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Gratitude

Gratitude

As we continue to move toward the holiday Christmas season at what seems to be lightning speed, I’m reminded of the importance of gratitude. Everyone is so busy doing, buying, visiting, stressing, that it’s easy to forget to be grateful for the small every day things. We all know and hear about how important it is to make time for family and friends if we are in a position to do so during this holiday season, but what about being grateful for so many of the other blessings we all have?

 

I’m talking about being grateful for the beauty of nature that surrounds us, the snow frosting trees and ground, the brilliance of sunshine, the abundance of love in our lives, the food we eat, the safety and warmth of our homes, and so on. Perhaps even more important is when we’re struggling with the things we don’t have at Christmas; family who live far away, loss of someone close to us, a lack of social and familial support, job losses, not enough money, and so on.

 

Well known speaker and vulnerability expert, Brené  Brown talks about how gratitude is more than just an attitude. It’s something we can actively choose to cultivate and bring into our lives. It’s helpful to remind ourselves that being grateful for what we have encourages positive thinking. It gives us hope that tomorrow will be easier, and that even just having air to breathe into our lungs is something to be grateful for. I keep hearing how this particular season can be one of the most difficult and stressful for many people. That saddens me, because it means that too many people still don’t get it. I’m not a professional in the mental health area, and I don’t mean to make light of people who struggle with clinical depression or suicidal ideation, so please don’t take me wrong. I just can’t help but think that at least some of it means these people can’t see beyond today. It means they’ve stopped looking at the beauty of the world that surrounds them, have stopped focusing on what they do have, and have turned their eyes inward and found a dark, black space. No wonder they’re despairing. If I could wish for one thing this Christmas, it would be that every person could look around them and be grateful for the beauty of nature and life and hold it close, even just for a moment. It doesn’t make everything right, but maybe it would make the next moment a little more bearable. Again, this is perhaps just my simplistic view of the world.

 

Cultivate what you wish to grow in your life

Cultivate what you wish to grow in your life

But again, cultivating gratitude means more than just saying the words, it means really feeling it. It means taking time to think about what bounties we have and truly being grateful for them. It means looking around ourselves and within our own bodies and being grateful for the smallest blessings, and the big ones. It means taking the time to really think about what you have to be grateful for, then saying aloud, “I am grateful for…”, and holding that thought for a moment before continuing on with your day, your meal, whatever.

 

No matter what’s happening in your life this holiday season, try to take a moment or two, or as many as you like, and think about the things you are grateful for. Speak them, count them, re-visit them as often as you need to, and hold them close whenever stress, anger, despair, or fear begin to crowd your world. And breathe. And smile. And dream. Even when you don’t want to.

 

However you celebrate this season, may you find some measure of joy and gratitude!

Embrace Life!

Embrace Life!

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Who Am I?

Who Am I?

Who am I? What do I want from life? What do I have to give others? How do I get where I want to be?

 

These are just a few of the questions we all struggle with on a daily basis. There are many others, of course, but right now, for me, these are the key ones. I’ve always been aware that my choices in life are what determine my destiny. That’s not to say I’ve always made the best choices, but I’ve known that they were mine to make. So are my mistakes, and triumphs. I chose to marry my first husband, knowing that there were things that weren’t right from the beginning. After my marriage, at the tender age of 17, I thought I needed to change to become the kind of wife my husband needed. I began hiding my sadness, and for a very long time, wouldn’t admit how unhappy I’d become. I remember one instance where my husband actually claimed that he wanted “the girl I married”. My God, I’d grown up over the years. I couldn’t ever be that 17 year old girl again, nor did I want to! My two children became the reason I stayed. I told myself they needed their father, even if that father wasn’t the kind of man I wanted as a husband. I made excuses for his poor behaviour, and told myself I was being a good wife by standing behind him. In the beginning, I was too young to realize that I shouldn’t be standing behind him, I should be standing beside him.

 

Eventually I realized that I couldn’t change him, and no longer wanted to adapt myself to his model of an ideal wife, like his mother. I realized that nothing I did or said would change him, and nothing he did or said was a good enough reason to change myself. That’s when I decided to leave the marriage. My own parents have a strong, loving relationship, so I’d seen that relationships shouldn’t ask you to be something you’re not. Oh, they had their squabbles, lots of them, but never once did my father ask my mother to be different. This knowledge helped sustain my decision. I couldn’t be other than who I was, and as I began to grow up and into myself, that realization only solidified.

