring grace. It destroys the soul." 

Summer has begun, and I am looking ahead to a short season of lighter work, longer days, travel, and an easier schedule. I have found myself picturing that much-needed break and longing for a realignment, a simplification in the hectic world I have chosen. 

I wonder now, in what ways am I still living fragmented, distracted, and clinging to the things that I think bring life but actually inhibit it?

I have come a long way from those early days of child-rearing with all its re-imagining and realigning of goals, but there is still so much to learn; so much to work through. I continue to rush from one thing to another, spilling out my energy to the tasks at hand and tying up my inner self to the constraints that schedules, timing and obligations bring.  Back then I felt like I was too busy, too pressed, too scheduled-- and while I have made many changes; the act of simplifying has not been one of them. Maybe this was a good time yet again to read such a life-altering book. To look around and look into myself, to adjust and grow. To call from with myself a sense of peace and practice of the things that matter. 

**Photos are from a trip my husband, Jeff, and I took to California in March of 2016 to Morongo Valley. We stayed in a lovely Airbnb Airstream in the desert. 

Galarie Project Feature

Recently I had the absolute privilege of being featured by the amazing website Galarie Project. Below is the article written by Brandi Graves. Thank you Brandi for the kind and humbling words! 

The Works of Michelle Houghton are a Portal to the Soul

I am never more analytical than I am while dissecting a work of art. There are many types of art; performed, written, painted, sculpted, the list goes on. What perpetuates through each and every medium of art is the meaning it holds with all of us, as individuals and as a whole. Upon viewing Michelle Houghton’s artwork, I felt lucky. From the open white spaces, contrasting black lines, to the layering of colors and shapes, Michelle Houghton’s work is a masterful portal to the soul.

A self taught painter based out of Springfield, Missouri, Houghton has an impressive background in professional counseling. It is this experience of discovering personalities, of listening and delving into internal discourse that influences Houghton’s paintings to their very core. In her artists statement, she explains that her paintings are a way for her to, “…describe my experience and how I view my place in the world.”

As Michelle Houghton assembles each painting, she carefully dismantles them to find a kind of psychology that exists as its own personal universe in each piece. The layering of one painting alluding to the complex levels of an individual. A specific pallet of colors perfectly embodying a singular person, or a group of like minded people, all unified specs in the smear of pigment. Deep black lines telling a story, a narrative of the soul on its journey to self discovery and fulfillment. Jagged and rough, cyclical and sometimes confusing, these lines are a commentary of the human experience. Life isn’t just a straight line from birth to death. It’s a gnarly winding road and while it may be difficult, it may also be fun, sweet, hurtful, charming, and dramatic. But, at the root of all the adversity and derailments, life is beautiful. If we can take anything away from Houghton’s paintings it’s that there is beauty in every twist and turn, if we can only take stock in the big picture.

Go on your own journey of personal discovery. Listen to the track “Calling” by Radiq 

Blog Interview with Madison hedlund

Madison Hedlund is a life coach and friend who recently interviewed me for her blog . She asked such good questions that I felt like I HAD to share! Read more for the in-depth story of how I got to be where I am at professionally and what I believe a living a life of vibrancy means. Then go to Madison's website to learn more about her coaching opportunities. She's a treasure!  


Tell me about your personal and professional journey:

Its hard to know where to start on that one!! I guess I'll start by saying I've always known that working with individuals on a deeper level is just something I've always been inclined to do. Growing up, I was the advice-giver in my group of friends, and really latched onto Psychology as my chosen field of study as a teenager. I graduated with an undergrad degree in Psychology and gained a good amount of experience working in groups and one-on-one mentoring through different volunteer activities in my early 20's. I've always enjoyed counseling, and it just came naturally as a skill I developed over the years.

I landed my first "professional" job after college working at a mental health agency. I was hired to develop a social skills group for kids diagnosed with multiple mental health disorders. It was a very intense job with a steep learning curve. I had to come up with a sustainability plan, write grants, manage employees, and write curriculum-- all while learning to work with a very difficult and unstable population. I only lasted there a total of five years, but I look back and appreciate that experience because I had to learn quickly how to be confident in my judgement and decisions. A problem arose, I handled it. I didn't have anyone else to rely on. 

It was probably my third year there when I decided I wanted to advance my expertise, so I enrolled in a masters program for Counseling and School Counseling (I took classes for both). After graduating I took a job as a middle school counselor, and have been doing that for 7 years now. As a school counselor, I spend the majority of my time working with adolescents who are in crisis or are dealing with some form of mental health concern. What I really love about my work is that I get to counsel kids who just need an invested adult to come along side of them and truly care about their stories. It can be humbling, challenging, and often times exhausting to work with the types of situations I do day in and day out, but the students make it worth it.

