Category Archives: Blog

Cattiness & Competition

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Cattiness & Competition

There are few things I find more intimidating than a group of girls standing together talking. And although I’m pretty sure I share this fear with every twelve year old boy in America, mine is for a very different reason.

I am not afraid because I am at my first middle school dance, trying to figure out how to ask my crush if she wants to awkwardly sway back and forth with me while standing ten inches apart and barely touching (the sixth grade version of slow dancing). Rather, I am a grown woman, anxious because I know what we all know: that unfortunately, women are harshest to their own gender.

It is universally known that girls can be catty, which is why so many women have their guard up the first time they meet another woman. I know I am extremely guilty of this: I have a natural wall that comes up when meeting another female. Upon reflection, I can trace its cause to years of being bullied, followed by a history of betrayals and falling-outs from and with close female friends.

Though I’ve since met and maintained strong friendships with beautiful, strong women, those scars are still there. And they still cause me to be instinctively suspicious around new female acquaintances; whether it be instant or gradual, my wall only dissipates when I feel safe and can sense a mutual connection.

But I know I am not the only one who experiences this meeting-new-women-phobia. I recently met someone who, in her late thirties, had to leave a job she loved and had worked at for years. The reason she left? Because six female co-workers were bullying her day in and day out. Those are grown women, ganging up on another grown woman. She is now, quite understandably, nervous around females.

And it’s almost unavoidable when you think about how society shapes us; we are taught from a young age that, as women, we are in a constant, on-going competition with one another. We are compared to and pegged against each other in almost every circumstance, and it ultimately affects how we see other women, and ourselves.

For some reason, we see another woman’s beauty and start to feel ugly. We hear of another woman’s intelligence and immediately feel stupid. Or we witness another woman’s humor and feel boring in comparison. We start to feel like we’re losing the competition and so, in order to compensate and gain a competitive edge, we tear apart other women in an effort to elevate our own status.

But putting down another isn’t actually a sign of superiority; it is really just a way of covering up subconscious feelings about one’s own self. We cast all of the hidden hatred we have towards our own flaws onto others, trying to use other people as scapegoats for our insecurities. We have this twisted hope that if we point out another woman’s imperfections, it will somehow make people forget that we, too, have imperfections.

In the moment we think it will make us feel better, but it actually does the opposite. The whole reason we are speaking negatively about another girl is because we feel negatively about ourselves; but then the more we speak negatively about her, the worse we end up feeling about ourselves. So not only do we hurt the other person, but we also hurt ourselves and start a horrible self-destructive cycle.

Instead of trying to be happy with who we are, and allowing others the freedom to be happy the way they are, we just don’t feel like we’re good enough; so, we try to find ways to prove that others aren’t good enough either. But true self-acceptance comes from acknowledging and embracing the fact that we are all flawed, and realizing that having flaws does not make us, or anyone else, less worthy of love. It comes from being able to see other people’s flaws and not point them out, but rather understand how they make the person even more beautiful.

And most importantly, self-acceptance comes from the ability to say and believe: “I am human. I am flawed. But, I am still good. I am no better and no worse than anyone else.”

We don’t get to choose our deck of cards, but we do get to choose how we view them. There will always be someone who seems to be “better off”: pretty, athletic, smart, whatever the trait. They have some, or several, characteristics that you want for yourself. But, that’s their deck. Instead of trying to take cards away from them, we need to start looking at our own hand and seeing the unique beauty that lies within the cards we hold.

Maybe then women wouldn’t be so afraid of each other. And maybe then the fear of girls standing together in a group will only exist in the hearts of those twelve year old boys, anxiously pacing back and forth in their poorly decorated middle school gymnasium.

DFTLY,

Ali

It’s a Journey, Not a Destination

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It’s a Journey, Not a Destination

I have been exceptionally naive about a lot of things in my life. For example, I used to wholeheartedly believe that swallowing a watermelon seed would result in an entire watermelon growing in my stomach. Similarly, I believed an apple seed would result in the growth of an apple in my stomach, and an orange seed the growth of an orange. Basically, I was terrified of fruit for the majority of my adolescence.

Then there was the time that I broke my wrist and, in order to play in soccer games, had to wrap my cast in bubble wrap to make it softer. I naively believed my older brother when he told me that the only way I could test to see if the cast would pass referee inspection was to hit myself in the face with it as hard as I could. To this day, I still remember his laughter and my pounding head, not to mention my wounded pride.

