I’m 40, In Debt, and Haven’t Saved for Retirement: What to do When It Feels too Late

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been paying down some debt that I accrued in my early to late twenties in the form of credit cards and student loans. I’ve recently paid off my credit cards, and have been going pretty hard on my student loans. I’ve been following the Dave Ramsey “Baby Steps” to pay down my debt, and have been really excited with the results. Also, as a side note, these are only my experiences in researching what I need to do to retire. I am in no way a specialist in the financial field so this should only be taken as a rough guide to start asking questions. Speaking with a qualified financial advisor is the best way to get sound financial advise. So don’t take this article as the final word on investing.

Along with paying down my credit card debt, I’ve learned how to write and follow a budget, while also learning how to care for my financial needs. I have some money in savings for the first time in my life and am making some serious progress on my student loan debt. I’ve been so excited making so much progress on paying down my debt, that I completely overlooked that I’ll be paying into retirement a little bit later than most people usually start. This has me a little worried about what my future is going to look like for sure. So I started doing some research on the subject, but I first had to look at what got me here in the first place.

Planning for the Future by Looking at the Past

When I first got into debt, I had no idea what I was doing when it came to finances. Much in the same ways I knew not how to care and tend to my nutritional needs, finance was another area in which I was illiterate. I was living paycheck to paycheck for most of my adult life, and as soon as I was able to borrow money, I jumped at the chance. Looking back now, I’m not sure what the draw was. I was constantly in debt, all my credit cards were maxed out and I was missing payments and paying hefty fees for it.

But there was something about it that had me hooked. I was buying things I didn’t need, and using somebody else’s money to do it. And when it came time to pay for college, I treated student loans much in the same way I was treating my credit cards. They offered me the maximum payout amount, and I took it each time. I didn’t realize that I could accept only what I needed from the loans, and not the entire sum. But the way I was living, I don’t think I would have chose differently had I known.

I was accumulating so much debt, that I could almost have bought a small house in Western Massachusetts with the amount of loans and credit card debt I had. But I kept spending. And hadn’t even thought about what I was going to do when it came time to retire. So when I finally took financial responsibility for my life for the first time in my early thirties, the outlook for my future was sobering.

I’m Paying Down My Debt Now, But What Do I Do About My Future?

I’m about a little less than halfway through my debt currently, and the idea of being forty, and just beginning to think about retirement, almost had me in panic mode. But here is where it is important to stay in control of your emotional world, and know that just because you’re starting late, doesn’t mean that you are destined to be poor in your old age. You have options.

The first thing I did was to come up with a date that I would be debt free. I’ve done this a few times, and it’s important to stay fluid while you go over your numbers. Surprises will come up, and you will be met with setbacks. But finding your debt free date not only gives you a tangible goal to achieve, but also helps to keep you accountable for your progress. For me, I had a few setbacks. I had to buy a new car, and my pay fluctuated a few times when I changed jobs.

But each time a new challenge arose, I met it by reassessing where I was, what my new circumstances were, and adjusted from there. The one thing that kept me on track was staying persistent. And the closer I came to paying down my high interest debt, the closer I’ve come to saving for my retirement. This is one of the main takeaways of Dave Ramsey’s baby steps. The less high interest debt you have, the more prepared you will be for saving for your retirement.

So when you’re finished paying interest on top of the money you owe, you’ll be able to save more money, and invest more later on. That’s why it’s so important to pay down your high interest debt first, to free up your capital for your future. So in a way, paying down debt is kind of like investing in your future in that you will be the beneficiary of your hard work, not a credit card company or bank.

I’ve Paid Down My Debt, What Next?

After you’ve paid down your debt, take a deep breath, and appreciate what you’ve just achieved for yourself and your future. This is a huge step in reaching your financial independence. The next step, according to Dave Ramsey, is to set up an emergency fund. This is usually 3 to 6 months pay.

Being in debt for so long, I’m opting for the 6 month fund. Feeling financial secure is important to me, especially if you’ve been living paycheck to paycheck for most of your working life as I had. It’s also part of the Ramsey baby steps to have a thousand dollar emergency fund while you’re paying down your debt. Just in case something comes up that you haven’t planned for. It’s not much, but when you’re 95k in debt like I was, and you suddenly get hit with a five hundred dollar medical bill and you’re living paycheck to paycheck, that emergency fund is the difference between talking the hit in your budget somewhere else and feeling secure in knowing you can take care of the small problems that come up along the way. Life happens, best to be prepared when it does.

After your emergency fund is set up, now it’s time to start looking towards investing for your retirement. The usual routes for this is through traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs. The difference between the two accounts are, traditional IRAs are taxed when you take your money out as opposed to Roths, where you are taxed when you put your money in.

Roths vs Traditional IRAs
Roths

From what research I’ve done, an important aspect of saving for retirement is the tax advantage you get when you decide to take your money out. If you know you are going to be in a higher tax bracket in retirement, for example say you will have a lot of passive income such as rental properties in retirement, something I’ll be going over later in this article, you may want to be taxed when you put your money into the account. Using a Roth IRA, you will have been taxed when you’re rate was lower, saving you money by paying less in taxes.

Traditional

But if you plan on being in a lower income bracket when you retire, a traditional IRA may be the way to go. This way you’re contribution is taxed when you receive your payments. This also has the advantage of letting your money grow tax free and with compounded interest. So you’ll earn more with your investments. Whichever path you choose, it’s best to have a plan for what your life may look like when you start pulling money out in retirement.

Savings Vehicles

How much should we contribute to our funds, once we set them up? Conventional wisdom suggests that we sock away between 15 and 20 percent of our income a year. So depending on what you are making and your savings vehicle, you may have to spread your savings out, because you are only able to contribute so much to a traditional or Roth IRA.

As of 2021, the limits are 6,000$ for each fund and 7,000$ for those over 50 years of age. And with 6,000$ a year, if you start at age 40, that could translate to a little less that 475,000$ by age 65. That is a huge improvement over receiving social security alone. For a more indepth look at how IRAs work, check out this article on investopedia that covers the essentials.

But if 6,000$ is less than 20% of your income, your going to need to find ways to diversify your retirement savings. This could be in funds, such as mutual funds, money market funds, real-estate or physicals. These are only a few options available but worth looking into.

Mutual and Money Market Funds

These types of funds are considered low risk investments. Mutual funds are a group of securities that are managed by investor professionals. They consist of things such as, stocks, bonds and securities. This vehicle is made possible for the individual by pooling together funds from many investors. As I said above, they are considered low risk so they are a great way to pad your retirement if you have more than the maximum IRA contribution to squirrel away.

Money market funds are investments in low risk security funds. So they don’t have the highest percent interest payout, but they are solid supplements to your retirement fund. They are however not backed by the FDIC so it’s best to research funds with a history of promising returns. Slow and steady is the end goal for mutual funds.

