Tag Archives: life lessons

Dear Diary: A Year in Review

– Contributed by Wee C

My grandfather was a member of an old-school club. He was a diary-keeper. I’m not sure how many years he kept a diary, but I’d hazard to guess it was a practice he engaged in for nearly all of his adult life. They always looked the same – small, black, with the words ONE-YEAR DIARY pressed in gold or silver lettering on the front. He kept it beside his rocking chair in the living room; the same place he read the paper, visited with guests, and caught up on his daily rest. And I suspect all three of those things were what filled the pages. Day after day. Year after year.

The habit was one that I both admired and found baffling. I adored the simplicity of chronicling the day’s activities and the historical reference it provided. And, in fact, it’s a habit I’ve tried to form myself over the years. But I could never quite understand what he found to write about every single day; a fact which was the single stumbling block to my disgraceful, and ultimately non-existent, diary-keeping habits.

The desire to write about the evolution of life has, however, remained with me. I have never lost the intrinsic need to capture life in words, like a child catching a firefly in a jar in the hopes that its light will never burn out. For many reasons, in blogging I found the tool that allowed me to both express myself and to keep a journal of where life has taken me, what I have learned, and perhaps more importantly, what’s left to learn.

Today marks one year since my first blog post on this blog. April 24, 2010 was a milestone for me. Not because of what I wrote, but because of the journey I began and my ability to reflect on that journey today. Today, looking back through posts from the past year, I’m thankful to have adopted my grandfather’s habit of chronicling life. My methods would seem highly unorthodox and far-too-revealing for him, but the ability to reflect would no-doubt be appreciated.

After reviewing my old posts, what is abundantly clear is that worrying, fretting, working myself to death, and being all-too-high strung is so Wee C circa 2010. I read my posts from early last year and want to both hug this poor, tragic girl and give her a good shake. Gosh darn it, who was that girl? I was so busy buzzing about trying to impress the bosses, keep peace in the household, and ensure everyone (read: every.single.person.in.the.entire.world) loved me, that I completely lost myself in the process. It is so clear to me now just how inevitable a near-fatal crash was.

How was I scared to play Black Jack at the casino? Or why was staying at the party such a huge accomplishment? Going to the strip club seems like such a small hurdle now, but at one time it was one of life’s biggest milestones. And stopping long enough to meditate for ONE MEASLY HOUR seemed like I had accomplished a feat as significant as climbing to the top of Everest. In every one of these blog posts, I read the words and remember the feelings, but I simply do not know that girl any longer. She is someone I knew extraordinarily well, admired sufficiently and never, ever loved enough.

As the year progressed and I completed 30 Things, my marriage began to change and that brought a whole new perspective to how I viewed my life, my relationships and myself. In December I wrote a letter to myself five years into the future. I cried as I re-read it today. Only four months later and I’m dumbfounded by just how accurately I saw my life, despite the dark cloud of confusion hanging over it. I wrote to myself about a peace that was yet to come. Today, not five years from now, I am beginning to find it.

While today marks the one-year anniversary of my first blog post, it also marks the first holiday in 11 years that I did not celebrate with my one-time husband and that part of my dear and beloved family. Today was a series of deep breaths, each one carrying me forward to the next. It was also a day of reflection and gratitude. Wee C circa 2010 could never have made it through today with as much composure as the current version did. Keeping a “journal” helped me to see, and celebrate, that, giving me a life flotation to make it through the day.

My grandfather has been gone for several years, but it seems there are some lessons that are learned well after the original lesson has been taught. As an old farmer, he understood that keeping a diary of significant happenings allowed you to better prepare for the future. He understood that you can never get here without having been there first. Today, I finally learned what he taught me.

Coming Back and Moving On

– Contributed by Wee C

Coming back is what I hate and love the most about any trip. I loathe the day before/travel day. That sense of despair that comes with returning to reality and accepting that the bliss of vacation simply can’t last forever. You pack with far less enthusiasm than you did pre-vacation. Your mood turns a bit somber, already remembering memories that you haven’t yet finished creating. You hold onto that pina colada with a death grip, sucking every last morsel out of the bottom of the cup. Mucho rum! Mucho rum! Insert long, heavy, sad sigh here.

