Categories
Growing

Confidence part 2 – What’s wrong with this picture?

A few months ago I got the chance at my 9 to 5 job to have my portrait taken. The last time I had a portrait done was for my college graduation. It would be nice to have a professional profile picture, and since I was planning to launch my blog, the timing was perfect.

Right away I began planning what I’d wear. A classic blue blouse would be professional. Not wearing a jacket would make it more casual. And the color would bring out my eyes. That was easy.

Next was jewelry. The pieces needed to be subtle. I picked a simple solitaire necklace and pearl earrings. For a bit of hidden character, you’ll have to look again at the earrings to see the pearls are being held by talons.

Picture day came, and I waited my turn with a few colleagues. Finally I was next. The photographer and his assistant went through the usual routine of trying lighting variances, adjusting the tilt of my head, the lean of my body, smile/don’t smile, look here/look away, and so forth.

At the end, when the photographer typically compliments you to give you confidence about how the shoot went, I was really, really hoping he’d say I had looked beautiful, but instead he said, “You did great. Your pictures will look very… sincere.”

Sincere? What’s up with that? Did he just give me the photographer’s equivalent of someone setting you up on a blind date — “she’s got a great personality?”

OK, I’ll be honest. Remember the old joke about the guy who breaks both of his hands and asks the doctor if he’ll be able to play the piano after the operation? The doctor says, “Of course!” and the guy says, “That’s great because I wasn’t able to play the piano before!”

That’s pretty much me hoping the photographer would say I was beautiful. I may have had a pretty good, long run of being cute, but I know I’ve never been beautiful. If the photographer had said that, he’d be seriously exaggerating. But sincere? Really?

Settling for meh

I’ll admit I was anxious waiting for the proofs to be ready. When the email arrived with a link to the collection, I scrolled past a few of my colleagues – all of whom looked absolutely amazing – and stopped dead when I got to me. “That’s me?” I thought, “That’s what I look like?”

The person who I was seeing in the proofs is not the person who I see in the mirror at home. Somehow I’m confident when I look at myself in the comfort of my own home, but now looking at me in these photos, I felt like I don’t know who I am any longer. Inside my head I feel like I’m still 26 years old and a size six. Where the heck did the last 25 years go… and where did those last 25 pounds come from?

No exaggeration — there were 75 shots of me, and I meticulously examined each one. Teeth look like a chipmunk. Head tilt looks like a terrier. Not smiling enough. Smiling too much. Right eye too droopy, too watery. Finding a shot that I didn’t shake my head at was difficult.

After a really long time, I narrowed it down from 75 photos to six — then to just two. I spent a whole lot of time deliberating over this decision. I was acting as if the lives of my unborn grandchildren rest on it. Finally I gave notice of which photo I picked along with four touch-ups to be made.

When I received the final portrait, the changes had been made with such skill that you’d never know the difference, but I was still not happy with it. My attitude was, “It is what it is…,” as pitiful as that is to say. Slowly I began to accept the “old lady” in this photo and started uploading her to all of my online profiles.

Seeing myself for who I really am

Then a few nights ago, I was binge watching Little Fires Everywhere. Kerry Washington’s character is a photographic artist. Reese Witherspoon’s character suggested to her that she could earn steady income by being a portrait photographer. Here’s how Kerry’s character responded in the book version: “…the thing about portraits is, you need to show people the way they want to be seen. And I prefer to show people as I see them.”

Thankfully, that brief statement brought me back to where I ought to be. I may have been a lot cuter when I was 26, but I was also a whole lot less wise. Back then, I gave more consideration to my looks than my character, and that perspective was leaving a bigger impression on people than I could have ever imagined.

Once again I heard the photographer’s last words to me: “You look sincere.”

I remembered that being sincere is way more important to me these days than being seen as beautiful or cute. External beauty fades, but internal beauty is a thing of character. When my mom died nine years ago, so many people told me how much my mom had inspired them. Not one person mentioned what they thought of my mom’s looks.

