Quit your 2017 Resolution Already? Choose a Mantra Instead

It's the first week of January, so I am ready for a whole new year of goals, lists, and to-dos with my family. The Type A organized side of me always LOVES this time of year. Out with the old, in with the new! Amen.  

Last year, as many of you know, my family chose Choose the Good as a our family mantra/mission statement to guide us through the year. That basically meant that every time we had a choice to make, we'd stop, breathe, repeat the mission and then do the "good thing." Read or watch television? Choose the good. Eat a sleeve of Oreos in one sitting or go for a walk? Choose the good. Have another glass of wine and watch another Netflix episode or get a good night's sleep? Choose the good. Before we knew it, we were losing weight, reading more, having more fun together, and growing as human beings. I have to say, as a human who has been on this planet for 40 years, it was absolutely, without a doubt, my best year yet. So we weren't entirely ready to give up "Choose the good." Rather, we wanted to put a little spit and polish on it until we, as they say in Annie, "Shine, like the top of the Chrysler building!"  That's right, the Hackett's 2017 mission/mantra is: SHINE! 

Over the years Greg, the kids, and I have made extremely long lists of unattainable goals and resolutions, that had us feeling, well, like failures. We beat ourselves up every December 31st, because of the things we didn't do that we said we'd do on January 1. And, let's face it, life is just too short for that. While I am still an advocate of writing down your goals and holding yourself accountable daily, I also believe there is a better and easier way to achieve whatever it is you're trying to attain.

And here's what worked for my family: Choosing a mantra.

How to do it?

Think of something you want to work on as an individual or family, then choose a mantra or a word that you can remember that might help you, then repeat it often, and here's the important part, USE it, every day, all day. Start each day with that intention "Today I will shine. Or, today I will be present. Or, today I will be grateful." Then throughout the day remind yourself what your intention, mission, or mantra is. And keep it the same all day, every day, all year. You'll start to see results, because it will become a habit. (Some other suggestions: Choose kind. Be present. Be patient. Breathe. Be the light.)

We chose "SHINE" because we were looking for something simple we could all remember, and it encompassed our desires as a family, mainly to be kind, positive, empathetic people who could "be the light" to others--to help, heal, serve, and love--whenever we can, however we can, wherever we can. We also wanted to be able to use our god-given talents to do so. Our special gifts, talents, and skills are what make us unique, and by not using them, we not only hurt ourselves, we hurt others. We are all meant to use our talents for the greater good. ALL OF US.

We worked really hard last year on improving ourselves and our family internally and now we want to turn that focus outward and do our best to shine and be a beacon of light for others. That's my hope this year, and it's my hope for my kids too. As a mother, I am always so proud of all they do, and I know what they're capable of, and now I want them to really see and recognize the beauty, talent, intelligence, and light that's within them. Most of all, I don't want them to be afraid to let others see these qualities too. I want them stand tall in their truth, in their beliefs, and become the individuals they were meant to be regardless what anyone else thinks. 

I wrote our mantra on a chalkboard with fancy lettering (because I am an unabashed overachiever who likes to make everything look pretty and who has spent one too many hours on Pinterest), but you can write it on a Post-It and stick it somewhere where you'll see it every day.  It doesn't have to be fancy. You just have to see it. We hung ours in the kitchen by the doorway, that way it will be seen at least three times a day, and every time someone leaves or comes home, they see it, too.

Whatever you decide this year's mantra will be for you and your family, I wish you all the best this year and I hope it's your year to SHINE, too! 

(Today I had the chance to talk about choosing a mantra with the wonderful hosts of Good Morning Cincinnati. If you'd like to watch, click here.)

Dear Mary, You're doing it wrong. Sincerely, Life

Photo by Jonathan Gibson  

Photo by Jonathan Gibson

 

It's already the middle of December folks. A couple weeks out from tallying up the highs and lows of 2016 and getting ready to resolve to be a whole, better, new, and improved version of you (who you didn’t quite get around to this past year).


Before you do that, hold up a sec.

Don't reach for the vino and remote, and start thinking about the craptastic year you had or any number of coulda, woulda, shoulda moments you missed out on (and before you head over to Facebook to tell every body about said craptastic year), I am here, as your Humble Ambassador from the Other Side, to tell you: Cut that  s#@t out.

It’s pointless. And it’s how I got into the deep, dark, self-delusional, self-hating hole I lived in in 2015—where I was living for the two years prior to that. Yep, in October 2015, that hole had gotten so big, so dark, I contemplated jumping inside it and never coming back out. Yes, me, mother of two, loving wife, proud, outspoken supporter of mental health awareness, couldn’t tie my own sneakers without bursting into tears. I lay awake at night questioning my worth, my humanity. I had lost all hope, actually. the apt turn is: I was drowning. I felt useless. I felt depleted. I felt broken.

I was deeply, deeply unhappy.

But, I am a wife. I am a mom. I had to keep going. I had work to do. I had breakfast to make. I had musicals to attend. I had homework to check. A house to clean. You get the drift. I was physically spent too. The long hours at work, the stress—needless, ridiculous amounts of stress—weighed on my body. I could barely move. I was in pain. I was stiff. My eyes puffed out. My hair fell out. I had pneumonia—for three months.

The Day Everything Changed

One morning, I woke up and I believe it was Grace, God, source Energy, (whatever you want to call it) poked me and said, “Seriously, kid. You’re doing it wrong. There is a better way. Trust me. Life was not meant to be this hard. I gave you a gift, and you're crapping all over it.”

So in 2016, I decided to Choose the Good. Slow down. Breathe. Say no more to drama (my own mostly) and spend less time on people and projects that didn’t care about me as much I cared about them. I told myself I was going to tell the truth. I was going to tell others exactly what I wanted, what I needed, and what I was expecting. I decided to take 100 percent responsibility for my own happiness, health, and well-being. I was going to stop working when I was tired. I was going to go to bed when I was tired. I was going to get up when I was rested. I was going to read the books I love. I was going to turn off the television. I was going to get out and walk, do yoga, and meditate every day. (In fact every day, I wrote the same 3 non-negotiables down on my daily to-do list: 1. Meditate/Pray. 2. Yoga/Walk. 3. Read/Write.)  I replaced my usual long list of to-dos and places to go and things to achieve with these “good” things that fill me up as a person. (Your list of daily non-negotiables might be something completely different.) You know what your non-negotiables are when you realize that if don’t do those things, you feel pretty lousy.

How’d I fit all this in?

I prioritized.

Sleep meant more to me than Big Bang Theory reruns at 11 p.m. I went to bed shortly after the kids did and I got up at 4 a.m. instead. I prayed and mediated and did yoga before the sun came up. I took a walk—twenty minutes—after each meal (that’s 60 minutes of cardio without even thinking about it or changing for the gym). I read every morning and night. (Well, writing is what I do for a living, but still I scheduled an hour of “writing just for me” into my day as well.) By the time April came around, I was losing weight without adhering to a diet. The pain was gone in my body, and my tolerance for other people’s negativity seemed to be improving. In a word, I was feeling pretty chill.

I started to be more intentional.

Meditation made me more present. I couldn’t be overwhelmed with anxiety about the future, because, duh, I was present in the moment. I couldn’t feel angry or hurt about the past, because I was present in the moment. I had a bit more bounce in me too. Things started to just roll off me. When people screamed at me (and they did--at work and  home) I could sit calmly and repeat silently to myself: "This is not about me. They have deep work to do. This too shall pass." And as I chilled out so did my kids. (The old adage, “If Mama ain’t happy, nobody is” is true.) My anxiety, stress, hostility, hopelessness, and desperation had started to show up in my kids. But, funny thing, without changing a thing in them or even focusing on their behavior, they started to laugh more, relax more, sleep better, and feel better in general. 

I sought help from professionals.

By June, I discovered hypnotherapy—(If you live in Cincinnati, I highly recommend Nicole Jeffries. Her methods transformed my life.) For the first time in years, I wasn’t haunted by past experiences. I was more alive and awake in my daily activities. I felt healthier than I had ever been too. By focusing on breathing, staying present, and shifting to a positive, life-affirming mindset, I woke up each day feeling lighter and lighter, happier, and happier. After six treatments, I felt more rested and energetic than I had ever been in my entire adult life. I also cured my night terrors and insomnia.

I got in touch with my body and its needs.

Hypnotherapy led me to yin yoga—a deeply relaxing yoga, which led me to talking to a friend about yoga and hypnotherapy, and she recommended an Ayurvedic healer. I started eating only organic, non-processed foods, and read books on the ancient practice of self-care, self-love, and restful, and intentional living. I now follow this ayurvedic health routine.  Thanks to my cousin's wife, Kelly Marfiak, I also discovered and now use essential oils in my diet, on my skin, and to purify my home. I’ve never been healthier in my life. 

I shifted my focus and changed my mindset.

