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Why the World Needs Happy Men

And 10 steps to start becoming that man

I love men. Especially happy men. But there aren’t many of those around.

It’s not your fault, men. Society has made you what you are today. It has made you wear masks that hide the real you. The sweet you. The gentle you. The vulnerable you. The soft under-bellied you.

The happy you.

Society decided a long time ago that men needed to appear hard, uncaring, and even ruthless in order to be successful. Showing feelings was seen as a sign of extreme weakness. So you had to repress those feelings of yours. In public. Even at home.

You can repress feelings for a while, but not forever. You eventually run out of space to hide them, and then they start to come out. On their own terms, and in their own time. And it’s never pretty when they do come out because they’re beyond your control. They come blurting out, fast and furious, when you least expect it. They’re typically directed at someone you know will take it. That usually means a loved one, and one who doesn’t deserve it. Which makes you feel bad, and angry at yourself. You manage to control those feelings of hurt and anger, but don’t express them. You do what you normally do. Sweep them under the rug of repression. And the space freed up by your last outburst soon gets filled up again.

My heart goes out to you. You’re stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place. Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. And you deserve to be happy. But right now, you’re not. You’re an unhappy man.

How do I know this? Because I’ve spent my 56 years of life surrounded by unhappy men. At home, at work, at play. I can see your pain. I’ve been on the receiving end of your pain. And it’s not been fun. For you, or for me. These men are my template for what an unhappy man looks like.

I also know this because I’m now with a happy man. A truly happy man. And the difference is astounding — for him and for me. This man is my template for what a happy man looks like.

Life as an unhappy man

An unhappy man is an angry man. You’re not allowed to be yourself, to feel what you feel or say what you want to say. This makes you frustrated and angry. This anger lives close to the surface, bubbling out every now and then when you can’t take any more.

You’re a stressed out man. So much is demanded of you. Meeting the expectations of the labels you wear is exhausting — provider, employee, father, husband, son, brother. Work is so unfulfilling. The version of yourself you have to be at work bears no relation to who you are. And keeping up this facade is a full-time job in itself.

You’re a man of many masks. One to match every label you wear. Sometimes, you wear the wrong mask. That’s hardly surprising, it’s so hard to keep up with all those versions of you. The only good thing about the masks is that they cover the way you’re really feeling.

You’re a wounded man. Not being allowed to be yourself sends you a message loud and clear. That you’re not good enough as you are. Every time you’ve shown a part of the real you, it’s been shot down. And that hurts.

You’re an inauthentic man. How can you be real when you can’t be yourself? Being inauthentic takes up a lot of your energy as you shape-shift constantly. You shape-shift to be the right version of you in any given moment.

You’re an automated man. When you don’t express your emotions, the way you do things becomes automated. You spend much of your time on autopilot. You get things done, but your heart’s not in it. And when your heart’s not in it, life isn’t fulfilling.

You’re a untruthful man. You can’t be truthful when you’re not yourself. You don’t know what your truth is. You know society’s truth, but not yours. It’s not like you’re walking around lying to everyone. You’re just not being truthful to yourself.

You’re a repressed man. Of course you’re repressed. You’re not allowed to express your true feelings. Trouble is, you can’t repress certain feelings and not others. They all get repressed, to some extent. So you live in the middle zone, without the lows, but also without the highs.

You’re a man who abuses his power. Again, this goes along with everything that society expects of you. When you have power, you’re supposed to keep it. And use it. Using it invariably means that it benefits you in some way. And, in so doing, abuses someone else in some way. Even saying something along the lines of “Because I say so” or “Just do it” in response to a question is an abuse of power.

You’re a man who uses people. A lot of powerful men get other people to do their dirty work. You use other people for tasks you don’t want to be associated with. Even overtly ‘nice guys’ do this. You get others to do your firing, to deliver bad news. You avoid taking responsibility for your decisions.

You’re a man who numbs your pain. You binge on your anaesthetic of choice. Sports, alcohol, drugs, food, sex, TV, shopping, thrill-seeking. You do this to escape from what you’re feeling. And it works. For a while.

Life as a happy man

A happy man is a kind man. You put the well-being of others at the same level of importance as your own well-being. And I’m not just talking about that of your loved ones. You place everyone’s well-being at that level.

You’re a compassionate man. You don’t judge others. You seeks to understand them, even if their point of view doesn’t match yours. You accept them as they are. You don’t bully or threaten others. Ever.

You’re a gentle man. You use gentle words, and have a gentle touch. You doesn’t impose yourself or your opinions on others. You aren’t forceful in any way.

You’re a big-hearted man. You take nothing or no one for granted. You know that there but for the grace of god go you. You’re generous of yourself, and share what you have with others. You’re caring.

You’re a vulnerable man. You don’t fear your emotions, and allow yourself to feel them fully. You express them freely, in a controlled manner, and without hurting others.

You’re an optimistic man. Optimism and happiness go hand-in-hand. When you’re happy, you see what you have, not what you don’t have. You see the possibilities, not the obstacles. You see yourself as limitless, not limited. It’s not that you wear rose-tinted glasses — you know you’ll have hard times ahead. It’s just that you know you can overcome them.

You’re a questioning man. You ask questions, instead of making assumptions. You ask questions to come to your own conclusions, instead of just following the crowd. You ask questions so you keep on learning new things, instead of just reinforcing what you already know.

You’re a resilient man. You’ve done your self-work. You’ve worked hard to become the the man you are. You always pick yourself up off the ground, and carry on. You’re resilient to whatever is thrown at you, which is good because life always throws things at you.

You want to be your best self. You’re not afraid of failure. You know it well, and have used it well. You learn from everything that happens to you. All you want is to be the best possible version of yourself. And you take steps in that direction every day of your life.

You’re an unconditional man. You live without conditions. You love without conditions. You choose to accept people and situations as they are, instead of wishing they were different. You focus on what’s important in life — meaningful relationships. And you don’t get caught up in anything unimportant — that’s just detail. You never try to change people. You either accept them as they are, or you stay away from them.

You’re fully alive. You experience life in all its glory. You see and think with greater clarity. You feel intensely. You fear less. And love more. You’re engaged with what you’re doing, all the time. Your creative self is on fire — even if you didn’t know you had a creative self. You wake up every day looking forward to the day ahead. You go to sleep every night grateful for the day you’ve had.

You’re a fun-loving man. Happiness and fun go hand in hand. You see the fun in the things you’re doing. And you see more opportunities for fun. You look at the world with wonder, not fear.

You’re a patient man. You don’t force things. You know everything unfolds in its own time. Sometimes that’s fast, sometimes it’s not.

You’re a man with dreams. You know how you want to live, and are working towards that. Your dreams aren’t just dreams. They’re your personal goals. And you’re a man of action.

You’re a creative man. You tap into that part of you that exists in us all, and find a way of expressing it. Photography, art, music, writing, cooking, film, sculpture, wood-working. It doesn’t matter how you express your creativity. You do it because it makes you happy and fulfilled to do so.

You’re an in-the-moment man. You don’t spend your time dwelling on the past, or wishing for the future. You don’t wonder “What if…?” all the time. You’re a ‘what is’ kind of guy, only interested in what you’re doing right now. In this moment. This makes life much less full of anxiety. And much more fun.

10 steps to becoming a happy man

There’s no quick fix to becoming a happy man. You become one by wanting it so badly that you’re willing to put in the work. The work isn’t for the faint-hearted. It takes honesty, commitment and consistent effort. But when you see what as a happy man looks and feels like, you can see it’s worth every scrap of effort.

Here are 10 steps you can take:

  1. As with any big life change, the starting place is to acknowledge that you need to make one. To acknowledge that you don’t want to continue living like you have been. Even if the world outside tells you there’s nothing wrong with how you’ve been living. Here’s the acid test of your true quality of life. Ask yourself this: Does your life feel as good to you as you thought it would at this stage? If your answer is “YES!”, then read no further. If your answer is “NO!”, then it’s time to make some changes to your life.
  2. Next comes a commitment to yourself to do the work. If you’re honest, you’ll know you find it easier to commit to your boss to do something you hate doing than to yourself. When you see it in black and white like that, it seems a bit nuts. But don’t be hard on yourself, it’s how you’ve been trained by society.
  3. When you make life changes, you embark on a journey of discovery. As with any journey, you need to know where you’re starting from. You should assess where you’re at today. Take stock of your life. See what’s working, and what’s not working. Note how you’re feeling… truly feeling, inside. Writing in a journal every day is a good way to do this. And see how you’re spending your time. That’s always pretty shocking. This assessment is a snapshot of your life today.
  4. If you’re not happy, chances are you’ve lost touch with yourself. With who you really are. It’s so easy to do this when your impulse to fit in is so strong. Because fitting in requires you to be a defined person… someone defined by others, not you. It’s time to go deep inside and rediscover yourself. To find your answers to the questions “Who are you?” and “Why are you here?”.
  5. You used to dream when you were a child. A lot. You may have continued to dream into your 20s. Then life took over. It’s time to dream again. Dream big. And turn the ones that best reflect who you are and why you’re here into personal goals.
  6. Having dreams is only part of the equation for becoming happy. Making them happen is the other. This requires rigorous planning. Not the sort of planning that takes the joy and spontaneity out of living. But the sort of planning that identifies the steps required to take you from today to your goals. And breaks them down into achievable chunks.
  7. If you’ve done your planning right, you’re primed for success. With steps sized to be achievable, all you have to do is act. You have to take action on your steps every single day, or you’ll lose your momentum. And it’s much easier to fail without momentum behind you. Another way to keep your momentum going is to celebrate your achievements as you go along. Don’t wait until the end! Celebrate every little step along the way.
  8. When you’ve reached a milestone, stop and enjoy the view from there for a bit. But not for too long. Take the time to review where you’re at and how you got there. Identify what worked well for you, and what didn’t. Because you’ll need this information for the next step.
  9. What next step, I hear you say! Aren’t I happy now and forever? Well, you might be, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure that you don’t slip back into your old ways. Because your default programming is strong. It’s easier for you to be that person because you’ve spent a lifetime being him. Being the person you truly are, the person you want to be, takes more work. Constantly review your behaviour and make sure it’s aligned with who you want to be. Constantly review how you do things and make sure it’s the best way for you. You’re a work-in-progress. And always will be. That’s the wonderful thing about being the real you. You’re dynamic and limitless, and constant growth is the name of the game. You’ll always be starting some new work on yourself. Because you want to. Because that’s who you truly are.
  10. And finally, here are some daily practices that will help you increase your happiness quickly, and make your mindset more positive:

Vigorous exercise three times at week for at least 20 minutes.

Expressing your gratitude daily. Write down three things EVERY evening that you’re grateful for from that day. You can do this on your own, or with loved ones — each person sharing his/her three things.

Performing a daily random act of kindness/generosity. This can be anything, like writing emails to colleagues praising something they did, or paying something forward, or helping pick up things someone’s dropped, or giving a bigger tip after a meal.

Reliving a happy or meaningful experience from your past every day. You know how to do this — you do it with bad experiences all the time! Use a positive experience for this from now on.

Practicing forgiveness — of yourself and others — for past wrong-doings. When you hold onto grudges, your nervous system gets unconsciously triggered into stress mode every time it recognizes something familiar from a past grudge. That’s right, your stress response is triggered in the present by something that happened in your past.

Strengthening your social connections. In all research, this is shown to be the single most important contributor to happiness. You may need to have your other happiness habits in place before you can get to this one as being stressed out isn’t conducive to building strong relationships.

Meditate daily. This practice helps balance your brain, priming it for happiness. Research proves that regular meditation increases your alpha waves and physically changes your brain to give you more control over your response to stressful situations. Even two minutes a day has an effect, so start small and build up.

Living a meaningful life. Having a life vision that reflects who you truly are and what you’re here to do and taking action every day to live your vision. Remember, dreams without action remain dreams.

Men, I see you. I see your pain. I feel your pain. And I’m here for you. Please do whatever you can to become happy. The world needs you happy because the world needs more compassion. And less power-mongering.

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

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9 Reasons Why Making Assumptions is Dangerous

“When you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME”

I first heard these words of wisdom years ago when I was learning to drive. I’d made an assumption about what another driver was going to do. My driving instructor’s response told me my assumption was incorrect. He hit the brakes, and said those words. At the time, I didn’t fully understand what he meant, but thought it was intriguing enough to commit to memory.

These days, I get it. 

 

Why assumptions start

It’s easy to make assumptions. All you need is incomplete information about a situation. And an unwillingness to ask the questions you need to complete the information. In the absence of complete information, you have to fill in the blanks yourself.

You fill in the blanks with YOUR interpretation of what you see or hear. Your interpretation comes from past experiences that seem similar. It comes from your past experiences, and also from those you’ve heard about from others.

Armed with your information, you connect dots that aren’t there. You can’t help doing this because you’re missing relevant information. In trying to make sense of the situation, you make connections between today and the past. Connections that don’t really exist. You jump to conclusions that are wrong.

When I was learning to drive, I saw a driver doing something, and assumed he’d do x next. He didn’t. He did y instead, making it likely I was going to hit him. Hence my instructor’s brake-hitting. Had I scanned what was around me for more information, I’d have seen x wasn’t possible. He had to do y. 

 

How assumptions develop

If assumptions are incorrect when dealing with rational matters, ponder this. What happens when emotions come into play?

All hell breaks loose. You see, emotions arrive with many sensitive buttons. These buttons are the places where you got hurt in the past. Your memory has stored this past pain. And activates it whenever your nervous system recognizes anything that feels painfully familiar.

Once activated, you react as if you’re experiencing that same pain again. Your old pain feels as real today as it did when you got hurt. Your present situation doesn’t even need to be the same as the past one that hurt you.

When those emotional buttons get pressed, the resulting dot-connecting is rarely kind. The assumptions you make in this state have one thing in mind. Lashing out in some way. To repel or hurt someone with unkind and disrespectful words presented as fact. 

 

What assumptions do

Behind these harsh words lie the original hurt. And an unwillingness to step up and own your part in it.

This is toxic for the people you’re lashing out at, and for you. The negative energy expressed with this can take a toll on health. Theirs and yours. And by pressing your pain buttons again and again, you deepen your hurt.

 

Why you should avoid making assumptions like the plague

  1. They’re an easy out. The path of least resistance is also the path of least growth.
  2. They stop you from taking responsibility for your life. Assumptions allow you to hide behind your version of the story. This means you don’t own your part in the true story. You prefer to blame others for your misfortune, rather than look in the mirror.
  3. They keep you stuck in the past. Assumptions rely on old information to fill in blanks and connect dots. Instead of expanding your horizons, you retreat into the past. Into your painful past.
  4. It’s lazy behaviour. Instead of asking questions to get the information you need, you jump to conclusions.
  5. They foster a negative mindset. Most assumptions are derived from old, painful information. This reinforces your innate negativity bias that dates back to prehistoric times. And keeps you thinking the world is a fundamentally hostile place.
  6. It’s toxic behaviour. To protect yourself from more hurt, you use your assumptions to lash out at others. This is bad for them, and you.
  7. They become a bad habit. The more you make assumptions, the easier it is to continue making them. You find it easier to relive past hurts to get missing information than to ask questions. Go figure!
  8. They deepen your pain. The more you pick at a sore, the more painful it gets. And it doesn’t get a chance to heal.
  9. Assumptions are ALWAYS wrong. I have a perfect record with the assumptions I’ve made. 100% of them have been wrong. And it’s hard to believe that I’m unique in this.

Life beyond assumptions

These days, instead of making assumptions, I ask questions. Lots of them. Even if this means finding out a truth that might be painful to hear. If my default behaviour kicks in and I start to assume something, I notice it. And nip it in the bud.

Since I started asking questions and stopped making assumptions, I’m much happier. I’ve managed to release much of my past pain by not activating it constantly. I’ve grown a lot from all the information I’ve gathered through asking questions. I enjoy conversations more because I’m not worrying about protecting myself. I’ve deepened my compassion for others by understanding the fears that lay behind their assumptions. I’m more positive. I’m more fun to be around.

If you think you’re pretty assumption-free, try this. Make a note of every assumption you make during an average day. And double it to count the ones you don’t notice.

If you’re like me, you’ll be surprised by the result.

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

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When You Don’t Have a Plan, You Just Have to Trust Life

Lessons from years spent journeying without a clear destination

I felt so adrift. So lost. I could barely string sentences together, let alone thoughts. But I did know one thing. I had to get out of town. Fast.

My mother had died a few weeks earlier. Amid the relief that she was no longer burdened by the disease that had ravaged her body was something else. A profound sense of loneliness. You see, I was alone. The term orphan tends to be associated with children. But I felt orphaned at 51.

I had to get out of town. It almost didn’t matter where, as long as there were mountains. Somehow mountains felt comforting. They reminded me of childhood years spent in Switzerland. So I decided to move out west, to British Columbia. I had no real connections there. I kind of knew a couple of people in BC, and had some good friends down the coast in the US. That was it. I sold or gave away half of my possessions, and shipped the rest out west. To start my new life.

My loved ones thought I was nuts. They understood my decision in one sense  – they knew I was devastated. But not in another.

“Why are you going somewhere you know no one?” they asked.

I had no answer that eased their concerns. I just had my instinct that this was the right thing to do.

This wasn’t the first time I’d pressed the fear buttons in my loved ones. I’d been moving home, city and country for much of my adult life, so they knew this was my MO. This one worried them more, though, fast on the heels of my mum’s death. They were worried that I was isolating myself at a time when I needed comfort. I couldn’t fault their logic, but it was still something I had to do.