But not long after that comes the post-vacation recall. I find myself smiling at random things, remembering how lovely it all was. Others may have lost their memory on the trip, and are quite likely smiling about that, too. For me, though, vacations almost always yield insights. You become quiet enough to reflect, to see life for what it is (and isn’t), to find the you that may have been lost in the driving pace of work, a troubled relationship, or just simply the mundane rhythm of life. You’re stimulated in ways you would never be at home, you experience and try things that the shackles of life may otherwise prevent, and damn it all, I guarantee you just have way more fun.

Coming back inevitably helps me to move on. I mean that both literally and figuratively. Yesterday, I came back from a beyond delightful trip to Mexico, filled with friends (old and new), laughter, and a little bit of misbehaving. Yesterday, I literally came back from one of the more memorable experiences in my life, one that has helped me move on in more ways than I can count. For that, I am grateful.

Figuratively, I’m also coming back. I’m coming back from a journey that was dark and lonely, and pretty darned miserable. It was a journey (because it sure as hell wasn’t a vacation) that led me to places I never wanted to visit and to experience things I had worked so hard to not have to experience. But, the truth of the matter was I took the journey. I went through it. I owned it. Oh, I make it sound so noble. Let’s be clear, I didn’t go willingly. But with encouragement from Big L (well, it may have been more firm directive), she sent me on a Dante-esque journey through purgatory and hell, telling me to open myself up to experiencing every ounce of pain that can I could possibly handle (she’s such a good friend). Because, as she says, you can’t action your way out of tragedy, you simply have to experience it. Seriously, where does this wisdom come from?

Truth be told, I had the same feelings about coming back from my nasty, miserable, no-fun-at-all journey as I do about the wonderful, delightful ones. Leaving it behind felt kind of sad. In the middle of my journey, I thought I would be stuck there forever…like the plane WOULD NEVER LEAVE. And boy, did I want it to leave. But crossing over to return home felt like I was leaving a piece of me behind. Indeed I was. Now that I’m here, though, I realize that it’s coming back that allows you to move on.

I don’t know that I won’t have to take another crummy trip in the not-so-distant future, in fact I fully expect I will have to, but what I can guarantee is that I’ll get on the bus and go, however bumpy, vomit-inducing and painful it may be. Because, boys and girls, the lesson of the day is that you have to go to come back. It’s not rocket science, but the outcome is equally profound.

Different lives; same struggle

– Contributed by Big L

How do we learn to be as laid back as these two?

I realized recently that a few important woman in my life are in strangely parallel places right now, myself included.

Wee C has been reflecting on the importance of unconditional love and is starting to discover that the most important person you can give it to is yourself.

My dear friend and mentor Maggie has been blogging about being on the road to contentment. Again, seeking peace and calm within herself in a way she never has before.

My wonderful friend Krista is trying to learn how to focus on being instead of doing, another version of the same uphill battle.

And next? Enter my Mom, Valerie. A woman who is even more focused on outputs than I am. A woman who, just like the ones mentioned above, has been working hard since she was a kid, pleasing others, serving others, and being better than average all of the time because, well, there is no other option. A woman who has multiple reasons to give herself permission to be, nurture, breathe, and self love, but has no idea where to start.

Wee C, Maggie, Krista, my Mom and I are in our 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. From the outside, the stories of our lives are very different. On the inside, our struggles are very much the same.

In today’s post, my Mom shares what this struggle looks like for her:

I woke up today with the intention of being very productive. But then again, I wake up every day with the same intention. That’s what I do. I DO.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are times when I am totally unproductive. But the thing is, I feel guilty about being unproductive. Being unproductive = wasting time.  And just to be clear, journaling (or blogging), reading for enjoyment and/or self-improvement, exercising, chatting with family and friends does NOT qualify as productive. Not for me. I can’t even enjoy a long bath for God’s sake! I need to read, or plan, or solve. My entire life is based on productivity!