After I left that stressful job, I focused instead on working on projects that I truly wanted to take on and with whom I wanted to work with, when I could. Not going to lie: it was a financial hardship, and there were times I had to dig deep to remain calm and positive (and put way more than I wanted to on credit cards).  But in the end I decided that there were a lot of things I could happily go without, good credit being one of them, in exchange for my sanity and my life. And instead of focusing on lack, I decided to reaffirm a deeply held belief that everything is working for my highest good. And if I stay honest, true, hardworking, and follow my passion goodness and prosperity will prevail. It always has in the past. Though it was one of the “poorest” financial years of my adult life (and I am well aware that is a relative term, I am by no means "poor"--I know that, because I was once a welfare recipient), it was the "richest" year in every way that counted. I started to “live” again.

I practiced my passion a little bit every day and sought ways to incorporate my passion into ways to earn a living.

I wrote two books, and I am working on a third and I did it just a little bit every day. I didn’t overdo it. I didn’t complain at all about all the work I had to do, oddly, I just did it. And it all got done. One or two concentrated hours at a time. I took odd jobs and freelance projects to keep our family afloat. And in the meantime I kept my eye out for meaningful work that I could be passionate about.

I read empowering and life-sustaining books.

Invigorated with more energy than I have ever had, I read every night and every morning, and by year’s end, without even noticing it, I had read more than a hundred and fifty books. One of them happened to be War and Peace. (I dreaded reading that book, but with the encouragement of a friend, I joined a book club and was able to tackle it. It turned out to be the best book I’ve read in my entire life, mainly because of who I read it with. The new book club I joined at my favorite library, The Mercantile, became a life-sustaining force in my life. And it also reaffirmed my faith in humanity, in the arts, in the beauty of people coming together to marvel at great works.)

I sought other creative outlets to feed my soul.

When I wasn’t reading, practicing yoga, or walking, I took pictures of beautiful things that I saw all around me. I ended up liking it so much, I started taking pictures of friends and families when I could, and eventually I enrolled in a professional photography class.

One passion led to another, and before I knew it I discovered that I loved to refinish furniture. Who knew! It started with my kitchen table and it progressed from them there.  

I connected with friends.

Whenever I could I scheduled a quick cup of coffee with a friend, I did so. I learned so much about my friends over an hour of coffee talk that I couldn't possibly know while I was running around trying to lose weight and accomplish nine-million things in a day. Before I always thought I needed to book an expensive lunch or a night out on the town with friends--and then never actually did it. But turns out, a cup of coffee or a walk through the park for an hour is all you need.

I did a whole lot of nothing with my kids.

I  snuggled a lot with my kids this year. Like a serious amount. (There is a divot that wasn’t there last year on my couch.) We did less, but had more time to just be.

I stopped using up my time on pointless complaining.

It’s funny, I always had the same 24 hours in a day that I had before, but I never used them so wisely, so intently, so happily, and joyfully as I did in 2016. I think part of the reason is, I stopped. I stopped engaging in complaints about my life, about my self-created dramas, about any number of things people complain about. 

I was kinder, gentler, and more loving--with myself--and in the meantime, I found my bliss.

The second I stopped ripping myself apart for mistakes, for being too fat, too old, too broke, too weird, too different from others, I stopped being hard on others too. I realized everybody is dealing with the same struggles in life, and all are doing the best they can with what they have. And as the Dalai Lama has pointed out, all of us are united by these two things: We all want happiness and to avoid suffering. Yep. Everyone is in this together and we're all just trying to figure it out. Our methods are different, but in the end we all want the same thing. Only it can be lonely, and it can be difficult in the process. And honestly, we make it harder than it needs to be.

Finding Your Bliss in 2017

So if you’re interested, I’d like to share some unsolicited advice/tips to make 2017 a bit less lonely,  a bit less difficult, a bit more manageable and quite possibly the happiest, most joyful one yet:

1.     Don’t resolve to do anything. Instead pick a mantra that will guide your decisions through the year. Eventually it will all add up. “Choose the good” was our family mantra last year. The year before it was “Experience over things.” We haven’t had our family meeting yet this year to discuss what next year's will be, but we will pick something new to focus on. (Some suggestions: “Be present.” “Seek calm.” “Love more.” “Spread kindness.” "Find your joy.")

2.     Don’t make work/making money/making more money a priority. You work to live. Not the other way around. If your job sucks, I mean, monumentally, excruciatingly sucks, and you don’t have the means to quit, find something good about it. And focus on that aspect, and only that aspect. It could be a nice person you look forward to talking to, or a client that inspires you, or a task that makes the time go by fast. Then when you leave each day make sure you do at least one thing for yourself, one wonderfully indulgent, soul-filling thing for yourself. No one is judging you. And don’t judge others if they’re doing it. (Remember: we’re all in this together.) And in the meantime, keep your eyes open for a more meaningful job.

3.     Adopt a cat, a pet….Maybe two. We took in our second cat this summer. It’s amazing what a pet can do for your sanity, happiness, and mental health.

4.     Stop watching so much television. Give yourself an hour a day to watch. That’s it. Boom, I just gave you your existence back. You’re welcome.

5.     Stop engaging with people who pull you down, put you down, don’t get you or you just don’t feel like you can be your most authentic self with, or who chronically complain and dump their toxic energy on you. It’s exhausting. Seriously. Move on. They won’t miss you. They'll find someone else to dump on. (I just gave back another 10 hours of your life this week, enjoy that deep tissue massage you now have time for. However, if these energy vampires happen to be toddlers, well, give it a few years....they'll grow out of it. I promise.)

6.     Stop beating yourself up. Don’t say things (even jokingly) like “I’m so fat.”  Your thoughts become reality.  Now if you feel sick, have no energy, and you know for a fact that bottle of blue cheese dressing you bought yesterday is half-empty and you’re the only one living in the house, then yeah, maybe it’s time you start thinking about making some healthy choices. And that’s it. Just start with healthy, good choices. One day at a time. And don’t beat yourself up, if say, you walk by Holtman’s Donuts on a Sunday after yoga, and buy a vanilla sprinkle donuts, enjoy it. Just don’t eat the entire dozen by yourself in your minivan in the alley behind the store. (Again...we’re not judging, people.)

7.     Start being nice. First to yourself and then to everyone you meet. What goes around, comes around. If you say mean or passive aggressive things to people, don’t go crying your eyes out or complaining about them, when they finally decide enough is enough and check out of the relationship or tell you, "Nope, that passive aggressive and shaming behavior is not going to work on me." If you are constantly have shouting matches with someone or if you are constantly making demands trying to control how another person should think or act, maybe, just sayin’, you might want to back the truck up. Maybe you could, uh, chill out. Remember, we all want to be happy, loved, and avoid suffering. And it takes two to tango. If you don’t want to have bad feelings about people, stopping having bad thoughts about them. And if someone is so egregious, negative, and hateful, then my friends, sometimes the nicest and most loving thing to do is to establish a nice boundary and then pray for that person in the privacy of your own home. Good fences, make good neighbors. (And remember: What other people think of you, is none of your business. Don't act or live your life worried about what others are saying or doing behind your back. They won't live with the consequences of your choices. You and only you will. Do you want a life of joy and simplicity? Or do you want to be miserable trying to appease others?) 

8.     Partake in ridiculous amounts of fun and nonsense that have absolutely no point. Dance while you’re making dinner. Eat breakfast any time of day. Cereal for everyone! Yeah! Read books the reviewers hated, but you know you’ll enjoy. Go crazy and say yes to something you never thought you would or could do. (Hence, my taking on the rapids in West Virginia with my friends from TEDxCincinnati.)

9.     Make a commitment this year to slow down, do more of what you love and less of what you hate. Smile more. Complain less. Laugh as much as you can. Get involved in things you care about, love, and make you feel more alive. Reach out to friends who need you. Be as nice to yourself as you are to others.

10.  Read books that empower and inspire you, and that make you more compassionate, loving, and open to the human experience. (A list of my favorite books that did just this is to the right.)

11.  Decide right now, that nothing is more important in life than living it fully and completely. Every day is not guaranteed. Show up for people, even the one's who try your patience. Love with abandon. Say what needs to be said while you can. And remember we’re all in this together. Look out for each other. As Ram Dass so aptly put it, “We’re all just walking each other home.”

12.  Be grateful. Instead of making a long list of things you want to do in 2017, make a long list of all the things you did this past year. You’d be amazed. Congratulate yourself, then Treat YO self. Think of all the people you got to talk to, got to love, and who loved you. Think of all the heartbreaks, too. Thank God for them, because they are often our best teachers. Thank God for your body, extra pounds and all. Thank God for new friends. For old friends. For family. When I look back at 2016, all I see is “good.” And I am so glad I chose it. Because, so much of what we see, is, in the end, a choice. So choose wisely. Thank you, most of all, for joining me on this journey. It’s been amazing.

Here’s to you! Here's to joy! Here's to love!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and have a wonderful, joy-filled, and love-filled 2017.

