Feel-Good Friday: I’m Gonna Love You Through It

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I spend many hours each week–for work and for fun–sifting through some of the best videos on the internet. When my coworker and friend shared this one with me the other day, I thought it sounded cute. When I clicked on the link and started watching, I thought it was sweet. When I got about two minutes into it, I was trying to hold back my tears.

I played this on my newscast this morning, and everyone had the same reaction. This is the PS22 Chorus, a group of 5th graders in New York, dedicating one of their songs to a teacher who recently started fighting breast cancer. And it’s one of the best things the internet has to offer:

To me, this video embodies Life. There is no escaping hardship or pain, but if we’re lucky, we’ll have people around to “love us through it.” We can’t always sing it to the people we love, but these sweet kids have inspired me to show it the best that I can.

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What a difference a decade makes (Lessons to my younger self, ten years after graduation)

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It’s graduation season, and seeing others turn the page to a new chapter in life always makes me a little nostalgic. It struck me recently that it has been an entire decade since I donned my cap and gown for my high school graduation. I look back at that 18 year old, headed for college, feeling simultaneously like a grownup and an infant, and there’s so much I want to tell her.

So in honor of marking ten years since high school, I came up with a list of ten things I wish I could tell myself on the eve of “adulthood.”

  1. “Learn to tell the difference between what you can and cannot change”

The sooner you learn this, the better off you will be. There’s something so disheartening about spending all your energy furiously pushing against something that’s never going to budge. Your boyfriend’s parents are upset you’re not Jewish? You’ll never be Jewish! Your short pinkie makes it harder to play violin? You can’t grow a new one!

As a general rule, you can’t change how someone else feels, thinks, or behaves. (Physical attributes—like pinkies—are also very difficult, or at least expensive, to change as well, I’m told.) You can change how you react to how someone else feels, thinks, or behaves. If you know you’ve done everything you can to make a job, project, or relationship work, but it’s still being affected by forces beyond your control, you have two choices: accept it as it is, or move on. (This, like the rest of what I am going to tell you, is easier said than done.)

Why-Worry

  1. “Be kind—to everyone”

You might think this isn’t a problem for you. That’s because you are good at being nice. You are cordial and polite. You say hi to your neighbors and smile politely. It’s a great quality of yours. But it’s not the same as being kind.

Over the years you will start to read about the teachings of Buddhism, and they will tell you that everyone is inherently good and deserving of love. You believe this, but it will take time to truly put it into practice in your heart. It’s a lesson you’re still working to grasp, ten years later.

Being kind means when you have a friendly conversation with someone—or even a heated argument—you don’t turn around and criticize them behind their back. It means even when you disagree, you try to cultivate empathy to understand what motivates somebody, or to recognize that they have their own problems to deal with. And when that’s not possible, it means at least accepting that we won’t always agree.

And being kind to everyone should also include you. Which brings me to…

  1. “Take care of yourself”

Everyone you care about will let you down at least once. It will hurt, and it’s up to you to decide how much you’re willing to put up with. At the end of the day, you’re stuck with you. It’s your choice whether you will be your biggest ally or your worst enemy. So far, you’ve leaned more toward the latter. Don’t.

You’ll start to learn there are many people who turn to others for happiness and fulfillment—boyfriends, best friends, family. You tend to be one of those people. Your devotion to the people you love and your giving nature are some of your best qualities. Just don’t base your self-worth on whether your friends want to spend time with you or your family has critical things to say. Don’t wait for the people in your life to tell you that you’re awesome. Tell yourself you’re awesome—and believe it.

Take care of yourself at the most basic levels, too. Eat good food. Exercise. Get enough sleep. Read good books. Write. Treat yourself to an ice cream sundae or a massage, just because. Laugh. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Allow yourself to stay in it.

  1. “Don’t be afraid to say no”

You’ll hear so many women talk about this that it’s basically become a cliché. But it’s worth a reminder. In high school, you wanted so much to belong, to fit in. You pushed to take part in every extracurricular and go to every party. You pushed back against your parents when they gave you this same piece of advice. You won’t really learn it very well in college either.

phoebecanthelp

Now, at the ripe old age of (almost) 28, you don’t have much of a problem saying no. You’ll turn people down if you’re tired, or if the weather’s bad, or (a new phenomenon you will soon get used to) if you need to tighten your spending until your next paycheck. The saying no isn’t the hard part; it’s the after part you need to learn to get over.

