Foundational Character

Character. 

First, let’s start with the definition. Character is what you do when no one is watching. If this is the case, what does that even mean anymore? We post everything we do on social media. We post what we eat, what we wear, what we’re listening to. The only things it seems we don’t post are things we are ashamed of, which honestly, if you spend too many hours on YouTube you’ll realize is not much. 

As a high school teacher, I can tell you that positive reinforcement is drilled into teachers in almost every training we go to. Studies show that positive reinforcement tends to work even when the reinforcer leaves the equation, so we started using it in education all over the place. Teacher buy loads of candy, do treasure chests, have games with prizes, all so that students can feel an immediate positivity about reaching some kind of goal or exhibiting some type of desired behavior. This, of course, is a push back against old school academics with paddles and other punishments or negative reinforcement (when you withhold a reward) for example no recess. 

It sounds simple enough, and works a lot of the time. Students will respond quicker if they know they can get something out of it. So, great! That’s the answer then! …Right? 

Let’s take a minute before jumping on board here. What are we teaching children when we reward them every time they exhibit the behaviors that we prefer? Are we teaching them to value hard work? Are we teaching them to enjoy doing the right thing? No.. we are just teaching them to keep their eye on the prize. At best that leads to self-indulgence, cowardice, or short-sightedness. At worst, moral bankruptcy. 

See, we’ve stopped teaching children about integrity and character. Not all parents of course, but this, sadly, is the trend. We have learned that everything we choose has a consequence. We make our choices based on those immediate consequences and that’s that. What we are missing is who we are becoming in the process. Life is not about what you can accomplish, what grade you end up with, how much money you make, or anything else. Your job, your family, your schooling, your children, everything in your life is only the means to an end. That end is not any of those things in and of themselves but rather who you spend your life becoming. When we are hard pressed, that’s when we show our true character. What happens when cheating gives you more of a benefit than studying hard and ending up with a lower grade? What happens when having an affair gives more of a short term benefit than being loyal to your spouse who is struggling at the moment? What happens when you adopt a child who is exceptionally difficult and it would be easier to just give them back? Who will you be when the going gets tough and the positive reward doesn’t always come along with the morally correct choice? 

I will tell you that the end, and all the means to that end, will leave you with one thing: on your death bed, will you be proud of the life you lived? Will you know that you made a difference while you were here? Will you be confident that when you enter heaven, God says “well done my good and faithful servant”? 

Next time you are faced with a decision ask yourself: Which choice will make me more of the person I hope to become? Make that choice, not because of what reward you will receive or punishment you will avoid if you do… but simply because it’s the right thing to do. Character and integrity, they are the only things no one can take away from you. Protect them with your life because when character is lost, everything is lost. 

I love myself: An open letter to millennials in search of confidence

Dear Millennials,

imageWe grew up in a generation where we were told we were not enough. Not smart enough (maybe you have ADHD- get some meds), not happy enough (Prozac), not creative enough (take every lesson on the planet but also have time for homework), but at the same time make sure you don’t pursue all that creativity and choose a job that is not too unrealistic. Most of us were brought up in a lose lose situation. Here are some examples from a Kacey Musgraves song I just love.

“If you save yourself for marriage, you’re a bore.
If you don’t save yourself for marriage, you’re a whore-able person.
If you won’t have a drink, then you’re a prude.
But they’ll call you a drunk as soon as you down the first one.”

It’s hauntingly relatable. This is what we were taught! These are smaller examples but at it’s core the message is: we are too much and not enough all at once. Self confidence is almost impossible with these standards. And the irony? The ones who fake it till they make it are the ones with the most success in this world. The ones who feign confidence until they’re putting down everyone in sight because it’s the only way to keep the pseudo confidence alive. There is something seriously damaging about this upbringing. However, if there is one thing I’ve learned in life it is that you are responsible for your reactions to everything. You are not responsible for what happens to you, but you are always responsible for your response. And this goes for our cultural responses as well.

I was a huge fan of Meghan Trainor. I seriously listened to her last album on repeat so many times on my long runs I probably have every word memorized. It’s almost embarrassing.. but also not, because it was a GREAT album. Very clever, musically brilliant (the 1960’s feel was the bomb), and right with the times as far as the message about loving yourself exactly as you are. So, I went to listen to her new album today and I have to say I was sorely disappointed.

“I love me, because I’m sexy and it ain’t my fault.”

