55-Minute CardiYoga Sequence: Balance Challenge

The global pandemic is a topic we’re likely all sick of reading about, but paradoxically can’t stop talking about.  Given that we’ve collectively pressed pause on our lives and cast aside nearly every aspect of our daily routines, its impact is unavoidably in the forefront of most of our minds.  Navigating a “new normal” without the familiarity and comfort of distractions we once took for granted can feel isolating or anxiety inducing at times.  To make matters worse, many of us put pressure on ourselves to turn this strange time into a spring board for some extraordinary breakthrough.  We make grand plans to write a screenplay, learn Italian, find the lids to our Tupperware containers, match our unpaired socks, and get rock hard abs without ever leaving our living rooms.  It’s not enough that we’re worried about our uncertain futures; we’re also worried that if we don’t optimize our productivity now, we’ll have failed ourselves or missed an opportunity to achieve something spectacular.

In the fitness industry specifically, the influx of on-demand virtual workouts introduced at the onset of social distancing has been as fantastic as it’s been overwhelming.  On one hand, it’s remarkable to see how quickly and innovatively fitness communities have adapted to provide their clients with seamless access to classes.  On the other hand, I recognize that the onslaught of advertisements for various workout plans, the ease of entry to participate, and the sheer volume of content that’s available can inadvertently trigger people into thinking they “should” be using their free time to exercise more.  If the idea of working out at home feels stressful given these scary and uncertain circumstances, consider taking an opportunity to embrace stillness instead.  Rather than pushing yourself to do more, reframe your mindset to acknowledge good things you’ve already done.  Explore the thoughts that arise in the absence of productivity to see if there’s any insight to be gained from your discomfort.

Alternatively, if you’re feeling stir crazy and actively seeking opportunities to fill your time and find a safe space to virtually connect with the fitness community, then yoganna love this.

 

45-Minute Yoga Sequence for Core Strength

Yoga gives me a sense of community. In support of communities coming together (figuratively) to stay home, I hope to bring you that feeling virtually. If you’re feeling restless, anxious, lonely, lazy, or you just need a brief respite from the news, I created a free 45-minute yoga/HIIT class for core strength you can stream any time. No subscription/membership/login required, no equipment necessary, no jumping exercises (AKA no pissing off your downstairs neighbors), no money to pay, and no expiration date…so no excuses! I apologize that the video isn’t professional quality, but I had…no budget!

In the spirit of community, feel free to share this with anyone who may be interested. If you have requests for additional yoga classes or tutorials, I’d love to hear from you. And lastly— if you are able to support your local yoga/fitness studios who are offering paid streaming services, please do!

NamastAY THE F*CK HOME, everyone!

 

Yoganna Love This: Guide to Staying Healthy During Flu Season and Other Good Ideas

