Say Yes

My friend Mackenzie took this during my performance. My eyes maybe closed, meh.

My friend Mackenzie took this during my performance. My eyes maybe closed, meh.

Do it, Heather.

No, I can’t.

Why not?

Well, I am sure I have something going on that night.

You can cancel it.

Maybe I should just wait a few months.

Is this how it is going to be? You want to do something but only when the timing is right?

Good point. I pulled out my phone. I will just send the email. If I get it, great. If not, then I know I should wait.

ME: Hi is this spot still open? I would be interested, if so. 

SCOTT: It’s all yours! Thanks so much! More details on the way.

Shit. I guess I am doing this.

Several months earlier I attended a storytelling show called This Much Is True with some new friends. We met through the vast RPCV network but realized that we enjoyed writing and storytelling and found this free show. The show casts several experienced storytellers and occurs every second Tuesday of the month. It’s usually really fun and the stories range from creepy to hilarious to sad to inspiring.

TMIT happens to have a sister show, Story Lab, which is specifically for people who are new to storytelling or would like to give it a try. It’s quite easy to sign up, you just have to attend Story Lab or TMIT and put your name on a list.

That’s all I did, but, because it is so easy, the wait list is long. It would be until at least Spring 2015 before I could get a spot, but I surely would, said Scott, the show organizer, in the monthly emails he sends.

However, someone dropped out of the January show and Scott sent out an email to see if anyone could fill in. It was roughly three weeks till the show, but I sent that email, even without a story in mind.

I said yes because I’ve always wanted to tell stories in front of audiences, because I think I would be good at it. I said yes because I am tired of being the greatest force stopping me. I said yes because I wanted to stop making decisions based on fear.

After I got Scott’s confirmation of me in the cast, I went home and immediately wrote a story and spent the next three weeks rehearsing it to myself in front of the mirror and my roommate’s dog. I thought about phrasing and orientation while running or sitting on the train.

I believe I have some greatest hits when it comes to stories – getting kicked out of two countries in two weeks, the time I almost died – but I forced myself to dig deeper and find a different story**. Even the day before the show, I wondered if I should change my story, if I was trying to make this into something, but I stuck with it because I felt that it was something I needed to tell.

Besides telling the story, a big fear for me was inviting people to the show. I feel like I am sometimes still planting roots in Chicago and I wasn’t sure if I could get anyone to come. I am silly that way. Again, though, I did not want fear to lead the way so I asked almost everyone I knew in the city, and most of them came. The night of the show, a friend remarked that it felt like a wedding because half of the people on one side were there for me and the other half for everyone else. See what I mean about being silly? It turns out that I am actually doing well with the making of friends and I’ve picked really great ones who came out on a winter Tuesday night to hear me tell a story.

Before the show was to begin, Scott asked us to go up to a group of people we don’t know and introduce ourselves while thanking them for attending the show. Gosh, I thought, I am already going up on stage; now I have to go to talk to strangers? This is worse. I told one of my friends about the assignment and he asked me, shortly before the show, if I had done it yet. I said no, that awful feeling burping in my gut.

Just do it, I said. So, I did and it wasn’t nearly as terrible as I had thought it would be.

Then the show started and I was fourth. I tried to pay attention to the other speakers, but I couldn’t help from going back through pieces of my story to make sure I included this or that.

What if my story wasn’t going to hit the mark I had hoped? What if I speak too fast and my gestures revealed my nervousness?

Then, shortly before I was to go up, a rush a confidence came over me. I was going to nail this.

And I did.

The story I chose was perfect and my friends and other members of the audience said it resonated with them. It wasn’t just my story, but all of ours.

The rush of performing a story important to me combined with so many wonderful people at my side gave me such an intensified high. This was a win I needed. Maybe I had found my niche. Maybe I had found a home in Chicago.

Even this morning, when I started to feel down, I thought about going to bed that night, glowing so much that I couldn’t sleep. Nothing came to save me. I saved me. Just by saying yes.

The reason I share this story with all of you is not to boost my own accomplishments but to share one piece of advice. So many times in my life I have said no because of fear. I’ve turned down opportunities or not gone after them because I was afraid I would fail. When I replied to Scott’s email, I had no idea if I could tell a good story live or if anyone would want to hear me do it. The only way to know was by saying yes.

