Life’s mood swings: Learning to ride the rollercoaster

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Last week was a rollercoaster. No, I’m not talking about the election. (And I’m sure many of you will thank me when I say, I have no plans to touch that topic with a ten-foot pole here.) I keep looking back on the week before, amazed that I managed to feel about every emotion imaginable in the span of just a few days.

On Thursday, my family said goodbye to my great aunt. Auntie A never had kids of her own, so her numerous nieces and nephews were like her children and grandchildren. She was the center of my dad’s side of the family, and I meant it when I told my relatives that she was the kindest and most selfless person I have ever known. Auntie was a person who knew how to make anyone feel special, like you mattered deeply to her and to the world. Our family gathered at her home every Christmas Eve, Easter morning and Fourth of July since long before I was born, and she filled each day with such a tangible, loving energy that was contagious.

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My sister and I with our dear great aunts a few Christmases ago. (Auntie A is on the right).

She died exactly two weeks after suffering a massive stroke, and I was thankful I got the chance to tell her how much she meant to me, and for her to tell me she loved me once more before her condition declined. Our family spent many hours by her side in those weeks, holding her hand, praying, crying, and reminiscing.

The day of my aunt’s funeral I was filled with emotion. It was a beautiful day, and every word that was said that day felt like the perfect tribute to her kind heart. I shed many tears, grieving the loss of such a special person, feeling like a deep void had been left behind. Yet at the same time, I was grateful. I felt thankful to have had such a wonderful person in my life for so many years, and for the lessons in love and kindness she taught my family. I felt thankful to be part of such a great family. I felt thankful for my aunt’s long life and that she didn’t suffer much in her final days. That day alone was enough of a rollercoaster, but I had more in store.

The very next morning, my spirits were lifted, when my boyfriend, a few of my coworkers and I decided to check out the Cubs World Series victory parade that was taking over the Chicago Loop (steps outside of where we work). The city was flooded with Cubs fans (some believe it was one of the largest gatherings in human history), and everyone appeared to be overjoyed.

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Joining millions of other Cubs fans for the victory parade. (Nov. 4, 2016)

Besides being energized by the fact that my team had won its first World Series in 108 years, I also felt unified with the people of my city, like we were all coming together to celebrate at least one thing we could all believe in. It was refreshing, given the division in the political season this year that made me feel like no one was ever going to get along. (Okay, that’s the only election reference; I promise!) That feeling of pride and unity continued when my friends and I popped into a bar to watch the Cubs rally in Grant Park, singing “Go Cubs Go” with a few hundred of our newest friends.

Later that day, I was sitting at a kitchen table with my closest friends from high school, drinking wine and sharing our favorite memories. We had planned a Chicago-themed going away party for our dear friend Lynn, in honor of her upcoming move to France. I’m always a sucker for those warm and fuzzy moments of people-who-known-me-best girlfriend bonding sessions. But this one was tinged with a little sadness, sending off someone I care for so far away. Lynn had been living in San Francisco over the last few years, so our get-togethers were already fewer and farther between than our group would like. But France! It’s an ocean away. At the same time, I found myself feeling just so fiercely proud of my friend, fulfilling one of her longtime goals.

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My favorite childhood friends, showing off our Portillo’s chocolate cake as we sent off Lynn (far right) to Paris!

Maybe it was the mix of wine and nostalgia, but before the night was over, my dear friends and I were blasting 90’s music and had formed a kick line in the middle of my friend’s living room. We held hands and danced in a circle, singing “No Scrubs” to my friend Jess’s 3 year old, Logan, as he continued asking for “one more song” before his bed time. (Logan and my friends’ other kids are also some of the little people in my life who make my heart feel like it’s overflowing.) So there I was, one day removed from one of the saddest days I’ve had in a long time, belting out the Backstreet Boys and trying to soak up every second with some of the best people in my life.

The next morning, I was celebrating another milestone moment for another old friend of mine. My friend Maggie was one of my first college friends at the University of Illinois, and after we fell a little out of touch for a few years, life brought her and her husband David down to Austin while my boyfriend and I were living there, and thankfully, back into my life. Saturday, they were back in town in the Chicago suburbs for their baby shower, expecting their little boy right around Christmas this year.

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Celebrating my friend Maggie and her baby Noah last weekend.

