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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Pursuit of Happiness

For many years I thought to myself, "I'm not happy".  Looking back, I couldn't even define happiness. All I knew was that by my account, I wasn't it. I wasn't always smiling, I didn't have everything I wanted in life. Therefore, I spent most of my time stressed out and the opposite of happy.
The other day I was overwhelmed with emotion because I realized that while my life wasn't exactly where I always thought it should be, I was happy. I was overflowing with gratitude for all that I currently have. It's not perfect, and most likely never will be but I'm blessed to be breathing and everything else is abundance. After I devoted a considerable amount of time to gratitude for this revelation, I thought about the years I'd spent trying to get to the moment I just experienced and wanted to share the things that I believe held me back. You can't go back in time to change things. but hopefully, if you're reading this you either can relate or save yourself the struggle.

Here is a list of the top 10 things that held me back from finding true happiness

  • Caring what everyone else was going to think
Not only does it not matter but it's toxic to always desire approval from others. As long as you know you're doing what's right, trust your gut and forge ahead. The truth is, the older you get the less you care about the opinion of others because you realize the only person accountable for the actions you make is you.

  • Not spending enough quality time with family
There were so many times my Mom or my brothers would ask me to hang out just because they liked to be around me but I spent far too many years "doing my own thing" which mainly consisted of sulking and feeling lonely so it would have been beneficial to allow myself the comfort of being around the people that loved me. Now, I live 2000 miles away and I don't get to spend nearly as much time as I'd like with them. Spend moments with the people that love you most. 
  • Idle Time

Now that I have a career and a toddler I don't have spare time for anything. I used to take spare time for granted and even went so far as to use the adjective 'bored'. If you're 'bored' there's always something that can be done to remedy that.  Meditate, read, go volunteer your time some where it's needed. All of these things feed the soul. Just don't waste it. All the rumors you hear about time being precious are true. Live for those who can't and live life to the fullest while you're able to.Most importantly, take time to be grateful for everything.
  • The years I gave in to Self-doubt
What if you were your biggest cheerleader? What if someone told you of your talents, your intelligence, even your beauty and you just soaked it in, realizing how truly awesome you are? What happens with most people is that when they are told good things they're likely to shrug it off or even counter it with a reason why that simply could not be the case. Take a compliment. Take it in and let it soak down to your core until it blossoms like the nourished flower you are meant to be. Be confident of your talents, your skills, the assets that you bring to the table. If you can't advocate for your ability to kick life's ass who will?
  • The countless hours I spent sulking over love lost
The hardest phrase for me to fully understand as a person young and in love was "this too shall pass."  When your heart is broken it can seem as though you will never be okay again. You feel this insurmountable ache in your heart where love previously occupied. The truth about heartbreak is --it's temporary. If someone is meant to be in your life, destiny is good about making sure it happens. And, as painful as it seems at the time, taking a step back solo to reevaluate a difficult relationship can sometimes be the only way to understand what it is you really need as opposed to what you it is you feel you need. I'm not underestimating the growth that can come from heartbreak. I just wish that I hadn't cried so many tears thinking life was over when the truth was it was coming to an end to let better things begin.

  • Hours I spent thinking about how life could have been
Rather than spending time trying to change things in my mind that I had no control over, I wish I'd given the same effort towards thinking about how I wanted my life to be and how I could go about making it happen. I wish I'd taken more time to give gratitude for what I was going through instead of wondering "why me?" or even more detrimental, "What if?" Life is full of different roads and most of us don't ever find out the 'why', and that's okay.  If you believe in the universal truth that 'everything happens for a reason', you'll have what's called 'faith' and use that to push yourself through those times when you have no idea what's next.
  • Watching all those hours of Jersey Shore...
This is not to say I'm a hater. I tuned in every week to watch the atrocities that only can be committed in Seaside, NJ. However, I wish I spent more time exercising and experiencing life rather than choosing to be entertained by that which is MTV. I still watch trash tv, just in much smaller doses. Unlike exercise, meditation, reading, calling a friend, etc., trash tv does nothing to feed the soul. On the up side, I am a pop culture savant.

  • Letting fear stop me from moving forward
As I forge in to my mid 30's, the phrase "No Regrets" comes to mind. There are times I do wish I knew then what know now because I wouldn't have wasted so much time wondering what was going to happen. Instead, I would have jumped in the drivers seat, harnessed all that energy and used it to drive myself where I was meant to be. When I think of how many times I doubted myself and how it stunted my personal growth it's clear to me that fear is a determining factor for success. We really do stand in our own way by doubting our own ability. If you don't think the thoughts and words you think and say have a big part in creating your reality than you may not have reached the time in your life where you realize that you have control over what happens to you.

