The Dirty on Turning 30

Do you ever feel yourself slipping away? Like, the reality you swore your fists were tightly cemented to the day before were somehow doused in oil while you slept? Is it just me??

I know, I know. It's a dark thought, but I am convinced these hushed thoughts only come to us solely to be brought into the light.

This blog is my light. Typing these words bring me shiny glimmers of hope.

So, bear with me for a moment, will you?

I am turning 30 years old in 5 seemingly short days. All that I currently know about the age of 30 is how ridiculously old I thought it was growing up. In my innocent mind, my mom was always in her 30s. It represented an age of motherhood and responsibility and importance. I was convinced that you knew exactly who you were and where you were going once this age rolled around.

Here I am, staring this number directly in the face, and I can't say I am completely confident in any of those things. Who am I? That is a constant evolution. Where am I going? Lord knows. Responsibility? Pshht. Please. Importance? I'm still working on it.

Today, I woke up later than I probably should. I drank half of a forgotten beer in the back of the fridge on a day, and an hour, that is socially unacceptable in most circles. I sat in my messy room with my messy life and wondered: Is THIS 30?

Don't get me wrong—I love my life more often than not. It's a good one. It's a privileged one when compared to many others. Even while sitting in its small pile of wreckage, I still wouldn't trade it. I am willing to fight for my mess any given day of the week. But, still, I stop and question it. Is the pile too high? Is the mess too scattered to clean? And, if I do want to tidy it up, where in the hell do I begin?

Over the past few months, I have casually asked the women I respect most in life how they personally felt about this particular decade. I was hoping to get in on this looming secret before I had to learn it for myself.

My thirties were some of my best years. I was a mother. I was a wife. I finally knew what I wanted from life. I stopped caring so much about what other people thought. I felt more comfortable in my skin. I was young enough to try different things and wise enough to know which experiences weren't for me anymore. Enjoy every minute of it!

Lord in Heaven: Please let this be my 30-year-old experience!

Collectively, that summarizes what all these seasoned and good-hearted women told me. Though it brought me comfort to hear, it also brought on some serious anxiety. After all, these are the women I admire and I admire them for good reason. They are mothers and grandmothers and business owners and providers and caretakers and wholesome slices of our society's decaying pie.

Why wouldn't they have it all figured out by the time their eager feet had walked this earth for 30 years? They are incredible, resilient walks of life.

I should think that my experience should not be much different from their own. I'd like to say that I am doing my best and (hopefully) improving the lives of others just by being a part of theirs.

So, why I am I so damned afraid?

Maybe it's because they had little ones clinging tightly to their sides at this age. They had those little faces looking up to them and waiting for them to decide what the next best thing to do was. They had to help someone else live and grow and choose. I am not a mother myself, but I have a feeling that speeds up the process of being the best, if not a better, version of yourself.

For me, I look down and all I see are younger versions of myself. They are sitting at my feet, gripping my thighs, hanging on my waist, and pulling at my hair. All of them want my attention. They have questions to which I am afraid I do not have the answers.

Remember me? Remember our dreams? Don't you remember those places you promised we would see by this time? Where are those places? Where are those accolades in our name? Shouldn't they be here already? We've been waiting for so long now...

It breaks my heart that I have not accomplished or delivered all of these things to the youthful versions of myself as they patiently await their arrival. It hurts even more that I cannot confidently tell them when—or if—all of these promises will flourish.

Why does getting older have to be so damned hard?

It's much easier being in my twenties. I blame a lot of shit on this decade in life. Stayed up too late? Not getting enough sleep? An unfinished education? No children? Devoured a box of donut holes? No worries—I am in my twenties! It is the time to make mistakes and question yourself and make frivolous life choices.

IT'S ALL GOOD in the twenties hood.

So what in the eff am I supposed to do now that they are threatening to leave? Do I hold on to them for dear life and deny that they ever left? Or do I open the door happily and kiss their dumbass decisions goodbye? And what if I am not ready to do either of those things?

I have seen both scenarios play out in others lives. Those that have clung to the notion that 30 is the new 20 still stay out late and kiss too many boys. They dance on bars and work simple jobs that supplement their lifestyles and encourage me to appreciate every moment of my doomed youth. I watch them and I love them for their indifference to their reputations. They have got the f*ck what everyone else thinks part of 30 locked down. 

As much as I respect their unabashed vigor for life, is it for me? Is that who I should be, too?

Then there are the ones who have taken turning 30 very seriously. The same people I ate late night fast food with and took "just because" road trips and called out of work so we could day drink and go shopping are now barely recognizable. They turned 30, quit their jobs, popped out 19 rugrats and picked up knitting as a personal hobby. To them, 30 is the new 80.

As much I respect their unshakable dedication, is it for me? Is that who I should be, too?

Honestly? I don't &%!*$*#@* know. And, after writing about all of this, I think I am OK with the not knowing of it all.

I am going to turn 30 (God willing) whether I like it or not. That is what I do know.

I am also pretty sure that everything is going to be just fine once it happens. Do I wish I had a few more things checked off of my teenaged To-Do list than I currently do? Absolutely. But I am also glad that I have gained enough wisdom to be able to laugh off a few of those things on that list. 

I am not going to marry Justin Timberlake. (Sorry, Justin. I am engaged. You took too long. Your loss, obviously.)

I am not going to live in a giant house with all of my BFFs until I am 80. (I love my friends but, let's be real, I need my own bathroom.)

I am not going to have the perfect career and the perfect children and the perfect husband and be a perfect housewife. (I mean, come ON. Doesn't that sound pretty LAME sauce when you read it out loud? I wouldn't have an excuse to drink wine on a Tuesday afternoon. That sounds terrible!)

Looking back on our conversations, maybe the women I asked did not really have it all figured out by the time they were 30 either. I'd like to think they didn't.

I'd also like to think that this is the part that they left out. The part about not knowing and understanding it all but having the confidence to pretend you do. The part about having enough courage to trust that things are going to be O-efffing-K even when they are not. The part where you are less lost than you once were and that is good enough to let go and, finally, allow some genuine and shameless happiness into your life. 

I am going to go ahead and believe that all of that is the secret to turning the big 3-0.

With the promise of caring less and allowing myself to live more, I won't see those burning candles as my melting hopes and dreams. I will see them as a way of setting fire to this new beginning. Hopefully, the trail I set ablaze will be a starting point for someone else that is wearing the same fearful 29-year-old shoes. I hope they take them off. I hope they run after me and I hope they end up finding themselves along the way.

It's OK that I am not always OK. I am old enough to know this and young enough to explore it. Even if it means getting a few gray hairs and wrinkles along the way. 

You know, my dirty thirty just might be the clean slate I've been waiting for. Honestly, I am looking forward to making one big, beautiful mess of it.

THIS is 30.

Dusting Off the Apron: Serving Up Humility

I have rewritten this first line too many times. I am done trying to make it interesting.

It is probably because I am not quite sure how to apologize for my absence. That apology belongs to me as much as it does you. I made a promise to myself that I would never stay away this long again, but that's what got me here in the first place. Absolutes. Never. Always.

Those words can be a real bitch when it comes to life.

I wrote this very confidently on this blog two years ago:

I will never be a waitress again. My serving days are OVER.

Go ahead and take a wild guess of what I would currently list as my occupation. Yep, that's right people. My name is Charlotte and I will be your server today. What can I offer you to drink? Wine?

Me too.

Lots of it, please. I'll pull up a chair.

