Who do you think YOU are?

I made art, and I made it with me as the star. And I liked it and wanted to share it. And as soon as I did, I heard the words, “And just who do you think YOU are?”

Who do you think YOU are?

Let’s unpack that a little, shall we?

Reclamation of self is a long journey. One cannot merely snap one’s fingers and everything will be all better. One cannot simply say, “Ah, I recognize my pain. I now choose to be fixed.” Sure, it helps to declare such things, to take those steps to begin, but there are many miles to go. I’m still walking those miles, taking those steps toward healing, and I’ve come a long way, baby, but I know there is still a journey ahead.

So often on my travels, I still battle those whispers of lies, those ideas that I am ugly and worthless and stupid. While I am better on the battlefield than I once was, let us recognize that a battle is still a battle. I will be the victor, but it isn’t easy. And so when I make art or think I actually look beautiful or feel smart in school, I hear voices that try to convince me otherwise. Old fists of fury shake at me that I need to remember my place and shut up. That I have no value, no worth.

I know that isn’t true. I do. I know I am worthy and smart and beautiful. But that doesn’t fix it, that deep scar within my soul. It helps, and it gets better, that’s true. But I’m still broken in so many places, and it’s an ongoing process, a daily battle sometimes to just get through the day, the hour. I have to decide every day to be strong again, to march on, and some days I really, really, REALLY don’t want to. The urge to give up lurks behind every corner and attempts to grab me from every shadow.

The stronger I get, the easier it is to have conversations with my demons, with those lies from my past, and to let them know I am in charge, but hey, thanks for the feedback. I no longer stuff those lies down into my heart, trying to ignore them, but I also don’t always want to face them. Still, when the question comes up — “Who do you think YOU are?” — it gets easier to answer.

I am Angela, and I am pretty amazing. And while I might not always believe it, I will keep saying it until I do. Besides, not believing something doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I am pretty amazing, and if that sounds like I’ve gotten a little too big for my britches, well, so be it. Because that’s who I think I am.

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I don’t want to be Superwoman

Be Bold“It’s not that I’m so smart. It’s just that I stay with problems longer.” -Albert Einstein

This Einstein quote came to me while I sat with some particularly difficult problems during my first math test. I was ready to get up and walk away from the ones I just couldn’t get, but his words floated in like a sweet breeze, so I sat and stayed with the problems longer. Two days later, I was able to see that, while I didn’t get all the right answers on the ones I struggled with, I did get close. I was on the right path. I received points for the parts I got right, which is a far cry better than leaving the problem blank and not getting any points at all.

Ultimately, I made a B on the test. I went on to make an A on my second test.

I’m not getting everything right. I stumble a lot. I think of quitting. A lot. In fact, in the very same week that I made my first good grade on a math test, I had to talk myself into not getting up in the middle of that class and leaving. I wrote a motivating bit right there on my paper…to me.

I gotta be honest — sometimes I wake up at 5 and my first thought is, “Eh, I’m tired. Who cares about helping people, anyway?” I want to toss in the towel. I want to be lazy and a quitter because it’s easier. I want to binge on episodes of Gilmore Girls and Grey’s Anatomy and live vicariously through my best friends Lorelai Gilmore and Miranda Bailey.

But other days, I go. I do my thing and press on. Last week, though, I ran into this Wall of Superwoman pretty hard. You see, I sat the night before October 1 and made out this very detailed plan for the next month. I created a morning routine, then a schedule of sorts based on whichever day of the week it is. Since my life isn’t the very same every day (as in going to this one place every day, etc.), I wanted to create some semblance of order out of the chaos I tend to swirl up. I felt really, really, REALLY good about this plan I made.

The trouble is, it was just a plan. Reality for me is I don’t DO schedules well. Or routines. I’m not good with “do this every day for 30 days!” or “always write from 8-9 a.m. every single day!” To put it mildly, that’s not my bag, baby. Yet, I continue to try to put myself into such well-planned boxes. By October 2, I was annoyed with myself for having missed part of my new morning routine already. And I had “cheated” on the writing and eating plan. I had done something else creative instead, and whatever I ate wasn’t what I had planned to eat. I was defeating myself. And for what?