  • Not appreciating the great times
Life can be hard and not always fun. The older I get, the more responsibilities I have and the harder it is to enjoy the simple things and treasure them for the memories they will soon become. I wish I'd spent more time being grateful for all the fun I had. The carefree road trips, the parties, the shore houses, the barbecues and the times when I was so busy enjoying myself, I forgot to care about looking at my phone to see who posted what and I damn sure was too absorbed to ruin a moment by insisting on a selfie. Memories are precious jewels. Don't ever get so caught up you forget to make them and appreciate the time you spent creating them.
  • The time I spent not being Present
Spend the precious time you have on earth focusing on what you want in your life instead of what you don't want. Realize that happiness isn't some unattainable, mystical unicorn. It's a state that you can choose to experience. Don't always be 10 steps ahead of yourself trying to figure out how the rest of your life will pan out. Just be present and try to be in the moment at hand instead of the moment that's coming next or the one that came before. It's amazing how much positive energy could be spread if everyone was intent on just 'being' rather than anxiously stressing about the past and the future. One of the most awesome things about becoming a parent is that kids only know how to stay in the moment and they force you to stay in it with them. Whether it's playing hide and seek or eating a snack, everything for them is an adventure. I've come to the conclusion that we all need to try to be more like children and less like 'adults', or whatever that term has come to mean in our society and in doing so maybe just maybe-- we can value the time we have now all the more.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

What you think it must be like to have a baby vs. what it's actually like to have a baby

     "Aweee!! Let me hold your baby!" "How cuuuuute!" "Oh, I think he's crying, want him back??" I used to be one of those people. One of those single, selfish, clueless, well rested individuals that thought people with children were necessary to continue our population but I was always secretly glad I wasn't one of them. I was the person silently judging when a child started screaming in the grocery store.
     I remember thinking, tsk tsk.. Why can't that parent get control of their kid or just leave her home? I was the ignorant jerk that was shaking my head when your kid starting having a tantrum in the booth next to me at the restaurant because he didn't get to squeeze the ketchup bottle himself.
      I'm sorry. Really, I am. I had no idea how hard it was to travel anywhere with a baby/child/toddler/little person. I was unaware that if you spend time planning an outing your child the child may decide to take an unscheduled nap thwarting your attempts at being anywhere on time (ever again).
    I've heard women tell me "Oh, I used to be able to remember everything--then I had a kid and got "Mommy brain" I laughed with them quietly thinking, that will NEVER happen to me (is that even REAL?!). Guess what--it's real. Sometimes, I can't even remember the color red...I will rack my brain looking for the word but it just doesn't come. I don't know why, or how but the baby does steal parts of your brain.
   If someone I knew was having a baby I would say "Just let me know when you need a sitter! I'm happy to help out!" inwardly, I knew they'd probably never call me (at least I hoped they didn't).  I remember being pregnant and thinking that I would still have plenty of "me" time. Guess what? Nope. The spare time I do have I want to spend with my kid because I miss him while I'm gone all day.
   That's another thing--whether you stay home or go back to work full time  you will feel immense guilt. This guilt comes with being a Mom. I'm assuming it was passed down to me from my own Mother who I'm further convinced made up the word herself since she is capable of inflicting so much of it on to me. When I'm at work I miss the baby. When I'm home, I'm exhausted and feel bad for not always being 100% present as a Mother.  No matter what, I'm sure I'm always screwing something up.
   All the friendships you've been able to maintain thus far will be in question as you battle the first year of being parenthood. I promise you that if the same people stay your friends after the first year then you know they must really value you as a person because you really won't have time to tend to these people for a while so they'll have to be some really understanding,
self-sufficient, people.
       When you have not slept for more than 2 hours consecutively for weeks at a time and you're sore pretty much everywhere and your partner is taking a mid-day nap (because, he can), and you're about to lose your shit--whomever you pick up the phone to call at that moment is most likely your best friend. Make sure you thank them later when you're well rested (I don't know when this will be -maybe like, 18 years from now). The thing is when you think about having a kid and all you can see is visions of your family playing in the park and putting the baby to bed while you read them their favorite book or playing Candyland while your kid smiles at you just thankful to you for birthing them--think again!
    These things do eventually happen and I'm sure they are fantastic but the other 22 hours of the day and 360 days of the year it's a struggle. To be honest, being a parent has made me a better person. I wouldn't trade it for the World. I just wish that I had a better idea of what it entailed. Of course, that's part of being a parent---the revelations. But, I'll let you find that out for yourself.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Inspirational Things

Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you, grows you or makes you happy. -Robert Tew

       This quote inspired my post today. Lately I find myself lacking the inspiration to say the words that lay heavy on my heart. I wonder where my inspiration has gone to. I'd like to think that I am a person that speaks the words crippling my mind with anxiety or joy. However, part of being human is being many things to many people. Playing a role, if you will. During the week, I play corporate slave and then I run home to play Mom to my beautiful son. On the weekends, I try to to be the Mom I couldn't be during the week because I was too tired from being a slave to my job. In between all of that I find myself trying to be a decent partner, a caring friend, a daughter my Mom can be proud of.
          When do I have time for inspiration? Is it something that I need to pursue or will it find me? Do I need a muse? Why is it that there is so much time when you're young yet almost none is left when you actually have the resources and wisdom to spend it wisely?
           I used to think that something big would happen to me. I didn't know what it was going to be but I knew when it happened that it would forever alter my course, re-shaping my destiny. I realize now that it doesn't have to be a big thing. That, if you wait for the big thing to happen you may miss lots of little things that are important in their own way. Maybe it's the little things that you find inspiration from along the way. The flower you pass that captivates the artist deep within you forcing you to snap a picture of it even though you already know that you could never convey the beauty you see with any other human because they would interpret the same flower distinctively different. 
          Maybe it's when my son smiles his genuine, blessed toothless grin that radiates pure love that reminds me what it feels like for my heart to skip beats. Perhaps it's the way someone can touch your soul with words that speak to you in a language you'd forgotten you learned when you were young and less jaded, allowing your heart to bloom in to the ray of sunshine it longs to be.
         The reason this quote spoke to me on a day when I was scanning my brain on what to write here is I have always had a habit of staying somewhere for too long. Remaining with someone even though I'm sure that it's not meant to be. It's like staying wrapped up in a comfy blanket in your sweats not moving out of bed on an overcast, rainy day. You know you should get up but damn, it's pretty comfortable right where you are. I guess there comes a point when you have to wonder where your life would be if you never changed out of those clothes and left the house. Even though it was raining. Even though it was comfortable. How would you ever enjoy the sun on your face if you never left the house to feel it?
        Today, I encourage you to take risks. Change it up. Be brave. If you' lacking inspiration, look around you, it's waiting to be discovered.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Life is full of choices

I realized walking the dog the other night that childhood really is the best time of your life. No responsibilities. People take care of you. They feed you, they clothe you, they make sure you’re happy and healthy. 
I started working at 15 years old and now, almost two decades later I'm ready to retire. Nobody sat me down and told me to slow down and that once I took my first job I'd be stuck working for the rest of my life. I learned all about responsibility but was way too young to understand anything about money management.  Then, I went to college where there are stands of people just giving away free stuff and all you had to do is quickly fill out a credit card application. Well, I'm now 32 and I just made the last payment on that debt about 6 months ago--that was an EXPENSIVE "free" t-shirt. 
These are the lessons we learn as we grow up and we're responsible for our own crap. If you're lucky, you've managed to retain two of the twenty or so best friends you made growing up but good luck getting in touch with anyone when you need them because grown-ups have little to no time on their hands.
I look at my 9 month old and don't see worry or stress or tired frustration and most days he wakes up with an ear to ear smile on his little chubby face. I want to make sure he goes through his whole life waking up like that. I realized quickly that try as I might, there would come a time when I wouldn't be able to control his happiness. This is probably the toughest part of being a parent.  
The toughest part of being a person is realizing that only you can choose to wake up in the morning and be happy. It's a personal choice to greet people with a smile rather than a grimace. Being angry and bitter and remorseful will get you nowhere but more angry and eventually physically sick. The Universe deals the cards but you're the card player. You're the one with the ace in the hole.  Your feeling about the game is relative to the mood you've put yourself in. In life you choose to either be the vulture or have vultures feed on you. Or, you can choose to fly away. As long as you realize the choice is still yours to make.  

Friday, June 29, 2012

Purpose, Clarity and Divine Intervention (and everything in between)

I heard a great analogy last week. It went like this: this woman was taking her Grandson for his annual eye appointment because he needed new glasses.  She never needed glasses but since she had to take him any way and they were having a ‘buy one eye exam get one free’ special, she decided to take advantage of the 2’fer and got an eye exam too. After the exam, the eye doctor asked her where her glasses where. She responded that she didn’t wear glasses and didn’t need them. The Dr. corrected her and said that she needed them and should have been wearing them for years. When she put the glasses on, she realized immediately that her eyes were adjusting to the level of deficiency that was present. If you don’t know better, you can’t do better. If you limit yourself and are filled with fear about leaving the things behind that you know are wrong for you, you may not ever realize it.

