Letters to myself: a journey of self-exploration

Waiting for the perfect moment is often a waste of time

Some would even call it another form of procrastination because, well, it is. One of the most painful self-reflections I’ve imposed is realizing all the things I didn’t do because the time just wasn’t right.

There were jobs I didn’t go after because I felt I wasn’t ready. Maybe I wasn’t as prepared as I could have been, but looking back, I understand it was just an excuse. In my twenties, there were men I wouldn’t speak to because I didn’t feel ready for any kind of relationship, as if every man would immediately fall into one with me. When I first started writing, I didn’t allow others to read what I’d written because I wasn’t ready for their critiques. Keeping talents to yourself is no talent at all.

So what was it all about? I was scared. I was afraid of rejection, of getting hurt, of finding out I was no good. Rather than expose myself, I claimed it was never the right time. There was a perfect moment, and THIS wasn’t it. I was only going to put myself out there when I was certain of success. And guess what? That moment never came.

Losing out on jobs, relationships and careers because of fear is a crime, punishable by days, weeks, months and years that you can never get back.

In Dr. Seuss’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go! he speaks of “The Waiting Place”. It’s obvious the characters on those pages are wasting time, waiting “around for a Yes or No”, or “their hair to grow”, or for “wind to fly a kite”, or “a pot to boil, or a Better Break.” Seuss makes it clear that the reader won’t be that person. The reader will rise above and move forward, embracing the unknown, taking chances, trying things because there’s no other way to live.

The first time I read the book, I cried. It was obvious to me I wasn’t living the best life I could live because I’d been waiting so long for the perfect moment that never came. Through self-exploration, some therapy and plenty of joy and pain, I’ve managed to overcome this issue, to a degree. I remind myself that life goes on whether we take part or not. No matter the excuse, the moment is here… and then it’s gone. Whether it’s perfect is not the issue. Whether I seize it or waste it is.

– Althea

Letters to myself: Is Gossiping Healthy?

At my daughters’ school, it’s called the carpool mafia. It’s where rumors are born and trouble begins.

“I heard the meeting didn’t go well last night. Was the 5th grade teacher drunk?”

“Susan’s mom went out on a date with Tracy’s ex. Can you believe that?”

“Did you hear William got suspended? Do his parents even know he’s a bad kid?”

I used to be a magnet for gossip at the school, for no other reason than I had three kids there and knew just about everybody. After getting caught in the middle of too many icky situations, and feeling two-faced with more than one friend, I put up an imaginary shield that said tell someone else.

I wish I could say that made me a virtuous person and I no longer engage in criticizing others behind their back, but I can’t. It’s almost as if women are inherently drawn to gossip when given the opportunity to sit together and talk, with no other purpose than to “catch up.” Somewhere in the discussion, opinions are given about people not in attendance, who can’t defend their perceived shortcomings.

A basic psychology class teaches us that we gossip in order to make ourselves look better. By tearing someone else down, we build ourselves up. Unfortunately, to the mature, gracious individual, we’re only showing how small and petty we are. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to recognize more and more the ugliness of gossip and the trouble it can cause. I also hate the way I feel after. It’s as if there’s a dusty, cruel layer of dirt covering my skin. If I could only take a shower and wash it all off.

Occasionally, I’m honest enough to imagine that others might gossip about me. They may even tell lies I can’t disavow. It’s uncomfortable, and I wonder what it says about me that I partake in it too often. Taking that long shower would be a much better use of my time.

Letters to myself: When a parent dies

The day after my father died, the world didn’t look any different, but it made no sense. People went about their business, both tedious and critical, as if nothing happened. It was difficult to understand how the earth could rotate on its axis with me on it, but not my father. Life had never been that way.

When a parent dies, friends can tell you what to expect, but you’ll have your own experience regardless. My father was diagnosed with lung cancer several years ago and died ten weeks later. During that time, I was concerned about his pain, his emotions and my mother. I spoke to my siblings regularly and we planned for the inevitable. After he passed away, I was still aware of the effect his death had on others, but I thought mostly in terms of what it meant to me.

My dad had been a part of my life from the moment I was born, as was my mom and siblings. (I’m the youngest of five.) I had always been someone’s daughter and someone’s sister. And while my mother appears to be sticking in there for the long haul, I’m down one parent. If she doesn’t live forever, someday I’ll be an orphan. I know no one would ever think of me in those terms, but an enormous part of who I am is tied up in how I define myself as part of a family.