Real-Estate

There are a few ways to invest in real-estate. One way is by flipping homes as seen by Chip and Joanna Gains on “Fixer Upper”. But another way, and the one I’ll be talking about is, by buying rental properties. With rental properties, you’re able to purchase a home or apartment building and rent out the units. The idea is to have the rent paid by your tenants, used to pay off the mortgage. Then once you’ve paid for you property in full, the rent becomes income. If you’re able to pay off the mortgage before you collect your IRA, you’ll have a consistent stream of income coming in after you finish with your career.

There is a lot to consider though, when taking on a rental property. You’re responsible for the general maintenance and upkeep of the property. For finding tenants to occupying the building and taking care of any issues that may arise. It can be a large responsibility so it’s worth considering how much time you have to invest in this strategy. But if done right, could definitely be beneficial during your retirement years.

Physicals

What I mean by physicals is, gold, silver, copper or platinum. My father was in the jewelry and coin industry, so this is something I’ve heard a lot about growing up. It can be daunting, looking into investing in something like gold. The average price per ounce of gold, as of this article’s publishing is, around 1,900$ an ounce. With bullion being sold most commonly in ten ounce bars, according to Forbes Adviser, this can end up becoming a costly investment.

Luckily, there are some more accessible ways to invest in gold. Gold coins are one way to squirrel some money away for retirement. The American gold eagle is sold as a half ounce to an ounce, and is sold at market value. This is a great way to put up 1,000$ at a time, while also getting you closer to your retirement goals. It’s also worth noting that if you spend over a thousand in physicals, the purchase is tax exempt. So an ounce of gold is the cheapest way to buy into this market.

Here are only a few options if you’re looking into retirement a little late in the game. It may take some time and planning, but it will literally pay off in and for your future. So don’t panic and don’t give up hope. The way to retirement may seem difficult now. But with some persistence, your efforts will carry you comfortably into your golden years. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Retirement Jar” by aag_photos is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Knowing When to Walk Away: What do You do When Your Boundaries are Being Violated

This is a difficult topic, especially for those who have very little understanding of what boundaries are. This is a place I knew well, and time after time I would find myself in situations where I, or somebody else was taking advantage of personal boundaries. If you’ve read my last post on “shoring up your personal boundaries“, you’ll know I’ve been in some pretty iffy situations.

This, and the last post, were inspired by a place I was recently employed at. The ways in which the employer has been treating his employees is something that, well inspired this post on self-care in regards to boundaries. I’ll be going over some red flags to look for if you feel your boundaries are being taken advantage of and also, a little on what you can do if your boundaries are being encroached upon. I’ll be focusing mostly on the workplace, but some of these examples can be applied to other contexts as well.

Red Flags

If you’re not used to being in relationships with healthy boundaries, it can be tricky to see the red flags that pop up when your boundaries are being violated. Some are fairly obvious. But it can be insidious in how subtly some use them to take advantage of others. Some examples are, emotional blackmail, criticism without constructive feedback, being unwilling to give clear and concise direction while communicating needs and using misinformation to misdirect from the issues that need focusing on. These tactics aren’t new, but they make unhealthy relationships. So let’s jump in with emotional blackmail.

Emotional Blackmail

Let me start out by saying that lying in and of itself is a clear indication that your boundaries are being taken advantage of. If you, or somebody you work with, or for, is in the habit of not telling the truth, then some serious attention needs to be given to what the circumstances are and why it’s happening. This happened to me most recently at a job I left not so long ago.

I was talked to by the owner of the small bakery I worked in, at the time, and written up for not mixing the starter on the scheduled time. This was something that I had brought to the owners attention, as I was willing to take full responsibility for my mistakes. But where the violation of boundaries took place was, the owner said he was writing me up for the second time I had forgotten to do this task. I was clearly being lied to, and when I pressed for the date of the original infraction, he was unable to remember the time.

He was unable to give me any detail as to when the first time it happened was, though made reference to my mistake often after he said I had. He was saying that I had done more than what was actually done and was using it to make me feel as though I should be concerned about my job security. This is where emotional blackmail comes into the equation. It seemed as though, from my perspective, that his goal in lying to me was to make me feel as though I was on thin ice in regards to my job security. By making reference to it often, he was attempting to capitalize on my feeling as though I’m not worthy of my job title, bakery manager at the time, or that I should be lucky at all to have a job.

Asides from this being a stressful environment to work in, it also is a way to manipulate those who work for you, to feel as though you are worth less than you actually are. This may lead to people working harder to feel as though they have to make up for feeling deficient in some way. Not asking for pay increases for standard of living or increased responsibilities. But most importantly, it also leads to resentment.

Everybody I worked with had something bad to say about the owner. There were an awful lot of hurt and abused feelings. Nobody was happy where they were and everybody made it plainly clear how they felt. Yet nobody would sit down and have the tough conversations around why. I attempted, but was met with arrogance, actually much in the same ways I used to act. It wasn’t unfamiliar, but that didn’t make it any less difficult to bear.

In these situations, it’s best to take the high road. Ask a lot of clarifying questions and try not to lose focus on what is at the heart of the situation. In my case, I wasn’t a bad person for making a mistake, it was only a mistake. Keep focus on the present and leave the past in the past. And most importantly, don’t let someone else attempt to define you by the mistakes you’ve made. We’re all only human, and humans make mistakes.

Criticism Without Feedback

Criticism without constructive feedback. This is a tough one for a lot of people, and rightly so. Without constructive feedback, criticism, especially if given often, is just another way to bully someone and create an unclear and unachievable standard. This was the case with my last employer. The owner was constantly finding fault with everything that everybody was doing, while being vocal about his opinions to everybody.

For example, there was one woman who I baked with who had been baking there for the better part of two decades. Before she worked there, she owned her own bakery. She was a good baker, and did her job well. But regardless of her baking prowess, the owner would often criticise her by calling her the “queen of steam”. If you don’t know, you use steam in the baking process by injecting the oven with water to create steam, right before you put the loaves in to bake. The steam gives the crust a shiny look to it while developing the crust. The owner was constantly implying that she was too heavy on the steam.

Later when he criticized my bake, I asked him some clarifying questions around what the standard should look like. He gave reference to the woman’s bake I mentioned above, saying it should look like hers. This was confusing because all I’ve ever heard him say about her bakes was how they weren’t good enough. So I was left with no direction on what he wanted from me, and only the feeling of not doing an adequate job, regardless of how good my bakes looked. And everyone that worked there that baked was an excellent baker, including myself. So there was no clear standard of what he expected from us. Only criticism.

Lack of Clear and Concise Direction

This was at the root of a lot of the miscommunication and confusion at my last place of employment. Information that was important for us to do our jobs in a timely manner was not provided. And there was no lack of us pursuing this information. It just wasn’t provided. For whatever reason, there was never any direct line of communication from what the owner wanted, and what we were supposed to do.

This also left us in the uncertain place of not knowing if we were doing the right thing. Or if we were ever meeting the expectations of the owner. We were always left in the uncertain purgatory of not knowing. This also breed a sense of distrust with those in charge. Without clear communication of needs, there was a lack of trust and we were left feeling unsupported. There would be changes made last minute and if the changes weren’t made, usually do to the needs not being communicated in a timely manner, than people would be reprimanded for not doing what was asked.