By day 3, I wrote in my journal that I don’t want to be Superwoman. I don’t need to DO ALL THE THINGS. I revisit this idea often, but it’s normally when I’m overwhelmed. On this day, I was just feeling guilty. And it was completely self-induced guilt. More, it was actually yet another way I sabotage myself without realizing that’s what I’m doing.

“Stop planning perfect plans. Just do. Or do not. Stop adding layers of guilt where guilt does not belong.”

As I wrote those words to myself, I felt a new kind of freedom.

“I’m constantly trying to be anyone but me. Why? I’m good enough! I can be ME and it will be OK — better than OK. I can be free if I stop trying to be everyone/someone else.”

I told my coach a few weeks back that I had stopped reading (photography) business blogs because, according to them, I do EVERYTHING wrong. It’s hard to build a business you love on the backs of everyone else’s advice. Oh sure, there’s good advice out there, but for every left, you’ll find a right. Then you’re standing there…paralyzed…unsure. What you once dreamed was possible now seems impossible. And the same goes for all life advice. For every “get up early,” there’s a “stay up late” counterpoint. For every “write on a schedule,” there’s a “write what you can and then move on” bit of advice.

You take what you can use and leave the rest.

But sadly, we often feel like we are failing when the advice of others doesn’t work for us. Or when we can’t live up to the expectations of writing for 3 straight hours every second Tuesday of the month.

So I decided. I’m not and do not want to be Superwoman. I want to be ME. I don’t DO schedules and routines. I work plenty and hard, but some days I get up at 5 and some days at 7. I’m a grown woman who has raised her babies, so if I want to write at 2:00 in the afternoon on Thursday and then 5:00 in the morning on Sunday, I can.

How does this relate all the way back to the beginning? I have stayed with this problem longer and figured out what is working for me. This is MY life. I don’t need to do and succeed by anyone’s standards but my own. I don’t need to be on pause because my business plan (or lack thereof) doesn’t suit another’s idea of what is professional. And I don’t need to save the world every single day. Sometimes I just need to pass a math test. Sometimes I just need that victory in my life, that bit of boldness and order. Sometimes I just need…to be. I’m getting some of the parts right. I’m good with that.

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Elise - Angela, thanks for this post. I had a long comment but realized that it probably was enough to say this post touched me today:)

A Manifesto: Show Up. Be Awesome. Give Thanks.

{Ingredients for a Good Day — Previously appeared at MiddlePlaces.com}

Ingredients for a Good Day

Life is not easy. It’s not bad, but it’s also not easy. Good days come, bad days come, and sometimes absolutely mundane days come. We can’t control the outcome of our days but we can control our approach.

For years – most of my life, I’d venture to say – I’ve had a hard time understanding what a simple recipe for a good day might look like for me. I’ve struggled with trying and falling down, looking for the grand and missing the small moments. With an eye always on the future, forgetting each day is part of the future I was only just imagining days before, I was coming up empty and feeling that emptiness in my heart. Then I realized the key to a good day was found in just three easy steps. By combining these three ingredients every single day, I had the secret to a good day with me the whole time.

Show Up

What does it mean to show up? In the beginning, it meant for me to actually physically show up where I said I’d be. I had a pattern of scheduling and then canceling — friends, classes, meetings, etc. The planning was exciting to me, but the actual going was scary. I’d chicken out, work myself up into a fit of anxiety, and then, later…when the end of the day came and I realized I’d already be home again, if only I had gone…guilt would consume me. I spent more time trying to bounce back from not showing up than if I had actually gone.

Sometimes the going is the hardest part. Getting out the door, driving, whatever. But once I was on my way (and sometimes I still battle this), I’d be fine. I just couldn’t convince myself of this each time I faced the going. Showing up would ultimately end in fun and connections and pretty much all things good.