So, sweet ones, say yes. Don’t let fear guide you, and I promise to do the same. We can’t guarantee that we won’t fail, but I promise you that it will always be OK. Say yes and discover what you never thought was possible.

**My story, in case you are wondering, is about the loss of meaning and purpose I felt after Peace Corps and how a young refugee girl in Chicago reminded me that meaning and purpose are found in presence.

 

Dreams

The first time we had this conversation was in a bar in another state seven years ago. His dream was not unusual to others in his profession but it was specific. A year earlier in my life, I would have said that I wanted the same thing. It was on that my dream chase that I met him, however, my dream had changed. I couldn’t tell him specifically what I wanted, but shortly after, I took another path towards something different.

The turn opened up another dream and I chased it so severely that not homesickness, not failure, not Al Qaeda could stop me. The end came, and I achieved my dream.

Achieving your dreams should feel incredible, and it does, but then you realize that it was never about the end but about the journey. That’s over now. Dreamless is an incredibly lonely state.

I took one path, then another, unsure of the final destination. In search of a new dream, I was brought to the same moment with this man from seven years ago. Again in a bar, we talked about where our lives had gone and where they were going. His end goal was still the same, and I still didn’t know what I wanted.

My mentee’s homework assignment was to read two paragraphs of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech.

We took turns reading through the captivating language and inspiring message. I thought of the man who wanted to find a woman to watch King’s speeches over and over, “as if they were our favorite music” and how much I had wanted to be her at the time. Phrases, such as, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” and “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that – Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that,” ran shivers up my spine. And, like every year, I wished King’s words would be in my life daily, but I never make that attempt.

King was likely not alone in his dream for our country, but he was the one who had courage to find it. He was the one who was brave enough to believe that it could be accomplished and it could be accomplished in the light, with love. He dedicated, and lost, his life to this dream.

As we read through it, I couldn’t help but think about how, 50 years later, we need a King. Our country needs a courageous person to show us to believe in love and the light, to work for equality through peace. 2014 proved that we are nowhere near King’s vision, but I have to hope that if he was still alive he would not doubt that the dream is still possible. I have to hope that because this world is sad enough.

What can I do, I wondered as I read this speech with a young woman, raised in refugee camps, whose life I will never truly understand.

The problems of the world, from the streets of Ferguson to the villages of Nigeria, are too big for me. I am not brave and courageous like King, but I am capable of light and love. I can start there.

It was a good day for brunch.

The sun was bright and high, lighting up our table next to the window. I had run before the meal, so my stomach was good and ready for eggs and potatoes. While I waited for my friend, I read from the New Yorker and sipped coffee. When she came, we ordered cocktails, slowly sipping them as we inspected pieces of our lives.

This life, I said, was the one I’ve always wanted.

I asked her about goals and intentions, about the next phase of life, and she didn’t know. I nodded, because “I don’t know” plagues me every day. She said she is not worried that she doesn’t have an aspiration, but sad. If only she knew what to search for, she would be on that path.

Her unknown was my reassurance, at least I wasn’t alone.

I am unsure about my new dream. Do I really not know or am I afraid to admit it? Can I be brave and fight through all the challenges?

The greatest dreamers, King included, show us that we are capable of dreaming and pursing those dreams, not matter how unattainable. The greatest thing we can do though, whether we know the ultimate dream, is to shine light on all things. Wherever we are going, whatever we are meant to do, the path of love is the only true way to get there.

Mistakes

When I was in pre-service training for Peace Corps (the first time), I made specific personal development goals for my two years in Niger, an emotional checklist. I wanted to run more than I ever had, read all the books I didn’t have time to in the U.S. and rebuild my spiritual life. I also wanted a new outlook on failing.

Throughout PST, I really struggled with learning French and I felt so behind in exploring the culture and building relationships because of my poor language skills, all of this on top of being in a foreign place and having to relearn basic chores, such as bathing and washing clothes. I did not regret my decision to go to Niger, but I was ashamed that I was so bad at it.

One day, while discussing an upcoming language test with another volunteer, she mentioned that she strived to be better at failing. Before that moment, I had run from, haphazardly fixed and awkwardly avoided failure. In this role, though, I would have to embrace it.

And, as a foreigner living in an unknown place, one fails. A lot. I repeatedly failed in Niger and then in Lesotho.

