Strive to Thrive (aka: A Self-Love Letter)

People are a mess, aren’t we?

I mean, we try. We each do our best to survive the Monday, to make it to the end of the year, year after year. But who wants to live a life that’s all about surviving? It’s so much better when we strive to thrive.

(Did I just make up that slogan? Because I love it and would totally wear the t-shirt).

Thriving can be hard, though. Sometimes, really, really hard. We know what we need to do to live better, to be better people. But it takes a great deal of effort and consistency. Exercise more. Eat less. Read more, communicate better, and above all, love harder. Love your spouses, love your kids, love your neighbor, love yourself.

Self Love Collage

It’s that last one that throws people into a tailspin. What does that mean to love myself? Does that mean I’m not loving myself if I like to change my hairstyle or sculpt my body into a different shape? Isn’t it possible to love yourself too much and turn into a narcissist?

Let me clear this up: Self-love is not narcissism! Got it? They are two very different things.

Self love says:

I am worthy and valuable, and so are other people.

I deserve good things in my life, and so do other people.

I deserve to be treated with respect and kindness, and I will treat others the same way.

My goal is not to compete with those around me, but to constantly grow into a better version of myself.

I want to lift other people up so that they feel better about themselves.

Narcissism says:

I am superior to other people.

I am more worthy and valuable than others.

I deserve more good things than other people and envy those who are more successful than me.

People must admire me, or my ego will be shattered.

I must put others down in order to feel better about myself.

(You can read more about this here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/compassion-matters/201206/self-esteem-versus-narcissism)

Confident free happy woman

Self love is a necessary component to being a happy and secure person. It means looking in the mirror each day and fully accepting yourself — every blemish. Every scar. And know what else? When you can fully accept yourself, then you can also learn to fully accept others. Every blemish. Every scar. Self love lets you laugh at your silly quirks and flaws, and to forgive yourself. And when you can forgive yourself, guess what? You can forgive others.

It comes in that order. First you, then others.
A match with no flame can’t light candles. A lighthouse with no inner light can’t guide ships to shore. You’ve got to love yourself first. Turn on your light, my friends.

love hands heart

Today, I love:

Those tiny crinkles around my eyes when I smile; a marker of many years of smiles and laughter.

My short, springy, curly hair. Some days, I flat-iron it until it’s straights and long. But mostly, I wear it free, run my fingers through the soft curls. I love to stretch them out and watch them bounce back into shape. Boing! Just like that little girl in the Ramona Quimby story.

The way I rise early in the morning, ready to go for a run, ready to pull on my kick-ass boots , face the world, and smash my goals.

The inner wind that pushes me. It drives me forward until I see each project to completion. It focuses me, and enables my self-discipline when motivation fails me.

The treasure trove of stories that dance in my brain, eager to escape when I sit before a blank screen, ready to write.

I love my goodness, and my messiness, my corny sense of humor, even those moments when I feel too serious, overwhelmed by the misery and hopelessness in the world (like Artax, Atreyu’s horse, in the Swamps of Sadness).

Cute curly hair

Because I love myself, I will continue to strive to thrive, to do better, to be better. I will be my own queen, wearing my crown with pride. And I will do my best to lift up those around me, those who still struggle with loving themselves, until we are all kings and queens of our own destinies. There are plenty of thrones to go around.

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Oh No! Overdues! (aka: Public Libraries)

overduestamp1

Overdues! Auugghh!

I’m kicking myself. I mean honestly, I have no excuse. Our family lives within walking distance of the public library. Kind of a long walk, but still. The library even has these convenient drive-up book drops for lazy peeps who can’t be bothered to park and walk a few hundred feet to return their books.

No excuse. And yet…

There is just something about libraries. Returning my checked-out materials on time has been a lifelong struggle. No exaggerating. Somewhere on one of our family’s packed bookshelves, I’m pretty sure there are a couple of books that were due to the El Sobrante Public Library in 1985.