When you’ve decided, for one reason or another, that you can’t do something, learn to quiet that little voice in the back of your head. It’s the one that tells you, “They’re going to be mad at you,” or “That’s the last thing you’ll be invited to.” There will be more get-togethers, and if your friends are worth keeping, they’ll keep inviting you.

  1. “Follow your own path” (Or “Don’t keep score”)

You’ve always been a high achiever, and with that comes a natural competitiveness. You can’t help but want to know how your performance—and really, your life—stacks up against everyone around you. But once you’re out of the academic scene, you need to let that go. In the real world, it’s not only impractical; it’s impossible.

How do you measure who’s on top in life? The person with the most money? The most kids? The coolest job? (And who decides what job is the “coolest” anyway?)

Here’s what I can tell you: You’ll pursue an unusual career path. You’ll work weird hours. You’ll move away, and it will feel right. You’ll come home, and it will feel right. Your friends will start getting married and planning their families. You will feel a pressure from everywhere and nowhere in particular to settle down. As you approach your self-imposed deadline, you’ll get cold feet and think maybe you should do some more traveling. You’ll be jealous of your friends with kids. You’ll be jealous of your friends with money. You’ll be jealous of your friends who always seem to be catching a flight somewhere. One day you’ll step back and realize you like your life the way it is. You’ll realize you’ve liked it every step of the way. You’ll wonder why you didn’t appreciate it all at the time, before you find something else to be jealous about.

Focus your vision forward as you follow your own path. If it’s leading you in the wrong direction, change it. If you can’t change it, revisit Item #1.

  1. “Forgive everything”

One day, while lamenting over a cheating ex, a friend’s mom will tell you something that will stick with you: “Forgiveness is for you.” Years later, you will be reminded of the conversation when you read a quote by the Buddha: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

Resentment and bitterness have no productive purpose, aside from fueling your anxiety. Often the person you’re angry at couldn’t care less that they’re making you stew, if you’ve even made them aware of how you feel at all.

The bottom line is, if you are angry with someone who’s filled with regret and wants to make it up to you, they probably deserve your forgiveness. And if they don’t care, they’re not worth your energy anyway.

  1. “Just do it”

The last minute has always been your golden hour. You figure, why spend a couple of weeks working on a paper when you can stay up all night before it’s due and still do well? Not to mention, in the meantime, there are things to do. Like watching movies you’ve already seen, painting your nails, or The Internet.

Ten years later, and you haven’t really changed your ways. Senior year of college, you will actually leave a paper partially completed to go on a bar crawl, then come home and finish it before bed. Two years ago, you spent a week banging out two chapters of your first novel, and haven’t touched it since. And you probably won’t be getting back to it any time soon, since you just started watching “Gilmore Girls” from the beginning on Netflix.

homerjustdoit

What I’m finally starting to learn, though, is that if you listen to Nike and “Just do it,” it’s easier on your anxiety and your productivity. It’s easier to be prepared for whatever life (or school, or work, or whatever) throws at you if you don’t have 100 tasks left on your to-do list and you’re running out of time to do them.

  1. “Embrace your lows as much as your highs” (Or “Feel your feelings,” or “It doesn’t always have to be okay”)

You know what’s worse than feeling sad? Hating yourself for feeling sad. Wishing you weren’t sad. And wondering how long it will be before you’re not sad anymore.

Unfortunately and luckily for you, you know exactly what that’s like. And unfortunately and luckily for you, your struggles with depression and anxiety aren’t over. When you feel a bout of depression creeping up on you, it feels like standing in a rising pool of water, knowing you can’t swim. The panic of wondering how long it will be before you can’t breathe, and how long you’ll have to hold your breath is worse than just surrendering and allowing yourself to float.

In a couple of years, you will work with a counselor and learn that you avoid feeling your emotions so much that you don’t even know how to identify them. As you learn to cope with the changes in your life, the best you can do is tell her that you feel “bad.” After she sends you home with a list that literally defines the basic human emotions, eventually you will realize you feel sad that your relationships from high school are changing, angry that your parents aren’t giving you the freedom you want, ashamed at your inability to cope. It’s a lesson you’ll need to return to many times.