I cried my eyes out in the unventilated employee bathroom on my first day of my new serving job. I mean, I made myself a promise. I wrote a blog about that promise. That promise was public! Now, working on the same side of town in which I grew up, so was my shame.

How in the actual f*ck did I let myself get back here? 

Oh, yeah. Bills and life and shit. Now I remember.

I was bending over to pick up an abandoned chicken wing on the floor when I heard, "Oh my God. Charlotte? You work here now??"

Awesome. I mean, did I really have to be holding an orphaned hot wing for this conversation? Like it wasn't going to be bad enough. Come on, Lord Baby Jesus. Throw me a bone here. A figurative one, please.

"Yep! I am back at it. Just living the dream!" I said this while raising the cold wing proudly in the air. That's my thing. I resort to humor when I'm embarrassed. I was a chubby kid. We learn that tactic early on in life.

That was the first conversation of many that I would have identical to it for the next four months.

OMG, do you work here? No. I just like to wear the uniform and help out for free.

Do you like it? It's my dream job. Couldn't ask for more. WTF do you think?

Are you saving for a house or something? Nope. Donating it all to the whales. They need it, you know.

These questions never bother me. They are cheap shots and I don't have time to worry about half-priced gossip. It's when this one comes along that my heart sinks a bit:

Are you still writing?

That one stings. Good or bad intentions. Every time.

It stings even more now because I can look back and see the string of lies I have tied on to the end of it each time it was asked.

Yes! Of course! Every day. The blog is great. I am just doing both now! 

Not true at all. In fact, the day before I started my latest serving job was the last day my fingers hit the keyboard. Just like that damned chicken wing, it was left to collect dust.

But, why? WHY WHY WHY WHY WHY. Why in the world do I let myself believe I can't do both? I have worked too hard for this to just let it be consumed by late nights and grease stains.

I know better. I know what I am capable of doing and balancing and creating. There is no excuse.

I got my very first job as a server when I was 22. I had no experience. Instead, I had a sweet friend that scored me an interview at the sports bar where she worked. I also had a fantastic push-up bra and a horny boss. (This combination worked out in my favor. Shocker.) I figured I am no stranger to hard work. I grew up working on a farm. How hard could this gig be?

Serving is easy.

That is an assumption many people make, but I am pretty sure CEOs of major corporations would piss their pants on a shift where 2 servers have called out, your bar is backed up 10 tickets deep on a football Sunday. Farm work is the hardest work, don't get me wrong, but the goats and pigs I was caring for did not have drinking problems that needed to be sustained or the luxury of demanding a manager when the feed was running a little late or not up to their standards. 

That first day of my first serving job was awful.

Table 42 needed to be greeted. Table 51 wanted their side salad out first. Table 33 only ordered onions on half of their pizza. Table 52 wanted their wing sauce on the side not tossed. Table 43 asked for their check 10 minutes ago and would now like to speak to a manager. To top it off, we were expected to run all of our own food and drinks and buss and reset our own tables.

It was a mess. I was a mess. Unfortunately, my push-up bra was useless when it came to actually doing the job. 

So, I did what pretty much every server in the history of servers does at some point their first job. I cried by the dishes and the bus tubs in the back.

Spoiler alert: that doesn't help either.

My very experienced bartender at the time was on his way to change a keg and saw me crying by the leftover baskets of cheese sticks like a wuss. It wasn't in his nature—nor his reputation—to take time out of his shift to help out the newbies. It was very well known that he didn't have sympathy or time for anyone who couldn't handle the job.

With that being said, I have no idea why he stopped on a busy night and gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me ever since. (I want to say it was out of the goodness of his heart, but let's be real, it was probably the push-up bra.)

He asked me what was wrong and I blubbered out how stressful the job was and how everyone needed something all of the time and I couldn't keep up and there was so many of them and only one of me. I asked him how he did it. How did he look so calm, cool, and collected? I mean, the bar was busier than the restaurant!

He looked at me half annoyed and probably regretting his decision not to walk right past me and falsely advertised boobs and said this:

Just do the next thing you can do. Get the next drink. Take the next order. Run the next plate. Just keep doing that until there's nothing left to do. Losing your shit isn't going to help you get anything done.

That was it? That was his big, seasoned, veteran piece of serving advice?? Just do the next thing you can do?? It seemed too simple to work, but that's exactly why it did. It simplified the chaos! 

All we can do is the next right thing. That's it. That's what is in our power in the hectic moments of life. We just have to choose to do them.

The beauty of a good server is their capability to multitask with ease. If they can have two orders in their mind waiting to be put in while balancing a tray of drinks and greeting your table with a smile that makes you feel like you are their top priority, then they've got the game figured out.

 I am a damn good server. I don't hand myself over many compliments publicly, but I will snatch that one right up and stand beside it. I am good at what I do. Even if I don't like the job, I still know how to do it well. 

So, why can't I multitask being a server AND a writer? Because I am hung up on absolutes.

In my eyes, I am either a writer or I am a waitress. For some reason, the two are mutually exclusive in my book. And it's bullshit. In fact, that book of rules needs to be rewritten—even if it is on a cocktail napkin.

You see, I was forgetting that incredibly simple (and very effective) lesson my bartender taught me. I can be in the weeds and keep my shit together as long as I keep doing the next thing I can do. I just need to apply that lesson into my daily life and not just my work life.

Right now, my life is sort of in the weeds.

I am turning 30 and trying not to panic about "getting old", planning a wedding, trying to work enough to pay for said wedding, saving for a house while not knowing where we are going to live for the next year while waiting for that future home and grasping on to the faithful notion that my dreams as a writer are not drowning in table 42's leftover ranch.

Life right now is a busy Friday night with a shorthanded staff. 

There is a term that servers throw around on busy nights:

I can see the light!

When we say this to each other we know it means that it's almost over. That the stampede of hangry customers are about to pass. I love hearing it. Not just because it means that my shift is nearing its end, but because it reminds me that there is light to be found outside of work as well.

My favorite light is the one that is coming from the screen in front of me right now. It means I am about to dig inside of myself and offer it to you. It is the greatest and most invigorating feeling I know. It is also the most vulnerable and intimidating.

Am I going to be a server for much longer? I don't know. Will I ever be a server after I have left this serving job? Maybe. I have learned that you just can't be sure on some things.

I have realized that using absolutes only heighten your chances for failure. I have also learned that if an absolute like 'I will never' or 'I will always' was left out of the equation altogether, we might not view the results as such complete and utter failures.

What am I sure of?

I am sure that it is my choice to decide whether my apron strings help hold me together or tie me down every time I wrap them around my waist.

I am sure that I will serve more people that pity my situation, or don't have faith in my success, but I am also damn sure that I will never let them wound my pride.

Yes, you read it right, I believe there is pride to be found in what I am doing.

There is pride in balancing that tower of dirty dishes, in wiping the crumbs from a table and sweeping up empty sugar packets from the floor. There is even some pride to be found in picking up a cold chicken wing in front of successful people you know. 

You know why? Because all of those things are the next thing I need to do to get where I want to be. Hitting 'publish' on this post is the next thing I can do. I just need to remember that I am capable and worthy and put on this earth to do it again and again. I am here to serve in many, many more ways than one.

Hello. My name is Charlotte. I will be your server today, but not always. And, yes, I am absolutely sure of that.

Happiness: Can You Fake It Until You Make It?

 

If you were to walk into a party or an event that I was attending, it wouldn't take long to find me. In my home, a friend's place, or in public, I am usually easy to locate.