Mary

 

 

 

 

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Books that will help bring your joy back:

Grateful people are joyful people. A grateful world is a happy world.
If you’re serious about changing your life, you’ll find a way. If you’re not, you’ll find an excuse.
It takes courage...to endure the sharp pains of self discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives.
Miracles occur naturally as expressions of love.
Travel light, live light, spread the light, be the light.
A good life is not a place at which you arrive, it is a lens through which you see and create your world.
The biggest waste of time is to do well something that we need not do at all.
The starting point of all achievement is DESIRE. Keep this constantly in mind.
Our job in this life is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.
I realized that when you force things — a career, a relationship — life will be forceful back. If you want your life to be easy, you need to practice easy.
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One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Look closely at the present you’re constructing, it should look like the future you’re dreaming. 
We become what we think about.
The Ayurvedic route to great health involves two simple steps:
1. Doing less;
2. Being more.
When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.
— Jalaluddin Rumi

A Grief Observed: Grief, Fear, Love and Election 2016

Photo by Mary Curran Hackett 

Photo by Mary Curran Hackett 

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” --C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
 

Many people who know me personally know that I am preternaturally incapable of keeping my mouth shut. I was born this way.  (Wait. Hold up. That's not entirely true. Actually, the more accurate way to say this is: "Life made me this way.") The legend in my family is that I was a mute for several years as a child. I refused to speak. I think the technical term now for this condition is "selective mutism." Back then though I think most relatives, experts, and doctors agreed, "She'll talk when she's ready."  "She's stubborn."  "She's a slow learner." "She'll eventually catch on." "Believe me, enjoy this. Once she starts talking, she'll never shut up."

All the above statements still hold true to this day. And the doctors were right, just before kindergarten, I got my proverbial shit together and started to speak up. And as my dad (to this day) says, "She could talk the ears off a brass monkey."

Yes, I have a lot to say. And I am never afraid to say it. I have my family to thank. In those years I didn't speak, I spent a lot of time observing. Though I couldn't/wouldn't speak then, I could hear and see everything. I saw my father fight for his fellow firefighters in unions to gain access to health care and pension benefits. I saw him fight for widows of fallen firefighters. I saw him speak up whenever her saw an injustice or wrong in the world. I saw my mother profess her faith proudly and unapologetically. I never heard from either one of them that it was wrong to discuss such things as politics, religion, and economics at the dinner table or with company. Those topics were de rigueur in the Curran house. It was sport. It was often contentious. It wasn't often civil either. We each had our opinions and we each shared them. Sometimes we screamed them. F-bombs have been dropped. Doors have slammed. But, then, magically, dinner is ready. And all is well again. We sit at the table and we eat. Together.

Fast forward to the Election 2016. I don't know about you, but this one was a doozy for me. It was exhausting. It was vitriolic. It was vituperative. It was also--I can't believe I am saying this: Necessary. It all had to happen. Exactly like this.

What? Have you gone mad, woman?

Now let me assure you, I was not in this place last week. Not even close. I literally had to block everyone in my family--not because of anything they said, but because I was terrified of what I was capable of saying to them in moments of weakness, anger, and defensiveness. I am not my best, truest, or most authentic self, when I am digging my heels in for a fight. Like most people, operating from a place of righteous indignation, I lose sight of the bigger picture and see only one thing: I can win this thing. I will be damn sure to teach you a lesson and the lesson is I am right, goddammit. I can also, as Winston Churchill put it so elegantly, send people to hell and have them looking forward to the trip.

Here, dears, let me help you pack.

Over the years, I have been called "fierce," "passionate," "persistent," "dogged," and all those are euphemisms for what people really want to say:  "bull-headed," "stubborn," and "unrelenting." I get it. There are no surprises here. I know who I am. Good and bad. And as I was saying before: this election was necessary. And I believe whole-heartedly that everything in this life, good and bad, is all leading us toward our highest good.

Our highest good? Screaming at each other? Name calling? Fearing our neighbors? Riots? Racist slurs? Crimes against humanity? Our highest-goddamn-good? Are you crazy?

That's not what I am saying. Bear with me for a minute. This observation didn't come easy. 

It actually occurred to me while looking at my daughter's MRI pictures in a doctor's office last week that Election 2016 was an MRI. It scanned us. We're getting up there in years, and the shit we did in our youth has caught up with us.  So the MRI/Election looked deep into our layers and showed us our weaknesses, our tears, our breaks, our cancers. It showed us what's killing us. What's hurting us. We are one body. One miraculous, great creation. We have strong working parts. We have beautiful systems in place. But, we have broken ones, too. We have defects. Individual cells have the potential to grow and do great harm, if they're not treated. And you can't treat what you don't see. 

We can start a vigorous treatment now. We can start to fight the cancers. We can heal the breaks and the tears. We can also go in there like surgeons and take a deeper look. And when we do we might be surprised. For example my daughter's surgery last week revealed something completely different than what the scans showed and the experts thought.  She had been in serious pain for weeks and her knee kept spontaneously giving out--causing her to fall and injure herself. Several doctors and experts couldn't agree. The MRI showed what looked like a tear. It looked serious. Best case scenario--they repair it and she would have a 10-week recovery. Worst case, they remove the meniscus entirely--setting her up for a life of pain. She was overcome with fear and stress. She had shit to do: PSATs, a play she was directing, homework, and she wanted to try out for a singing/dancing part in a musical. It was inconvenient. It was annoying. It was painful. She was scared. She didn't want to have surgery. However, when they operated they discovered, all that they thought they saw had been a misread. She had an extra growth. They would have never known if they hadn't gone in. It was all for her own good. They caught it. She can get better now. 

Over the past week she, like so many young people watching this election, is full of fear--for our country and world. She had been watching the news (real and unreal) following all the reports from both sides. And let's be honest there is a lot of reason to fear. Unknowns by their very nature are frightening. And some of the knowns, let's be honest, are frankly terrifying.

BUT, BUT, BUT...we can't lose hope. 

We also have to recognize that fear and grief feel a lot alike. Nothing gets better with fear and grief takes time. You can't just snap out of it. You can't just say,"Ok! I'm cool now, let's go." Nope. Doesn't work that way. And neither does our country. Neither does healing. And the healing only begins when we get in there and take a long hard look at what must and can be done so can we get better--and then do the work. 

I've been doing a lot of meditating whenever and wherever I can. And whenever I do, I realize that fear is not the answer. Love is. Love. It's the word I've been seeing everywhere. On my librarian's bracelet. On my son's notes to me. In spontaneous emails from friends. In texts from my husband. And it's even hanging around my neck--on a necklace I had made prior to the election.

Love is and always will be all we need. 

Fear is never the answer. Fear creates pain. Creates division. Fear of the other. Fear of the unknown. Fear of differences. 

We can't operate out of a place of fear. I can't. You can't. We can't. 

So I am trying.

For as long as it takes I will practice "selective mutism" when it comes to speaking from a place of fear. However, that doesn't mean I'll be silent. Rather, I will use my voice and my love, to overcome fear, injustice, and hate whenever I see it. In the meantime, I return to the books I love, the people I love and feel happy and completely myself with. I will try to help others who are hurting, afraid, and "not ready yet" to heal. I will smile and care for others. I will tell my children that for now and forever kindness, courage, forgiveness, and love win.

It starts at home.

It starts with me.

Let's be real. It's not going to be easy. But, nothing worth having ever is. 

 

 

 

Six Things Assault Survivors Can Do to Survive the 2016 Election

Photo by DmitriMaruta/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by DmitriMaruta/iStock / Getty Images

“I am having a hard time.” 

“I am having a hard time.”

“I am having a hard time.”

Those are the words I whispered in prayer the other night. I reached out to God, the Universe, Jesus, the lamppost, and anyone who could hear me and said:

“Help me. Please, help me.”

Now mind you. I am in a good place. The best I have ever been in my adult life. I am happy, healthy, and feeling pretty darned amazing—but let’s be honest, this election. Phew. Man. Let's just say it is taking its toll on this survivor. 

I know I am not alone. I am not the only rape survivor. I am not the only assault survivor. I am not the only woman who has even been sexually harassed and demeaned by a man. I am not the only woman who has been catcalled just about every time I leave the house and walk down the street.  (In fact if you’re a woman, and you live on this planet, at least one or all of the above has unfortunately happened to you at least once.)  I know that I am also not the only person who hasn’t been believed or supported during these times—not just by authorities but my own friends and colleagues.

I know what it’s like to need to stay quiet. Stay small. Mostly out of fear. Mostly out of self-protection. I know what it's like to feel like a scared, lost little girl, even though I am a fully grown woman, because I falsely believed that by sharing this awful, terrible truth about me (or all—I was raped, I was assaulted, I was harassed, I was catcalled), I think only more pain will come. More judgment. More blame. More “Shoulda and coulda,” more “if I were you, I’d….” or “That would never happen to me.”  

I know what it’s like to stare into a mirror while standing over a sink, and slice a knife into my skin—just to feel the pain on the outside, so the pain on the inside could dissipate for a minute.

I know what it’s like to pour the last drop of wine in a glass and cry—shattered that there is nothing left to dull the pain.

I know what it’s like to grieve the loss of the old self—the self that trusted everyone, that smiled at passersby, and felt brave when walking into a room of strangers.

I know what it’s like to hear the word “rape” on the news and shudder and remember my own—that night long ago that might as well be today—because the words, the tears, the screams, and the fear seem as real now as they did then.

