One More Thing I Will Not Beat Myself Up About

I was hoping to have some really great news to share with you today.

We’ve spent the last week exchanging emails and phone calls with producers for a daytime talk show, producers who were interested in having us bring the RV out to New York City so that we could tell our story on national TV. It would have been so cool. Jared and I were both excited and had even told a few of our friends about the possibility of us making the detour.

At about 7:30 last night I got an unexpected call from one of the producers letting us know that the idea was scrapped. Thanks, but no thanks, maybe we’ll be in touch another time.

I felt deflated. No, more like popped with a sharp pin. Anticipation and excitement disappeared in an instant, leaving a vague sense that I had imagined all of the phone calls.

More than disappointed, I felt stupid.

The familiar tape began to spin, the one that always kicks in when things don’t work out quite as well as I’d hoped.

“Who do you think you are? You’re so stupid to have had such ridiculous fantasies. You’re naive and immature to think anything so good could happen so easily.”

I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. And I was shocked to see the intensity of my own emotions.

It is not foolish to get my hopes up when there is every reason to believe that those hopes might be realized. It is not stupid to think I have a story worth telling. It is not naive or immature to think that extraordinary things could happen in my life; I have taken some extraordinary risks to make room for these types of opportunities.

Who do I think I am?

I think I am someone wise and brave enough to choose optimisim, damn it.

And I’m done giving myself crap for that.

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How to Stop Talking and Start Doing

Sometimes we need to remember to stop and soak up the moment we’re in. Quit thinking about the next big thing and just celebrate where we are right now. Sometimes we need to pay attention to the colors of today, lest we miss out on what’s real because of our obsession with what could be.

And sometimes we need to snap out of the complacency of today and move our butts towards what we want for tomorrow.

Have you been talking about the same dream for months (or years)?

Are you dragging your feet on important changes?

Are you sitting around the campfire talking about “what if” and “someday”, but spending night after night in the exact same campground?

If your life has become a series of hypothetical conversations, it’s time to actually do something.

Unfortunately, our brains seem to love the idea of taking action more than the actual execution, especially if it is in any way different from what we know. Some call it “lizard brain”, the reptilian part of our brain that refuses to evolve beyond the familiar. It’s the reason we stay in unhealthy relationships and jobs we hate. It’s the reason we die in cities we don’t love. It is the internal mud that keeps us stuck, but it is not impossible to overcome.

One way I’ve been using to overcome my own lizard brain lately is to set deadlines.

I’m not talking about those pretend deadlines meant to fool us into progress – my lizard brain knows motivational BS when it sees it – but actual deadlines that come with dates and times and consequences.

When we were talking about taking our RV trip, I set a date of June 1 for leaving. Suddenly, the dream became real and plans were being made around that specific date. Recently, I had another idea for a book – any writer can tell you they have more ideas for books than pairs of clean socks – and I knew instinctively that the timing was right for this idea to become reality. I bought a ticket for a publishing conference in New York City at the end of October and then forked over a piece of our savings for a plane ticket. Deadline set, money staked, and book proposal is actually almost done.

Confession: I’m totally amazed at how much progress I’ve made on that proposal. I’ve started books and proposals before, but never made the time to actually see them through. Now, although I’m as busy as ever, I’m making time because I have a deadline.

Deadlines turn our fantasies into priorities. They help transform us from people who talk to people who live. They send the message to our lizard brains – and the rest of the world – that we are committed to living with purpose and power.

Sign up for a race.

Register for a class.

Make a deposit on that vacation to Ireland.

Whatever your next finish line is, make it real. Make it now.

Or don’t, and keep dreaming the same dreams because they are nice and pretty and easier.

What deadlines do you need to make?

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Happiness Highlights: Shooting Blind

As I mentioned in a previous post, I went to Albuquerque, New Mexico last week to experience the 40th Annual International Balloon Fiesta. For nine days, hundreds of hot air balloons gather in one place to participate in balloon races and events. It is one of the most photographed events in the world.