I am the one proposing a toast in a group. I am the person selecting a playlist that will enhance the atmosphere. I am your unofficial bartender. I am with—or am—the first person on the dance floor. I am willingly making a fool of myself because someone else feels foolish. I am filling awkward silence with a funny or embarrassing moment of my own. I am introducing the person that no one knows. I am making sure you have enough to eat and that you are comfortable and I will tell you when someone you do know has arrived.

Hell, I'll will even go on a freakin' search for toiletpaper for you if it has run out.

I will do every damn thing I can to ensure that it looks like everyone is having a good time—including myself.

Want to know another little fact about that hospitable and outgoing girl I just described? 

She has been battling depression for over a decade. 

Damn. That was even harder to admit than I thought it would be.

It's not groundbreaking news to say that a vast majority of comedians battle depression and addiction. We have lost comedic geniuses like Chris Farley and Robin Williams to it, and a long list of others—like Ellen DeGeneres, Jim Carrey, Louis C.K., etc.—have openly admitted to struggling with it. (See the full list of household names that have encountered the disorder here.) It is also commonly found among actors, singers, and other public figures. 

It's pretty safe to say that if you are performing in order to brighten the worlds of others, there is a good chance you are living in a rather dark one yourself.

Actor and producer, Steve Coogan, was quoted saying that a comedian's skill comes from their ability to "make their pain relatable". Now that is a statement I can personally relate to.

I may not be a professional actor or comedian, but I know a thing or two about putting on an act. In fact, I think a lot of us are familiar with the process. For some reason, it is a lot easier to pretend something isn't happening, or doesn't exist, than it is to face or embrace it.

I was 19 when a doctor first told me I was depressed. At the time, I wasn't surprised. Not only had I recently lost a friend, I was witness to the events that took his life. Months later, when she delivered her diagnosis, I couldn't help but roll my mental eye.

So, I'm really, really sad? No shit, Lady. What am I supposed to DO about it?

Like many doctors do these days, she handed me a prescription for antidepressants.

I filled it—a bit hesitantly—and went home with my "happiness" in a bottle. I remember staring at the tiny blue pill and thinking to myself: Is this really the answer? Is finally achieving a state of happiness as easy as popping a pill once a day?

Spoiler alert: It wasn't. At least, not for me. 

I've heard that prescriptions for mental disorders have worked wonders for others and that's great! If it works for you, then keep workin' it. 

But, as for my experience, I hated it. And I do not toss around the H-word lightly.

I felt like, well, like I couldn't feel. I wasn't upset, but I also was not happy. I was groggy, but not grumpy. I was hearing those around me, but not really listening. I was in a cloud of indifference. Suddenly, I didn't have an opinion about much anymore and that really bothered me. I have always turned to writing during difficult times and, as a writer, it is sort of important to have a clear opinion on what you are writing about.

Needless to say, my bout with antidepressants was a short-lived one. I decided I was going to deal with this super sad "thing" on my own. It was a part of me now and that was all there was to it.

C'est la vie.

The strange thing about dealing with something like depression on our own terms is that it usually means not dealing with it at all. At least, that's the brilliant plan I decided to implement in my life.

I had decided that my doctor was wrong. I wasn't depressed! Why? Because I had NO RIGHT to be. 

I had a great family. I had a lot of friends. I didn't have any "serious" illnesses. I lived in a free country. I had access to food and clean water everyday, all day. I had a nice car and  a room of my own with a warm bed waiting for me in it. I had a life that many in this world can only dream to experience.

Who did I think I was to claim to be depressed? I had it MADE. I just needed to remember that and get the eff over myself. I was simply being ungrateful. I needed to shut it out of mind and move forward.

Fast forward ten years, and here I am in front of this computer screen still "dealing" with it

Denying that I am depressed because I have deemed my circumstances too favorable to be has (obviously) not been doing the trick. I think it might be time to come clean.

Cue imaginary group therapy cirlcle:

Hi. My name is Charlotte. I love my life, but I don't always love myself. I am currently battling depression even though there are other people in this world that have more problems than I do. And I'm still learning how to be OK with that. 

Phew! Can you pass me the complimentary coffee and donuts now, please?

You see, that's what was wrong with how I was "handling" it before. I wasn't allowing myself to admit that I was sad on an unhealthy level. By not facing that sadness, it became even harder to deal with my depression when it showed up. When the darker days came, not only was I sad, but I would go ahead and spread a layer of guilt and shame for feeling that way. Then, for the cherry on top of this unhappy cake, I would decide not tell anyone and vow to "fake it until I made it".

I was good at that. I could act happy. I could make people laugh. I could put on a believable smile. Eventually, it would stick. Right?

Not so much. 

For the past few moths, the "faking it" has been what I dwell on. I mean, how could I pretend to be a happy person when I was still so, so sad inside? Much less, tell others they deserved to be happy, too. 

I go out and I have a good time. I eat dinner with family. I go on fun dates with my boyfriend. I meet with friends. I make new friends. I laugh loudly. I shed tears of happiness at weddings. I share what's on my heart in open conversations. I listen intently when others share what is on theirs. I smile at strangers. I jump on the trampoline and play make believe with my nieces and nephews. I tell others how beautiful they are and just how much they deserve their own love.

I do ALL of these beautiful things and I do them often.

So, why does that upset me?

Because I feel like a FRAUD.

Because I have a hard time owning my own love and happiness.

Because I am "faking it" until I make it.

Lately, I have been in the middle of a particularly long episode of depression. For the last past couple of months, many of my days have blurred together.

I stopped reading my books. I quit writing as often. My posts on this blog became few and far between. I ate more terribly than usual and drank more than one should on a weeknight. There were many days that I did not feel the light of day or the chill of the night on my skin because I couldn't find the courage to leave my room.

But, I still managed to "fake it" by forcing myself to hang out and be around others. I paint on a friendly face and I do all of those beautiful things I mentioned before. I even like to think I do them pretty well.

Recently, I was having one of those days. The idea of getting out of bed and facing the world sounded almost unbearable. I had no desire to do much of anything while in bed, either. I didn't want to read. I definitely didn't want to write. So, I decided to avoid my problems with some help from procrastination's BFF: Netflix.

While searching for something to zone out to, I stumbled across a series of TED Talks. I remembered how much I used to love watching them on my breaks at work when I was a server. (They really do help get you through double shifts by reminding you that your have other dreams besides refilling ungrateful patrons' wine glasses.)

I decided to give it a shot and selected the series. I mean, if I am going to choose to be completely unproductive and uninspiring in bed all day, I might as well watch some people that are actually doing something with their lives!

The first talk that came on was by a speaker named Amy Cuddy. It was entitled Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are. I thought that sounded like a safe bet, nothing too deep. Good posture is important to me. Well, it is when I'm not laying down in bed hating life. It sounded like a harmless episode that wouldn't trigger too much critical thought.

Boy, was I wrong!

My cheeks were streaked in silent tears by the end of it. The last five minutes of that "talk" provided a breakthrough I had been waiting on for months! (The entire episode is great, but If you don't want to watch it all and skip to what I'm referring to, start at 15:35.)

Particularly when Amy said this:

Don't fake it 'til you make it. Fake it 'til you become it.

There it was. The words I needed to give myself permission to let go of the misconception I held onto so tightly. The misconception that I was a fraud when I was doing all of those beautiful things that made me seem happy, even though I was so sad inside. 

In the story she portrays, Amy talks about not feeling like she deserved to be somewhere because of her unfortunate circumstances. For me, I have always felt like I did not deserve to be happy because of my unwanted sadness. 