Recently, I discovered that though I may have outgrown my fear of fruit, and the willingness to believe everything my brother tells me, I have not outgrown naivety altogether. This realization came after acknowledging the time, not so long ago, that I started a self-love journey under the false assumption that it would only have to be a one time thing: a start-then-finish, once-then-done, think-about-it-for-a-little-then-get-on-with-life type of adventure. Naive, indeed.

The past few months have been an extreme mental and emotional struggle, but it took me a while to actually accept that fact. I was so hesitant to admit to feeling lost because I knew how far I had grown in positivity and healthy self image, and I didn’t like the idea that I may have fallen from that peak. After all, I knew how hard I had worked to get there, and no one wants their work to be in vain. But what happened? Why did I keep slipping back into old, negative habits?

Well, after months of working hard and challenging myself to grow, I got to a place emotionally where I felt good. Really good. I felt healthy, which was a big deal. But then I developed a lackadaisical attitude, thinking I had reached a point in my journey where active and forward movement was no longer necessary and I could simply float by based on the work that I had already done. I ceased pursuing self-love at all, believing I could maintain positivity without effort. But the foundation wasn’t strong enough to stand on it’s own.

After painstakingly learning to rewire my brain and accept only positive thoughts, the opposite was now happening: I started gaining unhealthy habits back, no longer rejecting negative thoughts or ideas. Eventually, I was swimming in negative feelings and emotions until, inevitably, I started turning those negative feelings inward towards myself.

I wasn’t in a place where I was ready to address what was happening, but the lightbulb finally came on when I was confronted with strong negativity coming at me from someone else. I’ve learned that two things happen when someone verbally tears you down: your unconscious either disagrees with them and starts to build you back up, or it agrees with them and uses it as ammo to bring you down even more.

I had succumb to negativity to the point that, when I heard someone else speak a negative comment about me, I could no longer disagree with it. When I turned to my inner self for truth, I had nothing. Instead of refuting the outside voice, my inner voice agreed with it, and that was my wakeup call: that person was wrong about me, and so were the thoughts that my mind was now accepting as truth, I just needed to find a way to start believing in myself once again. In other words, I needed to re-rewire my brain.

As frustrating as it is to feel like i’m starting over, I at least know what I have to do. I know myself well, and I understand what works for me and what doesn’t. I am confident that by continuing to challenge myself to try new things, while paying close attention to my thought process, I can get back to where I once was. And then, most importantly, after I’m there, I will keep going. I now know that this is going to be a life-long journey, not just a trip with an end destination. But I fully accept the challenge and am ready to work as before; I know from experience that it can only lead to good things. And that is what makes it so exciting . . . and so very worth it.

If you are on your own journey, I hope you keep finding the inspiration you need to move forward daily. You will always have my unending support!

DFTLY,

Ali

Overcoming the Expectations and Disappointments of Valentine’s Day

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The first time I ever remember feeling uncomfortable on Valentine’s Day was in the 5th grade. A boy in my class had developed a crush on me and decided to reveal his love by baking me a chocolate chip cookie in the shape of a heart. He handed it to me before school started that day and I remember staring at it feeling really confused.

To give you some perspective as to why I was overwhelmed with confusion, I should probably describe my 5th grade self: a huge tomboy, I was always dressed in giant baggy jeans and large hand-me-down t-shirts I had received from one of my older brothers. My hair was in a ponytail every single day and I don’t think I even owned a pair of shoes that weren’t sneakers. At that age there were many things I prided myself on being good at: sports, belching on command, arm-wrestling and spitting contests. I think it goes without saying that being considered desirable by the opposite sex was not something I ever would have thought deserved a spot on the list.

So, when I was handed that heart shaped cookie, I simply did not know how to react. Partly due to the confusion I felt, but mostly due to the sheer embarrassment of our classmates staring at us, I awkwardly told him that the feelings weren’t mutual. And then I ate the cookie.

Up until that point Valentine’s Day had always been a fun day where you got to eat a lot of candy and wear red. You’d come home from school with a bag full of cardboard Power Rangers Valentines from classmates asking you to “Be Mine” and a slight sugar high.

