Grace for a Tuesday morning

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My “grace” page marker for my planner.

If only I could get consistent with publishing, then I’d grow my platform.
If only I could be more patient with my toddler, then I’d be a better parent.
If only I could get my work inbox in order, then I’d be ahead at the office.

If only, if only, if only . . . Daily I find myself battling this notion I’m running behind—on deadlines, at home, in my career. On the one hand, that may be true. I scrolled my phone when I woke up instead of diving into my current writing project. I rushed my toddler this morning, likely causing his major meltdown. I showed up at the office after 9 a.m. to a disorganized inbox.

I’d like to think I’ve healed from my perfectionistic tendencies, but I guess coping with perfectionism is more like battling addiction. You can never really be over it. I have this deep drive to be “perfect,” but I’m not even sure why it exists.

A couple weeks ago I bought this “grace” page marker for my planner. I thought it would be a good reminder for me—queen of to-do lists, good intentions and hidden little messes—that God’s grace surrounds and permeates my life, even when I can’t see it.

Here’s the gospel truth: The idealized me, the version I’m striving so hard to be, isn’t the me God sees and loves. God loves me in my self-absorbed, hustling, sinful mess. God loves me in my goodness too.

Thinking back, my morning was blessed—I had a productive writing session, I savored extra dog and toddler snuggles and relished returning to worthwhile work after a long weekend.

If only I could see all this outright, but so often lingering #perfectionism blurs my judgment. Luckily, there’s grace for that. God’s unconditional love disrupts my paradigm and grounds me in my inherent worthiness. I need that reminder daily. I shared this today in case you need it too.

Gets better with age

In my early twenties, I worked for a large, progressive Presbyterian church on Chicago’s Gold Coast. I’d graduated in 2008 with dreams of working for a magazine or newspaper, but this was the year of the financial crisis and although unpaid internships beckoned, I could not afford to take them. I needed a paying job. That’s how I ended up at the church.

Unsurprisingly, working for the Lord wasn’t lucrative (still isn’t) but what my church communications job lacked in $$$ it made up for in other benefits—a chic location, colleagues and congregants with plenty of character and a relaxed workplace in which I could cut my teeth. Somewhere around my third week on the job, I stared out the antique window of the old parsonage-turned-office, at the bustling city street below and wondered: Is this it? Is this my life now?

I was privileged to have a secure, stable job but I couldn’t shake the feeling as though I’d abandoned a dream. Should I have moved to New York and maxed out my credit card on a fancy, insanely expensive publishing boot camp for recent grads? Should I have gone after that unpaid cub reporter internship in Louisiana? Or that unpaid magazine internship in Indianapolis?

Instead I was in a church, copyediting bulletins. And while I was grateful for the work, honestly, the thought of it didn’t exhilarate me. On the other hand, I had a two-bedroom apartment with my college girlfriend, health insurance and funds in my bank account. I was lucky. Though I pined for the freedom and flexibility of college life, I slowly assimilated to my 9 to 5 — meeting deadlines, taking lunch breaks to explore the city or chat with new friends, and navigating workplace politics and conflicts.

My first real job out of college exposed my inner demons, in particular, my penchant for perfectionism and people-pleasing. I struggled with confidence in my body, my work, my voice. I struggled with contentment in my relationship (long distance with no end in sight, everyone else seemed to be engaged) and my career path (describing my job often resulted in the response: So, you’re a church secretary?). In a way, I lived small. I read others’ blogs with delight and envy. I didn’t think I had the talent to write my own. I half-heartedly applied to grad school because it seemed like a good idea at the time (???). (It was not a good idea; I am grateful I did not get in.)

For five years I worked for this church, watching colleagues and friends come and go on to more exciting adventures. I replaced my old dream with a new one—advancing my career. I took on new projects, eventually landing a promotion. With new responsibilities and pressure, I agonized over my work, sometimes overextending myself. I secretly agonized over my slowing metabolism and weight gain, overanalyzing everything I ate and feeling irrationally guilty when I missed workouts. My third boss there, an amazing mentor and wise sage, once told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to see a therapist. (She was right.) She also gave me some advice about aging I’ll never forget.