  1. Wash your hands often.
  2. Clean all “high-touch” surfaces, such as counters, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, phones, keyboards, remote controls, and steering wheels with disinfectant sprays or wipes.
  3. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your elbow crease when you cough or sneeze.
  4. Make a conscious effort not to touch your face, mouth, and eyes.
  5. Iron the pile of pants you’ve had draped over your desk chair since last Tuesday that were too clean for the hamper, but too dirty for the closet.
  6. If you have a fever or don’t feel well, limit activities outside your home except to get medical care.
  7. Don’t share personal items such as drinking glasses, eating utensils, and towels.
  8. Don’t leave a clump of hair in the shower drain.
  9. Stop using “literally” as word filler, particularly in figurative statements.
  10. Wash your hands often…with soap.
  11. Use hand sanitizer to clean your hands when soap and water aren’t available.
  12. As a courtesy to others, don’t leave the toilet seat up because baptizing a booty cheek in ice cold eau de toilette at 3AM during your nightly “one-eye-closed, other-eye-squinted-so-you-don’t-wake-all-the-way-up” bathroom ritual is as startling as it is unsanitary.
  13. Avoid shaking hands with someone who has visibly soiled hands or an active cough.
  14. Avoid holding hands with slow walkers on crowded sidewalks because some of us have PLACES TO BE.
  15. Reconsider non-essential travel to areas where there’s a high incidence of illness and limited access to proper medical care.
  16. When you finish making a sandwich, put the twist tie back on the loaf of bread; don’t just twirl n’ tuck the open end of the plastic sleeve under the remaining slices before you stuff it back into the pantry.
  17. Call ahead before routine or sick visits with your healthcare provider to see if they recommend taking any precautions to prevent catching or spreading illness.
  18. Wash your hands often….and don’t neglect the backs of your hands, between your fingers, your fingernails, or your thumbs.
  19. Ask yourself when you last replaced your toothbrush. If you can’t remember, you should know I am judging you a little.
  20. Ask yourself when you last got an oil change. If you can’t remember, you should know you are in good company because, same.
  21. Consider walking in lieu of taking densely populated public transportation or using ride-sharing services for local trips to reduce your risk of exposure to respiratory droplets and other germs.
  22. When the draining board is full, put away the dry dishes rather than artfully stacking wet dishes on top of them like a high stakes Jenga game.
  23. Call your parents and tell them you were just kidding about the oil change thing.
  24. Wash your hands often…for the entire length of the “Happy Birthday” song. But sing it in your head, because awkwardly sitting through someone singing Happy Birthday to you is universally the worst.
  25. Thoroughly clean outdoor coats, hats, and gloves.
  26. Tell a friend to stop watching their ex’s Instagram stories.
  27. Walk your empty shopping cart back to the carriage return rather than rolling it across the Target parking lot like you’re bowling for pigeons.
  28. If you are at an increased risk for infection (i.e., immunosuppressed, elderly, pregnant, etc.), consider wearing a protective mask and gloves in public.
  29. If you have been advised to wear disposable face masks or gloves, safely dispose of them after a single use. Never reuse them.
  30. Always be kind to people who work in service industries.

 

And if all else fails, remember to wash your hands.

 

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Trains of Thought, Derailed

As a yoga teacher, I probably shouldn’t admit that I skip Savasana when I practice on my own.  While “corpse pose” is aptly named because it’s about as physically taxing as pushing daises, I find it more challenging to invite stillness into my practice than to balance on my head.  In the absence of having to concentrate on contorting into a pretzel or reciting an inspiring mantra (e.g., “please don’t fart right now”), Savasana behooves me to clear my mind and observe where my thoughts gravitate.  The mind can be a vulnerable place to explore without the convenience of distractions, especially when uncomfortable emotions or experiences are easier left avoided than processed.  Rather than relishing a moment of respite during the time allotted to Savasana, I tend to grow impatient and preoccupied by my lack of productivity.  I’ll feel the compulsion to accomplish something tangible, even convincing myself to use the time to extend my workout.  I have trouble giving myself permission to slow down when I feel I haven’t “earned the right” to rest.

Having recognized this about myself, I’m trying to spend more time riding out waves of restlessness and observing where my focus drifts.  My first few attempts at mindfulness brought to my attention that my appetite for achievement and productivity supersedes my capacity for self-compassion.  If I subjected others to the pressure I regularly apply to myself, most of my daily interactions would sound like a supercut of Gordon Ramsey’s greatest meltdowns on Hell’s Kitchen…minus the redeeming charm of his British accent.  I also noticed I tend to be more critical of myself when my schedule is particularly busy or stressful. Although I get a boost of self-esteem when I’m generous with my time and attention, sometimes I agree to things I don’t want to do or regard the needs of others more highly than my own out of an aversion to disappointing people.  When I’m spread too thinly, even voluntary activities begin to feel like obligations, and I’m often more concerned about where I’m headed next than enjoying the present.  I’ve learned that when my calendar starts to feel unmanageable, I take solace in regulating other facets of my life to reclaim a sense of control.  Usually, that manifests itself in the form of scrutinizing what I eat and categorizing my food choices as “good” or “bad”.  Assigning value to food in this way can be problematic, especially when my busy schedule inevitably prevents me from adhering to my self-imposed dietary restrictions and I reinforce the cycle of shame by berating myself for another perceived failure.

Until recently, I hadn’t connected the dots between these seemingly unrelated patterns of behavior.  Now that I’ve spent more time observing how my emotions gain momentum and influence my beliefs, I’m more readily equipped to interrupt persistent, inflexible trains of thought.  For example, if I consistently experience resentment after I agree to plans, it’s a sign that I need to work on setting boundaries around my time.  Moreover, with the understanding that old habits die hard and that consistency is more sustainable than perfection, I’d benefit from reacting less judgmentally if I slip-up and say “yes” reflexively when I wish I’d said “no” or if I commit to plans that might require me to eat outside the bounds of what I consider healthy.