AND to add to the weirdness: I have coached business owners, students, and busy Moms; I have delivered workshops and seminars; I have facilitated support groups…all with the same goal: to encourage others to find the time to look after themselves, to be with family and friends. I often say, “Time Management is not about doing more, it’s about doing what is important”. Big sigh. It’s not that I don’t know this shit; I just don’t practice what I preach.

The only time I ever give myself permission to be unproductive is when I am not well. Which, coincidently, is often: I have experienced debilitating migraines, cancer, mono, long bouts of radiation-related colitis, fibromyalgia, etc. etc.

But, why can’t I give myself permission to be unproductive and healthy at the same time? I am 54 and I have worked since I was 14. To be honest, I didn’t always have a lot of choice. I had responsibilities. But my life is different now. I don’t have to put in a 60-hour workweek. My Girl is all grown up; she doesn’t need Mom like she used to…she is in a loving, stable relationship with a wonderful young man who is always there for her. And I am in a great relationship too, with a man who actually encourages me to only work part time! He wants me to look after myself!

But how do I change a lifetime of productivity and hard work? How do I do all the things I enjoy, like reading, and writing without the guilt? I want to blog! I want to write a book! I want to spend more time looking after me; to rest, meditate, eat better, cook instead of buying frozen meals, exercise, practice Qigong everyday! I want to work part time and be OK with it. I don’t know how to do those things!  I don’t know how to change “My Program”!

My Girl tells me I need to just start. So that is what I am going to do. This blog post is my jumping-off point. I woke up this morning with the intention of being productive. But instead I am sitting here at 3:00 (in my jammies I might add) writing my first blog; something I have wanted to do for months!

I am surrounded by boxes (I just moved and should be unpacking), I have no clean clothes (I should be doing laundry), I have emails to send, and client work that’s due, my bed isn’t even made (gasp!) but for the rest of the day (and evening) I am going to be unproductive and be OK with it. Not because I am sick, just because I choose it. I will read. I will call my aunt to chat. I will snuggle with my cats. I will drink tea. I will watch Oprah. I will be unproductive despite having work to do, and I will be OK! Damn it!

Stay tuned. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Making The Rules

– Contributed by Wee C

I’ve always said that I could run for politics because I’d be one of the few people I know who has only a handful of skeletons in their closet. And, truth be told, the few skeletons I have aren’t so much skeletons as dolls that got put away after I got too old. I don’t have a particularly storied past filled with missteps and wrong doings. Sure, I have a few (that I could count on one hand, for Pete’s sake), but nothing remarkable. There’s one simple reason for this: I’m a rule follower. I respect the rules, I follow the rules, I seriously embrace the rules. Which may or may not make me a tragically drab person. I, however, believe I make up for it in other ways. Someone, anyone back me up here??

But I’ve realized something incredibly important in the past week. I don’t follow my own rules. I follow everyone else’s. And I do it because I want them to be happy with me. Over the moon happy with me. I followed my parents’ rules, I followed the church’s rules, I followed my husband’s rules,  I followed all of my boss’ rules over the years, I’ve followed friends’ rules, heck, I’ve even followed the rules of people I don’t much like or care about. All in the name of securing the approval of others. Is she that desperate, you ask? In fact, I may very well be. But I think it’s something different. For me it’s always been more about doing what’s right. I’ve always felt that respecting other people’s rules was more important than respecting my own because putting others first was right and “that’s what makes you a good person, isn’t it?”. And truthfully, that’s all I really want in life…to be considered a kind, respectful, good person.

Now, this may seem all very altruistic, but over a chat with Big L, we explored this approach to life and found a massive flaw. In following everyone else’s rules, I expect that they will too. Heck, if I can give them that courtesy, surely they will return the favour? But most people don’t pay as much attention to the rules as I do…even if they’re making them. So often people don’t even follow their own rules.  The problem is when I’m following their rules, but they’re not, or they change the rules (as routinely happens), the disappointment I feel is overwhelming. It causes me an inordinate amount of stress. It makes me really angry and hurt. I followed all your rules, damn it, why are you changing them? Why aren’t you following them? What did I do wrong? Did I screw up again? It’s not their faults, they’re human. But it sure is disappointing and disillusioning. It causes me to question humanity and, truthfully, it breaks my heart.