As someone who loves photography, I was giddy at the idea. I could practically see the brightly colored balloons that would crowd the frame of my photos.

And then my camera broke.

Specifically, the LCD screen that allows me to preview shots taken with my Nikon d50 broke. It seems to be cracked and only displays a blinding white light. Although the camera technically still takes photos, I had no idea what the photos would look like until popping the SD card into my laptop hours later.

This is not how I learned to take digital photos.

At all.

I rely heavily on chimping – a term taught to me by a photographer for New York Daily News to describe stopping to look at what I’ve done! in between shots. I take a shot, check the preview, and make necessary adjustments to my aperture and shutter speed.

I need the preview screen!

But there I was, at a superbly photogenic celebration, without my crutch.

As luck would have it, weather cancelled most of the ballooning activities during my visit. However, there were still a few opportunities to take pictures of inflated balloons, rocky desert mountains, and a New Mexico vineyard. I snapped away, hoping I’d end up with a handful of salvageable pictures at the end of the week.

This weekend, after flying back to Pittsburgh from New Mexico to meet up with my family, we went to Fallingwater and Ohiopyle State Park. Again, photo opps abounded and I was heartbroken to be handicapped with a broken camera.

I made the best of it. What other option did I have?

I focused on my composition and tried to remember everything I’ve learned about proper lighting. I unintentionally slowed down, taking fewer pictures over all and more time with each shot. The results were not as bad as I had feared.

 

 

 

 

 

Did breaking my camera make me happy?

Not at all. I probably would have ended up with tons more photos if I’d had fully functional equipment and they probably would have been better photos.

But I’m pleased to see that I was able to adapt. It was a new challenge that forced me to practice photography skills I often let slip. I was forced outside my comfort zone and — as is almost always the case — grew because of it.

Getting better makes me happy, even if the method wasn’t at all my idea.

What made you happy this week?

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The Downside of Travel: Saying Goodbye to Great Strangers

One of the best things about travel is meeting new people. It is also one of the hardest.

I’ve spent the last three days in Albuquerque, New Mexico on a press trip, a PR-driven tour of a city meant to provide writers with fodder for future stories. These trips are so valuable for freelance writers because it allows us to actually keep some of the money we earn writing, instead of paying it all out in tax-deductable travel expenses. (Deductions, after all, are not accepted at the grocery store or gas station.) This particular trip was supposed to revolve around the 40th annual International Balloon Festival, except that no one told Mother Nature, and so it revolved around incredibly good food and long days spent with a handful of strangers. I was ironically sad to leave those strangers at 6 am this morning.

The last few months – and really the last few years since I’ve started traveling frequently – have brought many bittersweet mornings. I’m always eager to be reunited with my family or move on to the next stop on our road trip, but disappointed to say goodbye to people that I’m unlikely to cross paths with in the future, people with whom I have laughed and sang and teased, despite having just met each other.

Of course, not everyone I’ve met on the road has been difficult to say goodbye to. The majority of the people any of us meet, even if we share smiles or pleasant conversation, easily pass in and out of our lives. We may wish each other well or bring them up in future stories to friends as “this guy we met in a brewery in Pittsburgh,” but the mark they’ve left on us is barely visible. This is the natural way of things.

But once in a while, a connection is made with a stranger and the natural way of things kind of sucks.

I feel silly admitting this. I’m certain I become connected to and invested in people more quickly and frequently than most grown ups. When most people are making nice, I’m falling in love with your story and your smile and the way you talk about your children I’ve never met. I’m so accustomed to losing myself in the moment that I forget to keep the logical boundaries that exist between strangers, casual acquaintances and networking contacts. I like you, is all, and I’m disappointed to know that we won’t really be friends.

There’s a saying that some people come into our lives for a moment, others for a season, and a precious few for a lifetime. I’m grateful for the lifers and also for the right to let the seasonal relationships go.

I just wish there was a way to hang on to the stand-out moments once we’ve left town.

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There’s No Such Thing as a Tipping Point

“What made you decide to start this pursuit of happiness?”