Maggie is a friend who has always been an inspiration to me. Shortly after we met, she suddenly lost her mother, a loss that was obviously very painful. Yet she has more faith in God and in the future than most people I know. She and David have built up a successful business over the past few years, and have managed to find the time and money to travel all over the world. And like my Auntie A, Maggie is filled with love, kindness and humility, always more concerned about others than herself. Seeing her joy in expecting her first child was very special, and again last week, I found myself filled with gratitude, that I would be counted among the friends and family she wanted to share this with.

Like the sadness I felt saying goodbye to Lynn, Maggie and David’s baby shower also made me miss our time together in Austin, feeling sad that it would probably be quite a while until I got to meet baby Noah. But I chose to focus on the pride I felt for my friends doing great things, and achieving their goals in life.

Saturday night, I slept deeply and for a very long time. I truly felt like the last few days had been an emotional rollercoaster. In just three days, I had experienced grief, relief, joy, sadness, pride, nostalgia, unity, anticipation, celebration, gratitude, and deep love. A younger me would have felt paralyzed and overwhelmed. But I’ve come to learn that these are the moments that define our lives, that life is just one twist and turn after another and the best way to experience it is to soak up every emotion–good or bad–and the lessons you can learn from it.

I was reminded by this photo that I saved off the internet a number of months ago:

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It reminded me of the joy and gratitude I felt for the memories with my Auntie A, even as I felt a pervading sorrow to know she is gone from this world. It reminded me of the sadness I felt to be far from some of my close friends, even as I watched them fulfill their highest goals and we enjoyed our moments together. This is the best description of life I’ve found so far, and I’ve resolved to honor every moment as I experience it, for every moment is an important part of life.

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Lessons learned from the Cubs’ World Series run

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I was born into a family with a serious addiction to Chicago sports. As a kid, I was often startled during Sunday dinners at my grandma’s house when the room erupted for a Bears touchdown. My dad has spent every fall for as long as I can remember fielding constant phone calls from his fantasy football partner. And when he was watching TV, you could bet he was probably taking in a football, basketball or baseball game.

My fandom was decidedly more lukewarm. I wouldn’t go so far as to label myself “fair weather,” but while I wholeheartedly supported every Chicago team–and later, the teams of my alma maters–I rarely watched games, and probably couldn’t list more than a player or two.

That’s why I was surprised by how swept up I got in the Cubs’ post season this year.

Being from the northern suburbs (and my dad’s family from the north side of the city), I always preferred the Cubs to the White Sox. And when I got into college, I started going to Cubs games, probably checking out about one each year.

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Some of the Cubs games I’ve been to over the past few years.

When I moved back to Chicago to work at a news station last year, it became my job to know more about the team. But it was the fan in me whose hopes soared and then deflated when they were eliminated in the NLCS last year.

Covering the team’s playoff push this year, previewing and recapping every World Series game, was a lot of hard work for my coworkers and me. If they had been eliminated at any point, it would have soon been back to business as usual. But I found myself willing them to win every series, surprised at how strong my lukewarm attachment had become.

Despite the extra stress at work, I noticed over the past few weeks that I was in an exceptional mood. It really wasn’t until now–as I nurse the emotional hangover left in the place of a Cubs-less void–that I realized it was baseball that was keeping me upbeat that whole time. So this is what sports can do to a person, huh?

Of course, it was more than that.

Last Wednesday night, like Cubs fans around the world, I giddily clapped as the Cubs took a four-run lead in Game Seven. I grew silent as their lead grew narrower. I clutched a pillow and felt physically sick to my stomach as the Indians tied things up, and I tried to hold out hope that a World Series win was still in the cards. I clenched my fists through a rain delay and a tenth inning, and when Kris Bryant threw that final out to Anthony Rizzo, I hooted and cheered. I could hear fireworks going off outside, my neighbors screaming with me, passing cars hammering on their horns.

We did it, I thought.

It’s that collective we that’s made the past few weeks so special. I would smile when I saw “W” flags hanging from street lights and front porches. I would wear my Jake Arrieta T-shirt with pride. I would sing along when I heard “Go Cubs Go” on the radio, or even in my own newscast.

At a time in our history when everyone feels so divided and different, the Cubs brought millions of people together. It was easy to feel love for the people around me when it felt like we were all behind this one thing. We had hoped and suffered together for over a hundred years, and finally the thing we believed in had happened. Even me, the lukewarm fan from a sports-loving family.

It struck me as being a lot like life. We all want to succeed, to prove ourselves. Sometimes it takes a really long time, but we push and we persevere, believing our dreams are possible. If you’re lucky, you have a team of fans behind you, believing in you too. You know it’s a universal feeling when even White Sox fans–even Cardinals fans–can be heard saying, “I’m excited for the Cubs.”

