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Choose Inspired

As I was doing some end-of-the-year, sick-on-the-couch organization I came across this poor, neglected blog. I created this little space almost two years ago because I missed writing for a non-academic audience. In my first year I wrote six times (success!). Last year, I wrote twice (sigh). I considered canceling the website altogether, feeling a little defeated in my attempt to blog more. Being a woman with a moderate fear of giving up, I resolved to slink out of bed at midnight and open my laptop.

Funny thing about those moments where we can either give up and move on or accept what is and keep going, they start to define us. If there's one lesson I learned this year, it's that identifying what one wants and then resolving to never, ever, ever give up is symbiotically heartbreaking and heartwarming. This also means we are forced into the uncomfortable task of identifying the pieces of life that no longer have a place with us and then letting go of those people, activities, etc. It's a simple idea but a truly difficult skill to master. It almost makes too much sense. "Just go for what you want and toss out what you don't?". Well, yes. Unless, of course, you have the time and energy to spend a healthy chunk of your day going about less satisfying business.

Choose Happy.

I loathe the name of this blog already. And yet there it sits. I don't quite feel the need to craft a more creative, witty title (the perils of bouncing out of bed to write at midnight with a full day ahead). But, to be fair, that's what this piece is about. Warning: this is not an Eat-Glitter-For-Breakfast-And-Shine type of article, though hopefully it imparts that vibe (and if you've already eaten glitter for breakfast, get out there and do the damn thing).

I've accepted that 2017 wasn't my year of masterful blog-writing; it was a crazy, moving-parts, "richly-packed" kind of year (see "Why I'm Never Busy" for why I've strayed from the "b" word). This wasn't entirely by accident- I vowed to disconnect and then reconnect with purpose. The recalibration was exciting for me. I somewhat harshly dropped things that weren't serving me and tried my best to stick to what fulfilled me. Relationships became a priority, then travel, then my career. I've learned and grown from each of those phases.

All that time and experience is documented, in my preferred pen-and-paper style, far away from the internet. That's a comforting fact for me, as 2017 threw some breath-taking curveballs (mostly of my own making) impossible to articulate into pithy, entertaining writing. More of a hilarious, inspiring, gut-checking, keep-your-head-above-water situation if you ask me. Had I been less paralyzed by the thought of spending more time on my laptop than I already had to while finishing wedding planning, taking classes, booking travel and starting my business, poor readers (that's you) would've gotten a face full of my all-too-honest account of uncomfortable lessons, unimaginable rollercoasters and the best experiences I ever could've hoped would shape me. Life is lighter now... ish.

For as long as I can remember, I've loved being inspired. It's one of the best feelings a human can have- that we can do anything. You know the feeling. Even when you know you're borderline delusional, you ignore all sense of reality because it feels so darn good. I have a particular affinity for morning dance parties to hop hop while I conjure up my best top-of-the-world attitude for the day- a truly Molly Ringwald, 1980's-esque affair. I suppose inspiration has a way of removing all those inner voices, most of which don't belong to us. Or it's the music.

Embarrassingly, I always wished I would be a certain type of inspiring. This was long before I realized that inspiration is in the eye of the beholder (er, reader), and writing for the soul purpose of inspiring others is as futile as the forced fun of an awkward co-worker happy hour. It's the authenticity of the writer's story married with the desires of the reader that creates those "ah-ha", game changing moments. After spending most of my twenties (and maybe a few of my thirties) longing to one day match the inspirational quality of countless writers/travelers/career mavens, I realized that these individuals weren't writing to be inspiring, they were simply a contagious kind of inspired themselves. This became my quest of sorts. What makes the inspiring... inspired?

Being a behaviorist I felt like I had a leg up on this answer. Or at least, in my search for the answer. I did my behavior analyst duty and studied observable behaviors of those whom I felt portrayed the je ne sais quoi of inspiration (before every behavior analyst reading this has a panic attack, relax- pretend lame operational definitions are acceptable). As I spent more time with these individuals, still (hopefully) unaware of my keen interest in their IQ (inspiration quotients, naturally), I felt grateful. I was getting free lessons on how to live, simply by being present with people I admired. These people had several qualities in common:

1) They somehow simultaneously possessed emboldened passion and a truly grounded, calm demeanor. Rebels with a cause, if you will.