I know what it’s like to hear the word “assault” to remember how the man, old enough to be my father, reached out and squeezed my breasts, put mouth on mine, and laughed at me as I stood horrified.

I know what it’s like to hear the word “harass” and to hear my male coworker ask me if the color of my bra and panties matched my dress, hear him tell me how attracted he is to me, and listen as he screams and berates me because I don’t compliment him enough, I don’t recognize his “gifts,” or his “looks.” 

I know.

I know.

I know it is not easy, my friends.

I know this election is not easy. No matter what side of the aisle you are on, if you’re a victim of harassment, assault, rape, or abuse, I know what it’s like for you. It is not easy and it takes courage to wake up each day and drive by all the signs, to turn on the news, and hear the stories.

Trigger.

That’s what psychologists are warning us all about. These news stories can “trigger” responses—PTSD, depression, anxiety, but mostly unwanted memories of our own rape, abuse, or harassment.

These conversations—filled with vitriol, hate, accusations, and anger—can cause panic, fear, and a sense of isolation.

You may not feel like you can’t talk to your family about what you’re going through, because you’ll fear that because of their political leanings they would not understand.

You may feel like you are crazy. That all of this pain and suffering in your body (yes, it’s physical) and your head, is abnormal. It’s not. I assure you. You’re not alone.

All I can say is, I am sorry and I understand. Also, I can offer some advice—somethings I have done that have worked for me:

1)    Turn off the news. Attacks from both sides will keep coming. You don’t have to bury your head in the sand, but you don’t have to inundate yourself with the daily crap-fest that is election coverage 2016. Let that shit go. (Admittedly, this is EXTREMELY hard to do.)

2)    Call a friend who gets it. You know, the one whose shared his/her story of assault/rape/harassment/abuse with you before. (And that means, don’t call someone who you know isn’t going to empathize. You’ll know it by their Facebook feed. Usually.)

3)    Join a support group. There are support groups and organizations dedicated to supporting survivors of violence, rape, and/or harassment in every city. Find one near you and join. Here’s one of the best, most comprehensive lists from the RAINN Orgranization: https://www.rainn.org/national-resources-sexual-assault-survivors-and-their-loved-ones

4)    Call your therapist. Set up an appointment. If you don’t have one, call your primary doctor and ask for a referral. 

5)    Share your story. So you don’t feel ashamed anymore and so that others don’t feel so alone.

6)    Be kind. Find ways every day to be grateful. Find ways to reach out and help, serve, love, and heal others. You’ll find that in doing so you’ll love, serve, and heal yourself.

And most importantly: Keep fighting, keep shining, keep seeking and focusing on the good. Go toward the light. And if all else fails, reach out to me. I understand. I believe you. I love you. You’re not alone in this.

--Mary

An Open Thank You Letter to the Stanford Rape Survivor on Behalf of All Survivors Without Justice

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As I write this I am still shaking. It's been a couple of days since I first read Brock Turner's victim's   letter to the court and her rapist.  It's been a couple of days since I found out that her rapist, who was literally caught in the act of raping the unconscious victim, chased, and apprehended by two heroes, was given six months in prison for his crime.

Like most victims of rape, we've been waiting for this verdict. We've been waiting for justice. Not just for Brock Turner's victim, but for all of us, who have gone without justice ourselves. We thought surely this was the case.

He. Was. Caught. Raping. Her. For. Christ's sake. DUH. I mean really. DUH.

And it wasn't enough. Nope. It wasn't good enough to be seen raping a girl by two witnesses. The rape kit's evidence--the dirt and his DNA in her body--was not enough.

Nope. Not enough.

I can't imagine what she's going through right now. I didn't have her courage 18 years ago. I didn't have the wherewithal or strength to stand up and face my rapist. I cowered in front of the D.A. who asked me, "Are you ready to put a man behind bars who has the rest of his life in front of him?" I was twenty-two. I didn't think I was going to have a rest of my life. I planned on leaving his office that day and killing myself. I felt disgusting. Sick. Worthless. Ashamed. I didn't know how to respond to him. I sat with my head down and shook my head and said, "No. I don't know. I don't think so." He wanted me to "think long and hard" about what my statements would do to this "young man's future."

He didn't ask me about my future.

He asked me what I was wearing. (For the record: jeans, hiking boot, a yellow daisy-printed shirt--with a collar). 

He asked me why I agreed to go to dinner with a man I barely knew.

"I thought he was cute. I thought he was nice...but he wasn't."

Then he asked why I was drinking. Then he asked me why didn't fight harder. Why there weren't more bruises? (For the record. I had a massive bruise on my back. I had internal injuries. Kidney damage. Septic shock.) He couldn't see any of that during my twenty-minute stay in his office. 

I went home and showered. I went back to classes. I graduated from school. I had a baby.

But, I never forgot. I never will.

His face comes to me in nightmares. I can't get him off of me. I cry out and try to scream and I don't think anyone can hear me. Just like the night he raped me. I scream and I scream. 

No one can help me.

My husband shakes me awake on the nights these dreams come. "You're home. You're safe. Go back to sleep."

I roll over, but I can't sleep. 

Sometimes when I am driving the song "Santoria" comes on I am transported once again to that dark room. I hear the song that my rapist was blasting so no one could hear my screams. "Daddy's got a new Forty-Five...and I won't think twice to stick that barrels straight down Sancho's throat." 

I shake my head. I turn off the radio. I try to regroup. I try to forget. But, I know I will never forget. I will wonder who he did it to again. I will wonder, forever wonder, why me? What did I do? What could I have done differently? But, the answer, I know is simply nothing. He was the one who had to change. He was the one who didn't have to rape me. 

I am sad for our world today. I am sad because I know what it costs to be a woman. I know what it is like not to be believed, to be discounted, to be objectified, and vilified.  I know that no matter how far we’ve come, we have so much farther to go. So much. As long as women are being blamed for being the victim, and punished for speaking out, there will never be justice.

I am worried too. I am worried for my daughter. For all the daughters, sisters, mothers, friends. Don’t for one second think: “Not mine. Not my daughter. Not my child.” Because, let me assure you, it can be. As long as there are rapists, your child can be raped.

You can’t prevent it. You can’t wear the right outfit. Drink the right amount of wine. Walk on the right side of town.

The only way to prevent a rape, is to stop rapists. And if they’re on the streets, if they’re given the tacit permission that It’s no big, deal. That it’s Ok. It’s going to keep happening.

While I am sad, worried, sick, and tired, I also have hope. There is a light—a beacon—to use the Stanford Rape Survivor's own eloquent words--that exists today for all of us victims. And I’d like to thank her—profoundly from the deepest part of my soul—for what she so beautifully put into words on behalf of all of us survivors—from the newborn to the aged—(Yes, rape can happen at any age, too—and you’re a survivor no matter what age).

Yes, the Stanford Rape Survivor is the one of the most courageous, brave, and amazing young women in our world today. She said to the judge, the broken judicial system, and her rapist, what I didn’t have the courage to say 18 years ago and I am immensely grateful. And more than anything I am grateful for this. So incredibly grateful for these beautiful words:  

 

And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you. I fought every day for you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. As the author Anne Lamott once wrote, “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you.

 

No, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You are my hero.

 

The True Cost of Being a Woman (Trigger Warning: Unpleasant Truths Discussed)

Photo by Mary Curran Hackett

Photo by Mary Curran Hackett

My definition of a feminist is a man or woman who says, ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.’ All of us, women and men, must do better.
— Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists

 

There's been a lot of chatter lately about the role of woman and the inequality they face in the workplace, in the political arena, and the world as a whole. Depending on your political proclivities or the news sites you frequent, the statistics vary.  When I have posted articles in the past highlighting the disparities between pay for men and women, I've been called out. I've had peers tell me that it is nothing more than "statistical gymnastics" and that inequality between men and women simply doesn't exist--no, not in our United States of America. Impossible.

Though countless reports show that indeed women pay more for basic hygienic items, hair cuts, dry cleaning, clothing, and even maintenance services--like oil changes, tune-ups, and tire rotations--and so much more, people still deny that men and women are treated unequally. And despite that worldwide studies show that women, more than men, lack access to education, healthcare, and basic human rights, people still want to argue with me and have even gone so far as to gaslight me, saying that the inequality I see is all "in my head.” (Questions to ask in order to doubt if it’s all in my head: What percentage of women have been U.S. Presidents? What percentage of the House and Senate to do women currently represent? What percentage of Fortune 500 companies are run by women? If the answer is not 50%, then I assure you, it is not in my head. We have work to do, people.)

So instead of providing scientific and statistical evidence, to which many people will still refuse to accept, I thought, I would share just a few of the costs I have had to pay as women in the twenty-first century America.  When I ran through these costs with my husband a few days ago, he asked jokingly, "Don't you think this is the cost of being Mary? Not just a woman?" I laughed, but then I said, "No. Absolutely not." If a white, middle-class women, with a good education, and a great family to support her, faces these injustices and is struggling, imagine what it's like for those who haven't had my advantages? And it's crazy to think that this "could only happen to me." If it's happened to me, I assure you, it's happened to someone else. So let’s break it down, shall we?