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My view of thousands of fans lining Michigan Ave. for the Cubs victory parade; Nov. 4, 2016.

I felt that energy as I stood in a crowd of millions Friday, waiting for the Cubs parade to breeze by and give us a glimpse of the team that made it all happen. I started to see this energy going beyond the love for a team and resonating as love for this city. Chicago is usually making headlines for rampant crime and corrupt politicians, so to see all of these people who share a piece of my identity–and embrace it with love–was really moving.

That feeling grew deeper as my boyfriend and I decided to make an impromptu trip to Wrigley Field over the weekend. Days after the Cubs’ World Series win, the streets outside the stadium were as crowded as the hour before a home game. The brick walls around the friendly confines had become a makeshift memorial for all the Cubs fans who passed away before they could see the team take the title, every inch chalked over in names.

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The makeshift memorial wall at Wrigley Field; Nov. 6, 2016.

I had seen photos and video of the walls on Facebook and in our news coverage, but seeing it in person was something else. I’m sure part of it was knowing there was a brick there with my great aunt’s name on it, thanks to one of my cousins; she was a Cubs fan, and we lost her just two days before that Game Seven win. But beyond that, it was the sense that the excitement and fandom I had seen this year was truly the tip of the iceberg; there was a long history that went deeper than I could imagine. This team, this sport, had been the glue for many friendships and families, passing down that sense of pride and identity, and, if nothing else, creating cherished memories.

I’ve already got a few favorites of my own. And this lukewarm fan can hardly wait for spring training.

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Celebrating the World Series champs! Nov. 6, 2016

 

Three easy ways to keep a bad day from becoming a catastrophe

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I work in a high-stress job. There are unmovable deadlines, exhaustingly weird hours, and moments where something new drops in your lap and has to be executed, like, two seconds ago. Tempers flare, sometimes all-out chaos strikes, and many days anxiety buzzes through my veins along with my coffee.

Recently, the stress has been acutely higher. Many coworkers are taking end-of-summer time off, and the staff has been stretched thin. Today was one of those non-stop, one-thing-after-another days, and I almost let it get the best of me. I was proud of myself for being able to let things go when I got home for the day. I’ve talked a lot about not complaining in the past (refreshers here and here if you missed it), so I’ll leave out what NOT to do to avoid that snowballing “Today Was a BAD Day” feeling. I realized there were three easy things I did RIGHT, and I wanted to share.

  1. Take care of others

    For me, there’s a warm feeling in making a difference in someone’s day. One of the biggest sources of stress recently has been having to take on a little extra work, but taking a moment to recognize that a coworker (or partner, or friend, or family member…) could really use a hand helps me achieve a sense of purpose in a stressful day.

    For example, this morning I was rushing around at work, trying to finish five different things, when I noticed a coworker seemed to be in a bind. I asked, “Is there anything I can help you with right now?” Turns out, there wasn’t anything I could do; she was just trying to hustle because she wasn’t in the right spot. But just the act of offering my ability to help sort of snapped me out of what was spiraling into an inner monologue of self-pity, complaining to myself about the extra work that I felt stuck with. I recognized a bit of what I was feeling in her, and remembered we’re all in the same boat. We might as well all row it together.

    There’s a flip side to this way of thinking too. Even if you’re not in a position to offer one iota of extra help, you can make sure that you aren’t unfairly unleashing your frustrations on someone else. I like to think of it like that doctors’ vow: “Above all, do no harm.” I think pretty much everyone who works in the news industry has had a few instances where they’ve gone off on a coworker in a moment of stress. In my experience, that has never actually made me feel better.

  2. Take care of yourself

    This is an important caveat to my first point. Many of us spend so much time doing things for others, we forget to look out for ourselves. It’s not always top of mind, but try to remember to take time to check in with yourself and ask yourself what you need right now.

    I get it. In the heat of a busy day, sometimes your own needs are the last thing on your mind. Working in news, often food, rest, and even bathroom breaks are not top priority. But you have to head home at some point, and once you finally get a chance to turn off your work brain, turn your focus inward.

    For me, winding down from today’s stress meant giving myself a break. Instead of going for a run like I’d planned, I pushed it back to tomorrow and put on my PJs. I allowed myself to have some comfort food–a “dinner” of Honey Nut Cheerios–and watched some Netflix before spending most of the day reading and writing. I decided folding clothes and washing dishes could wait.