In the years ahead, you will experience deep love, blissful happiness, betrayal, and inexplicable loss. At the highest moments, you will feel complete and connected with the world; at the lowest, you will feel painfully alone. The key is to realize that everyone experiences pain and sadness, and the only way to let it pass through you is to really feel it. You can’t appreciate the joy life brings if you don’t remember its potential for darkness. Besides, the hardest moments in your life are the ones with the greatest potential for growth.

The good news is…

  1. “The world has more good than bad”

Besides your personal struggles, you’re about to enter an industry that constantly bombards you with the worst humanity has to offer. You will read and write about a man who walks into an elementary school and kills 20 young children. You will watch and re-watch devastating video of natural disasters that leave people who had nothing with even less. You will ask a mother to talk about her teenage son who was just gunned down in the streets of Chicago. Some days, you will go home and cry. Others, you will make jokes with the people around you in an effort to forget. This lesson will often be the toughest.

But you will see a lot of good in the world. In the wake of their most painful moments, you will see people drag themselves up and put their arms around each other, giving what little they have to someone else.

When your former colleague is diagnosed with leukemia, you will see a community come together to raise thousands of dollars to help with her expenses, and thousands more to research the disease. When your friend loses her young son, you will be amazed by the network of people who show up to take care of her, to cook her family meals and share their fondest memories of his precious life.

You can find light in the simplest things, too—internet videos of talking dogs or waving bears, random text messages from friends you haven’t seen in ages, or the moment when you’re about to flip over a bad day, until you see your coworker left a chocolate chip cookie on your desk.

You will see that there is more good than bad in this life. And in the moments when you can’t, it’s essential that you believe it.

  1. “You’ll never really feel like an adult”

You’re almost 28 years old now, and there are still many moments when you feel like a kid in grownup clothes. You’ll find yourself walking the aisles of the grocery store, simultaneously giddy that you can buy whatever you want, and grouchy that you’re now responsible for figuring out what the hell to make for dinner every night this week. You’ll feel a little naughty when you decide to have cake or ice cream for breakfast, before stubbornly reminding yourself, “I’m an adult, dammit!” And you’ll still hear your mother’s voice in the back of your head, telling you it’s really about time you straightened up this apartment, because it looks like a pigsty!

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Let adulthood be a novelty. Don’t let it start to feel routine and familiar. Learn enough to take care of yourself, but let things like cooking and walking the dogs feel like an everyday adventure. Don’t forget how you feel right now, with the possibilities before you and all of the little steps along the way that will make life feel like new.

Music Monday: Working for the Weekend

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Today was one of those days. Nothing went particularly wrong, but I knew it was one of those days, because on several occasions this morning, I’d ask a coworker, “Hey, how’s it going?” And they’d shrug and say, “Monday.”

So to get us all out of the Monday funk, I wanted to spotlight a song that’s usually reserved for Fridays, or maybe a particularly energetic Thursday– Loverboy’s “Working for the Weekend.”

[spotify https://play.spotify.com/track/2HdQsJeDUPfMHjZNaKmSkO]

This one always gets me in a good mood. Hopefully it does the trick!

Everyone is doing the best they can

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There’s an unfortunate side effect to being born a human: Everyone is part of their own universe, and everything in it revolves around them. Things don’t just happen; they happen “to me.” And sometimes every action someone else takes can feel like a targeted personal affront.

But the reality is, nine times out of ten, the actions and behavior of others have absolutely nothing to do with you. And the ways those actions might affect your life is usually the afterthought of an afterthought.

On a conscious level, we understand that our lives are not the only ones that are chaotic or boring, overwhelming or depressing. We recognize that we’re not the only people facing challenges, even acknowledge that many others have challenges that outrank our own. Yet when conflict arises, the benefit of the doubt goes out the window.

Here’s a crazy thought: Everyone is doing the best they can.

The guy who cuts you off when he’s about to miss his exit is doing the best he can. The woman who takes forever wrangling her kids in the checkout line and makes you wait an extra 30 seconds to buy your Heath bar is doing the best she can. The barista who takes ten minutes making your Frappuccino because some other asshole is yelling about her nonfat double-stuffed skinny cow cinnamon latte is doing the best he can. (Yes, even the asshole yelling about the latte is doing the best she can.)

Your boss who gets frustrated and snaps at you is doing the best she can. The mother who dishes out unsolicited advice because she thinks it’s what’s best for you is doing the best she can. The friend who couldn’t show up less than ten minutes late to save his life… is doing the best he can.