Then I came back to the U.S., and I was fragile again. I refused to let myself believe that I could make mistakes and that I should. Every small decision came down to making the best one. Do I take the job in D.C. or Seattle? Should I live alone or with a roommate? Should I eat a salad or a burrito? Should I stay in or go out? Should I take the bus or the train? These questions, both big and small, tortured me because I needed to find my purpose again, my destined path. All those ideas of failing gracefully were gone, because this wasn’t two years in Africa. This was my forever life, and I didn’t trust my internal compass.

One morning this week, I woke up to a flipping stomach. I knew I would have to make a decision about something – and honestly, not a big or life-defining one – but I didn’t want to, and I didn’t want to admit the reason why this decision was torturing me. When it was time to say yes or no, I went with my gut, which was definitely based off of fear and that made me feel guilty. The ‘should’ haunted me and I agonized about it all evening.

When I called my mother about it, she was empathetic and gave me room to talk out all sides of the situation. She understood why I wanted to say yes and why I wanted to say no, but she also reminded me that this is just one little thing, that it doesn’t determine my life or who or what will come into it. I can see the feelings I have and use them to make a more informed decision next time, she told me.

Later in the day, someone posted this video:


And I remember this video that someone shared with me when I was deciding on what job in what city to take:


Failure and making mistakes are not our enemies. They are lessons. They are guideposts. They are exactly what we need.

When I was in the Peace Corps, I knew that I was going to fail and that allowed me to do so vulnerably and without shame and guilt. My life is not defined but what I do or where I live or whom I spend time with but by the grace that I chose to live my life each day. That includes making mistakes, which I do because I am human.

I am sometimes not a good friend. I make errors at work. I am sometimes a pill and not fun to be around. I date the wrong men and lived in the wrong places. But, I am never lost. All of those things are a part of my grand path, which is full of love and joy, and as long as I live fully and compassionately I will know when to make changes and move in different directions. There are no mistakes, just living.

So, let’s mistakes. Let’s celebrate them because they will always guide us to where we want to be, if we allow them.

An introduction

Cheryl

Hi, friends,

So, I sort of sprung a new blog on you all without an introduction. And then I got all emotional with the feelings and what not. Well, I suppose that is the introduction.

Unlike ‘a story’, this blog will have a more fluid theme. While it’s about me, I want to use this space to discuss big themes in life, specifically within the realm of self-discovering and spirituality. Since the turn of the year, I’ve come to understand the work I need to do in my life to find joy, meaning and love. I want you all to come along as I dig deep.

There isn’t quite a map to figure out one’s self. There isn’t a ‘how to’ YouTube or an infographic on Pinterest. It’s sort of a “head out into the woods and see what you come across” kind of thing.

So, here I go, into the woods. I plan to incorporate a lot of prayer and meditation, running and yoga, good books by good authors, uplifting sayings on Pinterest and more time with the ones I love and less with those that bring about toxicity,

This blog will be the record I keep and I hope you choose to come along with me.

Your turn, what are you hoping to improve in the New Year? It could be anything. I’d love to hear your goals and plans. Leave a comment below.

Stillness

Be still. Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity – Lao Tzu

There was a seat between all of us in the circle.

Her. Seat. Her. Seat. Him. Seat. Me.

The First Her was telling the Second Her that she should treat Chicago as if she was brand new and to rediscover it as if she had just moved here. Yes, the Second Her said, that’s a good idea.

Him them inquired about the situation and the Second Her explained that, while she was from Chicago, she recently returned to the U.S. after four years spent in South Korea. She’s been home, what seven months, she said, burring her head in her hands.

Seven months of pent up emotions started to spill. She had me at, “I am not sure who I am anymore. I am not the person I was before, but I am not the same person I was there. I don’t know who I am.”

Yes, I said. I know, I said. I’ve been there, I said. I told her that it feels like someone yanked the meaning and purpose out of you and all you’re left with is your nearly bearable loneliness.

I met the Second Her at the weekly meditation group I’ve been attending for a few months. We both came to the group to find something we just weren’t finding in our normal lives – companionship, inner peace, something we can’t describe but know we need. She told me how hard it’s been for her to re-transition back into life in the U.S. and I told her that I just came from a very brutal year where I was doing that very thing. I explained that while I still have hard times, which I do, hitting that year mark definitely made a difference. With time, normalcy comes.

