For the last few months, my life has been filled with reading and running. I’ve been reading books that inspire and challenge me, and I’ve been running a sh*tload to prepare for a marathon. Here’s an update on both. Continue reading
One thing I know for sure is that you can’t change other people just by telling them what to do. The Ten Commandments are the perfect example of this. If God Almighty can’t even get those who claim to love and serve him to abide by what he says is right, then what hope is there for us mere mortals to do the same with each other? Not much. So, while I believe you can (and should) write your own life story, stick to that story, please. Don’t try to ghostwrite someone else’s story, too.
In practical terms, this means fixing and changing ourselves and not putting our energy and attention on trying to fix and change someone else. Of course, we know that we’re right and the other person is wrong, but that’s beside the point. The point is you can only write your own life story. You can’t write someone else’s. At least not if you want to be successful.
When you write your own life story, the bestselling version, you behave toward others how you wish they would behave toward you. You give to others what you wish you could receive back. When you write your own life story, you live your own life, and you are responsible for your actions and words.
Ghostwriting someone else’s story means you tell them what to do and how to live. You offer (mostly unsolicited) advice about what is the right course of action. You (mostly ineffectually) cajole, nag, eye roll, and repeat yourself to get the other person to change his or her behavior.
I speak from years and years of experience, so trust me on this. You can’t dictate how other people behave. You cannot ghostwrite someone else’s story. It just doesn’t work. The plot fails. The book isn’t a bestseller. It’s a flop.
Of course, getting past this conditioned response (to change someone else because he’s wrong and I’m right!) requires enormous patience and compassion. It’s not easy turn the other cheek when you’d like to smack someone across the face (because they’re not doing what you tell them to do).
In situations like this, ask yourself these questions. Is it better to be right or is it better to be at peace? Do I want to create more tension (asserting that my way is the better way) or do I want to create harmony? That’s really the bottom line.
Sometimes you have to shut up and get over yourself. Your way isn’t the one, right way. It’s just one way. And writing your life story is YOUR practice. About you and for you. It’s about trying every day, every hour, every minute, to manifest the person you want to be, to make a small step toward the goals you want to realize, to be more attuned to your best self.
If you want peace in your relationships, write your own life story. Be the author and creator of your life and no one else’s.
Weekly Musings – A summary of the week’s highs, lows, and in betweens…
I subscribe to a gazillion sites and get the associated emails, which usually leads me to unsubscribing, because of the sheer volume of mail I get. But, one site I continue to subscribe to (after a few years, including paying for the electronic magazine subscription) is tricycle.org, which sends a Daily Dharma with a quote straight to my inbox. I like these daily messages, because I can quickly scan the quote (I mean it’s 1-2 sentences) and see if I want to read more (click on the link) or not. Yes, this is a Buddhist magazine/site, but you don’t have to be Buddhist (I’m not) to enjoy the words of wisdom and reflective essays on the site.
Here are some examples of Daily Dharmas:
“My practice is teaching me to embrace imperfection: to have compassion for all the ways things haven’t turned out as I’d planned, in my body and in my life; for the way things keep falling apart, and failing, and breaking down. It’s less about fixing things and more about learning to be present for exactly what is.” Anne Cushman, Living from the Inside Out
“When I walk into my fear, practice there, sit upright in the middle of it, completely open to the experience, with no expectation of the outcome, anything is possible.” Judith Randall, The Hidden Lamp
“On the spiritual path, there’s nothing to get, and everything to get rid of. . . . The first thing to let go of is trying to get love, and instead to give it. That’s the secret of the spiritual path.” Ayya Kemah, What is Love?
My life is in the midst of enormous change. Big, old, scary, in your face change both in my work life and in my personal life.