2) They spent little time focused on what others thought (at least it appeared that way) and, while supremely respectful of others, were gracefully unflappable in their defense of their own choices and ideas. Dreamers and without limitations.

3) They were curious, Olympic-level listeners and asked me thoughtful questions about the things I was interested in, regardless of how silly and precocious I might have sounded. Bonus: they chimed in and gave helpful advice if they could.

In a nutshell, the people I deemed inspiring were sincerely satisfied, value-aligned collaborators and had crafted a life of humility, grace and lifelong learning. Inspiring indeed.

Through my rose-colored, go-getter glasses I saw a desirable horizon that differed from the certain futures of my friends and I, stuck in cubicles and imbibing more on the weekends than we did in college. We were all a little confused and disenchanted with Real Adult Life, a sight too soon and too sad for our early 20s. Ever the optimist and with mental pen and paper in hand, I spent a few moments crafting an Inspiring Life. Though I wasn't entirely naive in my twenties (I lived in a cityAlone! And I was in graduate school, after all), my thought that one might approach cultivating a whole and truly satisfying life in the same manner one might buy a sweater online is embarrassing to look back on. But this unencumbered, life-is-in-the-palm-of-my-hands, 20-something blunder proved to be one of my greatest lessons (prior to 35, as I've been alive long enough to realize I actually know very little about anything at all). Spoiler alert: You actually already know the answer, you're just not doing anything about it.

Yes, the answer is "choose happy". Or, maybe a better phrase for this article, "choose inspired".

And no, I am not still the 26 year-old who dreamed I could cultivate happiness and satisfaction like one cultivates abs on a 10-day juice cleanse (okay, maybe an ab).

And yes, I realize the level of over-simplicity in my "choose happy/inspired" statement. Bear with me.

Consider this: How many feel-good articles have you stopped to read in the last week? I hope at least a few, because they're everywhere. We share them almost as much as we share negative, depressing news (which isn't entirely our fault, most 2017 news just happened to be a daily nightmare of jaw-dropping shock and confusion). Stories about adults dressing up like superheroes to fulfill the dreams of sick children, adorable videos of Great Danes snuggling kittens, young people whose lives ended too soon who selflessly authored end-of-life letters about What's Really Important. You know the ones. I've personally read several studies, already knowing the outcome, about what the elderly have to say about life (now that they fully feel how limited their time is) just because I wanted to reaffirm that their inspired advice on How To Live was supportive of my financially-irresponsible traveling ("but all the old people say they wished they traveled more!"). Books on happiness, fulfillment and inspiration combined have become a gazillion dollar industry (I haven't yet confirmed that number but I imagine it's a conservative ballpark). You've read some of these books or articles, or watched feel-good videos and cried, or read letters from young people in their last days of life... and you don't do it because you want to know how to live or how to be happy. You want permission.

We want permission to cut out of work early, because studies show that most people wished they worked less or saw more of their family.

We want permission to leave an unfulfilling job in pursuit of what we already know we should be doing, because there are no books on how staying miserable and unfulfilled supports your health and wellbeing.

We want permission to be silly and carefree, because who doesn't love a full-grown adult dressed as Bat Man convincing a child with cancer he's helping to save his city? (This grown ass man-as-superhero deal, I've noticed, has caught on and I couldn't be happier about it. Come on... Bat Dad!? Brilliant.)

We want permission to put down our smartphones and be present, because between forgetting where we put our keys, missing important pieces of meetings and really missing actual conversations with our partner, we're honestly just sick of being distracted (and now we feel terrifyingly awkward without our phones, too).

We seek out "the feelies" (high-level technical term) and inspiration because our brains are literally wired to seek out information to confirm and validate our own opinions (just ask Fox News). In effect, we actually are what we listen to. Good news for anyone currently multitasking by reading this article, watching Bat Dad clips and YouTubing the latest animal videos. So why not commit to that direction and create something that can actually sustain this happiness and inspiration you're seeking multiple times a day?