 

Change Ahead

Change Ahead

Leaving was scary though. I was striking out on my own with two young children with no financial support from my ex. The future loomed dark and frightening, but also exciting and brand new. I was finally free to discover who I was; who I wanted to be. The next dozen or so years were more than difficult as I struggled to provide for myself and my children. As a single mother living at the poverty level, you learn to make some very hard choices, and you can’t give your kids all that you wish you could. Early after our separation, my ex chose to absent himself from our lives. That was hard. It was hard to understand how and why a man would walk away from his own flesh and blood, but I knew I couldn’t change him. His choices were his choices. So I continued putting one foot in front of the other, leaning heavily on family who loved and supported me. Slowly I gained confidence and courage. I began to make better choices for myself and for my children. When I began dating again, I knew I was looking for a certain kind of man; a man who would accept me and my children as a package deal. One who wouldn’t want me to change who I was to fit his ideal model. I wanted someone kind and loving, and who shared my vision of what a family looked like.

 

I was seeking a partner, and so I set out on every new date, in every new relationship, looking for the qualities I knew I needed to see. I wasn’t going to try to change someone else to fit my ideal model either. He had to come prepared to meet me half way. It took a long time, but finally I did meet such a man. He came with his own baggage, three teenaged children, and a host of idiosyncrasies, but he also came with a huge heart, a loving embrace, and a willingness to walk with me through the fires ahead. He didn’t want to change me, he accepted me, even encouraged me to chase my dreams. Every time I started a new vocational venture, even when it was tenuous and far from his own experiences, he supported me. Fifteen years later, he still does.

 

Chapter One

Chapter One

By the time I began writing, and made the decision to become a full-time writer, I had gained enough confidence to actually believe I could take on this nebulous, insane business and find a place in it. The more I wrote, the more convinced I became that this is what I was placed on this earth to do; communicate. Still, with little more than a love of words and stories, and a grade 10 education, I knew I had a lot learn. Along the way I’ve shed my share of tears of frustration, of disappointment, and felt the tearing insecurities every writer feels. But I go to bed and rise every morning knowing that this is what I want to do with my life. It is a conscious choice.

 

But even this decision is difficult when so many of my closest family and friends don’t really understand what I’m doing. When I try to share my journey, I can see from their expressions, or tone of voice, that they don’t understand. I suspect they don’t believe I have what it takes to “make it”. Some ask when I’m “going back to work”, as if what I do isn’t really work. Others scoff and ask how many writers actually make a living off their craft. They don’t understand. Recently I had a meltdown with my husband, when I broke down and cried and screamed that “They don’t think I can actually make it as a writer!”. I ranted and raved, and cried and shouted.

 

When I was spent, I went to lie down. That’s when I realized that I was looking for validation. I wanted to hear that other people take me and my work seriously; that they believe I have a certain talent, and because of that, I can and should succeed with my writing, and make a decent living doing it. I had chosen a path less followed, and I wanted those I care for most to appreciate what I was trying to do, and believe in me. That’s when I had another ah ha moment. I realized that it didn’t matter whether or not others understood me and my path. They loved me and supported me, for me, not for what I was doing. That had to be good enough. I have to release my expectations of other people, and continue walking my own path. I’m grateful for those who love and support me, and for the few who truly do “get it”, they are the wind beneath my wings. Not because they think I can do something remarkable, but because they will support whatever I do, just because they love me. I believe I know who I want to be in this life, and I now believe I know what I want to do with my life, but what do I have to give?

 

Well, I know I have a great capacity for love. I know I’m loyal to those who are loyal to me. I know I will protect those I love to the best of my ability, and I won’t walk away. During one particularly difficult time in my family’s lives, I needed to do more than stand up to the devil. I needed to kick his sorry ass to the curb. I refused to stand by and let him have those I love. Those were dark, terrible days for us all, but at least I knew I’d done what I needed to, and I’d do it again. Those days taught us all something about ourselves, and for me, it taught me the power and value of love. It also reminded me of my own courage to do what’s right, not just what’s expedient. I’m far from perfect, but this is one of the things I like most about myself.

 

Links in a Chain

Links in a Chain

I often claim I’m a “connector”. I tend to connect to other people, and connect people with other people. I believe we’re all connected, and each person who enters our life has a lesson to teach us, or a purpose. We’re like links in a chain. Sometimes the links remain strong and true and endure throughout a lifetime, while others weaken and drop away, but the value of each link remains vital. I guess that’s why I write. I write as another medium of connection, of communication, of linking, and because it’s another extension of my nature, it feels right. I like that.