On a lark, I sent a post to HealthyPlace.com, knowing that they are a mental health website with blogs, and they pay for blog posts. Well, they liked my post and they offered me a contract to write for their Living a Blissful Life blog. As you can probably guess from its title, the blog is aligned with my own message – connecting with others to share our common experience, in my case my struggle with depression and growth out of the darkness and into the light, and grow to our fullest potential. I’m psyched to get more practice writing, I’m challenged by having a hard deadline to meet, and I’m pleased to have someone else editing my work. Of course, this job is more work on top of the rest of my crazy, full life, but it’s moving me in the direction of my dreams, becoming a paid writer, so overall it’s a great thing.
Home: We are working on leaving Munich. Yes, you read that correctly. Can you just see me doing my happy dance? It’s been 5 years of living abroad and it’s time to move back to the States. In my opinion, it’s past due. So, we’re doing what we need to do to make an international move happen. This means lots of transition (my daughter’s school, my husband’s job) and a lot of unknowns (when? where? how?), which I’m not very good at dealing with. I’m trying to learning to live with the uncertainty, with not having a plan that goes on my timeline or in my way. Letting go of my need to control those aspects is hard for me. It’s anxiety provoking, but I’m getting there, even if at infinitesimally small steps.
What I’m Reading Right Now
I just finished reading It Ain’t so Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas (disclaimer: Firoozeh is a very good friend of mine and I love her and her work). The book shares the experience of a child who immigrates from Iran to California in the late 1970s. The main character is trying to fit in and be accepted in her new homeland, which is difficult enough by itself given that she’s entering middle school, but is complicated by the Iran-US hostage crisis of 1979. Suddenly, Zomorod and her family, 7500 miles removed from Iran, are viewed through an anti-Iranian lens.
This book is classified as a children’s book, but it contains an important message for everyone. It highlights the need for kindness and tolerance. We all need to be reminded to do this. Remember my recent post about choosing to practice love? Distrusting and hating entire groups of people because they are different from us or because of the actions of a few radicals in the group is the foundation of bigotry. Kindness, people, practice it. And read this book.
Those are my musings. What about you?
What did you tell yourself this week to inspire you, motivate you, or help you on your path? What words of wisdom has someone else (through reading, a podcast, a talk) shared with you? What are you grateful for in your life? What are you struggling with? Feel free to share here.
In its most simplest definition, evolution is change over time. In biology, this change results from a mutation – actual changes in the DNA – or migration, the genes leave one place and go elsewhere, or by genetic drift, in which life circumstances shift the allele (gene form) frequencies in a population.
Alternatively, change can result from environmental influences on the organism. For example, certain species of birds have red/orange/yellow plumage because of carotenoids, which aren’t endogenously made by the birds but are only available in the diet. Changes in feather color, when carotenoids aren’t available, undoubtedly affect the bird’s ability to camouflage itself from predators and attract reproductive partners, paving the way to evolution.
Whether it’s genotypic or phenotypic in nature, change happens to an organism but not necessarily because of what the organism does. An elephant seal can’t stop hunters from killing it (leading to genetic drift); a flamingo can’t make more crustaceans (which provide the carotenoids needed to give the flamingo pink feathers) appear magically in the water. In biology, by and large, evolution happens to the organism.
This is where personal evolution differs from biological. Personal evolution is all about our role in the process. Personal evolution is about the choices we make to grow ourselves in ways that always help us navigate our world more effectively.
Life doesn’t just happen to us. Happiness doesn’t happen to us. Suffering doesn’t happen to us. No. We have a hand in creating those states of being. And, I believe that it is largely by our own doing that we experience personal success or failure, that is happiness or suffering. The choice is ours, whether we want to act in ways that move us forward, toward being our best selves, or to act in ways that cause our regression, moving us toward our more unskilled selves.
It has take my almost my whole life to learn this truth. (Good Goddess, I can be a slow learner!) And even though I’ve learned the lesson, I’m not totally, or even highly, evolved. Not in the least.
You see, personal evolution is both a life long process and an indirect path. It’s not an arc from point A to B; it’s a sine wave. It oscillates up and down but hopefully moving in an overall direction toward greater wellbeing.
