Author Archive: mjdicker

#blessed

Originally published as a TinyLetter

boxes

I feel as if I’ve been run over by a truck. Really, by a whole fleet of trucks, which keep flattening me each time I try to stumble to my feet.

We moved into our new house a couple of weeks ago and love it. There’s much more space for the kids and pets to coexist, and the open floor plan lets the family spend quality time together even while Darren and I are cooking or cleaning.

But there’s no way around it — moving is just plain stressful, and moving with a baby and a spirited toddler is nearly impossible. How can you be interrupted six times while attempting to pack a single box?

Even though the new place is exactly what we wanted, the transition hasn’t been easy. My four-year-old is acting out because he needs more attention than we can give him right now. One of the cats is peeing on the furniture, including the guest room mattress and the living room couch that’s our home base. The dog is eating some kind of leaf growing in the backyard and vomiting all over the floor (why does she insist on eating that damn plant?!).

This week the baby had a high fever for three days straight, poor girl, and I was trying to work from home because I don’t have much time off accrued yet at my new job. She wouldn’t let me put her down, so I found myself cleaning up dog puke from the rug — having stepped in the cold, slimy mess with my bare feet — while balancing the little fuss-face on my hip.

#blessed, I thought.

But really, though. Even in that tough moment, I reminded myself that all of this chaos results from good things, from creating the family that Darren and I envisioned and moving into a house we adore. (And, of course, these are first-world problems that we are lucky to have, and I don’t take that for granted.)

Last night, after I had scrubbed the cat pee from the couch and went on to tackle the dirty dishes, I stopped for a moment to take a photo of Darren and the baby napping in his recliner.

recliner

Then, when she woke up and crawled over to see what big brother was doing, I snapped this one.

kiddos

It’s a good practice, to pause just for a second in the frenzy of daily life and acknowledge the ways in which we are truly and non-ironically #blessed, to really let them sink in. The house so lovely that I can’t believe I get to live here. The tiny humans that didn’t exist before my husband and I brought them into the world. The new job that is pushing me to develop a whole new skill set.

Each time you expand your life, it adds a layer of complexity. It stretches you to your limit, forcing you to grow into an experience that’s fuller, richer, and totally worth the trouble in the end.


what’s fueling me

 

Darren found a couple of boxes of books in the attic, ones that I’d read as a kid. Evan is loving the collection of Disney’s Little Golden Books, especially the Three Little Pigs. We sing “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” together, and he plays an imaginary flute when I sing “Tra la la la la.”

Darren and I are watching the first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and it brightens my day.

kimmy

We saw Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires in concert for the third time, and the creative energy between them is palpable. It’s beautiful to watch him sing “Cover Me Up” to her and still seem to mean every word after all these years.

Also, I’ve been stress-eating Cheetos and chocolate at my desk. It helps.


 

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Image via markgranitz

Giving Up or Pressing On

Originally published as a TinyLetter

lockandchain

It’s 4:38 a.m. on a weekday morning, and I can’t sleep. The baby started fussing a few minutes ago, but I’d already woken up a half hour before with too much on my mind. I’ve been struggling with this question: Do I keep pushing forward with the Reschool Yourself book, or let it go?

It’s like when I had a paper due in school, and every time a spare moment opened up, I felt as if I should be working on it instead of relaxing or having fun. The book weighs me down. It puts a computer screen between me and my family. It makes me tired all the time because I wake up early every morning to chip away at it. Some days I wish I’d never had the idea for the project, which I’ve turned into the ultimate school assignment, one that has dragged on for years.

I know in my core that I want to put the book out into the world, whether I end up with a mainstream publisher or publish it myself. I have a story to share. It matters. But some days I just want to give up, move on, and have a normal life.


what I’m working toward

 

magazines
I’m a bit of an information hoarder, especially when it comes to magazines. I have issues of Real Simple and O, the Oprah Magazine from 2012 that I’ve piled in bookshelves, waiting to be read when I have time. It’s as if by possessing the publication, I possess its knowledge, and I don’t want to let it go. Another issue will arrive in the mail, and I’ll think, “Aah, not another one! I haven’t even read last month’s yet!” And into the stack it goes. I found an issue of Portico Jackson magazine whose cover story is Jackson Now. “Let’s see what Jackson was like five years ago,” I told Darren, flipping through the pages. There could be some good stuff in there that I don’t want to miss!