As I’ve gotten better at the physical part, I’ve realized that because we all live busy lives, it becomes harder and harder to show up and be present mentally. A friend is talking about her plans, and all you can do is ask yourself if you remembered to add mustard to the grocery list. You might even interrupt the friend to check your phone. You’re just checking the time, you say, but you know better.

Showing up for friendship, for family, for work, for your art or your hobby or your education means plugging in fully, pushing away all other distractions and possibilities to live in the moment you are currently, well, actually living in. Showing up means coming back to the blank page or canvas, even when inspiration doesn’t follow. It means letting your yes be a yes, and your no be a no – keeping your word, or not giving your word if you can’t follow through.

Be Awesome

I define “be awesome” as being completely you, doing what you do, acting how you act, and then maybe turning it up a notch. We all have greatness within us, but we often settle for just getting by. When we are forced to turn up the volume, we are often surprised by how much we can achieve or do or be as employees, friends, parents, spouses, etc. Though it can be hard to live at full volume all the time, we can certainly benefit from coming up out of the muted zone.

You’ve probably heard people talk about how you shouldn’t be out in the world and treat everyone else like gold, but then go home and ignore your own family, right? Likewise, you can’t reverse that. Neither yields happiness for all. And while you can’t please all the people all the time, you can certainly aim to be such a light of joy and awesomeness, that others want to smile and dance and have fun with you.

I’m scared often. My personality doesn’t agree with fear, though. My personality knows fear is a liar that tries to silence me, and for too long, I’ve allowed fear to do just that. I’ve stuck to the script, walked a straight line, and forgotten to be me. Just recently, a customer called our customer service hotline and left some nice words about me. They said I was real, not a robot, and that I made their experience fun and comfortable. Wow. WOW! You don’t get those kind of comments when you just go through the motions. No, you get that feedback when you are being awesome — the best version of you that you can be, whether you are waiting tables, playing with your children, running a business, or running a marathon. If the awesome version of you doesn’t show up, no one wins.

Give Thanks

Last night, as I climbed into bed, I first thought about how tired I was but how my mind would not shut down. With so many things on my to-do list, it’s a wonder I sleep at all. I think you can empathize with that, right? So I ran through my list.

Did I show up today? I did! While I wanted to stay home and work on my arts, I had an obligation to my waitressing job. I went – I showed up and was plugged in and present. I didn’t go in and continue to bemoan the very idea of having to be there.

Was I awesome? You bet! I ran and smiled and answered customer requests with enthusiasm. I laughed and had conversations while keeping drinks filled and the salad bar full. And it showed up in my tips at the end of the day. I went home having made enough to pay a bill, and that made me very happy.

So, then, had I given thanks? Ah.

“Dear Father, thank you so much for this day. Thank you for the ability to work, for the customers who are so kind to me. Thank you that I am not in as much pain as before, and that You give me strength to get through. Thank you for the money I made, and for the time I got to spend alone this evening. Thank you for this life and all the beautiful people you surround me with. Thank you for—“

In the middle of giving thanks, I fell asleep. My mind settled as I rested in the arms of our Father, thanking Him for the glorious life I have.

Just 3 Steps?

Here’s the thing: this is my approach. Maybe it will work for you, which is why I share it. Or maybe you need a different approach, another set of ingredients for your own recipe for a good day. All I know is, when I’m having a day that isn’t ideal — where I am reactive instead of responsive — I can typically review the day and see that I did not show up, or I didn’t aim for awesome, or I forgot to give thanks, be it to God, coworkers, my husband, my children, or even myself. These are the things that can keep me in balance. Maybe it’ll work for you, too.

*I’m sharing this today as I refocus my life on loving MY everyday life. It’s not just a tagline for my photography business. Rather, it’s also how I live now. Life happens in the everyday, not waiting for big events and destinations. The happy lives in the right now, and that’s what I aim to focus on.

SO – I have this mailing list and I stopped using it. But I still have it. Maybe you’re already on it. Maybe not. But maybe you’d like to join for a weekly roundup of my arts? JOIN HERE —

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