Although I’m still inclined to fidget in Savasana, it’s with the newfound perspective that my instinct to fear stagnation and reject imperfection reflects how I’ve been conditioned to think, but my ability to respond to those thoughts with compassion, curiosity, and objectivity is a deeper reflection of my character.

 

White Knuckling

I am officially in my late 20s.  By the New York Times’ standards, I’m no longer a recent college graduate.  In the blink of an eye, there’s been a paradoxical shift in the universe where half my peers suddenly refer to pregnancy as “family planning” as opposed to “terrifying consequences”, and the other half would sooner croak than be tied down by the responsibility of watering an orchid plant twice a month.  At twenty-seven, my Facebook targeted ads are transitioning from acne creams to anti-aging creams, and my recent Google search history chronicles a budding curiosity about the old wives’ tale alleging that plucking grey hair makes it grow back in multiples of three.  (For the record, Google says plucking grey hair does NOT stimulate the growth of more greys…but speaking as an eye-witness, every grey hair my father loses on his head seems to resurface on his back, so why tempt fate?)  While I hope it’s clear I’m speaking tongue-in-cheek and I recognize I have a lot of privilege as a young, white, gainfully employed millenial, I bring all this up because lately I’ve become acutely aware of time quickly slipping through my fingers while I haven’t been fully present.

The first half of my 27th year has flown by.  I’ve filled my time with new and exciting opportunities, each one serving as the launching pad into a chapter more rewarding and fulfilling than its predecessor. Despite having so much to feel positively about, there have been times I’ve allowed the anxiety of venturing outside my comfort zone to cause me to think in terms of  “getting through it”. For example, when I decided to pursue my PMP certification, I couldn’t wait to get past the months of studying that preceded the exam.  With a pass rate lower than 50%, I put even more pressure on myself to pass the first time around so I wouldn’t have to go through it again.  As opposed to feeling relieved after I passed above target in each category, I forged ahead by immediately setting a new goal to find a better job.  Miraculously, the stars aligned and I landed my dream job after only three weeks of intensive interviews.  But the moment I received that glorious offer, I decided I needed to find a better apartment that would lessen my new commute to work.  I repeated the mantra that if I could just get through the longer commute for a few more months, then all I’d have left to do is move…oh, and get through the painstaking process of moving.*   In hindsight, I spent the better part of a year with my foot on the gas pedal speeding to reach my destination without realizing I was driving down a scenic route.

*It’s worth noting at this point how much I’m sincerely looking forward to moving because I’ll be starting a new chapter living with my boyfriend.  I can’t begin to express how grateful I am that he not only loves and supports the neurotic lunatic I am today, but that he wholeheartedly believes I’m capable of growing into the person I strive to become.  He is the North Star that guides and inspires me by way of his shining example of hard work and discipline, and someday I hope to “grow up” to be just like him—even though I’m technically three months and one day his senior.  Our relationship deserves its own recognition and celebration, even during the occasional periods I’ve felt preoccupied with “getting through” life.

Having recognized this pattern, I’m wary of propagating the idea that the degree to which I allow myself to enjoy the present is contingent upon my perceived control over the future.  If I white knuckle my way through the joy rides, someday I may look in the rearview mirror to find I blew past the most important stops.  To challenge my future-oriented tendencies, I’ve started asking myself the following questions when I start to treat life like something to “get through” rather than enjoy:

“What can I do right now?”  I tend to mentally rehearse hypothetical situations to anticipate how to prevent a worst-case scenario from occurring.  I’ve spent a lot of energy conjuring up “escape routes” to mitigate potential sources of discomfort, no matter how remote or unlikely they are.  While my meticulous plans have served me well within certain contexts, if I spent half as much time crafting analogies as I spent constructing elaborate solutions to problems that never even manifest…well, I might know where the hell I was going with this.  Worrying about the what-ifs can trigger unnecessary anxiety.  To keep myself in check, I ask what’s within my control, even if it’s as little as my reaction to whatever’s happening around me.  By focusing on what I can do, I feel less helpless about what’s out of my control and reassured that I’m capable of tackling whatever lies ahead.