  1. The Cost of Healthcare: (Nothing like starting with an innocuous topic, right?) OK, buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. Since so many people want to discount how unaffordable it is to be a woman in seek of health and wellness, I thought I would share just a couple of stories of just how screwed (literally) women are by the healthcare system. My most profound memory of being screwed by the dear old healthcare system came a month after I was raped. I received a large medical bill from the ER, where I was treated for my injuries and where my rape kit was administered. After haggling with the hospital I was told I signed a paper that said I consented to treatment and therefore agreed to payment. In short: I had to pay or I would be sent to collection. So for the next several months, I dutifully wrote a check out to the ER for the “date of services rendered”—which happened to be the worst night of my life. The rapist did not have to pay for what he did, but, I did. Later, when I was pregnant and single, and receiving no child support, I had to scrape money together to pay for my office copays, my prenatal vitamins, and various uncovered prenatal tests. When my daughter was born, I paid for many expenses related to her birth. Because I was not insured at the time, and still receiving no child support, I had to go back to work right away. There was no maternity leave, no pay, and therefore no way to pay for my child. So off to work I went.
  2. The Cost of Daycare: Perhaps there is nothing more screwed up in America than its current childcare and education situation. I know I am going to catch flack for this, but it’s absolutely without a doubt true. Whether by choice or not to return to work after having a baby, there is no discounting the unbelievable price tag a woman must incur to do so. By the time my daughter was five years old, I had paid over $60,000 in daycare expenses. By the time her brother came along and needed to go to daycare that was another $60,000 for the next six years. All told, by the time my children were of school ages, I had spent nearly $120,000 in daycare. Then in subsequent years I paid on average $6000 a year for after-school care programs and summer camps—totaling $72,000 over the course of the next six years. Yes, that’s $200,000 by the time the children were 12 years old. (And that’s not including their extracurriculars, their clothes, food, housing, or school supplies). Yes, that price tag is just the cost of their care if their mother must (or chooses to) work. The alternatives are few, if none at all—especially for single mothers, who have no choice but to work. Let’s not forget, this disparity effects men too. The price women and families have to pay for women to have a career is at a breaking point. It’s simply not sustainable.
  3. The Cost of Working: OK, lots of women, Sheryl Sandberg, most notably, have spoken quite eloquently on this topic—namely how much less women are paid, how much is expected of them, and how their behavior is evaluated on a different set of criteria. I could write a book. (And just might). After 20 years of working alongside men, I still make not 30% less, not 50% less, but nearly 70% less than my male colleagues who are the same age, have the same level experience (in some cases less education), and who work less hours. (If you’d like to see my pay stubs, I’ll happily supply.) At 40 years old, after working two and sometimes three jobs, and after publishing two books with a major U.S. publisher, I never broke $50,000 a year. (I know, oversharing and impolite in certain circles). I don’t care. I have sat in the same office cubes with men, ran circles around them, producing work at a more efficient rate, receiving higher satisfaction ratings from customers, praise from colleagues and clients alike, and in some cases clandestinely doing the work for my male supervisors, who were incapable of doing the work themselves, meanwhile, grocery shopping for office supplies, stocking and cleaning fridges, taking out garbage, cleaning up after office parties, and running various errands for my supervisors—all before attending presidential level meetings, where my insights, ideas, and problem-solving were also required.  Phew. Additionally, in my over my 20 years of office work, I have witnessed men explode, swear, name call, and carry on (one epic tirade went on for over twenty minutes when a printer did not comply). I have been shouted at and demeaned. As a waitress, I was often groped by fellow workers and customers, and had to turn down physical advances on a nightly basis--from the age of 16! In the office, it didn't get much better. Though there was no groping, I’ve been asked if my bra and panties match the color my dress and what bra size I wore by a male coworker. Soon after I joined the corporate world, one coworker asked me to have sex in his car and locked the doors so I couldn't get out--until I threatened to scream--or call his wife. And, yet—and yet—if a women says damn, shit, fuck—it is unbecoming, an outburst—the standards by which she is judged completely and unequivocally different--in fact she may even be fired or dismissed. If a women speaks, gesticulates, “leans in”—she is either being “threatening” or a "seductress."  There is no in between. If a man does it, he is “commanding the room.” The standards are different, and the let me assure you, the costs are high. Too high. 
  4. The Cost of Stress: I have a pacemaker—one of the perks of having a heart condition. It’s come in handy over the years because, when I go in to appointments to get it checked, my doctor is able to see my heart rates in real time—and even episodes that are timed stamped. One day, my technician alerted me to something disturbing. He asked me: “Are you a doctor or a an EMT or something super stressful?” I said, “No, I work in an office.” He shook his head. “Are you serious?” I said, “Yes.” He pointed to a screen and asked me to look. He said, “See all of these arrhythmias (there were hundreds)—look at their time stamps.” I looked. Every single one of them happened between 9 and 5—Monday through Friday. “That’s bad. That’s really bad.”  Work was literally killing me. “You’re lucky you haven’t had a stroke.”  I shook my head and understood. I broke down and explained how impossible all of it was—-the demands at work, the money, and then running around for hours after work to get the children to and from their various extracurriculars, meetings, and events. And then there was all the cooking, the housekeeping, and the lack of sleep. He nodded. “Sounds like you need help.” Well, DUH! Who doesn’t need help? I have a husband. I have daycare. I have friends, and it’s still not enough. Then he added, “All I am saying is if you don’t change something, you’re body will change it for you.” And, with that I knew he was right. All the headaches, all the joint pain, weight gain, and sleepless nights—all of it—was because my body was telling me what I couldn’t accept: This is too much for one woman. Too damn much. The price was too high. My life or my job? The answer seemed pretty simple. Only it wasn’t. Without the job, how would I feed my family? How would we survive? Most of us don't have the luxury of a choice.

Yes, the cost of being a woman is simply too high. And I don’t know what the answer is. But, I know it starts with me. It starts with me speaking the truth. It starts with me saying enough is enough. It starts with me saying, it’s time we all start doing something about it and talking more candidly about it. It’s time we start holding our institutions, government officials, and policymakers accountable. It’s time we, as women, get behind each other and start sticking up for each other—not just for our own sake, but for the sake of our daughters and our sons—for the world that we will be leaving them someday. 

I also know now this is not the cost of being Mary. I know it’s the cost of being a woman. And, as a woman, I am here to say to all other woman out there: I’m here. I care. I understand. And together we can make this world better. Let’s do this. Let’s command the damn room. 

 

Fill 'er Up: How Choosing the Good Leaves No Space for the Bad

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Where you invest your love, you invest your life.
— Mumford and Sons

 

We are getting near the half-way point of year. I know that's a hard pill to swallow. It's going to be June soon. Wasn't it just Christmas? How in the world is it possible that my kids only have 15 days of school left before summer break? If you're like me, this time of year usually incapacitates me. (I may or may not have tried to start my car with a remote control during one of these weeks). There are endless field trips, permission slips to sign, classes and camps to sign up for, tests to take, year end projects to finish, not to mention recitals, performances, award banquets to attend, and work schedules to juggle.

But, not this year.

This year is different. Everything is different. And I have to say it's because of one simple mantra that I've been repeating over and over all year long: Fill up on the good, Mary.

Back in January, my family chose "Choose the Good" as our family mission statement for 2016. We agreed we would all try to make good choices. OK, I realize that's a little vague. So we did qualify what "good" meant. If ever there was a decision to be made, we vowed, we would stop, think, breathe, and choose the best option. (And by best option, we mean the healthiest option.) We are trying to choose the options that would most likely give us joy, peace, happiness, health, and fulfill our daily lives. Reading books, spending time together, forgiving each other, hiking, walking, eating good foods, and trying our best to improve ourselves and our world--all constitute the "good." If we are hurting someone, ourselves included, it's not a good choice. Pretty simple.

What I discovered in the past six months is something extraordinary: By "filling up on the good" it became nearly impossible to choose the bad. Miraculous things happen when you "choose the good"--there's literally no room for bad.

I started waking early to read, as I used to do for years. Turns out when you start your day filled with the things you love, value, and prioritize, there is no chance they'll get lost in the daily shuffle. By 6:30 a.m., I've read a classic and a contemporary piece, written a bit, caught up with friends on social media, meditated, and stretched. Filled up with amazing and inspiring literature, I have no desire to turn on crap-news television, or even listen to mind-numbing talk radio. Filled up with delicious hand-pressed coffee and whole fruit, I don't crave sugary sweets, junk food, or a Starbucks hit. Filled up with kindness and positive affirmations from posting inspiring quotes on social media, I don't have space for negativity, toxicity, or even complacency. I feel ready to take on the day. No space for whining, complaining, or feeling down.

I'm positively charged; I'm full.