My new life — phase one

I arrived in Vancouver, and moved into an apartment in the most exquisite location. Across the road from the ocean, and right next to Stanley Park. The latter is a 400-hectare, natural West Coast rainforest, surrounded by ocean. It was such a relief to be there. I spent much of my time walking beside the ocean, and in the park. The wet sand and forest grounded me. And I REALLY needed to get grounded. I’d spent the previous seven years on high alert. Caregiving for my ailing mother. Working full-time to keep us afloat. Dealing with my father’s death. Dealing with a volatile family member. Dealing with my dog’s death (he’d been my anchor for many years). Dealing with my mum’s death. It had been a lot. And it left me reeling.

The water and trees helped me in other ways, too. They helped me start living some important spiritual concepts I’d long understood. It’s one thing understanding a concept. And quite another living it. Being in the moment had always made sense to me. I could see how much easier it would make life. But I’d never managed to stay in the moment for any length of time. And this despite a daily meditation practice.

As I sat and watched the waves come and go, I noticed how every wave was different. Yet the same. Different in their force, their colour, their direction. The same in their essence. Water. No matter what was going on to and around the waves, water remained water. If you touched it, you got wet. I saw that water was what it was, and changed from moment to moment. What did this mean to me? It meant that I, too, was what I was. A human. And that everything about me changed from moment to moment. So, the present me wasn’t inevitably the past me. Nor was the future me inevitably the present me.

Spending time in Stanley Park with old-growth trees made me more aware of myself, and my energy. The majestic beauties that surrounded me, some over 600 years old, gave far more than they took. They shared their lives with everything and everyone within their range. They cleaned the air around them, and provided oxygen. They cooled the temperature. The most positive energy emanated from them. As I stood with them, they accepted me as one of them. I could feel their wonderful energy washing over me. And wanted to send them the same in return. I found I couldn’t do this right away. My energy had to vibrate at the right frequency for them to receive it. When, at last, I succeeded in sharing my energy with them, I was overjoyed. I thought I’d “cracked it”. I hadn’t. There were days when I had nothing to offer the beautiful trees. So I pushed aside my ego, and did what I felt drawn to do. Deeper meditation, and allowing myself to clear out my grief as it arose. This worked. And from then on, I shared my more youthful energy with the old-growth trees to give them a boost.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I’d taken myself off on my own to heal. To heal from the years of loss, and being on high alert. My cortisol had got stuck in the ‘on’ position from it all, making it hard for me to sleep for any length of time. I had to take the time to decompress. But had no idea what that looked like, or how long it would take.

After a year in BC, I started to notice that something was afoot. It felt as though another new beginning was coming my way. Which made no sense at all, given the recent start of my new life. I put this feeling down to another phase of grieving, and thought no more of it. Until I started to notice something else. That I kept on running into European holiday-makers everywhere I went. We’d always have a good conversation. Somehow, our chat turned to what we each liked about different countries we’d visited or lived in. One day, a German couple asked me a question I couldn’t answer.

“You seem to like much more about Europe. Why are you living here?”

A month or so later, I found myself sitting in front of a travel agent, who asked me another question.

“So where would you like to go, and when?”

This time, an answer came right out.

“I’d like a one-way ticket to London. And I’ve no idea when.”

“What do you mean you don’t know when?”, he replied, with a confused look on his face.

“Well, let’s say three months from now. That’ll give me enough time to sell all my stuff.”

“OK”, he replied, still looking confused.

I hadn’t planned to go to a travel agent. I found myself there one day. I’d been walking down a street, and caught a red sign out of the corner of my eye. I carried on walking. 30 seconds later, I turned around, walked back to the red sign, and walked in the door beneath it. It was a travel agency. So I just went with the flow.

Three months later, I had sold or given away almost everything I owned. I was 53, and heading off on another adventure. This time with only four cartons and two suitcases in tow.

My new life — phase two

I arrived in the UK knowing two things. That it was great to back amongst friends I hadn’t seen in a while. And that I didn’t want to live there.

The UK was a stopover so I could catch up with people, and get organized. I needed to update my British ID so I could wander freely around continental Europe. I also need wheels to facilitate the wandering. I had no firm plan, other than to start by meeting up with a friend who was travelling in Germany, and go from there. After five months in the UK, I headed off one sunny winter’s morning across the Channel.

I wasn’t drawn to spend more than a week in Germany. The language barrier was a real issue for me, despite having university-level German. I couldn’t communicate with ease, and that wasn’t what I wanted at the time. That piece of understanding ruled out a lot of places I’d been interested in exploring. Spain, Portugal, and Italy, for starters. It also ruled in two countries. France and Switzerland.

My years spent in Switzerland as a child had left me pretty fluent in French. I knew I’d be able to understand and be understood in either country. I was drawn to France, in particular. This was odd as I knew no one there. When I left Germany, a destination had come to mind. Lyon, the second biggest city in France. This, too, was odd because I didn’t want to live in a big city. But I went with my instinct.

I loved Lyon. It was beautiful to look at, and welcoming. It had a very strong sense of itself, which I found compelling. I sub-letted an apartment in La Croix-Rousse area of town. This sweet neighbourhood atop one of Lyon’s two hills was wonderful. My apartment was in the eaves of an old building from Lyon’s silk-making heyday. It was a space where the silk was manufactured, and the silk-workers also lived. All the ceilings were high enough to accommodate the Jacquard looms… except for my attic space. There, the low beams threatened my six-foot tall frame, often getting the better of my head.

Lyon helped me get a clearer sense of who I was. I guess that’s why this city with such a strong sense of itself had called me. Living my life in French contributed to my self-understanding. When I talked with the locals, the person they saw standing before them wasn’t the one I saw. On hearing my slight accent, the conversation always turned to where I was from, and what I was doing there. When I told them my story, their responses always contained the same word. Courageous. Standing before them was a courageous 54 year-old woman.

After nine happy months in Lyon, I moved on. I’d reconnected with my childhood friend in Switzerland, and wanted to live closer to her. So I moved to Gex, a small French town near Geneva. The scenery there was so beautiful. Gex was nestled in the foothills of the Jura mountains, and opposite the French Alps. And Mont Blanc. This snow-capped peak rose with such majesty across Lake Geneva. Especially when made pink by the rising sun.

Yet it was the Jura mountains that had a special place in my heart. They were lower, and full of rolling green hills, lakes and rivers. As a child, I’d spent many happy times in the Jura, hiking, and picnicking by lakes. My childhood bedroom window also looked out on them. They were the last sight I saw before sleeping, and the first upon waking.

Gex and I were not a match made in heaven. I left there after a couple of months, and moved in with my friend in Nyon, Switzerland. Nyon had been a lovely town when I lived there before, but had now grown. It was also full of ex-pats. In the couple of months I spent there, I heard French spoken only a handful of times. English — and ex-pats — had taken over. Without a work permit, I couldn’t stay for more than a few months in Switzerland, so I knew I’d have to move on. Again.

Switzerland gave me another piece of my puzzle. Because I’d loved living there as a child, I’d always thought of returning, and settling there. But, just as the child was gone, so was that Switzerland. The past is the past. The present is the present. And this present didn’t marry up with that past.

My love of the Jura drove me to seek my next location within its terrain. I opened Google Maps, and randomly picked a town. Salins-les-Bains. When I looked at photos of it, I was hooked. It seemed perfect. A few days later, I visited it on a snowy day with my friend’s son. As we descended towards the town, we rounded a bend, and our jaws dropped open. It was in the most exquisite setting. And I had found my next stop.

Salins-les-Bains had been an important town for hundreds and hundreds of years. You could see this in the buildings. It was a key religious centre, located as it was on the pilgrim route between Rome and the UK. And it had salt. Salt was so valuable back then, it was called white gold. The salt also had healing powers. Salins became a spa town, frequented by people from all over France taking cures. It was still a spa town, but an economically-depressed one. Much of its once-glorious architecture was falling into disrepair.

This small town was good to me. Its healing powers went beyond the spa. The landscape was so beautiful, it filled me with joy every time I set foot outside. I spent much time walking, hiking, and taking photos. The air smelled sweet, and was full of more butterflies than I’ve ever seen before. Everywhere I looked was bursting with beauty. The people were friendly, the food was delicious, and the cost of living was inexpensive. I started thinking that I’d found my home.

Then, one morning shortly after my 55th birthday, everything changed. I’d woken up to a new world. A world in which I finally understood who I was, and why I’d been the way I’d been. My life finally made sense to me.

And I knew who I was in the world without my mother by my side.

You see, this had been the purpose of my journey. Figuring out who I was in a world without my mum. We’d been extraordinarily close my whole life, but not in a mother/daughter way. We’d been the closest of friends. Life partners, in a sense. We spoke to each other more than we spoke to anyone else. We shared a sense of nonsense that no one else understood. We had a lot of fun together, and a lot of tears. When she died, I was adrift, stuck in a small boat in the middle of an ocean, surrounded by fog. Until I wasn’t any more.

My destination was never a place. It was knowing who I was, and loving myself unconditionally. That’s why I didn’t have a destination in mind when I set out on my adventure. How could I see a destination that I didn’t know existed?