    On a different day, taking that run would have been exactly what I needed, along with a healthy salad and a deep cleaning of the apartment. Some days knocking out a few songs on the piano does the trick. And you can bet my boyfriend knows that days when I come home and run a bubble bath are days when I need some space.

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    Sometimes all I need is a nice, hot cup of tea to unwind.

    This isn’t just about what how you’re eating and spending your time. Check in with your self talk and how you’re treating yourself. I’m still working on the concept of being my own best friend–and talking to myself that way. Instead of thinking, “I’m failing at everything I try to do today,” tell yourself, “I’m doing the best I can,” or “I’ll try again tomorrow.” Remember, you’ve survived every bad day so far!

  3. When all else fails, DANCE

    Such a quick fix… why don’t we think of this every time?? As I was driving home today, I was in a bit of a “long day hangover.” I decided to pop on an upbeat playlist, and it really did the trick! When I hit a stop light, I started bobbing and weaving like a crazy person, and by the time I got home, much of my anxiety had floated away.

    I’m telling you, the power of music is palpable, people! Of course, I think I’m pretty impressionable, so if a song tells me to cry, I’ll cry, and if it tells me to dance, I’ll dance!

    Here’s one of my favorites that gets me moving every time:

Changing your perspective: Making time for gratitude

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Most mornings, I climb into my car at the ungodly hour of 1 A.M., turn on news radio as I try to catch up on the day’s stories, and let my muscle memory get me from my north side neighborhood into Downtown Chicago. I’m usually lost in thought or trying to stay awake, sometimes realizing I listened to a block of stories without remembering a single one. I’m already planning out my morning, occasionally rehashing some conversation from the day before or worrying about what’s in store for the day ahead.

But one morning, a few weeks ago, some wispy clouds caught my eye by the way they encircled the top of the John Hancock building, glowing in the moonlight. It gave the entire skyline a spooky beauty, almost like a movie scene. The sight shook me out of my morning slump and refocused my brain, reminding me that I love coasting on this stretch of Lake Shore Drive (at least when it’s traffic free!), I love the view of this city at night, and I feel so lucky to work in one of the greatest cities in the world. In fact, I was reminded of the very first morning that I made the drive into the city in the middle of the night, and how seeing the skyline grow larger made the butterflies in my stomach flutter with excitement. (Yes, all that from a few wispy clouds!)

The whole experience (which lasted all of about 15 seconds) got me thinking about gratitude.

Since I started learning about Buddhism and mindfulness a few years ago, there are a few lessons that have popped up over and over again:

  • What you think can affect your whole life
  • You can control your thoughts, and keep them from controlling you
  • Cultivating gratitude is one of the easiest ways to turn your entire life outlook around

It isn’t just a Buddhist thing either. Gratitude is something I constantly see as a top example of how to boost happiness and success. Just yesterday, I came across an article that listed “express[ing] gratitude” as one of the things successful people do every night.

I am deeply aware of the many ways I’m lucky in life. And yet, why is it that it seems so much easier to complain than to hold onto that gratitude? So as a reminder to myself that it feels infinitely better to focus on the positive, I wanted to share a few pointers on how to let gratitude grow:

  1. Feels like the first time: Just like that giddy feeling I remember from the first morning I drove into the city for my (then) new job, try to encapsulate the emotions you felt when things were fresh. Look at your spouse or significant other through the eyes of your first few dates. Instead of complaining that your apartment needs to be cleaned, revisit the excitement of when you first got the keys. Sick of sitting in traffic? Try to remember what it was like when you first got your license, and would gladly face rush hour to fetch a gallon of milk, if it meant a chance to get behind the wheel.

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    One of my first nights out, back in my hometown but enjoying city life for the first time. Couldn’t get over the gorgeous views!

  2. See things from a simpler view: This may mean to take notes from one of your positive-minded friends. But what’s even better is to think younger. There are so many things we can learn from the carefree kids in our lives. They’re constantly learning, joyfully taking in the world, and literally seeing things for the first time. Not too long ago, my friend’s baby discovered, to her amusement, that she has feet! My other friend’s 2 year old is learning to tell jokes, and his eyes light up every time he makes us laugh. Imagine how adventurous life could feel if you saw it with the fresh eyes of a child.

    This works for animals too! I don’t have kids, but I do have two dogs. Today, my boyfriend and I joked that our girl, Sadie, could spend an entire day just sniffing around in the grass. What’s usually a nuisance should actually be a reminder for me to take time to take in the world around me.

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    Try to live every day like a dog with his head out the window.