Yes, we all heard the bass that she was all about. She is very confident and it was inspiring. I’ve learned so much over the past couple of years about learning to appreciate and love yourself. I’ve learned that you can’t give to others when your well is running dry. You have to take care of the source and you truly have to protect your self image. Create boundaries. Learns to say no, learn to say yes, and all of that. But this? It wasn’t just this song either. It was the whole album. One was about her friends and how they’re the best friends in the whole world, which is great until you hear about how her mom is better than everyone else’s mom and her life is better than anyone else’s life and how you should be jealous because of how famous and awesome she is. And then, “I love me. I love me, hey. I love me.”

Is this what our upbringing has turned us into? I know older people are constantly referring to our generation as narcissists with all the selfies and posting on social media about every second of the day. AND I know how belittling that is and how they don’t understand our generation or technology as a whole. But the root of their complaint comes from a true place. We act like narcissists to mask how small we feel. How unimportant we feel.

Brene brown did a study on narcissism in our society and this is what she found:

“When I look at narcissism through the vulnerability lens, I see the shame-based fear of being ordinary. I see the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose.”

So this isolating image of overconfidence with a complete lack of humility, this is our solution. We are all feigning confidence to the greatest extent possible (because apparently it works- #1 on the Billboard charts). And we become this. “I love me, because I’m sexy and it ain’t my fault.” We become the people that make others feel less than. We become the people that told us our whole lives we weren’t good enough through hidden messages like “maybe she’s born with it… or maybe it’s Maybelline.” Only, we’re worse. We’re not hiding behind these cultural messages.. we’re walking billboards that you are not enough, because if I am not enough then you can’t be either.

Listen, I know confidence is not easy to find. It’s not. It’s maybe the hardest thing on this earth to find. But I believe we are all better than this. We ARE enough. We are capable. And we are also responsible. Let’s create a world where everyone is allowed to be beautiful and everyone is allowed to love different things and have different dreams, just like we wish we had growing up. Let’s stop putting others down because of our own insecurities and becoming ugly people in the process. I always say the most beautiful people in my life are the ones that make me feel beautiful just by being in their presence. The same is true with confidence.. true confidence makes me feel confident as well. There is no scarcity in this. There is enough to go around.

I love me, but I do this so that I can love you.

Because you are also enough.

-Joy

I Remember This Part

imageOver the past 6 months, I have been practicing what it feels like to be alone with myself. Not just alone, but really spending time with myself. I realized that I’d never in my life done that. Yes, I’m an introvert and love spending time in the quiet with my cat, with Netflix, with a glass of wine, but always WITH something.

I was going through something really rough and trying to make some big life decisions so I decided to rid my life of distractions for a month. No Netflix, no alcohol, no going out with friends, no Facebook, nothing. The only things I allowed myself to do other than work was school, reading, and exercising. Let me tell you, it was painful. Listening to the thoughts that go through my head and letting myself stop and feel the grief. It’s not fun. It’s not fun to let the tears fall and not allow yourself to call someone to hold you through it. But it’s real.

It’s the realest way to live. It’s authenticity, and it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful to know yourself and to start feeling beautiful in your own skin. To hear your own thoughts louder than the world’s opinions. To know what hurts  you and what boundaries to set in the future. The low times are painful. But once you’ve gone through it, the release is worth it in every way.

Avoiding all the distractions was a strange thing. Of course I realized how much time I waste on things like Facebook. But I also realized how much time I spend running. Many times the things I do as a distraction, I don’t even really enjoy. I’m simply doing it as a cheap distraction, when I could just face it and then start being productive again. The other thing that was most surprising was finding even more distractions. I realized the people I choose to spend time with when I am down, I realized the little things like cleaning and eating and music even. I wasn’t even enjoying the things that I would usually enjoy because I was simply using them to avoid myself.

I encourage you to start spending time with yourself and journaling, keeping records of your thought process and emotional status. There are so many things that you don’t even realize you’re letting yourself think, or things that seem logical when you’re upset that you can look at the next day and realize are completely irrational. But, mostly importantly you will notice cycles.

Life is made up of cycles. Almost everything in life repeats. You may not notice it because you’re stronger the second time around and it feels different, or it’s in a different context, or enough time has lapsed that you’re unaware. But everything in life comes in cycles. You will not always be at the highest point, but you will also not always be at the lowest point. Nothing lasts forever, not even pain. You are not a slave to your circumstances, but also nothing in this life owes you eternity.

This may be a  hard truth, but for me it has been liberating. I’m going to be honest and tell you these past few weeks have been wrought with heartache. I’ve been feeling myself grasp for the distractions and I’ve been hearing the lies going through my head. “You’re not good enough.” “You’re cursed. You’re a fool for believing it would be different this time.” “You made the wrong choices.” “You trust too much.” and on and on and on. But what’s surprising is that these thoughts don’t have the power over me that they used to.