It’s a simple question, one I should expect from interviewers by now, but when I was asked it this week I was left without a response. Perhaps it was the way it was phrased this time, or maybe it was the distance between today and the initial decision that made it harder to come up with some easily quotable answer.

What made me decide to pursue happiness?

Um… because not being happy sucks?

I know how to explain why we decided to travel around the United States. I know why I choose a positive attitude over a negative one most days. But what started it all? What made me turn from not pursuing happiness?

I keep going back through my memory in search of a light bulb moment. I understand that’s what reporters and producers want, a catalytic event that makes for powerful (and easier) storytelling. And surely there must have been a turning point.

I usually tell people deciding to take a trip is like deciding to have a baby. There isn’t one thing that makes you say “oh, yes, let’s bring a new person into our lives.” A decision like that — when it’s made consciously instead of consequently — is more likely the result of lots of moments, a slow building of seemingly innocuous realizations that come together over time to create one big, complicated decision.

But then, there is certainly a very specific event that tips the scales from “no baby” to “baby making.” The date — and probably the room and outfit — can be pinpointed pretty easily.

So what was my baby making moment? What was the dinner or sweetly spoken word that made me finally drop the mantle of getting by and pick up the hope of actively pursuing happiness?

It may have been the moment two years ago when I asked my husband to move out. Or maybe it was the moment a month later when I asked him to come home. It very easily could have been the therapy that I went to between those dates and the months of marriage counseling that followed.

It might have been a few months later when my brother was arrested or, shortly thereafter, when I learned my family had been betrayed by a woman we loved. Neither of those things were particularly happy, but it solidified for me the both limited and vast power I have to choose happiness in my own tiny corner of the world. It made my priorities crystal clear.

Within a few months of those kicks to the gut we were deciding to take a year off to travel.

I could claim any one of those events as my eureka experience and have a thrilling tale to tell. The interviews would be neatly packaged and the book easy to write. But none of those days stand alone. They are each part of the larger continuum of life and to pretend that there was a tipping point belies the reality that there is no single moment capable of defining the rest of your life.

There is no such thing, I think, of one thing that leads to one decision that leads to this is who we will be forever and ever.

And thank God for that.

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Happiness Highlights: Art in Grand Rapids

0becb1db0eadecc8b52992a059756928The music thumped off the smooth walls and wood floors, the echoes of the lead singer softened only by the throng of bodies flooding the wide hallways. The Crane Wives were rocking out, but the local band wasn’t what had brought people to a museum in downtown Grand Rapids last Thursday night. The crowds had come for the art — and specifically to find out which art was voted the best out of nearly 1,700 entries in ArtPrize 2011.

ArtPrize – by the Artists, for the People

ArtPrize is a public art contest founded and largely supported by the families that started Amway – yes, that Amway. Any artist is welcome to enter for a chance to win the grand prize of $250,000, an honor chosen by a public vote. No judges or experts discuss artistic merit behind closed doors; real people go look at real art and decide what they like best.

As someone who makes their living through creative endeavors, I was impressed by the buckets of cash being offered to my artistic brethren. It’s nice to be reminded that there are ways to get paid to do what you love, even if doing what you love is welding sculptures out of old car parts. Over 300,000 votes were cast during the first round of voting to help determine which artists would make the top ten and be guaranteed at least $7,000 in prize money.

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“It’s not about the art. It’s about the discussions people have about art.”

During the announcement of the Top Ten, founder Rick Devos explained that the real mission of ArtPrize is to get people talking about the art, or “fighting about something besides football.” By that measurement, there’s no doubt the experiment is working.

I’ve spent a lot of time in art museums over the last four months and I have never seen so many people clustered around paintings and circling statues. Old men and young girls stood side by side in front of abstract sculptures, twisting their necks to get a better glimpse at the artist’s perspective. People gushed in soft whispers and shook their heads with disgust. Men in football jerseys stepped close to oil paintings while women in brightly colored tights sat quietly on upholstered benches.

