Failure? Or….Bravery?

img_5568While doing chores the other night, I was watching You’ve Got Mail for about the twentieth time. There’s just something classy about that movie. And a lot of it is based around the holidays, so it’s sort of a Christmas movie. (For the record, Die Hard is most definitely a Christmas movie. In case you were wondering.)

There’s a part in You’ve Got Mail where Meg Ryan admits to her friends that she’s closing the store. The older lady, who had been a friend to her mother, said something I’ve heard before but it affected me differently this time. She said, “Closing the store is the brave thing to do.” When Meg Ryan protested, Birdie said “You’re daring to imagine that you could have a different life. Although it feels like you are a failure, you’re not. Marching into the unknown – armed with ….nothing. Have a sandwich.”

The sandwich part always cracks me up. But this time, what she said resonated with me for some reason. This past year didn’t turn out the way I hoped on a professional level and it’s really easy to view that as failure. It wasn’t anything horrible – I just expected to finish the year on a much better note. But you know what? It wasn’t really failure at all. I tried all sorts of different things this year: from adding new positions to my department to restructuring current jobs to revamping procedures. Some worked well and some failed miserably. After beating myself up a bit, I started to look at it from a different perspective.  What really happened is that I tried new things. Pass or fail, I tried them. What would’ve happened if I left things as they were? We would have still grown (but probably not as much) and more than likely did okay. But a lot of the risks we took this year have already paid off. In dividends. And the best part? I don’t have to wonder what would happen if I did try something new – because I already took those risks and experienced the outcomes. Now, we can go forward and make new adjustments and take new risks – all because we’ve tried the alternatives already.

The one thing that was constant about this past year was change. At one point, I practically made a plea for no one to change or leave their job for at least six months – because it was so hard to keep up with the changes and we needed to recover. One other quote from the movie is “People say change is good thing. What they’re really saying is that something you didn’t want to happen, has happened.” For the most part, I can agree with this. However – change is also something that you can control. Especially if you don’t like your current situation or think/believe you can change it for the better. There may be risk involved, but there can be a reward at the end of it as well.

Last year there was so much change that we wanted to just survive it. This year was a year of experience- we learned so much through all the changes, that we’re looking forward to making next year brilliant. The way I look at it, this next year wouldn’t be as successful if we hadn’t gone through the past two years of change and growth.

So, if you have something in front of you that requires bravery – along with change you may or may not want to happen – just imagine you could have a different life. I have no clue what that looks like for you, but the fun part is when you dare to make the dream a reality.

You just have to go into the unknown. Hopefully armed with a sandwich.

Where Gratitude Outshines Vulnerability

I’m pretty sure I never put gratitude and vulnerability in the same sentence before, but it’s been popping up over the last few weeks so I’m thinking they just may be related. Or I need to learn something about it. Maybe. Probably.

A month or so ago, I had a blog draft I was working on called Vulnerability. I didn’t get very far on it because I wasn’t sure where I was going with it. It was also coming across…..well, vulnerable. And as expressive as I am at times, putting full blown vulnerability out there was not something I was willing to do. So, I scrapped that idea and threw it in the trash. There. No more vulnerability.

Except….yep. It came up again. A few times. So I guessed there was something going on. And then on Sunday, it all kinda clicked. In church, the pastor gave the obligatory message about gratitude right before Thanksgiving. But he promised it was going to be a bit different. And it was. At least for me.

He spoke a lot about gratitude and how it changes our lives when we express it. And how our relationships with others change based on the amount of gratitude we give. Or receive. And honestly, I didn’t really think about that part before because I usually try and make a point to thank people for what they do. Especially at work. But here’s the thing I didn’t realize before – I do get irritated at people when they don’t say thank you to me. Really. I often say “you’re welcome” just to make a point. I think it’s the Philly in me, so I guess I’m making the hometown proud. But while I’m trying to “raise awareness”, I’m essentially being just as rude as they are.