Once I understood this, my self-imposed isolation ended. I started to miss my loved ones, and wanted to be around them once more. And, given where the largest concentration of them lived, that meant another move. Back to Canada. Back to Toronto, the city I’d fled from when my mum died.

My new life — phase three

I arrived back in Toronto at the end of last year, almost four years after I left. I knew immediately I’d made the right decision. It felt right, and I loved having so many of my friends around me. I settled into a new neighbourhood, and reconnected with the city in a new way.

Old city, new outlook. Old city, new life.

Much has happened since my return. My new life — phase four is on the horizon. This phase is the ‘happily ever after’ one.

But that’s a story for another day.

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

perfection-http://agingdisgracefullywell.com-sarah-blick

It’s Time to Stop Chasing Perfection

And start accepting it

You are already perfect.

Yet, you don’t feel it. Far from it. All you can see are imperfections. When you look in the mirror. When you hear the voices inside your head. When you look at everyone else’s life.

And yet, you are perfect.

Your life might not be picture perfect. It might be a tangled mess of conflicting emotions, contradictions, and inconsistencies. But your life is perfect.

You are perfect.

Chasing false perfection

Modern society is obsessed with perfection. And geared towards chasing it. Yet, the ‘perfect’ defined by modern society, doesn’t exist. The perfect 36–24–36 female body. The perfect six-pack abs. The perfect bright-white-straight-teeth smile. The perfect design-magazine home. The perfect dutiful daughter/son/husband/wife/employee. The perfect for-life job. The perfect two-child family. The perfect happy-every-moment life.

That’s fantasy, not perfection.

Worse still, it’s fantasy born from judgement. If there’s a ‘perfect life’, then there must also be an ‘imperfect life’.
Think about the voices in your head that you beat yourself up with. Aren’t they all about how you’re failing at being perfect? How you’re not thin enough, or attractive enough. How your home isn’t big enough, and your car not new enough. How your kids don’t go to the right school. How you’re not attentive enough to your elderly parents. How you don’t do enough for your family.
Who decided what was enough, and what wasn’t?

It certainly wasn’t you. You inherited that way of thinking, from your family and from society.

Reframing perfection

My ‘perfect’ is very different. It’s kind, non-judgemental and accepting.

This kind of perfect allows you to be yourself. As you are. It allows you to see what’s right there before you. And be OK with it, instead of judging it. It doesn’t seek to find fault. It seeks the clarity that can only come from seeing everything as it is.

Seeing everything as it is ISN’T about seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses. It’s about seeing, with clarity, everything before you, and being OK with it ALL. Even those parts of yourself and others you’re less than thrilled with.

Looking at the world like this is hard, because you’re not used to it. Those voices in your head won’t have anything to beat you up about if you start being like this.

And yet, this is what you must do if you want to be happier and less stressed out by life.

Seeing yourself as perfect doesn’t mean that there’s no room for self-improvement. Far from it. It gives you greater room for self-improvement, because it gives you clarity. Clarity that comes from seeing everything and accepting it all. This makes sense if you think about it. If you don’t accept what you see, then what you see isn’t there. And how can you work on something that isn’t there?

I know this one well. A lot of behaviours used to press my buttons. Other people’s behaviours. In response, I complained. I got irritated, angry even. I had to have the last word. I felt I was in the right. All I could see was THEIR behaviours. And I felt MY response was justified.

This way of living was exhausting, and deeply unsatisfying. When it became unsustainable, I was forced to look more closely at behaviours. Starting with mine.

In doing this, I discovered that I behaved like this for a very good reason. I couldn’t bear to see my part in it, let alone accept it. I couldn’t own my behaviour, because it was too painful. You see, back then, I still had the wrong perspective on perfection. So my being perfect required that I have no flaws. This meant that all the flaws HAD to belong to others. That’s why this way of living was unsustainable.

When I was able to see and accept why I behaved as I did, I could start working on myself and my life. I could start down the path of self-improvement that has enabled me to live with much greater ease.

What happens to your life when you see yourself as perfect

Your life gets better, that’s what happens.

When you see yourself as perfect, you STOP:

  • Beating yourself up
  • Being constantly stressed-out
  • Seeing the negative in everything
  • Feeling less happy than you think you should

And you START:

  • Feeling more in control
  • Being more grateful
  • Being more loving
  • Feeling happier
  • Seeing the positive in everything
  • Having better relationships
  • Feeling more alive
  • Living more fully

How to start seeing yourself as perfect

The first thing you need to do is to acknowledge that you spend a lot of time focussing on the negative in your life. On what’s missing from your life, and not on what you have. On wishing things were different than they actually are: “If only I/she was more…”; “When I have …, then I’ll be …”.

When you can acknowledge that you’re wishing your life away, then you can start to change.

There’s an easy way to start shifting your perspective from a negative to a positive one. Begin a daily gratitude practice. At the end of every day, write down three new things from that day for which you’re grateful. You can be grateful for anything! From a chat with a loved one, to finishing a project, to some kind words when you needed them, to a new music download. You can share these at your dinner table, or keep them to yourself. By the end of the week, you‘ll have 21 new things to be grateful for; 91 after four weeks, and 1,092 by the end of the year. After practicing gratitude for a while, you’ll notice some important things. That you have A LOT to be grateful for. And that most of what you’re grateful for comes from OTHERS.

Alongside your daily gratitude practice, these practices will also make you more positive:

  • Vigorous exercise three times at week for at least 20 minutes.
  • Performing a daily random act of kindness/generosity. This can be anything. Like writing emails to colleagues praising something they did. Or paying something forward. Or helping pick up things someone’s dropped. Or giving a bigger-than-expected tip after a meal.
  • Reliving a happy or meaningful experience from your past every day. You know how to do this — you do it with bad experiences all the time! Use a positive experience for this from now on.
  • Practicing forgiveness — of yourself and others — for past wrong-doings. Holding onto grudges from your past hurts you TODAY. You see, your nervous system stores the memory of past, unforgiven hurts. And when something today reminds it of a past hurt, the memory triggers a stress response. This gives a whole new meaning to your past coming back to haunt you!!
  • Strengthening the quality of your relationships. This has the biggest impact on happiness, according to research.
  • Meditating daily. Meditation helps balance your brain, priming it for happiness. Research proves that regular meditation increases the alpha waves in your brain. This gives you more control over your response to stressful situations. Even two minutes a day has an effect, so start small and build up.
  • Being clear on who you are and why you’re here. This gives you a sense of purpose that’s larger than the humdrum of day-to-day life. Humans whose basic needs are met often search for work they find meaningful.

Accepting your inherent perfection

With a positive mindset, it’s easier to accept yourself as the perfect being you are. To see — and love — everything about yourself. To work on the parts you want to change. And, through accepting your own perfection, you can see others, and life in general, in the same light.

When you accept that you’re perfect, you can become the person you want to be. Your best self, living the life you know is possible. This is why it’s time to stop chasing society’s false perfection. And start accepting that you are already perfect.

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

comfort-zone-http://agingdisgracefullywell.com-sarah-blick

Lessons From a Lifetime Spent Living Outside My Comfort Zone

I still remember the terror I felt the first time I went outside my comfort zone.

I was three years old.

I hadn’t gone there intentionally. I was pushed. The fact that the pushing wasn’t intentional, either, didn’t matter. I was still terrified. That moment forever changed me. And changed the course of my life.

First things first. What is a comfort zone? It’s a place where things are familiar to you. A place that feels comfortable to you. No two comfort zones are the same. One person’s comfort zone might be another person’s greatest fear. I know this to be true. My comfort zone — what’s familiar to me — often elicits a fear response from people. How I choose to live makes most of my loved ones scared for me.

There’s a question that begs here. If comfortable feels good, what’s wrong with feeling comfortable? Well, nothing, in one sense. And everything in another. It’s great to feel comfortable. But not all the time, and not in everything in your life.

You see, feeling comfortable can become a problem. Or, more precisely, feeling TOO comfortable can. It makes you take things for granted. It makes you stop exploring yourself, what you’re capable of. It makes you afraid the minute you stop feeling comfortable. It limits you.

I’m making you feel uncomfortable right now. By talking about it. But, bear with me while I illustrate what I’m talking about.

Think about the early days in your serious intimate relationships. When you first started getting serious, you were pushed outside your comfort zone. Way outside. You felt so open, and vulnerable. Your guard was down. But you were OK with it because it felt SO good there. The exhilaration you felt from falling in love with someone was stronger than any fear you felt. Your fear was on hold. For a while. Then, one day, you started to feel uncomfortable. You might not have known why, but you knew how to respond to this feeling. You pulled back in some way. Your discomfort at being outside your vulnerability comfort zone made you afraid.

How did you pull back when afraid? By taking the other for granted, choosing to see the flaws, instead of the wonder. By not exploring your vulnerable self, choosing to shut down, instead of opening more. By putting up your guard, choosing to limit yourself, instead of growing.

You’re squirming now.

Lesson one: get to know your comfort zone

If you want to move outside it, you need to get to know your comfort zone. Intimately. To know its core rules, and its more nuanced ones.

