Thursday, January 8, 2015

Lessons Learned, A Look Back at 2014

I realize I'm about a week late for true "end of 2014" reflections. However, those of you who know me well know that reflection and goal setting sometimes cause me a bit of hesitation (okay, I tend to freeze in my tracks at the thought of them, paralyzed and unable to go on). However, lately I've been getting really excited about some BIG goals for 2015. Before I go on, however, I felt it only fair to reflect on the past year, and year filled with some BIG stuff, and the lessons learned that got me to this place of excitement. So here you go, what I learned/am still learning from 2014 (if you want the Readers Digest version, just go for the bold):

At some point, your lifestyle will catch up to you. Achievers are a crazy breed, We sprint and cram and say yes and pull things off on little sleep with loads of energy, and in doing so, feel like we are checking off some sort of golden to do list. Almost as another challenge to conquer, people like me feed off of the frenzy. For more than a quarter of a century, I didn't know how to describe myself as anything but a perfectionist - a term that I'd literally ingrained into my own identity, losing sight of what it even means or why I'd want to be one. And last spring, the crazy chase finally caught up to me. Returning to work after a week at the beach vacation, I suffered what I would later learn to recognize as a panic attack. Me, the girl who could do it all (in heels with a smile), had hit the wall. In the stillness, and the panic, I heard a voice saying, "you can't keep running at this speed." I firmly believe that God knew I'd never slow down without being knocked off my feet, and I'm incredibly grateful for that moment that I believe changed everything for me.

("But he said to me,'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power 
may rest on me." 2 Corinthians 12:9).

Seeing a therapist does not make you crazy. I always joke that my mind runs more than my feet ever do. As someone with input, learner, and achiever as strengths, I tend to process information constantly. Furthermore, with communication as a top strength, I actually think in narratives (or blog posts), which while that may sound impressive, can be exhausting. While running through life at warp speed, I found myself so exhausted that I had nothing left to transfer the thoughts in my head to conversation. I couldn't even talk to Weston at the end of a long day about anything meaningful, I was just frozen. Unfortunately, the thoughts didn't stop, they just built up like books on a shelf in my mind until I thought the shelf would collapse. And then, I found a good Christian friend/mentor who also happened to be a Licensed Professional Counselor, and for the first time in my life, I felt free from my own thoughts. Now I've thought about talking to a counselor for several years now but was always hung up on the stigma that talking to a therapist was for people with "real issues," which of course, as an achiever I couldn't even consider thinking I had (ha!). I didn't need someone to help me manage my stress, I could do it all. Well I now know that a) that's a fallacy in my head and b) even if I could, it's a lot more fun with someone walking alongside me.

("Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up." Ecclesiastes 4:9).

Talk to yourself like you're someone you love. Before this last year, I'd never thought much about the idea of positive self talk. To be honest, I thought that sounded like some hippy-dippy kumbaya mantra. But one day, someone called me out on this and flat out said, "would you say that to your best friend?" The context doesn't really matter, the point was, I had just been made aware that the way I talked to myself was no way I'd talk to a friend. The messages I'd been repeating over and over were not healthy and were not in line with the Gospel at all. The Bible assures us that we are, "made in the image of God," (Genesis 1:27), so as I was telling myself I wasn't _______ enough (insert smart/good/strong/creative, etc.), I was essentially criticizing God's creation. I was throwing out God's promise that He made me to be ENOUGH. It was time to find some new mantras!

("But the things that come out of a person's mouth come from the heart, and these defile them." Matthew 15:18)

Being busy is not something to brag about. At what point did we decide as a culture that working long hours on little sleep with no break for lunch was honorable? When did we begin to define our identities solely by what we do for a salary? Who decided that how we spend our time can be arbitrarily deemed worthy or unworthy based on a predetermined classification system? The longer this goes on, the more we believe it. Trust me. When I considered making a career switch which some might consider a "step back" I struggled for months with what other people would think. Don't I have to have a reason not to work overtime and strive for the top of the ladder? What will they think? One of my favorite, lesser known, Tim McGraw songs is "Who Are They?" I've go to agree with my main man Timmy that we build up this idea in our heads of what other people will think and say, and what I'm finding out is a) usually people don't care as much about what's going on in our lives as we think they do and b) I'm not living for them anyway!

("Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing, and perfect will." Romans 12:2)

There are the same 24 hours in each day, for everyone. If you don't control your time, it will control you. There's a lot to be said about being intentional, but I'll get to that more in my goals for 2015. What I learned this year is that there are things that just happen and things that don't. Deadlines for work, homework assignments for school, meetings, networking events, conference calls, lunch appointments...those things seem to just happen, and what doesn't is spending quality time with those we love the most. You see, I'm married to a very patient, empathetic, loving, non-confrontational man who wants nothing more than for me to be happy. In between the perfect storm of all these factors however, I lost sight of the fact that I had unintentionally pushed him to the back burner. I didn't mean to, of course, but I'd lost control of my time. I'd said yes to too many things. I hadn't made our marriage, and my husband, a priority. I'm grateful for a good friend and an opportunity that helped me realize this before it was too late.

("For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Luke 12:34).

A good actor leaves the stage while the audience is still clapping. In August, I left a job I'd once described as my dream job. I walked away from Springfield Ballet, and many people (including my family and some close friends) were caught off guard and wondered, or are maybe still wondering, why I really left and if doing so was a "smart" decision. The decision to leave a job I truly loved did not come easily or without extensive prayer. Being trusted with an executive level position at just 23 years old was a huge privilege, and a huge responsibility, one I never took lightly. During my 3.5 years in my role, I stretched for and reached impressive milestones and celebrated much success. I worked with a great team and grew to love the dancers and their families like they were my own. But it was the right time to go. I planned and strategized my exit carefully, and when a good friend and industry mentor told me, "a good actor leaves the stage while the audience is still clapping," I knew I'd made the right choice at the right time.

("There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens." 
Ecclesiastes 3:1).

Sometimes the last thing you want to do is the thing you need the most. I hate yoga. Well, I hated yoga. I had the idea in my head that I would never get into yoga because it stood for everything I wasn't good at: being quiet, being still, being in the present moment, clearing your mind, slowing down...not to mention the thought of adding heat to a workout was my own personal hell (literally). However, during my September sabbatical when a friend pressured me into giving hot yoga another try, I literally fell into the safe place I needed most. I found a place free from competition and comparison, a place where the emphasis is not on results but on the process, and a retreat from the stress of life that was taking its toll on me.

("Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope." Romans 5:3)

So there you have it - a little glimpse into what the world and the Lord have been teaching me over the last 365 days. It's been a big year, but aren't they all? I've always said, "have no regrets," because I firmly believe that something can be learned from every experience. God never promised that all things would be good, just that He "causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose for them (Romans 8:28). I'm still waiting to see the "aha" for some of the moments from last year, but I know that because of the things I lived through, I've learned, grown, been challenged, and been inspired to make 2015 count. What are you taking away from 2014?

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