During the day, I've been filling up on amazing books, the occasional phone call/FaceTime sessions with long-distance friends, coffee and lunches with nearby friends, long walks, book signings, delicious, whole and clean meals, movies, game nights with my kids, and lots and lots of rest and naps on Saturdays and Sundays. It's amazing when you fill up on the good--rest, kindness, and freedom to enjoy the things you truly love and value--how much more grounded, centered, calm, and fulfilled you will feel. I am not running around like a crazy person, trying to cram in activities, projects, and whatever else that used to suck up my time.

I'm being intentional; I'm full.

By filling up on whole and real food (as little processed stuff as possible), I don't crave a glass of wine at the end of a long day of work. I don't crave a giant bag of nacho chips and faux cheese after a full day of denying myself "real food," because I am "trying to lose weight." Instead, I make sure to be full. I've been choosing to nutritious foods that sate me. And I've lost weight. LOST IT, PEOPLE!  If there is a delicious piece of cake offered, I eat it. If there is a steak on my plate, I eat it. If there is a beautiful, artisanal sandwich created for me, I eat it. I enjoy it. Then I stop when I am full of all that is good.

I'm satisfied; I'm full.

I fill my head throughout the day with beautiful art, lovely verse, and great music. I don't have time to surf the web, to mindlessly flip through catalogs, watch meaningless, time-sucking reality television. And I don't want to.

I'm inspired; I'm full.

I go to bed when I am tired. I don't force myself up with endless cups of coffee "to get one more thing done." I turn off my phone at 9. I sit and talk to my husband and fill my heart up with good things--humor, insights, and shared thoughts. I go to bed tired and ready to rest. I fill up on sleep--good solid, dream-filled sleep. So in the morning, I don't need to fill my body up with bad stuff--like Coke or sugar or any other of the toxic stuff we put in our bodies to "wake them up."

I'm rested; I'm full.

I have been filling up on writing too. I am doing it every day, all day in fact, while my kids are at school. By filling my day up with what I love to do, everything else--stress, anxiety, and feelings of worthlessness and ineptitude--have ceased. It's easy to feel like crap when you're pulled in ninety different directions, answering emails, attending meetings, getting only a quarter way through a project before being pulled to another. It's impossible to feel full, if one never feels like they're "finished." Each day, I have a little goal for writing. I achieve that goal, and I am full.

I'm accomplished; I'm full.

By filling my day up with things I love to do, and designing every aspect of my day, with intention and purpose, aimed solely at "choosing the good"--I have reclaimed and restored my life.

Is there anxiety? Is there worry? Is there fear? Yes. Every parent worries about their kids. Every human worries about making ends meet and providing for oneself and one's family, but there is less space in my brain for all that now. I can't worry about money, the future, and things I can't control, because I don't have the time. I've filled my days to the brim, and it's made all the difference.

You can be full too!

It's amazing how tiny choices can add up to such huge life-changing movements. If you're interested in doing it as well, I'd say start small. Try these 3 steps:

1) Start from a place of abundance, not deprivation.  Instead of saying, "no more x, y, z" (Coke, candy, wine, sugar, etc.), ask yourself instead: "What do I love?" Answer that question and then fill yourself up with it, and see where it gets you. Listen to your body and watch the time. If you are doing something and an hour goes by and it felt like a minute,  guess what? You love it. You've reached a state of flow. So go with it. Keep filling yourself up with that.

2) Make a list of all that you do in a day. If there isn't one thing on your list that you love to do then you have some rearranging to do. When I first made my list, I was astonished how little I slept, how little I read, how little I wrote, how much television I watched, how much time I spent driving and working, and how burnt out and stressed out I was. Awareness is half the battle, friends.

3) Read. Read. Read. Carve out 20 minutes to start. I set a timer for me and my son, just before my husband comes home from work. We sit quietly and read together for 20 minutes. I've read nearly 30 books this year so far by reading in 20 minute chunks here and there throughout the day. It's amazing how quickly it can add up. If you want to kick start your "good life" today, then I suggest reading these books:

Design the Life You Love: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Meaningful Future by Ayse Birsel (Don't know what you love? Don't know where to begin? Birsel's book will lead the way. One of my favorites so far this year.)

Better than Before: What I Learned about Making and Breaking Habits--To Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life by Gretchen Rubin (Can't say enough about this gem of a book. Rubin will help you figure out the best way to structure your day to rid yourself of unhealthy habits and replace them with positive, life-fulfilling ones. I can honestly say, her book changed my life. Go read it, now.)

Day Designer: The Strategic Planner & Daily Agenda for Living a Well-Designed Life by Whitney English (Stop making long lists and losing them. With this carefully designed planner, you can carefully plan out chunks of your day, so that you actually schedule the things that bring you the most happiness and fulfillment.)

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (Already bristling a little? Feeling a little resistant? Think I've got it made? More time than you? More money and resources? I assure you. Nope. I've got the same 24. I've got bills. I've got kids. I've got responsibilities. This book is a swift kick in the ass for every whiner out there who says:I don't have the time. I don't have the money. I don't have a good family. I don't have a husband. I don't have a wife. I don't. I can't. I won't. Pressfield's got no time for that b.s. He's used those excuses himself. If you're serious about changing your life, and serious about living your life with purpose and dignity, get his book and read it ASAP. You won't regret it.)

Now go fill 'er up!

 

 

 

A Bad Day at the Office

For nearly twenty-four years I've worked in offices of some kind or another. As a teenager, I worked in various doctors' offices. As a college student, I was an assistant in my school's law department. During grad school, I was a research assistant to several professors. After grad school, I settled into corporate life as I worked my way through three different organizations over the course of seventeen years.

Each place had different height cubicle walls, different ergonomic swivel chairs, different acronyms for team meetings, but by and large, all came with same basic nonsense. Yes, each came with a their own cocktail mixture of office politics, territory wars, egos, incompetent leaders, competent employees, pointless meetings, stacks of paperwork, bottomless inboxes, and constant change. The one thing you could get used to in all work places was that nothing stayed the same.

Just get used to a software? Guess what, we're upgrading this year! Like your new boss? She's so good, she's being promoted!  Like your office? Super. But, we're gonna need that one for someone else. Yeah, about that job of yours...it no longer exists. Ba-bye. 

Change is something we can all count on in. Being able to roll with it, makes for a good employee. Most of us get that. We know if we smile enough, nod politely, do a great job, and feign excitement every now and then, we're sure to get that gold star. Maybe a raise. (Who we kidding?) Okay, maybe we won't get fired or asked to "step down." 

But, sometimes, yes sometimes, smiling, nodding, doing a good job, and feigning excitement become impossible. Sometimes it's all too much. Sometimes, people can be real jerks. They're human after all. And humans can lie. Humans can steal. Humans can deliberately harm other human beings, and it's time to say: Enough is enough. It's time to call in the top brass and get some help. 

But what if they fail you too? What if they too know that the rules to stay ahead of the game are to smile, nod, feign excitement, and pretend everything is OK?  Maintain the status quo at all possible costs, please. What if their job is on the line? Their reputation? Why would they put their neck out to help you? 

It takes courage. It takes integrity. It takes a person who knows the right thing to do. It takes a supreme sense of justice, and a willingness to stand up and say: The buck stops with me. It takes a leader.

It takes someone like my dad.

Throughout those twenty-four years of work in an office, another thing besides change stayed the same: It was a picture I hung up next to me in every office that I've worked. It's the picture I have posted here of my dad, who was then a father of six (he eventually had eight). I am the one looking at him in awe.

And I still look at him in awe every day. 

The reason I kept that picture by my side is this: Shortly after this picture was taken, two of his best friends died in a fire. That is what defined (for me) what a bad day at work was and always would be. It gave me perspective. It served as a reminder--that whatever I am experiencing at work or in life--it will never ever be as difficult or as intense as my father experienced it.

My dad had monumental bills to pay supporting eight kids--most of whom went not just to college but graduate schools and medical school as well. On top of that, he had days where he was unable to save a toddler from a swimming pool, or several children from a burning house, or a teenager from an engulfed car fire. He had days when he had to call home and tell my mom, my brothers, or my sisters that one of the people he saw die or seriously injured while he was on duty, was one of their friends. 

Nevertheless, my dad went to work every day with a smile. He loved what he did. He always said, "I never went to work a day in my life, when I was a firefighter. It's not work when you love it." 

My dad worked extra shifts. He worked long nights. He fought hard for his union and his men. He was no wilting flower. He earned his nicknames "The Pitbull" and the "Toxic Avenger" honestly. You didn't want to be on the wrong side of the argument that Phil Curran was fighting. He knew what was right, what was just, and he sure as hell wasn't going to back down. (Though as a teenager, I sure as hell gave it a try!)

Every time I thought I was having a bad day at work, I looked at my dad's picture. I looked at him balancing a baby on his lap, smiling, and not knowing that when he walked out of the door that day if it wouldn't be his last time. I thought of the lives he saved and touched. I thought about the battles he was willing to fight to make sure his men had access to health care and pensions. I thought of his inexhaustible sense of duty, his commitment to his family, his belief that work was one of the noblest ways to serve his Creator. And those thoughts centered me. They made me realize there are really no bad days at the office. Though when I saw injustices and things worth fighting for, that picture gave me courage. Granted I didn't need the kind of courage it requires to walk into burning buildings, but we all know that just living life requires courage all the same. 