This lack of support also led to resentment on the part of the employees. There was an incredibly high rate of turnover, compared to other places I’ve been employed. There was a consistent rotation of managers before me and the one I took over for, left from the frustrations I’ve mentioned above. The lack of communication directly led to a lack of feeling supported which directly impacted the turnover rate of employees. Not to mention the amount of hurt feelings and emotions that were taken advantage of. All of which could have been avoided if there had been clear direction and support.

Misinformation and Misdirection

This can be an especially difficult boundary violation to navigate. While I was at the last place of my employment, as I’ve said above, I was written up for forgetting the starters and then lied to about forgetting it for the second time. In the same write up, as for mixing the starters late, it was also mentioned in the write up that my bakes didn’t meet their standard.

This came as a surprise, as I had no prior warning about the quality of my bakes. No body had ever brought to my attention that my bakes looked off in any way for the entire time I had worked there. There were also only two people present while I was being spoken with, but there were three supervisors on my write-up. One of which I wasn’t aware was my supervisor.

All of these “additions” to what was a matter of mixing a starter late had the effect of misdirecting focus from what the actual issue was. I was being written up for mixing the starter late which turned into being spoken to by three supervisors and the quality of my performance was being brought into question.

These should have been brought to my attention in separate conversations and also when they happened, not by surprise and in conjunction with one another. The experience left me uncertain as to what was expected of me, but also wondering, if it was so important, why was it being brought up so late? Especially since I, like most people I believe, want to do the best job they’re able to.

Using fear and misdirection to manipulate a person to work harder because they fear for their job security, leads to feelings of resentment and confusion. Resentment for the feeling of being in an environment where it’s unacceptable to make mistakes and confusion because the standards are constantly changing. There was no clear way to discuss what the issues actually were.

What Can We do About It?

With all of these abuses of boundaries taking place, it may be difficult to know what to do or how to act. With your attention being pulled in so many different directions, it can be difficult to know first, how you feel about it happening, and second what to do about it. For me, it helped to take it slowly. As I said above, I asked a lot of clarifying questions, gave them the benefit of my doubt and made sure to follow up with those who were the decision makers and give support to those I was able to who were looking for direction. Some are easier to do than others, but with some perseverance, it can be done.

Clarifying Questions

As I said above, clarifying questions goes so far into finding out what specific expectations are being asked of you. The more specific, direct and often your questions and communications, the less likely it will be that there are grey areas or feelings of uncertainty.

This may be difficult for a few reasons. First, if your supervisor is being evasive, than it can be tough to get a clear and direct answer from them. And second, if you’re shy or don’t like making waves, than asking questions can make you feel as though you are being a burden on those you need clarifying from. And nobody wants to burden the boss.

But this is where it is so important to be persistent. Asking the right questions and knowing precisely what’s expected of you will only help to improve things for everybody.

Give the Benefit of the Doubt

This one is tricky, because it involves a lot of trust where trust may have been abused in the past. But going into a situation thinking you are going to be taken advantage of leads to being guarded and unreceptive to change. And the situation may be that the person who is showing some of the red flags may be under a fair amount of stress. Life happens, and it’s best to be able to help out those who need it instead of being too quick to judge them as being neglectful or malicious in their actions.

It also helps to stay positive in these situations. Bringing an attitude of resentment to the issue won’t help to resolve the problem. It also takes a toll on your own well being. And in situations where your boundaries may be being violated, it’s important to take care of your needs and well being.

Following Up

Following up with your concerns and questions are still important aspects of meeting your needs, especially if you’re being avoided. This shows that you are invested in finding a resolution, but more importantly, sending the message that you are going to advocate for yourself and your teams needs.

This also helps to keep those who are in charge, accountable for their actions or inactions. This way, you’re taking care of your own needs by respecting yourself enough to advocate for your needs while also sending the message that you deserve respect and acknowledgement of your needs.

Giving Support

This one is important. Giving Support to those you are able to helps to provide a sense of working to achieve a shared goal. Teamwork. This is especially important when there isn’t support coming from where it should be coming from. As I’ve said above, a lack of support leads to resentment. And if we pass the buck along to those we work with, we only end up resenting one another. In this case, nobody feels taken care of. And if we can take care of each other along the way, it helps to make everyone feel a little better.

Conclusion

It’s not always easy, but if you’ve found yourself in a situation where your boundaries are being violated these steps should help you to navigate them with some confidence. And if you do everything you’re able to, and you still find that you are being taken advantage of, your best bet may be too leave the situation entirely. It’s what I did with my situation and it worked out for the best. But give it some serious thought and try not to let your emotions rule your actions.

My motto in my teen and early twenties was, “bridges are for burning”. This was due to feeling hurt by those closest to me. But it was an attitude that left me alone and without any support. Just because someone has taken advantage of you, doesn’t mean that they’re a bad person. Who knows what their history holds, and if it is anything like mine, I can relate. But also, being open to the idea that people can change, helps to soften the blow of your boundaries being violated. That doesn’t mean that you should allow them to be violated, but to take care of your needs, maybe by walking away from the situation, but not holding any anger or resentment towards those who hurt you while taking care of yourself.

I hope this has helped in some way. As always, peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: Walking Away by Matt Henry photos is licensed under

      CC BY 2.0

Living Your Life: School and Career Focused

School and work. These are two subjects I knew absolutely nothing about. This area of my life was in complete disarray, and with zero guidance due to my complete lack of positive role models, any kind, I had quickly made the transition from cute kid in grade school developing normally, to almost a middle school dropout. And there was no shortage of people helping me along the way to achieve as little as possible. In this post I’ll be going over; the experience I had with my education and how I never learned how to find out what my passions are, how I dealt with the lack of role models, how I stumbled along the way, to me finally coming to an understanding of what career means to me and what I’m doing about it now that I’m behind the wheel and steering my life in a direction that works for me. Hopefully if you’ve experienced any of what I have, you’ll at least know you’re not alone and maybe get some helpful pointers along the way. Let’s start at the beginning of my schooling.

I hadn’t realized at the time, but my disinterest in school started soon after the trauma I experienced, which was between second and third grade. I was doing well until third grade, and it was then that I started showing signs of having difficulty learning to read. I had mild dyslexia, confusing bs for ds, and my overall progress slowed. I overcame the mild learning issues in elementary school, but when it came to middle school, I had completely checked out.

I was in a constant state of fear. Everything I had known about feeling safety and belonging with and around others had flown completely out the window. I was nervous and anxious around people almost constantly. I hadn’t developed any social skills in my early teen years and when I hit high school, I was modeling myself after Jim Morrison. I was overcompensating for my fear of connection by being arrogant and aloof like Jim and this is also when I started drinking and smoking cigarettes. My ambition in life was to be seen by others as someone who was cool. That was it. There was no substance or desire for something more, and I had no idea that these things mattered or even existed. My end goal was to be liked.

