Monday, December 31, 2012

why not?

Y'all, how in the WORLD is it almost 2013? It seems like it was last week that I was sitting down to write about what I'd learned in 2010. It seems I skipped entirely over 2011. It was a weird year.

2012, on the other hand, was a life-changing year, and not just because I got another 365 days closer to being 30. I think I'll be looking back at this year for a long time knowing it was the start of something. Or the start of a lot of somethings.

The change actually started last November when I took an enormous leap of faith and quit my job of three and a half years. Unemployment rates were through the roof, and I didn't have anything else lined up or any other income to fall back on except the small (like, VERY small.) stipend my husband made as a student. Some would - and very likely, did - think I was a little insane. It was the scariest thing I've ever done. But it was the beginning of a change in me.

Until the point at which my husband sat me down and begged me to quit my job, claiming he would rather live in a cardboard box than see me doing something I hated, I carried a lot of obligation. I felt a tremendous weight to provide for us while he finished his degree. I was the breadwinner, and I wanted to win us some bread, dammit, even if it killed me. And as it turned out, that's exactly what it was doing. I didn't feel free. I felt tethered to a heavy weight that allowed me no time or head space to pursue what I really loved: writing, photography, design. And it most certainly took its toll. I became a dull, exhausted lump. My husband can attest.

When I made the decision to quit - and by I, I actually mean he, because I was petrified by fear - I felt an odd and incredible peace. And after walking out the door for the last time, I felt on the verge of something great. I couldn't find full-time work, so for two and a half months, I wrote. And got paid for it. I started a business, called MDCreative, and made up nearly half the income we'd lost. My weeks were full, but the time was mine.

These two and a half months of freedom were enough for me to dub 2012 as 'The Year of Why Not?' I vowed to kill the urge in me to almost always question things and decline opportunities to try something new. I was afraid, but I didn't want to be anymore.

The Year of Why Not? has been good to me. We started saying yes to things big and small.

This year, I stared down my heart condition and then kicked it in the shins and took its lunch money. We've hiked, kayaked and rock climbed. In Kauai, we completed half of one of the most difficult trails in the US. There were times I wasn't sure I would make it (as in, I might die), but I finished. If we get back to the island in 5 years like we plan, we will be completing the whole thing.

For a long time, I've allowed my heart to hold me back. I get self-conscious at how winded I am walking up a flight of stairs, much less by the wheezing and light-headedness that happens on a long hike. I hate (HATE.) being the weakest in the group, so before The Year of Why Not?, I shied away from situations in which that might be the case. But I'm done. This is the body I've been given, and I am surrounded by people who love me and are certainly not judging my athletic prowess. I'm learning to not have to be the best, but to just show up and do my best. Up next? A 3-day trek in West Texas with the North Texas Outdoor Pursuit Center in the spring. I'm terrified. But I'm doing it anyway. Why not?

This year, we said why not? when our neighbor invited us to watch him perform in an amateur/semi-pro/pro/whatever-it-was-awesome wrestling match. And we had a BLAST! How sad it would have been to have missed that - and a sweet new friendship with our neighbors - because it was out of our comfort zone.

This year, we danced in public. Several times. I have a pretty serious phobia of looking like a fool in front of strangers and friends and anyone, really, so dancing was never on my list of Things I Enjoy Doing Without an Inappropriate Amount of Alcohol. Now we're signing ourselves up for lessons so we can dance in public more often, because you know what? It's fun. And a dumb thing to be afraid of. Why not?

This year, I took ukulele lessons from a fat Hawaiian man. It was not part of the plan (or budget), but when someone asked our group if anyone wanted to learn to play, I looked up to see my arm waving in the air. My immediate response was, why not? I've learned several songs and hope to be able to call myself a ukulele player by the end of 2013.

This year, we bought a camera that will let me start pursuing my photography. I can't wait to see the stories I can tell and the faces I'll see on the other side of the lens. I hesitate to call myself a photographer, but why not? I can be a photographer if I dang well please.

This year, I took a job that was never in my expected career path. I was terrified to take it because it was a step back from pursuing my dream job. I worried I might look up in 5, 10 or 20 years and realize I never pursued my passion. But I took the job anyway, because no title or task list can tell me what my dreams are or how I will chase them. Choosing something that fits where we are today doesn't mean I've failed. It means I'm taking care of my family. I still feel freedom to dream, and can see this career detour as the huge blessing that it's been. Why not pursue what's best for today?

This year, we started making some pretty ridiculous and exciting plans for the future - our biggest why not? so far. I won't be sharing those plans here yet because it's not the time and will take a while to work out, but I'm not sure I've ever been so excited. Stay tuned in the next year or two for more on this. Note: We're not pregnant. That's not the thing.

I feel like I should say here that I don't advocate for making rash decisions, especially big ones. There is a time and place for being calculated. But this year has shown me the freedom and bliss that comes with not over-thinking. I bums me out to think about the number of experiences and opportunities I've missed out on because I was too afraid to say yes. My year may not sound that life-changing to you, but for me, it was. I'm doing my best to make Yes! my first instinct, not my last, and it has been liberating and exhilarating.

The Year of Why Not? has been so good to me, I've decided to extend it to 2013. Because, WHY NOT?

What changed your life in 2012? Would you consider making 2013 your Year of Why Not? Try not to think too hard about it...