“What’s going well?”  It occurred to me recently that I forfeit a lot of my power by giving attention to fleeting negativity that, when obsessively rehashed, can transform a bad moment into a bad day.  The mental energy I use to perpetuate those thoughts could be just as easily channeled into thinking about how many overwhelmingly positive reasons there are to have a good day.  No matter how persistent or severe the stressor, practicing gratitude is the most effective way I gain a clear, objective perspective of my good fortune.  I take stock of all the places I receive support, positive affirmation, and self-esteem before I complain about what’s lacking.  After I cover the full inventory of my health status, family life, relationships, career, hobbies, and financial stability, I always discover that even when I feel insecure about a couple categories, something is always going right.  I prefer to approach gratitude from a place of abundance by appreciating what I have rather than leveraging someone else’s misfortune to feel better about my circumstances, but I don’t get to police how anyone else counts their blessings.

“Where am I?” Relax; I’m not diving into existentialism here.  Maybe I’d have something more insightful to share if spent my early 20s Keeping Up with Kierkegaard instead of the Kardashians.   Asking myself, “where am I?” means checking in to see where my feet are literally planted the moment I feel anxiety beginning to brew.   More often than not, I’m in the comfort of my home or I’m in a familiar, safe place like my car or my office.  Acknowledging that I’m not in the presence of an imminent threat creates a comfortable space to sift through my thoughts.

“What am I sacrificing?”  I’m quick to ignore what I need now if I believe it will help me achieve what I want later.  As a result, I’ve sacrificed a lot of today’s peace for tomorrow’s preparedness.  It’s important for me set boundaries and make conscious choices about how I allocate my time so I don’t end up giving too much of myself to something I come to realize later I didn’t want.  There’s nothing wrong with playing the long game and learning when to compromise is an integral part of earning almost anything worth having, but it’s also important to decide at what cost I’m willing to make sacrifices.

Are We Bad at Yoga?

As often as I practice yoga, I am admittedly not a purist.  Neither my personal practice nor my teaching style are traditional.  While I spent 500 hours learning ancient Indian philosophy before earning a certificate to teach yoga, I rarely speak Sanskrit in class because my personal philosophy is to use simple, clear language that resonates rather than intimidates.  (And equally in part because I physically cannot get through the word “tittibhasana” without having a laughing fit.)  I feel most authentic and successful when I encourage my students to listen to their bodies and celebrate their progress than I do trying to manufacture a profound spiritual awakening in each of them.  My practice incorporates sequences of high-intensity interval training set to playlists of Snoop Dogg’s greatest hits.  (Who, contrary to popular belief, was evidently the guy who released his debut rap album “Doggystyle” in 1993, and not one of Northern India’s founding fathers of yoga over 5,000 years ago.)  I lip sync my way through chants to conceal the fact that I sound like Danny DeVito impersonating a lawnmower, and I spend most of Savasana thinking about better ways I could be spending my time than marinating in a puddle of my own sweat and mascara goop.  I suppose my practice is a modern adaptation of yoga suited for workaholics, perfectionists, and overthinkers who find peak mental clarity in the tail-end of a stiff endorphin buzz.  Fortunately, I have a healthy enough ego to mitigate the flack I catch from people who say that isn’t “real” yoga to decide for myself whether they’re right.  (Which is that next level zen sh*t, right?)

Having said that, I genuinely respect the rich history in which yoga is rooted.  I wouldn’t be fit to teach without having extensively studied the foundation of yoga outlined in sacred texts such as The Bhagavad Gita, Rigveda, or Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.  I understand the argument against Westernization of yoga, and I agree that posting photos of myself folded into a pretzel on Instagram is a pretty self-serving, indulgent pursuit of external validation, which is obviously the antithesis of yoga’s introspective, contemplative principles.  I see the paradoxical nature of yoga’s public consumption because it glamorizes much of what yoga dissuades, and I am guilty of not following the “rules”.  But then again, policing the right and wrong type of yoga, or judging who is good or bad at yoga is just as hypocritical and contradictory of yoga’s code of ethics.  Ultimately, I think it’s important to remind people that yoga cultivates self-reflection.  This gives every yogi the opportunity to explore and interpret yoga however it fits within the context of his or her life.  My one stipulation is that it’s truly never worth using shoddy, unsafe alignment to impress or imitate others.  Doing no harm to ourselves or to others should always be paramount in a yoga practice, but hopefully that’s an applicable policy in every facet of our lives.  Beyond that, our time on the mat is probably best spent practicing whatever philosophy to which we ascribe rather than trying to convince others why ours is superior.