This makes me sad now to think about it. I was totally cliche in thinking that if I acted a certain way, I would be accepted and liked by others. It was that simple, what I was going through, and I had no idea that I was even going through it. But of course, if you don’t feel accepted by your caregivers, then who is there to tell you that you belong? For me it was just doing whatever felt good at the time, with whomever was around me probably making the same poor choices. I really felt a sense of homelessness, with no sense of belonging or what it means to belong in a healthy sense of the term. I spent most of my time with friends, drinking way too much alcohol and wandering around aimlessly from one good time to the next. I’m surprised I made it out of adulescentes relatively unscathed. But I did, and I managed to pull a life together too in spite of the adversity I encountered along the way. Though at the time I hadn’t realized how lucky I truly was until I had sabotaged myself.

I say I had pulled a life together, but that was in the loose sense of the term. I may have had a place to live, was in a stable relationship and had plans for the future, but I was really just winging it and was still trying to avoid feeling the uncomfortable, and sometimes traumatic emotions of my past. I also had little to no drive or ambition and spent most of my time avoiding living my life by either drinking or playing video games or both. My future plans felt more like stabs in the dark with nothing to back my efforts and I still had no healthy role models or direction to achieve my goals. I was just drifting, the way I had through my teen years. Only older now and with almost nothing to show for the life I had been avoiding living.

But then something shifted for me. My comfortable and somewhat stagnant life was turned upside-down when I thought I had fallen in love with another woman. Looking back now, I realize I had finally felt as though I could feel heard from all that I had been keeping inside. But I was only recognizing that the woman who I thought I fell in love with was really a reflection of how I felt. Like that Justin Timberlake song, “Mirror”. She was my “mirror”, allowing myself to finally feel what I was covering over for so long with alcohol and anger. The small, vulnerable child that was still waiting to be heard. I ended up quitting drinking while I was with the woman I thought I loved and it helped a great deal towards bringing some order to my chaotic emotional world. But this is also where I had sabotaged myself, leaving the life I had, and could have worked on for the image of the life I eventually realized I was outgrowing.

We had split up shortly after we got together, for the best, but I continued on the trajectory of finding greater focus in my life. During the time I had been drifting through life, I had started school for social work, switched to architecture school, then to journalism. I had no idea what to do with any of this schooling, but felt as though I needed to go. While I was getting my life back together, I finished my degree, this time as an English major and the only take away from my college education was how to write a blog ūüôā So I had something to work with.

But even after I finished my undergrad, I was still a drift with no direction for how my future was going to unfold. Still unsatisfied with my employment prospects and jobs, I decided that something needed to change, but again, with no direction or role models, I was in the same place as I was when I was just winging it. So, I did what I knew. For me this was baking, running, yoga, writing this blog and journaling, building up and nurturing my relationships and paying off debt.

This may seem like a bunch of mish-mash items all jumbled together, but what I came to realize was, that while I was cobbling back together the pieces of my life that had been a drift via the above areas, I began to find greater focus in all areas of my life. I’ve been baking professionally for some time now, off and on throughout my working life. I’ve come to enjoy the process of baking. I’m good at it and it’s something that’s been consistent in my life. But I know now that I don’t want that to be the focus of my career.

I have, however, learned how to hone a craft. As I’ve said above, I’m pretty good at baking, which is no surprise considering how long I’ve been doing it for. But I also have been able to recognize how I’ve build my craft, and how it’s changed over the years. I can tell things about dough just by looking at it or touching it, and have a large index of knowledge to work from, in my personal and professional life. But I’ve also come to realize that baking is not my end goal. It’s something I’m grateful I’ve learned, but also something I’ll be able to part with when the time comes.

Running and yoga have helped me to manage my physical self. I’ve gone through some considerable changes, regarding my weight, physical appearance and overall health thanks to these healthy habits. They’ve also taught me something about dedication. About getting out on the road and pounding out those three miles, even when the temperature is in the low nineties and the humidity is high. Or finding your balance when you flow through your vinyasa to down dog and bring your right foot up to high lunge. When you do them consistently, you build more than just physical strength. You’re building resilience in all areas of your life. You have that extra surge of energy that helps you to get up and do the dishes. Or to get moving at 5am before you’ve had your first cup of tea or coffee.

Writing has been essential in finding and maintaining focus for me as well. First with bullet journaling, something I’ve mentioned before on this blog. Journaling has been a way for me to map out and organize what I have in my head, and put it on paper or a screen. This way I can give myself some distance from my thoughts, find out what the steps are that need to be done, curate some order for the tasks and make a plan to do them.

And the same is true for this blog. Through this blog, I’ve come to understand where my interests lie and how they come together to give me a sense of who I’ve become and of who I want to be. The parts of my life, the personal experiences and how they’ve come to shape the ways I see things and who I’m becoming, has given me some focus and direction as to where I want to put my efforts and energies. Environmental issues and helping those that have been in similar situations as myself being a few of my passions that are on my list.

Building and nurturing my close relationships has given me a great deal of perspective on how I want to be living my life. Before, relationships were something to be feared. I was persistently unaware of where I stood in my relationships with others. Always keeping them at a distance or numbing my feelings so I wouldn’t feel the pain of being rejected by them. Something I was all too familiar with growing up.

Now, relationships are sources of comfort, strength and happiness for me. I feel more secure in relationship now, and now that I know that it’s possible to make the shift from numb and alone, to supported and loved, I want to help others find their path to their connectedness. When I was going to school for social work, I also worked at a residential program for at risk adolescence. This was difficult work, but it also gave me the opportunity to help others whom were in a similar situation as I was.

I’ve recently picked up a second job at a family shelter, that has elements that reminds me of the adolescence residential, but with much less unchecked emotions. This has given me a chance to help pay down some student loans, but also to realign myself with the types of work I want to be doing. Helping people bring their lives back together after what seems like such a hopeless situation, that of being homeless. It’s in these moments, of not so much being the change, but being a part of the support that helps them to change their situation, that makes me feel like I’m helping, by being a part of it.

Paying down student loans has been a huge source of inspiration for me in finding my focus as well. I started out paying down credit cards, but eventually moved on to the largest one, student loans. I took out loans during the height of the lending frenzy that was happening. I was taking out loans for cash I didn’t need, to buy things I really didn’t need. And again, this was a place I had no role modeling to show me how to manage money first of all, and second to show me how to responsibly take out loans to pay for my education. I was racking up credit card debt at the same time I was taking out student loans. Looking back, it’s crazy to think of the financial mess I was creating in my life!

But once I was on the trajectory to change my life for the better, debt also became an area of focus for me. Paying off my debt has shown me, first and most importantly, how to budget, but secondly also how to live inside of a budget. When I was living on borrowed money I had no restraint. I bought and did whatever I felt like, when the mood struck.

Now that I’m learning how to put my financial house in order, I’m understanding the importance of planning for the future, in planning for retirement, planning for down time, like vacations or hobbies, and how caring for my financial situation is in a way, caring for my needs.