I can’t begin to imagine how high those fines must be by now. *Shudders*

Other than the overdues issue, the public library has been one of the richest parts of my life. When I was a kid, I used to spend long, leisurely summer days in the children’s room, nose glued to a book. Or making sock puppets in the craft room. Or watching family movies on the little projection screen. Or any other special events they had on the schedule. I adored the summer reading program and took great pride in filling up my bingo grid with all the books I’d read while other kids were busy watching TV or playing with friends.

library books

With the public library, there was nothing I couldn’t obsess over. When I was obsessed with learning foreign languages in 4th grade, I checked out every existing library book for learning Spanish, Italian, German, French, and Japanese. (It’s very hard to learn Japanese from a book, by the way). When I was obsessed with learning how to cook, I discovered a world of colorful cookbooks. Same goes for crafts. Same goes for obsessions with sci-fi, supernatural stories, and books about kids getting kidnapped or hooked on drugs or sent off to summer camp. I even went through a phase of checking out record albums, so I could learn a zillion new folk songs to drive my family crazy.

Finiculi-finicula, Finiculi-finiculaaaaaa!

overdue fines Charlie Brown

But as easy as it was to check out materials, as simple as it was to flip through the card catalogue to find the right Dewey Decimal code, it was really, really hard to return my checked-out books on time. I blamed it on my lack of consistent transportation to the library in those days, which required a long bike ride, or a trip on the back of my stepdad’s motorcycle. In later years, I attributed my constant string of overdues to the books themselves, and their pesky tendency to hide among the hundreds of books in our family’s library, or in dark, hard-to-reach places, like deep under the bed, among spare socks and loose coins.

But I know the truth.

The reason why it is so challenging to turn in library books on time, and why it’s so easy to lose them, is because they do not belong to us.

Think about it. You spend a portion of your hard-earned money to purchase your own shiny new Thing. Then you are far more likely to take care of that Thing. To nurture it. To look after it. To keep it in a safe place, so that it won’t get lost or destroyed. Why? Because it’s yours. You value the things that you feel a sense of ownership for. Or at least, you should. But library books? Those are just worn-out things that belong to everyone and no one. And so, we become careless. We fold down the pages instead of using bookmarks. We read them in the bath, not fearing water damage. We use them as makeshift coasters, or frisbees. (Okay, maybe not frisbees).

Because they don’t belong to us, we don’t cherish them.

Isn’t it kind of the same with people? We tend not to cherish the people who are outside of the little circles we build. We tend not to value the opinions of others. We tend to forget about the feelings of other people. We absorb what we want from people, then we carelessly turn away, leaving them worse than they were when we found them.

Lucky for me, I managed to scrape together my overdue library books and turn them in with a less-than-$10 late fine. Only a small fraction of some of my prior overdue fines. I paid the fees, and get to start again with a clean slate, because that’s how it works with books. People are a lot more complicated. Our carelessness can do irreparable damage. No late fee can mend the human spirit. Only love can do that.

kindness

Like library books, we don’t have ownership of other human beings. We only get to check them out — sometimes for a lifetime, and sometimes for just a little while. But while they are in our care, we can treat them with all the care of our most valuable treasures. There is no one who is worthy of less than that.

More Than a Moment (aka: Overcoming our Shadow Selves)

 There is a bleakness that exists within the human spirit. It is something so terrible, that none of us like to acknowledge its existence. A cold, terrible nothingness that creeps inside us. The shadow side of our human nature.

The woman who badmouths people behind their backs says, “At least I’m not as bad as the one who mistreats other people outright.”

The man who mistreats other people outright says, “At least I’m not as bad as people who abuse pets.”

The woman who abuses pets says, “I’m not as bad as people who physically hurt other people.”

The man who beats his wife and children says, “At least I’m not as bad as a murderer.”

The man who murders one person says, “I’m not as bad as the man who murders multiple people.”

