Sometimes life is like that moment that comes along in the night and steals your spirit. Not literally of course, but in a way that leaves you wondering what it’s all about in the morning. And you wake up with a foggy brain and a moody heart and you just aren’t sure why you keep on going. You may not be thinking of ending it all, but you find yourself growing smaller and smaller inside yourself, inside your world, wondering if anyone would even notice you if you completely disappeared.
If you’ve never experienced a moment like this, beware. They do happen from time to time. It’s an unsettling event and if you’re not careful, it can wash over you like the tidal wave in that one scene on the movie Soul Surfer. As someone who’s been there, I can assure you, it’s frightening. The sound of the ocean is in your ears and not in a comforting way. Your mouth and nose and ears are filled with salt water and your entire being gets tossed about. You feel broken and lifeless in the undertow.
One thing I’ve learned is that it’s possible to overcome the moments like this. It’s possible to see that wave coming and step out of the way before it drags you under. You might still feel the effects of the wave, as if you’re a child being thrown into the deep end of the pool, but with float wings on. It’s still painful, but not quite as scary.
There are some things I’ve discovered from experiencing moments like this that have been helpful; I thought I’d pass them along to you, just in case you need them.
First, don’t struggle. It’s drowning man 101. When the water rushes up on you and you can feel yourself start to panic, don’t flail about. Panicking only makes it worse. Focus on staying calm. The calmer you are, the less power the tidal wave of emotions and pain and hurt can have over you.
Second, practice happiness. I know that may sound absurd at the time, but it can be done. Whether you count your blessings or start a gratitude journal or just practice smiling in front of the mirror, it’ll be worth it. Practicing happiness will remind you of all the good things you have in life. It may not seem like you have anything going for you in that moment, but you do. Look for those things, think on those things; they haven’t vanished just because of this one moment…they just might be harder to see right now.
Third, feed yourself. Not in a way that results in you stuffing yourself with an entire chocolate cake or three full bags of spicy Cheetos (though we all know those are amazing comfort foods), but feed yourself with positive self-talk. Remind yourself of who you are and what you’re capable of. Prior to this moment, you likely had life by the tail. It may seem like the other way around now, but don’t let this one moment derail you.
Finally, in the words of Winston Churchill: “Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense." This moment you’re experiencing may change things. It may take you off course or down a path in life you never thought you’d be on, but it doesn't mean it’s over. It doesn't mean you aren't worth it or that your dreams aren't worth it or that life isn't worth living. Because you are, and your dreams are, and it is. It really and truly is.
And when this moment fades away and becomes a small part of your life story, it’ll be different…One day you’ll wake up and life will be like this moment that takes your breath away. You know the kind of moment that fills your heart and mind with all its wondrous beauty? The kind of moment that brings tears to your eyes because your life is so full and you’re on track with your life goals and all you can think about is just how blessed you really are.
If you’ve never experienced a moment like this, beware. I assure you, they do happen. And when they do, you’ll be overwhelmed with the thought of just how wonderful life really is.
My current work in progress (WIP) has been rebellious lately. It started out as a simple idea that came to me last winter on a cold, dark, and snowy day. The idea went from nothing to a beautiful blossom in the span of about ten minutes. I had a title, a handful of characters, and a one page rough synopsis before I knew what had happened.
For months I set it aside, intent on finishing The Caged Bird so that I wouldn’t be the writer who has written (but never published) two complete books. The WIP was compliant and the characters sat quietly after I hand wrote out the first four chapters before asking it to patiently wait its turn. Everything was fine until last week. Last week when I decided to focus on the WIP and get some serious writing in this month, the characters became silent.
It didn’t matter that I’d carved out time for them or was dedicating the use of my brand new iPad mini to their story; they weren’t talking. I stared at the blank screen for days. Maybe they were angry because when I found time to write them a couple months ago, I decided to write something else instead. This WIP had become a jilted lover, intent on giving me the cold shoulder.
Two days ago, they forgave me. Suddenly and without need for an apology, they started talking and wouldn’t shut up. I wrote 1800 words one day. That night, the protagonist decided to whisper in my ear when I lay down to sleep; I made sure to write down every word she spoke. The following morning, she nudged me out of bed before the alarm and gave me 3, 062 words in less than two hours. We were bonding.
Last night she spoke to me again. My guess is she heard me bemoaning to my husband (and anyone else who would listen) that I had no idea what she was up to. What kind of protagonist tells you she has 3 secret lists...but fails to tell you what's on them?? She spoke more and gave me information, mind blowing content that I never saw coming. This morning I wrote 3, 680 words. They were beautiful and made me cry.
