Just A Little Bit

Everyone has goals. Everyone has dreams. And everyone struggles to achieve them sometimes. 

Magazines and blogs make millions every year trying to help you unlock the secret to not falling off the bandwagon when in pursuit of your happiness. (The key to mastering your abs on page 7!)

But do you really want to know how to do it?

You do a little. Even the tiniest amount. And you do it every day. And when you’re tired and sore and pretty frustrated, you can look back and see the mole hill you made is actually a mountain. (And that’s a good thing). 

Wanna write a book? Write a single sentence each night. 

Wanna run a race? Start off walking, even just around the block. 

Wanna eat a ton of hotdogs in one sitting? You gotta eat the first one first. 

And in that way, you can do it. The trick is to not let yourself be stagnant in any part of this life. You can only do better if you are willing to work on your own progress. Even just a little bit. 

Whatever Helps You to Sleep at Night

At first, the title of this blog post seems really dismissive. Like, that sounds great. You do you. Whatever you need to make your eyes close and fall asleep when you have to. (Basically, whatever you need to shut up is totally yours.)

Except, if you look closer and harder, you will realize that, quite simply, that this is the key to life.

You see, I’m sure you’ll be able to recognize the following situation: you slip into some comfortable clothes at the end of the day. Then you jump into bed, get out again to turn off the light that you have forgotten to flick off, and then jump back in. You sort of rub your face on the pillows and pull the sheets just under your chin. Depending on your sleeping persuasion, you then curl into a ball, lie on your back to align your organs, or hike one knee over your shoulder and spread out as far as possible with your tongue hanging out. You count sheep, or fall directly asleep. Riding a wave of your own breathing, no matter how frenzied or smooth.

Until.

You think of something that you could have done during the day. You realize that there was something you could have finished, something you could have started. Something that you could have spent more time on, but you didn’t.

And for whatever reason that is, you didn’t. You were too tired. You had too many things to do. You ran late for some things, were too early for others. You had to put even more others above your own needs and wants.

Yet, here you are, sleepless and incomplete. Hoping beyond hope that you will get a “tomorrow” so that you can finish more things. But of course, not everything. There’s no way to finish everything.

So, my point is that you have to pick and choose. You will always have to do that. But in order to feel complete, you have to stop looking at your priorities as a deadline-driven list. Instead, you need to decide what will help you to sleep at night. Whether that means skipping the gym and going shopping or practicing yoga when you’d rather just fall asleep. At the literal end of the day, you will have to realize that whatever helps you to roll over and dream is better than torturing yourself with a living nightmare.

And at the end of your life, there is nothing more satisfying than a job well done for a long night’s sleep.

Faith is a Staircase

On St. Patrick’s Day, there is no way that I cannot reminisce about spending this special holiday in Ireland.

I’ve never seen such a display of pure patriotism. Float after float, band after band, dancer after dancer marched down the street in the coastal city of Galway. Feeling like a kid again, I had to stand on tiptoes to see over the crowd of people, to get a glimpse of the festivities that I was suddenly apart of. When it was over, there was another parade–to the pub. Funneling down the narrow streets, we would eventually arrive at our favorite bar. And people would get their beer “to go” in a plastic cup so that they could take their merriment out into the street, to watch performers put on yet another show.

It scares me to think that this may have never happened. I almost didn’t go to Ireland at all.

Let me set the stage. It was my junior year of college. A lot of things were finally coming into focus for me: I was afraid to start a job but at least I knew who my real friends were. Actually, I was with the best roommates a girl could ask for. But still. As is customary in these situations, I wanted more.

I had always been interested in studying abroad, even though I had only left the country once. So, I set up a meeting with my study abroad advisor. With my high grades, she told me I could go anywhere I wanted. Emboldened by her faith in me, I proudly stated that I wanted to go to Scotland. St. Andrew’s, in fact. You may recognize it from the tabloids: Kate Middleton was educated there. But I was drawn to the school because they had a terrific creative writing program (and an excellent golf course so that my dad would come to visit me there). I had done mild research on it, and I felt sure that I would be comfortable in Scotland.