And we shrug our shoulders at our “lesser” badness, and feel better. If just for the moment.

We have only two real ways to keep the shadows from overtaking us. We give in in bits and pieces, accepting the part rather than the whole. Every time we make a choice to willingly harm another person, we are choosing to walk in the shadows. We choose to cheat, to skirt around the rule of law. We dangle temptation on a string. We aim our bitter self-hatred toward others, forcing our whipping boy to endure the fury and pain we feel for ourselves. We lash out at the weak in our cowardice, then laugh as they fall.

Because it makes us feel better. If just for the moment.

It trades our helpessness for power, if just for the moment. It hides the shadows, that terrible, creeping emptiness, in our darkness. But only for the moment.

But there is another way to keep it from overtaking us.

We fight.

We do not take the route of the cowardly, who give up and give in to their shadow self. Instead, we fill our lives with as much purpose and light as we can carry. We make the difficult choice to reach into the mire with both hands and help our fellow human beings. We share our bounty with those who have less. We seek out those who have become invisible, and we see them. We offer kindness and forgiveness, even to those who aim to do us wrong. We love.

And it does more than just make us feel better. It makes us better.

We fight the shadows with light, because light is the only weapon that can defeat them. It is not an easy route. We are all faced with moments of weakness, when it would be easier to give in. To slander. To do harm. To spread lies. To punish the weak simply because they are weaker to us. But to give in is to feed the shadows, until the emptiness grows and grows inside us.

I challenge you to examine your own spirit. What feeds you? What do you turn to to get you through the day? What lifts you, and breathes life into you? What gives you pause, and fills you with those moments when everything feels right, and you are in love with being alive? Are you fueled by your shadow self, seeking temporary ways to feel better? Or are you motivated by the light, seeking excellence, focused on becoming better?

 

Have a Wonderful Day (aka: Paying Forward Happiness)

wonderful day“You have a wonderful day today.”

Startled, I glanced up from my Kindle book and into the face of a fellow train passenger. “Thank you,” I said, smiling. “You too.”

The stranger flashed a friendly grin and exited the train. I felt dazed, too distracted to read my book, the unexpected and kind words echoing in my mind. You have a wonderful day today. He could have aimed those words toward any other stranger on the train, but he’d singled out me, handing me the verbal equivalent of a hand-picked daisy.

Funny how such a small gesture can change your morning. Instead of drifting to work in my usual fog of random thoughts, noticing little of the world around me, I snapped to attention. The same old scenery came to life — skyscraper windows dazzled with sunlight while strange and lovely shadows played on nearby walls. And all around me were people — ordinary people, like me, clutching their coffees and cell phones and satchels while shuffling down the sidewalks. People who may have been stuck in the same fog of thoughts that normally accompanied me on a typical morning.

What if I paid it forward?

What if I took the burst of joy that had come from a stranger’s simple words and offered the same to the next person I saw? Could I do it? Could I dare to break out of my eggshell of timidity and brighten the morning routine for another person?

Fighting back the butterflies, I studied the people who passed me on the sidewalk. One looked away. One was chatting on her phone. One marched forward, eyes trained ahead like the eye of a bullet train. My courage faltered. Maybe the timing was wrong. Maybe this wasn’t my thing. Maybe I had to find my own way to brighten another person’s day. Perhaps I could just try smiling at other people as they stepped onto the elevator. I could bring in fresh produce from my flourishing garden to share with other employees. I could be the first person to say, “Good morning,” instead of passively mumbling in response. kindness daisy giving

The point, I think, is to be mindful. The point is to keep from drifting into my fantasyland reverie and stay in the moment a little more often. Only then will I see people as they drift through the fog, and be able to offer them rays of sunshine at just the right time. Just as a kind stranger did for me on an otherwise ordinary morning.

For anyone out there who happens to be reading these words, I hope that you will have a wonderful day today.