Despite her misfortunes, Amy kept going. She kept fighting. She kept showing up. She kept FAKING it until, one day, she wasn't faking at all. She BECAME it. 

Wow. Imagine what kind of happiness we could eventually find by faking it. We just have to fake it with intention is all! And that intention is that our faking it will eventually lead to our creating  it.

The veil had been lifted. I finally understood why I was so good at doing things that went against my depression: I wasn't making myself do them because I wanted to be good at faking them. I was doing those things because I wanted to eventually become them.

That person that does all of those enjoyable and wonderful things, that is WHO I AM. Those are the ways I want to be described. Not just by others, but by myself. 

For the first time, in a very long time, I wasn't afraid of my depression. It was temporary. Experiencing sadness may be guaranteed, but that doesn't mean that it leaves no room for happiness to return. You just have to keep practicing the things that bring back the hope for it.

Prayer. Family. Friends. Therapy. Reading. Writing. Cooking. Dancing. Walking. Laughing. Relaxing. Volunteering. 

Those are the things that bring me joy and make me feel complete.

What I had wrong about that list is that if every single thing on it did not have a satisfactory check mark beside it at the end of the day, then I assumed I wasn't on the proper path to happiness. I needed to do it ALL or I wouldn't allow myself ANY. That's not only an unnecessary way of thinking, it is unrealistic. Thinking that way was the only time I was ever truly faking it.

I want to mention that I have made some great progress in defeating my depression over the last year.

It started by no longer being afraid to admit that it was real. I wasn't brave enough to face it for a long time. I also attribute A LOT of that progress to this blog and anyone that has every reached out to me after reading it. I gain that much more courage every time someone says they can relate to—or understand—where I'm coming from in a post. In fact, there will probably never be a way I can sufficiently describe how much your support means to me, big or small. 

But I'll start with this:

Thank YOU.

For every like, share, comment, direct message, text, phone call, and conversation.

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I would put that in 1,000,000x font if I could. 

By connecting with so many of you, I have found better—and more enjoyable ways—to connect with myself. Even if you were faking it, I can now see that the love has always been what is real.

The Importance of Creating a Beautiful Life In a (sometimes) Ugly World

So. Much. Sadness. So much pain. So much hate. Everywhere. All of the time.

At least, that's what it feels like lately. Unfortunately, it's hard to claim those statements to be untrue.

I'm going to be honest: Writing about what is going on in the world today is a difficult thing for me to do right now. I like to keep my little corner of the internet a place that is dedicated to acceptance, growth, and love. With all that is happening around us, it is, personally, hard to find ways to talk about those things as of late.

But, I firmly believe that whenever you are scared of doing something, that is usually the best time to do it. So, here goes nothing.

Let's try and find some light in all of this darkness.

I have not been a fan of the news for a long time now. I believe the media thrives off, even perpetuates, the sorrow and pain of others. I do, however, believe it is important to stay informed on world events. I read articles and gather information on my own terms. It's worked out well for me so far.

I am informed rather than saturated with the many misfortunes of this world we call home.

But, lately, it is more difficult to avoid being completely consumed with the pain that surrounds us, near or far. No longer can you just shut off the news channel, but you must sign out of your social medias, drown out the many negative discussions in public places, and—worst of all—avoid speaking to some people altogether. 

In some ways, it is a good thing that we can no longer turn our cheek to the hurt that is in this world. In other ways, not so much.

For some reason, adults have yet to figure out how to have a mature discussion on a topic in which both parties disagree, while still agreeing to maintain a level of respect for the other's opinion AND person.

Is that too much to ask? According to the history of, well, EVER, yes. Yes, it is, unfortunately too much to ask.

While listening to these disagreements, whether it be on the news, in public, or in homes of those I know, I hear a lot about "they". And, let me tell you, THEY are assholes. THEY need to get out of town and quick! A LOT of people are upset with this group called "they" 

THEY are going to ruin this country. THEY don't understand. THEY are going to hurt my family. THEY are going to help the wrong people. THEY should do something about this. THEY are going to change our laws. THEY are going to leave the laws the same. THEY. THEY. THEY. 

Sheesh. I am so glad I am not one of them. 

But, wait. Maybe I am? After all, who exactly are "they" anyway?

That's the problem: "they" are different to everyone. 

I am sure I fall into some categories of others definitions of who "they" are.

Let's see:

I believe in Jesus Christ, I question why God does what He does, I am a white and free female, I believe in women's rights, I am not married, I am a registered republican that can see the point in some democratic views, I believe anyone that wants to get married should have the right to be married—regardless of gender, I believe there is no one more brave and deserving on this planet than the men and women of our military and they should be treated that way, I believe the pledge should be recited in school every day and that God has a place in our classrooms, and most of all—if it does not bring harm to others—I believe in ALL of us believing in whatever it is that we damn feel like believing in. 

OK. After that, I am definitely on someone's "they" list.

The sad part about all of this is that, after rattling off some of those "fun" facts about me (which took courage on my part to share), some reading this will look at me differently.

Some will like me more. Some will like me less. Some stopped reading a long time ago.

Guess what? That's okay with me. I am still going to be true to who I am AND respect that you are, well, who you choose to be.

Here's the thing that makes me different from them: I don't believe it is a "they" that is destroying us. I believe it is an "it."  

"It" is hate.

Hate has as much capability of entering our homes as love does. It's just our job to decide for which we are going to open the door.

A few nights ago, I was watching my nieces and nephew play outside with my sister. They laughed and ran and squealed so carelessly. They didn't need us to create their happiness for them, it was already there. But when one of them got hurt or upset, they looked to my sister and me immediately for relief and comfort. We are experts at fixing what's wrong and healing what hurts in their eyes.

Suddenly, my heart sunk.

I felt an overwhelming amount of sadness for every parent I knew.

As parents, you can help heal a cut on a finger or ease the pain of a stubbed toe, but what about all of the hurt that surrounds us in this world today? How are they going to put a Spiderman band-aid on all of that pain? How in the world do they explain such horrific, malicious events to such innocent and bright faces? HOW?? 

I pitied them. Every mother and father that came to mind. My heart broke for every look of hurt and confusion on their child's face. For every "why" that they couldn't find a reasonable way to explain.

Then it struck me: What about when I have children? What am I going to do and say?? Having to watch my nieces and nephews and friends' children is painful enough! 

Do I even want to bring a child into this world?

I thought about it for a moment. So many people, young and old, have said to me that they wouldn't blame me for choosing not to. That this world is no place for bringing in someone you unconditionally love. It's filled with hurt. It's drowning in sorrow. It's infected with hate.

Maybe I didn't want to bring a child into this world. After all, how could I possibly protect them from ALL of those terrible things?

It was in that moment, during that thought, that I realized I was letting "it" win. Hate was the victor in that mental conversation. I had cracked open my door and let it's fingers creep right in. 

I came to my senses and slammed that door shut. I wasn't going to choose hate. It is my job to let love in. Even if it is a little late to my doorstep. I'll wait up all night for that guest.

You know how I am going to protect my future children from all of those things? I'm not. You know why? Because I CAN'T.

We give them life but, guess what? Life hurts. SO badly, sometimes.

I can no more protect my child from getting shot while on their first date at a movie or at a concert with friends or eating out while studying abroad than I can from their first knee scrape or heartbreak. If you are breathing, you are going to end up hurting. It is the chance we all take.

I know there are precautions a parent can take, and I plan to take them as long as I can. I will teach them everything I know that has worked for me while encouraging them to live their lives so that they find out what works for them.