The interesting thing about those almost 4,000 words is that they were the end of the story. The end. I have maybe 12,000 words total written and the protagonist insisted I write the end. Now, not only do I have to figure out what each of her three secret lists contain, but I have to work from the beginning and the end to create the middle of the book.
It’s funny that when I was telling my husband about this, he related it to Henry Ford, the guy who invented the automobile before there were roads. That plan worked out pretty good for him. As I was reading through his biography online, it got me thinking about Sean Covey who wrote about the need to begin with the end in mind in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.
Maybe my protagonist is on to something. Sometimes we have to think of the future, the goal, the finish line in order to take our next step or write the next chapter.
Are you struggling with your next steps? Is your WIP not cooperating? Does the idea of where you are in life conflict with where you want to be? What is the end you need to write so that you can meet your dreams?
Do you remember dreams? Those visions of who and what you would be someday until the negativity of others and your own insecurities squelched them into a faint memory? The idea of being a teacher or astronaut or artist or ... ﬁll in the blank.
Let's face it, we all have them. We all ponder them and secretly feed them. We daydream them and when all the lights are out, we night dream them too. They swell up inside of us; a balloon of hopes and beliefs and happiness. Until the balloon is popped.
Popped by a bad grade, a disgruntled peer, a resentful parent, an envious sibling; it happens. The worst is when we ourselves take those hope ﬁlled balloons and use our own sharp edges to let the air out. We poke a hole or a million holes or take a knife and slice the life right out of it. That happens too.
Insecurities, self-doubt, the incessant internal nagging that no one else cares about this idea or dream so frankly, why on earth should we...these things kill dreams. They kill them dead.
I thought about dreams last night. I came face to face with the fruit of one man's dream. It was beautiful. The cozy buildings modeled after 1950s architecture. Quality service, souvenirs, and clean entertainment. The whole experience brought tears to my eyes and fueled the ﬁre of my own dreams.
Were there challenges to making his dream come true? Absolutely. Obstacles and red tape he had to overcome? I wouldn't doubt it. There were probably naysayers who told him it couldn't be done. I wouldn't be surprised if there were times when he wondered what he was thinking and agonized over how he would ever make this dream a reality.
But Walt pressed on. He didn't give up. He had a dream that he couldn't shake and in the end, we all reaped the reward.
If you're experiencing an episode of crippling doubt about your dreams, I encourage you to explore the story of Disney. If possible, go there. The park in Orlando will not disappoint. It doesn't matter if you ride the rides or purchase anything; what matters is the lens you see it through.
Don't go wearing rose colored glasses. Go clothed in quiet perspective and consider the journey that Walt Disney traveled to get to his goal. Then, as you take a boat ride through It's a Small World or get a glimpse of life from the seat of a ﬂying elephant or a horse on a carousel, consider your journey. Consider your dream.
Like Walt, you are one (wo)man whether your dream is solo or part of a team; your idea, your vision is solely your own. Take Walt's lesson to heart. He may have built it for others, but he saw it for himself.
Is your dream haunted by insecurities and self-doubt? Take a stroll down Main Street, make friends with a mouse, and plant your vision solidly in your heart and mind. Disney may have started with a mouse, but look what it's become. Your dream can become a reality too.
The face of independence doesn’t mean you disown everyone who’s ever helped you. Or refusing help when you need it and someone is kind enough to offer. It doesn’t mean you can’t be in a relationship. Nor is it about defying your love for another because being with him or her means you’d be dependent on that person.
Independence is about knowing who you are and what you stand for. It’s about not compromising your belief system. It’s about knowing when to ask for help and when to help others.
Independence is about making plans and being flexible enough to change them when the love of your life makes plans too. It’s about planning together or planning alone; whichever one you do depends only on your relationship status. Not on the stubbornness that you get your own way.
It’s not about putting others down or standing on their necks to get what you want. It’s about lifting others up. Cheering them on even if you didn’t get there first. It’s about accepting that you won’t always be number one or the prettiest or the best or the fastest or the chosen, but loving yourself just the same when you come in dead last. Because sometimes you will…come in dead last.
Independence is about knowing who you are and liking her even when no one else does. Because sometimes that happens too. It’s about standing tall no matter what and laughing even at yourself. It’s making mistakes and learning from them.
It’s about being quirky and unusual because you’re you; not because you’re trying to draw attention to yourself. It’s about digging deep inside to find the manners your mother taught you or the ones you learned along the way when your mother had to give her attention to your siblings, leaving you to say please and thank you and I’m sorry…even when it was hard to say those things.
Independence is being you all the time and leaving room for others to be themselves. Not just tolerating them, but accepting them the way you want to be accepted.
Independence is freedom. From self-doubt, insecurities, and the lies that the mirror and the scale tell you to believe. Independence is about finding yourself on the inside and letting that person shine on the outside. All. The. Time.