“Your twenties are hard,” she told me. “But your thirties? That’s when it starts getting better. You’ll feel so much more confident in your own skin. And wait until you get to your forties–you’ll love yourself in your forties.”

Today I turn 33.

So much has changed for me since I was naive, young lass in the city. I’m married to my college sweetheart, we have a car, a dog, a mortgage and toddler (#adulting). I managed to land a job at a magazine I love and still pinch myself everyday because jobs like this are rare. And while I’m proud of my beautiful family and the trajectory of my career, what brings me the most happiness can’t be layered in a resume or posted on Instagram.

Here it is: I’m much more comfortable in my own skin now than I was at 23.

Aging well isn’t about looks–it’s about what’s on going on inside us. The inner work I finally did with a therapist acquainted me with my flaws, bad habits, negative self-talk and uncomfortable emotions. Because of her, I’ve recovered from crippling perfectionism and people-pleasing. I make mistakes all the time. I disappoint people regularly. I still feel bad about both. But it doesn’t derail me the way it once did.

After leaving my first job, I discovered yoga. Nearly two years ago, after my son was born, I ditched dieting for good and began practicing yoga regularly, which transformed my mind and body.

Today I’m so much more self-aware, confident, wise, grateful and compassionate because I’m older. I’m living bigger than before. When I get it wrong, I’m grounded by grace.

My boss was right. Like a fine wine, we get better with age.

Spring cleaning

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Know what I realized lately? So much of the creative process (and life) is about getting out of your head and following your heart.

Noticing your inner critic—who says you can’t make anything original/you’re not talented/you don’t have a story to tell/you can’t finish that project/etc.—and flipping her script. Talking back, then moving ahead.

Wanna try it?

Repeat after me: I am original, creative and talented. I have a story to tell. I have something to say.

Be your own cheerleader. It’s that simple.

It’s time for some spring cleaning: Let go of the clutter and negative noise crowding up your head space. Replace it with something powerful and beautiful instead.

The world has enough angry voices shouting for our attention. How can you give yourself a little more love today?

Why I don’t set New Year’s resolutions

. . . and what I’m doing instead in 2017.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want the next year–2017–to look like for me. Have you been too? Maybe you’ve made a resolution to lose weight or to save or make more money or to get involved in local politics or to start making it to work on time. How many times have you said this to yourself, “This year will be the year I finally … (fill in the blank with your just-out-of-reach goal here)”?

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For most of my adult life, I was the queen of resolutions. In late December, as New Year’s Eve approached, I’d write in my journal all the hopes and dreams I had for the year ahead, all the ways I’d improve myself–bad habits I’d break (stop procrastinating), good habits I’d pick up (flossing), goals I’d accomplish (run a half marathon). I’d copy my list of resolutions neatly in the back of my planner, excited and eager and hopeful for a fresh year, a blank slate, a new story to write.

As each new year went on, though, inevitably I couldn’t live up to all dreams I had for myself. When I’d turn to the back of my planner and check in on my progress I’d feel good about what I was pursuing (training for that race – check!) and guilty about the habits I just couldn’t seem to shake (still procrastinating, ugh) or make (still not flossing, whoops). Because some of the visions I had for my life were just that–visions too aspirational or unattainable–I ended up putting myself through a lot of unnecessary, internal angst by focusing on my unmet resolutions rather than what I had accomplished with a little determination and focus.

Once I resolved to eat nothing but beans, vegetables and proteins for the entire year (I know, strange). Something I read had convinced me that this diet would be the solution to the body image issues that plagued me because with it I would finally lose the weight I desired and keep it off too. I wasn’t perfect, but I actually kept up with this weird diet for several months until I realized how unhappy I’d become and how unrealistic it was for someone like me to eliminate several food groups from my diet (I am a moderator, not an abstainer; for more on this idea, see this post).