In the midst of this realization, this week someone incredibly close to me broke every, single one of their own rules. Rules that I had believed to be true for as long as I had known them. Rules that I deeply admired and loved them for. Rules that I believed with a certainty beyond reason. Rules that allowed me to trust them implicitly (and in fact caused me to vehemently defend them to other people). Rules that I had followed and embraced as my own. Rules that I thought could never and would never be broken.

But they were. They were broken in the most catastrophic and devastating way imaginable. I can honestly say that Friday was the worst day of my life. And the aftershock continues to pulse through my body, finding its way into the nooks and crannies and dark crevices of my life.

As you’ve no doubt come to realize about me, I’m not much for letting an opportunity to learn pass me by. So, true to form, this experience taught me a pretty important life lesson: live your life by your own rules, Wee C. I’ve talked about this through my 30 Things journey, and I’ve genuinely tried to embrace this notion, but have never done so successfully…at least not fully and completely. But now, well I’m operating in a new world order these days. One that’s unfamiliar in every way possible. Everything else is changing, and it’s time to embrace this ideal.

So, I started by following my own rules. For the past couple of days I’ve done what I believe is the right thing to do. It may not be what others agree with, but I’m OK with that. Acting this way felt big and bold and scary. But it also made me feel more comfortable in my own skin than I have in a long time, if only for a moment.

I have an uphill internal battle ahead of me, which, despite being surrounded by incredible friends and family, it’s a battle that I need to go through alone. Supported, loved and being cheered on from the sidelines, but ultimately, alone. That means the only rules I can take with me are my own. And to that I say: onward and upward.

Grateful for Gratitude

– Contributed by Wee C

I’ve been avoiding this blog. I’ve been avoiding writing this post. I’ve been avoiding you all. Even now, I’d really rather hold down the delete button and close the cover on my laptop. In fact, I can feel the chills of stress and anxiety setting in. But, alas, the time has come to soldier on.

You see, life hasn’t been all roses and sunshine lately. In fact, it’s been pretty damned hard. And while I’m not ready to get into the dirty details, suffice it to say that my world has been turned upside down, on top of its head, drowning in a bath of freezing cold water. And, truthfully, I’d rather be curled up by my fireplace with a cup of hot tea and a blanket, thank you very much.

Oh, I knew it had to come some day. Life had been all-too-perfect prior to this. I’ve always said that everyone’s ride will hit a detour some time. Just so happens that now is my time. I wasn’t sure what scenario would lead me here, but I always wondered how I would react, what I would do, when my time came. I imagined myself curled up in bed, balls of tissues practically suffocating me, my oversized hoodie swallowing me up, the blinds drawn into severe darkness. Visions of straight jackets also appeared once or twice. And while I do love a good crisp white blouse, that did feel a titch dramatic.

Truth is, that’s not what happened at all. Ok, well it’s sort of what happened…I haven’t exactly behaved like tears are a precious commodity. But it is true what they say (all those wise people – you know, like Winston Churchill and Voltaire), it is in times of adversity that we find our greatest strength. In my case, it’s where I’m finding my true self.

Over the past four weeks, I’ve seen more of myself than I have in a decade. It’s not for any other reason than that I’m exposed and vulnerable and feeling quite naked (good thing all this stress has resulted in a 10-pound weight loss). I’ve found a strength that I thought had left me a long time ago. But, perhaps most importantly, I’ve found my way back to gratitude. A place that feels so much like home, but one that I had forgotten to visit for far too long.