  3. Shut off your thoughts: This goes back to what I mentioned earlier about keeping your thoughts from controlling you. Negativity can become a habit, and the only way out is to retrain your brain. One thing that’s helped me to do that is a kind of on-the-fly meditation. Let the thoughts that pop up in your mind float away, and try to bring your attention back to the present moment–the sights, sounds, smells. Most of the time, that’s enough for me to notice something I’m thankful for, whether it’s a beautiful view out the window, the garlic I’m frying up on the stove, or my boyfriend making up a song on the guitar.
  4. Build in time to be thankful: The more you practice gratitude, the more naturally it will come to you, especially in times when a dark cloud of negativity threatens to take over. It could be as simple as consciously taking a moment or two before bed to look back on the best moments of your day. Or it could be something more overt, like keeping a gratitude journal. The author of the article about successful people I mentioned earlier suggests writing down five things you’re thankful for each night. Recently, I read a blog where the author said he plays a gratitude game with himself each day; he tries to come up with three things he’s grateful for, and works to find those three things by an earlier time than the day before.

The beautiful thing about gratitude is that the more you practice it, the easier it will be. So you really can’t lose with this one.

And when in doubt, just be this girl:

 

Learning to be here now: Be present in your life

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As I sat in the dental chair today, the hygienist told me the dentist would be a few minutes.

“Do you want a magazine?” she asked. “Or do you want to look at your phone while you wait?”

“No, thank you,” I smiled. “I’ll just relax and look out the window.”

She looked shocked, like simply sitting in a chair and looking out the window was the craziest thing a person could think to do. With all the distractions in our lives these days, maybe it is.

The hygienist, Mia, and I ended up having a pleasant conversation about the warmer weather and all the work she had to do with her garden. I told her about my foray into planting herbs on my back patio, and she told me how she loved to race home from work on Fridays to mow the lawn. I felt prouder than I should have that I chose to get to know Mia, rather than assume my typical position, with my nose buried in my iPhone.

I carried that feeling with me on the way home. Instead of stewing over the day’s work frustrations or plotting out what I had to do for the rest of the day, I soaked up the music I was playing, stuck my arm out the window, and enjoyed the feeling of the wind sliding through my fingertips.

Maybe it’s no coincidence that I received a package earlier in the day of the “Be Here Now” shirt that I ordered from Tiny Buddha. To be completely honest, I’ve never read the book by Ram Dass (though it’s on my list!). I’ve always kind of thought there’s plenty we can learn just by reading the cover, right? So with you as my witness, I’m vowing now that “Be Here Now” is my new spring mantra.

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A little “Be Here Now” inspiration from Tiny Buddha

Because the truth is, while the version of me that looks out dentist office windows and drives with her hand floating in the wind seems so peaceful and zen, that’s the version of me that’s usually hard to find. More typically, I’m the woman who’s watching TV while texting while skimming Facebook. I’m the woman whose cell phone is the last thing she looks at before she goes to sleep and the first thing she reaches for when she wakes up. I’m the woman who often can’t stand sitting still for more than a few minutes without biting at a cuticle or picking at a split end.

I can blame it on the nature of my job–it’s definitely not unusual to find me writing a script, making a graphic, and talking to a reporter at the same time–but I know that the “Be Here Now” concept is tough to grasp for most of the people in my life. Who knew it would take so much work to embrace silence, simplicity, or merely focusing on the task at hand?

So starting today, I will savor silence. I will pursue peace. I will Do. One. Thing. At. A. Time. (Gasp!) I will wake up and give myself a few seconds to stretch before I even THINK about checking my email. I will enjoy nature. I will give people my full attention. When I inevitably fall back into my old habits, I will lather, rinse, and repeat.

This is the spring of “being here now.” And while I’m at it… maybe I’ll even pick up some Ram Dass.

Another Checkpoint: The Year I Took Control

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It’s funny how we choose to use certain checkpoints to take stock of our lives. Birthdays, graduations, anniversaries. Moments in time where we stop to look back at the path behind us, with all its obstacles; where we look within, if we dare to ask whether we’re satisfied with who we’ve become; or where we look ahead, mapping out the route to success or satisfaction and hoping we have the wherewithal to follow through.

Turning the page to a new year has turn into one of those checkpoints, if for no other reason than everyone else seems to be doing it. I’ve written before about how, to me, the New Year’s holiday in January always feels like an arbitrary time to change your life. But if you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a sucker for self-reflection and a clean slate… and I usually end up buying in.