I will protect them as much as God will allow me. I will cry when they turn five and worry when they first drive and lose sleep when they break curfew and call every night when they travel and scold them when they are being more true to others than themselves—I will do all of these things and more. But, what I will not do is hinder their lives by never giving them the chance to have one in the first place.

Consider this:

Whenever you intensely slander someone's name in front of children because they do not agree with you, hate wins.

Whenever you stop speaking to or respecting someone you care about because they think differently, hate wins.

Whenever you choose to not carry a life inside of you because you carry a heart of fear instead, hate wins.

Whenever we stop choosing to create beautiful lives because the world we live in can be so ugly, hate has defeated us all.

Choose love instead.

Keep your beliefs. Hold tight to your convictions. Stand up for what you believe in. Carry your faith proudly.

But—please—for the sake of those innocent faces that are already here in this mess (and the ones that may come), leave a little room for love while you do it. Save a seat for understanding as you sit to pray. Clear an area for compassion when you show up to fight your battles.

It is in that space, and only in that space, that they will ever have the chance of creating the beautiful lives we hope and dream they will one day have.

They are the "they" we should be concerned about. So, let's give them a fair chance of choosing to let love win by letting it in ourselves.

The Seven Year Change

An old fun fact crossed my mind the other day: Your taste buds change every 7 years. It's random, sure, but I sort of love when my mind throws little facts my way. It's strangely comforting.

I love this one because I remember wishing to love onions as a kid. That's right—I wanted to like a vegetable that I didn't. I'm a weirdo, I know. I've totally embraced it. 

My parents have always been very open-minded when it comes to other cultures' food and I have always admired them for it. I grew up eating things most adults still wrinkle their nose around. So, naturally, I wanted to like onions because I didn't want to be picky—I wanted to be like my parents. 

Sure enough, once high school hit, I was ordering my own bowl of French onion soup and chomping on bright purple ones in ceviche and sautéing them over my medium rare T-bone steaks. I was officially in the Onion Lovers Club. I know, what a sad club to be in—literally. We just sit around and cry. (Terrible joke intended.)

I'm sure you're thinking to yourself right now: Why in the hell is Charlotte still talking about onions?? It's a little bizarre, I know, but I have a point. I promise!

You see, the reason the fact about taste buds popped into my head is because I had a friend visit me last week that I had not seen in 7 years.

We met and built our friendship while we both lived in NYC and, seven years later, we are both living in our hometowns now. I am in Arizona and he is in Nigeria. To say our friendship has changed over the years is a bit of an understatement. 

On my way to pick him up, I was wondering what he was going to be like all of these years later. I knew that he was successful, thanks to the world of social media. He had always had the heart of an entrepreneur. He's cut out for that world.

I also wondered what he might think of me.

Am I successful enough? Do I seem different? Am I carrying myself well? Once he meets this "me", will he wish he had his old friend back?

He was one of my very best friends during that time in my life. But a very different girl was about to pick him up than the one he once knew.

Then, I was a 21-year-old, bright-eyed girl that was following her wild dreams and partying until dawn. A feisty little thing who had a wardrobe worth mentioning and an apartment in the center of the heart of one of the greatest cities in the world—things had changed a bit, to say the least.

Had more than just my taste buds changed this time around? 

For whatever reason, my inner-critic wanted him to be proud of the girl I am now. 

And that's where I had it all wrong.

You see, he wasn't going to be reuniting with that same girl because she had grown into a woman. And I have fought pretty damn hard to become her. So, why be ashamed of her now?

I was still running toward those wild dreams—just in discounted heels.

Of course, once we caught up, we saw that not everything had changed. He still had the same wide smile and contagious laugh. He was still extremely picky about his coffee and a total snob when it came to bourbon or any other spirits for that matter. 

His eyes wrinkled with a little more wisdom and there were definitely a few new and deep scars on his heart that life naturally brings us all to bear—some still healing, but healing none the less. His spirit, though, it remained the same.

This made me so happy for my friend. I expressed all of this to him and he smiled and agreed that he had changed so much and, sometimes, not at all. 

Then he looked at me and said:

Well, look at you, Charlotte. I hardly know this person in front of me. You are nothing like the frightened and depressed girl I remember. You have truly grown into yourself.

Scared and depressed? Is that really what he remembered? What about the fun and spirited party girl I had painted in my mind from that time??

We got to talking some more and, of course, there were stories of that girl I had fixed in my memory. We did have some hilarious and wild times to recall. But, once we really dug our heels into Memory Lane, I got a glimpse of the girl he was talking about. 

The girl who would lock herself in her studio apartment for days because she felt the weight of her hometown and so many unrealistic expectations on her back.

The girl who sobbed in front of a blank screen because she was terrified that no one would ever think she had anything relevant to say.

The girl that kept the pillow over her head because the light of a new day with no new opportunities was too much to bear.

The girl who had decided she had failed before she even gave herself a fair chance to start.

Oh, yes. Now I remember that girl.

And, as much as she was key to my growth as a person, I am so, SO happy that she did not show up to pick up my old friend that day—No matter how great she looked in her designer mini-skirt. 

I think we all get caught up in changing too much or not changing enough. We all want to be seen, and remembered, by all of the "good" and "better" versions of our past selves that we hold in our minds.

But we forget that the way others see us, and themselves, changes too. The way they choose to see us in the present, or in the past, is not in our control—and it shouldn't be. We can only control the way we view ourselves.

Don't get caught up in how you used to be viewed in someone else's eyes. An even more dangerous trap is holding onto the way we used to see ourselves. Whether it is good or whether it is bad, it does not matter. It matters that it's gone. That we have learned from it. That we are growing into the person we want to be because of it. 

You know how I decided that I was going to like onions when I was a little girl?

Well maybe, without even realizing it, I decided to like something else the next time the 7-year change came around. I think I decided that I would like myself. That is, after all, what I have been pouring my heart into since I saw my friend last. I have been learning to love the only body and heart I am ever going to get: My own.

Just like that damn onion, I was on my menu now. 

That's what I think was so different about the woman that picked up her old friend from the girl that he once knew:

She had finally acquired a taste for herself. More than that, she thought she was the best damned thing on the menu—even when someone else decided to send her back.

Choose To Do It Anyway

There are some traits you pick up from you parents that you carry with you throughout your life. One that I am incredibly grateful stuck with me came from my father.

I remember going with him places as a little girl and thinking that he knew everyone. I thought this because, well, he spoke with almost everyone around us. It didn't matter if he was at a gas station or the feed shop or the bank, my dad was always greeting someone.

I was in awe that my dad knew SO many people. How did he do it?

As I grew older, I realized that he didn't really "know" all of these people. He knew some of them, of course. My father knows a great deal of people where we live. He's a popular dude.

Still, some of the people he chatted up were not friends or coworkers or even acquaintances—my dad was, in fact, talking to strangers.

At first, I was confused by this. Why in the world would you say "hello" to someone that you don't even know?

Eventually, I decided to express this confusion to him.

I asked him why he chose to talk to people that he did not know. His answer was simple: Why not?

I proceeded to explain to him that sometimes people do not respond and even give him strange looks for speaking to them. I mean, wasn't he embarrassed when this happened?

My dad just laughed and said something like this to me:

If they don't say anything back, then that's not my problem. Sometimes people aren't going to wish you a good day back and sometimes people are going to think you're a little crazy for saying it to them. What's the worst thing that can happen? They don't say anything back? That's okay. It's still a good thing to do. Some people do say it back and, sometimes, you end up meeting someone you wouldn't have if you didn't say anything at all. That's why I do it.