Imagine my surprise and heartbreak when my study abroad advisor flatly stated that I had missed the deadline for that school. Then, imagine the rift in my heart deepening when she told me that I would only have a few more days to submit an application to any school. I felt the experience slipping out of my fingers before I even had a chance to entertain it.

She must have seen the horror on my face because her next reply was decidedly cheerier, “Have you ever thought of Ireland? My husband was an English major, and he loved his time in Galway.” With an enthusiastic nod, a frantic recommendation letter from my favorite professor, and a hurried phone call with both my mom and my boyfriend, it was settled: I would go to Ireland to study in less than a month.

Despite the rocky beginning to my experience (threw up on the plane, forgot my debit card back in the US, broke my finger playing Gaelic football), I had the time of my life. I met some of the best people I have ever encountered. I saw landscapes that were nothing short of unreal. I learned a new language. But it almost didn’t happen.

I’m not sure what I would have done if I had not submitted my application on time. If I had let the fact that my dream school was no longer an option hold me back. And, oh yeah, if my family, boyfriend, and roommates hadn’t been so absolutely encouraging and accepting of my decision.

However, it was about the only time in my life that I was able to let go of control completely. Of course, I was in the capable hands of my study abroad advisor, but I still put a lot of trust in her. After all, she was going to decide where I would spend the next 6 months of my life. That’s a lot of faith for a person I considered one baby step above a stranger. An incredibly accommodating and complimentary stranger, but a stranger nonetheless.

And so, if there was ever proof that MLKJ’s quote, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase” is true, I am a living example. Maybe the best parts of life aren’t planned or even up to us to decide. Maybe it is just luck that brings us to the right time and place, where we are meant to be (I’m sure the Irish would tell you that). For me, I think it is a combination of being ready for everything and having everything ready. In the end, if you have a parachute, you still have to muster up the courage to jump.

Hold On, I Have to Pee

I’m so sorry about not posting yesterday, but when I have off from work, I take off from my entire life (including this blog).

However, I did go to the gym. And I realized something while I was there. No, I didn’t learn how painful it is to be twisted into a yoga pretzel. No, I didn’t learn how many drops of sweat could fall on a treadmill before it short-circuited. No, I didn’t learn whether people could actually see how long my leg hair was through my pants, especially since I forgot to shave.

I learned that it is really important to go to the bathroom before you start working out. I personally take a Zumba class, as I have noted before, and I learned that jumping, twisting, and twirling can take a toll on your muscles, as well as your bladder.

But this isn’t news. Anyone who has been to the gym directly after dinner can tell you that it is best to wait a bit before trying to burn off the calories.

Rather, it’s the crazy, metaphorical perspective that I gained from this ordinary experience that is really mind-blowing.

You see, after the fourth time I halfheartedly kicked my leg up in the air to dance along and try to escape the notice of the instructor while similarly hoping to quell the discomfort that was aching in my abdomen, I realized that I was purposefully holding myself back by not going to the bathroom.

And that, in a greater sense, is the same feeling that anyone might be having about his or her life. This urgency inside that simultaneously holds us back from what we want to be doing and yet pushes us forward toward something new so that we are stuck somewhere in between.

Real or not, most people view obstacles as excuses to not try as hard at something. Usually, we hold ourselves back because we are too scared or nervous for the future. So, we try to convince ourselves that we don’t deserve the opportunity that we might want or even that we are too good for it. We try to tell ourselves that we are right to get in our own way so that we won’t get hurt. For awhile last night, I didn’t mind that I had to pee because I didn’t have to work out as hard, and that, as anyone who exercises knows, was okay with me. It was an excuse that I maintained for myself that helped me in the moment, but also sabotaged my future (hopefully, fitter) self.

Because the truth is you’re only hurting yourself if you hold yourself back.