When I left my office job for the last time on Monday, the last thing I took was the picture of my dad that I had taped to my shelf. I looked at him and smiled. He got me through another day at the office. I thanked him for it. I thanked him for his smile. His compassion. His courage. I thanked him for the work ethic he instilled in me and in everyone of my siblings. I thanked him for giving me the ability to roll with the punches. To hold my head up high. I thanked him for showing me that when you do what you love, it's never work. It's a gift. It's an honor. It's just a another day at the office. Just a day. And the beauty of that is tomorrow is another one too. And if you're one of the lucky ones you get to wake up, and live it. 

So I am happy to announce today, I am moving my Dad's picture to my own office. From now on, I too will never be going to work--because I'll be doing what I love--day and night: Writing and reading, reading and writing.

Thanks, Dad, for your courage, your bravery, your strength, your leadership, your willingness to fight the good fight,  your hard work, but most of all, thank you for showing me how to live a life I can be proud of and spend every day doing what I love. Slainte.

My home office. 

My home office. 

 

 

 

The Power of Story: Telling the Truth, Channeling Tolstoy, and Surviving Rape

 

This past week I had the honor of talking and emceeing at TEDxXavierUniversity. But before last Thursday night's main event, for the past few weeks or so, I've have had the opportunity to work with the students at Xavier University to help the other six speakers prepare for their own talks and develop their own stories. I was asked to listen, respond, and ultimately weave together a common thread between the six talks, which all centered around the theme of decoding deception, or to look at things a bit more positively, the search for truth.

This post is, though by not any means complete, an account of my brief introduction and discussion of the truth before the talk. (Full disclosure: I usually black out during public speaking. And by black out, I mean, my mouth moves, words come out, but I have no idea what I am saying or doing. And at TEDx I was especially nervous to speak this time because it's 1) Not every day that your every word is recorded and 2) I don't usually talk about my experience as a rape survivor at work.

Now I am not secretive about it. In fact, for the past several years I have spoken about it to groups of women on various occasions. I mostly talk about its impact on my health, mental health, and life. However, getting up in front of colleagues, students, and yes, even one of my bosses, and telling them about the time I was raped, was not easy, but necessary. Absolutely necessary, because as I listened to the six speakers practice and encouraged each one of them to "tell a story," a real and truthful story, I realized I needed to as well. In short, I needed to, because story and my quest for the truth saved my life. And I believe story has the power to change other lives as well--maybe even save them.

Without further intro, I'll just share what I hoped to say at TEDxXavierUniversity, but probably didn't, because I have no idea what actually came out of this mouth (wouldn't be the first time):

I suppose the students asked me to speak because of what I do for a living. As a writer, my essential quest is the search for truth. The vehicle I use to get there is story.

But, the truth, as we all know, is a complex thing. We don't all get there in the same way. In fact, some of us many never arrive in the same place at all. In War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy said this about truth: 

“No truth presents itself to two people in the same way.”

I want you to chew on this for a minute with me:  

No truth presents itself to two people in the same way.

No truth presents itself to two people in the same way.

Tolstoy's not saying there is no truth, he's saying it's difficult for two people, no matter how aligned, similar, or for that fact, living in the same house, working in the same office, going to the same church, or driving on the same road, to experience anything in the same way. We all have our own biases, our own experiences, our blind spots, our own versions of the story.  It's the fundamental crux of humanity: Not one of us sees things exactly the same way. Our own point of view, our own blinders, our own perceptions, our own lack of understanding, our own motives, and even, our own imperfect memories, muck everything up.

So, then, can truth ever be attained?

I believe as a writer, it is precisely through storytelling, we find the essential truths. It's through storytelling, we discover our own humanity. We learn to see from another's point of view. I even believe in the power of the untrue stories we tell ourselves as much as I am of the true ones. Because I believe the stories we tell ourselves have power and truth in them--even if they're lies at first.

I should know. I've used story to save my life on more than one occasion. 

When I was twenty-two, like most young people, I thought the whole world mine for the taking. I got in my turquoise boat of Mercury Sable and headed west to get my fully funded Masters Degree from the University of Nebraska. My music was cranking the cassette tape of the Dixie Chicks. Natalie Maines and I were singing "Wide Open Spaces" at the top of our lungs together as I drove down 1-80 at a cool 85 miles per hour.

That was until, of course,  my car broke down in a remote town in Illinois--as a car is apt to do hauling a thousand pounds of books. Lucky for me, a man offered to help arrange to get my car fixed and rent me a car so I could get to my first day of class. He seemed kind and was definitely good looking. A Midwestern, blonde, blue-eyed charmer, he said smooth lines, like Baby, you can trust me.

The day I returned the rental car to his office and picked up my now fixed car, he took me out for a bite to eat. One beer later, I had no idea what I was saying, where I was. And before I knew it or fully understood what was happening, I was in a house, far away from home, in the middle of nowhere, in a town that I didn’t the name of, in a place I had never been. It was dark and I couldn’t see—save for a few cracks of light that came through the blinds. In and out of consciousness, I realized at some point, perhaps when he was telling me what a whore I was, that I deserved it, that I wanted it, and all sorts of other vile things, that he was raping me.

I didn’t know it then, but story would save my life that day. I went inside myself. I imagined I was not there. I told myself a series of stories--lies--if you will. 

And eventually, I told myself I was strong, even though I didn’t feel it.

I told myself he would not break me, even though it felt like I was already broken.

I told myself he would not win, even though I felt like a loser.

The more I told myself these things, the more resolute, the more awake, and more determined I was to escape, to run, to get far away, and to get help.

And all the while I told myself: You will not destroy me. You will not.

That story got me through that day. And the story I told myself over and over again, day after day night after night, year after year ultimately shaped who I am.

Because the moment you tell yourself that you alone are responsible for your own story, your own truth, not anyone else, nothing can touch you. No pain. No heartache. No rapist. No oppressor. No sexist comment. No malicious or selfish behavior.

No lie. No deception.

All of us--right now--are telling ourselves a story of our own. We tell others stories about ourselves, and sometimes we tell them so often that we believe them.

Stories are powerful. Stories tell the truth of our lives, because what we tell ourselves and others manifests itself.

Story has the power to change and transform.

So what is the story you're telling yourself? What do you believe to be true? What if you could change your story?  

I can't wait to share with you the stories of these amazing 6 speakers. Each one has their own version of what they know to be true. 

(As soon as their videos goes live, I will post here.) 

The amazing Xavier University TEdx team and all the 6 speakers who shared their stories and "ideas worth spreading" with us.

The amazing Xavier University TEdx team and all the 6 speakers who shared their stories and "ideas worth spreading" with us.

 

 

 

3 Steps to Having Everything: Eat S@#t. Fall in Love. Do the Work.

Besides being a writer, a blogger, and mom, I have a day job too. It just so happens that I work in higher education at a Jesuit University. Though I work mainly in an administrative role at a Center for Innovation, I get to teach storytelling and Design Thinking. (BTW, Design Thinking is simply another way of saying, I teach an approach to problem solving, critical thinking, and empathizing with others). Design Thinking helps creatives be creative, and it helps people who don't think they're creative access their demiurgic selves through a deliberate process. It helps one empathize, ideate, create, communicate, and finally, test out new ideas and processes. Simply put, I get to spend my days helping others "figure stuff out." I work with students, faculty, staff, corporate clients, startups, and all sorts of neat people who are bursting with passion and enthusiasm, but happen to be wrestling with defining, containing, or expressing their big ideas. 

It's, in a word, awesome. At least it's awesome, when I get to do what it is I love to do. 

Granted we all have to eat the proverbial "shit sandwich" that Buddhists (and now Elizabeth Gilbert) so wisely speak of.  Yes, we all know the shit-sandwich well. These are the tasks that one must bear down, bite through, and get over with before getting to the good stuff. No birth comes without the sweaty, horrendous, bloody final push.  No adorable baby comes without dirty diapers. No work of art comes without cleaning brushes. No decision gets made without the dreaded committee meeting.  No marathons get run without training on hills. You get the picture.

We all have to do things we don't like.  Me? What are the shit sandwiches I have to chew on? The usual. (I'm pretty sure no one likes to do them.) Emailing. Processing paperwork and invoices. Navigating office politics. Meetings. (And let's not forget the added double-decker shit sandwich that I as a women get to eat.) Yes, like most women, on daily basis we all must contend with (inside and outside of our institutions) big egos, misogyny, the random sexist comment, and still for many of us, unequal pay, and higher work expectations. And like most women, I have to bear down and bite through all the b.s. every day and serve it up with a smile. YUM! More please!  Lest I be perceived as ungrateful, angry, "difficult," or the dreaded "B" word. 

So what makes eating the shit sandwich possible? Bearable? 

The answer is simple: I am in love.

What? How did we go from eating shit to falling love? 