Yep. That's my pops. He wasn't doing it for them—he was doing it for himself.

One thing that stuck with me from that was the worst thing that can happen is they don't say anything back part. As a young girl, that did sound like the worst thing. Who wants to willingly be made felt silly like that?

Regardless, I decided to adopt his way and try it out for myself. 

Fast forward to present time, I am definitely my father's daughter. I am now the person who will chat up the grocery clerk and say hello to strangers that I pass. Especially women!

I love smiling and greeting the women I pass in my daily life. This is mostly because they least expect it from me. Unfortunately, we have a terrible reputation for being mean to each other and envying one another.

I hope to help change that in any way I can—even if it is with something as small as wishing them a good morning.

Recently, I've been taking morning walks. (I know, I know. I'm talking about walking again, but hang in here with me. I've got a point—promise!) These walks are prime time for wishing strangers a good morning and that's one of my favorite things about them.

Every time I walk, I make it my personal mission to wish everyone I pass a good morning. I say good morning to the jogging ladies, the running men, the kids waiting for the school bus, the landscapers, the construction workers—everyone. 

Some say it back, some don't, and some just look at me like the crazy white girl that I am. Either way, with a big smile, I still say it. 

There is one particular man that never says it back. I see him pretty frequently and, of course, always wish him a good morning. I've been trying to crack him for two months now. This guy is NOT having it.

A couple of weeks ago on my walk, I was having a particularly low return ratio on my "good morning" mission. I was 0 for 3 and about to approach Mr. Grumpy Guts himself. 

I would love for this to the part of the story where I tell you that he finally said it back and gave me a hug and told me his life story and became my new grandpa, but this isn't a movie. This is life. And he slapped me with a solid 0 for 4 without blinking.

Thanks a lot, Gramps.

I have to admit: It got me a little down.

Actually, I was pissed! What is wrong with people? Have we all become so disconnected as a race that we can't even tolerate a well-meaning greeting from a stranger?

What a bunch of shit.

I decided I was done for the day. The next person I saw was going to get the cold morning shoulder from me. I was OVER IT.

Then the next person I was to pass came into view. She was a lovely looking woman that seemed to be on a morning jog as well. 

I tried to stick to my guns. I really did. But, I couldn't help it. I dug deep inside of myself, found a toothy grin, and wished her a good morning as she approached.

Guess what? She said it back AND smiled! Hallelujah! It made my day. 

Later that week, I was sitting with my sister when she received a Facebook message from someone that I did not know. Her friend asked her if I lived around so-and-so and so-and-so. She replied that I did.

Then her friend sent this:

I was just wondering because I read her blog post that talked about how she started walking. Then the other day I went out for a jog and passed this friendly gorgeous face that said good morning to me. I was shocked because nobody ever talks when I go by them, even if I do say hello. She was so full of happiness and I immediately thought it was her even though I have never met her. 

Oh. My. Tears!

They filled my eyes immediately. This person had no idea how much that meant to me.

My sister showed me her picture and guess what? She was the woman from that day! She was the one that I pushed through my own frustrations for. The one who made my day by returning the greeting. AND she read my blog?

My heart was full.

We ended up becoming facebook friends. She is even more lovely of a person than I initially expected. My dad was right. It was totally worth the risk of getting rejected again that day.

Isn't it always worth the risk though?

I'm not just talking about speaking to strangers. I am talking about putting ourselves "out there" in general.

So many times we hold ourselves back from taking risks because we are terrified of the "what ifs" in life. 

What if I ask for it and they say no? What if I apply for that job and I don't get it? What if I show up to that class and I am the worst one in it? What if I tell them I love them and they don't say it back?

I have another question: What happens if we give into our fear of these answers?

You know what will happen: Nothing will change. Sounds thrilling!

Say it. Do it. Ask for it. Offer it.

Whatever "it" is, don't give it the answer that is not yours to give in the first place. It might be what we think, but there's also a chance it might not. It's not our choice to make.

When we choose to risk, we choose to grow.

We have to take those chances. It may take a few times, but someone will eventually need what you are also looking for.

Even if it is just a kind smile and simple "Good morning." It makes a difference. At least I know it did for me.

The Difference Between Getting Older & Growing Older

I have always been a birthday loving person. Some people aren't, and that's OK.

I am not here to tell you that you're a bad person for not counting down the days until you get to celebrate you. Everyone has their reasons why they love or hate or are simply indifferent to their "special" day.

I'm pretty sure my mother's idea of hell is a place where The Birthday Song is on repeat. Now that I think about it, that may be my version as well. It's kinda creepy.

Besides, that day is your own and if you want to spend it in your sweats with a bag of Doritos and boxed wine—more power to you! I just ask that I get to come over and join you, please and thank you.

But, as for me? I LOVE them. Maybe not the song, but definitely everything else.  I don't love them because of the attention and presents that usually come with them. Although, I am not going to turn down any ribbon-clad boxes, let's be honest.

I love them because they are fun to love and it's an excuse to be surrounded by the people I love to spend time with most. 

I was always that kid that didn't want help blowing out their candles because I believed (Okay, maybe I still do!) that they possessed magical powers. I believed these powers could only be unlocked by the ones that closed their eyes tightly, wished with their hearts wide open, and never told a soul what it was that they tried to exhale into existence.

Yep. I might take birthday candles a little too seriously. Let's be real: I still get pissed at kids for blowing out other kid's candles. I don't care if he's two and excited, it's not their wish or cake to spit on, damn it.

So, back to me not being the Grinch of children's birthday parties: I turn 29 in two days and I am kind of freaking out.

At first, I didn't know what the hell was going on with me. I have spent the majority of the last few days in bed, twisted in my covers, and hiding beneath my pillows from that big, bad thing we call life. While under my late afternoon covers, I thought to myself:

Oh, SHIT. Not this again. No. I am not depressed. I know I am not depressed. I have a system for that now. I am blessed and grateful and SO beyond that bullshit that stole so many precious days of my life. Whatever this is, it is NOT that.

And I was right. It wasn't.

So, what was it then? What was keeping me awake but also keeping me in the place I am supposed to be on only for sleep??

It was the list. THE list.

You know, the things-I-am-going-to-accomplish-before-I-am-thirty list.

Yeah. That asshole list.

My first draft was written at 18. I rewrote it at 21. I revised it at 25. Now, the final is due in ONE year and two-ish days and it is nowhere near complete. And, from what I've heard, God does not give any extensions on these assignments. 

In one year, I can no longer blame my unfinished list on my twenties. Well, DAMN.

We are told that our twenties are a time where we are supposed to make too many mistakes and discover the kind of person we want to be and drink too much and experiment with our bodies and get our hearts broken and gain a few friends and lose a few more friends and fail and fail and fail until we find the courage to finally try again.

We are told that this is the time to do those things. That this is the only time we should be embracing that sort of behavior. 

So, what happens if we are still doing all or some of these things once that 29th year sees its last day? Have we failed in some great way of the world? Do we get held back a year in the school of life? 

I sure hope not. I'd like to graduate this thing with honors!

I could sit here and write down everything that is on my list. I could tell you how much I have not accomplished and all of the materialistic and responsible things that are missing checks in their boxes. But I'm not going to. I'm pretty sure you can figure it out. In fact, we probably share a few of the same empty boxes. 

I already rattled off that long and depressing list recently to a woman that I love and respect and admire. She is also close to being able to say that she has survived 70 years on this great Earth.