All you have to do (which is all I had to do, too) is release. I simply had to go to the bathroom to have full range of movement, if I had decided to do so. And since life is all about choices, you can apply to a new job, find a mate, or yes, even achieve your dreams if you simply choose to stop holding yourself back.

I agree that it can sometimes be painful, difficult, or downright uncomfortable to put your best foot forward, to invest your energy and effort into something. But it is even more so when you realize how much time you have wasted by not believing in yourself. Just like going to the bathroom, you are the only one standing (or sitting) in your way.

The Night-Blooming Cereus

night blooming cereus

 

And now, for a late night lesson in botany (my second love, directly after the written word.)

My favorite professor from college gifted me with a beautiful potted plant after we shared a farewell meal at his gorgeous house.”Her name is Stella, and we grew her from a seedling,” he told me as he plopped the green giant in my lap. Her leaves and branches sprawled and waved. I was fairly nervous that she was going to wrap one of her long “stabilizers,”AKA tentacles of death, around my pale neck and emit a foreboding “FEED ME” from deep within.

But she didn’t. Although her long arms grabbed at the headrest in the backseat of my car, and I wondered briefly if I should put a seatbelt around her, she was surprisingly tame. I presented her as a gift to my mother, who has a greener thumb than someone crushing grasshoppers under their fingers, and she happily found Stella a place to grow, despite much pondering and scratching-of-chin about where she would fit another flower.

My professor had impressed upon me the gloriousness of the out-of-this-world smell that would soon waft from the blossom of our night-blooming cereus. What he failed to mention, or perhaps I failed to hear, is that the night-blooming cereus blooms on one night only. What night, you ask? Oh, just one night a year. That’s right. Just like birthdays and holidays, the night-blooming cereus blooms annually. My mother and I awaited Stella’s first blossom with as much anticipation. Our vigilance was only outmatched by the guards posted at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Because once a night-blooming cereus grows a blossom, you better hope you don’t miss it. As my mother and I had to find out the hard way, the cereus’s blossom will close and wilt the next morning. She’s the Cinderella of the flower world.

And so, we thought we were truly blessed last year. Stella brought us one blossom, and we took turns kneeling beside it to sniff its truly awesome scent. We pulled a similar stunt with some particularly fragrant moonflowers before that…

But you can imagine our delight when this year, after a rather risky “hack back,” we saw that Stella produced 4 blossoms. We are now patiently waiting for them to bloom. And when I say patiently waiting, I mean checking anxiously a few times every day, even though we know she only blooms at night.

So, why am I telling you about my weird, lazy flower that only blooms once a year?

Well, it’s rather simple. Rarely will life plop a metaphor so squarely in your lap. I’m sure you’ve already figured it out yourself: if you are going to do something, do it right, and do not worry about how long it takes. I don’t care what it is: a new job, a new relationship, an old friendship, a dream, a single day. If we could all be like the night-blooming cereus, if we could direct all of our energy towards doing something, even if it takes a year (or several), simply to create one glorious product, then we could be fulfilled. But that kind of dedication is rare.

So, how about another philosophical lesson from our cactus cousin? The night-blooming cereus blooms at night. I knew that one would knock you back on your heels. I’ll wait for you to get back up. Okay, ready? Here’s why that’s important: the night-blooming cereus does not bloom in the daytime. Thus, it does not get any recognition for its beauty by the shining sun, or the bees, or the green thumbs of the world. It does not compete with the other flowers. It opens at night, when no one is around to see it. It is a gift only to the light of the moon, who adorns an altar unto herself. And so, in its resplendent beauty, it blooms without distraction or inhibition. It does not try to be anything, it just is.

Now, there are a few metaphors inherent in that. Be more deliberate in your actions, and do not openly seek acclaim and fame are the two big ones that come to mind. But you can read in between the lines as much as you want. That’s the beauty of the night-blooming cereus: it’s full of potential.

And here’s another kicker: so are you.