My family and I are moving to a bigger house in our neighborhood tomorrow, and I’m making that day my deadline to process and recycle all of these old magazines. I’m pulling out a few recipes from Food Network Magazine that I might actually cook, as well as any columns by my ladies Elizabeth Gilbert, Brené Brown, and Martha Beck, then tossing the rest. It feels like a little victory each time I throw another issue into the recycling bin and see the stacks on my shelf dwindle. I feel lighter without so much stuff in the queue.

Collectively, the few dozen pages I’ve pulled could form a whole other magazine (one that’s full of just the stuff I like!). I know that I’m still hoarding information, and who knows when I’ll make time to process it, but at least it’s contained to one file folder in our new house instead of a whole bookshelf. Progress!


what’s fueling me

 

photos

I’ve been at my new job for four months now, and only last week did I decorate my office walls. Hanging up framed pictures always seems so daunting. Before I put holes in the walls, I feel like I need to recruit someone to help me measure the distance between the picture frames, and to hold them up while I stand back and look at the spacing. And then there are so many possible ways to hang them. All in a row or staggered heights? In which order? It’s easier to do nothing, leaving the walls blank and full of possibilities.

But with a couple new staff joining my team last week, I wanted an office that looked more established and not like a transient was just passing through. I’d already brought in a couple of framed prints from my happy times at Visit Mississippi: a colorful painting of a blues musician and a poster from a concert tour that my team worked on. I’d also framed the certificate from my business program (oddly, my undergrad degree is small and not very attractive, with red lettering in Old English font, so it’s boxed away somewhere).

I borrowed a hammer and picture hanging hardware from the storage room and eyeballed three spots on the wall. I penciled in the dots, hammered in the nails, and placed the frames. It took less than a minute to do each one. They’re not precisely spaced, but they’re fine. And looking at them every day gives me a little happiness boost, because the office finally feels like it’s mine.

Like I always say, “Don’t overthink it.” :)

beforesunrise


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Header image by Art Purée

Like I Always Say: What My Wiser Self Knows

Originally published as a TinyLetter

hakunamatata

I have a running joke with my husband, Darren: “Like I always say…” We use it often, when my wiser self knows the best thing to do, but my real-life self just isn’t there yet. For example:

“Like I always say….don’t sweat the small stuff!”
“Like I always say….water under the bridge!”
“Like I always say….Hakuna Matata!”

What makes it funny, of course, is that I usually do sweat the small stuff, have a hard time letting things go, worry a lot, and so on. I’m lucky that Darren sees these personality traits as quirks, not flaws, and the joke helps me see that I’m being silly without coming down hard on myself. Kind of like, “There I go again…” (shakes head)

In this series, originally published as TinyLetters, I explore the space between my present self and my ideal self, finding the balance between accepting myself as I am and evolving toward the person I want to be. I’d love to hear about how you see these themes playing out in your own life.


what I’m working toward

 

I’m loving the Happier in Hollywood podcast, by Liz Craft from Happier with Gretchen Rubin. In episode four, Liz and her writing partner, Sarah Fain, discuss their current “life mantras.” Sarah’s is “Look Up,” inspired by a friend who posts pictures of unusual clouds on social media. I need this reminder myself, multiple times a day. I tend to put my head down and work, forgetting to look up and see what’s around me: nature, the news, or my own husband and kids wanting my attention.

The other life mantra that I have written on a mini yellow Post-It on my desk at work is “Be Mindful.” I’m practicing pulling my mind back into my body, as it will drift off into thoughts and worries without my even realizing it. When I’m mindful, I listen with full attention, know where I’m putting things so I don’t need to search for them later, and don’t run into furniture (OK, I still do, but not quite as much).


what’s fueling me


On Campus, Failure is on the Syllabus
(New York Times)
A number of colleges, including Harvard and Stanford, now have initiatives to normalize failure and build grit among their students. Seeing how people coped with setbacks would have been good for me at that age (and would be just as helpful now, as well).