Let me be clear, this story is less about unhappiness and more about looking above and beyond where we are in order to evolve in our lives. In order to sit next to the person we find inspiring with an inspiring story of our own. We all want to evolve (I truly believe this) and we are skilled at engaging in behavior that gives the impression we're doing so. But riding the coattails of inspired and growth-minded individuals is not sustainable unless we choose to move forward. We buy new clothes, date people we aren't interested in, start hobbies, stop hobbies, throw stuff out, buy more stuff, scroll through our phones and otherwise waste time on the very things insightful, soul-bearing individuals teach us are not worthy behaviors, in the end. Why do we love these uplifting stories, give them our attention to feel something close to inspired, then abandon the crucial knowledge they provide?

Because it's really easy to.

It's effortless to avoid risk, to tell yourself "But that person isn't like me", to create barriers and otherwise barricade ourselves into a place where Their Story could never be Our Story. Humans are amazing (and frustrating) like that. To be fair, the truth can be quite scary. What happens when we admit that we're standing in the way of our own "inspiredness"? Just us, the only thing that stands between Where/Who One Is and Where/Who One Wants To Be. How scary is that? Wouldn't it be easier to place blame on our work schedule or families or whatever else sounds believable/convenient/ doesn't involve changing our cyclic, counterproductive habits? Interestingly, this brings me back to my pseudo study. The people I found inspiring:

Just Go For It.

Over and over again, in the direction they know is right for them. Not without blunders and setbacks and struggles of their own, but they go quite happily and on their own terms. If they're all going to make mistakes, incur challenges and have to work hard at anything worth having- these inspired people realize- they would do well to create a life aligned to their values and own individual purpose. And they do it with conviction.

It's painfully, happily, confusingly simple.

Yvon Chouinard, owner of Patagonia and ever the purist, sums it up:

"If I get an idea, I immediately take a step forward and see how that feels. And if it feels good, I take another step; it feels bad, I step back. You know, it's different than people with a scientific view where they think everything out to the nth degree before they make a move. So I learn by just doing."

Regarding The Inspired, there seems to be an all out war on standing behind walls of their own making or giving up because everyone isn't 100% behind them holding pom poms. Their calm demeanor is actually the result of fighting through barriers and coming out the other side, not only knowing What Is Really Important but, having risked some pain and bruising, they're living according to those tried and true, see-them-in-every-story values. Makes me wonder if they're still into adorable cat memes.

I think about those individuals who unknowingly helped me find my way down a road less traveled in search of a particular brand of joie de vivre (I honestly didn't see this much French coming- maisc'est la vie). I may never understand their all-knowing, calm and centered satisfaction (because, Italian East Coaster), but I now know the exhilarating feeling of reaching for it and occasionally, momentarily, holding it in the palm of my hand. I understand their demeanor not as an innate, Zen-like state but as something one receives after lasting through a series of growing pains and life bruises incurred by choosing to follow the compass that drives them directly into the life they deeply, experientially understand they should be living (I know the entrepreneurs feel me). It's a half-tired, half-inspired look.

It makes me hopeful that, after practicing a steady combination of resiliency, stubborn determination and a healthy dose of delusion, someone is standing at the finish line with my Official Medal of Inspiration. And even as I fantasize about my future medal, manifested as the perfect career (my current point of focused inspiration), I get it. With a little meditation, a lot of self-awareness and learning some humility, I know it's what happens in the days that go by- those little moments with family, fighting to create what you know needs creating, or learning something new and interesting- that inspires the inspired. The finish line and medal disappears, but you love running the race every day. That's inspired.

To end my post as offendingly cheesy and simple as it started: go back and read the feel-good articles, watch documentaries on happiness, watch kittens hug penguins... notice how everything and everyone comes back to a few basic similarities. I won't spoil it for you. Then go do those things unapologetically, head held high, in the name of being a more inspired parent, spouse, employee or individual. Whatever your reason is, it's a good one. No shame in the "choose inspired" game.

This attempt to articulate the subtle thrill of "living inspired" is a thinly-veiled shoutout to all the incredible entrepreneurs with whom I've met, shared ideas and started projects over the past 8 months- thank you for keeping me inspired, your energy and passion holds no bounds.