My comfort zone is a place where making changes is routine. So to go outside my comfort zone, I have to get very deliberate. And go big. Things that happen on a daily basis rarely send me there, such is my comfort with change. I also have to be interested in an area before I’m willing to extend my comfort zone in it. Extreme sports, for example, have never interested me, so I put in no effort there. But I’m drawn to push my physical activity boundaries in other ways. This is one of the more nuanced rules.

Over the years, I discovered that if I decided to explore a new facet of my life, nothing got in my way. Except for in one area. I did everything to avoid pushing out my boundaries in one area for 30 years.

Love.

Going to that place of real, deep, unconditional love with a significant other. Love terrified me because being vulnerable terrified me. Being open to scrutiny at such a deep level was too far outside my comfort zone. I couldn’t go there. At least not until I did the necessary self-work. Considerable effort later, love no longer has me running scared. Love has me opening up more and more every day. Unconditional. Vulnerable. And it’s wonderful.

Time for you to examine your own comfort zone. Thinking back over your adult life so far, ask yourself:

  • Which things feel easy to you? Easy in the sense that they provoke little or no fear in you?
  • Which things make you feel scared? Scared when you’ve done them, or scared when you think or hear about them?
  • What have you instinctively tended to avoid doing? And why? (Like me and extreme sports.)
  • Are there people in your life who live in ways that make you feel uncomfortable? This may manifest in different ways. By your making judging comments about decisions they make. By your rolling your eyes when they tell you what they’re going to do next. By your telling them why they’re wrong to be doing whatever.

Have a look at your answers, looking for common themes. Take a step back, and see what it tells you about your comfort zone. You should have a picture of what it looks like.

Lesson two: change is good

I’m not saying this because making changes is within MY comfort zone. I’m saying it because making changes is how you grow. Moving beyond your comfort zone is how you grow.

I’d go so far as to say that beyond your comfort zone is where all personal growth lives.

If you do the same thing you’ve always done, day in, day out, you won’t grow. In fact, you barely think when you do this. Yet an astoundingly large number of people live like this. Because they don’t like change. Because they fear change.

Instead of fearing change, you should fear not changing. The things you fear about change are imagined. The things that happen when you avoid change are real.

Here’s what’s real about them. And why avoiding change will cause you trouble down the road. First, you won’t grow as a person. You won’t live up to your amazing potential. And I know your potential is truly amazing. Second, you’ll get bored. When you’re bored, you’ll distract yourself to avoid feeling that way. And your distractions won’t be good for you. Sugary treats, alcohol, binge watching TV shows, shopping for things you don’t need. Being bored for any length of time stresses you out. So you go into autopilot mode to deal with that. And autopilot mode numbs your feelings. All of them.

It’s time to make a choice. Do you want your life to be defined by fear? Or defined by personal growth?

Lesson three: how to get more comfortable doing more things

Moving the boundaries of your comfort zone takes effort. A whole lot of it. But, here’s the truth. If I can learn to embrace unconditional love after 30 years of avoiding it, you can learn to embrace anything!

I’m going to share with you the secret to making changes in your life. Start small. Start with something that is low on your scariness scale. And that won’t take too long to complete.

I used to be afraid of heights. So terrified of them that, as a kid, I’d rather face the ridicule of my peers than jump off anything high. My mother, a nurse, had put the fear of god in me when I was four. I’d been found walking across the parapet of a bridge with a 200-foot drop on one side. So she described, in very gory detail, what I’d look like if I fell and went splat.

One day a few years ago, I knew it was time to make a change in my life. To overcome this fear of heights. As a result of my daily meditation practice, I’d realized my fear was all in mind. That it was more imagined than real. So I set about moving past it. I started by improving my balance, walking along as many low walls as I could find. Then I started choosing higher walls. And finally, I chose something that had always added an increased level of fear. Walking on a higher wall above water. I was living in Vancouver at the time, right by the seawall. And this proved perfect as the final step to overcoming my fear of heights. With an ease that surprised me, I walked along long stretches of the seawall every day. Fear of heights gone. Comfort zone expanded.

By starting small, I’d allowed myself to get comfortable every step of the way.

What can you take on that will allow you to get comfortable with change as you move towards your fear? What’s your equivalent of my fear of heights?

Lesson four: you are more powerful than you realize.

Once you start expanding your comfort zone, something amazing happens. You feel more powerful. Your fear subsides with every boundary shift you make. And this allows your true self — your powerful self — to emerge.

You start to feel more alive. More vibrant. More in control of things than before. More comfortable. All because you were willing to go outside your comfort zone. You feel more comfortable because you’re more comfortable doing more things. This sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s not.

Expanding your comfort zone makes you feel more comfortable in your own skin. And that’s what real comfort is all about.

The course of my life was changed at three by my being pushed outside my comfort zone. When I was younger, I understood that change was good, that I’d be fine if I did things that scared me.

Now I’m older, I understand that living outside my comfort zone has been the making of me. I am who I am today because of my constantly expanding comfort zone. Because I’m comfortable in my skin.

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

boundaries-http://agingdisgracefullywell.com-sarah-blick

Want to be Happier and More Self-Fulfilled? Get Serious About Your Personal Boundaries.

Boundaries are not walls.

Walls keep people out. Boundaries let people in, but in a deliberate and intentional way. It’s important to understand the difference.

You build walls from a place of fear. This is true for literal walls, and figurative ones. You build walls around YOUR HOME to keep people out, because you fear what they’ll do to you if you let them in. You fear that they’ll steal or damage your things. You fear that they’ll harm you and your loved ones. You fear that they’ll see you ‘off-duty’ and at your most vulnerable. You build walls around your property to protect yourself and your loved ones.

And you also build walls around YOURSELF to keep people out, because you fear what they’ll do to you if you let them in. You fear that they’ll steal or damage parts of you. You fear that they’ll harm you. You fear that they’ll see you at your most vulnerable. You build walls around yourself to protect yourself.

A wall says: “I’m scared of you. Stay away! I don’t want to know anything about you, or for you to know anything about me.”

Boundaries are also about protection, but aren’t created from a place of fear. Boundaries exist to show where something begins and ends. Where a country begins and ends. Where you begin and end.

A boundary says: “This is me. Welcome! Know me as I am, and accept me as I am. And I look forward to doing the same with you.”

Personal boundaries

Very few people have clearly defined personal boundaries. Why? Because you have walls, instead. You don’t start out with walls, you build them as you go through life.

When you’re a young child, you’re trusting and open. You’re curious about the world. You’re excited by everything there is to explore. You see the world around you as a place of wonder. If something hurts you, you cry. Then you dust yourself off, and get back to your exploring. Fear has no role in your life. Yet.

Fear starts to appear in your life the day your loved ones start to mould you. They start to turn you into the person they believe you need to be. To fit in. To be successful in life. To do this, they use fear. “Don’t do this, or you’ll…”. “Do this, or you won’t…”. “Learn this, so you’ll…”. It all seems to make perfect sense. Except that it doesn’t.

It never makes sense to mould someone. Because if you’re moulding people, you’re stopping them from being themselves. You’re saying: “You’re no good as you are. You need to be like this.” This kind of message erodes your sense of self-worth.

And it never makes sense to use fear to get someone to do something. Using it like this teaches children to fear things that aren’t even there. It’s one thing to teach children that real things like fire, cars and bears can be dangerous. It’s another to use fear as a stick to get children to do what you want. All you’re doing there is teaching children to fear the imagined.

Walls are a by-product of fear. They’re inevitable because you don’t trust yourself to protect yourself. When you feel unprotected, you feel threatened. And when you feel threatened, you build walls.

Trouble is, the walls don’t change anything. Sure, they may keep out the unwanted. But they don’t help you deal with your fear. That’s because no wall can ever be high enough to keep out the unwanted 100% of the time. If someone wants to get in, it will happen. Deep inside, you know this, which is why your fear never goes away. In fact, I’ve found that the higher your walls, the more fearful you get. Pretty ironic, don’t you think?

Walls also prevent you from feeling lasting happiness and self-fulfilment. These states of being are only possible when fear has no hold on your life.

Your walls make you feel less secure, more threatened, less happy, and less fulfilled. So, what’s the alternative? Creating clear personal boundaries. And maintaining them.

How to create personal boundaries

With your personal boundaries, you want to let people in. But on your terms.

Letting in people on your terms is a good thing if your terms aren’t about controlling others. Controlling others is about fear. This is different. Here, your terms are those things that allow you to remain yourself. And being yourself is the key to happiness and self-fulfilment.

Your boundaries exist to enable you to be YOU. To enable you to live YOUR life based on YOUR principles and YOUR belief system. You shouldn’t want to live any other way. Because then you’re living from someone else’s principles and belief system, not yours.

Your starting place for creating personal boundaries is with you. With who you are and why you’re here. To figure out how to answer these questions, you might find this post of mine helpful.

Once you know yourself deeply, you can start to get clear on your personal boundaries.