Life is like the ocean – still and serene at times, crashing with violent waves at other times. The only constant is that it changes, and when it changes and it’s turbulent, we have to learn how to navigate those waves. This is how we evolve, how we survive and thrive. We learn to adjust and harness that wave energy to support us rather than letting the waves pull us under.
This is personal evolution, choosing to act in ways that support your own wellbeing regardless of what life throws at you. As Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote, “You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.”
My first real taste of failure came when I was in my late 20s, and two devastating things happened in the span of a few years. The first was the failure of my marriage. The second was my failure to finish a PhD program.
Let’s start with the first, big, bad knock I got in life. My failed marriage.
I’d known my husband since I was 17. We got married in June of 1989 when I was 19. I pledged to have and hold this man through sickness and health for better or worse. Forever. And then in November of 1999, I was officially divorced.
For various reasons, not the least of which were my age and emotional immaturity level, my marriage did not begin on the firmest ground and it seemed to get shakier with each year. After several years of separating, getting back together, separating, filing for divorce, getting back together, I finally nailed the coffin shut on my marriage when I made some very poor and irrevocably damaging decisions.
Was I the first to ever fail at marriage? No. Did my failed marriage doom every other marriage Of course not. People (including myself and my ex-husband) continued to get married, and to be in happy, fulfilling, successful marriages. Life did not end (although it sure was shitty for a few years) even though I failed.
A year before my divorce, I started a PhD program in neuroscience. This had been my dream since I was a junior in high school and watched a Nova series on the brain in my anatomy class. Life got in the way, but I finally enrolled in a doctoral program in 1998, at the age of 29.
Unlike my marriage, grad school seemed to start off with a bang. I was awarded several prestigious fellowships. I cloned a couple of genes in the animal species in which I worked, something which had not been done or published before. I was admitted to candidacy. Then I spent 3 years of my life trying to get some basic experiments to work. And, they didn’t. I failed miserably and repeatedly during those 3 years. And one day in the spring of 2003, I walked in to my mentor’s office and said, “I’m done.”
Was I the first person to fail at bench research? Hardly. Did my failure in grad school doom my career or that of my mentor? Absolutely not. My mentor continued to publish, and publish well, without me. And I’ve gone on to have a rewarding and challenging career (which includes publications!) even though I failed.
Still, here I was, 33 years old with two epic failures under my belt. Both my marriage and my career path were things, at one time, I wanted desperately. And they both went bust, which completely and totally sucked at the time. There were many (M A N Y) times while things were rapidly going downhill that I cried and screamed and wondered, “What next? How do I go on?” But, I did gone on, and the world didn’t stop turning because I got divorced or because I didn’t finish my PhD.
Many people, particularly in business, maintain that failure is mandatory. It’s a requirement for future success. While I don’t agree that it’s mandatory, unless you’re really lucky or gifted, failure is inevitable.
And, it turns out, that can be good.
Without having screwed up one marriage, I probably wouldn’t have succeeded at any subsequent romantic relationship. My failed marriage taught me that relationships are hard work and take real effort. Hones to goddess, my starry eyed, in-love, 19 year old self didn’t know that. My failed marriage also taught me that I owe it to myself and to my partner to talk about problems and deal with them before they escalate, before things become irreparable. Yes, it’s unfortunately that I learned these lessons in a hard, ugly way, but thankfully I learned them. Otherwise, I’d probably have another divorce under my belt.
My grad school years taught me something similar. I learned (again) not to wait too long to get help if things aren’t going well. I also learned to trust my gut. The truth is, I knew pretty early on in the program, that I wasn’t all that interested in bench research. I liked learning about science, talking about science, and teaching science, but, doing the actual work was soooo tedious. Still, I stayed in the program for years after I should have changed paths, because it had been my dream. I refused to accept the reality that I did not enjoy working alone on a bench all day, pipetting and centrifuging and running gels. Instead, I forced myself to slog through, ignoring the truth that what I was doing wasn’t at all what I wanted to do.
