My Insignificance

“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

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Insignificance. It’s a word (but more of a feeling) that I’ve been thinking about a lot. That I’d argue we all think about a lot. Constantly even. We are all living our lives in a constant quest for some sort of significance. In our work and in our relationships. We all want to be seen. Valued. Significant in something or to someone. We live in a culture that values fame. Likes. Achievement. Be the best. The smartest, richest, happiest, and best looking person. But in our quest for significance, we constantly fall short. Of course. We aren’t the smartest, richest, happiest, or best looking person. Annnnnnd cue existential crisis. 

But is insignificance really something to be feared? 

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When visiting National Parks, one of the things I value most is the scale of it all. Driving across vast open spaces, hiking in the midst of tall trees, with huge mountain ranges towering over me. I feel my own insignificance. It’s visceral. I am a small part of a huge and beautiful world — one that’s existed before me and will exist after me. 

I’m not (obviously) the only one who feels this way. Reminders of our own insignificance are a big part of why anyone goes into nature. To remember our place in the world. So why is insignificance seen as a negative in all other situations? 

We live in a world that is more connected than ever before. I can have a conversation with a friend on another continent after reading an article posted one minute ago about a story that is unfolding across the country in real time. We have access to everything. We are constantly bombarded with notifications of the rich and famous. Those achieving things we’ve never even let ourselves dream of. And by the way they’re like, probably 12. We can’t compete.

So the downside to this fame obsessed culture is that we see the best of everything. The smartest, richest, happiest, and best looking people are constantly in our feeds. And we compare our own achievements to theirs. The big fish in a small pond analogy doesn’t really exist anymore. We are all small fish in the huge pond of life. And while we innately know that on some level — we now have the added existential challenge of seeing it. Constantly. 

And when we compare ourselves against the most significant our fear of insignificance is only strengthened.

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You know those 2 types of people memes? You’re either a  _____ or a _____ person. You set one alarm or fifteen. You put your ketchup on the side or on top of your french fries. You use a bookmark or you dog ear the pages. You pick a side consistently. While I generally think there is a huge amount of nuance and gray area in almost everything — I do think there is a consistency when it comes to the fear of insignificance: those who embrace it, and those who don’t.

The people who are afraid of their own insignificance are in a constant state of anxiety. They’re comparing. They conflate their sense of purpose with their rank in absolutes. If they aren’t the smartest, richest, or best looking then they aren’t anything. Second place is the first loser. Of course, these people aren’t totally delusional and upon recognizing that there is even one person better than them at anything — they shut down. Become disillusioned. Identity crisis. Existential angst. Whatever buzzword that’s currently being used to describe the dread that is taking over a good portion of our entire generation. 

And this realization leads to another bifurcation: you either give up, or you lash out. You believe you never deserved anything and are actually the worst at everything, or you still feel entitled to the best, feel like anyone who disagrees is a cheater, and then bully anyone who says otherwise. And hey guys guess what? Neither one of these people is likable (just fyi). 

Happy and content people are those who recognize and even embrace their insignificance in the world. They aren’t afraid of it. Don’t stay up at night because someone else got more Instagram likes. They know that they can’t be fully there or supportive of anyone else if they think they are the center of the universe.

They know the world doesn’t revolve around them. 

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When I think about the fear of insignificance, I think of fear in general. Some is healthy and serves an important purpose, but too much is dangerous. We should care about our lives. Do our best. Set goals and achieve them. Contribute something meaningful in our work and in our relationships — but we shouldn’t wreck ourselves in the attempt to achieve unrealistic absolutes. 

As a teacher I spend a lot of time differentiating. Because not every kid is the same. They don’t come in with the same skills or brains or attitudes. They are interested in different things. They process differently and the entry is different for everyone. An A+ isn’t the only way to master a skill. It’s the same in our lives. Our goals and achievements will look different than everyone else’s. And that doesn’t make one better or worse, or more or less significant than another.

Our ultimate insignificance leads to freedom. Really. There are so many people, places, things — I will never see it all, be it all, or the best at literally anything! (and if I am at some moment in time, chances are that will eventually be forgotten) That frees me up to so much. 

There are so many things you will never do or ever be or even see — we are insignificant in the grand show of life — a small part of a big and beautiful universe — so why do we care so much about these other — also insignificant — things? Why are we so convinced that in order to be anything we have to be the best at everything?

You are not the center of the universe. At all. And holy crap thank goodness — otherwise your bad day would throw everything out of orbit. 

Let me explain.

Earlier this week I was super sick and was forced to call in to work at the last minute. As a teacher, (and someone who has a tendency to think they are the center of the universe) I was super stressed about what would happen while I was gone. Who I would disappoint, what would get lost, and how would this one day off irrevocably ruin 150+ children’s lives (and my own). As I reluctantly opened my email the next day with one eye closed and a grimace anticipating what I was sure would be hoards of mean, disapproving, and urgent emails… I was surprised (somehow still, after all these years) to have not even one email regarding my absence. No one needed anything. I didn’t ruin anyone’s life. I didn’t miss any meetings or make anyone mad. The world kept turning. 

Shocking. I know. 

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In fact, generally, I’m pretty sure no one even notices when I’m gone (maybe not even all of the kids in my actual classes) — and once I get past my own ego I’ve realized that’s a great thing. It means I’m doing my job well, not the opposite. Things can — and do — go on without me. 

We are so conditioned to see the best and worst extremes that we miss the value in the middle. Significance is like anything in life — it’s relative. Things that are significant or insignificant to you are just that — to you. Everyone’s problems are more significant, their experiences more meaningful and the quality of their work more professional — to themselves.

It’s okay to just be okay at something. Humans have limitations. You can’t actually hack every area of your life for “unlimited productivity” or “crush all the obstacles in your path”. And that’s okay. It makes room for the things that, well, the things you still probably won’t ever be the best at — but the things in which you enjoy the attempt. 

While insignificance can lead to feelings of disassociation and loss of identity — it also can make us feel more connected. Our own awareness of our place in the world has the ability to shift our focus from our self to the greater good. In fact, feeling insignificant has actually been shown to increase altruism. When I realize I’m not the absolute in anything, I can spend more time using my abilities to strengthen others. I mean, there’s no I in team right? 

So the next time you start to doubt your significance in the world please remember that yes, you are insignificant. In a big and beautiful world. On a scale we cannot comprehend. And that’s a good thing. It gives you room for the significance that matters — in personal relationships and the smaller scale, but ultimately more important parts of life. 

Your purpose in life isn’t rated on a scale of absolutes. It’s all relative. You aren’t the best at anything — but is anyone really? 

So just be you.
 

The Waiting

“Everyone can perform magic, everyone can reach his goals, if
he is able to think, if he is able to wait...” 

― Hermann Hesse

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If you ever went to a church youth group, undoubtedly you’ve heard a lot about “seasons”  in life. Season of waiting, season of singleness, season of scarcity, season of abundance, season of blah blah buzzword blah blah whatever. I've always hated this phrase -- specifically the waiting part. Let me explain. 

A season of waiting implies the world is happening to you. That God, fate, the universe, whatever, controls you in some kind of Westworld VR simulation. And that’s just not true. Obviously. We have free will. We make our own choices. Things may come to us from up above, sure, but we have the power to respond to it. So what are we waiting for?

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When I’m sharing online — a blog post, Facebook share, or an Instagram photo — I always post after the fact — not in the moment. For safety reasons, mindfulness, but mostly just to let it sink in. To react to it fully. To better understand what the experience means to me and why I think it’s worthy of sharing. Like everything in life (online and off), the learning comes later and through the experience. In the in betweens. 

In the waiting. 

Waiting. It’s important. But the big question of life, and something I think about constantly is — when do we stop waiting and start doing?

So like every high schooler who doesn’t know how to begin their essay, let’s start with some definitions. Waiting is defined as “the action of staying where one is or delaying action until a particular time or until something else happens.” 