I’ve also learned how NOT to take out debt. So when the time comes around for me to pursue a master’s in social work, I’ll be aware of how I budget and manage my money, and make a plan that won’t end up with me being tens of thousands of dollars in debt. My time is now more valuable to me than picking up a second job to pay back the money I was borrowing unsustainably in my youth. I know I won’t be going blindly down that road again.

These are the areas of my life that helped to give me the direction I needed to learn how to move forward with and in my life. Each element had its own piece of wisdom to impart. With baking, it was how to recognize when I’m growing in something, or what it looks like to be good at something while still learning from others along the way. With running and yoga, I was learning how to stay dedicated to a practice, but also enjoy that practice in the process. Enjoy the work. With writing, I was learning how to organize my time and thoughts, and also how to convey them in a way that makes sense to myself and others. And also my love for the natural world and my growing concern for the environment. Also to help process and put a structure to my story. In my relationships in that I want to grow along with and nurture these places and people in my life. But also in recognizing that you can make the switch from feeling hurt and alone to loved and supported. And with paying back my student loans in showing me how to budget for the future in a practical sense of the term.

It was when all these areas came together, that I was able to see how the different aspects of my personality made sense to me in the bigger picture. And it wasn’t easy, but what I found out was, that I care about the neglected areas. I like seeing things be brought back to life after struggle, abuse and neglect. We all go through it to some extent. Some of us more so than others, but we all come to our own understanding of what it means to have different aspects of our life feel neglected, without focus. Sometimes what we really need to do is take a step back and look at the different aspects in your life, to find out what makes you tick, and give yourself some much needed direction. That’s where my work lay. In heling others find that path.

I see it often too. So many of those close into me have been neglected to the point of not even knowing where to begin. And this is a difficult place to be. I feel that everybody deserves the right to feel a passion, to do and be connected to work that is greater than them. It doesn’t have to be larger than life. Just enough to feel like you’re making a difference. That’s what this blog is about, and hopefully soon, what the focus of my career will be.

So I’m here to tell you, if you’ve found yourself in a place where you are lacking in direction, don’t give up hope! Take a look at the things you’ve been doing, listening to, or watching. What have you been interested in lately. If you’re lucky, you may realize that you’ve been leaving yourself clues all along in the direction of your passions. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Commute”¬†by¬†JanneM¬†is licensed under¬†CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

When is Enough, Enough? How to Navigate the World of Unreasonably High Expectations

This is something I’ve struggled with for almost my entire life. As soon as I knew what it meant to do a “good job” with something, I knew almost immediately afterwards what it felt like and meant to not add up in some way.

What’s strange though, thinking about it now, I don’t really remember much about how I didn’t meet the mark. Only that I just never met it. I can remember doing chores when I was younger, maybe eight or nine. I would vacuum the downstairs carpets, wash the woodwork around the base of the floors and dust the furniture for a small allowance every week. The chores started shortly after I experienced trauma that would change the course of my life, adding another layer of impossible expectations to an already daunting list, but I don’t ever remember being shown or told how to do them or if I was doing an adequate job.

The same was the case for school work. I remember before I gave up on school completely in the tenth grade, doing projects and homework, always on my own. Of course I was alone almost all the time, so this wasn’t new. But what I hadn’t realized at the time was that my situation was not normal. At some point it seems like there should have been someone there to help catch me, before I fell through the cracks, or just to help at all. But that just wasn’t the case with my situation.

And what’s more, I was consistently criticized for the poorly done work that I was doing. Again, thinking about it now, from the perspective of a fully functioning adult, I can see how maddening the whole situation is. Not only from the perspective of my younger self, trying to navigate life and discovering how I fit in the whole concerning other’s expectations of me, but also the fully actualized perspective of my adult self, I was just being asked too much of. From people and caregivers that had not only high standards, after all having a high standard can be a good thing, but impossible ones to meet. Asking me to meet their standards would be akin to asking a seven year-old to grocery shop and cook for themselves for the week while staying in budget and hitting their nutritional necessities. Impossible.

Later, I was however, excelling at meeting other of my caregivers standards. The ones where I would drink until I was so sick, I couldn’t see straight. Or being judgemental and cruel for no other reason than to fit in with the image of how my caregivers where acting. Thinking back now, I would have much rather have studied and done well in school, but when your very belonging is on the line with the people that are supposed to love you no matter what, you’re going to do whatever you’re able to, to feel a sense of love and belonging. Including trying to live up to not only impossible standards, but contradicting ones as well.

Because if you don’t feel like you belong, you don’t feel safe. And that’s when your survival instincts kick in. For me it was studying my caregivers like a detective, to try to read their minds of what it was that they could possible want from me so I could meet their standards and feel safety in belonging. I was also experiencing a fair amount of abuse from them as well, which added an extra layer of confusion. But when you’re in survival mode, nothing else really matters. Even the abuse.

These experiences were the foundation of the impossible standards that I in turn, adopted from my caregivers. I later, would set the standards so high for myself, that I was left paralyzed in not knowing how to move past where I was. If it wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t worth the effort, in my distorted view of how I learned to navigate my internal world of expectations. And I believe that I really thought perfection was something that was obtainable! This blows my mind now, to think of it. I was trying to achieve something that just doesn’t exist and tearing myself apart in the process. This was no bueno.

And it wasn’t just me, I was being told this impossible standard was possible not only by my caregivers, but most of the culture as well. I remember vividly sitting in an empty room with a desk I bought from some expensive retailer, with a decanter of whiskey and a few glasses next to it, thinking to myself, “just a few more pieces of furniture, and the right body, and clothes, then I’ll be who I want to be.” There was a sinister air about this affirmation. One that I associated with success, only in a way that was measured against someone else’s expectations. This was one of the ways I became my own abuser. By setting my self worth at something that was outside of myself and unobtainable. Because I wasn’t already enough to my, and everybody else’s measure.

So setting the standards too high, I discovered, was really an act of abuse. Trying to achieve something I never would, to gain acceptance from people who couldn’t accept me because they didn’t accept themselves. This was punishing. And to add to the confusion, I didn’t even know what I was doing to myself. So if it was this impossible standard I was pitting myself against, how did I wake up and realize that I was never going to meet it? I think I’m still finding out what it means in some of the areas of my life, to be happy with my efforts and self as I am and they are. But I know it has a lot to do with listening inwardly to myself. Knowing how I’m feeling and sitting with the uncomfortable feelings instead of trying to push past them when it feels like too much. When am I pushing myself too hard and are these really reasonable expectations I’m asking myself to meet.

When all you have are critical judgements placed on you, it’s difficult to understand what a reasonable request is, or when we’re calling for something to ease up inside. Our internal voice becomes mute and we take on the harsh critic that we are so used to. We also seek out others to fill this role, of harsh critic, that we are so used to trying to satisfy. For me, it manifested in many of the jobs I took. I didn’t know my own self worth, or what the work I was doing had via the value I was bringing to my tasks. For example, my current employer is very vocal about what their expectations are, and how nobody ever achieves them. I’ve been there for about a year and a half, and I don’t believe I’ve ever heard them compliment anybody for a job well done.