Wondering What Happened to Your Class Valedictorian? Not Much, Research Shows (TIME)
I recognized myself way too much in this research. Why do we keep training kids for success in the classroom when there’s such a disconnect with success in life? (h/t Gillian Burgess)

Mom Packs Encouraging Note in Own Lunch (The Onion)
I think about doing this on the daily.


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Image via nchenga

Hey, Remember That Book I Was Writing For All Those Years?

Blogging

So, remember how I was writing that book about the Reschool Yourself project? And then still writing it? Yeah, well that went on for a good eight years, because it turns out that writing a book is really hard. But as of yesterday, it’s finished. It’s finished! It hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

Sure, there’s plenty of editing and rewriting and agent-seeking and marketing to come, but for now, I just want to celebrate this moment. I’m so relieved to have the book out of my head and onto the page, and not to have to worry about getting hit by a bus and leaving it unfinished forever (and what if my sister or husband felt obligated to see my dream through and complete the book for me? That would be a lot of pressure).

It will also be nice to do some other things instead of writing, like read other people’s books. (Darren bought me a signed copy of my girl Anna Kendrick’s new memoir, which I’ve left sitting untouched on the mantel as my reward for finishing my own book.) I’m also really glad that I can stop feeling like garbage for taking so long to write this book, and just move on already.

I’m so grateful to all of you who donated to the project when I started it, who cheered me on during the rough patches, and who’ve told me that you’re excited to read the book when it’s published (I’m going to take you up on that, you know!). The book wouldn’t be what it is without Darren and Gill, who have edited my drafts and celebrated every bit of progress.

No matter what happens with the book from here, I’m happy to have finished what I started. It feels great to have closure on a project that’s been a significant part of my life. High five!

Read a condensed first chapter and see the cover that Darren designed hereImage from Flickr Creative Commons.

Forget “All or Nothing”

remote_web

Darren and I joke about my tendency to approach life with “all the arrows.” The reference comes from the trigger finger that I have with the TV remote. When I’m fast-forwarding through commercials on our DVR, I’m inclined to ramp up to five arrows, top speed. Darren usually opts for three arrows, so he doesn’t overshoot and have to backtrack. I, on the other hand, lean more toward maximum intensity than a happy medium.

In the same way, I want to do things to the best of my ability. If I write, I want to absorb myself in writing for hours. If I exercise, I want to commit to a regular workout schedule, and I want to sweat.

The problem is that having a child — especially one who has never slept much — leaves me so little time to myself that an “all or nothing” approach to my hobbies usually translates to “nothing.” Since Evan was born, and especially since he became an active toddler, I’ve rarely had time to exercise, read, write, and play music to the level I want to. I used to do Zumba twice a week and read books before bed. Now I’m lucky to catch a Zumba class once per month, and I’m so tired at the end of the day that I usually just watch Jimmy Fallon’s monologue and scroll through Facebook on my phone before I crash. At times, I’ve felt like pieces of me have gone missing, that I’ve lost touch with the things that make me who I am.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that if I want to do the things I love, I’ll have to do them in small doses and incorporate them into life with a small child. Lately Evan has taken a liking to music, so in the evenings I’ll play the guitar and sing, and he’ll beat on a little drum his grandma gave him (using a plastic maraca and a salad server as drumsticks, naturally). I may be singing the ABC song and “If You’re Happy and You Know it” over and over, but it feels good just to be playing music again.

I take the stairs at work because it’s usually the only exercise I get aside from lugging around Evan’s 26-pound frame (and also because I find elevators to be super awkward). Over the weekend, I dusted off Jillian Michaels’ The 30-Day Shred DVD and managed to do the 20-minute workout twice. That’s more exercise than I’ve done in a very long time, and something that I can make happen at least once a week. Another option is an app called Seven that works all of your major muscle groups in seven minutes. I don’t use it very often because seven minutes doesn’t feel like enough, but seven minutes is better than zero minutes.