But sitting there at my desk in my 5th grade classroom, on the morning of February 14th, eating a cookie made for me by a boy whose ten year old heart I had just broken, everything changed. All of a sudden Valentine’s Day was no longer an innocent day of friends exchanging cards and candy but rather one centered around romance and its pursuit. This was all brand new territory for me and I didn’t like it one bit.

The only actual thing I remember learning in school that day was a life-lesson on expectations and disappointment, namely that where there is expectation, there is inevitably always going to be disappointment. The boy in my class had expected that in return for the cookie I would agree to be his girlfriend; Instead, I disappointed him by taking the cookie and turning him down. His level of disappointment was directly related to the height of the expectations he had placed on the day.

I think that’s why so many people end up hating Valentine’s Day. It’s not so much the pressure to spend the day with someone and it’s not even the over-commercialization of love; it’s the unfulfilled expectations.

Boys are expected to invest in some kind of gift and girls are expected to be the recipient of that gift. And if you have no one to buy something for or receive something from, you are made to feel like there’s something wrong with you. And because no one likes feeling that way, the disappointed feelings are then channeled as anger towards the day itself. Down with love and down with Valentine’s Day!

But why do we have to hate the day? Why do we feel this ridiculous pressure on and around the fourteenth of February? It’s because we have all of these crazy expectations.

As women we need to stop placing so many unrealistic expectations on men. As much as we wish they could, men can’t read minds. If you want your significant other to get you something and he doesn’t, don’t be angry or hold it against him. Maybe he just honestly didn’t know you wanted anything. Men and women operate so differently, so get over your pride and just tell him what you want instead of being disappointed when he doesn’t surprise you with what he never even knew you wanted in the first place.

And men, you need to stop placing unfair expectations on women. I know a girl whose boyfriend one year actually bought her a condom for Valentine’s Day. It’s a really good thing that didn’t happen to me because I probably would have broken the guy’s nose. Newsflash, men: girls are not obligated to sleep with you just because you’ve bought them a box of chocolates. Actually, girls are not obligated to sleep with you ever. Get over yourselves and start appreciating the woman in front of you for her heart, not her body. The purpose of the day should be about celebrating love, not getting laid.

Every person is unique, which means every relationship is unique. As a couple you shouldn’t make your plans based on what the couples around you are doing because what works for them might not for you. Decide amongst yourselves what kind of celebration matches your personalities and where you are at in your relationship.

And now, moving on to those who always have, and always will, maintain a special place in my heart: the ones who are single on Valentine’s Day. I have spent the majority of my Valentine’s Days single, and I have loved them all. There’s something about witnessing other people being in love that gives a sense of hope and warmth. It should never lead to resentment.

If seeing another woman receive flowers from her boyfriend makes you jealous, that’s a pretty strong indicator that you’re not emotionally ready for a relationship as being jealous essentially means you’re not content with your life. But there’s no reason that you should let being alone make you unhappy! Learn to embrace your situation and use the day to make yourself feel special. You can’t receive from someone else what you don’t give to yourself, which means no mortal person is going to be able to make you happy until you can learn to be happy on your own.

No matter who you are or what your status is, Valentine’s Day should be seen for what it is: a day of love. But it shouldn’t be limited to romantic love.

Take time during the day to reflect on all of your loved ones: family, friends and all of the people you can’t imagine your life without. If you’re really ambitious you can even write them little notes telling them how much you love them and why. It’s hard to be sad on Valentine’s Day, or any day really, when you start counting your blessings instead of focussing on what you wish you had.

Having no outside expectations to live up to gives you the freedom to actually enjoy the day. You should never let February 14th make you feel pressured, inferior or unwanted. You are wanted and you don’t need another person, a box of chocolates or a rose to prove it. Prove it to yourself by choosing to think positively and keeping the negative emotions in check. Treat yourself to a day that’s devoted to love and all of the ways it is reflected in your life. And don’t resent anyone else’s situation: Love other people, love the day, and love yourself.

I hope you have a very happy, very expectation-free, Valentine’s Day!

DFTLY, 

Ali

How a Smile Changed the World

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How a Smile Changed the World

To claim that one smile can change the world is a pretty sanguine statement. I mean, really? One smile? The whole world? For as small as social media has made it seem, geographically the world is still a pretty large place. So the thought of one single smile changing all 196.9 million square miles of our planet seems like a bit of a stretch.