This is a difficult place to work, but in my case, it’s a place I was looking for because it is something that I’m so used to. Something I know well because I grew up under these conditions. Cold comfort. I already knew how to navigate this world, and the defenses that went along with it. The sense of superiority and indignation that came with thinking and feeling somebody else is inept because they are asking me to reach an unachievable standard, when I set the standard too high already. I would often think, “because they’re not meeting my standards they are inferior”. In other words, “you think your standards are high? I’ll show you high standards!” This is unhealthy.

But it’s how I kept myself at a distance from those I would have liked to have built healthy relationships with. Not only that, I was constantly disappointed, a little angry, ok, maybe a lot angry and never happy or satisfied with anything or anyone around me. While also burning bridges with people every chance I got. It is and was a very lonely place to be. And I’m honestly surprised that the few friends I have now stayed by my side.

For me, there was and is a lot to sort through. As I said above, the first and most important step towards releasing the impossible standards we place on ourselves, is listening inwardly when we find ourselves frustrated with ourselves. Where are the places in our daily lives that we get frustrated and disappointed. How are we feeling and what are we expecting from ourselves and others when we feel this way?

When the critic comes forward in my day to day, it is usually coupled with a sense of indignation. Most of the time I’m judging someone as selfish or insensitive and possibly inept, because they ignored the ways I expected them to act or respond to a situation. This is dangerous because; I’m measuring them up against a standard that they have no idea what I’m expecting, because they’re not mind readers, and I’m also expecting events to unfold the ways I think they would work best. This shows that I’m unwilling to change, and that I think my methods are the best methods for accomplishing tasks. This type of reasoning and thought train leads to black and white thinking, and isolating myself from others by feeling consistently disappointed in others.

To break this cycle, I have to be aware of my feelings, emotions and expectations when I interact with others. When I begin to feel frustrated, I need to make sure to focus on what is happening in the moment. I do this by acknowledging the emotion, clearing my mind of what’s happening in my thoughts, and ask myself, “where is this frustration coming from?” In some cases, there is a clear connection between my frustrations and what is happening in the moment. For example, while at work, if I’m expecting support from someone and I am left with little in the way of understanding how to proceed with a task or what their expectations are around the task, this is a frustration worth exploring.

But it is important to not take that frustration and discharge it towards the person you are experiencing the frustration with, or anyone or thing else. This is where many of us get tripped up, I know it was a sticking point for me for a long time. It’s important to feel the frustration, but then respond to the emotion inside yourself first. You can do this by asking it why it’s here, or what am I trying to tell myself? I know for me, if I feel like I’m not being listened to, or I’m not meeting the mark in some way, that can trigger some old emotions that are pretty charged. And if I’m not careful, that emotion can become destructive instead of constructive. So slowing down enough to listen to where the emotion is coming from and what it is trying to tell you is the first step to responding in a constructive way.

Then you can understand the emotion in how it is effecting you. Is this a situation that deserves this level of concern? Am I being too demanding of the other person? Is this a reasonable expectation that I am setting for another, or myself to meet? These are some of the questions that we can begin to explore when we aren’t so caught up in the initial reaction to the situation. And there will be times that you will need to respond in immediate ways with authority. But having this time to assess the needs for the situation could mean the difference between a situation handled with care or hurt feelings.

After we explore where the emotions are coming from, and what they are trying to tell us, then we can take the appropriate actions and begin the process of calming ourselves down. It doesn’t help any situation to react from a place of anger and frustration, especially where high standards are involved. This is where self soothing comes into the process and is an important part of communicating from a constructive place. Self soothing can help us to feel heard and taken care of. And coming from a place of knowing that our emotional response to a situation is valid, is important to us feeling as though we matter, in that we are part of the solution, and not just collateral damage in a situation.

This is the power of self soothing and how it can come to help us to communicate and be fully present with ourselves and others. We gain a sense of agency and confidence when we’re calm, and are better able to handle what the situation demands of us and how to respond to someone’s unreasonable expectations. And this isn’t a guaranty that you will get the support or help you need. For instance, my above example of not feeling or being supported to the necessary degree or if I’m meeting their expectations. I may calm down and recognize why I am feeling the ways I am in the situation, and I may even be able to communicate them from a clear and rational space, instead of expecting them to read my mind. But there is no way of knowing whether I’ll receive the needed support from those I ask.

The difference between doing the work to understand where your emotions are coming from and then sorting through them to know how best to respond to them, as opposed to getting angry at the person or situation is, you don’t take it so personal. You’ve assessed the situation and have done as much as you’re able to do. After you’ve done the work, it’s a matter of waiting for something outside of yourself to change for you to move forward in a situation. And this takes patients.

First with yourself. This is where sitting with difficult emotions comes into the picture. Especially those around feeling like we’re not meeting others’ expectations. And we will do just about anything we can think of to push past or numb that type of discomfort. For me it was drinking coffee to push past them, and alcohol at night to numb them. But other common modalities include, watching T.V., cleaning or constantly staying in motion, reading or constantly having your nose in a book, or constantly checking social media or flipping through your phone or some other device. Another one is ruminating or obsessing over something. Also thinking of how unfair the other person’s standards are and ways that you would right the situation if it was up to you.

What all these modalities have in common is, that we are trying to push past the discomfort of sitting in the emotion of feeling whatever is causing the discomfort. In my example, the discomfort is not feeling supported by those who I am supposed to rely on for help by never meeting their unachievable standards. This leaves me feeling underappreciated and slightly taken advantage of. These are the difficult emotions that need my attention and that I need to reconcile inside myself first.

Second, we need to have patients with those who we are in conflict with. This is also difficult, and really difficult if you haven’t found patients with yourself first. It helps if you or the other person are able to see different points of view from differing perspectives. But this isn’t always the case, and we need to have the patients necessary to help others to understand where we are coming from.

Unfortunately, this is where a lot of arguments spark. Misunderstanding another’s perspective can feel like, to the other, that you’re not listening to their point of view. So it also helps to add a healthy dose of kindness in the conversation. To help set the tone for an understanding mindset and defuse some of the tension that can arise in these types of situations, especially where unrealistically high expectations are involved.

And even with all these precautions, sometimes people will just disagree. It’s especially important in these situations to not take it personal. This was a tough lesson for me to learn due to being raised in an environment where everything was taken personal, regardless of the actual intentions. My caregivers never took responsibility for the ways they were feeling or how they responded to them. “Somebody made me feel this way” or “you made me do this” were statements I heard a lot in my youth.

Looking back, it’s no wonder I had so many issues with boundaries around whose feelings were whom’s. I was just never taught how to own a feeling and how to set healthy boundaries around them. And to add being unable to live up to an image of a perfect standard on top of that was just plain maddening.

For me, the process of creating these boundaries worked to help me understand what my responsibilities were, what healthy expectations are, and even what feelings were mine. I did this by simply labeling the feelings that were coming up in me as they were happening and then connecting them to an event while also telling myself that my best was good enough. The more I did this, the clearer it became what or why I was reacting to what was coming up for me.