Yoganna Love This: Guide To Packing for a Yoga Retreat

1.) Consult a reliable weather source for the 5-day forecast at your travel destination to determine appropriate clothing to pack.
2.) Immediately forget what it said.
3.) Select shirts to pack based on their proximity to the top of your dresser drawer. *

*Note: Quantity to pack TBD by how many need to be removed from said dresser for the drawer to close completely for first time since you did your laundry.

4.) Repeat step 3 with yoga pants, paying no mind as to whether tops and bottoms form any cohesive, matching outfits. *

*Note: This logic applies to shoes as well.

5.) Pack every pair of clean underwear you own.
6.) Confirm the date, time, and departure gate of your flight.
7.) Recheck the weather forecast for potential thunderstorms that could impact your flight.
8.) Repeat steps 6 & 7 on a continuous loop to ensure neither has changed.
9.) Pack a book to read on the plane.
10.) Observe that the book was published in 1991.
11.) Sit on the floor overcome with childhood nostalgia for forty-five minutes.
12.) Ask Siri, “What ever happened to the original members of Destiny’s Child?”
13.) Pack your passport.
14.) Pack your wallet.
15.) Pack your cell phone charger.
16.) Pack an umbrella, just in case.
17.) Pack jeans you haven’t tried on since 8th grade, just in case.
18.) Pack a graphing calculator, just in case.
19.) Recheck the compartment of your carry-on bag where you packed your passport to make sure it’s still there.
20.) Confirm the date, time, and departure gate of your flight. (x2) *

*Note: You will never be too sure you haven’t been misreading AM and PM this whole time.

21.) Google poisonous bugs and contagious ailments in your travel destination.
22.) Text your mom a picture of a suspicious bug bite on your butt to ask if it’s malaria.
23.) WebMD the side effects of Malaria pills you haven’t been prescribed.
24.) Pack your toothbrush.
25.) Consider the possibility of the airline losing your luggage and convince yourself it will 100%, absolutely be lost forever.
26.) Frantically stuff ten additional pairs of underwear in your carry-on bag so you are prepared for the inevitable disappearance of your luggage.
27.) Say aloud to your empty apartment, “MY PASSPORT IS PACKED IN THE FRONT COMPARTMENT OF MY CARRY-ON BAG.”
28.) Arrive at the airport a minimum of 3.5 hours before your scheduled boarding time.
29.) Suppress mild nausea until you can confirm at your travel destination that your luggage has not, in fact, been lost forever.
30.) Realize you forgot to pack your goddamn yoga mat.

Ready to plan your next yoga retreat? Join me in Barbados!

Alone vs. Lonely

I consider myself an outgoing introvert.  When I’m alone in a social setting, I feel equally as comfortable striking up conversation with a nearby stranger as I feel observing the scene quietly without the security of companionship.  I genuinely look forward to spending time with groups of friends at parties, concerts, and sporting events, but I’m just as enthusiastic about retreating to the echoing solace of my empty apartment.  I’m not shy about expressing my opinions, but I prefer to have a chance to process my thoughts alone before considering whether to talk them through with someone else.  (That’s probably why I write a public blog inspired by my private thoughts.)  From my perspective, the difference between being outgoing and being extroverted is that outgoing individuals are simply confident around people, whereas extroverted folks are energized by being around people.  I’ve learned that I need time to myself to recharge so that I have enough energy to give freely to others.

Because I’m sociable, people tend to be surprised that I consider myself an introvert. Recently, someone asked me if I get lonely because I spend a lot of time alone.  I replied that I don’t, but I didn’t put much thought into why that may be.  Now that I’ve had time away from the conversation to introspect, I can better articulate the difference, at least in my mind, between being alone and being lonely.