Boundaries state how you want to be in the world. What you’re prepared to engage in, and not. What actions are yours to do, and not. What behaviours are for you, and not. Your boundaries determine your side of things. And the environment and people you surround yourself with.

You might find it easier to think about personal boundaries like this. Which aspects of your life MUST be maintained to enable you to be you? I call these your non-negotiables.

For example, do you have non-negotiables for:

  • Your own behaviour (e.g. love guiding all your actions)?
  • How you live (e.g. minimizing your environmental footprint)?
  • Your health and well-being (e.g. never eating food you know is bad for you)?
  • Your intimate relationships (e.g. having the same worldview)?
  • The behaviour of those you spend time with (e.g. not being around toxic people)?
  • What you spend your money on (e.g. not buying from companies whose ethics aren’t aligned with yours)?

There should be no judgement attached to your non-negotiables. There aren’t ‘correct’ non-negotiables. There are only YOUR non-negotiables. They’re not for other people to see or comment on, they’re for you. You may choose to share them with those close to you. Or you may choose to keep them to yourself. It doesn’t matter.

All that matters is that you have clearly defined personal boundaries.

How personal boundaries work in practice

Personal boundaries are liberating. They free up your mind because they take the hard work out of decision-making.

Personal boundaries act as a lens through which you view the world. A filter through which you pass things before engaging.

How?

Imagine that one of your non-negotiables is never eating food you know is bad for you. When you’re offered such food, what happens? You decline, politely. That’s it. You don’t need to justify your decision with an explanation. It’s your right to decline, just as it’s the other’s right to offer.

Imagine that another is having the same worldview as your intimate partner. A couple of coffee dates would reveal this. If you’re not a risk-taker and your date likes to risk everything on a hunch, you have a different worldview. If you’re a people person and your date has no friends, you have a different worldview. If you’re fit and active and your date is a couch potato, you have a different worldview.

Do you see how much more simple your boundaries make your life?

Being yourself is the route to happiness and self-fulfilment. So anything that helps you with this is well worth doing. Creating personal boundaries is a big help. Don’t be deterred by the amount of time and a lot of effort it takes to create your boundaries. The first time you do it will be the most labour-intensive. All subsequent reviews of your boundaries will get easier. And you should review them annually to make sure they’re still right for you.

One day, when humankind is more enlightened — ruled by love, not fear — we won’t need boundaries. But for now, we do. We need boundaries, not walls.

Are you ready to get serious about yours?

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).
life-http://agingdisgracefullywell.com-sarah-blick

How to Live Life on Your Terms

And stop living it on someone else’s

If I asked you whether you live life on your terms, you’d probably say yes.

But do you? Are they YOUR terms? Or are they your family’s, and/or society’s terms?

As an independent soul and a bit of a rebel, I used to think that I lived on my own terms. I was wrong. I did a lot of things that were expected of me, things that weren’t me at all. As a child, I’d tried so hard to fit in that I’d started doing what others wanted me to do. Even if it wasn’t what I’d have done myself.

At first, it wasn’t a big deal. Giving in a little here, a little there. But after years of this behaviour going unchecked, my own terms for living had been eroded away. Not that I was aware they had. The terms on which I was living had become so familiar, they felt like mine.

The fit became less comfortable as the years went by. I still wasn’t aware that this was behind the unsettled feeling I had. But I couldn’t escape the fact that I did feel unsettled. Something didn’t feel right inside. The best way to describe what I felt is that there was a void inside. A certain emptiness.

It was decades later that I finally understood why I felt that void. I was missing from my own life. Through not living life on my terms, I had lost myself, bit by bit, along the way.

30 years spent rediscovering myself taught me much. About me. About others. About what it means to be fully alive. Today, I live life on my terms. How do I know? Because I dance to the beat of a very different drum. Different from the beat I used to dance to. And different from the beat I see everyone around me dancing to. I’m told I’m an outlier with such frequency that I know people experience me as different. People I know very well, and people I’ve just met.

I love being an outlier, being different. You know why? Because I AM different. I’m unique, the only me in town. You’re unique, too.

How to rediscover yourself

Rediscovering yourself requires you to answer two simple questions. “Who are you?” and “Why are you here?”. The questions may be simple. But answering them isn’t.

Who are you? Who is beneath all those layers of conditioning?

And if you think you have no layers of conditioning, think again. We ALL emerge from our families and school with conditioning. Remember those rules you had to follow? Do you still follow them, even though you don’t have to? That’s conditioning. Don’t get me wrong, not all conditioning is bad for you. It’s only bad for you if it goes against your own conditioning.

Your own conditioning is your belief system.

Your belief system is one part of what you have to figure out to rediscover yourself. The other part is to understand what lights you up. What lights you up is a combination of what you love doing and what you’re naturally good at.

One way to get at all this information is to answer these three questions.

  • What’s important to you?
  • What do you love doing?
  • What are you truly good at?

What’s important to you? is all about the principles upon which you wish to build your life. Which personal qualities do you want to be known for? You know, things like honesty, kindness, resilience, openness, respect. If you find this hard to answer, think about the qualities you see in people you admire. Which types of behaviour are you not prepared to engage in? Are you prepared to use fear to get what you want? Are you prepared to be dishonest? Are you prepared to harm others through what you’re doing/buying? Which causes or issues are closest to your heart? Do you care about the environment? Human rights? Child labour? Income inequality?

To answer What do you love doing? properly, you’re going to need to go back in time to when you were a young child. From your earliest memories till when you were about eight years old. It’s best to stop at eight, because that’s when you started being moulded by others. With the best will in the world, your parents and those close to you started to direct you. To be a certain way. To go down a certain path. The trouble with this is that you are not them. Either as an individual. Or as part of your generation. So, the life for which you were groomed may not fit the real you. Mine didn’t at all. To answer this question, close your eyes and think about the young child version of you. What did you spend your time doing, when it was up to you? Think about this in detail. Note how you liked to play — alone or with others. Whether you were more introverted or extraverted. Whether you tended to lead, or follow. That kind of detail.

What are you truly good at? If you’re like me, you may not have a great sense of this any more. You may be accomplished at a lot of things, which is great. Some, you’ve learned to do well, and some, you’re naturally good at. All these things will serve you well, but you’ll get more joy from what comes naturally. Get a little outside help with this one, from people who know you well. Make sure you choose people who are impartial. This may rule out your immediate family as there can often be a lot of baggage in those relationships! Sift through their responses and note down those that resonate most with you.

Putting yourself back in your life

You now have the raw material you need to get clear on who you are, and why you’re here. The next step is to start to make sense of it.

From your answers, craft a short paragraph that captures your essence. It should talk about your values, your beliefs, and your skills. It’s your personal statement. Think about it as an elegant paragraph containing your personal keywords. Anyone reading it should be clear about who you are as a person.

Next comes what you plan to do with your life. I call this your Life Vision. Take your essence — the real you. Add what you love doing, and then the unique contribution you want to make in the world. This combination forms your Life Vision.

Living on your terms

You know who you are. You know why you’re here. Now it’s time to start living it. To start living on your terms.

Dreaming about your personal statement and Life Vision won’t make them come to life. It takes planning and action to move you from where you are to where you want to be. First, you need to break your journey down into steps. Make sure the steps are large enough to be interesting, and small enough to be achievable. Then, you need to plan how you’re going to take action. Plan no more than 90 days out, and then get more granular. Into months, weeks, and days. Don’t get into the daily detail too far ahead, or it won’t be relevant. I lay out next week’s daily plan at the end of the previous week.

Every action in your plans should take you one step closer to your Life Vision. It’s that simple. This level of focus is what it takes to live on your own terms. You may think it’s a lot of effort, that your current life is easier on you. You’re right about the first part, but wrong about the second.

Living on your terms feels better than any other way of living, and is worth every scrap of effort it takes to get there. You feel more alive than ever before. You feel more clarity than ever before. You feel more fulfilled than ever before. You feel happier than ever before.

And you’re worth every scrap of effort it takes to get there.

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

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What Is Love?

Answering the one question that unites us all

Most years, “What is love?” is the top global Google search query. A quick search using this phrase yielded a staggering 402,000,000 results in .08 seconds.

I didn’t look at any of the answers. I didn’t need to.

I know what love is.

Love is a sacred union between two beings. Parent and child. Person and tree. Life partners. Close friends. Person and animal. What makes the union sacred is that it’s unconditional, and divine.

When I talk of unconditional love, I mean that there is nothing about the other you want to change. Ever. You accept the other exactly as presented in every moment. You see the other, apparent imperfections, and all, and love her anyway.

And when I talk about love being divine, I mean that its sole purpose is to elevate each being. To help the other realize her full potential. The potential that reflects her true self, and not the self we may want her to be. You remove all that limits your love. You give of yourself fully and freely.

This love is real love.

Does knowing what love is make it easier to find? Does it make it drop into your lap, as if by magic?

I also know the answer to this. No, it doesn’t. But it does make this kind of love easier to recognize if you do find it.