So labeling emotions as they happen, followed by sitting with them through the discomfort and reminding yourself that your best is good enough, can help to loosen the grip that takes hold of us when we’re trying to push ourselves too hard to meet unreasonable expectations, from ourselves or others.

And it takes practice. LOTS of practice. As I’ve mentioned above, I’ve been dealing with these high standards for most of my life, starting in childhood! They don’t go away overnight. But the good news is that they do lessen over time. Practicing forgiveness is another way to help soften the edges of our unreasonable standards. In my daily affirmation, I tell myself, “I’m strong, brave, courageous and forgiving… it’s okay to be me, just as I am”. This helps me to gain a bit of much needed perspective. It allows me to put some distance between the expectation and the emotions that come along with them, long enough to practice some self-care and reality check what I’m expecting from myself.

I feel better knowing that I’m looking out for my best interests, while stopping myself from tearing myself down from trying to reach an impossible goal. And the more often I do this, the more trust I gain in myself. So if you struggle with impossibly high standards, just know that there are ways of easing up on yourself and letting go. You just need to be persistent and kind to yourself. Thanks for reading : ) peace.

Image Credits: “Impossible standards just make life difficult. #fortunecookie”¬†by¬†dziner¬†is licensed under¬†CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Resources: What Even Are They?

Last week’s blog post was on how I had managed to acquire all sorts of unhealthy resources to navigate and deal with a life’s time worth of unfelt emotions. This week, I’d like to talk about some of the healthier versions of some of my old resources and new ones I’ve developed that bring me a sense of ease and calm. Get ready to feel good!

Let’s begin where we usually start our day, with coffee. As I mentioned last week, I drank a lot of coffee. This was mostly to push past the feelings of not wanting to do something, especially while I was tired. Plus, it felt good. The buzz I got from drinking lattes back to back allowed me to get a lot done in the time I had. It also, unfortunately, stopped me from thinking about the things I was doing and saying which allowed me to shirk the responsibility for being held accountable for my own words and actions. This was what I meant by letting the emotions pile up. I just never thought about them or just plain sped passed them.

So I stopped drinking caffeine for a while but along with feeling like I was avoiding it out of fear, I did enjoy the kickstart to my morning that caffeine delivers. So I started drinking it again, only this time around in the form of tea and set some boundaries around it. I usually only drink two to three cups a day now which is a vast improvement over my old habit, and there’s tons of variety with all the different types of teas!

If you’re into smoky things, I suggest Yerba Mate. It’s a plant native to South America that has smoky note to it. And it does have less caffeine than a cup of coffee, but not by much. So if you’re looking to cut back, this may not be the best option to replace coffee with, one for one. Other favorites of mine include, jasmine green, oolong and jade green. All having about half the caffeine of a normal cup of coffee.

They’re also great for making cold brew for the warmer weather. I usually put about four bags of tea to a gallon container and let the tea steep overnight. I remove the bags in the morning and have tea that’s ready to be iced and taken on my morning commute. So if you’re into iced beverages, this is a great option for making a large jug to drink throughout the week. If you’re in the Boston area, Mem Tea is a great place to pick up some loose leaf tea at a reasonable price.

As I mentioned last week, it wasn’t until I was in my early thirties that I realized that the ways I was living were not only unhealthy, but potentially very dangerous. I knew things needed to change, only I had no idea where to start. I began by looking around at who I had been looking to for guidance. Most of the people I had shared my time with I no longer spoke to, and the movies and characters I aspired to be like were self destructive. Tyler Durden from “Fight Club”, the Joker and Jim Morrison to name a few.

After I realized that I was trying to emulate the late Mr. Morrison, I knew something needed to change. So I stopped drinking alcohol. Entirely at first, but then I started to feel the same ways I did about avoiding caffeine. So I introduced it into my self-care dinner nights. I would have a beer with my meal, one that I enjoyed, and be present with the experience. I wasn’t trying to numb my emotions anymore. I felt a little relaxed but mostly enjoyed the taste and how it complimented my meal.

I used to brew beer when I was drinking more often, and it’s something I’ve been thinking of getting back into now that I have a healthier relationship with alcohol. And what feels even better is, I know I can have a drink with a friend while I’m out and not have to worry about what I’m avoiding in myself or emotionally. I can just enjoy the company of my friends, in the moment.

Along with incorporating a drink into my self-care meal, I also drink herbal teas before I go to bed now which has become a very important resource for me. Something like chamomile or another bedtime blend like this one from Allegro. And as the same with caffeinated teas, there are so many different types of herbal teas to choose from, I’m surprised that I ever chose to drink the few mixed drinks and beers I did.

I will usually light a few candles and sit back with my tea and relax or calmly plan what my upcoming day is going to look like. Put on some R&B tunes and I’m totally relaxed. It’s much easier now to manage the emotions and responsibilities I have without the fog of alcohol or medication clouding my focus. And I sleep better as well. Sure I’m still tired when I wake sometimes, but I feel more rested during the day.

When I’m not drinking tea, I’m drinking something like this golden milk recipe from Minimalist Baker. This recipe is great for getting cozy on a cold night next to a fire. Or a great compliment to a playlist you’re listening too to unwind from the day. Hot chocolate is another great option. Once you start looking, there are so many different choices to choose from. I usually take some time before I go to bed, about a half hour to forty-five minutes to just be still. This is prime tea drinking time for me.

Journalling is another resource for me, and a big one. This is a space where I plan out what the different areas of my life need, or what I’m experiencing at the time. I keep a planner section. This is where I put practical information, my weekly schedule, todo list, shopping lists, budget. Anything I need to run my household. But I also have other places in my journal to explore my emotions, likes and dreams.

I have lists for what I want my future to look like. As well as a place for the resources that help me to feel my best. Little reminders of what matters. So when I need them, I can just flip through the pages and find something positive. This is also where I keep a traditional journal. About all the things and feelings that are coming up throughout the days. A place to get a birds eye view and understanding of what it is that I’m going through.

Along with my written journal, I have a rough guide of what my week looks like written down on my phone, so I know I have some time carved out to take care of the things that need attention, including myself. I don’t stick to it religiously, but like I said above, it’s nice to know that I have some time carved out for what needs attention. I also use my phone as an extension of my written journal. A place to jot down things to put on my todo list, or emotional explorations for my journal. There’s a link to Ryder Carrol’s Bullet Journal method that I use in my Community page. Do a quick google search for bullet journaling and you’ll find a huge community of creative journalers sharing their ideas.

Cooking is something that has become a very important resource for me. I’ve mentioned in a few of my posts about how I never learned to nourish my body properly due to growing up in a toxic environment which extended to all things food. Also how cooking for myself now has been a soothing routine and has really done so much for my mental health around how I relate to food.

Whether it’s for my weekly meal prep, or my self-care dinner, the act of gathering the recipes and ingredients and slowly following each step of each recipe, while a scented candle burns and whatever I’m listening to at the time plays softly in a warmly lit kitchen, is something that brings me a real sense of ease and care. Knowing I can provide for, and nourish my body in healthful ways, considering that I was never taught how to in the past, has been a soothing ritual.