I try not to use the terms “alone” and “lonely” interchangeably because sometimes I experience one without the other.  For instance, my favorite way to spend a rainy Sunday is inside my apartment practicing yoga in a ratty sweatshirt without uttering a word to another soul.  On the other hand, sometimes I feel lonely when I’m in a room full of people who share a belief system or set of values that goes against mine.  I’m talking about people who say things like, “leggings aren’t pants,” and “nobody cares how high you can kick,” and “the store manager will escort you out of Trader Joe’s now, ma’am”.  Being alone is more about our state of being than it is about how we think, feel, or interpret our surroundings.  Loneliness stems from our emotions, perceptions, and reactions to our surroundings.

Loneliness feels like you’re not connecting with people around you.  Being alone means you’re taking time to connect with yourself.

Loneliness is fearing the rejection of no one wanting to spend time with you.  Being alone says, “I want to hang out with me, too!”

Loneliness stems from pursuing something outside yourself to avoid feeling bored, restless, anxious, or disappointed.  Being alone stems from creating peace within yourself.

Loneliness is mourning a connection you’ve lost, or longing for one you’ve never felt before.  Being alone is cultivating space in your heart to breathe new life.

Loneliness makes you feel isolated and vulnerable, as if you are a victim of the universe.  Being alone makes you feel liberated and empowered, as if you are ready to receive every gift the universe has to offer.

Being alone isn’t something I inherently avoid, feel ashamed about, or pity.  In fact, I see it as a potential remedy for loneliness in situations where we’ve been ignoring our intuition or stifling our voices to sustain a relationship that wasn’t meant for us.  Having said all that, I recognize that being alone and being lonely aren’t mutually exclusive.  Most emotions aren’t black or white, and it’s normal to feel like we fall within some grey area of “alonely?” on any given day.  Ironically, loneliness is an experience most of us can identify with and feel connected in sharing.  So the good news is that if you are feeling lonely, you are not alone.  The better news is that if you are open to allowing yourself to be alone, you may meet a version of yourself who changes your perspective.

Time is Money

Hypothetically, let’s say you’re about to live abroad for a year on an assignment for work.  You receive a generous stipend from accounts payable to cover your expenses.  Your company recognizes the importance of work/life balance and gives you the freedom to spend your stipend however you choose, but they enforce the policy that no employee will receive more than has been allotted should you run out of money.  You’ve also been told that any money you don’t spend on the trip will be reabsorbed by the company at the end of the year, so there’s no cash out.  Therefore, as an employee, it would make the most sense to try to spend every penny, but to take care to spend each penny responsibly.

Similarly, as I set intentions for 2018, I welcome the New Year as though I am about to receive a 365-day stipend on an assignment from the universe.  Each day is mine to spend however I choose, but once the day is over, I cannot buy it back.  By budgeting my time as if it were a commodity like money, I can identify how to reduce waste and limit the resources I give to things that don’t add value to my life.  But there’s no reason to be stingy with my time, either.  A day that’s not used to its fullest will still expire, so the awareness of time’s impermanence can act as a motivator to find more meaningful opportunities to give freely with a warm hand.

Time is relative in the sense that we generally need some reference for comparison to determine its significance.  For example, living abroad for a year seems like a long time if it means you’d be a continent away from your spouse or children.  On the other hand, the same 365 days is hardly any time at all if you’ve been diagnosed with a terminal illness.  Even the significance of the length of a single minute changes based upon whether you’re sprinting through an airport to catch a flight or trapped underwater in a frozen pond.  I bring this up to emphasize that although time is always passing at the same rate, the context of our lives shapes how valuable the time is to us.  Just like money, time is a precious, limited resource that affords us freedom, depending how we perceive it.

As I reflect upon 2017, I ask myself the following questions:

  • How much time did I wish away, hoping for something bigger or better in the future?
  • How often did I find myself reluctantly saying “yes” because I felt too guilty to say “no”?  And vice versa?
  • How many times did Netflix ask me, “Are you still watching?”
  • How much time did I spend filtering the moments I shared on social media compared to the time I spent being present in the moments that inspired the posts?
  • Did I prioritize people who treated me like a back-up plan?
  • Could I have been more patient with people who needed compassion?
  • Were my actions in alignment with my goals, or did I spend my free time doing what I want now instead of what I want most?

While I generally find New Year’s Resolutions to be arbitrary or cliché, I also believe there’s no time like the present when it comes to focusing on self-improvement and commitment to personal growth.  Wishing everyone a happy and healthy New Year!

