Friday, October 31, 2014

Hallowing Your Life By Getting Rid of Clutter

Happy Halloween, friends.

There's a creeping presence in our lives that many of us refuse to acknowledge. It comes in many forms: possessions, thoughts, toxic relationships.

This presence is clutter.

In my life, there has always been clutter. It mounts endlessly, brick by brick, and if you do nothing it will bury you alive.

A subdued anxiety has permeated my life for years. Tell me if this sounds familiar: a mind full of overcrowded thoughts that make falling asleep daunting, a quiet inner sense that you're living life just beneath the threshold of your potential.

If you live like this for long enough, you start to believe it's "normal". It's not until you break free of this habitual subtlety that you realize what you've been missing.

So how do you break free?

De-clutter.

De-clutter your home

Over the years, we accumulate a lot of "stuff". I'm on a mission to live more minimalistically, which means I have to ask myself some tough questions.

How much of what I own do I really need?

What am I holding onto that it's time to let go of?

What might someone else be able to appreciate more than I do?

Just by going through my closet, I've filled four bursting garbage bags full of clothes I never wear. And there's a satisfaction in that.

Some things you may sell; some things you may give away. Many things you might just toss in the trash, which is extremely gratifying. Use your own discretion, and if you get rid of enough stuff, you might even be able to finally find a place for everything you own.

De-clutter your mind

Besides de-cluttering your homespace, it's also important to de-clutter your headspace.

I began meditating a few years ago in order to quiet my mind at night. I focused on my breathing to ignore the thoughts racing through my mind. I didn't force it; I simply acknowledged the thoughts as they passed by, and let them continue on their way.

I do that often now, whenever I am feeling overwhelmed. You begin to develop a self-awareness set apart from your mind, a calm bystander who can say, "Hey, that was a negative thought", and move on.

Our society is saturated with information. It comes at us from all angles, making it easy for our minds to always be "on".

But are you ever truly present? How often is your mind one step ahead of you? In a conversation with someone, are you busy thinking about what you're going to make for dinner? While you're doing the laundry, are you busy thinking about what you have to get done tomorrow?

Focus on one task at a time. Be present and mindful. Slow down.

De-clutter your life

Letting go of a person is not as easy as letting go of possessions, but it is sometimes necessary.

We hope that the people we befriend or the lovers we welcome will stick around forever, but that's not always the case. Often people come into our lives to serve a short-term purpose, and after that purpose has been served, we have to let them go.

Holding onto a relationship that is no longer mutually empowering is dangerous. It leaves us wondering what we have done wrong, and chisels away at our self-respect.

Even family can sometimes be toxic. If that is the case, don't try to change them. You are responsible for the actions of only one person: yourself.

But in all things, love. Being scathing or bitter hurts you more than anyone else.

Live peacefully

If you're trying to find your direction in life, getting rid of distractions is one step along the way.

You need space to think, to process, to know yourself. So go create it. 

And don't be scared. ;)

-Elena

Monday, October 27, 2014

It Begins with Balance

Did anyone notice that I dropped the ball last week? And by dropped the ball, I mean, did anyone notice that I didn't post on Monday of last week?

Well...I didn't. I wish that I could say that I have a good reason for not living up to my responsibility, but I really don't. I beat myself up about it for a bit, but then I realized that the situation is actually a really good example of what I want to talk about today...and what I want to talk about is finding balance.

I stay decently busy on a daily basis. I work anywhere from 40 to 50 hours a week, and I'm currently training for a new position. I try to have some type of social life. I'm working on writing a novel, and I now have not one, but two blogs to maintain. I occasionally write articles for other websites. I really like to get some reading in each day. All of this may not sounds like a lot, but it is definitely a fair amount of work. And the fact is, there simply isn't enough time in each day to do EVERYTHING that I want to do.

I have a difficult time pacing myself. I sometimes get so overwhelmed over the things that I need to do that I actually end up just going to sleep early and not doing any of it. Sure, most of the things I mentioned above are not things that I HAVE to do, but they are things that I WANT to do. If I want to reach goals and obtain dreams, I have to work for it. But...it's hard to keep up with things.

Therefore, the truth of the matter is, I, like pretty much everyone, have a hard time finding balance.

This can be problematic, because balance is a key component to working towards your goals...whatever they may be. Balance is also the thing that allows you to enjoy life on a daily basis. This leaves us all asking the same question, over and over again...how do you find that balance?