Let me simply proclaim this. I have been blessed. I am blessed. I will continue to be blessed. My life is rich with blessings. What’s so remarkable to me is the intensity of this feeling at a time when it feels that so much has been taken away. Instead of feeling empty and drained, most days, I’m feeling full. Like a pig feeding at the trough, full. Would I like to get back what I lost? I can’t say yes to that quickly enough. I’d say it a million times over if it would help. But in losing something so big, what I’ve learned is that we can’t ignore what we currently have…today. Not what we wish we had yesterday, not what we long for tomorrow. If I sit here and pine for what I had or what I want, I’m not honouring the love I am currently receiving from friends and family on what seems like an hourly basis. And that love is beyond profound and overwhelmingly generous.

And so, even in the deepest void my life has ever experienced, the water fills in, rises and spills over. It’s here that I realize just how grateful I am for gratitude.

With much love, Me.

– Contributed by Wee C

The Reverb 10 prompt from December 21 struck a cord with me: write a letter to your future self – you, five years from now. What advice would you give yourself in the next year to get yourself there?

Dear Wee C – you’ve always been quick to point out that much can change if you just give yourself the time you need. And boy, were you right. Five years ago, you were sitting on your sofa over the Christmas holidays feeling a little (Ok, a lot) lost, wondering what the next year would bring. You were filled with uncertainty about all areas of your life. You were feeling exposed and vulnerable, but at the same time, confident that something remarkable was on the horizon. And in the midst of all these feelings, you just kept telling yourself to be patient, to hold on, to live with expectancy, and above all, to have faith, ’cause life was about to get really interesting. You didn’t know how true that was.

Your 2010 was about reclaiming yourself. Actually, it was about getting reacquainted, learning what brought you joy and sorrow, what you were willing to give on and what you would absolutely hold your ground on. It was about learning to walk down uncertain, often dark and scary paths, in order to find the clearing on the other side. In fact, the early part of 2011 will be much the same. You should be prepared for this. But be joyful in this journey. Embrace all the tears, fears and victories, as each one has something truly remarkable to teach you. Pay attention. Write your feelings and observations down. Listen to your heart, and most importantly, your soul. Don’t waffle. Be true to the foundation you’ve built in the past year, it will serve you well in the years ahead.

You may have felt that 2010 was your most significant year to date, but I can guarantee you that 2011 will be defining. It will mark a turning point in your life. Oh, I know how you hate change, how it can make you feel as though you have lost control and everything you know is being challenged. But you must give yourself over to change. You must decide every single day, every single moment to be awake and aware, fully conscious that an evolution is occurring and that not a moment will go by that is not part of the grand plan to get you to the next destination.

Knowing you, you want to know what that destination is. What will it look like? Who will be there? Will I like it? Will I be happy? I can’t answer those questions for you. But what I can tell you is that your life, five years from now, will be more remarkable than your wildest dreams can imagine. Over the next five years, you will learn to embrace your potential. You will stop fearing your greatness and you will become it. You will stop apologizing for your very existence and you will fall in love with yourself – truly in love. You will be surrounded by friends, family and relationships that are steeped in love and joyful interactions. Joyful, Wee C, joyful. Your professional reach will be far beyond your city or your country. You will impact people around the globe. You will be constantly innovating and creating, bringing others solutions that improve their lives and yield the clarity they have been seeking.

But, more than anything, you will be peaceful. All the turmoil and angst you have allowed yourself to feel – for as long as you can remember – will be replaced by a calm bliss. You will embrace the time you spent feeling anxious, stressed and overstretched, as it will have taught you how to find peace. You will acknowledge that life is simply a series of days, strung together by your attitude and outlook on life, with each leg of the journey contributing a different coloured thread.

Wee C, I cannot stress to you enough how amazed you will be in five years time. Each year between now and then will bring you to new and greater heights. You simply need to allow it to happen. Stop meddling, controlling, and fussing and start by embracing the wonder of every single thing life has to offer. Start by hugging your husband and being grateful for his love. Start by cleaning a closet and feeling the triumph that comes from clearing out the crap and clutter. Start by curling up with a cup of tea and a smile, nothing more. Simply, start.

I can’t wait for you to catch up and join me here in the future, for you to look back on this time in your life and recognize just how far you’ve come and what you have accomplished. Buckle up, babes, this ride is about to get interesting.