Uh, no. This is not what I want to be known for. I don't want to stay in the same spot or delay anything. 

Waiting seems to be all passive — but I’m realizing that sometimes not only is it not passive, but it’s necessary. The important part is understanding that I make the choice either way. It's the ACTION of delaying action. Trippy. If I choose to wait, and be still — great. But I know that I made the active choice for a greater purpose. I trusted myself enough.

But what if I’m just scared of the unknown? What if I'm waiting around out of fear? When should I wait? When should I act? And how do I know the difference?

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When to wait

Guess what? Some things DO only happen over time. They can’t be rushed. They take not only time, but great effort, skill, and patience that -- guess what -- can only be accumulated through time. And yeah, this is one of those things that seem really obvious, but I think we need to remind ourselves of it.

I often feel like I’m forcing things. The ol' square peg in a round hole problem. In work, relationships, money — I sometimes try to force things. I’m very controlling. I rush. I want to be active, and doing all of the time. It makes waiting hard. I feel like the things I want are passing me by.

As I'm sure you've noticed (and been annoyed by), I start at least one sentence in all my blog posts with “The older I get,” which sounds kind of (a lot) obnoxious as a 31 year old, but it’s true. I know so much more now than I did 5 years ago. Even one year ago, yesterday, or even this morning. It’s the natural cycle of life. Even when I rush things, I look back over time and learn from that experience. It’s in the waiting that the learning and growing occurs. In the quiet. When I'm not rushing and striving and doing. 

It's the reason you get the best ideas in the shower -- your brain is freed up from it's normal focus. It can free associate and wander through the stillness. And come up with something great. 

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When to act

Your life is NOW — be active. Hustle. Sleep when you're dead.

We’ve all read a version of this on some fitspo instagram girls feed — but it’s not just an empty #motivationalmonday sentiment.

Don’t wait around for some possible future date. It’s not coming. There is never a perfect time for anything (except ordering a pizza — it is always the perfect time).

We miss out on so much by constantly waiting for something more, better, etc. If something isn’t working — you have power. You can change your circumstances. Quit playing the victim. We have agency — and how cool is that? 

A lot of the road trips I go on are last minute. Which prompts a lot of questions. “Why did you go to ______” “You mean you just casually drove ____ hours?” “But why?” etc. To any of these questions, my answer is always the same: I just wanted to go. There’s no perfect time, so that was as good of a time as any. It’s that simple. Really. 

So often we think in terms of, when _____, _____, or _____ happens I will _______. No! You can do it now. And let’s be honest, if you're waiting for x, y, or z to happen, you probably won’t do The Thing when they do anyways. Instead you’ll just come up with another list of if’s and when’s. Shoulda coulda woulda.

“The Thing” — whatever that may be for you in this moment — may not be easy (hey, nothing worth having is), but you can do it. Waiting around begets more waiting around which — lets be honest — leads to inaction.  

If you're making excuses, or putting something off until some future boxes are checked -- you're doing it wrong. Don't wait. 

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How to know the difference

So I've told you to be still and wait. But also to stop waiting around. To realize learning and growth happens in time, but also that there's never a perfect time — yeah I'm confused too. How do I know when to wait and when to act? 

I used to work with a new teacher who was always complaining. Everyone complains sometimes, I know. But this was different (and way more annoying) because it was always about things in her control. At every meeting, when anyone would give her a new suggestion she had “already tried it”, and “it didn’t work” — not realizing that doing things once, especially with 12 year olds, isn’t enough (let's be real, 50 times is not enough but I digress).

Did she do her due diligence? Execute the suggestions correctly? Over time? With buy in? Probably (definitely) not. And not only was she frustrated, but we all were listening to it. 

In this situation, she would have benefited from the waiting. Giving the situation time. Not jumping to conclusions about what works, what doesn’t, or making spurious connections between her abilities as a teacher and the problems in her classroom. Be still. Learn in the in between's. Understand that that's where growth happens. 

So as I constantly tell the kids in my class, “just chill out for a second”. Seriously. Just chill. Then put in your due diligence. But after that, don’t be afraid to stop waiting for change and make it yourself. 

And most importantly: trust yourself and your intuition to know the difference. 

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Fear of making the wrong choice 

If you're constantly afraid of doing the wrong thing, or making the wrong choice then you don't trust yourself. But this isn't something you can just start doing. Again, it's a process that happens, you guessed it -- over time. 

I tell the kids in my class a lot — there are a lot of ways to get to the same answer. It might take longer, slower, more work, or less — but we all get there. So maybe you will make the wrong choice. Maybe you wait for something that's never coming. Maybe you rush into something you shouldn’t. But, ultimately, the awareness of this dichotomy puts you in a better place than most people. 

Self-awareness. Mindfulness. The examined life yada yada whatever you want to call it — just think about what you think about. Think about what you do. Ideally before you do it. Then trust yourself. 

 

11 Lessons My Yoga Teacher Taught Me

"Yoga is not about touching your toes, it's about what you learn on the way down."

- Judith Hanson Lasater

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I’ve been practicing yoga for a few years now, but only seriously for about a year. I go to four or five classes per week, and it’s amazing how much my body has changed, my mind has changed, and yada yada all that hippie dippie stuff you’ve heard before. One of the things I love most about my yoga practice is the teachers. The wisdom they are able to impart during a 60 or 90 minute sweat session is impressive. Here are 11 of the life lessons (in no particular order) that I frequently come back to outside of class. What yogi wisdom resonates most with you?

1. “Every day is different”

Yoga teachers often say during poses that one side may feel different than the other, or that one position may feel different than the day before — or even just 10 minutes prior in class — and that's okay. Our bodies change, and they feel different sometimes. My toe stand on the left is way better than the one on the right, and that's okay. 

Like everyone, I relate to this on so many levels. Sometimes I crush a 90 minute hot yoga class and the next day have to lay down and take a break in a beginners class. Every day is different. At work, one day I’ll teach my best lessons, feel on top of the world, and have no behavior problems, then the next will be an absolute disaster. Every day is different. One day I can be super positive, productive, and happy with myself, then the next I just want to eat Nutella from the jar and watch episodes of Lockup.

Every day is different. And that's okay. 

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2. “Thank yourself for showing up”

I’ve always kind of hated the phrase, “90% of success is showing up”. Showing up to work is cool and all, but, um, then you have to actually work. Showing up to yoga class is great and all, but then I actually have to work my tail off and sweat my brains out. But in my cynicism I think I missed the beauty of this phrase for a long time. 

It's more than just showing up. “Thank yourself for showing up on your mat today”, “thank yourself for giving yourself this hour”, “thank yourself for taking the time to care for your mind and body” — basically, give yourself some credit. Self-care is so important, but so many people don’t prioritize it. It feels selfish to spend time doing something fully for yourself. 

Taking care of yourself, through yoga or anything else, is essential. It’s self-preservation. Capacity building. If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you bring your best self to anyone else?

Show up for yourself. 

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3. “There's no prize for straight legs”

One of my hot yoga teachers always says this during padahastasana (hands to feet pose). To just grab onto whatever is available to you, and don’t be afraid to bend your legs as much as you need. Of course, later she will mention that you may want to work on straightening your legs, but it’s okay if they never are. There’s no prize. It’s you against you. 

I think about this a lot in life. There is no prize for ______. I can be as driven as I want to be, but if I want to accomplish something, it’s just me against me. It doesn't matter if the person next to me has amazing form, it's me against me. There is no prize

Everyone has their strengths. The poses in life they execute (seemingly) perfectly. But this doesn't make anything I do better or worse. It just is. My prizes in life are won by me in the battle only against me. When I meet the goals I've set. For myself and no one else.

There's no prize. 