I’ve come to understand that during this phase of my life, I have to steal moments for myself, and that means letting go of my “all the arrows” M.O. It may take me months to finish reading a book, and years to finish writing one, but I’m learning to accept that doing a little of the things I love is better than not doing them at all.

Photo: Phil Long

RSY Featured in The Art of Non-Conformity’s Quest Series

I’m really excited — and honestly, a bit nervous — that Reschool Yourself is featured on Chris Guillebeau’s The Art of Non-Conformity blog. Guillebeau has found a way to visit every country in the world over the last ten years, and he has created a community of “unconventional people doing remarkable things.”

The Quest series shares stories of people who have undertaken quests or big adventures. Read on for the Reschool Yourself story. >>

playground

 

Let Yourself Get Nostalgic

 Melia-&-Gill3

I’ve always been a sentimental person. I have boxes and scrapbooks full of old letters, ticket stubs, photos, and other mementos. Even when I was a child and didn’t have much of a past to speak of, I’d look back on good times and wish I could relive them.

Because I have the tendency to think about the past more often than I do the present or the future, I’ve made an effort to curb my habit of reminiscing so much. I’ve done a lot of work to clear out old baggage that was holding me back, especially where school is concerned, going so far as to burn my old report cards and SAT scores in the fireplace, and I don’t want to dwell too much on the events of the past.

However, when I noticed Facebook’s new “On This Day” feature, I couldn’t help but take a look. Facebook will pull your activity from that date in previous years and tell you whom you became friends with, what people shared with you, and what you shared with them. This week Facebook told me that two years ago, Darren and I were waiting to find out whether we were having a boy or girl. Reading the predictions was fun (as it so happened, I was one of the many who guessed wrong) and took me back to that moment of anticipation before we knew we would have a son.

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The warm and fuzzy feeling that I got from reminiscing reminded me that nostalgia isn’t so bad, even for those of us who have to make a special effort to live in the moment. In fact, I did a bit of reading on the subject and learned that research has shown nostalgia to be good for us. This is from a Huffington Post article on “The Incredible Powers of Nostalgia”:

A lot can be said for nostalgia’s benefits. In a 2012 study published in the Journal of Memory, Routledge and his colleagues showed that nostalgizing helps people relate their past experiences to their present lives in order to make greater meaning of it all. The result can boost their mood and reduce stress. “Nostalgia increases feelings of social connectedness to others,” he says. “Nostalgia makes people feel loved and valued and increases perceptions of social support when people are lonely.”

“When we experience nostalgia,” Hepper* explains, “we tend to feel happier, have higher self-esteem, feel closer to loved ones and feel that life has more meaning. And on a physical level, nostalgia literally makes us feel warmer.” In addition, in an August 2013 study published by Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Hepper and her colleagues showed that nostalgia can produce increased optimism about the future.

And consider this: Your nostalgia can affect those around you. Hepper says after nostalgizing, people donate more generously to charity. And sharing a nostalgic conversation with a friend, family member or romantic partner makes you more supportive and considerate, and less argumentative.

*Erica Hepper, Ph.D., a lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of Surrey in England.

The other day I saw these benefits in action when looking at photos of my son. I was simply backing up the photos from my phone to cloud storage, but each image I clicked reminded me of a happy moment with him. Given that parenting a toddler has been a high-energy challenge, looking at sweet baby smiles and big milestones — first solid foods! first steps! — made me feel more connected to my little wild man.

Listening to my favorite music from back in the day also makes me nostalgic. I have a Spotify playlist called “High School Mix Tape” that is full of Counting Crows, Stone Temple Pilots, Dave Matthews Band, and Toad the Wet Sprocket. Whenever I hear hip-hop jams on the radio from what Darren refers to as my “clubbin’ days” in San Francisco, I feel like I’m back on the dance floor with my girlfriends.

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There’s a great Slate piece on why we’re so nostalgic for the music we loved as teenagers. It says that between ages 12 and 22, our brains are developing so quickly and are so awash with emotion and growth hormones that “the music we love during that decade seems to get wired into our lobes for good.” That explains why I will always be a sucker for *NSYNC.