Before sitting down to write this post, I turned to Facebook for some answers. I posted a Facebook status asking my friends how they find balance in their lives. Here are some quotes from the answers I received:

"For me, I work enough so that I have the extra money to play and be active in the hobbies I love! Also keeping a calendar making sure I'm not working too much/ playing too much!"

"In order to "be happy along the way", you HAVE to have balance in your life. Every day is a work in progress to position us more effectively for what our futures hold. But EVERY day is also a day in which we have to also remember it's the journey, the moments in those hours we're living, that is indeed the meat of what we're living for."

"Take time to enjoy life. I try to live one day at a time."

It seems like we all too often make "balancing" a much more strenuous thing than it has to be. Some of us may spend too much time trying to keep things organized and on a perfect schedule, while others are only focused on having fun and living in the moment. What I gather from these answers, and from my own personal experiences, is that there has to be a good mixture of both. There's nothing wrong with having a plan, but there is something wrong with refusing to be even a little bit flexible. There's nothing wrong with enjoying yourself, but there is something wrong with never taking time to reflect on how your decisions are going to shape your future. The mixture is going to be different for every individual.

So, today, I ask you...what are you doing to find your balance? How are you making the most of the journey that you're on? What are you doing to ensure that the way you live today is a positive impact on the life that you want to live tomorrow?

I'll be working on this along with you. Good luck!

-Miranda

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What is the Definition of Success?

Success, success, success.

That's the calling card of Western society. Your worth on this earth is validated once you have achieved success.

But what is success?

It depends on who you ask. In a slow-paced society, it might come down to family and community. You are successful if you have duly served those around you in love and compassion and have ensured a prosperous future for your descendants.

In America, success - generally - is far more individualistic. The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. Success is marked by a lucrative career, a big house, stuff. The one with the most money wins.

That's how I have always defined it. I'm driven by achievement. It's not enough to be good at something - I must have the titles, the accolades. I'm not good at something unless I'm being paid to do it.

I asked some friends how they define success, and here's what they said:

"Independent, confident, financially stable, happy!"

"By the impact I have on those in my life."

"Being the best you can be and trying as hard as you can." 

To them, it's not about the titles, or the awards, or the praise. It's about what you are most comfortable with.

Success is personal, not universal.

For me, success is most about community. When my personal relationships thrive, I thrive. I feel a purpose in serving others. I glow.

To find what makes you glow, listen to your internal voice. Find what makes you overflow with love and energy. Get in touch with your soul through meditation and experimentation, and you will be more equipped to discern the activities that align with who you are.

"Don't aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in, and it will come naturally." - David Frost

I like this quote because it asks us to focus on the journey, not the destination. If you are living your truth, success will inevitably follow.

So perhaps "What is the definition of success?" is not the right question. Instead, I ask,

What do you believe in?

- Elena

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Navigating the Waters of Uncertainty: Part 2

We're often lured by the promises of the future. Like a siren's song, these attractive ideas draw us in, molded to perfection by our imagination.

Can you think of a hope you had for the future that didn't happen as you imagined? Maybe the reality looked more rusty used than shiny new, or maybe it didn't happen at all.

I've been let down by my expectations countless times. Ideas are appealing because they can be anything we want them to be; they exist only inside our heads. It's not until we or the inevitable hand of time turn them into reality that they begin to take a different shape.

The good news, though, is that you have the power to shape your own reality.

I say this because last time I promised I would tell you how I got from an iffy place to a grounded place. And it all comes down to perception.

Just looking back on the past year, I've had many expectations for my life. I mentioned some of them in my last post: get married and get a job, have a great summer internship, go home and transform myself into an artistic paragon.

Some of these hopes didn't happen at all, and some happened somewhat disappointingly.

I've been home almost two months, and I've barely scratched the surface of my purging project. I don't do all of the activities I promised myself I would do. At least not on a daily basis. And depression still sneaks up on me in ways it hasn't in a long time.

But that doesn't mean I'm at a loss. Sometimes our expectations don't match our reality because our expectations are unrealistic. Sometimes what we think we want isn't in line with who we are.

And so we adapt. We adjust. I'm trying activities I never imagined I'd try, like teaching. I'm appreciating the time I have with my parents instead of looking at my time at home as though I failed as a college graduate.

All this to say, don't be afraid to explore new territory. If your expectations let you down, bring yourself back up. If you can't control it, change your perception. And if you can, change your circumstances.

Uncertainty is a deep ocean with whirlpools and the lure of the siren's call, but strap yourself to the mast and power through it. Soon you'll be saying, land ho!