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4. “Fully surrender”

Savasana (corpse pose) is often said to be the “hardest pose in yoga” — because you must fully surrender. If you’re not a yoga enthusiast, the pose is literally just laying on your back, arms by your sides, with all muscles relaxed. Legs splay to the sides, tongue relaxes from the roof of your mouth — you are consciously doing absolutely nothing. 

It’s no surprise that this is a difficult pose. Letting go of control is, for many people — myself included — the hardest thing to do. It means being vulnerable, and who the heck wants to do that?? But it’s so important. I have made a conscious effort to surrender in some areas of my life in the last few years and it is excruciatingly hard. To just let things be. To stop fighting. Stop trying to force things. To let things happen rather than make them happen. 

Yoga has helped me with this, in class, and in life. Feeling vulnerability is scary, but think of how much better you feel when you allow things to happen. When you aren’t so attached to one outcome that you pass by others that are more suited for you. 

Let it be. Surrender. 

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5. "Take up space”

One of the things I resonated with the most when I started practicing yoga was the idea of “taking up space”. This is something often said during savasana (see above) as a way to fully let go. 

As a woman especially, we may feel the need to take up less space. To make ourselves small. To go about our lives in a way that doesn’t “rock the boat”. I read something recently that said that it’s not even so much that women are afraid of being seen, but that we are afraid of being seen doing the wrong thing. 

I can only speak for me, but I’m sure this is true for all genders — we’d sometimes rather make ourselves small than stand out and open up ourselves to the possibility of ridicule. Of criticism. Of “doing the wrong thing”

But y’all, if you aren’t ruffling a few feathers, you’re not doing anything important.

Don’t be afraid to take up some space. 

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6. “Go to your edge”

When we get into a difficult pose in yoga, the teachers will sometimes say to “go to your edge” or “find your edge and sit one inch lower”. The idea is to find the spot where you are challenged (without strain) and breathe into it. Sink into the challenge or discomfort. 

The edge between easy and strain is challenge. I’ve written about this before, but I really believe that the only way to go through life is to experience challenge. Lots of challenges. By choice. To make yourself stronger and more resilient. 

We all see those people who say they go to the gym all the time but never seem to have any results. They half-ass everything, skip what they don’t like, take breaks, never sweat, whatever. They “go to the gym” but are they actually working out? I don't want to judge anyone, but it doesn’t seem like it.

In life this works the same way. There are people who are in the exact same place they were in ten years ago. Who complain about their situation, but don’t do anything to change it. In an effort to stay in a position of safety, they aren’t going to their edge. 

Go to your edge. Then sit a little lower.

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7. “Look in the mirror - make adjustments”

If you haven’t spent a lot of time in yoga classes, it may seem like each class is just the same poses over and over. And, well, in a lot of classes they are -- but once you practice for a while you realize the intricacies of each pose. The way that micro movements change the entire posture. The teacher will encourage you to use the mirror to square your shoulders, move your knee an extra inch, or straighten your leg in a way that is almost invisible. But once you make the adjustment, you see a huge difference!

Life is the same way, right? We've all heard, "small things make a big difference" -- and it's true. You might remember my bed making obsession? It's a small thing, but it has definitely changed my life. Don't think that you have to do something grand to change your life. To give it purpose or joy. Small adjustments make a big difference. 

Look in the mirror at your life. Make small adjustments. 

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8. “Find a point of focus”

During balancing postures, yoga teachers will tell you to “find a point of focus” that will help you to balance. Drishdi is the official yogi term for this focused gaze. It’s a way to develop concentrated attention, and is the key to balancing. 

In life, this is obvious. You have to have a point of focus. If you are scattered and overwhelmed, your life is not in balance and you will fall. Finding concentrated attention on a point enables you to follow through, be successful, and find balance.

Now, that’s not to say you can only have one thing to focus on in life -- just only have one at a time. Multitasking is a lie. Our brains can only deeply focus on one thing at a time. Flow occurs when we are deeply focused on this ONE thing. If I look over at my neighbor in yoga during a balancing posture, I’m likely to fall out of it. In the same way, if we lose our singular focus on another task or another person, we are likely to lose the momentum and motivation to complete it in the best way.

Find your drishdi.

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9. “Feel the sensation”

During uncomfortable poses, my yoga instructor will often say to “feel the sensation, and breathe into it” or “feel the sensation, but don’t come out early”“sink into it”. When I first heard it, I was a little cynical — sensation as just another word for discomfort. Through more practice, the more I gave in to it, and the more I have realized — discomfort is just a sensation. A sensation isn't necessarily good or bad. It just is. 

Often, when we feel something different, we immediately recoil. We think this is a feeling unlike what I’ve felt in the past, so it must be bad. It takes a lot of courage to just feel it. To sink in to the sensation and not try to come out. 

Feel the sensation. Sink in.

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10. “Set an intention”

I go to a studio that is part of a nationwide chain and probably a little less traditional than most, but many teachers still take time in the beginning of class to encourage the setting of an intention. Something that you can come back to during class. A purpose

I spend a lot of time thinking about purpose and intent. (Intention was actually my word of the year last year). It's so important and yet so easily pushed aside. You can go through a day, month, or even years on autopilot — looking back later and wondering where the time went. If you live intentionally you are creating the map -- of where you want to be, how you want to feel, and the way you want your life to play out. 

While you can’t control your world (and shouldn’t, umm read 4), you can use your core values to create an intentional map. I can do things to move myself in the direction I want to be. I can set an intention and work towards it. 

Be intentional.

11. “Breathe”

Duh. 

Yoga, at it’s core, is about breathing. Always come back to your breath. Flow with your breath. Use your breath to cool off, to warm up, to relax, to focus — to do everything. I mean, it is what keeps us alive. 

In life, don’t forget to breathe. To calm down. To practice mindfulness. To, you know, live. To quote the tattoo of every 20-something girl you know: just breathe. Really. 

Just breathe.

Strength Training *(for your brain)

“We often miss opportunity because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work” - Thomas Edison

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When I’m not driving all over America, writing these blogs, or posting selfies all over Instagram, I am a middle school math teacher. Through eight years of teaching, one of the things that has been most consistent is the, “but Ms. Hart, this is too hard! Will we ever do something easy?” that kids repeat on a daily hourly basis.

To this I always say: “No, because in my class we do hard things”. Kids invariably look at me with a mix of disgust and genuine concern. “Why would you do hard things.. on purpose?” — if something can be easier, shouldn’t it be easier?? 

I don’t think so. At all. Let me explain.

You’ve probably heard of mental strength. It’s a buzzword (phrase?) lately, but with many different explanations. To me, mental strength is the ability to endure the normal and abnormal parts of life while still remaining hopeful. Positive. Resilient. Sounds great, so how do you get some? Is it something we are just born with? Are some people just able to handle things better than others? 

Mental strength, like physical strength, is cultivated. I constantly tell my students that our brains are muscles, which means it can grow! And the more I thought about physical strength, the more parallels to mental strength I saw. 

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Resistance

Strength training is based on resistance. Muscles contract against resistance before they can increase. Mentally, the resistance is the hard things! The things that you don’t want to do. That seem too hard, too time-consuming, whatever. But just like strength training, the hard things are what enable us to grow. 

Think about your to-do list. If you're like me, you carry over the same things from one day to... 100 days later. The things I don't want to do. I'll do them later. I'm resisting them. I want to make things easier for myself. I don't contract against them like a muscle, I shrink away completely. 

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Breakdown

When muscles contract against resistance, it damages them. It creates micro tears in the muscles as they work to overcome the resistance. I don’t know all the technical weight lifting terms, but basically — it creates damage. That is necessary. 

Hard things also create some damage (I mean, they’re hard. Duh). When you’re learning something new or taking on a new challenge, it’s not easy. You may (probably will) fail in the beginning. You’ll become discouraged, mad, bitter.. etc. But remember, this is necessary!