With much love (more than you can possibly understand today),

Your 35-year-old self, xo

Thanks to Jenny Blake for a prompt that yielded a particularly introspective, and fulfilling post. With much appreciation.

December Maintenance: An Empty Tree

Mine and hubby’s lives? They’ve been pretty darned blessed. We both grew up in families that took incredible care of us, never wanting for anything (well, except a pony…but I’m still holding out for that), always donning the latest fashions (well, save for the skinny jeans, of course), and always with a car sitting in the yard waiting for us to drive (and, dare I say, a gas card to fuel it with). Indeed, at a very early age, we understood all-to-well what it was like “to have”.

Now, let’s be clear. I’m not talking gobs of stuff: diamonds, multiple cars, caviar or our own personal collections of Louis Vuitton. We weren’t that kind of privileged (not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course). We were simply well taken care of. Comfortable. Cozy, even.

And truthfully, I never thought much of it until we got out on our own and realized that our standards were high. Damn high. Like, who do we think we are, high. Combine these high standards with upwardly mobile careers, making increasingly more money every year, and we were just fanning the fire. One that would eventually suck us right into the white, hot centre.

For a long time, we lived our lives fancying about, enjoying all that comfort. Dinner parties complete with legs of lamb, endless wine and new plates and cutlery (things had to match, you know). Lovely throw pillows, smelly candles and soaps, chef’s-quality pots and pans, 3,000 jackets (each), and a few European adventures thrown in. It wasn’t an extravagant life, but it sure was a wee bit excessive. We likely could have done with a few less candles and a few more pieces of chicken (skin on and bone in, even). We were wasteful. We didn’t need all that stuff, but we sure did like to have it.

I make it sound as if all this is in the past. Let me be the first to own up to the fact that we’re not totally reformed. We still misbehave from time to time. But life caught up with us. Careers changed (and restarted), the burden of a mortgage crept in, and, well, other debt also found its way into our lives. I’m quite certain no one told me I’d pay for my wedding for the following 10 years. Consider yourself warned. Basically, we became like everyone else. Grown ups, accountable for grown up-like things. Nothing particularly different from anyone else. Just grown ups.

In response, we’ve had to reform our lives…to grown up lives. At first, we fought it. It somehow felt unfair, like a child who had a big bag of candy and the mean bully took it away. Then we (read: I) got depressed. Wasn’t I working my behind off to be able to do more, accumulate more, eat more (and better), get more? More, more more. And, then, I got determined. Determined that I would beat debt and reclaim my life. Insert the world’s evil laugh here. Wee C, that’s simply not how it works.

But recently, I’ve realized that amidst that journey, I’ve changed. We’ve changed. See, we cut back. A lot. And we didn’t die. Our lives didn’t become less meaningful or less fulfilling. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Yes, folks, it’s a Christmas miracle. In spending less, I suddenly feel like we have more. The burden of always needing something is a significant one. I don’t care whether it’s the fanciest shampoo or a new Coach purse, when you’re in the mindset of acquiring, you always need something. Break that habit, and you suddenly find that your “needs” are a lot less than what you think.

And, so, my December maintenance comes in the form of doing less. Well, spending less. Our normal Christmas? You got it, it was excessive. Multiple gifts of all shapes and sizes under the tree, stockings stuffed full, and a fridge bulging at the seams. This year? We’ve committed to simply enjoying the season, with the gifts to ourselves being a stress-free, less-is-more kind of holiday. For the first time in my adult life (and in my relationship with hubby), we’re simply filling stockings. No additional gifts under the tree, just socks filled with goodies. Now, to be perfectly transparent, there will be a few indulgent items in those socks, but it won’t look like Santa’s sleigh tipped over as he passed over our house.

Currently, I have an empty tree in my living room. There’s not a single thing wrapped and under it. A year ago, I would have been disheartened by this. Today, I’m joyful. My December maintenance represents much of what life has become for me: stripping things back and enjoying life without the gloss we so often want to put on it. Ok, so to be fair, I like me a bit of gloss. I always will. But I’m just trying to avoid living in a glass house. That somehow seems a dangerous situation.