It’s easy to mistake other kinds of love for real love. At first, anyway. In the honeymoon period, when love is so new and fresh, there’s no place for conditions. Everything about the other is so wonderful, so perfect. Conditions start to creep in soon enough. Your eyes go from seeing the perfection to seeing the flaws.

“That tree is so beautiful! I’m so lucky to have it in my garden!!” ==> “That tree is blocking my light. It would be better without those branches!”
“I love his creativity! He can see beauty in chaos!” ==> “I wish he’d tidy his home, it’s so haphazard! The mess drives me nuts!”
“I love how independent and free-spirited she is!” ==> “I need her to be around me all the time. If she loved me, she wouldn’t want to be so independent.”
“I love you so much, I’ll support you, no matter what!” ==> “I want what’s best for you, so you need to do this, not that.”

Conditions don’t creep in consciously. They start to appear when your insecurities do. And insecurities arise when old, unresolved wounds get re-opened.

They, too, get re-opened without your knowing it. It happens when something you’re experiencing today triggers a memory in you. An unpleasant memory. This old hurt gets activated and feels so real in the moment that you react to it. Even though the present situation doesn’t warrant it. You believe you’re reacting to what’s going on today. But you’re not.

The minute things start to get conditional, real love goes out the window. That’s because unconditional love it the starting place for real love. Love needs to be unconditional before it can become divine.

The path to unconditional love

To misquote The Beatles, the path to unconditional love is a long and winding road that leads to your door. Your own door, not the door of another being.

Unconditional love starts with you.

If your love for yourself is conditional, then your love for others will be the same. The conditions might even be the same, because they’re all about you. Your conditions reflect what you believe you need to feel worthy of love. All those “If only I/he was more…, then I would feel more…” thoughts flying around your head are your conditions.

I get this. I spent much of my life in the conditional, only to discover one truth. That the conditions never filled the void inside. You see, the void can’t be filled by things, be they conditions, endless pairs of shoes, or binge eating sessions.

The void can only be filled by love. Self-love.

The foundation for unconditional love is self-love. Truth is, this kind of love is NOT selfish — it doesn’t spring from your ego. It springs from your caring for your own well-being, and happiness. It springs from your taking responsibility for your own life. (If you’d like to understand this concept better, you can read my article on it.)

How you get to a place of self-love is personal. There are as many different routes as there are people. What they all have in common is this. They demand an unrelenting focus, and courage. The focus keeps the prize in mind — the prize of a happy, worthy you. The courage keeps you moving forward, one step at a time, no matter what gets thrown at you along the way.

My own path to self-love was a very long and winding one. It took 30 years of relentless focus and courage. But the prize was worth every ounce of effort, and more.

The path to divine love

This path is both harder, and easier, than the path to unconditional love. Harder, because it involves two beings. And easier, because it involves two beings.

The challenge lies in finding another being who is on the same page as you about love. Especially another human being. I first explored the whole notion of divine love with a tree. I felt much safer with this tree — a cedar — than with another person. Trees are unconditional and divine by nature. So I knew that any resistance to our shared love was coming from me. At first, I had some good days when I’d connect deeply with it. But I had far more bad days. Luckily for me, trees are endlessly patient — especially my tree.
Over time, it got easier. I found that I could love my tree unconditionally, and give of myself fully and freely. I wanted nothing less for my tree than to help it achieve its highest purpose. Which was being the tree it was destined to be, not the tree I wanted it to be.

At this point, I knew I was ready for divine love with a human. One who was one the same page as I about the nature of real love. The 30 years I spent getting ready for divine love were hard. But this is when the challenge really began.

It’s easy to see why finding someone with the same view of love is such a challenge. Real love is not what society values. You can tell, because of how society rewards conditional love. If you do x, you’ll get y. Even worse, if you don’t do x, not only won’t you get y, but you’ll also get punished in some way. Life today is about compliance. And compliance, by its very nature, is loaded with conditions.

The starting place for me was to get clear on some prerequisites for real love. For this, I had to write a list of my relationship non-negotiables*. These are the characteristics that must be present in another for us to be on the same page about life in general. After I’d written my list, I realized why so much had gone wrong in all my previous relationships. My partners and I were miles apart on most items on my list. This meant we were miles apart on everything that mattered to me. I couldn’t see any of them as the perfect beings they were, because they were far from perfect for me.

This is a crucial point. Unconditional love depends on your being able to see and accept the other as perfect, just as he is. This won’t happen if what matters most to each of you is very different. You won’t feel comfortable enough with him. And this will make it easy to find fault with him — as a way of explaining your discomfort.

With your list of non-negotiables in hand, it’s much easier to navigate the choppy waters of dating. There’s a yes or a no answer to every item on your list. An answer to whether this person has the same worldview as you, for example. It removes all subjectivity from the dating equation.

If you find someone who meets all your non-negotiables, then the fun can begin. I say ‘can begin’, not ‘will begin’, because what follows depends on other things. Like timing. Are you in the same place at the same time? Like connection — emotional, mental, spiritual and physical.

You’re worth it

If you do get to a place of real love, life gets easier. Much easier. Because divine love ‘à deux’ is love on steroids. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

Getting to a place of real love isn’t for the faint-hearted. The focus and courage it requires knocks many people off-course. But the prize when you get there makes it worthwhile. It makes it beyond worthwhile, to be honest.

And you’re worth it, you perfect human being. You may not believe this right now, in this moment, but you are. You are worth making the effort for. You are worthy of real love. You are worthy of being your best self. You are worthy of giving of yourself — and receiving of the other — freely and fully.

You are worth it.

* I’m grateful to SARK and John Waddell for making this easier via their book, Succulent Wild Love: Six Powerful Habits for Feeling More Love More Often

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

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My Life As a Dog

And how it made me happier

Let’s face it. Dogs make amazing companions. That delighted-to-see-you greeting when you come home — even if you’ve only been gone for a few minutes. The look of pure love in their eyes as they gaze at you. That sense of their knowing when you’re upset, and in need of their comfort.

I was late to the dog-loving game. You see, I grew up in a cat family. I rarely came across dogs — they were much less common as pets back then. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I first fell in love with a dog. Oggie Doggie was anything but average. Physically, he was very tall and hairy for a Jack Russell. And his personality was larger than life. He was very cute (and knew it), very smart and very funny. Oggie had my heart at first sight, and knew that, too.

For the first few years, Oggie and I were inseparable. It’s true to say that my ex-husband was envious of the relationship I had with that dog. You see, life with Oggie was uncomplicated. We adored each other. It’s so easy to adore — and be adored by — a dog. My idyllic relationship with Oggie lasted for five years. And came to a crashing halt the day I left the marriage. I paid a high price for my freedom — my ex-husband got Oggie. He also got the other dog we had. He was “his” dog, just as Oggie was “my” dog. Oggie and I were separated for about 18 months. The moment our separation ended will stay with me forever. After much discussion, my ex had finally agreed to give me my dog back. When I went to the house to collect Oggie, both dogs rushed to the door to check out the visitor. The other dog walked away after one sniff, but not Oggie. He sniffed me, started to turn away, then rushed forward, and sniffed me again. He looked up, his eyes shining bright, and leaped into my arms. licking me. The look on his face said: “It’s HER. She’s BACK!”, and he ran out of the house without looking back.

It was at this point in our relationship that I started to learn from Oggie. A lot. This timing had everything to do with me, and nothing to do with him. He’d always had much to teach me, but I’d not been ready. It took a couple of major life challenges to get me ready to receive Oggie’s wisdom. The divorce, and my getting very sick with an autoimmune disease. These ground me down to the point where I had to do some serious self-work. Or go completely under. The decision to take a long, hard look at myself and how I was living opened me up. It gave me the self-awareness I needed to see the gifts Oggie had to offer.

The gift of unconditional love

The first gift was his unconditional love for me. I’d always known that the love I got from him felt different from all other love I’d experienced. But I had no idea why. His love felt liberating. I could be the real me with him at all times — no matter what that looked like in any moment — and it was fine with him. He didn’t judge me or my behaviour. He just loved me. And that felt so good.

It felt so good, because it’s not what I was used to. I’m guessing it’s not what you’re used to, either. Truth is, most of the love between people is conditional. You don’t mean it to be that way, but it’s what happens. It’s not your fault, it’s how society trained you to be. The conditions are subtle.

  • You praise someone for getting top marks, but not for failing.
  • You reward success, not the effort.
  • You think or say things like this. “If you really loved me, you would […]”, or “This is in your best interests…”, or “I wish he were […]”, or “You must/should […]”.

If you’re honest with yourself, you know you do this to others. And that it’s done to you, too. In fact, you’ve spent your life trying to fit in to receive love, even conditional love. It’s true for me. Or it used to be true.

Stepping away from this conditional form of love takes awareness, and courage. It starts with your noticing when you do any of these conditional things, and when they’re done to you. Once you start to see this behaviour in yourself and others, you can’t un-see it. Over time, you’ll start to catch your behaviour when it’s still a thought, and will have time to change it.