Saturday, December 22, 2012

love wins

How are you guys doing on your #26Acts? I'm seriously itching to know. Please do come back and share your stories. It's not about bragging or feeling good about yourself. It's about encouraging and inspiring other people to join in. I have heard some incredible stories about people all over the country (and world) spreading this pay-it-forward idea like wildfire. I've put a few links below to the news coverage that has blown me away. I love that this wave of kindness is starting to overshadow the hate and bickering. Love does win, you guys.

In case you're having a hard time thinking of ways you can participate, I've made a list of inspiration. Most of these come from the stories I've heard about what other people have already done. You don't have to be a certain kind of person to do this. You just have to be willing to go out of your way. Do it! I'm on Act #6 today and having so much fun!

1. Buy lunch/coffee/whatever for the person behind you in line. Ask them to do the same for someone else.

2. Think about how cold it is outside, and imagine what that might be like for someone without a home. Buy a few $5 gift cards to Starbucks or a local coffee shop. Then, hit the streets and hand them out to people you see.

3. Go through your closets and give away anything you haven't worn in the last 12 months. Be brutal. If you want a more personal interaction, take one of your extra coats and give it to the first homeless person you see on the street. Look them in the eye and wish them a Merry Christmas. Make sure they know where the nearest shelter and food pantry are located before you leave. Drive them to it if you think it's wise.

4. Ask your local school if they know of children that don't have proper winter coats. Buy some new ones and deliver them to the school.

5. Volunteer an afternoon at a soup kitchen or shelter. Bring your kids!

6. Write 26 letters to active military and/or veterans.

7. Deliver homemade treats to your neighbors. Stay and chat with each one. I can attest that this can be the beginning of sweet friendships.

8. Visit your local VA and deliver Christmas cards with a note and a gift card to wounded veterans.

9. Deliver toys and treats to a shelter housing children and families.

10. Bring a warm drink to the person ringing the Salvation Army bell outside the store in which you were just shopping.

11. Ask for the tab of the table(s) near you at a restaurant. Have the waiter/waitress put a note in their billfold explaining #26Acts and asking them to pay it forward.

12. Drop off 26 cans/bags of food to your local food bank.

13. Purchase gas gift cards and put them on windshields of cars in your parking lot with a note.

14. Ask your pastor about families in the church struggling to make ends meet. Find out how you can help. Then, do it.

15. Coordinate with your local retirement/assisted living home and bring meals/gifts to home-bound seniors. Stay and talk with them a while.

16. Coordinate with your local children's hospital to bring gift cards to patients and their families.

17. Ask your church or school if there are any exchange or international students without family for the holidays. Invite them to spend it with yours.

18. Call a restaurant in Newtown and pay for the next 5 pizzas/meals/drinks ordered.

19. Give your waiter/waitress/valet/massage therapist/doorman a HUGE tip and thank them for what they do.

20. Write your child's principal/teacher a note thanking them for investing in kids.

21. Deliver a meal to a family or friend who's sick.

22. Ask someone at the gas station if you can buy their gas and pump it for them.

23. Pay for the groceries of someone in front of or behind you in line.

24. As you fly for the holidays, find uniformed soldiers and buy them a beer or a meal. At the least, look them in the eye and shake their hand.

25. Deliver cookies to your local fire/police department. Thank them for keeping us safe.

26. Write 26 encouraging notes and put them on car windshields.

I could seriously go on and on and on, you guys. There are SO MANY ways you can join in. Just start with one! Please come back here and share more ideas and how you're doing your #26Acts.

#26Acts Coverage:
Newtown receives an outpouring of healing gifts

One Cosmo Staffer's Sweet Surprise

'If you do good, you feel good'

Ann Curry's #26acts movement gains momentum

Monday, December 17, 2012

26 acts

Last week, I sat at my desk crying for 26 people I don't know and begging mercy upon the families and friends who felt their loss so much deeper than I could. There's no explaining the why or how. There's no understanding this horrifying thing. There's only grief. And then, hope.

But the latter doesn't come so easily.

It's not difficult to lose hope in the world and the people in it. We are bombarded with stories every day showing the blackness of our hearts and the brokenness of our minds. We are callous and flawed. We hurt each other and care little for those around us. We are surrounded by an overwhelming amount of darkness and pain.

But there is also goodness and hope. What if we chose to see that too? What if we chose to BE that good, and that hope?

Yesterday, Ann Curry, one of my favorite journalists, posted the following on her Twitter account:

This was later amended to be #26Acts, to honor the adults who were killed as well. I have been following Ann's Twitter feed all day as she shares the hundreds of stories of people taking hope into their own hands. Below are just a few of them:

This gives me hope. There is generosity and selflessness in us. It's a shame that it often takes tragedy for it to be awakened, but it is alive and well.

My challenge to you (and me) is to look around you and see opportunity, not darkness. We are all looking for hope. You could be that hope for someone. Your actions could be the reminder that they are not alone; that we will take care of each other; that there is goodness and joy in the mourning. These simple acts don't require much of us. Some won't require anything but a smile and a sincere, 'How are you doing?' ... and then waiting for the answer.

It cost me $4 to buy lunch for the woman behind me in line today. And it cost me nothing to smile at a homeless woman and wish her a merry Christmas after hundreds have filed past her without acknowledgment. The cost is minimal, but you never know what it will mean for the person you share a bit of hope with.

Would you walk out your door today, tomorrow, this week - as long as you can! - and simply share one act of kindness? When you do, PLEASE come back and tell your story of hope in the comments here. 

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. (Romans 12:12)

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