In yoga, my instructors often say that, “you should be shaking right now — that’s where growth happens” and this is true for your brain as well. When we challenge our brain (and make mistakes!) there are actually more synapses firing — which is indicative of learning. (source)

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Repair

After muscles are torn/damaged/I don’t know ask someone at Crossfit, then they repair themselves. It’s through the repair that the muscles increase in size and strength. 

Mentally, the repair is the learning phase. It’s when you start feeling capable and resilient. It’s when you make a mistake (or experience a total crushing failure), and are able to reflect on it. 

Professor Jo Boaler writes a lot about the importance of challenges in math classrooms — but her research can be applied to anything. She says that, “the brain sparks and grows when we make a mistake, even if we are not aware of it, because it is a time of struggle; the brain is challenged and the challenge results in growth.” How cool. 

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Growth

After muscles repair themselves, they grow! Mentally, after you face a challenge, make mistakes, and learn from them — you grow too! You grow your mental strength, confidence, and capability. 

Capability is so important. Google tells me it’s “having the ability, fitness, or quality necessary to do or achieve a specified thing.” And isn’t that what we all want? To be able to do The Thing? No matter how “hard”?

I remember when I first started traveling on my own. I stopped to see a friend on the Western slope and we went on a hike. They asked me how I seemed to do all these things alone so easily. I only realized the answer as it came out of my mouth and I told them, “It’s not easy — but, the more I do, the more capable I feel.” And that’s still the key. The more you do — the more you can do. The more weights you lift — the more weights you can lift. It’s not rocket science, people. 

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Caveats

Now before you start lifting the heavy mental weights, there are some things to remember:

Rest days: Any weight room bro will tell you — rest days are essential. If you work your muscles too hard, they never have time to repair. Your body needs rest to grow.

Mentally, this is also true. Give yourself some slack every once in a while. You don’t have to be achieving, striving, learning, positive, whatever, all the time. Give yourself a rest. 

Stretch (but don’t break): I go to this yoga class called “yoga sculpt” — think, bootcamp with some sanskrit. In other words -- it’s tough. When I started I always used the smallest weights -- or no weights at all -- during the class. It was torture. But, in just a few months, I was able to get some heavier weights. To use them the entire class. To do the extra, up-leveling stuff without feeling like I was going to die.

If I started out with the heavier weights (like many new people do — then end up switching them 15 minutes in to class), I would have felt totally incapable. I would have burnt out, felt negative, quit going, or soothed my sore body and dignity with a bottle of wine. But I started small. The class was a stretch for me in the beginning, but it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t handle it.

And now my “stretch goal” keeps changing. See where you are, stretch yourself to do the hard things — but don’t stretch so hard that you break.

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How To:

So you’ve somehow made it this far, and you want to do hard things. But, how? Specifically? Here are some of the things I’ve found that help me:  

Set the tone: In order to do hard things — do small things first! For example, I am a militant bed maker (I have a blog draft JUST about that). Anyways, the basic idea behind my compulsion is that it sets the tone for your day. I just woke up, but I already accomplished this thing that most people never make the time to do. Or don’t think is important. Or don’t see the benefit. But the benefits are actually huge (I’m serious). 

Making the bed is a small thing — but it sets the tone for your day. And your days set the tone for your life. If you want to feel accomplished, responsible, calm, and able to do more hard things — start with the smaller things. 

Challenges: Most of you know I’ve been doing monthly challenges this year. I gave up alcohol, coffee, meat, dairy, and chocolate (two months because I totally failed the first time). And I’ve told people about it! That is key. If you want to do something, but it seems really hard — make it into a challenge. With some accountability. I want to have more willpower, so I am challenging myself to cultivate it through challenges. I’m telling others so that I can’t wuss out. 

Visualize: When I don’t want to go to yoga, take a hike, email that parent, text that guy, or call Comcast (hardest thing), I imagine how I will feel after I’ve done it. I visualize the weight that will be lifted, the way my body will feel, the stress that I will have mitigated, or the money I will save — and it’s worth the discomfort in the moment. When you worry and stress you’re already visualizing — all the things you DON’T want. Think about the things you do. 

Just FORCE yourself: Sit in the discomfort. You don’t have to read this blog or a book on brain science to know that doing hard things is important. That you will grow from them. That they are necessary. But we make every excuse not to. To avoid. Make things “easy”. But sometimes you just have to force yourself. Everything is not easy. Life is not easy. 

The path of least resistance is just that — no resistance. Resistance is necessary for growth. So the question is, would you rather live a life of less resistance, but no growth — or a life full of challenge and hard things, but growth, confidence, strength, and capability?

I know which I’d rather. 

 

 

Pictures taken at Arches National Park. 

Scarcity and Abundance

“What we call our destiny is truly our character and that character can be altered. The knowledge that we are responsible for our actions and attitudes does not need to be discouraging, because it also means that we are free to change this destiny." - Anaïs Nin

mt evans


I think a lot about mindset. The inner beliefs we have about ourselves and the world around us. The thoughts and feelings that make up our attitudes towards our reality. And I’m not the only one. I mean, it’s sort of a buzzword lately, right? Growth and fixed mindsets are all the rage in pop psychology right now (with good reason), but I’ve been thinking a lot about mindsets that -- in my opinion -- are just as important: scarcity and abundance. 

We’ve all heard some iteration of the “is your glass half full or half empty?” illustration. Are you optimistic or pessimistic? Recently I read a quote by Shawn Achor about that dang metaphorical glass. He says, “Ultimately, however, the contents of the glass don’t matter; what’s more important is to realize there’s a pitcher of water nearby. In other words, we have the capacity to refill the glass, or to change our outlook”

Truth bomb. Whoa. Just fill up the dang metaphorical glass. You have access to everything you need. This is an abundance mindset. There is enough dang metaphorical water (piece of the pie if you prefer) to go around. If I fill up my water glass — so can you! One doesn’t take from the other. 

Someone with a scarcity mindset would focus on the lack. What is missing in the glass. Why they are being put in the position to make this decision in the first place. That it's all so unfair. They live their lives in a zero-sum game. If one person wins, another person loses. They are competing for scarce (but imagined — not talking actual resources i.e. basic survival) resources, focusing on the extreme short term of every decision. This leads to jealousy, sadness, bitterness, and negative relationships with others. 

Someone with an abundance mindset, on the other hand, has the inner self-worth, confidence, and security in themselves that enables them to see long term. There is enough water/pie/success/love/time to go around. They see the benefits in sharing -- and are happier, more influential, and ultimately powerful and successful because of this mindset shift. 

So, go fill up your dang water glass and read on to see how these mindsets can help or hinder the most important parts of your life. 

rocky mountain national park 1

Money

The most obvious effect of a scarcity or abundance mindset is the one it has on our money. Finances. Skrilla. The thing in your life that is absolutely necessary to survive, that you use every day, but that no one wants to talk about. Yeah, that. 

Have you noticed those people who are “always broke” also seem to “always be complainin’"? Their job is dead end, their rent keeps going up, bad things keep happening to them, they’re not valued at their job blah blah. Do they ever seem to get ahead? Nope. Like your mother said — not with that attitude they don’t. And I think it’s easy to see this in other people, but not always in ourselves. In our inner monologue. 

I admit this one is hard for me. I am a teacher. The fact is that even after 8 years of teaching, I still make what is an entry-level salary in many fields. And that sucks. I get into the mindset of “I’ll never have enough” more often than I’d like to admit. But I’m trying to change! 

I try to think of money as fluid. Sometimes I have it, sometimes I don’t. Ownership is a social construct — the things I have are only mine for a short time before moving on anyways. So why am I holding on so tightly? 

I have a salary, but I can make more. 

That is key. I’m not stuck in my situation. I could get a job at a different school or district that paid more, I could get a part time job, a side hustle etc. Also, I can just have a serious conversation with my employer about what I need (and I do) — then random opportunities for extra money seem to come out of nowhere. Really. You just have to ask. But you can’t ask if you don’t think it’s there in the first place. If you don’t think it’s possible. If you think there is only so much to go around. 