I’ve found that reminiscing helps me understand who I am now by connecting with the person I used to be. When I hear songs that remind me of awkward middle school dances or high school heartbreak, I feel glad to be where I am today.

Now that I understand the benefits of nostalgia, I’ve decided to embrace my sentimental ways. I enabled Facebook notifications for “On This Day,” and I’m enjoying visiting with my past on a daily basis. I don’t let myself get stuck there, but I remember that moment in time fondly and think about how it led me to this one.

A Few Ways to Get Nostalgic with Reschool Yourself:

  • Take a memory walk around the places that mean something to you.
  • Look at the “Remember This?” photos that I took when I returned to the classroom.
  • Listen to a playlist of your favorite music from when you were a kid. I’m partial to “Summer Hits of the 90s” on Pandora. Make your own playlist on Spotify, or let Retrojam make one for each of your school years.
  • Post old photos on social media for Throwback Thursday. Bonus points for the embarrassing ones that show off your new perm or a mouth full of braces.
  • If you’re a child of the 80s, follow Hillary Buckholtz’s I’m Remembering Tumblr and enjoy seeing My Little Pony lunchboxes and troll dolls again.

Leave a comment: What makes you nostalgic? 

Gather Your Inspiration Before You Write

 

leaves

One of the scariest things about writing is staring at a blank page. I don’t know what to write, I think. Or, Where do I start?

I was feeling that way when I sat down to write this blog post. I knew that I’d had a mental list of topics that I wanted to blog about, but suddenly I couldn’t call up a single one of them.

Then I remembered the strategy that I’d used to help my students get past writer’s block when I was teaching an after-school creative writing class. Some of my seventh- and eighth-graders found it easy to put pen to paper, but several others would consistently struggle with what to write.

A veteran Language Arts teacher had given me a copy of If You Want to Teach Kids How to Write…You’ve Gotta Have This Book! The author, Marjorie Frank, said that the mistake that well-meaning teachers often make is asking kids to sit at their desks and respond to a prompt like, “Write a poem about fall.” They’re puzzled when the kids just sit there.

The missing piece, says Frank, is giving kids the sensory experience of fall. She recommends taking students outside the classroom to smell the crisp autumn air, watch the yellow and red leaves dance on the breeze, and snap fallen branches in their hands.

After I did this with my students, we sat on the grass with a large sheet of butcher paper and a marker, brainstorming fall words. Cool. Crackling. Bare. Damp earth. Afternoon shadows. We jotted them all down. Then we wrote our fall poems, surrounded by nature instead of classroom walls, and not one of us had trouble doing it.

Writing comes more easily once you’ve gathered inspiration. It’s like running hot water over the seal of a tightly closed jar to loosen the lid. Instead of jumping into the work of writing without being properly inspired first, we can actively do something to inspire ourselves, so we have something to say and the desire to say it.

For me, gathering inspiration starts with reading work so good that I wish I’d written it myself, like this:

“Venice seems like a wonderful city in which to die a slow and alcoholic death, or to lose a loved one, or to lose the murder weapon with which the loved one was lost in the first place.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

“Mom had grown up in the desert. She loved the dry, crackling heat, the way the sky at sunset looked like a sheet on fire, and the overwhelming emptiness and severity of all that open land that had once been a huge ocean bed.” – Jeanette Walls, The Glass Castle

“Know your weaknesses. For example, I have what can be described as ‘dead shark eyes.’ But if I try too hard to look alert, I look batshit crazy, like the runaway bride. If a bout of ‘creepy face’ sets in, the trick is to look away from the camera between shots and turn back only when necessary. This also limits how much of your soul the camera can steal.” – Tina Fey, Bossypants, on posing for portraits

I love Liz Gilbert’s playful use of language, Jeanette Walls’ rich imagery, and Tina Fey’s ability to make me laugh out loud in a bookstore with her self-deprecating descriptions (“dead shark eyes” just kills me).