Maybe you see yourself in their shoes and soften a bit. Sometimes I don’t return phone calls. Sometimes I interrupt people. Sometimes I get a little too sarcastic. But I know I’m doing the best I can too.

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Here’s the M. Night Shyamalan twist to this whole story–Everyone is not actually doing the best they can. Your boss might be a jerk, your mom might be bossy, and the asshole at Starbucks might just be an asshole.

But that doesn’t even matter. Imagine how our everyday lives could be different if we just treated everyone like they were doing the best they can (and honestly, most of them actually are). We’d treat the people around us with much more kindness, and patience. We’d believe in their efforts to treat us kindly in return. Maybe we’d take a second to look around our personal universe, and see we’re not the only one in it.

Music Monday: Carry On

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This single by Fun. came out a couple of years ago, and it never fails to pick up my mood.

There’s something poetic about meeting up with “some friends at the edge of the night.” And the tearful friend telling him, “We are not shining stars,” is just so relatable to me. (“This I know. I never said we are.” So matter of fact.)

But for this one, the chorus itself is simple enough to inspire me out of a gray mood.

If you’re lost and alone
Or you’re sinking like a stone.
Carry on.
May your past be the sound
Of your feet upon the ground.
Carry on.

As someone who makes a habit of getting a little too caught up in the past, I love the idea of my past being the sound of my feet upon the ground. It’s just so true to life. No matter what happens to us and how it makes us feel–distraught, overwhelmed, overjoyed, irate–time marches on and takes us with it. Before you know it, it’s all fading in the rearview mirror and new challenges are coming ahead.

Feel-Good Friday: Owl has a bad day

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Okay so this might not be a feel-good post for the subjects of this video, but it was definitely a feel-good moment for me–the video had me laughing all morning.

My thoughts on this one: They say some days you’re the pigeon and others you’re the statue. Well I guess some days you’re the owl and other days you’re the… other owl. Poor guy even looks sad at the end. Hope it made you laugh as much as I did. Happy weekend!

The easy life lesson in the most overplayed song of the decade

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At this point, you don’t have to be a parent to say another Elsa sighting is one too many, or that you might lose it the next time you see a “Frozen” lip sync on YouTube.

I can definitely understand the sentiment, but now that Frozen fever is dying down just a tad, I can finally appreciate the message. So instead of swearing off that song, I made it my mantra.

letitgoSure, there are a lot of lyrics in the song that I like–something about testing limits, and that whole part about how distance makes it all seem small. But it’s really the title that gets it done, with three simple words: Let. It. Go.

I encourage everyone to try this for just a couple of days. You know that old adage about how life is 20 percent what happens to you and 80 percent how you react to it? I’ve learned it’s absolutely true.

You see, I am a “stewer.” When challenges pop up in my life, I like to go home and sit on it all day, chew it up in my head, play it and replay it, decide what I should have said, and just generally waste hours of my life making myself miserable. A combination of a mild dose of anxiety and an analytical personality don’t do me any favors. (One I get from my mom and the other from my dad–thanks, guys.)

So a few months ago, I decided to try something. Every time I found myself frustrated, discouraged, or upset, I would pause, and think to myself, “Let it go.” Sometimes I’d even picture the anxiety dissolving off the top of my head like a puff of steam. I’d unclench my jaw and my fists and release. I started to see that once you face a problem or a confrontation, or even someone unfairly taking out their own frustrations on you, there is no sense carrying it around with you all day. Stewing serves no one and solves nothing.

It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, by the Buddha: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” If you have a problem with someone, take it up with them. If you can’t or are unwilling to, let it go.

Another way to think of it is with what I like to call “The One-Year Test.”

A few years ago, at my first job out of grad school, I wrote a heated journal entry about one of my supervisors. I was so angry, and I wrote all about how I couldn’t believe that he did that. About a year or so later, I went back and read that journal. The emotion was tangible, but I only felt amused; for the life of me, I could not remember what it was that had made me so incensed.

It sounds so cliche, but it was an obvious reminder not to sweat the small stuff. After that, sometimes when I’d get frustrated or angry, I’d try to ask myself, “Will I remember why I’m mad in a year?” How about a month? Next week? If the answer is no, then let it go.