That’s when I had decided to honor my mom by working a whole lot harder on being beautiful on the inside. I’m still nowhere near the end of that journey, but I’m loving every step of it. And now I have renewed confidence to keep moving in that direction – in the direction of true sincerity.

So to undo all the pressure I put on myself believing my portrait had to be perfect, here’s what the untouched photo looks like, and below are the things that were changed:

  1. Removed the hood ornament from the car that I was leaning on. It was pointing up out of my left shoulder like a misplaced rhino horn.
  2. Removed the clasp from my necklace. It had slipped around the right side of my neck.
  3. Removed the two bumps near my left brow. Sun damage.
  4. Whitened my teeth a bit. Too many Cokes and other sodas consumed.

If it is your intention to continuously learn and grow, then you need to be reminded once in a while who you once were and how far you’ve come. That backward glance could be to see how much your appearance has changed over the years, or it could be about something actually important, like how much you’ve focused on and contributed to others, to make others happy and to help them have a better life. You shouldn’t continuously focus on the past, but taking a look back once in a while is a great way to see how much further you want to go, and to strengthen your confidence to get you there.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…

Categories
Learning

Confidence part 1 – The power of compliments

“I will be generous with my love today. I will sprinkle compliments and uplifting words everywhere I go. I will do this knowing that my words are like seeds and when they fall on fertile soil, a reflection of those seeds will grow into something greater.”

― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

At my 9 to 5 job, I work with a woman who is as beautiful on the outside as she is on the inside. I admire her poise, gentleness, and intelligence. One day a few months ago I watched as another colleague complimented her on a work achievement. Her response to the kind words was graceful and heartfelt, but then, as if that wasn’t enough, she immediately paid it forward. She thoughtfully turned the attention to someone else with a sincere compliment of their recent achievement.

Categories
Growing

A closer look at speed bumps (and why it matters)

Such an intriguing title, I know. I’m not saying that everything that happens has meaning. But if you’re looking for meaning in life, you can find it anywhere — in happy, muddy dogs; in blue suede boots; and yes, even in speed bumps. Not every revelation needs to be accompanied by fireworks and symphonies. Allow yourself to be inspired by simple, mundane things. Lessons learned quietly matter just as much as those with drama and hoopla.

For the past year and a half, I’ve been driving my oldest son to school on cold or rainy mornings. When we’re early, I can cruise unobstructed through the driveway and over to the drop-off point at the main sidewalk. But if we pull up minutes before the school bell is about to ring, the carpool traffic is pretty backed up.

Along the way are two speed bumps. One is in the driveway. The other is in the exit lane that cuts through the parking lot heading back to the driveway.

One morning when bumper-to-bumper traffic was crawling through the entire route, I began paying attention to how drivers were navigating the speed bumps. Quietly, it all became a metaphor to me for how people approach life’s challenges.

Literally speaking

In the driveway, I watched one driver pull their truck as far right as they could go without scraping the curb. The driver’s goal was to keep the two passenger-side tires on flat ground while only the two driver-side tires experienced the bump’s mild climb and decent. Over at the speed bump in the parking lot area, I saw a driver come incredibly close to hitting a parked car just so they could drive completely around the speed bump. Not to mention the drivers who hurried all four wheels up and over either of the speed bumps without hesitating.

I have my own technique for approaching speed bumps. I’m a by-the-book kind of person, so most often I face a speed bump head on. As I approach, I take my foot off the accelerator and wait patiently for the wheels to meet the bump. I calmly anticipate the moment when the vehicle’s inertia lifts me up and over the bump. When I’m squarely past the bump, I press down on the gas gradually as I leave the bump behind.