But what if it that idea isn’t crazy? What if one smile really can change the world? Before you roll your eyes and write me off as an unrealistic optimist, let me explain why i’ve suddenly been reevaluating the legitimacy of that idea.

It all started last Friday: I was having a pretty bad day and I was extremely grumpy. I was annoyed, frustrated, sleep deprived, a little hungry, a lot emotionally drained and my bad mood was written all over my face. I was in the car driving, completely tuned out from the world. I wasn’t even singing along to the radio which for me is my biggest tell that something is wrong: I always sing in the car. Always. But not that day. That day I was pissed and it showed.

I pulled into Wawa to get a few things for a long drive I was about to take out of state. I walked in and avoided eye contact with everyone. Why smile? It doesn’t matter. People don’t notice and they don’t care. And they never smile back. So, I made up my mind: I wasn’t going to smile. I was going to stay in my little dark bubble and pretend no one else was there.

And so, when the guy at the coffee station made a joke about the hot chocolate I was putting in my coffee, I refused to engage him in conversation like I normally would have. Instead I gave a slight nod, a bare minimum acknowledgment of his existence, and walked away. I was feeling bratty and I wanted the world to know it. I wanted the world to know what it had done to me. And I wanted the world to know that I had officially given up on it.

But then something happened. A light happened. A light in the form of a short, middle-aged woman with a green winter parka and a beautiful, contagious spirit. This woman was two people ahead of me in the line at the check out counter.

Up to this point, everyone in the store had just been going through the motions: the cashier with her monotonous and disinterested “Hi, how are you, will this be all?” followed by the hurried reply from the anxious customer trying to rush her along, the mother standing in front of me engrossed in a vapid conversation with her teenage son about gum flavors and then me, with my own self-consumed demeanor, just adding to the dismal environment. I was leaning against the counter, staring at my phone and doing my best to block out everything around me.

But then . . . the woman in the green parka stepped up for her turn to check out.

“A box of Marlboro Lights, please.” 

Just an average woman making a simple request for a common brand of cigarettes. It was completely unassuming and yet it changed everything.

There was something very different about the sound of her request. The entire sentence she spoke sounded different because each word she used had been carefully formed through an authentic smile. I looked up.

This wasn’t your normal, polite, run-of-the-mill, fake, friendly smile. This was a SMILE. A genuine, full of feeling smile that she was giving for no reason at all. It was the kind you can’t help but stare at, completely entranced. The kind that makes even the hardest of hearts smile in return because it’s too amazing to leave hanging on its own. You want to join in. You want to smile. And smile we did.

Every single one of us got hit by the happy bug. All of a sudden the cashier was full of energy and became engaged in conversation with the customers. She made eye contact and laughed, joked and smiled for the first time since I had been in the store. The people ahead of me smiled and laughed and then, most surprising of all given my own determination to make the world know how pissed off I was, I smiled and laughed.

I smiled the kind of smile that I secretly hate because it makes my face look all weird and contorted: full faced, eyes all crinkled up, cheeks stretched to the limit. But this time I loved it. I was happy because there is no possible way to smile that big and not be happy. And the reason I smiled that big is because the woman in the green parka’s smile had flooded me with the urge to choose happiness, the same way she had chosen happiness.

I am convinced this woman has a lot of trials in her life. We all do. But the difference is in how she chose to react to those trials. She was probably just as anxious, overwhelmed and worried about life as the rest of us, and she seemed like she may have even been struggling financially; She could have easily joined us in our miserable self-pity and no one would have blamed her. But instead she chose the harder path: she chose to be a source of light rather than another source of darkness.

She understood that happiness is a daily, sometimes even moment to moment, decision and somewhere along the lines she decided she was going to be happy despite her circumstances. She didn’t let all of the negative attitudes in the store bring her down and, because of her strength and light, she was actually able to lift the rest of us up. She chose to smile and what happened? It made other people happy.

That smile changed my entire day. I got in the car and was grinning ear to ear. I turned the radio up and sang every song. I looked at other people in the cars next to me at red lights and I smiled at them. I danced and drummed the dashboard and then laughed out loud at myself. I enjoyed the day.

I got stuck in Philly traffic for an hour which made my trip an hour longer than it should have been and I didn’t care. I was laughing and dancing and singing and smiling and happy the whole time. All because of that woman’s decision.

I am so grateful to her for reminding me who I want to be: I want to be a spreader of light and love, even on the days and in the moments when it’s the hardest and when I don’t really feel like it. I want to smile anyway and do for other people what she did for me.