This rejuvenated her. She hasn’t met anyone who experienced this before, so she was elated to find someone who could say, Oh, yes, I know those emotions well. She gave me a bit more credit than I deserve in my ability to bounce back, but I wanted her to know that it does get it better. And I shared something with her that a wonderful woman named Madeline told me: you will never stop processing what this means and your story will continue to have chapters throughout your life.

But, at some point you have to be still. I told her that I constantly want to run away, that I want to get on a plane and go somewhere for my next adventure. I don’t, though. First, I’ve already broken my mother’s heart enough. Second, I need to be still. I need to accept the things that come into my life, what’s here and what’s not. I want to be comfortable in just being because I know it’s what my soul needs. Joy doesn’t come from escaping; it’s in us and we must cultivate it.

It’s what Second Her needs, too.

Sometimes taking that great big leap into fear and uncertainty means staying right where you are, accepting the still and believing it has all that you need.

Let it go

moon

There is a full moon this evening.

To honor such a blessing, I did this moon salutations yoga, allowing myself to end this cycle and welcome the new. A full moon is the time to let go of the things that no longer serve us, whether it takes just one cycle or many. Through these poses, the instructor encourages us to address what troubles our heart and then simply let it pass through us, leaving us.

Let it go.

Those are words I’ve heard a lot recently from friends and family. Let it go, they tell me warmly as I explain the situation. Move on. Their intentions are sweet and honest, but I feel as if they are asking me to do the impossible.

I do not let go. Instead, I fester and analyze. I take a troubling situation, both small and large, and look over the details. Replay every conversation. Wander and speculate where things unraveled. I tried to find answers when there are none to be found. In doing so, I cause myself so much heartache. I take small things and make them travesties.

Letting go means having courage to embrace the vulnerability of uncertainty.

Tonight, as I let my legs and arms fall into these poses, I thought about all the things I need to let go of – people, habits, worries, limiting beliefs – and I realized that to leave these things behind doesn’t have to be so hard but I can’t expect it to be easy either. All of these things have been put in front of me for one reason or another, but they weren’t meant to stay in my life. It’s time to let go.

And when I dig deep, when I really look at who I am, when I send gratitude to all of these things, I know that I do have that courage. I can be vulnerable. I can let go.

Whatever weighs on your heart tonight, my dear ones, know that you have the courage to let go. You have the strength to find be so much more.

 

The first one

Hello, friends.

I am back at the blog thing. You didn’t really think I would stay away, did you? You are cute. Truth is, I really enjoy this public journal and have found that I feel less me if I am not blogging.

Plus, I couldn’t not write a New Year’s post. Those are my jam. To mark the beginning of this blog, let’s talk about beginnings.

2014 was a weird and hard year for me and I really don’t care to discuss it anymore. I started writing a post about how I often feel like a victim in my own life and I refuse to live like that another year. While that’s true and I do have that intention, that’s not the message I want to put forth here, on this fresh canvas of a blog.

We have a new year. We have a new opportunity. We have the choice to take control of our lives and make them all that we want them to be. Yes, there will be sacrifices. Yes, there will be obstacles. But my goodness, we have a blank slate so why not make this our year?

So, my little readers, let’s make some pacts about these next 365 days to show that we are committed to really making this our year.

Let us not compare ourselves to others. We all are different with our own sets of challenges and successes. Let’s embrace that with love.

Let’s stay in the moment. The past will not change and our future is determined by what we do in the present. Be here now.

Allow the ones who walk out of our life to go and to hug each person that is still around. Reach out to old friends and find ways to make new ones. Our life is a constant flux of people and only a few will actually stay, so love them in the moment and graciously accept their departure.

Be thankful. All of us have so, so much in this world and we have exactly what we need when we need it. That’s a incredible gift, so say thank you.

Respect yourself. Eat the foods that make you feel human and move your body the way that it is meant to. Rest when you need it and honor your drive to create something. Grab your hand as if it was the hand of a lover’s and show yourself some compassion.

Find your fear and embrace it.

When life becomes too much, breathe.

 

Spend less time in front of a screen and more time with faces.

Screw up and be OK with it. Then do it again.

Whatever it is that makes you happy, hold on to it.

Be authentic. The world doesn’t want anyone but you.

To 2015.