 

So, I believe I know who I am, where I want to go, and what I have to offer, but how do I get where I want to be? Honestly, I’m not sure. I have learned though, that following my instincts and my heart have always lead to my best choices. When I make choices based on fear, they inevitably are the wrong ones. I have plenty of fears, plenty of baggage, and loads of insecurities, but I know I can only be me, and I can only walk my own path. I guess I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other and believe that I’m headed in the right direction. Along the way, I’ll encounter hills and valleys, and people who will try to help, or hinder me. But I don’t know how else to proceed, except one step at a time. I’ve gotten pretty good at going over, under, around, and through obstacles, and I’m very good at surrounding myself with people who support me, even when they don’t understand me. I’ve also developed a pretty good internal GPS that keeps me moving forward. I guess it’ll have to be good enough. I’m betting my life on it.

My Journey

My Journey

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In The Spirit Of Love

In The Spirit Of Love

When my debut novel, In The Spirit Of Love, was finally released via Echelon Press, LLC in November, I was over the moon. Before it was actually out there, live and open to the world, I had no idea how I’d feel. Then I downloaded a copy to my Kindle and there it was! I sat in my tiny little office space (just a corner of a room really), and started to shake. Then I got all teary. Then I jumped up to find my husband and parents, whom we’re temporarily living with. It was surreal. I couldn’t believe that people all over the world would be able to seek out, download, and actually read the words I’d laboured over so long and hard. We celebrated with champagne and orange juice even though it was only 9:30 in the morning, my mother downloaded a copy to her Nook, and I cried a little more. Then I got up and went back to my “office” to begin the task of promoting it to the world.

That’s when it hit me. People were going to be able to read my words and judge them. They’d decide whether the story I’d crafted was good, bad or mediocre. But first, they had to know about it. My work wasn’t done. In actual fact, it had just doubled, or tripled. Now, not only was I going to have to keep working on my current project, the sequel, but I was going to have to start devoting a good portion of each day marketing and promoting the heck out of this now released one.

 

Statistics

Statistics

Then I made a tactical error. I started reading, at first hourly, the ratings on the sites it was available on. I don’t claim to understand how the ratings work. I don’t think anyone does, but I avidly went to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords, and OmniLit to see what the “numbers” said. They made no sense to me, but I knew they were important, so I watched. My emotions see-sawed with the numbers on the screen. The lower the number, the better, so when the numbers went down, I rejoiced, but when they went back up, which of course I knew they would, I still felt let down. I started getting edgy. How could I get those numbers down and prove, to myself, that my book had merit and that others were buying it. I had no way to know how many were buying it, or even where. I also didn’t know yet what people thought of it, so I focused on the rating numbers.

A few days went by like this, and I’m sure I drove my family nuts with it. Then I remembered something I’d heard Oprah Winfrey say once. She recounted how, in the beginning of her career, she too focused on the “ratings” of her new show. Her staff and producers did the same. They compared her to her contemporaries and determined whether or not they were on the right track with them. They told her she had to “keep her ratings up” to be successful and win the “game”. Then she said something I’ve never forgotten. She said she realized she didn’t have to compete with anyone. She only had to do her very best every single day and be herself. The rest would just have to work itself out. She told her producers and staff not to bog her down with talk of ratings, as this just interfered with her vision for herself and the show. She didn’t want to get caught up in the hype. She just wanted to do a good job and bring whatever wisdom and light she could into the lives of her audience. Well Amen. I had my Ah ha moment.

I’m no Oprah Winfrey, but that piece of wisdom makes sense to me. I guess I’ve always been of the opinion that I can only do the best I can at whatever I take on. I can only be myself. I write because it’s what I love and want to do, not because I’m being “rated” for it. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean the ratings don’t matter. In book sales, in business, they do. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be successful and make a decent living at this writing gig, I do. But now I check them once a day, just to begin to understand whatever trends they might indicate. What I don’t do is agonize over them anymore. I don’t judge whether or not I’m a good writer by them. What matters to me is whether people who read the books are enjoying them, so those are the ratings and reviews I focus on. If they’re positive, then I’m on the right track in terms of story line. If and when I get poor reviews, and I’m sure I will, then I’ll pay attention, take them with a grain of salt and take what I can from them.

The Magic of Reading

The Magic of Reading

I keep talking about how my lessons in writing mimic my lessons in life. This is another of those instances. Of course I want to be a successful, prolific writer, but only I can determine those terms. So I’ll work my butt off to get the word out there, I’ll promote my work when and where I can, I’ll continue to write the very best stories I can and grow into my craft, and I’ll have to let the chips fall where they may. Just like in life, it’s all any of us can really do. The rest is all just hype.

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