Let me explain. One of the perks of working at a Jesuit college is everyone is drunk on what I lovingly refer to as Je-ju (Jesuit Juice.) Students, faculty, and staff are well-versed in all sorts of mindful and meaningful quotes and practices that promote the examined life. One of my favorite quotes was just read aloud during a student award ceremony. The quote by Father Pedro Arrupe says, quite beautifully, 

What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.
- Pedro Arrupe, S.J.

The answer is I am in love with learning. I am in love with curiosity. I am in love with art. I am in love with creativity. I am in love with students, their passion, their curiosity, their eagerness to learn too. I am in love with the learners mindset. I am in love with books. I am in love with writing. I am in love with others' minds, which I learn so much from. I am in love with photography. I am in love with life. I race out of bed each morning to read my favorite books, write my 3-5 pages, connect with the friends who I love on social media. I spend my evenings in love with my kids, with my husband, and my home. I am amazed daily by the incredible students I meet (like my intern Ese, who just won the Student Employee of the Year), the trees outside that are blooming, the poetry I read each day, the food I get to eat and the coffee I drink. I spend each night before I close my eyes counting my blessings--thinking of all the people, place, books, ideas and moments I was able to experience during the day. 

By knowing what I love, and spending time with the things love, I have, as Arrupe so brilliantly pointed out, decided everything. I have decided what is important, what matters, and what I will fill up the days of my life with, what I won't, and what I will put up with (the shit sandwiches, if you will). I am lucky that I have more love than shit in my life. But, I'd venture to say it is a bit more than luck. It takes work--hard work--to fill yourself up with good things and things you're in love with. It means making some hard decisions. It means putting down the phone at 9 p.m. and going to bed. It means getting up early. It means attending the meetings and completing the paperwork. It means showing up, every day. It means being a professional. 

I often wonder, when I hear people complain about their lives, why don't they just don't fall in love. Why don't they do what they love? "I don't have the time," they say. "I can't," they say. And I understand. I was like them once. I too was once afraid to admit what I loved. It's a scary thing. It takes courage to go after the life you love. It takes strength and fortitude to bite down on the shit sandwich, in order to get to the good parts. It takes dedication. It takes work. 

But, it's worth it. 

Because, it's your life, we're are talking about. YOUR LIFE. Let me repeat: YOUR LIFE. If your life is is more shit than love, then what are you doing with your day? How can you change it? Or better yet, ask yourself before you do anything: Do I love this? Or, do I love (x,y,  or z enough) to eat this shit sandwich and do the necessary work?

If the answer is no, then get out there and find out what you love: It will decide everything.

Everything.

 

5 Things I Do Before I Go to My Day Job

Like most women I don't get a lot of time to myself. As soon as my kids are up, my life becomes about them--making sure they're fed, dressed and ready to go; signing permission slips that "slipped past" me the night before in the midst of the afternoon and evening minivan-patrol (which entails four hours every weeknight driving carpools of kids to various theater, choir, musical instrument practice), and listening to them tell me about their upcoming days. (Granted, there's that whole getting-myself-ready-to-put-a-full-day-in-the-office-by-8:00 a.m. I have to do as well, but at this stage in the game, I can do all that in 10 minutes flat.  Brush hair, brush teeth, apply mascara and lipstick, throw on dress, and I am out the door. OK, it may take twenty minutes if I am going for a good-hair day and decide to pull out the straightener.) 

So I know if I want to get the "Big Rocks" in, as they say, I have put them in jar first thing in the morning. So each night, before I got to bed, which admittedly is early--usually around 9:30 or 10 p.m.--I always make a list of things I absolutely need to get done by 7 a.m. so that no matter what happens during the following day I have already done what it is that I love to do, want to do, and genuinely fills me up as a human being. Moreover, if I do it before 7 a.m., nothing--no hijacked day, no long meeting, no traffic jam--will be an excuse for why I didn't get these things done.

So to answer the question I am most asked: How do you get all that reading and writing done? I have a simple answer: I wake up in the middle of the night to do it. Actually, it's more like 4:30 a.m., sometimes 4:45 a.m. I have an alarm, but I often don't need to set it. My body is well trained and wakes up a few minutes before. 

So here are the 5 Things I Do Before I Go to My Day Job:

1. Exercise.

4:30 a.m. The first thing I do, like a good Irish girl, is to put the kettle on. Granted it's to boil water for fresh pressed coffee, not tea, but I used the kettle for a very good reason. While the water is boiling, I have fifteen minutes to do some mat work. I do about 100 Pilates sit-ups, leg lifts, push-ups, and planks, and then stretch. By the time the kettle whistles, I am done, and I feel totally awake and energized. (Note: That's not all the exercise I do. I will walk throughout the day, and try to reach 10,000 steps as well. Sometimes that means a walk before or after dinner too.)

2. Read a classic.

4:45 a.m. I pour myself a cup of fresh-pressed coffee, peel a grapefruit, and bring it over to the kitchen table where the book I am reading is already opened to the page that I left off on the day before. Right now I am completely immersed in War and Peace.  It may be two-hundred years old, but it's still spot-on about the human condition. I actually pop up out of bed each morning excited to find out what is in store for all my favorite Russian aristocrats. (Listen to a recent podcast discussion of the book, which I participated in, here.)

3. Read a contemporary book.

5:30 a.m. I move my bookmark to the page I left off on War and Peace, and move on to a contemporary book. I read no less than three contemporary books at any given time. (This week I am reading Patti Smith's M Train, Charlie Duhigg's The Power of Habit, and Matt Haig's Reason to Stay Alive. I alternate each book each day, and then pick one to carry one in my purse if I need a cerebral "hit" while waiting in carpool, standing in line somewhere, or waiting for dinner to cook.)

4. Write.

5:50 a.m. It's time to start writing. I can write 3-5 pages in about a half hour, and so that's what I try to do each day. I sit at my computer and write without any goal or agenda until 6:00 a.m. The first ten minutes is not always great. In fact, sometimes I know I am just "stretching" and have to delete almost everything I wrote, but sometimes I don't. I usually get a good flow going and I try to wrap up at 6:30 a.m., so I have something left in the tank for the next day. (A helpful hip from Papa himself.)

5. Get social.

6:30 a.m.  After I quickly drive my daughter to the Metro bus stop (it takes 2 minutes), I come back and I post a photograph or a quote from the books I am reading to Instagram and hashtag the hell out of them. I do this for two reasons: 1) Hashtags help me quickly explain to my audience why I chose the said quote or picture and 2) It helps my potential audience find me. (So far, it's been working). I spend about 15 minutes going through my social media pages and posts, respond, engage, and repost. (Like it or not, this the work of the modern-day writer...I just happen to love it). I try to be off social media and my phone by the time my son wakes up at 7:00 a.m. Because once he's up, I'm all his and we're in "get ready to get the heck out of the house by 7:30 mode."

Now, I know waking early is not for everyone. There are plenty of night owls out there that find their optimum time is after the kids go to bed (which works too, I know). But, for me,  I am always far too drained by the end of the work day to do anything more than nod occasionally in acknowledgment from across the dinner table as my kids speak. I know there are so many of us out there in the same boat.  So many of us spend our days working hard for everyone else. And it's hard to find a minute for ourselves. But, we must. YOU HEAR ME: WE MUST. If we don't do it now, then when? There is never going to be a perfect time to read, to write, to exercise, or do any of the things that matter to you and that fill you up as a human being. There will always be something. So if there is something you want to do, and feel like you have "no time" to do it, my humble suggestion is this:  

Find the time.

Make the time.

Today.

Then guard it with your life.

Become a fierce defender of your precious time. It is all that you have. There is no shame in doing what you love. There is no shame in doing the work that fills up your tank. Honor it. Love it. And for god-sake just do it. 

 

 

 

40 Things I Want for My 40th Birthday

40 Things I Want for My 40th Birthday

When signing off from Facetime with me on Saturday, my sister laughed through a half-hearted apology. "Sorry I won't be able to talk to you on your 40th birthday! But, I'll be sure to think of you from the beach," she said sarcastically. I laughed too, imagining her toasting me on Instagram with a giant margarita in her hand.

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I've almost made it: We're at the 26th day mark. So that means I have gone twenty-six consecutive days without a glass of wine. I know it's chump change to some of you out there who have been at this since January. Anyone can do it. Only, I really didn't think I could. Drinking wine has become so much a part of my nightly ritual for so long, I can't remember an adult meal that I haven't had a glass in hand. Crazy, right?

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I've been reading a bunch of life-changing books lately. (Why does that sound so familiar? Maybe because my life seems to change every time I read? Or maybe because just last week I wrote a blog about the books I was reading that were currently blowing my mind.)

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So I am trying to make good choices. In my last blog, I talked about my family's mission to "choose the good" in 2016. I know, that seems like kind of an obvious thing to choose, but really, there's more to it.

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When All Hope Is Lost: Go to the Light

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Last night I couldn't sleep. Something pretty awful happened. Something I can't even explain or talk about in a blog yet. (I am not being coy. I am just protecting myself.) Needless to say, I was feeling pretty low. As low and dark as a human being can feel. I think the words despair came out of my mouth. I think I heard the words: hopeless, lost, alone, followed by no one can help me. There isn't one person out there in the world who can help me.

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