So while I’m working on how I really feel about that smack in the face, let me tell you about the other thing I learned over the weekend. The pastor was talking about how we sometimes have obstacles in the way of expressing gratitude. Especially in relation to God. But think about it – sometimes we do this to people around us as well. It can be pride, or a guilt complex or a comparison situation where we don’t want to look like we’re putting ourselves out there in order to admit that someone did something nice for us. This usually happens when we’re mad at that person, not very close to them or maybe, we just simply don’t like them. (Gasp! Yeah right. Like that’s never happened to you! Haha) I’ve begrudgingly expressed thanks to people I didn’t particularly care for, even worse – people who repaid my bad attitude with kindness. Nothing like self-reflection and embarrassment all rolled into one to make you learn a lesson real quick!

The one other obstacle that got me was vulnerability. It actually stemmed from the fear of joy. How does that work? Well, think about it. If we express gratitude for something that happened and we feel joy, we ultimately have this idea in the back of our minds that it’s not going to last. Joy can be fleeting. It can come out of that one thing we’ve been waiting for or working towards, only to have something ruin it at the end. At least that’s what we think. We’re afraid to feel that joy and express that gratitude because we’re so scared it’s going to be taken away from us or that it won’t last long. What we end up doing is building defenses and not letting ourselves feel that joy. Because what’s the point of feeling it only to have it go away?

That’s the point of living people! We live for the moments of joy and gratitude in our lives. (Honestly, sometimes it makes you feel more alive). I hate feeling vulnerable because it makes me feel unprotected. Unsafe. I never thought about being afraid of joy, but there was something that resonated with me on that one. Maybe I am and I’ll have to figure that one out. Not that I’m looking forward to that. Those types of lessons should really come with a warning label.

So how does this factor into gratitude and Thanksgiving? My main point to this one is that I thought I had this gratitude thing down and I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. Whether it’s with family, friends or God, practicing gratitude is something I need to do even when it makes me feel vulnerable. Or uncomfortable. Even when I would just rather not.

Our challenge is to take a look and see how much we give thanks or express gratitude to those around us. Even when it hurts. Even when we’re fighting battles. Even when it’s the first – or yet another – holiday without a beloved one. It’s not always easy and it may make you feel guilt or vulnerability or even pride, but I’m willing to bet you won’t be sorry that you did. Not only will you feel better, but your family member, friend or coworker will be glad that you did as well. I’m not pretending that your life is rosy and you’re not the best of friends with your significant other or kids or friends or your Great Aunt Sally. Not everyone’s life is easy or plainly defined. Or even happy. I get that. It can get dark sometimes. And the last thing we think of when we’re in that dark place is to be thankful.

Call me optimistic, but I believe every little thanks brings another ray of light into that place. We just have to lift our heads up and open ourselves up to the vulnerability of thanking others for something they took the time out to do for us. If theory proves correctly, it will further connect us with those we’re thanking. Especially if they’re the ones who remind us to bring stretchy pants to Thanksgiving dinner.

Enjoy everyone – Happy Thanksgiving!

A Single Holiday Season

It started with Halloween.  I didn’t actually realize it at the time, but that is totally where it began. It’s probably my least favorite holiday to start with – mostly because I pretty much hate horror. And being scared (and for some reason, people just LOVE scaring me). Anyway, Halloween brings massive amounts of candy, decorations, costumes and the inevitable slew of fall family photo session posts. Whether just cute kids in costumes or happy family shots of smiling parents and darling children surrounded by falling autumn leaves, they’re there.  Everywhere.  All over social media.  Showcasing how happy and together everyone’s life is.

Stick with me here.  This is not a plea for attention nor a blast on those who post these photos.  I personally know of a lot of people who have prayed for years for a spouse and/or children, and these pictures are a testament to their faith and joy.  No issues here, people.

What I would like to bring awareness to are the ones who are hanging in there on their own, whether firmly intact or hanging by a thread.  Holidays suck for single people sometimes.  They just do.  And you don’t even have to be one of those singles who is hardcore looking for a significant other, seriously.  I personally go back and forth.  Last weekend?  I was totally annoyed at life, my single status and the fact that every third post on Facebook showed a happy, smiling family unit.  It seemed like they were mocking me.  Every single one. And the way it made me feel? And my reaction to it? Let’s just say it’s wasn’t pretty.