If you are morally opposed to modeling your mantra after a Walt Disney earworm, there is another song that I sometimes use as inspiration. But I’m not sure that you’ll like this one any better…

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Music Monday: Shut Up and Dance

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[spotify https://play.spotify.com/track/4kbj5MwxO1bq9wjT5g9HaA]

This song’s been out there for a hot second, and I’m noticing it getting a lot more play time on the radio. I like it for a couple of reasons. On the surface, it’s got a great beat. I love to turn it up for driving, running, and (imagine that) dancing.

But I also like it for what–or more aptly, who–it represents. It’s the story of that girl, who doesn’t have a care in the world, and doesn’t overthink things beyond that one moment in a club, telling a man, “Shut up and dance with me,” as he falls hopelessly in love.

I think every woman wishes she could be that girl, and every man wishes he could find her. The thing is, I don’t think she really exists outside of movies and books. But it’s fun to jam out to this song, and imagine you are her, if only for 3 minutes and 19 seconds at a time.

Feel-Good Friday: My funny dandelion

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One of the best things that I saw this week was a video that was so simple yet so sweet. British musician Tom Fletcher (behind the sweet Wedding Speech and From Bump to Buzz videos) shared a great video of his son. The little one can’t stop cracking up, simply because his dad is blowing the seeds off of dandelions:

The laughter of little kids is just so infectious, and the way they find fascination in some of the tiniest things in life is a reminder to not take them for granted.

And while we’re on the subject of cuteness, I had to include an honorable mention… the too-cute, 8-week-old puppy who wants to attack his own hiccups!

When notes between neighbors can surprise you

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When I moved to Chicago, I was eager to find a place that felt like home. After a day of looking at places that were mostly duds, the last place I found just felt right. It had almost everything I was looking for–hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, a brand new washer and dryer, an easy walk to Lake Michigan. I moved in a week later, and before long the place started to really feel like my own.

But then I had a problem.

After about a month of peace and quiet, and a building all to myself, my upstairs neighbors moved in.

They looked friendly enough when I awkwardly peeked through the blinds as they unloaded their moving van. I told myself there was no way they could have known that they timed their arrival perfectly for my 3 p.m. bedtime. And that a little stomping up the back steps was to be expected; I mean, really, who moves quietly?

Within a few days, I knew this was going to be trouble. I’d noticed how thin the walls were when I heard the maintenance crews clomping up and down the steps and the mail lady swinging the door open and slamming it shut. Now I learned that the ceiling was just as thin. I could track my new neighbors’ movements by the shifting creaks above my head. And most days, I was treated to my own personal concert echoing through their floors.

I consider myself a relatively patient and understanding person, so I told myself that they were probably using music to pass the time while they unpack. But by the second week of second-hand tunes, I knew it wasn’t going away, and I was starting to get cranky.

For the sake of my sanity, I knew I’d have to find a way to ask them to turn it down. This shouldn’t be a big deal, but I spent another week asking people whether I should leave a note or knock, and if I left a note, what should it say? I’d like to say my problem is that I’m too nice, but that would be too nice. The bottom line is, I hate confrontation. And maybe, I’m afraid people won’t like me. Besides, given that I was dealing with people I’ve never met, there was the whole question mark of whether confrontation would end with slashed tires, or worse–them spitefully turning the music up louder.

So this week, at my wits end, I finally got up the nerve to leave the note. I saturated it with politeness, and hoped it wouldn’t be the worst first impression I’ve ever made.

I wrote, “Hi there, Can you please lower the volume of your stereo? Unfortunately, the walls/floors/ceilings are very thin here and the music carries through other apartments. Thanks so much for understanding.” I taped it on the door, walked down the stairs, considered running back and taking it down, and then just hoped for the best.

That night, when I went to take my dog out, I saw my note taped to the mailboxes. I was afraid to find a big middle finger drawn on it, but when I came back in, I found that it was better than I anticipated:

It seems sometimes politeness can go a long way.

It seems sometimes politeness can go a long way.

Yep, you read that right. “Of course! We’re so sorry! (Emphasis added in my head) Thank you for the note.”

I was mildly shocked too.

The side of me that’s a strong believer in karma wants to think that this is just the Universe rewarding me for my inherent goodness. Ha. More realistically, I have nice neighbors who simply didn’t realize how much their music was bothering me. (Maybe too nice; who thanks a neighbor for a complaining note??)

But I can’t help but think their response might not have been so easygoing if I’d snapped and reacted in anger. It’s just one more reason to treat people around me with kindness and respect. And a small reassurance that, yes, reasonable neighbors do exist.