 This spoke to me in so many ways that I started really thinking about what it was that I was selling myself short on.  What decisions was I making out of fear—fear of not having financial security, fear of being alone, etc. that was crippling my ability to move forward on my path?

Be aware that if you start seeking clarity, it will come. What comes isn’t always pretty so it may be a difficult pill to swallow when you start thinking about the things that placed you where you are right at this moment.

I spent so many years trying to suppress all the experiences in my life that didn’t necessarily feel pleasant to think about.  One day someone I love asked me why I was so angry? For the first time I think in my whole life I was rendered speechless. I knew I was angry I just had no idea why. 

Where the true journey began for me was when I started to revisit memories that I had that were hard instead of comforting. I believe there is a divine plan for all of us. One that we’re supposed to walk down and there’s an infinite number of branches we can take to get where we’re really fated to go anyway. There are things that prevent you from fulfilling your purpose while you’re here. Let’s call them detours. Some are long, some are short but mostly all of them make you become misaligned with what you’re truly supposed to be doing. You’ll know you’re there when things start to go wrong at a rapid pace and life becomes out of your control.   It’s okay to take a detour, as long as you’re strong enough to find your way back.  

Once I truly began reflecting I had a moment of realization:  the only things that a matter while you’re on this Earth is your connection with other people. Human connections are part of our soul’s purpose. Think of all the times a huge thing has happened in your life. Majority of the time, the big things in your life, the ‘life changers’ , happen seemingly by accident or were a huge surprise.  Some people are put in your path to teach you important lessons about yourself. Sometimes, you’re placed in other’s lives to make an impact on them. Either way, everything you do has purpose.

So make yours a great one. Give the best of yourself to every person that you encounter—trust me, a simple smile to a stranger can matter more than you’ll ever know.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Time may change me. But you can't trace time.

~All things change, and we change with them.

Change. It’s within your reach. You know what it means, but as I’ve come to realize, you can’t achieve it without some personal risk. Five years ago, I was living in a small town in N.J., surrounded by everyone I’d ever known growing up and never truly feeling content with where my life was at or the direction I was going.

Sure, I knew that it was possible to make changes, but it was so hard…and I was petrified. For me, fear was one of the main components of change. For every change I made, I became stronger, and realized that while I’d never be able to control the outcome; I could control the action I took and the energy I put out in to this World.

When I came to NM, I thought that I had hit my bottom. I was so lonely, and had nobody but myself to answer to. What that meant was I could no longer blame my bad days on other people. I couldn’t come home upset that someone had done something to me to make me feel a certain way. For this first time in my life I had to hold myself accountable for everthing I thought and felt.

It was decision time. I was only supposed to be in Albuquerque for six weeks. By my calculations that was just long enough for me to get away without missing anything, or anyone too much. A couple of weeks before I was supposed to leave, I learned that someone I had knew and cared for passed away much too young. I was so sad and wanted desperately to escape the emptiness in my heart, so I went up to the top of Sandia Mountains on a tram. When you reach 13,000 feet of elevation the air is different. When I got to the top, I sat out on the edge of a peak overlooking the land and realizing for the first time that instead of being the center of the Universe, I was only a small piece. It was something so simple, yet I’d never even considered it in all the years I’d spent in N.J. I was always too preoccupied with working too hard, stressing out too much and spending any free time I had entertained by what was going on around me rather than what was going on inside of me. I decided that day that I was going to stay in N.M. I didn’t know for how long, but for the first time in my life, that didn’t matter.

About two years in to living out here, on my own, I had some time to think and mature. I began figuring out who I was, what I wanted, and where I needed to be. It was difficult picking up my life and moving 2,000 miles away from everyone I loved, but it was worth it. I strongly feel that without risk, there is no reward. In exchange for the loneliness, I got to know myself, and for the first time, I genuinely liked who that was.

Of course, I didn’t always have the courage to make a move like that. Truth be told, I left because my heart was broken, and I knew my spirit was next to go. Also, I started paying close attention to all of the signs around me telling me it was time to leave. First, my job moved to another state. Then, I had a breakup that left me with no place to live. Finally, I tried to lease an apartment that turned in to an eight hour ordeal which promptly sent me (and my first month’s rent ) running out of there realizing, if so many things are turning out so badly, what could I do to make it stop?