With every interaction, ask yourself if you deliver love that feels like Oggie’s love did for me. Love that says: “You’re perfect, just as you are. There is nothing I would change about you or this moment.”

The gift of living in the moment

The second gift Oggie gave me was understanding the power of living in the moment. I would often take him out for walks along exactly the same route, day after day. Whilst I tired of this route and routine, he never did. He treated every minute of every walk as if it were his first time experiencing it. He stepped out into his walks full of excitement and joy.

I could see WHY Oggie lived like this — it was an exhilarating! But it took me a good while to figure out HOW he did it. I wondered how he could get so excited about experiencing the same thing again and again. Many years later, I understood.

Oggie didn’t experience the same thing again and again. He knew that nothing is constant, that everything changes from second to second. And he noticed every single nuance of every single change.

He noticed that:

  • Different dogs had gone by, leaving different scents.
  • The weather was different, and this affected every sense. How things looked, smelled, how tasted, and felt. It affected the sounds that were about.
  • He was different, and was experiencing the walk through a different lens.
  • I was different, and was giving off different energy.
  • Everything along our path was different. Every blade of grass, every flower, every shrub, every tree. Different people were walking by. The garbage strewn around was different.
  • The cars going by were different.
  • Our rate of movement was different, and this affected how long we spent in one place.

These are but some of the things he noticed. When I finally started looking at the world like Oggie, it felt amazing. I was a young child once more, viewing everything with such wonder. What happened to enable me to be in the moment? I started a daily meditation practice… and kept it up.

The control this has given me over my thoughts and behaviour is mind-blowing. Take it from me when I say that a daily meditation practice will change your life. If you want more proof, this article from The Art of Living summarizes the benefits well.

The gift of acceptance

The third gift Oggie gave me was to accept what is. Completely. By the time he offered me this gift, I was already down the path to understanding acceptance. That had started when I got sick. After raging about my fate for a couple of years, I finally accepted it. In that moment, I took responsibility for my health, and took action to fix it. With great success. So I understood acceptance. Or thought I did.

My real understanding of acceptance didn’t happen until Oggie got sick. He’d developed a tumour in his neck that caused him constant pain. And it was inoperable. All I could do for him was to attempt to manage the pain via meds. This worked for a few months, then it became clear that his pain was getting worse. I kept on going back to the vet for more painkillers, but there was a limit to what they could do. I knew I had to make a decision, but the thought of being without Oggie was too much for me to contemplate. So I put my head in the sand and carried on.

Oggie made it clear that he knew I was struggling with his impending demise. He’d look at me in a way that said: “It’s OK, I’ll bear the pain for as long as you need”. He’d accepted his situation and his fate. I hadn’t.

I did make the right decision for him in the end, but it was two or three months later than it should have been. When I stopped feeling so raw from his death, I took stock of what had happened. And started understanding what acceptance really looks like.

Acceptance works on two levels. There’s accepting hard realities about yourself. And then there’s accepting hard realities about someone else. One is harder to do (the latter), but they both demand the same thing of you. That you step back and observe what’s there. That you see what is. Not what should be true, or could be true, or you’d like to be true. What is. And act based on that, and that alone.

I’ve not had another dog since Oggie. Partly, because I wasn’t emotionally ready for another. Partly, because I’ve been moving around a lot. I will get a dog, one day. And I’ll be grateful for the rest of my life for the gifts that scruffy little white dog with the big heart gave me.

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Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).

 

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Take Responsibility For Your Life.

Amazing things will happen.

You’ve been eating and drinking the same way for years. Exercising (or not) the same way for years. Working the same way for years. Sleeping (or not) the same way for years. And for all that time — in your 20s and 30s — it’s worked for you. Worked in the sense that you could do it without serious repercussions. Until one day.

One day, you start to notice some changes. In your energy levels. In how you feel. In your stress levels. In how you look. In this moment, you have a choice.

Do you:
  Continue living as you have been for the last 20-odd years, and hope that its current impact on you will change?

Or

  Shrug your shoulders, and say to yourself: “There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s my age.”

My guess is that your choices will be split 50/50 between these two. I say this, because it’s what I observe around me, day in, day out. I observe it especially amongst menopausal women. When I challenge their choice — after all, I’m a menopausal woman, too — many cite experts who say this is to be expected.

You’re telling me to accept my lot in life? One that has me feeling less energetic, being less healthy and more stressed, and looking less alive as I age?

I call time on that.

You see, there’s a third choice, one that very few people even see. It’s to take responsibility for your own life.

What taking responsibility looks like

Taking responsibility means no excuses, no denial. It means accepting exactly what’s before you, no matter how unpalatable that may be. And taking action to make some changes in your life.

I get why the denial and excuses options appeal to you so much. And why the taking-responsibility one is of so little appeal. You’re human, and humans are hot-wired not to like change. You view change as a threat, because it takes you into unfamiliar territory. Which your fear brain views in pretty much the same way as it views a sabre-toothed tiger in your garden.

But there’s another wonderfully human feature you can use, too. Your heart.

Your heart is your instinct. That little voice inside you that knows the truth. The little voice that knows it’s ludicrous to expect a different result from doing the same thing. The little voice that knows that hiding behind the opinions of others is burying your head in the sand.

It’s a great idea to put your heart in charge of taking responsibility for your life. Because, unlike your mind, which thinks it’s great at everything, your heart knows the truth. Your heart knows it’s great at seeing things for what they are, and making decisions. And how — and whom — to ask for help. Plus, unlike your mind, it doesn’t get derailed by fear. Your heart allows fear its full expression. This prevents it from making you stuck, and harnesses fear’s powerful energy. It then hands things over to your thinking brain.

Your heart made the right choice for you. Now it’s time for action. Specifically, for planning for action. And that’s your thinking brain’s sweet spot. It gets a boost from fear’s energy to get focussed. You find yourself able to see everything that needs doing to make the change(s) you need in your life. You know how the chunk the various elements into steps, and how to prioritize them.

Going forward, you’ll need both your heart and thinking brain. They act in tandem to keep your fear brain from blocking your progress. Because it will try, again and again. Remember, your fear brain likes the status quo. It doesn’t want you to go outside your comfort zone. And that’s precisely what taking responsibility for your life does. It pushes you way outside your comfort zone. As it must, because that’s where personal growth — the outcome of change — lives.

What happens when you take full responsibility for your life

When you choose responsibility over denial and excuses, your life blossoms. I’m not saying that everything becomes easy and all challenges disappear. Far from it. I’m saying your life blossoms, because you realize how powerful you are. Your ability to overcome challenges grows with every change you make. You become much more resilient to whatever life throws at you.

How do I know this? I’m living proof of it.

In my late 30s, I was going places. My career was hot, I was married, had lots of friends, owned my own home, took fancy holidays. I had everything you could want in life. Yet… I’d long felt as though something was missing. As though I was here for more than this. My work life was pretty typical of someone in senior management in the corporate world. I worked long hours (50–70 per week). I had a workload that was unmanageable. I was made to do things that went against my values. I had to tow the corporate line. I was stressed out all the time, and felt like a hamster in a wheel. I kept on making the same mistakes, and getting stuck in the same rut. I could help companies out of their ruts, but I couldn’t seem to break free from my own.

Until life as I knew it came crashing down on top of me. I, superwoman, developed an autoimmune disease that ground me to an abrupt halt.

When I stopped feeling sorry for myself for being so debilitated, I knew it was decision time. I could continue as I was, lurching from flare to flare, and medication to medication. Or I could find a new way of coping with the disease. I chose the latter. You see, when I closed my eyes and pictured myself in my 70s or 80s, I didn’t see a sick person. I saw a vibrant, happy and active older me. That was the only image of me I had. So I had to find a way to change my life to make that image a reality.

I knew my lifestyle — how I was living — was behind everything. And I knew I wasn’t looking for a quick fix. I was looking for a sustainable solution. One that needed all my hard-won business skills and an obsessive focus. I went through my life with a fine-toothed comb. How I did things. What happened as a result. Why I was doing them in the first place. I looked into how my lifestyle affected my body, my mind, my emotional state, my spiritual state. No aspect of my life escaped my scrutiny.

This didn’t happen overnight. I spent more than a decade testing everything. I broke habits, made new ones, broke those, made more new ones. It was a circular process, not a linear one.

By the end, I had made myself virtually bulletproof. Resilient to the max. And my life had blossomed. I was happier and more self-fulfilled than ever before.

Here’s the hard proof. Today, I’m 55. My metabolic age is 30. The autoimmune disease I developed in my late 30s is in full remission, and has been for years.

All because I chose to take responsibility for my life. My thoughts, my actions, my health, my fulfilment, and my happiness.

You see, I still have a LOT to do in my life. I have big dreams and even bigger plans.

Don’t you?

 

Sarah Blick is a very tall, dog-loving, morning person. She loves to be in the great outdoors, to write, to eat well, to be active and healthy, to make her own household and personal care products, and to listen to indie music. She’s an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Rockstar (Fascination Advantage).