Bottom line: I can make more money without taking away money from anyone else. 

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Work

Scarcity and abundance mindsets aren’t just important in our financial lives — the effects are far reaching. How do (most of us) get our money? Well, work, of course. And our work mindsets affect our happiness and success. 

If you have a scarcity mindset, you may feel like you have no options. Like your professional options are limited, or that you will be stuck in you dead-end job forever. If someone else is a “winner” — successful, receives praise, a raise, credit etc — then that makes everyone else lose. You can’t see that other’s success does not take away from yours.

If you enter your professional life with an abundance mindset, then you realize that you have options. You can get another job — there’s always more. You’re not afraid to share the credit because you know that it doesn’t diminish your accomplishments. You are focused on growth, not afraid of failure, and don’t avoid competition. You look at situations as a win-win rather than a win-lose. 

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Relationships

While you may not want to take relationship advice from a single 31 year old (ha) — hear me out. I think we can all agree that neediness is a relationship killer — romantic or otherwise. But if we all “know” this, why do we constantly witness this behavior? Why do we feel the need to grasp onto something so tightly, when rationally we know this is a bad idea? 

Someone with a scarcity mindset believes (subconsciously or consciously) that there are only so many fish in the proverbial sea. If a relationship doesn’t work out, well, you’re screwed. What if that was the last available man, in your age range, with the right color hair and the ability to make you laugh at average intervals?? This leads to desperation, which leads to neediness, which leads to not another date (or an unhealthy relationship built on desperation but that’s another story). 

When you come into new relationships with an abundance mindset, every bad date isn’t a crushing blow. Losing a friend, while hard, doesn’t mean you are unlovable and destined to talk to your cats for the next 20 years (but, I mean, is that so bad?). It sounds totally trite, but there are other fish in the sea! There are bigger seas. There are rivers, lakes, aquariums. You just gotta believe it. Retrain your brain. Be deliberate. There is enough to go around. Even in matters of the heart. 

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Time

This one is easy. If you don’t have enough time, or are always “busy” — then you have a scarcity mindset. No one is that busy unless their priorities are out of whack. Unless they use busyness as an excuse. 

Busyness and hurrying comes from lack. Urgency, on the other hand, comes from a place of abundance. I can have a ton on my plate and still not feel like I’m out of time, because I’m deliberate in my choices. I make the time for the things that are a priority. I don’t stress over the things that are not. I schedule margin into my life — so that I don’t fall into the busyness trap. I approach tasks with urgency — not “hurried”. 

It’s all priorities, people. 

“Time comes to those who make it, not those who try to find it.” Jen Sincero

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So how do you cultivate an abundance mindset? It isn't the natural position for most of us, so here are some easy ways to start shifting:

Create Options

Don’t like your job? Get off the couch (after you finish reading this, of course) and apply for some new ones. Work on your resume. Talk to your boss. Get extra training. You know the drill. You’ve heard it before. The important part is understanding that you are creating more options for yourself. That you can. You are not stuck. You don’t have to stay in places that don’t serve you. 

The more you work towards creating options in your life, the more you are training your brain to think from a mindset of abundance. 

Everything you need is available. 

Give

The core of scarcity thinking is the belief that there isn’t enough to go around. That you have to hoard the things that you have. Material objects, money, praise, etc. Counter this by giving. Giving your time, money, objects, whatever. 

I have a rule that whenever someone asks me for money, and I have cash, I give it to them. I want to keep my relationship with money fluid. If I give it away, I know it will come back to me. I’m not holding onto it so tightly that I miss an opportunity to help someone else. I have the mindset that, just like I am giving to someone in need, that if I was in need someone would be there. 

Everything you need is available. 

Treat Yo Self

Sometimes you just gotta treat yo self. This helps in cultivating an abundance mindset in a few ways: showing yourself that no, buying a $5 green juice at Whole Foods actually won’t ruin your entire budget, that you don’t actually have it that bad, and that there is room in your life for some luxuries and abundance. 

Everything you need is available. 

Practice Gratitude

Be grateful! Duh. You have so much. You have the ability to read and understand this blog post (1 in 7 people in America can't), you have internet access ( more than half of the worlds population doesn't!), the vision to see it (1.1 million people in America don't), and a million bajillion (trust me, I’m a math teacher) other things to be grateful for. 

You’ve heard it a million times, but focus on the positive. Not the areas where you may be lacking. 

Everything you need is available. 

Mindfulness  

Mindfulness. Another buzzword. Oy vey.  But again, for a good reason. Don’t be focused on the next thing, or the thing you don’t have yet — focus on the things that are happening now. What you can do now, in this moment. 

What you focus on you create more of. Period. If you think negative thoughts, you think more negative thoughts. It’s a circular thing. Negative, limiting thoughts lead to negative, limiting actions -- which then lead back to the thought that started this whole mess. Break the chain. 

Everything you need is available. 

Scarcity and abundance mindsets, like everything, are on a spectrum. I can naturally have a super healthy, abundant mindset in my work life and a super scarce mindset when it comes to my finances. That’s okay. But remember that your mindset/brain/thoughts are like muscles — they grow with use. Use them in the right way. Be aware of your thoughts and the circular nature of negativity. Then make the change and cultivate a mindset of abundance. Everything you need is available -- take it. 

Self-Help or Self-Improvement?

“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Do not bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” 
― William Faulkner

I have a lot of books. Like a lot a lot. Multiple bookshelves. All full. Spilling out. Books under the bed, under the couch, in my drawers, in the car, in my classroom, in my backpack — everywhere. My family always had a library growing up, and books in every other room — so to me it seems normal. I’m always surprised when I go to someone’s place and don’t see books. While I honestly derive some (okay a lot of) pride from my book collection, it’s also a little scary when someone new comes over and starts to peruse. Despite having read more books in a year than most people have in ten  — books are a personal thing, and I don’t want to be judged for my choices. 

I have all kinds of books, but the overwhelming majority are non-fiction. Within the non-fiction I have several different types — one being self improvement. Personal development. Growth. Whatever you want to call it — terms we use because God forbid we say “self-help”. 

A common TV trope is the sad single in a bookstore self-help section. Hat and glasses on — invariably ends up running in to their ex/crush/mortal enemy. It’s looked at as shameful or embarrassing to look to a book for help. And I get it — I’ve felt it too. But more often I wonder why the stigma still exists — I mean, shouldn’t it be shameful NOT to want to improve yourself?

I think there are three types of people who have a problem with self-improvement: 

1. The people who already think they’re perfect (don’t need improvement) 

2. Those people who aren’t self-aware enough to understand or realize that it’s possible to improve (i.e. do not read) 

3. The people who think they’re just too freakin’ cool. Too hip. Too faux artistic, intellectual, blah blah you know the type (just follow the scent of elitism and overcompensation)

Well, maybe there is a fourth type. One that I fit into. And that’s the group that has some problems with self-help's false pop culture definition. Or maybe just the word help. 

Help and improvement - to me - are very different. Help is something you NEED. It’s aim is to make things easier. Improvement is about GROWTH. Development. Things you want to advance in your life — easy or not. Help comes from a needy place, and I don’t have to tell anyone that’s not a good look. It comes from a place of lack — I need something in order to be fulfilled. Improvement comes from a desire or a want deep inside — it’s active, it’s from a place of abundance. 

Help vs. Improvement is similar to the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset. These terms are everywhere lately (like here, here, and here) so I’m sure I don’t need to go over them again — but basically, if you have a fixed mindset you believe your intelligence, traits, gifts, whatever, are fixed and that there’s not much you can do to change them. Just deal with it. Get help. A growth mindset, on the other hand, is the mindset you have when you believe you can change. You can improve. Your intelligence, traits, gifts, whatever. It’s when you embrace failures as learning opportunities and continue to strive towards the things you want. 
 