To push my career even further, I recently became provisionally licensed as a professional counselor. This means I am licensed to counsel outside of the school setting, but I am working under the supervision of a Psychologist who I meet with every week to talk about my practice. After the new year I will be accepting a limited number of individual counseling clients to work with, and I couldn't be more thrilled about that step.

Outside of the professional side of life, I've been married to my husband, Jeff, for almost 10 years, and together we have a three year old son named Elias. When Jeff and I aren't running around doing toddler-things, going on date nights, or spending time with friends, we work together (along with some of Springfield's finest) on Jeff's strong claim-to-fame-- a late night talk show called The Mystery Hour. I really enjoy offering up a silly side to life, and recently starred in a video that went viral called Instagram Husband. It's been fun getting more and more involved in the world of entertainment and comedy, and I enjoy doing it alongside my love and partner in life.

I am extremely proud of Jeff, our family, and the life we've built together in Springfield. Jeff is takes a huge part of making our town something special, and I look to him as my major source of inspiration on the "go-for-your-dreams" end of things. He has done exactly that, and even though I can't say it's always been easy for us, far-from it in fact, it has grown us a lot and made us who we are.


How do you overcome shame and show up fully every day?

I'm probably just like anyone else; I have a decent amount of shame in my life that, at times, I have to fight off like a hot-blooded warrior. What I think it takes to overcome shame is to be reminded that no one gets out of life without a lot of scars, mistakes made, and lessons learned. That's what it means, at least to me, to live a full life; to experience the high parts and low parts, and to allow it all to mix into the person one is without having to judge any of it as good or bad. I believe that the trials or painful times in our lives can ultimately be good, it just depends on what story we tell ourselves about them; how we rise to meet them.

Honestly, I'm not sure I would want to befriend, let alone be, that person we often strive to portray to the world who never experiences hardship or failure. I think this is something we as women particularly struggle with, a sense of perfectionism, and because of that we lose-out on being vulnerable and messy. That is sad to me because struggling with the mess is where growth comes from. Consistently following paths that bring about the least amount of risk and resistance is unhealthy, and actually kind of boring. I want to live an interesting life; a full life. Part of that requires that I take risks and make mistakes. When I fail or become fearful or shameful, I try to have a curious attitude as to why that happened orwhy I feel that way, then respond to the fears or shame in a way that is vulnerable and honest, rather than covering up my failures or fear. Sometimes I fail at that- but I at least attempt it. That is how I show up. That is how I take the high road.


What does living a life of vibrancy and confidence look like for you?

Living a life of vibrancy and confidence to me means, again, to take risks instead of avoiding failure or uncertainty. To actually go for the thing you want instead of just talking about it. Is a life well-lived if you never actually live it; you just sit and watch Netflix every free moment you get? (Not that I'm opposed to TV-binge watching, quite the contrary in fact. Love me some GoT). I want poetry in my life. Art. Travel. Good connections. I want to be stretched and to grow. I want to fall down and then get up again. I want to be a part of something larger than myself. These are all things I hold on to when I am faced with anxiety and fear or just pure exhaustion from work and raising a toddler every day-- when I'm making a decision about how to spend my time or energy-- who is it that I want to be?

One thing I recently did to "go for it" in a way was to start owning my identity as an artist. I have been painting as a hobby for years, but never called myself as a legitimate painter because I was self-taught and didn't know if I was any good. I started to have dreams of sharing my work but kept holding back out of fear, until one day I just decided to screw that mentality, and opened up a website in order to sell my work. I am now painting pieces to show in local cafes and coffee shops, and am really proud of myself for taking the leap. I may not have been confident starting out (and I'm still not if I am honest), but I'm taking the risk and it's led to nothing but good things for me.


How have vulnerable friendships shaped the way you see life and work?

Oh goodness, my friendships have shaped me SO MUCH. I have an incredibly sensitive, strong, and encouraging set of friends, some of whom have been close to me since I was wearing Reeboks and Umbro shorts, and some I've been close with for only a short time. I have a twin sister, too, which honestly is a HUGE blessing in this department. Its like having a built-in best friend who gets ALL of your jokes, sees your dirty laundry but loves you in spite of it, and understands what you're thinking before you can even speak it. She's an incredible person as well, which only adds to the awesomeness of the situation. I am truly lucky.

I feel like we draw energy from those we surround ourselves with. My friends are giant sources of inspiration for me of what it means to be wholehearted, creative, and brave. Many of my friends work as creatives in some capacity: Writers, comedians, artists, graphic designers, interior designers, bloggers, crafters, photographers... they all have massive talent! What I appreciate about being around them is that they ooze a sense of pride in their passions, and are generous with their talents. I aspire to have those attributes in my own work as a counselor and in my creative endeavors as an artist. Also, they are just awesome genuine people- it's hard to be around my friends and just not be happy. They are seriously cool human beings.