Am I successful?

As a fourteen year old, I remember sitting in my dad’s car anxiously picking my cuticles in anticipation of telling him I didn’t want to try out for basketball.  I wanted to pursue ballet more seriously and couldn’t make the time commitment to both.  I was reluctant to break the news to him because he had been my coach since biddy ball and we bonded over playing sports together.  Since my dad had no vested interest in ballet, I was afraid he would be disappointed.  I was even more afraid that by giving up a pastime we shared, he would think the time we had spent together  wasn’t meaningful to me, which couldn’t have been further from the truth.  When I finally brought it up, he was unconditionally supportive of me finding my own passion rather than blindly adopting his.  I remember him saying something along the lines of, “Of course you should do what you enjoy!  Basketball, ballet, whatever– you can do anything you want!”  He then continued, “You could stand on the porch and spit into the yard for all I care…but you better be able to spit farther than the rest of the kids in the neighborhood.”  That message stuck with me.

Growing up, I was fortunate to have a mother and father who encouraged me to explore my interests, no matter how eccentric.  Despite the fact that they both held demanding full-time careers, my parents always made it their priority to chauffeur me from one activity to the next and they rarely missed a game or recital.  They gave me the freedom to express myself creatively and trusted my judgement to find meaningful ways to spend my time.  They had faith in my work ethic and believed in my potential to achieve anything I set my sights on.  The thing was, I exhausted myself trying to be the best at it all.  I put so much pressure on myself to do right by my loving parents, I could’ve pinched a lump of coal into a diamond with my ass crack. Even though I generally had no problem meeting their expectations, or anyone else’s expectations for that matter, I felt the ubiquitous suspicion that I was never working hard enough, always disappointing someone, or failing to meet my own expectations.

Needless to say, my “second place is first loser” mindset did not bring me closer to feeling successful, regardless of how much I was achieving or who approved of my achievements.  Even when I vowed that trying my best would be a healthier, more reasonable expectation to set than being the best, it still often left me unsatisfied.  The barometer I used to measure success needed to be calibrated.

One thought process that didn’t serve me was that I sometimes measured success using outcomes outside of my control.  For example, I’ve always had the desire to be well liked.  While my behavior is within my control and I can predict how others would like me to behave, ultimately I cannot control people’s reactions and their consequential feelings about me.  When I wanted to be liked in high school, I acted agreeably, gave lots of compliments, and I could read most situations accurately to identify what to say to make my friends feel supported.  It worked pretty well!  By those measures, I should have felt successful.  So why was my self-esteem still low?  And despite having friends, why did I feel so lonely?  In hindsight, I think it was because the process I followed to get the outcome I desired made me feel like a phony bologna.  Perhaps I would have been better off if I didn’t measure success by how much other people liked me, but by whether I could make true friends with whom I authentically “belonged” rather than simply knew what to say to “fit in.”

Furthermore, I think defining success has been a confusing task in the past because I haven’t explicitly outlined what I value.  Values determine the way we measure our worth and the worth of others.  For example, I admit that sometimes I’m guilty of getting swept away by the prospect of gaining status and money.  I’ve always admired stories about innovators and entrepreneurs who started from the bottom, overcame adversity, and had the tenacity to work toward becoming CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.  I still applaud those people, but now I recognize that their status and money are simply means to an end, and not the end to value in itself.  By simply valuing others’ status and money, I ran the risk of following a crappy process to get more of it for myself.  Now, I deserve some credit; I trust myself and have too much integrity to ever do something as awful as lie, cheat, steal, or treat someone poorly to gain status or money.  That said, the process I may have chosen to follow would’ve probably induced a great deal of anxiety and insecurity as I worked toward an empty goal that I ultimately would have never quite felt like I achieved.  Instead of valuing status or money as the end gain, now I value affecting positive change, regardless of the prestige of my title, and all the priceless life experiences I’ve afforded with the money, time, and effort I’ve invested.  A general rule of thumb is that positive values stem from actions and behaviors within our control that lead to enrichment of ourselves and betterment of society.

These days when I define my success, I ask myself a few questions.  First, do I value the process rather than the result?  Next, am I responsible for my success, or am I relying on something external?  Lastly, if I don’t enjoy the process, do I really care about the result?  If I can answer all of those questions favorably, I consider it a success.