The only thing more motivating than reading a delightful passage by the writers I admire most is reading one that I am proud to have written myself. When I feel blocked, I have to remind myself that I, too, am capable of good writing. I go back to some of the pieces on the blog where I’ve been able to say exactly what I want to, and I say to myself, Look, right here. See? You’ve done it before — you can do it again!

When I’m writing about the Reschool Yourself project, reading my own work also gets me back into the sensory experience of reliving my school days: the lively sounds of children playing at recess, the smell of cooked vegetables in the cafeteria, and the smooth feeling of a tetherball against my fingertips. Once I immerse myself in the vivid details again, I feel energized and ready to put them into words.

My last step is laying the groundwork for Future Melia to avoid writer’s block. When I’ve put myself into a creative mindset, I take a few moments to transfer my long-running mental list of blog post topics into a physical one, and I bullet out a few scenes in the Reschool Yourself book that I want to write. That way, the next time I find myself paralyzed by that blank page, I can look at the bits of inspiration that I’ve already gathered and get fired up write once again.

Leave a comment: How do you gather inspiration to write?

Flickr image by Stanly Zimny

Celebrating Victories and Gratitudes

champagne

When my 17-month-old son unlocks a new achievement, his father and I clap and cheer like mad. Right now he is learning to put things back in order after he untidies them. He has also recently started pointing to his ears, nose, hands, and so on when we ask him to. Each time he does, Darren and I explode in smiles and raucous applause.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we celebrated our own victories with even a small fraction of that enthusiasm?

It’s not like I haven’t had any wins of my own this week. I remembered to order and wrap a baby shower gift in advance of the shower and then show up for it. I had a very productive Sunday that included brunch, errands, and pizza with friends — and managed to keep my son from melting down along the way. I’m approaching another victory right this minute, as I finish my seventh blog post this week for the Your Turn Challenge.

But am I filled with elation and pride at these small but meaningful achievements? Hardly.

They tend to get swept away largely unnoticed — because I just move right on to the next task demanding my attention, or because I don’t allow myself to count them as victories at all. Instead of patting myself on the back for a job well done, I think, OK, what’s next? or That wasn’t so hard. Why didn’t you do it a long time ago?

I hope that all of us who completed the Your Turn Challenge can take a moment to sincerely congratulate ourselves on our collective win. With all of the commitments and distractions in our lives, it’s not easy to post every day, even for just one week. Most nights, I started writing after my son was in bed and finished all of the writing, editing, submitting, and social media sharing just before I went to bed myself. I’m ending the week feeling even more tired than usual. But it was important to prove to myself that I could follow through on this writing commitment and build the momentum I need to finish my book. I’m proud of myself for succeeding.

For a time, I was writing down victories and gratitudes like these in my journal every night before bed. It was a wonderful habit. Even on the toughest days, I could recognize that I’d made progress on a several fronts and was grateful for at least a few things that had happened.

A quick and easy way to share victories and gratitudes is at the dinner table. Last night, after our son had run us ragged and we were eating a late dinner of pasta and red wine, Darren asked me what victories and gratitudes I’d had that day.

I was in such a low-energy state that I was quiet for a few moments while I wracked my brain for examples. “Well,” I said, “We found a pet sitter.” Twirling my pasta on my fork, I thought some more. “We had a nice, long walk in the sun. We also caught up with a lot of our friends at the baby shower.” I smiled through my fatigue. It felt good to end the day recognizing its high notes.

Darren and I sometimes celebrate small successes with a high five, like when we get in and out of the supermarket smoothly, or clear the yard of leaves. When I remember to do it, I’ll pause after a little victory and just sit and smile to myself for a moment. Whatever works for you — a happy dance or a round of applause, for example — you deserve to recognize your wins, every single one of them, no matter how small.

So let’s raise a glass to all of us who have completed the My Turn Challenge this week. Congratulations to us on a job well done. Cheers!

This post is part of the seven-day Your Turn Challenge hosted by Seth Godin’s team. Flickr photo by melkon.

 

Remembering to Take Your Own Advice

Pants

There’s a sketch called “Pants” that I’ve always loved from the early 90s comedy show The State.

A young Michael Ian Black sidles up to a woman in the library and attempts to hit on her. Disgusted, she rejects him on sight.