It’s more than a little scary to think about the ways I was treating myself and what I was putting into my body. There were days where I just didn’t eat. I was solely running on caffeine and alcohol. The food I make for myself now is truly an act of love, and I’m almost always surprised at how well it turns out! I was taught how to cook in a restaurant I used to work at in my early twenties by a woman from Bhutan, who was using Northern Indian cooking techniques to make Mexican and Asian inspired foods. And even though I didn’t appreciate the lessons then, I now understand how lucky I was to learn so much from such a talented chef.

Being able to cook for yourself has so many benefits. Exploring new cuisines and ingredients, trying out new dishes or finding a new favorite meal. Knowing how to cook for myself has carried me through many a difficult day. I’ll usually block off some time during the week to cook for the upcoming week. As I said above, I light a candle and put some music on. Whatever is reflecting of the mood I want to embody. Then I lay out my ingredients and go through the recipes I’ve selected one by one.

The heat from the range or oven, the smells from the freshly chopped veggies or smoked tofu (which if you have a smoker, def get yourself some tofu marinated in Braggs aminos to smoke). The aroma from the sauteing garlic, ginger and onions or the spices melding together in a rich and flavorful curry. These are the moments that turn the simple act of cooking a meal into a method of self-care. And we all need to eat to live! What better motivation to learn how and experiment!

Exercise is another important resource. My exercize comes in the forms of running and yoga. I used to lift weights in my early twenties. And even after I dislocated my shoulder while doing shoulder presses, I still continued to lift weights. This was mostly because I thought it would make me more of a man. One of my caregivers had lifted weights on and off during my childhood, so I was following in their footsteps in a way. And I didn’t mind it so much, but I was truly unhealthy while I was lifting. I was smoking about a pack of cigarettes a day, and was hungover more often than not while I was going to the gym. The whole picture ran counter to the healthy habits I was trying to cultivate. And like I said above, I was more concerned with how it made me look to others than how I felt.

The shift to working out to feel better happened for me in my early thirties. It started with running. I had just gotten out of a relationship after waking up emotionally from the traumas I had endured in my childhood. It felt like a fresh start. And one day I got it in me to start running. I’m not sure why, but I ran once or twice a week. Two miles around the city commons, where I used to live.

After a few years of running two mile routes, my workouts evolved. I gained a few running buddies along the way, increased my speed from eleven minute miles to eight-thirty, and even ran a half marathon at one point. I still run, though my mileage has decreased some. But the feeling of pushing myself just past what I feel my limits are is a good feeling. I no longer need to prove anything by pushing myself beyond what I’m capable of. Just enough to grow stronger. The ways muscle tears to grow bigger, the same happens when we push past our perceived limitations. We open ourselves up just a smidge more and make space to grow.

Yoga is in many ways similar to running. I know that when I hop on the mat, I’m learning how to show up in my body when it gets difficult, and staying with the dis-ease I find there. There’s also a sense of mastery of self, flowing through the vinyasas, knowing that people have been doing this for milenia. Taming the thinking mind and strengthening mind and body at the same time, forging a tighter bond in ourselves, with ourselves.

And the more we show up for our practice, the stronger we get. I practice both yoga and running once every four days, staggering the two, one day apart. And it’s been a relief shedding the limiting belief that yoga is something only for women to do. I was raised in an environment that was toxically masculine. There were strict gender roles that were enforced by threatening to withhold belonging from the familial unit.

When I realized that everyone that was threatening to withhold belonging was doing it because they felt uncertain of their belonging, it was easy to strike out on my own and find my own path. For me, my caregivers wanted me to fit into a specific idea of how a man should behave. And men did not do yoga in my family. But it’s hard to be upset with them, knowing the amount of fear that they are living with constantly. And for anyone who doesn’t think yoga is a workout, try sitting in chair pose for two minutes!

Also, another aspect of yoga that has been helpful is that it helped me to pay attention to my breathe. I hadn’t even thought of it until not too long ago, but I realized that I used to be a mouth breather. This happened after I looked at a few pictures of myself and found that my mouth was open in almost all of them.

Mouth breathing has a host of undesirable effects. One of them being that you only breathe into your upper lungs, which activates the sympathetic nervous system. This produces adrenaline due to not being able to enter a deep level of sleep. When you breathe through your nasal passage, you are breathing into your lower lungs. This activates your parasympathetic nervous system and helps to regulate your emotional state. If you’d like to read more about mouth vs. nasal breathing, check out this article.

Speaking of breathing, meditation is another resource that has given me the ability to stay present with myself and my emotions. I started meditating about the same time I started to run. It has evolved from my first time practicing, but has been a persistent and fulfilling practice. When I first started to meditate, I did so laying down. I think I had been running on fumes for so long that I needed to rest and relax without anything to aid me.

I later joined a sangha for a brief period. I now meditate on my own, using an app that has a form of digital sangha. This feature is nice because it allows you to thank those you’ve meditated with during your session. And the more you practice at different times, the more you will recognize faces from different times of the day. I’ve gotten in the habit of thanking a handful of people I see on a regular basis. And every once and awhile I’ll send them a message asking them how they are doing. It’s become a great way to connect with others over shared experiences.

Music is another of my go to resources. I have a few playlists that I have for when I have a particularly tough day. There’s something special about listening to a playlist of carefully curated songs, maybe while sipping a cup of herbal tea in a candle lit room as I’m doing now, that just feels relaxing.

I listen to a wide variety of artists and genres. When I was in my late teens and early twenties I listened to a lot of hardcore along with bands like Phish and the Dead. It was a strange mix to be sure. Since I’ve transitioned to the softer, singer-songwriter genre, but the love of music and its ability to transform a mood is still something I hold close.

I love the blues, and still remember the feelings of light and color I get when I was introduced to The Grateful Dead and hippie culture. There was a ripeness to it. A sense of welcoming and comfort but also excitement at the same time. And when I listen to some of those old songs from my past, I land just on the edge of that feeling.

I have one playlist specifically for when I need a boost of emotional support. It’s comprised of songs that all have a bit of advice or wisdom embedded in them. Things that I may have wished I heard when I was younger, or maybe some wisdom I need in the present. Whatever the songs mean to you, listening to a playlist of your favorite songs is like saying a kind affirmation to yourself over and over again. In a sweetly wrapped voice telling you that it’s alright, you’re gonna be just fine. This, along with countless other applications, music really has the ability to transform our ways of being.

If you’re interested to learn more about some of my resources, head on over to my community page. There I have many of the resources I’ve listed above. I’d also love to hear what you have as resources! Leave a message in the comments below if you feel so inclined. Thanks for reading, and I hope some of these suggestions have given you a new perspective on something that may be common place. And as always, peace, and thanks for reading : )

Image Credits:“Relax”¬†by¬†Roslan Tangah (aka Rasso)¬†is licensed under¬†CC BY-NC-ND 2.0