Over the past couple of weeks, as I reflected on what changes I’d like to make in the New Year, I found myself looking back–not on 2015, but on the year before. On New Year’s Eve 2014, as I sat in the Minneapolis airport on a layover, I typed out a post that I titled, “Good Riddance 2014, But Thanks (Lessons From The Worst Year of My Life.” It had been a year full of loss, heartache, failure, and disappointment, and suffice it to say, I was ready to put it to bed. The post was one of the most popular pieces on this site in all of 2015.

I realize that dwelling on the worst year of my life over a year after it ended is not very forward-thinking of me. But as I look back at where I was a year ago, I’m seeing that the lessons I wrote about really did stick with me, and changed the way I approached my life in 2015.

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My sister and me on New Year’s Eve 2014. Beneath the smile, I was tired from a long year and wondering what the future held.

Where 2014 was the year that things happened to me, 2015 was the year I made things happen.

While it felt like a year of major upheaval, in reality there were only a few big changes. But those changes coupled with being true to myself and my values made me feel like a new person.

The changes started early, when I interviewed for and accepted a job at at a TV station in my hometown, Chicago. I moved a thousand miles in a snowstorm with my dad and my dog. I lived with my grandma for a week while I adjusted to a midnight wakeup call that would get me to work at 2 a.m. I rented an apartment in the city, which felt like an entirely new way of life, since growing up I always lived in the suburbs. Thankfully, after a few months, my boyfriend took a leap of faith and joined me here; together, we worked hard to make our relationship the strongest it’s ever been.

And in between the adjustments to this new life, I lived. I held a best friend’s sweet baby boy the day after he was born. I went to her house after work and fed her 2 year old french fries. I sat on the couch and drank wine with another best friend. I ran 5Ks with my dad. I brought my sister lunch and she trimmed my dogs’ nails. I got brunch and manicures with my mom. I went to birthday dinners. I met new friends and went to my first “Friendsgiving.” I biked along the lakeshore. I baked cookies with my parents. My boyfriend and I hosted our first holiday on Christmas Eve, then drove down to St. Louis to enjoy a long weekend with his family.

At no point at the end of 2014 did I make a grand statement of a resolution. I was too tired. It took me until now to realize that the trials of that year made me prioritize what values mattered most to me. I chose family. I chose love.

2015 didn’t come without its own ups and downs. And yet, I can’t think of a moment where I regretted the choices that brought me where I am today. This was the year when I recognized my personal power to change my situation, and to handle the obstacles life throws at me. In fact, there were moments when problems arose, and I almost chuckled to myself, thinking, “So this is life, isn’t it? One thing after another.”

This post isn’t meant to be a humble brag, and in no way am I saying I am done growing. I just found it worth sharing that sometimes the best way to find your best self is to live through your worst moments. If you’re finding yourself at a low point, unsure if you can handle anything else, just remember: you might come out changed on the other side. Try not to lose sight of that.

 

Fall resolutions, part three: Feeling fulfilled in my free time

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This month I’ve been doing my best to better myself, as fall has always felt more like “New Year’s” to me than January 1. Each week I’ve been rolling out a new “fall resolution”: First I slightly improved my listening skills, and the past week has been an uphill battle against my bad habit of complaining a lot.

So for Week Three I decided to focus in on my free time. It occurred to me recently that my energy level is very dependent on how I spend my time after work. (Work has its own effects, but that’s a different post for a different day.) This realization struck me at the end of a particularly long stretch of Netflix binge watching, in which for several weeks my extra hours mostly consisted of watching 3-5 reruns of “Gilmore Girls” each day. I had been racing toward the finale, and when I got there I was surprised to feel unfulfilled–like, just-wasted-several-weeks-of-my-life unfulfilled.

Don’t get me wrong. I am one of the world’s biggest proponents of laziness, relaxation, Me Time, and the merits of a beautiful slothful day spent glued to the couch. But string a few weeks of those days together and I realized it wasn’t how I enjoyed spending all my time.

I look at it like this: It’s like when you come home from a week-long vacation where you ate every meal at a restaurant or a fast-food joint. As much as you say you wish you could get away with eating like that all the time, you strangely find yourself turned off by the idea of eating one more meal out, and all you want to eat is a gigantic salad. (I am not an avid consumer of healthy food, and yes, this has happened to me.)

After my aforementioned binge-watch extravaganza, I saw that you can crave healthier, more fulfilling activities in the same way you crave healthier, more fulfilling food.