Part of my problem was that the resolutions I set were just too idealistic. To “never eat gluten again” or “always be early to meetings” just isn’t realistic because life is never all or nothing, life just happens. Grandmother’s extra-special 80th birthday cake, a business lunch that runs late–happens and often bends or breaks a resolution. Unfortunately my all-or-nothing approach to resolutions made it hard for me to jump back on the horse when I faltered, leading way to self-loathing.

The other issue?  I had so many different resolutions going at once, I couldn’t keep them all straight. Though I had good intentions, I couldn’t see that I was actually setting myself up to fail by dividing my attention, rather than honing in on a few attainable resolutions. Maybe you already know this for yourself–I obviously didn’t–but eventually I realized New Year’s resolutions were doing me more harm than good.

I know I’m not alone in my resolution angst. This study found that 81 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail. So why do we make them, year after year, even though it’s unlikely we follow through? I think the answer has something to do with this generation’s zeitgeist of self-improvement, coupled with the many messages we receive from media and marketers who capitalize on our deepest desires to become “better” than before.

My philosophy today: I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.

I suppose I could just be more practical and focused, lowering the bar a bit when it comes to resolutions. Do I still have habits I want to break or form? You bet. Goals that I want to accomplish? Sure. But I no longer use the New Year as my starting line for improving my life in those ways.

Instead I use the start of a New Year as an occasion to set one theme or focus I can pursue year-round. It’s an idea inspired by one of my favorite authors, Gretchen Rubin, who has written quite a bit about choosing a one-word or phrase theme for the New Year.

Your word or phrase can be just about anything–its purpose is to be a guiding beacon as you approach a new year of life. In the past, I’ve chosen “presence” (2016), “love” (2015) and “peace” (2014). When I look back on the past three years, I can see a marked change in the way I approached my life and ways my word helped me transform on a conscious and subconscious level. Gone is the creeping remorse of unmet resolutions of years past.

In 2015, I made a life shift toward a different career track. My company was restructuring our department and my dream job had opened up. So had a few management opportunities within my existing team. Both paths seemed intriguing and out of reach, but I knew I had to take a chance or risk the regret of not knowing what might have been. I applied for my dream job–a lateral move for sure–an incredible chance to do what I love every day. For work. It seemed a bit, well, unreal.

Fast forward a few weeks, and they offered me the dream job, the job I never thought I’d have. I was overjoyed and relieved and exhilarated. Due to a variety of factors, the next year in that position would be more challenging than I’d ever anticipated. When occasional moments of doubt or envy set in, I needed only remind myself of the love that inspired my career decision and those feelings dissipated.

Having a theme or focus for the New Year has been uplifting beyond measure, it’s like having a handy compass whenever you need direction or motivation or feel as if you’ve lost your way.

For my focus in 2017, I’ve chosen the word “courage.” In the past, I’ve often allowed my fears to hold me back from being my most authentic self or pursuing big dreams. This year I want to break up with fear and cultivate courage.

I want to be brave enough to create, to tell my unique stories and share others that need telling. I want to disagree, to disappoint, to say “no,” to say “yes,” to live out my faith and values in ways that might be counter-cultural.

I want to be courageous in the ways I love and care for my family and friends, showing up for them, being open and vulnerable and true. I want to be brave enough to speak up for what I believe or what I need, even when it’s unpopular or unsettling.

I want to be brave enough to live and love imperfectly in a world obsessed with picture perfect people. I know there are times that I’ll fail and give in to fear, but I’m using this space, this post to make a public promise to myself that I’ll keep pushing and trying to be courageous, and be gentle with myself when I’m not.

Being courageous means working to silence the tiny voice inside my head that says, “You are not enough,” and replace it with a message of love, a message that says, “You are enough.” I draw strength from my belief that God made me, and everyone else in the world, in God’s image.

I am enough, and my stories matter. You are enough, and your stories matter too.

I choose to be courageous in 2017. What do you choose? 

Do you have a one-word or phrase focus for 2017? Share it in comments section below. I’d love to hear from you!