Failure isn’t something any of us sets out to accomplish, but a failed experience doesn’t have to be wasted. We may regret how we handled certain aspects that ultimately led us to fail, but we shouldn’t regret the experience we went through. If you allow it, a failed experience can provide life wisdom and lead you to a better place. So don’t waste your failures. Even when they come in an ugly, painful disguises, use them as opportunities to grown and learn.
It’s not about being brave. It’s about being honest.
When I go back to the States and see my friends and acquaintances in person, they ask, “How are you?” And I tell them the truth. I’m unhappy. To which, their response is, “But your life in Germany looks so great.” Yes, because what I’m posting on Facebook are photos of me on vacation or at the zoo or the park with my silly, wonderful daughter. What I’m not posting are the pictures of me sobbing or overdrinking or fighting with my husband or any of the other things that have happened (and sometimes continue to happen) with regularity since I’ve been abroad.
The last 3 years here have been difficult for me, and for the entirety of those 3 years, I’ve said that “here” was Germany. I truly believed that my being unhappy had a geographic basis, and everything would be sooooo much better if I just moved back to the States. In all honesty, though, “here” isn’t Germany. It’s my life.
I’d been through some really dark periods in the States as well. It’s just that I had (and still have) an awesome safety net in the US, one on which I could fall back easily. Perhaps too easily. My mom would drop everything to help me. My friends would drop everything to help me. In Europe, I don’t have that luxury. There is no one in Munich I could call for that kind of support. I simply don’t have a safety net here like I do in the States.
Being so far away from my family, living without deep friendships in my immediate world, I find myself opening up much more than I might have previously when people I know come to town. Now, when I talk to friends who are visiting, and I don’t mean my closest friends, I mean the spouses of my husband’s colleagues who I’ve known forever and like a lot, but who don’t know my history, I’m honest. And, it turns out, they’re honest, too.
I talk about my drinking, and they say, “Oh yeah, me, too. I go to a party and have 1 or 2 more drinks than everyone else, and then I come home and have another.” Really? But I thought I was the ONLY ONE who did shit like that!
Or I say something about my marriage and a friend will say, “Oh yeah, me, too. If it weren’t for my child, I probably would have left this relationship years ago.” Really? But I thought I was the ONLY ONE who had these kinds of thoughts!
I thought I was the ONLY ONE, because I wasn’t talking about these things with anyone. “Here” there is no one for me to talk to, but even in the US, I felt so ashamed by my problems that I told only a handful of people.
I think that’s how many of us are. We share the good stuff with everyone. We share the really crappy stuff with very few or no one.
Then, last week I publicly outed myself on my personal Facebook page, and I had over 400 views on my blog (emotional train wreck voyeurs?). More surprising to me than that was the number of people (nowhere near 400 of course) who commented on or personally wrote to me about my bravery in being so brutally honest about my life.
But I don’t think of what I’m doing as being brave. I think of it as a necessity, and there are 3 reasons why – fear, guilt, and denial. That’s how I got “here” in the first place. Fear that those people who think I have it together, who think I’m happy and everything’s great will find out what I’m really like (a depressed overdrinker). Guilt about my behavior, because depression + overdrinking = lots of irrational, stupid behavior. And denial that there are problems. Thanks, I’ll just stuff it down inside and pretend it didn’t happen. Surely, if I ignore everything, it will just go away.
Fear, guilt, and denial. Together, these three emotions are shame-inducing and that’s what got me “here” in the first place. Allowing these emotions to reign will destroy me if I let them. So, I won’t let them. I can’t be afraid of what other people might think of me, because, frankly, this is who I am, imperfect and human. Just like you and everybody else. And while I am sorry for all the truly embarrassing, stupid and hurtful things I’ve done in my life, I have to learn from those mistakes. I have to use that knowledge to change and get back on track rather than let the guilt consume me. Finally, I can’t ignore the difficulties I experience. Difficulties are part of life, and it’s better to acknowledge them, accept them, and deal with them. Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is irresponsible.