My father didn’t live long enough to see me become a wife and mother. I often feel, nowadays, as if I am defined in those terms only. When my children ask me about him, I am reminded that they don’t know that part of me. They don’t know who I was as my father’s little girl.

When a parent dies, a part of who we are goes with them. I’m not sure there’s a way to prepare for this. Like so much of life, it’s simply meant to be felt, for better or worse.

Letters to myself: Is there time for meditation? Is there room for a room of one’s own?

Make lunches. Make beds. Get dressed. Eat something. Exercise. Shower. Get to work. Work, work, work. Answer emails. What’s for dinner? Help with homework. Laundry. Dogs. Finish “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” for Book Club. Catch up on “Mad Men” and “The Amazing Race”. A friend needs to talk. The tomato plants are dying. Buy birthday presents. Wrap birthday presents. Eat birthday cake. Yell at the children. Breathe.

I joke with friends that I’d like to have some deep thoughts but I just don’t have time for them. Sound familiar? Are you desperate to stop the train and get off, regroup and be quiet, for just an hour? Five minutes? Me too.

I’ve never met a person who would argue that meditation is folly. Taking quiet time to yourself focuses the mind. It relaxes and allows us to deal with anger and stress. It calms and gives a sense of perspective. It allows us to see the bigger picture, or depending on our needs, no picture at all.

Is there time for meditation? Absolutely. But like all good things in life, we have to find the time, often letting something go (it’s okay!) or carving our day into more pieces. At a crossroads in my life, when I was in the throes of a terrible addiction, I took myself to the ocean. I stared at the waves and listened to them crashing. I focused every thought I had towards spiritual guidance. I didn’t know who or what I was seeking, only that my earthbound existence held no answers nor solutions to what ailed me. I didn’t leave the beach that day until I felt ready, until I was given the sense of my life as a necessary cog in a very big wheel. There was no more time to waste and I sought out recovery the very next day. Meditation saved my life.

Is there room for a room of one’s own? Like time, we have to create our space, even if it means staying in the car for a few minutes before going into the house in order to center ourselves. Nature never fails in providing an environment that allows for contemplation.

Time and room. It can save your life if you force yourself to find both.

– Althea

Letters to myself: How running and endorphins allow me to see a clearer picture

Sadly, I’ve developed a lot of bad habits in my life. I drink too much coffee, I procrastinate, and I’m often late for everything. Not to be too hard on myself though, I’ve developed a truly healthy habit over twenty years of rarely letting a day go by without heading out for a run. If it hasn’t exactly saved my life, it’s come pretty close.

When I was single and not sharing the burdens of life with anyone, I felt them heavy on my shoulders. Some nights, the weight of my problems and responsibilities kept me from falling asleep. After glancing through the paper in the morning and having my cup of joe, I’d always put on the jog bra, lace up the running shoes, and head out the door. (I was usually also wearing shorts, a t-shirt and socks.) I recall one particularly egregious period when I thought I couldn’t make the rent AND the car payment AND the minimum on my credit cards. Before dozing off the previous evening, I envisioned skipping the rent and making the back seat of my Toyota Tercel my new bedroom. There was always a way to keep the creditors at bay on my MasterCard, even if in doing so, I got an ulcer.

I ran my four-mile loop that morning, slowly at first and then picked up speed. I’d been angry during mile one, less so during mile two, discovered a spring in my step for mile three, and by the time I arrived back at my apartment, my head was clear. I knew that my financial issues were real, but could be addressed in ways that didn’t leave me homeless. I had a steady job. Money was coming in. I simply had to reorganize and believe in my ability to take care of myself. So what had happened in between a restless night’s sleep and the end of my jog?

Endorphins.

You’ve heard the word before. They’re morphine-like chemicals that our bodies create naturally. While debate exists about the “runner’s high” often associated with endorphins, there is scientific proof that they reduce pain and induce euphoria. A hardy laugh and an orgasm can produce the same effect, but rather than rely on friends to be funny or my partner to be “in the mood”, I’ll pound the pavement, thank you.

Running and endorphins have helped me recover from a broken heart, job loss, rejection, illness and motherhood frustrations, to name a few. I clear my head and am allowed to see a difficult situation not as a mountain, but rather a pile of dirt to be addressed one shovelful at a time. (And it only costs me the price of running shoes – and that jog bra.)

Gotta run.

– Althea

Letters to myself: Living in the moment

Rumor has it that the only time which actually exists is the present. Is that philosophical? Is that a fact made to discourage me from dissecting the past and dreaming about the future? All I know is that pushing a fat guy through the eye of a needle is often easier for me than living in the moment. That’s not good.