There were about five of us in line at Wawa whose days were completely turned around by that one smile. Suppose the five of us then smiled for the rest of the day and we each changed the days of five more people: That’s 25 happy people.

And then suppose us 25 happy individuals then smiled for the rest of the day and changed the days of five more people each: That’s 125 happy people. And what if it didn’t stop there?

What if one smile sparks another smile which sparks another, which starts a ripple effect of smiles until everyone in the world has experienced the true beauty and freedom that comes with choosing to be happy despite negative situations? What if we can in fact create a world full of smiles, and those smiles bring happiness and that happiness brings love?

And all it took to start that love was a courageous woman who decided to believe and act on the crazy notion that one smile really can change the world.

I know it changed mine.

DFTLY, 

Ali

You Are Worthy

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I’ve spent the majority of my life living in subjection to a very intense fear of vulnerability. Paralyzed under the strength of it’s reign I would let it affect every aspect of my life, often going to great lengths to avoid all forms of emotional intimacy. I kept others an arm’s length away at all times and built up ironclad walls around the core of myself. I was always on alert; if someone happened to threaten the security of one of those walls, I would immediately become defensive and push away.

But a propensity to self-inflict emotional alienation is not exactly healthy and I think I knew it, even before beginning this journey. I was aware that I was subconsciously sabotaging every relationship in my life, but I didn’t understand myself well enough at the time to know why I was doing it or how I could stop repeating the behavior. See, the funny thing about those metaphorical walls is that they didn’t just keep others from accessing my emotions, they kept me from accessing them as well.

I couldn’t understand what I was feeling because I wasn’t allowing myself to go that deep within my own heart. Through this journey I was able to slowly break down the walls and, in doing so, finally see why I had built them in the first place.

It turns out my fear of vulnerability stemmed from an even deeper fear: rejection. And that fear stemmed from the belief that rejection was all I deserved or would ever earn. So, in the name of self-preservation, I became determined to always be the one to leave first. I was truly convinced that if anyone did stay and got to know me too well, they’d eventually realize that I wasn’t good enough to love. That something was wrong with me. That I was broken.

Well, obviously something was broken, but it wasn’t me; It was the way I felt about me. It was a life-changing moment when I finally understood the magnitude of the difference between the two and realized the reason I thought no one could ever love me was because I didn’t love me. I wasn’t unworthy and I wasn’t broken, I only felt unworthy and felt broken, which made me constantly doubt myself and my own existence. But that’s such a warped and unhealthy view of life!

We are all created with a great capacity to love and accept love in return. Our very existence is based on Love. (I capitalize “Love” here for a reason: the english language only has one word to describe the many different forms of love, so I use a capital “L” to represent the all consuming, all forgiving, unconditional form of love that we were each designed to know, give and receive). The questioning of our existence happens when that idea of Love gets thwarted, which it so often unfortunately does.

Maybe it’s been distorted due to a childhood where there was no true example of capital “L” Love; No example of a Love that is willing to sacrifice or humble itself for the sake of another. Maybe there was only an example of love that was prideful, maybe even spiteful, and contingent on reciprocation. Maybe there was a lack of attention, a lack of warmth, or even a history of abuse.

As a result of these flawed examples of love, we end up feeling broken and damaged; we start to believe that the reason we never received capital “L” Love is because we just weren’t worth it. Then, as we grow older we believe that if we weren’t good enough for Love back then, we’ll never be good enough for Love, ever. We start placing conditions on ourself, and our worth, saying: “When I achieve this goal, maybe then i’ll finally be worthy of love. Then i’ll be happy. Then my life will mean something.”

But your life means something now. You are worthy of love now. The very fact that you are breathing means you are being held up in love, even if you don’t yet feel its presence. You have the ability to become its presence, you just have to start believing in the power you have to change your own story. And you do hold the power here. You have the power to choose happiness and you have the power to give yourself what no one else did: forgiveness, attention, Love.

It starts with acknowledging everything you’ve felt and are currently feeling. If you were never validated as a child, you can start validating yourself now and give yourself permission to feel your own emotions. If you were abused in the past, you can be the one to start treating yourself with the dignity and respect you’ve always deserved, instead of finding ways to self-continue the abuse.