I am being honest, here. I’m confronting my fear, my guilt, and my denial, but I’m not doing it out of bravery. I’m doing it out of necessity, because, otherwise, shame would destroy me.
So, thank you. Thank you, readers – friends, family, and even strangers (yes, there are in fact people I don’t even know who subscribe to my blog) – who love and support me on my journey. Thank you for sharing your own experiences with me and helping me feel like I’m not the ONLY ONE.
Let’s all be honest. I’m not the only one muddling through life. We are all in this together.
It’s not a dirty little secret, because I’m not into AA anonymity. Hiding the ugly parts of our lives may keep everything looking good, but in the long run, it’s neither practical nor helpful. We all suffer. We all have baggage. Try as we might to maintain the façade, it’s not going to last. And what’s the point anyway? To show everyone else you’ve got it all together or to convince yourself that everything’s okay when it’s not? That’s more work than it’s worth.
It’s not a dirty little secret. I just hadn’t told everyone (meaning all 479 of my FB friends). I told my closest friends, my family members, and my writer friends. I told 50 or so people. Then, in the last 2 weeks, 2 people I know from my professional world asked me about it. Out of the blue. Just making conversation.
“Are you still writing your blog?” one asked me.
“I saw you have a blog,” the other emailed me.
Deer in headlights. Wait. Say what? How do you know I have a blog?
Although my name is not on my blog, I wrote a guest post for MindBodyGreen a few months ago, and it got re-posted on various sites, and the bio has my name and blog URL. Google search. There are no secrets on the World Wide Web.
My name’s Silke, and I write a blog.
My blog is about my life – the shitty stuff, like my struggles with alcohol and depression and my issues with my father, but also the good stuff, like my work toward health and happiness. It’s a mixed bag, but that’s life in general, ups, downs, and in-betweens. And if you know me, then you know I will tell you my life story because that’s the kind of person I am – no filter, heart on sleeve.
But…not everyone knows my story. Not everyone has seen my mental and physical stretch marks.
This blog is my space to say what I’m thinking and process what I’m going through. It’s a very public diary. I write it, because it’s therapeutic for me. I write it, because I love to write. I write it, because I believe sharing our collective story connects and grounds us. It’s breaks down the walls we put up and forces us to see who we really are – fragile humans muddling through life, trying to do the best we can.
Am I afraid of risking my professional life by writing the blog, afraid that my colleagues will take me less seriously? Am I worried that people will talk about me behind my back?
No, because it’s not a dirty little secret. It’s out in the open, and it’s my truth, my life story.
I know it’s only Thursday, so the week’s not over yet, but I’ve been such a slacker wrt to posting in August and September. Well, that’s what 4 weeks of vacation can do to you. Or that’s what it did to me. Luckily, I’ve been inspired by my friend Leah who posts on her blog very frequently (even on vacation!). Check out Leah’s blog about the fit life and hear her talk at the 2015 Listen To Your Mother Austin show. Leah is funny, smart, and fit. We should all be so blessed.
This week’s musings – A summary of the week’s highs, lows, and in betweens…
Mantras I spoke this week:
- May peace begin with me, in my heart.
- May I redeem myself and reclaim what is inherently good, those life values I want to make manifest.
- May I be fully present in this moment, pausing to make sure I am giving my full attention to it.
- May I greet each day as an opportunity to be my best self, a platform for beginning anew.
This week, I was focused on changing the things inside me that hold me back from being who I want to be. I know that all positive (or negative) change begins with me, and I need to use each moment of each day to remember that and act on it, to continually improve and grow myself.
Best podcasts I listened to this week:
- On Being interview with Mike Rose, an education researcher at UCLA. He discusses school systems, vocational tracking, and meaningful work. Wow. I can’t say enough about how important it is to have school reform that helps every child reach his or her full potential, whatever that might be.
- Ted Radio Hour show on Transformation. First of all, I just discovered that this was a podcast. I love it because it combines similar Ted Talks into 1 show and clips from the talks are interspersed with interviews with the speakers. Given all my mantras this week about using each moment to best your best, this show was particularly inspiring.