- Elena

Monday, October 13, 2014

Big Dreams from Small Beginnings: Part 2

You probably remember that I kind of left you hanging at the end of part one. I hinted to being unhappy in my current circumstances in life, so an explanation of "why" is needed, of course.

If I were to sit down and come up with an equation that results in the "American dream," it would roughly look something like this:

Honor Roll + Extracurricular Activities + Scholarships + College + Perfect Internship + Steady Job + Health Insurance + Marriage at a Semi-Early Age + Children + Beautiful House + White Picket Fence = Fulfillment

I don't write that to be cynical, or even mildly sarcastic. I write it, because that is the system that we have all, at some point or another, believed to be the golden pathway to a happy life. Hey, I will even be the first to admit that there is some truth behind it. I have accomplished many of those factors, and I'm proud of the accomplishments. And...I still do want to accomplish some of the remaining factors. My point is though, that there is no perfect combination to achieving contentment in your life. These things can be interchangeable. Not everyone is meant to go to college. Not everyone wants to get married. Children are out of the question for some people. What I'm trying to say is...you have to formulate your OWN equation.

For me, the above equation falls apart around the steady job component. By the end of college, I had myself "believing" that I wanted to be a Social Studies teacher. It took me all of a month or two to realize that is definitely not something I am being called to do...at this point in my life anyway. Therefore, that is a path that was never pursued, and probably never will be.

After graduation, I stayed in Tallahassee to work the part-time job I had held through college until I could "find something else." It was a starter job that many would have loved to have. I worked as a administrative secretary for a state government agency. But...a part-time job doesn't pay the bills, or provide that coveted health insurance I mentioned earlier. So, in a bit of a panic, I began to apply to whatever full-time, typical office job that I was halfway qualified for. A few weeks later, I was offered a position as a Research Assistant at the same agency I was already working for. And of course, I snatched it up. Three months into the job...I was miserable.

I stayed in that position for almost two years, because I am not the type of person who is going to up and quit because I "don't like it." I didn't have any type of financial cushion to fall back on. I didn't have any type of direction for what I would do if I wasn't in that job. There were aspects of the job that I liked...my co-workers were amazing, and I do enjoy the organization aspect of office work. But, for lack of a better word, I stayed because I was "stuck."

A few months ago, out of desperation for something new and different, I accepted a job outside of state government as a customer service representative at a local company. For a few weeks, it satisfied that feeling of discontent with my job that I had been suffering. However...almost five months into the new job, I am feeling much like I was at the last one. I love the people and I enjoy staying busy with the work...but the 8AM to 5PM office life makes me feel like I am suffocating. And...I'm still stuck.

At this point, I've realized one major thing about the "career" aspect of my life: I want my job to consist of the things that I love. I want to write, and create, and travel, and inspire others to do the same. And even thought I'm only 25-years-old, I still have this fear that it's too late for me to make that dream a reality. I'm afraid that I'm going to wake up one morning, another 25-years from now, and think...Miranda, why didn't you publish that novel? or Why did you waste your life doing things that did not help you grow and develop into the person you were supposed to be?

Those are the types of questions that this blog, that this journey, is supposed to help avoid. With a lot of drive, encouragement, and motivation...that goal will easily be met. We all have stories to tell, and we also have the stories that we want to be able to tell. I have shared my past, and given you an idea of what I want in the future. Now I have to ask, what is your story? Where are you now? How did you get there? Where do you dream of being?

Take some time to think about those things. You may surprise yourself with the answers.

-Miranda

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Navigating the Waters of Uncertainty: Part 1

As a writer, there are two things I love: analogies, and quotes. Thankfully, Albert Einstein had an answer to both when he said, "If one tries to navigate unknown waters one runs the risk of a shipwreck."

Wise words, no? But there's something about them that concerns me. Too many people are taking Einstein's advice. They see unknown waters, aqua incognita, and steer their ship in a safe direction, missing out on the beautiful paradise that lay just beyond the treacherous unknown.

During my last semester of college, before I graduated, I was in love with risk. In January, I broke off my engagement, a decision which had uncomfortable consequences like having to live four months with my ex-fiancé and losing out on a certain future. Still, the experience gave me a high. I felt free and in charge, probably for the first time in my life. 

But it's easy to get excited about risk when you're still living within a comfortable structure. Being in college decided the course of the next few months for me. After that, I was going to spend a month in Europe with my aunt. I was considering a paid 10-week summer internship. I knew where I was going. Beyond that, I wasn't sure, but it was too far off to have to care.