People always ask me, why do you live out there in New Mexico? How do you stand living in the desert? It’s so slow there…and hot! The answer I always give is the same, it doesn’t matter where you are, it only matters who you are and what and whom you choose to surround yourself with.
In order for things to begin, things have to end. I’d always had an issue with resorting to my past for safety. Whether it be a bad habit or a bad relationship, I just couldn’t seem to keep myself away from the things that were already proven to be toxic for me. It’s like the feeling of exhaustion you get after trying to swim against the current in the water for too long. I was tired, and I knew I had no choice but to go forward. Except, my mind just wouldn’t let me. If I’d been telling this story 10 years ago, I would have blamed it on my heart. But, I learned over the years that you have the ability to control your emotions, it’s your mind that will lead you to the edge of self destruction and dare you to jump.

It isn’t easy and it never will be. Personally, I don’t think it’s supposed to be. But, there came a time when my countless hours of self reflection began to illuminate the darkness I’d been living in for so long. That’s when I knew I had found myself again. I was no longer someone’s daughter, friend, colleague or significant other, I was Melanie, and that was finally okay with me.

Taking control over your life breeds a confidence that can’t be shaken. When you have traveled your journey to wherever it is you’re going, and realize that you have the power within you to make your life what you want it be, you will never feel like you have to rely on another person again. However, ironically, when you get to that place, you turn around and see all of the people that supported you along the way. That’s how you know who your true friends are. The people that are there to wipe your tears should be the same people that are excited to join you in toasting to your happiness.

I started out just breathing at night to clear my head because I couldn’t remain calm enough to attempt meditation and my thoughts were driving me to places I was tired of visiting. The small windows of clarity allowed me a peek at what being in the moment was all about. If you’re not present for life, you miss it. You can spend a lifetime pouring over your regrets, or take a moment and be aware of what’s right in front of you.

Don’t spend life waiting, wondering, hoping for better times to arrive, make it happen for yourself. Don’t try to plan ten years from now, every breath we take is another blessing. Life can change in an instant. The only way to enjoy it is to remain flexible, and open yourself up to the possibility that the best is yet to come.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

In Your Honor

  When I left Bayonne, 4 years ago, I thought I was saying goodbye to my hometown. But last weekend that all changed when I had an idea for a group where people could share their most cherished stories of all--their memories about their hometown.

Our hometowns shape us.  It can’t be denied.  Each and every one of us is who we are, in part, because of where we grew up.  It was the people we knew, our teachers, police officers, priests and preachers,  piano teachers, PAL coaches and dance instructors who taught us lessons about life that would later prove more valuable than we ever knew they would be.

It is truly a tribute to humanity that so many people have flocked to this group with hopes of sharing a ‘remember when’ story, just aching for the chance to discuss a time when life wasn’t so stressful.   A time when people left their doors open because they knew and trusted their neighbors.  When the people that you surrounded yourself with lived on your block, or went to your school.  This group has done that by creating a welcoming atmosphere of nostalgia. Thank you, (yes you, reading this right now), for starting what I hope will one day serve as a reminder to not just my hometown people, but to everyone's. My gratitude for each and every person that feels the same way is immense.

When I look at old photographs and speak to people that I haven’t communicated with in a while, it always takes me back to a time when I didn’t have to worry if the rent was paid. All I had to worry about is being a kid. TPlaying games and laughing until my stomach hurt. That kind of carefree attitude can’t be manufactured or sold.  And once it’s gone, it’s near impossible to recapture.  That’s the beauty of nostalgia.

The overwhelming majority of folks shared the same things. Some missed the locally owned stores. Some wondered why their children couldn’t have the same childhood they did. Why couldn’t their child go out and play until the streetlights came on and it was time for dinner? The simple answer is that times have changed. But, what I’ve realized by starting this group is that people have not. People are still good even though times are tough. I truly believe that this group is indicative of what America needs today:  To reconnect with a time when there weren’t cell phones and gadgets consuming our lives.  A time when people left their house and explored their community.  We need to remember that a community is people and places with shared experiences.  What that means is that we’re all in this together.   That while we are different, we share the same memories, have passion for the same interests, and are defined by our desire to be ‘heard. recognized, and above all else, loved.

Nostalgia serves as a reminder that we are all interconnected. That while we may be different, most of us share the same kind of memories, the same common goal. We are in control of our own happiness, and ultimately are all a part of something worth fighting for: our community.  And if everybody remembers that…well, then anything is possible.