Once in a while I’m in the mood to drive oh-so cautiously around the side of a speed bump. A long time ago I was in a serious accident while driving across parking spaces, and I try to not make that same mistake. Besides, I’m too practical. I’m not convinced that going around the speed bump is worth the effort. I would be thrilled if one of those TV shows that try to dispel myths would test my theory:

  • Is it faster to go the extra distance by swinging out and around a speed bump rather than slowing down and maintaining a straight path?
  • If it is a few seconds faster to go around, is the amount of time gained adding value to our lives?

I’ll even admit there have been times when I’ve overlooked all the signs or misjudged my approached and a speed bump has tossed me up, out of my seat. Fortunately that doesn’t happen too often.

The figurative approach

Think about it. When you’re in your vehicle, you see a sign on the side of the road that says “Speed Bump” and sometimes the actual speed bump is painted with huge amber caution lines. Wouldn’t it be incredible if, in life, we got fair warning that we are about to approach a challenge and we’d been trained on how to deal with it?

Wouldn’t it be incredible if, in life, we got fair warning that we are about to approach a challenge and we’d been trained on how to deal with it?

But life isn’t that easy. We each face small and big challenges every day. Sometimes we see the signs that a challenge is approaching, and we can prepare ourselves to address it. It could be we deal with the challenge by committing as little as we can — by keeping two tires on the ground, and sparing ourselves from whatever pain or struggle is in our control. We might go all in, pacing ourselves and taking it one calculated step at a time. Or we could take one of the extreme approaches — either barreling through the challenge or taking measures to avoid it completely. And then sometimes we might not be paying full attention and the challenge catches us completely off guard.

Actual speed bumps aren’t scary, but some of life’s challenges can be. Scary or not, there are a few good things about speed bumps (the literal and the figurative ones):

  • They remind you to slow down once in a while, to take in the scenery, and appreciate both the ups and downs in life, because they are all part of your journey.
  • If “timing is everything,” then speed bumps help to ensure you’re in the exact right place at the exact right time.
  • Whether you’re facing a speed bump or a mountain, how you decide to get past it will help you learn more about yourself and develop personally.

Sometimes you see life’s speed bumps approaching and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you’re prepared to deal with them, and sometimes you’re not. There are a lot of ways to head into a challenge; depending on the circumstances, you hope to always pick the right approach. When you’ve picked the wrong path, you try not to repeat your mistakes, but there are no guarantees that you won’t. In any case, life’s speed bumps are chances for you to learn from both your successes and your blunders. Accepting the bad outcomes with the good ones can help you become more humble, and in that, you can become more loving.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…

Categories
Growing

Turning fear into gratitude

In my mid-20s, I began dating a man who it turned out had been stalking me already. He was disturbed, abusive and manipulative. It took me six months and a team of family, friends and law enforcement to get separation from him. Then it took half my lifetime to let go of my fear.

As I began to wake up on the morning of my 50th birthday, my dog Rosie jumped up from her bed on the floor to cuddle beside me. Rubbing her ears, eyes and belly help both of us start the day in a warm, peaceful mood. After a few minutes, I rolled out of bed and wandered to the bathroom in the dark and got dressed. Then Rosie and I headed downstairs to spend a few more minutes cuddling on the couch—in the dark. This was our normal routine.

Again I started thinking about it being my 50th birthday. I had begun anticipating it a few months back. Now that the big day was here, it felt like any other. Then a cold draft blew over us, which I assumed was from the heater going through its normal routine. But for an odd second I wondered if the interior door to the garage was open a bit and if that was where the draft came from. Nah, not likely. My husband locks that door every night before going to bed. Unless someone had opened it since then? That’s when I remembered the death threats.

It had been exactly half of my lifetime ago when my brother-in-law called me on my 25th birthday. To this day, his greeting is still the most memorable: “Happy birthday! I’m glad you’re still alive!” This was in response to my physically- and mentally-abusive ex-boyfriend/stalker calling in three death threats the day before. The last call was to my mom–can you imagine! Weird how such a memory is a regular part of my birthday.