I knew I wanted to go overseas and travel. That was a decision that, up until my newfound risk-taking lifestyle, seemed far off and unobtainable. I was scared and insecure to say yes to decisions like this, but no more. I could flit around and tell everyone of my grand plans to go abroad, fashioning myself superior to those who would choose the stable route and get full-time jobs right out of college. 


Going abroad without a plan - what a risk! I was obsessed with going against the grain. Society says marriage? Not for me. Society says work? Not for me. Still, true uncertainty was alien to me.  

I didn't learn the meaning of true uncertainty until I made the decision some time during my journalism internship in Raleigh to return home with my parents. I was adamantly opposed to the idea until reality started to kick in and I realized I had no prospects to sustain me in another location until I was ready to move overseas. The best option for me was to return home, do my best to keep the money I did have safe inside my bank account, and prepare. 

When I came to terms with this plan, I had high hopes. My mother has always needed my help purging our house of useless clutter, and without any obligations to pull me away from home I would have the time to devote to the task. It would help me to fashion myself as a world traveler, a minimalist, owner of only the necessities. I'd have all the time in the world to write, read, draw, play music, act, all the activities I had safely tucked away in some inner attic for the entirety of college. 

Home has never been a pleasant place for me to be. I have depression, and summers and spring breaks spent at home always clothed me in that mental straitjacket. I thought since I had grown so much so far this year, learned to truly be myself, that I could go home and heal instead of suffer. 

I was right, but it took awhile. I have been home since late August, and the smoke on the battleground inside my mind is just now starting to clear. I'll explain what happened and how I arrived at this clearer space in my next post. Until then, be diligent in joy.

- Elena

Monday, October 6, 2014

Big Dreams from Small Beginnings: Part 1

A few nights ago, Elena and I decided via text message conversation that we were finally going to take the plunge and write our first posts for this new blogging endeavor. The topic? Life. Where we are now. Why we aren't where we thought we would be. How we hope to change that. Big stuff.

Over the past couple of days, I have been toying with how I wanted to begin this post. This particular topic of "creating my life" is something that I obsess over. I know that I have plenty to say, but I'm still afraid of not sharing it in the way that I feel it begs to be shared. So, I have decided to start out by saying this:

My life as it is now is beautiful. But...it's still not what I want.

It's kind of difficult for me to share that thought, because I know a lot of people are going to read it and immediately think that I am ungrateful or spoiled. However, I'm to a point where I don't really mind if that is what people want to think...because it simply isn't true. Actually, I'm sure that some of you feel the same way, and you're just too afraid to be honest with yourself and admit it.

I feel it's necessary to tell you a little bit about my background. Throughout my entire life, I have felt "out of place." I grew up in an extremely small, country town where opportunities were few and far between and success was generally defined by what your last name was. Growing up, I always joked that I was "born in the wrong place." But...there was always a large element of truth hidden within that joke.

 In a small town, everything revolves around Friday night football games, parties in the middle of the woods, who wears the most awesome $90 jeans on the first day of school...blah, blah, blah. Being intelligent, unique, and creative is not something that is appreciated. In fact...a lot of times, being any of those things buys you a first class ticket to the classification of "stupid." How messed up is that?

There is one giant thing that I credit to being raised in small town America though...it allowed me to become a dreamer. I took of all of my hopes, and fears, and goals and bottled them up in my introverted mind. I figured...since big things were not happening for me then, I would just have to make even bigger things happen for me in the future. Traveling the world, publishing books, taking pictures, watching every musical or theatrical performance that my eyes could handle...it was all going to happen.

And so began my path to further self-discovery. I graduated high school with honors, obtained my AA degree at a community college not too far from my hometown, and then I moved off to Tallahassee, Florida to finish my schooling at Florida State University. College is something that I loved and hated at the same time.

I loved it because it showed me so much of what I had missed growing up in a small town...diversity and the beauty of different thoughts and points of view. I met phenomenal people and had the privilege to learn from fantastic professors. I learned that being a creative thinker is not something that should make you feel out of place, but instead something that can be used to change the world.

On the downside though...it kept me incredibly confused in terms of what I actually wanted to do in life. I changed my major multiple times, and by the end of the experience, I had myself convinced that I wanted to pursue a more "traditional" career path. I told myself that I had to be logical, and writing and travelling the world for a living just wasn't logical. Therefore, I graduated with a degree in Social Science, and I'm now living out my career dreams.

Just kidding. But more on that later.

- Miranda