So I decided to make two lists. The first is a list of things that make me feel productive and fulfilled:

  1. Getting creative: Playing music, writing in whatever way I can, even doodling or folding a fortune teller out of a piece of paper!
  2. Getting active: My exercises of choice are running, walking and yoga, but even playing around with the dogs gets my energy level up.
  3. Getting outside: Easily combined with number 2! I feel so much more positive on days when I can squeeze in a walk or spend time by Lake Michigan, just a few blocks from where I live.
  4. Getting a laugh: To me, laughter is one of the greatest things in life. I get so much joy out of joking around with friends, watching standup comedy, or simply checking out the latest viral videos.
  5. Exploring something new: Lately when I do turn to Netflix, I’m not mindlessly watching hours of one show while I play around on my phone. I’m turning on some “classic” and “must-see” movies that I’ve always wanted to watch. I’ve also been turning to the internet to read up on people or pieces of history I don’t know much about, and perusing bands on Spotify that I’ve been wanting to check out.
  6. Reading: I’m sure many avid readers will agree, reading just seems so much more fulfilling than watching something on TV. Maybe it’s activating your imagination and feeling like you’re doing more work for your entertainment. Whatever it is, it feels like time well spent.
  7. Getting enough sleep: This has become a tough one for me since I started working overnights. But I feel like pushing myself to get enough hours of sleep every “night” (day) is the most basic way to start with self-care.
  8. Doing nothing, actively: There’s a difference between mindlessly staring at a screen for hours and sitting in silence, listening to your thoughts. Whenever I’m consistently practicing meditation and mindfulness I feel much calmer and more at peace.
This meditative dog could teach me a thing or two about fulfillment.

This meditative dog could teach me a thing or two about fulfillment.

So after listing out the things that make me feel fulfilled, my second list is (you guessed it!) the things that drag me down:

  1. Spending hours in front of the TV: Half the time I have one or more other screens to distract me, anyway.
  2. Obsessively checking social media: I know it’s a big part of a lot of our jobs, but I’m not gaining anything from logging on 500 times a day, especially when it feels like I’m just reading about how everyone’s out having fun but me.
  3. Playing games on my phone: Candy Crush will be the death of me.
  4. Putting off my chores: Watching dishes and unfolded laundry pile up seems to cause me anxiety and make me feel bad about myself.
  5. Complaining: I know, I’m working on tackling this bad habit. But every time it rears its ugly head it just makes me feel worse about whatever it is I’m complaining about.

Now that I’ve made my two lists, this week’s resolution is simple: More of List One and less of List Two. More specifically, my goal is to do at least one thing from the first list every day (ideally several), and reduce the second list as much as I can.

Weigh in: How do you find fulfillment in your free time?

Fall resolutions, part two: Taming the complaining

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Last week, I wrote about how this time of year feels so much more like “New Year’s” than January, when I’m typically entering winter hibernation mode. And in the spirit of that new-year feeling, I resolved to focus on a few changes I’d like to make. I started with being a more mindful listener.

How’d last week go? Well, I’m probably not going to be the next Dalai Lama anytime soon (I don’t know; I guess I picture him as being a great listener!). But in my work life and my personal life I felt like I was noticing myself resisting the urge to steamroll people in conversations at least a little more than normal. And I plan to keep that top of mind moving forward.

So what’s on tap for week two? I’m working on reining in a bad habit of mine that’s become so common I don’t always realize just how bad it is…

30rock_complaining

Yep, sometimes I complain. A lot. The thing about complaining is, it starts out with a couple things that are bothering you, before sucking you into a spiral of negativity. Before you know it, you’ve got a metaphorical cloud over your head and can’t explain why it feels like you’re having a terrible day.

Being a journalist, I’ve said for years that complaining is second nature to us; it’s our job to find out what’s wrong in the world and point it out. Sometimes we’re too skilled at recognizing faults for our own good. But I’m determined to separate that instinct from my outlook toward life.

I’m only a novice when it comes to the teachings of Buddhism and the mindfulness movement. But one thing that’s been drilled into my mind is the benefit of practicing gratitude. And that’s basically the opposite of the complaints I hear myself rattling off.

So as I try to bite my tongue this week, I’m keeping in mind this quote I love, from Gandhi:

gandhi_quote

I won’t place the pressure of my entire destiny on my words just yet, but I will recognize that every day I have a choice between negativity and gratitude. When I want to open my mouth and complain, I will turn my thoughts to what’s good in my life… or at the very least say nothing at all.

Wish me luck, as I know this will be quite the challenge! And I hope you’ll join me in my efforts this week.