You can be an example to yourself now of the Love you’ve always wanted, but never felt worthy of. You are not broken and you are not unworthy; you only feel unworthy. By changing your mind you can change yourself and become a living example of unconditional Love. Once you start to give yourself and others that Love, you will stop falling for the lies that call you undeserving.

Uppercase or lowercase love: We all have to decide which one we’re going to accept and which one we’re going to give. Once you choose capital “L” Love, your life will never be the same. You will never be the same. You won’t feel broken anymore, you’ll just feel Loved. Loved. With a capital “L”.

DFTLY,

Ali

The Self-Love Stigma (and why it’s wrong)

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It wasn’t until I started being open and honest about my own journey that I realized just how misconstrued the term “self-love” is. At first I was really thrown off by some of the reactions I encountered, to the point where I even started  to second guess myself and my decisions, but eventually I learned to stop taking offense. I came to the conclusion that any benighted response I was met with was just a lack of understanding on the person’s part and I have since done my best to educate, whenever necessary, on the true motivations behind a self-love journey.

To this day, I get a lot of comments like “What does that even mean?” and “I don’t really get what you’re trying to do here” and “Are you just tired of dating or something?” (Um, yeah, but that’s not the point).

My personal favorite though, and the one that I’m faced with most, is what I believe to be the absolute culmination of all ignorant thoughts and attitudes towards the self-love movement: “Isn’t that the world’s problem, that people love themselves too much and others too little? It just seems really selfish to me.” 

Now, because I have personally grown a lot on this journey, it’s much easier today than it was in the beginning to control the intense eruption of emotions that I would feel at this accusation: the accusation that I am, and that anyone else who pursues self-love is, in fact selfish for taking the time to heal. All of the things that I would want to say in reply to this notion, some less eloquent and less gracious than others, can be simply sum up by saying: False. SO false.

This infuriating stigma stems from those who confuse, quite inaccurately, selfish love with self-love. And let me be clear, the two are completely, totally, indubitably different.

Selfish love comes from the need to take from others. It says “What I have isn’t enough, so I need to take from you in order to fill this need in me.” A lack of self-love is in actuality the very thing that births, breeds and encourages selfish behaviors.

When you are completely content with yourself and fully appreciate who you are, you don’t feel a need to take from others because you no longer have a void to fill. Instead, you can say confidently and honestly “I am full. I am complete. I have no desire to take from you because I have all that I need. Instead, here, let me give.”

But in order for anything to be given, there must first be a source from which to give. Love is no different. In order to love (truly love in an unselfish and unconditional way), there needs to be a wealth of love on the inside that you have and feel constantly and can reach in at any time to share. The problem occurs when there is a lack of self-love and self-worth: you reach in but there’s just nothing there. There is no source of love, so there is nothing to give.

That is why there is such an overwhelming amount of selfishness in the world; instead of having a wealth of love in the depth of us and being able to share that love, we have only an emptiness that we try desperately to fill. We start reaching and searching for who and what we can take from in order to feel complete but, even after taking, we still don’t feel whole. The void is still there because the only thing that can fill it is a love that stems from the inside and then grows outward, not the shallow love that we try to take from the outside and shove inward to keep for ourselves.

So, is an individual on a self-love journey in fact selfish? Maybe. The answer depends on where they are at on their journey. The truth is, if they are just starting out on the journey, they probably are selfish. But that’s only because they haven’t yet learned to truly love themselves and therefore have no way of loving others. That’s the point: the self-love journey derives from the recognition that in order to love anything or anyone, you must first learn to love yourself

That they are starting out on the journey at all means they acknowledge the fact that there’s something wrong with their current behaviors and they are trying to change. They see that they are not only hurting themselves but possibly and probably others and they are trying to change. They recognize that selfishness comes from a deep need for love and they are on this journey to learn to develop that love.

They desire more for their lives: to be more, grow more, love more. We should be encouraging their journey, not giving them one more reason to doubt themselves. Because honestly, if someone you know is starting out on their own journey, it means that soon they are going to be able to love so much better and so much truer. And the world needs more people like that: people who have enough love on the inside that they can stop taking and start giving and spreading unconditional love to others.

So please, please let’s stop discouraging those who want to heal. Let’s stop discouraging those who actually want to stop being selfish and want to learn to give. Let’s stop discouraging love.