I just finished reading Big Magic by Liz Gilbert. The book is about cultivating your creativity, but it is so much more than that. One of the things that spoke to me most was the discussion of the tortured artist. She talks about taking stock of your emotional state during the creative process. And the sentence I underlined and promptly taped to my mirror was, “I remember this part.”

I’ve been telling myself this. When I hear the thoughts that are oh so familiar and I feel the cycle starting to repeat, I just tell myself, “I remember this part.” I remember that I’ve been here before and it doesn’t last forever. I remember this part of the process. Maybe I’ll write a good song from it and then it will hurt less and less each day until I can eventually laugh about it or remember it with a smile. When you’re in the throes of the emotional pit, it is so hard to imagine things getting better, but when you can remember back to the last time you felt this way, oh how freeing that is!

Life is truly a series of cycles. When you’re feeling the joy, let yourself remember the last time you felt that same joy and that it didn’t last forever. Experience every bit of it and don’t take it for granted. And when you feel the pain, let yourself remember that too. You are stronger than you think. Don’t let your mind take over,  don’t romanticize your past. Take stock of the moments that make up your life to help yourself see more clearly. Remember this part, and keep an account of that as well so that next time you can even remember yourself remembering.

Keep your head up,

Joy

A Perfect Fit

I was in a yoga clinic the other day getting increasingly frustrated when I blurted out, “I just think my arms are too short.” I’d been trying to do many different balances over the past few months feeling like I’m constantly overcompensating for my short wingspan. The teacher stopped me from my next attempt and got the entire class’ attention. Then she asked another girl come to the front of the room.

Extended-Side-Angle-Yoga-PostI’d been watching this girl since the beginning of the class secretly envying her practice and her body type. She was very tall and slender, and of course had very long arms. The teacher says to the other girl, Joy thinks her arms are too short. The girl responded, “I’m always saying my arms are too long!” We both had to laugh a bit, and the teacher had us get into a side angle position (pictured to the left if you’re not a yogi) and showed us how we fit into ourselves. She said touch the ground and see how your arm fits the exact length of your leg? I looked at the other girl, and it was true. Then she had us stand back up and put our arms next to each other and hers were almost laughably longer than mine. The teacher reiterated, yes their bodies are made differently, but they fit into themselves.

To be honest, I teared up. I’ve been feeling such a burden lately seeing how we treat each other, particularly as women, which is my biggest inspiration to start this blog. We are so quick to compare ourselves. We inhibit our relationships with one another because we somehow think that each other’s beauty is a threat to our own. Instead of having beauty that is contagious and making the people around us feel valued, we feel threatened and are (consciously or subconsciously) create a rift. Some people tear other’s down in what looks like conceit or overconfidence to mask their feeling of inferiority. Some just make small remarks emphasizing the comparison to make themselves feel validated. And some just choose to avoid being friends with certain people because they feel they can’t measure up.

Why do we do this? Women in particular. Think of your best friends. Think of the most beautiful people you know. Why are they beautiful? I’ll tell you, I know plenty of pretty people. You know, the girls you go to high school with that ended up working at Hooters or started doing beauty pageants. I know plenty of pretty girls, but, the ones that come to mind when I think of the word beautiful are the ones who shine from their souls. Their beauty is contagious. They love themselves, and can love me back without threat of competition. They love me so hard, I love myself more when we are together. Some of them are blonde and hollywood approved looking, and some are moms who’ve gained 100 pounds. Somehow, that part of it is entirely irrelevant.

They are the perfect fit and they know it. Beautiful women fit inside their own skin, and they are confident enough in theirs to make you feel beautiful in yours. I think we all have our moments, moments when our beauty shines, and moments of weakness when the world starts to get to us and our bitterness spreads. There are times when we feel like we don’t quite fit into our lives, our dreams, our relationships, our jobs, and that is a part of life. But remember: you are the perfect fit. If your arms were a different length, they’d be too long or too short for your legs, but it doesn’t stop there. If you didn’t have the parents you had, the divorce you faced, the music you wrote, the heartbreak you experienced, the death of the one you loved.. if you didn’t have all of that, the pieces that make you you, you wouldn’t fit.

Your life was built for you. The people that come into your life were built around you, and you fit exactly there. All of your experiences and all of your difficulties including the moments you felt like you weren’t enough. Including the moments you felt like you didn’t fit. These are the parts that have built you, and they are perfectly assembled for you to make your mark on the world. You are always always enough. And you are always exactly where you need to be. Don’t compare yourself. Don’t hide your beauty away. Let’s feed that beauty that is contagious. It is inside every one of us.

Your life is a series of perfectly crafted pieces. It’s what you do with the pieces that lets your beauty shine and lights others on fire. You are beautiful. And you are a perfect, perfect fit.

From my heart to yours,

Joy