I’ve come to expect that recollection to pop up each year, so it is no longer destructive. But even 25 years after the stalking was over, I was still getting triggered once in a while. I was doing my best to keep the trauma center in my brain well-guarded against the standard, predictable stuff. Unfortunately, an occasional something out of the ordinary would slip past my defenses and set off my internal alarm system.

Unfortunately, an occasional something out of the ordinary would slip past my defenses and set off my internal alarm system.

First contact

Take for instance New Year’s Eve 2016–three years prior to my 50th birthday. A half hour before midnight, something prompted me to check my email. Scrolling through more than a day’s worth of unread messages, I saw the former stalker had sent a Facebook friend request to me the night before. After all those years with no contact—what the heck was he thinking?

Quickly I logged into Facebook, but he had already retracted the request. Regardless, it took nine days and a lot of rationalizing with my sister and my best friend for me to calm down. One thing that helped me move on was that I saw on his Facebook profile where he was living. I didn’t lock in my brain any details about the region, only that the town was two hours away.

Too close for comfort

Following that, I had no big trigger incidents for a while. But then three weeks before my 50th birthday, I had a rare night of bad dreams about him. My stirring woke my husband a few times. Likewise, he tried to wake me to stop the cycle, but the bad dreams kept spiraling. So much so that they stuck with me into the next day. Eventually I decided to remind myself how far away from me he was living.

I Googled the name of his town—seeking reassurance—but instead my jaw dropped in disbelief. On the map, about two and a half miles from his town center, I saw the name of the hospital where I had been treated just one month prior. My husband, youngest son and I were away for my son’s travel hockey tournament when I had an unexpected health issue. I had been practically on his doorstep! Why do our lives continue to orbit each other this way?

Why do our lives continue to orbit each other this way?

I kept repeating this thought in my head. Here’s what I decided to settle on. Something happened during that traumatic experience in my mid-twenties that was so absolutely necessary in order for me to become the person who I am today, that I must continue to be reminded of it. And for that, at least, I’m grateful.

My son’s hockey team returned to the same tournament this past year. Knowing that there was even the slightest possibility that I could cross paths with him was unsettling. But I didn’t change anything I would have done if I had not known he could be there.

Closing the door

Finally, a few months ago and after all these years of soul searching, I found closure. At last I was able to put into perspective that he had not done anything to harm me for more than 25 years. Nothing had come out of the Facebook incident, and I was in his town twice since then without running in to him. My fear is finally gone.

Looking all the way back to when it first happened, I foolishly tried to handle him myself for a while. Then once I was willing to admit I was in over my head, I got my family, friends and the police involved. I let the justice system do its job, and he received fair punishment. Afterward, I sought professional counseling a few times over the years when I was feeling more challenged than usual to cope.

I feel it’s important to emphasize here that I brought the stalking situation to a close and persevered to heal myself using all the resources available to me. I did not try to get through this journey on my own, and recovering was a lot of work.

I do feel bad about the pain and fear that my family and friends had to experience because of this. However, I don’t feel bad about any of the incidents when I became triggered. I’m not embarrassed for overreacting. I have no regrets about telling people my feelings during those times. Those were all experiences I had to get through in order to heal. And the length of time it took for me was the exact right time for my healing.

Also, all the work that my family and friends put into helping me was also helping them on their journeys. Helping others to overcome pain and fear allows each one of us the chance to learn more about ourselves and grow to be more loving.

As for him, I’ve forgiven him. I don’t know what led him to behave that way, but it must have been something really bad that he had no control over. And I don’t know if he ever behaved that way toward anyone else. I do hope that he has been able to find peace and meaningful love in his life. I also hope he has somehow found opportunities to support others in a way that makes up for his damaging behavior.

It is unavoidable that you will experience trouble, pain, fear and perhaps even trauma in your life. What’s important is that as you heal, you appreciate the learning that you find in your experiences. Be grateful that through it you can grow to become a more loving person. Accept that some healing and learning will happen faster than others. Be patient and kind to yourself as you figure it all out. Then share your lessons with others, to help them in their journeys too.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…

Categories
Loving

When the tail wags the dog

If you don’t see the lesson in this one, I hope you at least you get a chuckle out of it. There doesn’t always need to be a lesson. Sometimes the thing we need most in life is just a good laugh.

