How I'm Living a Life By Design
2010 was a tough year for me. That was the year I had a broken engagement and a mid-twenties crisis. But those were just symptoms of a deeper problem. My entire life (or as much as I can remember leading up until that tipping point) was about expectations: my own, other’s, and everything in between. I was living a life roadmap that I thought was expected of me, making all my choices to avoid failure, and valuing my achievements as the measuring stick of my personal worth.
I’m so lucky to have had a breakdown that year because it led to a greater life where all the things I feared ended up being the areas that have brought me the most joy. I’m passionate about living a life by my design instead of someone else’s default. I’m passionate about living the good life, one built on the following pillars...
Choosing Content Over Structure
This was a big one for me. I’m a bit of a Type A personality. I like to know where I stand in all situations, whenever possible. I often found comfort in knowing things were progressing along a predefined path whether in a relationship or at work, in a manner that fit appropriate timelines. And when those things didn’t fit… I was a master at forcing them into what I thought they should look like. I learned the hard way that life doesn’t always follow a particular pattern or path no matter how many ways you try to control the outcomes.
Now I value my time spent in the content of what’s happening each moment. I value my experiences without regret of what they could look like or trying to snowball them into building up to a particular end goal. Not being able to define all aspects of my relationships (personal, romantic, work, etc.) sometimes makes me feel like a fish out of water, but reminding myself that all the matters is the experience we’re sharing right now without comparing it to someone else’s or what I think it should be. Staying in the moment allows me to fully experience it in ways I wouldn’t be able to if I was preoccupied by framing a structure around an expectation.
I use Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map Planner to help keep me on track for this. I learned through her book, that often when I seek “structure” I was chasing a feeling of what I thought it was going to feel like. Guess what, when I was in that relationship, or got that job, and changed that circumstance etc… those feelings were never what I expected. My Desire Map helps to keep me present and mindful.
Knowing that my External Environment is a Reflection of my Internal Condition
I was at a dinner party recently, and the stranger seated next to me said I was radiating. He said he felt relaxed, at peace, and content in my presence. I was struck by the comment, mainly because that’s exactly how I felt that evening. Our external environments are a reflection of what's brewing inside of us. We are co-creators of our experiences and when we have internal stress, frantic pressure, and doom/gloom mentalities, our life reflects that back to us. This is not to say that shit doesn’t happen and life doesn’t sometimes suck… because it can, but our internal framework of how we choose to perceive those experiences determines what else comes into play to support that.
Reminding myself of this is a personal challenge. It’s easy to get sucked into a blame/lack mentality. I meditate and do yoga every day. I take all my wins and fails to my mat every morning. On the mat I am forced to breathe, focus, and realign. Meditating in small 15-20 minute blocks three times a day (even at work) always calms the internal chatter, self doubt, and fear.
When I was going through my breakdown, the biggest thing that helped me get through it was someone taking the time to say, “I’m going to show you that there will be brighter days if you want them to exist.” Helping others kicked me out of my rut, reminded me that my problems were a drop in the bucket compared to other’s, and if I could change my personal situation, then maybe I could help someone else change theirs.
I was lucky enough to be introduced to Catholic Charities LA via a friendly nun I used to see at mass. There was a need for my skill set and I served for three years on the San Pedro Regional Advisory Board. In my role as a community and fundraising liaison, I had the pleasure of co-chairing the annual “Evening with Angels” gala that honored local community heroes. I also had the honor of organizing job fairs for one of our shelter communities, creating community partnerships, and securing on going in kind donations that served the case management approach to homelessness.
Through CCLA, I was introduced to United Way (as they funded a portion of a housing program we ran) and joined the Emerging Leaders in 2012. United Way’s creed of “Creating Pathways Out Of Poverty” particularly appealed to me because they treated the issue with sustainable, solutions to break the cycle of poverty instead of bandaids that did nothing. Through these organizations I felt as though they were helping people live mindful and supportive lives. I felt encouraged that the methodology was supporting lives of design and self-sufficiency.
Finally, through a mutual friend who knew the service work I was doing, I was introduced to Oscar at UrbanTxt and am helping take back the streets of South LA through technology by assisting with development and marketing. The grassroots feel of being able to make a direct impact at an early age for teens reminds me of my own growth and inspires me every day.
Choosing Compassion For Myself And Others
It’s easy to judge. It’s easy to look at someone and make assumptions. Choosing to be compassionate says: I recognize that your experience is uniquely your own. I can see it, I can see it affects you, and I honor your experience without belittling it, or taking it on as my own. It also means that your experience is not my reality. Oftentimes it’s hard to be compassionate for someone when what we are reacting to is something we avoid in ourselves. When that happens, I take it as a reminder that I still have personal development work to do. The greatest gift we can bestow upon someone is to acknowledge them when they feel alone and isolated: I see you, I hear you, I recognize that you are going through something.
Releasing What Doesn’t Serve You
This has been the hardest one. Releasing comes in many forms, sometimes it comes in the form of forgiveness, actions, or physical acts. One way it manifested for me came by way of transitioning careers. I started writing for The Times of Israel, Huffington Post Women, and joined a tech startup. It wasn’t that I wasn’t feeling satisfied in my previous career, but it's been incredibly rewarding to join a team that shares my drive, challenges me, and supports our individuality while maintaining a innovative workplace.
In this short amount of time, I’ve realized how much keeping myself small in what I knew to be safe was keeping me from my full potential. My personal practice has been deeply rooted in shedding what I have allowed to keep me from experiencing my most authentic self.
And this takes us back full circle to releasing the expectations, the fears, the “should’s” and the “what if’s”. Releasing what doesn’t serve us whether its unhealthy eating, drinking, sedentary habits, the career we think we are expected to have, etc.. when we recognize them as no longer serving us, we no longer need them.
These are how I frame a GOOD life for myself. My deepest intention for myself and you is that you always life your life by your design, and not someone else’s default.
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Photo courtesy of Sarah Shreves