That’s why I’m so interested in personal development — I know I can improve anything I want to improve. Now, I’m not so obsessed with improvements and efficiency and life hacking that I try to improve every part of my life unnecessarily, but I know that I can if I want to (through deliberate practice and hard work).

So why is there still a stigma? While there are definitely higher or lower levels of stigma depending on the type of people you surround yourself with - there seem to be some barriers that are fairly general. 

Ego

“The worst disease which can afflict executives in their work is not, as popularly supposed, alcoholism; it's egotism.” 
― Robert Frost

While it’s super hip and instaworthy to practice yoga, meditation, healthy eating, etc. it’s still somehow super uncool or cheesy in some circles to admit that you are actively trying to improve yourself through any of these methods. It's somehow better to be seen as someone who is just naturally peaceful, meditative, flexible, healthy, positive, etc. rather than someone who is striving to be. If we admit that we are striving for something more in our lives, it seems like we are admitting to being less than - and our ego doesn't like it. 

For example, I’ve been 95% vegan for the past several months (and yeah I know how annoying the 95% part is...), but I’m the first to admit that it’s not just for ethical, wannabe cool Colorado girl reasons. I like the way it makes me feel, and honestly I like the way it makes me look. Why is it wrong or cheesy to admit that we want to improve?

We don’t want to be seen as weak

"Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.” 
― Rainer Maria Rilke

It’s hard to ask for help — we all know that. But it’s also hard to just admit that we want to improve. Which is cray because we all know about imposter syndrome — in fact, I just read that over 70% of people have experienced it at some point in their lives. Felt like they weren’t qualified or good enough to do their jobs. Imposters in their own lives. And while this isn’t a positive way to go through life, at the same time, if you don’t feel competent - you can do something about it! You can learn, improve, grow, and feel capable if you’re willing to help yourself. 

The real weakness we should be concerned about is passivity. Not doing. Not striving. Remaining stagnant in our lives. 

We also don't want to be seen as self-centered

“There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally.” 
― Miguel Ruiz

We don't want to be seen as weak, but we also don't want to be seen as self-involved. "Who does she think she is" "They are just trying too hard". While I wish the opinions of others held no weight, as a human I can't help but sometimes think about it. I'm sure we all do. If we are actively trying to improve ourselves, it's going to rub some people the wrong way. Chances are those people are insecure about that same thing, and wish they had the willpower to change it too. So be kind, but don't stop growing for others, you aren't taking anything away from them - there is enough to go around.

Fear of Change

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” 
― Jalaluddin Rumi

I’m sure you’ve heard the Alice Hoffman quote, “Once you know some things, you can't unknow them. It's a burden that can never be given away.” I think about this a lot, and have realized that I sometimes physically avoid things because of it. Once I check that email, ask that question, read that book, whatever — I can’t go back. I have to deal with it.

I don't think I'm alone in this. It seems like a lot of the people I meet are avoiding something. Not asking the hard questions. Playing it cool. Making excuses for their behavior and their lives instead of trying to change them. Sometimes I just want to scream, “how about you just get your you know what together like an adult?!” — but of course, no one has it together. So why are some of us so afraid to admit that? To show that we care? That we are trying to change? 

Change is scary - but staying the same is even more terrifying. When we fear change we end up repeating the same behaviors and thoughts that keep us in a cycle of negativity and passivity.

Entitlement

This one is a little controversial - but as a teacher, I see it every day. The self-esteem movement - yes, of participation trophy fame - really has had the negative effect of promoting entitlement (in some cases - obviously not all). Self-esteem is absolutely crucial, but the way it has sometimes been misused in the last few decades has led to generations with sizable groups of people who believe they are worthy of praise and adulation just for being. 

Think of reality TV. It's made up of people who have basically no qualifications or positive attributes - but they have achieved what many people in our society see as a successful life. They aren't trying to change - they are just being themselves. And I hate to say it, but yourself isn't always worthy of praise. None of us are born blameless or without fault, so why is it so common to hear the refrain of "just be yourself" "you deserve _____ just for being you" "don't ever change" "I'm just being me". While these all come from a place of positive intentions - and if used in the right way are positive phrases - they can easily be used as an excuse.

I'm just being me can easily be used an excuse to be a jerk. Like when someone prefaces a rude opinion with, "it's just my opinion" as if that let's them off the hook. Yes, just be yourself.... unless you're a jerk.  

So now what?

Don't be afraid of the self-help section - whether we want to admit it or not, we are all striving to improve our lives - which can only happen by improving ourselves. Be a little bit ruthless - what part of your life could benefit from some growth? Don't give in to negative behaviors just because "it's who you are". Then get to reading! Blogs, articles, books, whatever! Don't be ashamed! And while you may come across some cheesy stuff - more than likely you'll find some amazing insights.

11 of my Favorite Personal Development Books

If you don't know where to begin (or - like me - are always looking for recommendations), here are some titles to start with (that you may not have even realized are "self-improvement"!):

#Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso

And don't forget to let me know what you think :) 

No, You're Not an Extroverted Introvert

“Why am I as I am? To understand that of any person, his whole life, from birth must be reviewed. All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient.” 
― Malcolm X

If you’ve been on Facebook lately, undoubtedly you’ve seen prolific sharing of articles, photo quotes, and quizzes attempting to define “your true personality.” Extrovert, introvert, and the new “extroverted introvert” seem to be the most common subjects of these listicles. And while I’ll admit that I’ve read a few (several) — I’ve been thinking a lot about what this focus on personality and personality tests really gives us. 

I mean, you know extroverted introvert is an oxymoron right? But you know what else? We are all probably both. (Also, the word is ambivert.. but I digress :)) Two things can be true at the same time, and personality is on a continuum — not a binary. Liking to be a in a group sometimes and then liking to be alone sometimes doesn’t make you anything but a normal person. 

Personality doesn't fit into a neat and tidy list — but my thoughts about them do :) So read this before you put too much credence into the third “What Color Am I?” test you take before you go to bed tonight:

1. Personality Tests Promote a False Binary

Introvert or extrovert. Thinking or feeling. Dominant or compliant. Generally, personality tests present two choices — you are either one or the other. And while many of the tests may show a continuum of sorts — you are still dominantly _____. Based on some questions you mindlessly scrolled through for thirty minutes. And these binaries are very different!

For example, I have always been an E on the Myers-Briggs (extraversion). On the long report I got (after taking a paid version for a professional development class), it showed that it was only just barely trending towards the E — almost exactly in the middle — but from then on I was defined as an extrovert. (funny if you know me, right?) Anyways, Carl Jung himself -- on whose theories this test was based -- didn’t agree with this binary. He wrote that people tend to favor one over the other, but not that they necessarily are one or the other. 

Whether you’ve taken a test or not, we all have likely identified at some point with one of the types. And there are some people who are probably textbook versions of one or the other 99% of the time — but I’d say that the majority of us are not. I hear people say a lot “I'm actually an extrovert” or “I’m actually more of an introvert” in a situation where they seem to be the opposite — how about, “I am a normal person who shows up in different ways at different times based on a myriad of things”? How about not feeling the need to explain at all? You aren’t one way all of the time, and if we expect each other to be that is our problem. 

For example, last week when I was in New Mexico I went to a hot springs and got an hour in a private, riverside pool. It was beautiful on its own, but I wanted a subject in the photos so I took a causal pool loungin' photo before I fully immersed myself in the hot water. I love to share (duh) so I went to put it on instagram that night -- and hesitated. I text my sister and asked "Am I the type of person who would do this?" but also thought, "I don't want people to think I am __________ because I put a picture of myself in a bikini on the internet" This is a (silly, but real) example of the false binary. I can be the type of person who does whatever I want to do. If I do something, I am the type of person who does that thing. It doesn't matter if it's unexpected.