When I came out of my house this one morning to leave for work, I was greeted in my driveway by two happy, albeit wet, little white dogs. (It had been raining lightly.) These dogs were infamous; they lived nearby and had a reputation for roaming the neighborhood. I said hi to them, and as I opened my car door, one of them jumped in. Seriously, just jumped right in. That’s great.

I checked the tag on its collar and saw the address was one street over from mine. I grabbed the other little dog and put him in the car too, ready for delivery. Before I could even sit down, they were leaving muddy paw prints all over my leather interior. I shut the car door, walked to the back and grabbed a towel from the hatch, walked up to the driver door again, opened it, cleaned off my seat and sat down. In the next 60 seconds that it took me to drive to their house, the wet dogs went from my lap, to the passenger seat and on my purse and laptop bag, to under the steering wheel and everywhere else they didn’t belong.

I found their house and saw it had a For Sale sign out front with a big “Under Contract” sign attached. The house looked pretty stark—not just as if no one was home, but maybe that they had moved out over the weekend. But who would move away and leave these sweet little dogs behind?

But who would move away and leave these sweet little dogs behind?

The driveway

I pulled in the driveway, got out, left the dogs in the car with the engine running and walked up to the front door of the house. No one answered after two loud knocks, so I smashed my face against the window to see if the house looked lived in. It did. They must have left for work or something.

So then I was thinking about whether I should put the dogs in their own backyard or mine. I decided to call the realtor on the For Sale sign with hopes they could get in touch with the owners. I walked back to the car, pulled the driver door handle and… the door was locked. The rear driver-side door was locked. The hatch was locked. The passenger-side rear door was locked, and as I was about to try the passenger-side front door (just in case), I saw a neighbor across the street two doors down.

I hollered to him, “Do you know who lives here? I have their dogs in my car.”

He yelled back, “You’re not supposed to be able to lock the doors like that when the engine is running.”

I replied, “Well, the doors are locked.”

“But that’s not supposed to be able to happen,” he repeated.

“Well it did,” I hollered, “Do you know if the neighbors are home.”

“They were there last night,” was his reply.

I asked again, “But do you know if they work during the day? Do you think someone could be home or might be home soon?”

“They were home last night,” he repeated.

Since this neighbor (a.k.a. Captain Obvious) was not going to provide any helpful information, I yelled, “Thanks. I’m going to walk home and get my other car key.”

As I walked around the block to my house, leaving my car running in a stranger’s driveway with their two wet dogs locked inside and the engine running, all I could think was, “Please, please, please, please, please let my inside garage door be unlocked!”

Thankfully it was. I grabbed the valet key and walked back around the block to my car thinking, “Please, please, please, please, please don’t let the car alarm activate when I turn the valet key in the door while the main key is in the ignition and the engine is running.”

Thankfully it did not. I grabbed both little white dogs and walked with one under each arm to the back gate. One of the dogs was loving this; the other was not. The unhappy one was wiggling madly to get free. I managed to put them both on the ground and swiftly grab each one by its collar, and with that, the unhappy dog began trying to bite me.

I managed to put them both on the ground and swiftly grab each one by its collar, and with that, the unhappy dog began trying to bite me.

The fence

The fence and gate were six feet talk, and the gate latch was near the top. I’m only five feet tall, so I had to reach up to open the gate. I needed one hand free to do that, so I had to get both dog collars in one hand, which I did, but then the little dog’s heads were smushed together. While being bent over holding the two dogs on the ground in one hand, I couldn’t reach the latch. If I ended up lifting them off the ground a few inches by their collars in order to get the gate open, I’m sorry, but it was for their own good.