I was amazed at how many people cared.

About art.

About, in many cases, abstract art.

 

Five Miles of Free Art

ArtPrize brings the city of Grand Rapids alive. Installations can be found on street corners and in buildings all over town, the venues as eclectic as the voters. Restaurants and bars as well as law offices and hotels offer up space to artists from all over the world. The Michigan town has a strong art culture all year long, but during the 19 days of ArtPrize it becomes a giant art museum — one with few walls and no admission fees.

One of the things I miss most about living in an RV is the absence of art in my home. I’ve become more aware of public art and am grateful for cities that encourage beauty in common spaces.

I found happiness in Grand Rapids this week because passion inspires me and I was surrounded by it during my visit. I saw it in the artists I met and in the people who crawled through the exhibits like treasure hunters in search of a mysterious prize. I saw it in paper hearts hanging by colored thread and in black and white duct tape. And I saw it, mostly, in the people who ventured out into the cold and rain to be inspired, too.

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Win Your Own Piece of Inspiration

I was given a really cool gift from Experience Grand Rapids, the organization that brought me to Western Michigan and with which I’ll be working as a paid ambassador for a few months. It’s an actual piece from one of last year’s top ten ArtPrizes. It’s beautiful in both thought and execution and I wish I had room for it in my life right now. Alas, I barely have room for my underwear, let alone art.

I hate to let something pretty go to waste, so I’d like to pass it on to you. Leave a comment on this post and tell me something about your favorite kind of art. I’ll randomly select a commenter to receive the artsy swag. It’s not $250,000, but it’s nice to look at.

So, let’s hear it. What’s type of art inspires you?

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Boom. Inspiration.

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I was walking to dinner last night when it happened. The fragments of ideas from all the corners of my brain found their rallying point and surged into place. And I knew.

Boom. Magic.

I love it when inspiration shows up.

Who knew it would happen on a sidewalk in Grand Rapids, Michigan?

Happy Friday!

P.S. If you want to follow along more closely with our trip and my travels, head on over to our Facebook page. Jared and I both post photos and updates there.

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No One Likes a Happy Girl

ca355d8ca8cad175ea87ddabf545eb89“Your blog is so positive now.”

She didn’t mean it as an insult, or even a compliment, really. She was just stating a fact, one I should have been glad to hear since I’ve made a conscious decision to focus on positivity online and in life. But I cringed.

Comments about being positive or happy quite often trigger a bizarre defensive reaction in me. I assume my sincerity is being questioned and worry that an upbeat outlook is annoying. No one, I fear, likes a happy girl.

Of course, that’s not true. I, for one, love a happy girl. I like being happy more than I liked being unhappy. I prefer happy people to miserable company. Incessant snark makes me weary.

But that doesn’t seem to be the norm. In our collective minds, reality has become intrinsically linked with disappointment and tragedy. A happy ending is dismissed as being too unlike real life, too idealistic to be believable. The happiest girl in the room is mocked for being too perky, too out of touch, too fake to connect with.

“Something’s just not right,” we say. “I don’t trust anyone that’s happy all the time.”

I’m haunted by my own words now, my own mistrust of pleasant people. Surely, I believed, all that smiling and positive talk was covering up an ugly truth – a truth more like the reality with which I was familiar.

No one, I was sure, likes a happy girl.

But I am happy.

The defense leaps to my lips and my fingertips the instant I hear or read an observation on my — or anyone’s — cheerful tone. I am happy. I’m not lying. My need to convince is startling and rings my own warning bells. Am I really? Am I hiding? Am I covering up the grittiness of living?

The truth is that I am not happy all the time. No one is. I have just decided that I will focus more on the moments of joy than on the moments of despair. I will feed the fire of bliss and starve the inner gremlin of fear. I will cry when I need to cry, but I will make note of laughter knowing that we multiply what we celebrate.

The reality is that happiness is not always easy. It is easier to slip into commiseration and biting quips. There is camaraderie to be found in picking at oneself and on one another. Sinking into pettiness is effortless, while choosing a smile can require force.