When she heard my list of shortcomings and diminishing aspirations, do you know what she did?

She laughed. She laughed. Here I am on the verge of a mental breakdown and she is laughing.

Then she said this:

Oh. Honey! Don't you know that list never goes away? I am almost 70 years old and, guess what? I have the same list! But mine does not scare me. It is a good list to have. It means you are still growing. And I can't imagine I ever want to stop doing that.

And there it was: the difference between getting older and growing older.

You are getting older when you are measuring how much sand is at the bottom of your hourglass. You are growing older when you choose to cup your hands gratefully as more life falls through. 

I got served by a grandma—and it was a steaming plate of much-needed wisdom.

Maybe I will still do a lot of the things that I have in my 20s in my 30s. Maybe it won't stop in my 40s or 50s or 60s. Maybe we never complete our life's great to-do list.

Will that make me an irresponsible adult? I like to think not. When I take a look at the people that I admire most in my life—when I look really closely—their lists are not much different than my own.

They may have a few more checks in boxes, a few more names and cities scribbled out or rewritten, and be a bit more worn from the process of wisdom, but they still have something in common with my own.

What we have in common is that our lists continue to grow. No matter how much we get done or put to the side or completely cross out of our lives, the list never stops getting longer. 

I may only be blowing out my birthday candles for the 29th time, but it will be the first time I will not see it as the flame going out for another precious year passed. Instead, I plan to let it light the fire awaiting inside of me. A fire that was dwindling with the thought getting older, but is sure to run wild with the thought of growth and change.

In a way, I feel like I have already received my great birthday wish. I get another year to fail and learn and grow. Most importantly, I get 365 more chances to show others, and myself, what kind of love I have to offer. That is a gift in itself.

Who knows? With a gift like that, I might let a kid blow out my birthday candles. That just may be the key that unlocks the real magic I always believed they held. 

The Thing About Fear

A lot of people ask me for advice on giving speeches. I get it. Public speaking is scary. It's so terrifying that it even has its own phobia: Glossophobia. That's some serious shit.

 I am SO NERVOUS. I'm afraid I am going to throw up or pass out or poop—or all THREE! What should I do to keep myself from NOT doing those things?

My answer is simple: Recognize that you are nervous. Again and again and again.

I know, I know. It seems a little too simple, but it's the little things that make the biggest difference, right? I like to think so. (Kinda like this "little" web!)

Whenever I am going to speak in front of people, whether it is 2 or 200, I still feel like I am going to do all of those scary things. I have also accepted the fact that that feeling is most likely never going to leave. Now, I even look forward to it. It's kind of exhilarating, really.

Whenever you are about to speak publicly, it helps to recognize your fear of it. Whether you say it aloud or speak it mentally to yourself, the more you acknowledge it the less power it is given.

It's sort of similar to the feeling we get when we say a word so many times that it starts to sound foreign. You have said it so much that it no longer carries the meaning you originally knew it had. The best part about this happening is that we then get to redefine it.

I am nervous. But, that's OK. It's good to feel nervous. It makes me feel alive. I'd rather be nervous and doing something with my life than feel safe and remain stagnant.

That, or a close version of it, is what I typically repeat to myself before speaking. It starts out breathy and shaky and then it's hyping me up and I'm laughing right through the nerves before I know it! You feel a little crazy, sure, but I'd rather feel a little loony than a lot scared. 

The great thing about this little mantra is that it is not exclusive to public speaking. It can be used for all of the scary things that shade themselves under the umbrella of fear. Try it out.

I was inspired to write about fear this week because of a few words that a dear Social Sister of mine, Abbey Wade, posted. (Social Sisters are what I call my friends that I have gained through social media outlets. I hope to hug and laugh and meet them all in person one day!) She had this to say about fear:

Here's the thing about fear: It cripples you. It deflates you. It consumes you. It tricks you into believing that what you're doing is somehow wrong.
You're afraid because you're too busy worrying about the outcome, or the whispers, and less about the thing you're doing. 
But those whispers are there because you're doing something. Being something.
Nobody whispers about things that don't matter. They whisper about things that make them think.
So let them whisper. And let the whispers be your quiet cheerleaders while you dance your dance and dream your dream. 
Those whispers mean you're doing it right. 

Yes, yes, YES! 

I love when I read little pieces like this. They are the little pieces that slide right into your soul and make you feel less alone in your journey. I could've kissed Abbey for sharing this. 

It's true: fear tricks us.

It tries to convince us that we are incapable of doing great or necessary things in our lives. And it will continue to do so as long as you treat fear like a scary and unwanted thing.

Here's a thought: What if we embraced fear?

Instead of letting fear creep into our lives, let's try holding the door open for it and welcoming it right in. Invite it in for coffee. Ask how it's day is going. Make a friend out of fear!

There is a line in a John Mayer song (The Heart of Life) that inspired me to change the way that I viewed fear altogether. The line is:

Fear is a friend who's misunderstood.

So. Much. TRUTH.

Fear is not our foe. It's a friendly reminder that we are about to do something that has the potential to better the person that we are, or those around us, based on how we handle it. If it hurts us or others or hinders our reputation, it is only because we have allowed it to. 

It's only when we fight fear that we end up in those dark places. Instead, take it by the hand. Ask why its there. Find out what it needs. 

After all, it is the keeper of the answers we are all looking for. It has them because it is made up of the questions we are too afraid to ask.

We just might find our most desired answers once we make the choice to befriend our greatest fears.

You Are Worth Fighting For

I've been writing a lot about my new little health journey lately.

It's probably because the last time I worked out consistently (for over a month) was when I was about 18. You know, the naturally thin but you still think you're fat days. Here I am, 28, skipping past the finish line of week six and I am still having trouble believing it's actually MY feet in those running shoes.

I mean, I went to the gym every day of this past weekend. Yep, that's right—WEEKEND.

Sweet Jesus. I am becoming one of the people I used to make fun of! 

I used to very seriously contemplate getting a box of donuts, going into the trendiest gym on a Saturday or Sunday, and passing them out to the obviously crazed people that were wasting their weekends fighting fat.

Now, I would be passing them out to MYSELF. It's strange how quickly tables can turn. The only thing that hasn't changed is that I would still happily accept that donut from my judging self. I'll take the maple long john challenge, please!

What I recently realized about a lot of those crazy people in the gym is that it is not just fat that they are fighting.

Sure, there are some that are still brainwashed by society and are just doing it for the calories or to take pics that they can hashtag with #BEASTMODE, but many are there for good reason.  They are fighting for something much more important than the fleeting number on the scale.

They are fighting for themselves.

At least, I know that's what I am battling for when I am trudging on the stairway of excruciating doom AKA the StairMaster. I am fighting for me.

Recently, after a particularly tough workout, I was discussing this concept with my boyfriend over the phone. I was telling him how different this time around felt because I had no other motivators besides myself. This is something I wanted, not something I thought I needed to do.

I told him, "It just feels so damn good to really be FIGHTING for SOMETHING again."

This got us on the topic of what else we have fought for in our lives, which led him to drop this bomb on me:

"You want to know what I have fought the hardest for in my life? It's you. There is nothing I have fought harder for than making you mine. It's my greatest achievement."

My eyes instantly turned into cartoon-like pools of hot and salty tears.

Now, I rarely discuss my relationship on here for personal reasons. I mean, I put so much of myself on here and other social medias already that I like to keep that little wonderful piece of my life to myself. BUT, this had to be shared. 