I got the gate open, shoved the dogs in the yard, latched the fence and then looked around for something to secure the latch. A loose bit of wire on the ground did the trick.

I walked back to the driveway and got in the car, which stank like wet dogs. Dirty little paw prints were everywhere. They had stepped on switches for the seat warmers; they had partially rolled down two windows, and quite obvious in that moment, they had stepped on the door lock button when I had been knocking on their front door.

The call

I called the number on the realtor sign. I was explaining to the women who answered the phone where I was, the unbelievable tale I had experienced, and that she needed to notify the homeowners that their dogs were safely stowed in their backyard. She didn’t quite understand what I was asking her to do, so I began to repeat, “Can you please call the owners and tell them…” I stopped mid-sentence as I saw two little white dogs come running joyfully from around the other side of the house. They ran behind my car and off down the road and never looked back. Adios.

“Umm, well…” I said to the woman on the phone. “If you could just tell the home owners that their dogs are running lose again, that would be great. Thanks.”

“If you could just tell the home owners that their dogs are running lose again, that would be great. Thanks.”

I hung up and backed out of the driveway. I was damp and muddy. My shoes were covered in grass clippings. And I stank like a wet dog. As I drove to work, a strange, tortured laugh bubbled up from my toes, gaining spite and regret as it rose until it spilled over with an earnest outcry of, “What the f*ck was THAT???”

Even if you face a challenge with a compassionate heart and the best intentions, sometimes it can still unravel before your eyes, and you end up right back where you started. That’s life, and you have to face the challenge anyway, again and again. Also, sometimes the people (or animals) who you want to help, don’t want your help, and sometimes you can’t do anything to change that. Regardless, you have to do the right thing. Every time.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…

Categories
Growing

Make your dreams a reality

One night a few years ago I had a dream. Actually, it was more like a vision. I was in that quiet, sleepy void of a place and then suddenly there was just simply a pair of western style boots. Blue suede boots to be exact and I understood that it was intended for me to have these boots. As the vision began to slip away, I heard a voice from a distance say, “…and don’t forget the fringe.”

The next morning I told my husband about the dream. He’s usually not surprised when I tell him strange stories like this, but in this case he may have mentioned something about me being a little crazy.

I did the best I could to get at least half way through the morning before I could no longer keep myself from the internet. I opened a browser and searched for “blue suede boots fringe.” As it turned out, there was only one style of boots on the entire internet that matched my vision. There was only one pair left. And they were my size.

This was my real life Field of Dreams moment. “I think I know what ‘If you build it, he will come’ means.”

I bought them–how could I not. They aren’t like anything else in my wardrobe. I’m not always confident that what I wear them with looks good. But I trust my instincts that they were meant for me, and every time I wear them, I think about my dream.

IMG_5887

Maybe I would do something significant that day while wearing them. Or maybe someone else would see me wearing them and that would mean something significant to them.

Regardless, I wear them as intermittently as all the other shoes I have. And I’ve never tried to make something significant happen on days that I wear them. I just wear them because I like the style, I like the fit, and they are special to me.

From boots to blogs

On a separate note, for the longest time I’ve dreamt of having my own blog. I didn’t have the urge to rush into it, but I knew one day it would happen. I must have needed to experience more, to learn and grow some more before the time was right.

Maybe this is what the dream about the boots was meant to teach me: that it was up to me to follow my instincts and make my dreams a reality — from the boots to my blog. So now here it is — my blog, and my biggest hope is that it becomes special to you too.

Thank you for coming to see what Seeds of Love is all about. I hope you find something meaningful here that will help you grow and love a little more each day.

You can wish on a falling star. You can throw a coin into a fountain. You can blow away an eyelash. Those are all sweet, heartwarming gestures, but they’re not going to make your greatest desire materialize out of thin air. It’s up to you to put in the time and effort to make your dreams come true.

Thank you for spending these moments with me, thinking about life. If you like what you’ve read, I’d love for you to share it. Spread some seeds…