Talking is easy; Listening is hard

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January never really feels like a new year to me. Hunkering down in the cold, it feels more like the middle of a hibernation period than a time for change. This, right now, is when there’s a buzz in the air, when it feels like everyone is turning over a new leaf.

I’m sure it has a lot to do with the fact that for 20 years, every fall was the start of a new school year–new classes, new friends, new routines. And even now, six years since my last first day of school, the signs of a new start are all around. Although instead of commiserating with fellow students, it’s with my friends and family who are parents and teachers.

So in the spirit of starting fresh, and because I didn’t really have a resolution for 2015, I’m going to spend this month fine tuning some personal goals. Each week I will pick something I want to work on, and that will be my focus. This week, I’m starting with a skill that seems so simple, but is much trickier in practice; I’m working on learning to listen.

You see, I work in an industry that often requires urgent and up-to-the-minute information to be passed along, and that often requires cutting off whomever in mid-sentence to do it. And I was raised in a family filled with outgoing and opinionated people. We are a lovely, kindhearted bunch; we just like to participate. Put these two things together, and it can hardly be considered my fault that I’ve evolved into a well-intentioned rambler with a horrible habit of interrupting. (This habit drives my boyfriend nuts, by the way.)

Recently, I started trying to be mindful of how often I’m cutting off people in conversations. Spoiler alert: it is a lot. I interrupt my coworkers, my family, my friends, and of course, my aforementioned boyfriend. I’m now trying to take that a step further, and be mindful of even the urge to jump in when someone’s talking. (It’s slow going.)

listeningsloth

But in all these efforts to watch out for listening faux pas, I’ve noticed something else: I’m getting interrupted a whole lot too. I’ve found myself getting annoyed when people cut me off, trying to answer a question I wasn’t asking or not even waiting long enough to hear my point. Turns out, it’s every man for himself out there!

I love the Stephen R. Covey quote, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” That is the ultimate goal this week–approach conversation as a two-way street where I have as much to learn as I have to share.

Any tips from good listeners out there?

The story that sinks in: The tragic reminder from the Roanoke news shooting

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Almost anyone who works in my industry will tell you the same thing: We see the world a little differently than you. For most of us, after a certain number of years in news (and it doesn’t take many), our wiring gets a little messed up. Our humor gets a little darker, our threshold for the unthinkable gets a little higher, and cynicism sinks in.

I write stories about people losing their lives every day. I don’t always stop to think about all the heartache behind these stories, because I simply can’t. But today was different.

Today I watched video of two people being gunned down while they did what many of my dear friends do every day. WDBJ’s Alison Parker and Adam Ward could have been my colleagues. Just a few short years ago, that could have been me.

Even with that realization, and with that chilling video replaying over and over in my head, breaking news mode set in and my focus was on finding information, making graphics, helping my coworkers get the latest on the air.

After seeing that horrible violence, what actually stopped me in my tracks was this:

Source: Facebook/Adam Ward

Facebook/Adam Ward

It was the Facebook photo of photographer Adam Ward proposing to his fiance, Melissa Ott, that felt like a punch in the gut, and made my eyes well with tears. As heartbreaking as the shooting video was to see, the juxtaposition of it with this couple’s joy and the promise of their future is almost more painful.

Melissa was a morning producer at WDBJ, and today was her last day before taking a new job in Charlotte. Adam was going to move there with her. Her coworkers had a party planned for later today. One of my colleagues knew Melissa, and showed me her Facebook post from early this morning, saying she was feeling the love from her Channel 7 family on her last day. A short time later, she was in the control room as Adam was shot and killed on her station’s air.

While the videos of the shooting were hard to watch, it’s Melissa who I can’t get out of my mind today (as well as Alison Parker’s boyfriend, Christ Hurst, who’s been posting about moving in with her and their plans to get married.) I keep imagining her excitement for her next chapter, all the love she felt from the people around her, and the future she had mentally mapped out with Adam for years to come. Today was supposed to be Melissa’s day, and in an instant a selfish and cowardly man stole that from her, and stole the entire future she and Adam were planning.

I’ve seen recently with some of my own loved ones that there are moments in life that will change us. They split our lives in half, into a “before” and an “after.” Today’s tragedy is another reminder that we never know when these moments will throw our lives upside down.

I so deeply wish I could reset things to the beautiful “befores” that Melissa Ott and Chris Hurst had taken from them. I pray that there is a small consolation in knowing there is an entire community of journalists grieving with them around the world.