Best blog I just discovered:
Okay, I’m late to the game, but because I subscribe to Leo Babauta’s blog Zen Habits, I read about Scott Dinsmore (unfortunately what I read was that Scott died this week) and his blog Live Your Legend. So, I checked out the blog, and it’s awesome, all about discovering what you’re really passionate about turning that passion into your every day reality, in work and life.
Gratitude this week:
- Vacation. I spent the past 4 weeks at my mom’s 2nd home in Asheville, North Carolina. I did lots of sleeping in, lots of eating out, and the perfect amount of laughing and shopping with girlfriends. I read a lot of books. I wrote (a little). I got to hear Old Time music (my mom plays fiddle and bass) and Honky Tonk music (my stepdad plays pedal steel guitar and banjo). I went on beautiful hikes, and I spent some quality time with my amazing mom. My heart is full. Truly.
- Vacation is great, but being back home after 4 weeks of being gone is even better. Sometimes all you need to make everything okay in the world is to sleep in your own bed and snuggle with a child.
- Work. My job is pretty great. I work from home, the hours are flexible, and the pay is good. I get to meet amazing scientists and read (and edit) lots of scientific papers that challenge me.
- My husband. I got 9 days by myself in the States because my husband came back to Germany with our daughter for the sole purpose of allowing me a much needed break from everything. I’m glad I get to share my life with him. He’s pretty awesome.
Those are my musings. What about you?
- What did you tell yourself this week to inspire you, motivate you, or help you on your path?
- What words of wisdom has someone else (through reading, a podcast, a talk) shared with you?
- What are you grateful for in your life?
Several years ago, my husband and I drove from Austin, Texas, to Healdsburg, California. We were meeting my extended family for a vacation in Sonoma and decided a road trip would be a great way to start and end the vacation. Also, because my husband was training for the Pike’s Peak Marathon later that summer, anywhere we could stop and do a trail run or run up and down a mountainside, we did just that. The trip (out and back) took us to Tucson, Flagstaff, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Death Valley, Yosemite, San Francisco, Bakersfield, Zion National Park, and Amarillo.
It wasn’t a perfect trip. There were some not fun moments. Like, before we even got out of Texas, my husband insisted on playing an entire Pink Floyd CD. When we drove through Death Valley, our brand new car overheated and we turned off the engine and coasted for a while, trying to quickly cool down the car. After a hard run in Yosemite, we checked into our hotel to learn that there was a power outage in the city, which was also experiencing an atypical heat wave. It was pitch black at 8pm and hotter than hell. We took cold showers in the dark went to sleep with wet washcloths on our bodies to try to stay cool.
But, despite all that stuff I didn’t like, I also have really wonderful memories of the trip. The trail runs in the national parks with breathtaking beauty all around us. Driving down the highway with nothing but wide, open spaces surrounding us. The hours in the car with my husband – we had infinite time to talk and to be quiet. Discovering Flagstaff. Finding a vegan winery. Staying up late with my family talking and laughing. Visiting the Northern California home where I was born. Driving back into Texas with a rainstorm to greet us.
For me, life is like that road trip. Or, rather, I have discovered that I am road tripping through life.
I have a destination I’m working toward, but it’s taking some work to get there. The reading, writing, and meditating I do, these are the routes I have chosen. They aren’t the only routes, and another person might choose differently, but this is the path that’s working for me, that’s getting me closer to where I want to be. Of course, there have been a lot of detours on this journey, both planned and unplanned. I’ve taken many (many!) wrong paths, some I’ve truly regretted. At times, I wasn’t sure how or if I would ever get where I wanted to go. But, then I’d come across the metaphorical scenic overlook on the highway of life, the beauty and wonder of living, and I’d keep going. I keep going, moving forward in the direction of my dreams.
I am road tripping through life. Destination chosen. Map in hand. Anticipating delays but open to all the incredible experiences that are part of this journey.