2. Inherent Problems with Personality Tests/Profiles

Of the major “Personality Assessments”, the Myers-Briggs is the most popular and widely used, so I’ll talk about it more specifically here. It was developed during World War Two by two housewives (not a criticism, but also not scientists) who were interested in Jung and wanted to develop a system to help women find jobs suited for them. Now it is used in hiring and professional development, as well as personal development (and memes). It’s seen in pop culture as a scientific test while psychologists have generally rejected it entirely. 

So what’s the problem? 

From a methods perspective — a lot. The test derives a lot of information from a small amount of not necessarily scientifically based questions. Depending on the reason for the test (jobs, personal etc), you may skew your answers without even realizing it (answering how you think someone in that job would). Even if you’re just taking a random Buzzfeed version, we answer based on how we would like to be. “I think I am a person who ______” But is this accurate? 

And like I mentioned before, there are excessive binary choices. This is a logical fallacy. Two things can be true at the same time. I might feel one way when I answer a question on a personality test and then completely different a few days later.

Have you heard of the “Forer” effect (or Barnum effect/acceptance phenomenon)? It’s basically the tendency for people to accept things that are vague or general as being true if they think they were specifically for them. Bertram Forer identified this effect when he gave his psychology students a personality assessment and then an analysis that was supposed to be totally personalized to them. Of course, they were actually all the same report. He found that 85% of the students thought it described them accurately before they knew of the ruse. 

Surprising? Not really. It’s the same effect that drives interest in horoscopes and the personality lists you see online. The indicators are just vague enough that almost anyone (because we are humans on a continuum and our feelings change) can relate. Likes being around people sometimes. Yep, that’s me. Likes to be alone sometimes. Oh wow, so accurate. Umm… 

3. You Don’t Need to Fit in a List/Profile/Personality Report

It’s not all hogwash. I do think that some of the more specific things I’ve read about ENTP’s are really accurate to my general “state of being”. ENTP’s are supposedly really great at starting projects and not so great at finishing them. This is me (but maybe it’s a lot of people). The problem with this distinction, even if it seems accurate, is that I might start to define myself as just “someone who doesn’t finish things” — then use it as an excuse. 

I think it’s human nature to want to find an excuse for our behaviors that aren’t so great. “I’m just this type of person”, “It’s who I am”, “I was born this way”. They’re all excuses. If I have a problem finishing things, and am aware of it, guess what: I can just make myself finish things. It’s not rocket science. So that’s where an occasional personality assessment can be beneficial. Maybe you didn’t realize something negative about yourself, but reading it and looking back you see it in your life. Cool — but don’t use it as an excuse. Make the leap from understanding to DOING. Don’t live in a definition of some sort of simplistic “type of person.” 

Also, why are you listening to some random person on the internet (oh, hi) tell you who you are anyways? If a friend at happy hour started saying “based on your reactions to a few things I've seen in your life, this is how you respond to struggles… “ wouldn’t you be just a little (a lot) annoyed? What do they know? I’m unique, damnit! But really, we are. I may respond to things in a similar way most of the time -- but not all the time. And maybe I only respond in that way because I know it's expected? Hmm...

4. What’s Wrong With Being Complicated? 

Personality types are all about absolutes. A quick search of “Personality Tests” comes up with a plethora of articles using them. “18 Struggles ALL ______ experience.” “13 things ALL _____ know” “10 things you’ll ALWAYS catch ______ doing.” The problem with absolutes should be obvious, but no one is ALWAYS anything. The world can’t actually be categorized into 16 tidy boxes where everyone inside is the same. I mean how boring would that be?

And what’s so wrong with being complicated? Complicated is just defined as, "consisting of many interconnecting parts or elements; intricate" -- sounds like a good thing to me. I think that’s really the core of my problem with this personality obsession — I’m not always anything. I’m always changing and I have many parts of my personality. Sometimes I am adventurous and outgoing, sometimes I am quiet and boring. Sometimes I finish projects, sometimes I don’t. And sometimes that ENTP definition is spot on — but I can’t use it as a crutch. 

I think I’ve tried for a long time to fit into a role that’s easy to understand. Simple. But if anything it’s backfired. Simple is easy. Simple is boring. I don’t want to be easy to understand, easy to predict. Sometimes I keep myself from expressing my opinions or doing certain things that I think would be surprising to people (like on first dates yikes) because it feels safe. But remember, simple = boring and studies have actually shown that psychologically, complicated = interesting (and interesting = seductive but that’s another blog post entirely haha) There will always be someone who disagrees or is turned off by your opinions, actions, whatever — but there are always two sides so someone will also agree. If you’re boring that means you’re not producing any reaction — and isn’t that the worst possible way to go through the world?

People love to talk about "the type of person they are". It feels comfortable. Safe. But I’ve always thought that the type of people who say they are the type of people that ________ — really aren’t that type of person. If you have to say it, or read it in a personality profile to believe it, then you might not be that thing. You want to be, sure — but are you really? 

The good news: you can define yourself! You can pay attention to who you actually are, or aren’t. You can change the story, the definition, labels, personality type, whatever. It’s uncomfortable, but sit in the discomfort — that’s where growth happens (so yogi of me but it’s true). People don’t know your backstory. They don't know your Myers-Briggs type, your Enneagram, the color of your aura -- they don’t know the why of who you are -- but they know the how. How you show up. How you act in ______ situations. Focus on those things. The How. 

Personality tests can be fun, I get it. We want to understand ourselves better — but without putting in the effort of actually finding ourselves through, you know, actual experiences. Through paying attention to how we respond to things, how we feel in contrasting situations, what drains our energy, and what puts fire in our soul. 

No, no, I will just take a test and it will tell me how I respond in these situations. No, no, I will read this Buzzfeed article with random cartoons who like to make plans then cancel them and define myself as that. Sounds ridiculous right? But I think we’d be surprised at how much we allow these ridiculous things into our thinking. 

Don’t take the easy way out. It’s boring. And it’s not accurate! Don’t put yourself in a “type” box. Define yourself. Leave room for change. Remember that everyone can be everything all at once and that’s okay. Complicated is a good thing. Learn about yourself through yourself — not the internet. Believing a simplistic definition of yourself will cause you to become the label. You will simplify yourself and in turn make yourself small. We aren't meant to be small - we are meant to be big, interesting, and yes - complicated. 

Purpose

“Find the thing you want to do most intensely, make sure that’s it, and do it with all your might. If you live, well and good. If you die, well and good. Your purpose is done” 
― H.G. Wells

vail view

The school year ended and summer vacation started for me a week ago (woo!). On the last day of work I had a friend come in to town, spent time with them over the holiday weekend, then immediately drove South to the border through New Mexico, West Texas, and three National Parks along the way. I got back late Sunday night to teach summer school the next morning -- 3 hours a day/3x per week/3 weeks - hardly work. Anyways, after the 3 hours of work, I had a couple errands to run and then went home to relax. (I’ve waited all year for this!) But, not surprisingly, I was up again within minutes to go to the drugstore to buy hair bleach and pink hair dye (don't worry - it's subtle). I don’t do well with unstructured time -- never have. I have to be doing something. Like everyone -- I need a greater purpose. 

So what is my purpose? Where do I find it? I think, for most people, purpose comes through their family and their work. My family is a thousand miles away and, in the summer, I don’t really work. If I didn’t have a clear purpose I honestly don’t know what I would do. 

What It's Not

When I first started teaching I put all of my effort, enthusiasm, and energy into my students. I distinctly remember actually being nervous for the weekends because I wasn’t sure how to spend all of the free time. I needed structure -- I still do -- but I didn’t know how to create structure around a life of purpose beyond my job. 