DFTLY,

Ali

Lessons learned from a 2 & 3 year old

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I spend my Mondays through Fridays taking care of my niece (3 years old) and nephew (2), and it never ceases to amaze me how much I learn from them. Every day they provide me with some new insight on how to live a better life and be a better person. Lately it seems their lessons have been getting bigger and better, and the following are just a few of the many they’ve been schooling me in as of late:

Lesson One: Little kids have the right idea when it comes to approaching everyday life.

Each morning they wake up excited to get the day started. Not only are they excited to see you, but they’re also just excited about life in general. Everything that happened in their lives the day before is long forgotten, and everything to come in the day ahead is a mystery that they don’t bother themselves with trying to figure out. They just live right there in the present moment, and are excited about that moment.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that little kids aren’t exactly happy about every single thing that happens to them. The claw mark on my face, an unfortunate result of my nephew’s opposition to nap time, is a very clear indicator of that. I’m just saying that they don’t let the negative keep them down for long. Give it time and they will be right back to their cheerful, happy, over-zealous selves ready to laugh, play and jump on top of you. (And fully willing to forgive you for making them take the nap in the first place.)

Why can’t I be more like that? I’m never going to be happy about every single detail in my life, but so often I let the negative parts of life rob me from fully experiencing or enjoying the positive. Even in my happiest moments, there’s always that dark corner in the way, way back of my mind reminding me that there is some task left unfinished, some relationship unresolved or some situation un-figured out. Even when I’m not consciously thinking about it those nagging problems are always there, keeping at least a small percentage of my brain tuned in on them at all times. I spend so much of my time either living in the past or looking towards the future that I forget to just stop and focus on the present moment as it is. I forget to be excited about life.

I want to wake up in the morning excited, not for what the day will bring, but just excited for no reason at all. I want to wake up smiling, simply because I like life and am grateful for another day to live it. I want to embrace each moment as it comes and fully take it in. And, if that moment happens to be horrible, I want the attention span of a two year old and the uncanny ability to sincerely forget about the incident 10 minutes later.

Lesson Two: Little kids have the right idea when it comes to being themselves.

I’m presently sitting in the living room with the kids; We’re watching Elmo sing about snowmen and we’re having a pretty fantastic day. My niece is wearing a Cinderella dress with a USA soccer jersey on top, flower shoes on the wrong feet and broken, bright green Mardi Gras beads around her neck. She’s holding a half eaten banana in one hand and a half eaten waffle in the other. She doesn’t care that she looks kind of ridiculous (although very, very adorable). She’s just dancing around the room and laughing like a hyena with golden curls that are covering her eyes and a smile that is literally taking up her whole face. She is completely herself.

If for some reason we had to leave the house, she wouldn’t even think twice about stepping out in her mis-matched ensemble. She wouldn’t want to change and, honestly, why should she have to? Her outfit makes her happy. It is unique, funny and silly – just like her – and would tell people that she’s comfortable being herself in any situation. Her actions are not controlled by the thoughts of other people and her outfit isn’t either (although sometimes it would be nice if she kept on the outfit her aunt picked out for her).

There are very few people in my life that I can honestly say have seen me be 100% myself. It generally takes two or three times of me meeting a person before I feel like I can start letting my guard down, but even with most of my close friends that guard is still partially up. Not even everyone in my immediate family truly knows me completely freed from inhibitions.

I used to hate this about myself and think of it as some weird personality defect that I would always have and never fully understand. But this year I’ve been learning a lot about myself and have been digging down to some pretty deep places and uncovering demons I had forgotten even existed. I’ve gotten to know myself pretty well and have finally understood why I am so guarded around so many people and, remarkably, I’ve stopped hating myself for it. I’ve taken a lot of steps towards breaking those walls down, but I know I still have a long way to go – which is why watching my niece dance around today has been so refreshing to me.

Not many people have the courage to be completely themselves in every single situation, but those people are inspirational. When you live life afraid of the judgment from others, you end up letting those people control your life. It’s none of my business what other people are thinking about me and, honestly, if I want to walk outside in a Cinderella dress with a soccer jersey and flower shoes on, why shouldn’t I? Other people would probably stare, but then again maybe it would give them the courage to do the same.

I’m so lucky to get to spend so much time with these kids and so blessed to be their student in the art of living. Now i’m going to go learn some more and dance like a crazy person with my niece.

Oh, and one more thing:

Don’t Forget To Love Yourself.