If I start a diet tomorrow, by Christmas I’ll be fitting into my skinny jeans.

Ten years ago, I should have quit that job and gone back to school.

Remember when we used to meet every Saturday and run to the top? I loved those mornings.

I can’t wait until summer.

We all do it. It’s human nature. But I’ve taken up too much valuable time daydreaming, lamenting and evoking better days, when I should be experiencing what’s in front of me. Today is all I have. This moment is IT.

And yet, I’ve often been annoyed at those who advocate a carpe diem approach to life. Surely, it’s important to plan for the future and learn from past mistakes, yes? Yes. But when my husband and I speak of “killing time” with our children at the park instead of being involved in their play, something is wrong. When I’m sitting in a meeting envisioning my future success instead of listening to my boss, chances are there will be no fanciful career. Chances are, I could get fired for not paying attention.

Living in the present moment is not simply the right way to live; it’s the ONLY way to live. How we experience this reality is the issue. Like success in all areas of life, it requires discipline, and reminders. I’ve taken to slapping up mental Post-it notes in my head when I find myself recalling yesterday or anticipating tomorrow.

“Stay here.”
“Listen.”
“Nothing is more important than this.”
“Be involved.”
“Stop. Do this thing.”
“If not now, when?”
“One moment at a time.”
“Feel this. Breathe.”
“This moment is my life.”
“Be aware.”

And, of course, “carpe diem”, because we should all seize the day.

– Althea

Letters to myself: Have you ever wanted to start all over again?

I have and it’s not a good feeling. I’m not talking about baking the cake again because I forgot the eggs. I’m referring to feelings of regret. I wish I had done this and not that. Can we start over? The answer is almost always “no”.

When I was in high school, I thought acting, singing and dancing were fun. I was pretty good at all of them, and so pursued this area as a career. Problem was, a lot of other people were doing the same, and they were far more talented and disciplined than I. Rather than stepping up my game, I wandered and allowed my efforts to be half-baked. For years, I waited tables, went to the occasional audition and wasted a lot of time. When I finally switched focus and began working in a field for which I was more well suited, I wasted time mourning the loss of those years. Again and again, I yearned for the chance to start over. Couldn’t I just go back, to after high school, choose a college where I could study journalism, and become the next Christiane Amanpour or Arianna Huffington? If I could start over, everything would be perfect.

I can’t start over and it’s only recently that I’m forcing myself to accept this and move on, to not make the same mistake over and over of wasting present moments – moments of opportunity – on regret. I’ve always wanted to learn to play the piano. “I wish I’d started lessons ten years ago”, I’ve thought. Now, I try and tell myself that if I begin now, in ten years I’ll be able to sit down at the Christmas party and wow the guests. Those ten years will come to pass anyway (God willing), whether I’m practicing my scales or not.

The bottom line is we can’t start all over again, much as we’d often like to. I wish I’d realized it sooner.

– Althea

Letters to myself: Does my weight define me?

If my jeans don’t fit, I’m down on myself. I spend a lot of energy then faking confidence, even if no one is fooled. The circle is vicious and has undoubtedly cost me precious time. But our society values the fit far more than the fat. Studies show overweight women earn less than their thinner counterparts. When was the last time you saw an overweight new bride with her fit, attractive husband? I thought so. Conjuring the opposite – the pear shaped groom with the runway model on his arm – is easy.

More proof that extra weight defines women more than men: Winston Churchill, Jack Nicholson and New York Jets coach Rex Ryan were, or appear to be now, happy, successful men. And yet, one of the most powerful and richest women alive, Oprah Winfrey, has felt compelled to publicly address and reveal her battles with the bulge.

So, yes, my weight defines me because I’ve allowed society to define me. At every turn, I know it’s wrong. I realize that who I am inside is far more important than the physical person I show the world. But more often than not, I can’t help myself. Part of it is a brainwashing. More of it is the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe that good things come to me when I’m fit, and so they have. On the flip side, I struggle with relationships, work and my children when I’m tipping the scale above 145 pounds at 5’8”.

Do I owe the world my best self or my thinnest self? Can I separate the two and enjoy the cookies I bake for my family without feeling as if I’m letting myself and others down? It’s not a question easily answered, but most certainly one worth asking as I try to get into my tight jeans. Maybe it’s time to simply wear the ones with a skosh more room and then go clothe the naked and feed the hungry. Perhaps one action resolves the other.

– Althea

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