I don’t find my purpose in my job anymore (sorry kids). I find happiness, yes - but it isn’t what I live for - and I would argue that it shouldn’t be for anyone. What’s the phrase, “do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”? Well, I beg to differ. No matter how much you love your job or how much you help those in need or change the world -- it’s still a job. You are still getting paid. Would you do the exact same job, with all the same duties, same hours, same emails, etc. if you didn’t get paid for it? I didn’t think so. Then your job is not your purpose. It contributes to your full, awesome life, but it isn’t the driving force. 

ward co

What It Is

Purpose is elusive. It's always changing. It stretches, enriches, and keeps you up at night (in a good way!). It’s not a job, and it’s also not a person. People are fallible -- they will disappoint you. You can’t control  a person no matter how hard you try. People and community are a part of a purposeful life, but they are not the purpose. Purpose is more. It is the things you do just because you want to do them. Because they bring you joy. They give you a reason to change. To plan. To travel. To research. To go. To MOVE. Purpose is rooted in forward motion -- even if you don’t know the destination. 

How do you know when you’ve found your purpose? Well, it’s always changing, so there will never be a moment of “this is my purpose. I have found it. I am done now.” The end point is sort of the antithesis of all of this. But, I can tell you when you know you haven’t. It’s when you’re stagnant. If purpose is movement --  the opposite is inaction. Like Leonardo da Vinci said, “Iron rusts from disuse; water loses its purity from stagnation.. even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.”

So here’s a humblebrag (sorry) -- I’ve been offered every job I’ve interviewed for (except the first job I ever interviewed for because, come on) and I’ve interviewed for tons. Like I said, I like movement. But back to my point. In my mind, I get offered jobs for one main reason -- I am interested in new things. I am interested in challenge. I specifically always point out that my greatest fear is stagnation and that in order to be successful I have to keep moving and taking on new roles. I was an interviewer for a teaching program once and that was the biggest predictor of success -- the interviewees PR score. Their personal responsibility. Do they take responsibility for their classroom? Do they invite challenges or do they make excuses? 

Excuses are at the core of stagnation. “It’s not my fault that…” “I can’t do ____ because of _____” “I don’t have enough ______.” You know the drill. I have this Annie Dillard quote on my bookshelf and it’s become something of a mantra: “How we spend our days is - of course - how we spend our lives.” Seems so simple right? But, when we’re making excuses for all the things we can’t do, or why our life is a certain way, we are in effect taking a backseat on our own lives. The most important thing that we have. 

I did a lot of work in the graduate sociological theory class I took this semester on meaning making. How people create meaning through their interactions with each other, through symbols, language… blah blah I can send you some dense articles for more, but the point is -- I create my own meaning. I create my purpose. I create my day -- which, in turn, creates my life. Following others or the excuses you’ve made will never lead to satisfaction. 

Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin (or lots of other people, the internet is unclear) famously said that they “feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day.” While it’s obviously (I hope) in jest, I think some people live their lives in a similar way. They wake up with the mindset that things are going to happen to them - not because of them. They're not living for a purpose, they are living for the purpose of others. 

vail mountain

How Do I Find It?

So how do you find your purpose in life? For the day? For the hour? I’m sure it’s different for everyone -- just like a purpose is going to be different for everyone -- but there are actions that will help us all in the process. 

1. Identify your core values - This is key in everything in your life. So you get a job making tons of money that you hate - what is the point? If wealth is your core value, then you’ve got a great thing going, but I’d say for most people -- when they really dig deep -- don't have stockpiling tons of money as a core value.

Make a list of things that are truly important to you. Pay attention to the things that make you feel alive. The things you want all other parts of your life to flow from. Meditate on these things, write them somewhere you can see them, talk about them with others. Then use them! When you’re faced with any decision, activity, relationship, opportunity etc.. ask yourself if it fits in with those core values. If it doesn’t, you’re an adult and hey cool, you can say no! If it does -- go for it -- even if it’s scary. 

One of my core values is generosity. This manifests in all sorts of ways, but through it I have found deeper purpose. I am generous with my time through volunteering, I am generous with my money by contributing to causes I believe in, and I try to be generous with others by always assuming positive intentions. 

2. Risk Taking - Now, I’m not actually that risky of a person. I mostly take small, calculated risks in my daily life. But when it comes to the things that align with my core values, I take the big risks. For example, I value movement (not stagnation), so when I found myself in the same place for five years -- even though I had a job and friends I loved -- I knew that I was too comfortable. So I moved to a new city in a new state all alone and knowing basically no one. And it’s been great. And if it wasn't, well, then I'd take another risk and do something else. But I'd be moving forward.

3. Check-ins - This is the micro part. You have to check in with yourself. Like, on paper. In a structured way. That you schedule. On a calendar. Trust me here. “The days are long, but the years are short” couldn’t be more accurate (as anyone over 30 like me -- yikes -- is fully aware of). If you read a book or article (or this blog post :)) and get all fired up about something to change or move in your life -- you have to also strategically schedule times to check in with yourself about it.

Ask yourself if you’re where you want to be with ______. Have you made progress on _______. Are you being proactive in _______? Purpose can seem wishy washy, but just like goal setting -- you have to be specific. Even if the specificity is based on what you don’t want (I don’t want to be in the same place, same mindset, same whatever), you need to know what you’re trying to achieve. Again, identifying core values is the core (ha) of this work. "Is my _______ in line with my core values?" And what will you do if it isn’t? Set trip wires for yourself. “If I am still _______ by ______ I will ______.” And stick to it! 

4. Movement - Just do something! Move forward! Trust the process and don’t judge yourself too harshly. We are meant to do more than go to work and come home to sit on the couch. I try to think about my life as a series of action verbs. I literally think about how I would write what I am currently doing on a resume. I am doing things. I am active. If I can’t describe what I’m doing in this way, then I don’t do it. 

What Holds Us Back?

All of this, I’m sure, seems like common sense. But isn’t this also the biggest question of human existence? There are no easy answers, but there are common things holding us back. 

I’m not _____ enough - This is me way more than I’d like to admit. I am confident, intelligent, and as independent as anyone I know, but I still feel like I don’t have any place giving advice on, well, things like this blog post. Who am I to ____? What can I offer that isn’t already out there? What if everyone already knows all of this?

I love painting, but I know people who are better (duh). I like writing, but. The but will always be there. Because there will always be someone better than you at something. At everything. But they won’t be you. They won’t have your unique perspective. They will have all of their own unique and interesting ways of creating their world and making meaning -- and it will be great -- but it won’t be you. You are different and that is enough! 

Comparison - This goes hand in hand with not feeling good enough. We don’t feel good enough because we spend time comparing. Comparing our lives to others when we really don’t know much about them at all. Social media is a breeding ground for all kinds of unhealthy comparison. I could see someone who is successful in all the ways I want to be, doing the things I want to do (at least on Instagram), and wonder why I should even bother trying. It’s been done. They’ve done it better. They’re prettier. All the guys like them more blah blah you know how it goes. Well snap out of it. Comparison is the thief of joy and joy is, in my opinion, the most important of all emotions (feelings?) that we need to cultivate and protect. 

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” - Friedrich Nietzsche 

Our culture is obsessed with productivity. Efficiency. Life hacks. Mental Strength. Mental Toughness. Mental Powerlifting (I mean I wouldn’t be surprised), but none of those things mean anything if you don’t have a purpose. A why. It will be different for everyone - and it will be different for you - it’s ever changing. It doesn’t have to be some overly ambitious spiritually enlightened thing. Right now, if I had to describe my purpose it would boil down to “seeing things”. The thing that keeps me up at night and gets me up in the morning is all there is to see. I want to see it all. Immerse myself in experiences. Learn from them and share them. And that’s enough. I won’t go weeks without an adventure (or even days) because I know this is important to me. It gives me strength, life, energy -- purpose

So take some time and get really honest with yourself. Where are you at? Where do you want to be? Where do you find your joy? Is it consistent (because it should be!) What keeps you up at night? Why aren't you doing more of that? And most importantly -- where are you going? Are you going at all? And remember:

You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great. -- Zig Ziglar