Ben Garant is reading at a nearby table and says, “Hey buddy, you want some advice? If you want to meet women, you should start wearing pants.” The camera zooms out to show Black wearing tighty whities with his collared shirt and sweater.

Black says, “Pants, eh? Thanks! I’ll try it.” He marches off to the pants store. Through much trial and error, the saleswoman, Kerri Kenney, helps him find his very first pair of pants. He marches back into the library, impresses the woman who had rejected him, and walks out with her on his arm.

Garant watches them leave. He says, “That’s OK for him, but I’m still alone!”

Kenney approaches him and says, “Why don’t you try taking some of your own advice?” The camera zooms out to show Garant wearing skimpy gold bikini briefs.

“I think I will!” he says. He takes Kenney’s arm, and they head off to find him some pants of his own.

I love this sketch because of the random humor that’s a trademark of the comedy troupe behind the show (if you don’t know them from The State, you’ll know them from Reno 911!). I also love it because the line, “Why don’t you try taking some of your own advice?” is, well, great advice.

I’m an empathetic person, and I like to think that I give advice that helps people move forward when they’re having a hard time. Usually, I’ve been there and can share what helped me through it all.

It’s much more difficult, however, to give myself the same compassionate advice when I’m the one having a hard time.

Here’s the kind of conversation that I’ve had with a friend more than once:

Friend: I’m so overwhelmed right now. I feel like I’m failing at everything.

Me: You have a lot on your plate, and you’re doing as much as you can possibly do! Look at all the successes you’ve had lately (names examples). That really doesn’t look like failure to me.  

But when I’m overwhelmed and feel like I’m failing? This is what I think to myself: Why are you such a mess? Get your shit together already. 

It’s like I have a gigantic blind spot to all of my own little victories — and also to the advice that I’m able to share with other people. When I read old entries on this very blog, I’m reminded of the strategies that I’ve used to be kinder to myself, like “Stop ‘Should-ing,'” and I think, “Hey, that’s a great idea. Maybe I’ll try that.” How easily I forget.

Not long ago, shortly after I’d posted about silencing the Thought Bullies, those abusive thoughts came to me in the early morning hours, as they so often do. I remembered the words I’d written, about the advice that I’d give a friend if she was anxious and called me in the middle of the night: Cut yourself some slack. You did the best you could with what you had at the time. 

I said those words silently to myself. I really meant them. And you know what? I calmed down and went back to sleep.

Elizabeth Gilbert writes about having this type of conversation with herself in Eat, Pray, Love. While she’s in Italy, otherwise enjoying its food and language and beauty, her old nemeses Depression and Loneliness track her down there. She begins to panic and reaches for the private notebook that she keeps for emergencies like these:

I open it up. I find the first blank page. I write:
“I need your help.”
Then I wait. After a little while, a response comes, in my own handwriting:
I’m right here. What can I do for you?

She has a dialogue with herself in that notebook, then goes on to say:

I’ve been surprised to find that I can almost always access that voice, too, no matter how black my anguish may be. Even during the worst of suffering, that calm, compassionate, affectionate and indefinitely wise voice (who is maybe me, or maybe not exactly me) is always available for a conversation on paper at any time of day or night.

That night in Italy, she writes this to herself:

I’m here. I love you. I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long, I will stay with you…There’s nothing you can ever do to lose my love. I will protect you until you die, and after your death I will still protect you. I am stronger than Depression and I am braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me.

Finally, she drifts off to sleep holding the notebook that contains her own encouraging words.

All of us carry this “best self” with us all the time. It’s the one that comes out when our dearest friends need our counsel, and it’s the one that we owe it to ourselves to summon when we’re the ones who are struggling. Why should everyone but us benefit from the wisdom that we’re handing out like candy? Let’s try taking some of our own advice, shall we?

The next time I give encouragement to a friend, I’m going to listen carefully to the words that I say to her, and file them away — maybe in my own private notebook — so I can repeat them to myself.

Leave a Comment: What’s some good advice that you’ve given a friend and could benefit from yourself?