It is not like me to get emotional when it comes to the mushy kind of love stuff. When it comes to the general life kind of love, yes. I cry when I watch the news or listen to touching music or when my parents call just to say they love me or when kids say brutally honest but beautiful things—I get all kinds of emotional for everything else.

But, the romantic type of love? Let's just say I need to work on that department.

It's a defense mechanism that I have been trying to retire for a long time now.

I have always prided myself on maintaining the power in any kind of romantic relationships I have encountered. If you keep the upper hand, you can't get hurt. Simple as that. This can also be translated into being a cold-hearted bitch. I actually took being called that as a compliment at one point in my life.

What the guys that thought I had a heart of stone didn't realize (that my current boyfriend did) is that it was all a big, fat BLUFF. I was bluffing. I was really, really good at bluffing, but I was bluffing nonetheless. 

He knew I built that seemingly impenetrable wall around my heart because it was too open and vulnerable and absolutely TERRIFIED of being hurt. He also saw how big and, to him, beautiful it was. This is what made him decide it was worth the fight.

And what a fight it was!

Thankfully, he was relentless. I put him through the wringer—several times.

Sorry, Babe!

I wasn't going to wave my white flag without putting up a fight for myself because I knew I was WORTH fighting for. And he won because I finally realized that he thought so too.

What I am now beginning to understand is that kind of fighting isn't just reserved for the ones we desire or the things that we want in our lives. It should also be used for ourselves. 

Having a significant other that believes you are worth every struggle and battle and argument and ounce of heartache is a beautiful thing. It is one of the greatest feelings in the world. I do my best to not take it for granted. But it doesn't define me. It's my job to fill in that description.

Let me also say that if you don't have a significant other that is continually fighting to keep and love you, then you need to read more than just this post!

No one should ever feel like they are doing you a favor by loving you. EVER. Your love is unique and sacred and should never be bargained for. NO DEALS. 

And if you think that you don't have someone in your life to help you feel this way, you are oh so, so wrong. You have YOU. We have ourselves to fight for us!

I believe that when we decide to defend who we are and what we want—at all costs—is when others get in line to fight for us, too. Because, sadly, we are all very curious about anyone who knows their own love. It's what we are all breaking our backs trying to find. 

I don't care if you are single, in a relationship, dating a tub of Ben & Jerry's, married or divorced, you should still be suiting up for battle for your damn self—EVERY day.

Whether it is fought on a treadmill or on the track or at work or in your relationship or in your friendships or just by standing firmly beside something you believe in—it must be fought! Pull up your hair, take out your gold hoops, and get scrappy for YOU. 

It's okay to be carried onto the field by others. In fact, some days we are going to need help making it out to the front lines, but it must be our choice to stand and fight. No one is going to fight for someone who has given up on the fight for themselves. 

So, put 'em up. Duke it out. Stick it to 'em. Be the first in line ready to sign up for your own army. Show the world why you are worth fighting for by earning the greatest victory of the fight for yourself. 

If at First You Don't Succeed, Fail, Fail Again.

It amazes me how quickly we can go from having a life-changing epiphany to having a life-shattering breakdown. At least it feels like our lives are shattered for the moment, anyway.

You know when you wake up and you have one of those this-is-the-day-everything-is-going-to-change-for-the-better days? Yeah. Those days are awesome. They're especially awesome if they don't happen to fall on a Monday because, for whatever reason, it feels more promising.

That reason probably has something to do with the fact that we feel like everyone and their mom also says they are going to change their lives or start something...on Monday. But if you decide to pass up on the free breadsticks at Olive Garden on a Wednesday? Well then, you obviously mean business!

I had the pleasure of having one of these little-big epiphanies (on a Tuesday, woot woot!) about 6 weeks ago. I woke up early all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (which happens about as often as a lunar eclipse) and decided to go for a walk.

Yes, the same walk I talked about in my last blog.

That walk started a new routine. It's a great routine too. What we don't remind ourselves about these "new me, new life" routines is that they can (and are 99.9999% likely to) eventually be broken. Those days are not so awesome—especially when they begin to string together.

On the first day that you decide to break your routine, it's okay. You're just taking a break, that's all. Everyone needs a day off, right? Then the second day passes. Okay, maybe it's an extended vacation. The third day passes. Worry begins to creep in. By the fourth day, worry turns to panic and on the fifth day, welcome to the breakdown.

I was doing so well! What is WRONG with me? Why can't I stay committed to ANYTHING in life! Why did I get all excited? Why did I tell people?? I knew I'd end up here. People are out there changing the world and I can't even stick to a power walking regimen that my great grandmother would dust her shoulders off with. WTF.

This is where I found myself last week. I had fallen off of my walking-wagon and it might as well have been the end of the world. I came down on myself. HARD.

Isn't it strange how we have these mental arsenals filled with ammunition that is specifically designed to destroy our personal hopes and aspirations? Maybe it's just me, but I have a feeling I'm not alone on this one. It's like when anything goes wrong, or we let ourselves down in some way, our minds immediately cue the army of self-loathing.

Oh, she failed again? Shocker. Send in the 2012 failure missile followed by the February 2010 nuke. That should keep her in bed for a few days!

Why do we do this? Don't we have enough against us in this society-driven world? Why is it so easy to add ourselves to that list of doubters? 

I couldn't let this "failure" interrupt the construction of the path I had worked so hard on paving for myself. I had to clear my head. So, what did I do? You probably guessed it. I took a long walk.

Seriously. I walked that shit out.

Something crazy happened on that walk:

No one stopped to remind me that I hadn't been there in the past few days. No signs were posted with pictures of what I had missed out on. The sun still peeked over the mountains. My favorite old lady still wished me a blessed day. The ants didn't look at me accusingly. The quail ran away from me just the same.

There were no physical reminders waiting to tell me that I had failed at maintaining my new routine. Only the mental ones that I chose to create and carry. If I removed those, it was like I never skipped a beat.

A thought crossed my mind: What if when we fell off our self-made wagons we didn't look at it as starting over when we decided to get back on? What if we instead treated it as a chance to help ourselves back up to our feet to continue right where we left off?

If we eliminated the idea of measuring all of the progress we could have made and chose to focus on the progress that has already been earned, we might have a better chance of reaching the destination we created for ourselves in the first place.

I may have turned my back on my new found path for a few days, but that didn't mean I couldn't still feel the warmth of the sun that awaited my return. 

What if every ounce of progress we have made, in all areas of our lives, was still ours for the taking? Would we still be so paralyzingly afraid to fail?

I don't think so.

If you are feeling weak in a situation where you once knew yourself to be strong, I fully believe you still get to claim that strength. If you are having difficulty forgiving someone but you have moved on from equally difficult relationships before, that peace is still yours for the taking.

Tap into your past victories and milestones. Take back your hard-earned willpower. Own the courage that you once put in the work to create. ALL of these things are still yours!

Do not give your former self all of the credit. That brave soul is still yours, that wise decision was created in the same mind, and those strong legs are still carrying YOU. 

Let's stop beating ourselves up for not being who we were and start using that energy to better who we currently are. We might fall, in fact, we are going to fall—A LOT. Instead of mourning the strength we once had to get back up, let's allow ourselves to believe it's still there and stand! 

I'm walking again because I love it. I'm no longer counting the days missed or kept. I am only counting the steps that are getting me closer to my goal. There is no longer a rewind or fast forward option for my little journey, nor a stop, pause or play button to hit—only record.

We all know success is just failure turned inside out and, if we want it badly enough, then it will always, always be worth the fall.