But it is, I believe, a force for good.

I chose to start writing about happiness because this is a permanent mark I’m leaving on the world. My words, both spoken and written, have an impact. They affect me and those closest to me. They add to the overall color of who we are. For better or worse, whichever I choose, they matter.

No, life is not always easy. It is filled with tragedy as well as joy, a fact I’m as familiar with as anyone. I know death and loss and grief. I know heartbreak and bad decisions. I know sorrow of my own making and devastation beyond my control. And that, perhaps, is why I’ve chosen an active pursuit of happiness.

No one likes a happy girl, except for other happy girls and boys, men and women who are not ignorant of the ways of the world but who choose to court joy instead of defeat. It is from them that I want to learn, with them that I want to paint my legacy. I want not only to find happiness, but to be comfortable with it, confident in it, and completely unafraid of who does or does not like a happier me.

And so I will continue to smile, despite my fears and insecurities.

Because I love a happy girl.

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Happiness Highlights: a Wicked Twitter Tale

twitter-story-1twitter-story-beckytwitter-story-made-ittwitter-story-nervoustwitter-story-4twitter-story-6twitter-story-8twitter-story-9twitter-story-10What gave you happy tears this week?

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Use Knowledge to Overcome Fear

15687c7dcebb25cbe492589e5566d9aaThis post was inspired, in part, by my partnership with our book sponsor.

I have written a lot about being afraid. I don’t know if that’s because I have an inordinate amount of fears, or if overcoming fears is simply an essential part of pursuing happiness and so a blog about happiness has to get into the scary stuff a lot. Perhaps it’s a little from column A and B.

In taking a constant and closer look at fear, I’ve discovered two things to be true about almost everything I am afraid of:

  1. The big bad fear is tied in some way to something that could be really, really good. The more precious the dream, the more likely I am to be terrified somewhere along the way.
  2. The fear itself is shrouded in unknowns. It can be hard to identify – or conquer – my fears because of all the mystery and ambiguity that surrounds them.

The first one reminds me that being afraid can be a sign to keep going, that the reward is crucial to fulfilling my destiny and finding peace at a cellular level. If my heart is pounding and I’m worried about throwing up or peeing my pants, I’m probably on the right track.

The second tells me that I need to do my homework.

When I was in New York City last month (I can’t believe it was just a month ago!!), I spent every day fantasizing about living in Manhattan. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a teenager, but it’s only recently that I’ve felt like I could really make it happen in this lifetime. Naturally, a dream I’ve had for that long is going to come with some fear.

For me, my biggest fear is that it won’t happen – that I will never be able to afford it. Housing is crazy expensive there, right?

The thing is, I had no idea what housing cost. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that people live in New York City. Lots of people. People who are neither rich nor famous are living in Manhattan with roofs over their heads. In other words, it can be done! I just need to figure out how. First step? During my last visit, I looked up ads for rentals in the neighborhoods I wanted to live in.

And just like that, I felt a little less afraid.

Of course, not all fears are based on dreams of moving to The Big City. Some fears have nothing to do with dreams and everything to do with the imaginary what ifs.

My daughter is terrified of tornadoes. Terrified. Ever since seeing with her own two eyes the way a tornado wiped out our hometown, she has been obsessed with the possibility of a strong wind or hard rain morphing into a destructive storm. She asks at least once a day, “Will there be a tornado today?”

Because I believe knowledge has the power to ease fears, I got Emma the book Weather & Space. She read about how a tornado is formed and what weather conditions are required.

Is she still afraid of tornadoes?

Yep. As well she should be – they have the ability to wipe out homes and lives and entire towns. But! Now she knows when to be afraid. She’s not haunted by an unpredictable what if that could strike at any time. And, most importantly, we can calm her down much more easily by reminding her that “No! It’s 50 degrees out, kid! There is not going to be a freaking tornado today!”

Are you being haunted by unknowns? What research could you do today to be a little less afraid?

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