In what ways do you find that your passions and heart show up in your work?

That one is actually a bit deep and difficult for me to answer, because my current counseling work often involves such sad stories. I counsel a lot of kids who have been abused and neglected, are products of unhealthy relationships, are suffering from anxiety and stress, or are dealing with dysfunctional environments. What gets me is that they are just kids. In most of their situations, they didn't ask for their troubles, they were born with them. It takes a toll when you work day after day with that, bleed your heart out and offer up your complete attention to them, and then they have to go right back to the very dysfunction that brought them to your office in the first place.

My heart for teaching resilience shows up a lot in my work for this very reason. I know I can't solve their problems a lot of times, but I can teach them how to at least attempt to handle their worlds in a way that makes them better and stronger. When I feel the most useful is when I can see progress in a student who has been flailing in one way or another. Often they don't come back and thank me for the time I spent trying to figure out ways to help or to just listen, but some do, and that always means the world to me.


What are the three essential self-care habits you need to live at your best?

 

1. Find time in my week to be creative

It doesn't have to be every day, but it does have to be every week. This can be challenging when my medium of creativity is art, because my three-year-old steals paintbrushes. My husband, however, understands this need for me, so we carve out time weekly so I can paint or take walks or do whatever I need to do for inspiration. If I'm not allowing myself to be creative, the need starts to seep out of me and I end up a terrible mess. I know I need it for my heart to beat and for me to be able to love my family and friends well. 

2. Taking time to acknowledge my fears, worries, and shame.

Currently I do this by attending counseling myself so I have dedicated time to be present with my thoughts and feelings and to own-up to my habits that aren't working. I also attend a girl's group every other week, and make a point to seek out conversations with my husband or close friends who speak into my life on a regular basis. I have learned that shoving my fears, shame, worry, etc. aside because I'm too busy is a recipe for disaster.

3. Play.

Play with my family, play with my friends, play in my work, whatever. That can mean taking my son out to the park for an unscheduled play date and sliding down slides for an hour, going out for a burger with my family, or making plans with friends to meet for a glass of wine. I also have developed a ritual of taking a solo-vacation in the early spring every year. This came after crashing and burning too many years in a row right around February-- when its cold and gross outside and I just feel burnt out and slightly depressed. I usually try and go someplace that I can relax, feel inspired creatively, and explore. I come back feeling refreshed and ready to take on more challenges after just getting away and seeing new things for a bit.

Hurry up & Wait

For me, Sunday afternoons are designated alone time. Time to be reflective and creative. Time to sit down and get some work done. The goal in whatever I choose to do is to ingest some wisdom and spark into my week. Generally after giving myself to others in the ways I must because of my profession, I need some infusion of spiritual or emotional depth into my veins if I am to fare well and continue to offer it genuinely to others. 

Lately, I have been devouring Darling Magazine, a zine dedicated to the art of being a woman, in order to fulfill that need when I am not working on a painting. I  have a heart for exploring the depths of what it means to be a woman in this modern age, and Darling is a place I can return to again and again to offer a fresh female voice in a world that can seem so frustrating and unmanageable at times. 

Today, as I sat on my couch amidst cozy candles, a dog snoozing behind my head, and hot tea wafting in my direction, I opened up Darling, and came across this article about patience. Its called Hurry Up and Wait , by a woman named Kathleen Breaux, and it brilliant. 

After all the hubub with our recent video and website release, (if you live under a rock, go search Instagram Husband if you have no idea what I'm talking about), my mind has been sent into a sort of anxious overdrive. Without going into too much detail -- it is the best thing to get noticed for something you (aka: your husband) do creatively, especially in a world where it is hard to be noticed, but it is also like activating a room of many gears which move at lightening speed simultaneously. 

If I am to be honest, a lot of what we Jeff and I experienced in 2015 is  hurrying up and waiting with our creative ventures-- attempting to be patient and allow things to come as they are and in their time without wishing to be one step ahead. It is a challenging endeavor, to be patient; one that has brought about tremendous growth, but it also walks side by side with fear. At this time two weeks ago, no one in the world had heard of our show, and now all the sudden 4 million + have. The boggling of my mind continues, and so does the waiting to see what is next. 

I'll leave you with some content from this short article which really spoke to me and gave me insight into where we've been and where we are headed. I'm glad for the jackpot wisdom it has brought me today.