What manifested from that is something I am not particularly proud of.  Issues in my work life crept into my personal life and I felt like a complete failure who was going to be alone for the rest of her life. (Crazy, right? But we’ve all been there a time or two.) Then I had to attend a bridal shower, where at one point, one of the ladies made all of us “single ladies in the back” stand up so everyone could see us and have our picture taken. The words in my head at that moment people! (Although let me point out here that I love this particular bride and, through the haze of my blah, I was completely happy for her) In light of all this, last Sunday ended up being a pretty rough day for me and I was pretty bitchy.  A funny, snarky bitch, but one nonetheless. Thankfully, my friends put up with me and laughed me through it. Later that night, I had a long talk with one of my best friends and realized my fear and discontent was at the heart of it. We worked through some of those issues and I felt a lot better.

I knew I was gonna regret it, but I told her I was thinking of taking a break from Facebook. I’d realized I was on it more often than usual and that it wasn’t good for my mental health at the moment. Being the great friend that she is, she offered to do the same. So, for the past week I stayed off of Facebook.

I’d like to tell you I didn’t miss it at all, but you know the truth. I was seriously addicted. Had no idea how many times a day I stopped to see what the world was doing. By Wednesday I was pretty disgusted with myself and found that life indeed went on without Facebook. It was oddly freeing.

But back to the main point – holidays get interesting for single people. Here’s the thing, Thanksgiving and Christmas are my two favorite holidays and I will celebrate them in whatever way possible. I love going to parties and even hosting them. But what sucks for single people is celebrating them in a way where you end up making concessions for everyone else.

Not sure what I’m talking about? Let’s put it this way – think about the last few years and maybe even the upcoming holidays – who have you have invited to your events? Where do you put them? Some of my single friends are still stuck at the kids table – while younger people sit at the main table simply because they’re a couple. Some are invited as afterthoughts because the family members they normally celebrate with were invited elsewhere. Some have to change their plans last minute to accommodate siblings or other family members simply because “well, you’re only one person”. All while expected to bring food contributions, gifts and to show up looking classy and put together because “there’s no one else to take care of” and you can look good cause “you have all the time in the world” and “you need to attract men!”. Yet they’re the ones paying for all of that stuff by themselves. Because they are one person.

See what I mean? Most people don’t even notice. Hell, half the time us single people don’t even care. Because we’re with the people we love and we get to celebrate the holidays. (And honestly, we can go home by ourselves and go right to sleep if we want. Pros/cons) But then there’s the inevitable years where it feels off. Where you wish you had someone to attend all the events and parties with. Where you get tired of answering the same three or four questions that apparently are the go-to “ask the single person” ones.

So, in order to escape the weird questions or feelings or even loneliness, we end up on Facebook checking to see what’s new only to be bombarded again with the happy families, new engagements and overall good stuff that people post. All to have the stark reality thrown right back in your face. It’s real out in the field, people.

We are not alone in this either – any single parent, couple longing for children or people simply unhappy in their marriage more than likely go through the same thing.

My plea in this post is to think about these people during this holiday season. Don’t stuff the singles wherever you may have room cause you had to invite them. Remember for all intents and purposes they are a “family unit” as well. I’ve personally experienced the things I’ve pointed out and most times you just roll with it. Because that’s life and where I am in it for the time being. But it’s when people tell you that you should be more flexible (in whatever situation) because “it’s just you”, is when I usually lose it. You’re already trying to manage all this stuff on your own and then someone says something like that and it just make you feel like a friggin winner.

So here are some pointers. Instead of the obligatory questions about work, “where are you traveling to next” and, my personal favorite, “have you thought about online dating”, ask us what our favorite thing was this year. What was the best thing we learned? How are we making out with life? Do we need any help, advice or someone to talk to? (In my case it will probably be “do you need therapy? Lol)

This rant is how I feel now and it doesn’t usually last long. I’ll probably be just fine and dandy in a few weeks and be out celebrating somewhere. I’ll be fine – but please just think about those celebrating alone this season and make them feel just as special and loved as the others. Because they usually are.

The ones who put up with me 😉