"Patience is often limited by platitudes and pretty words that offer comfort in the assurance that the heart's every desire will be delivered "in time"-- we merely have to wait for it. For a while, these gentle banalities are enough. They assure us that we needn't worry about that which is imminent. Surely, if that next step- be it a job, relationship, a paid debt or a new accolade-- is meant to be, it will be. Watch, wait and eventually your life will happen to you. 
But time inevitably reveals the cracks in a foundation too weak to bear its weight. When it comes to this most quiet and enduring of strengths, many of us are operating within a misunderstanding of grand proportions. Patience is a virtue, to be sure. It is good and it is graceful; it is challenging and it is nothing if not humbling. Patience is a great many things-- but it is not passive. 
...Patience is not defined by the capacity to wait without action. Passivity breeds apathy, and apathy breeds impatience. Restlessness and bitterness naturally follow suit. While we sit in anticipation for the next inevitable turn, that one missing piece to fill the hole we think is empty... time continues to pass. ...Desiring something is easy; putting ourselves out there to move toward it is not. To be vulnerable, though, is to be brave in the most beautiful way."

Abandoning the Path

You know that thing that happens sometimes when you plan out a project you have high hopes for, only for the work-part of it to take much longer than anticipated and in the process it ends up completely living down to all of your expectations?

Yeah, I do. I’m kind of living that right now with one particular painting which is giving me a lot of fits, but also a lot of lessons.

Life lessons, if you will.

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About a month ago I started working on this piece for an upcoming show I am really excited about. I have high expectations for this project, so I wanted this piece to be good. Real good. First I had to plan out the thing. I knew I wanted it to be big enough to fill the large space it would reside in, so I went out and purchased the biggest canvas I could afford for my budget. I also had a very specific aesthetic in mind for what I wanted it to be. Neat, but natural. Neutral colors. White background. Once I got in my mind what I wanted to do, I was excited. I felt confident that after successfully painting similar pieces on a smaller scale, I would have no problem executing this one.

So, after all that planning, I started to work. The bones of getting it laid out on the canvas took a few hours, which was great, but then adding in the specific elements that made it up, well, that took much much longer. There are a lot of lines in the piece, and each needed to be painted over multiple times in order for them to look the way I wanted, and I had to let the paint dry in intervals in order to achieve the intended effect. I was okay with how long it was taking at first, but as the hours and days wore on, I started to get the feeling that I had grossly underestimated the amount of time this thing was going to take.

Obviously I had my first obstacle, the timing, but what also became a problem was it looked, well, flat. The thick lines of paint weren’t doing the piece any favors. I mean, I actually liked how it looked pretty well in theory, but there was just something missing. I ended up working so meticulously on the tiny details that I lost the bigger picture of what I wanted the whole of it to be. My particular style just seemed lost in this giant monster of a thing, which made me lose all of my motivation to finish it. I started dragging myself to work on it, a bit dejected, because every time I added to it in hopes of livening it up, I got frustrated and wanted to throw the whole thing out the window.

Until last night.

After a long day, my husband Jeff and I had gotten the kiddo down to bed. I knew I needed to work on the painting after several days of putting it off, but I just couldn’t muster the energy. I started complaining to my husband about how time consuming and entirely frustrating the piece has been, and explained the flat effect I was struggling against. What was even worse was that he agreed that it was flat and it needed something more. Nothing more hope-dashing than having your worries confirmed! But he did it lovingly of course, so we went, side by side, to stare at it for a while to see if we could help the poor thing.

After gazing at it from far away, then up close, and analyzing every angle, I took one of Jeff’s suggestions about needing more dark lines and just got out a pen and started drawing on top of it. All that work and I was deliberately destroying what I had previously done! Ballsy. But I didn’t care. I had the same thought as Jeff did of what the painting needed several weeks ago, but I was scared to mess it up after spending a ton of time making the lines perfect. At this point, whatever, I just needed to scrap the original plans and come up with a new one.

As I was drawing I felt liberated. I realized that when I stop caring so much about the outcome and JUST PAINT (or in this instance, draw)- that is when the pieces fit together and whatever I am working on starts to look better than I even imagined it could be. I’m finding more and more through the process of working on my paintings that sometimes you have to let go of a perfectly good idea in order to get to a better one.

Isn’t that kind of how life works? Or maybe I should say, that IS kind of how life works. In my career and personal life I’ve laid out various plans and trajectories to get me to some ultimate goal of where I want to be. At times I have placed intense pressure on myself to follow those trajectories so I could land peacefully in my desired destination, ultimately forgetting that the path is what is important, not the goal. Sometimes you have to abandon where you think you should be going in order to get to the place you need to be. So many times in life, and especially now while I am in a season of growth and change, my original plans, the ones I’ve taken painstaking measures to follow through on the details with, are not the ones I end up wanting in the end anyway. I’ve learned to allow for the messier, more time consuming version of my life’s path to take over and carry me to a better, unimagined place.

Isn’t it funny how one piece of art can mean so much? Teach so much? Isn’t that what we ask for out of creativity anyway, to allow us to make something out of nothing and teach us lessons along the way? And in the end the lesson doesn’t really even matter as long as the process is meaningful.

Yet, somehow that messy process is the lesson, and is what means even more.