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June 2010
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finding light in the darkness

 "At the darkest moment comes the light."


 Joseph Campbell 

 



For the second time in 2010, this week the people of the Washington, DC-area have had to cope with some major power outages. This time we're not battling the snow and ice, piling on layers and layers of clothes to stay warm; this time we're sweating it out, learning how to cope with extremely high temperatures and no air conditioning. I'll admit, it's been pretty unpleasant, but I'm taking this as another great lesson from Mother Nature, teaching us who have so many comforts in our lives to be grateful. There are so many things I constantly find myself taking for granted. Things like lights and air conditioning and a solid internet connection. And television. God, I never like to think of myself as a TV watcher (I'm much more of a book-reader, I swear), but life without the sound of the television and some of those beloved characters can be pretty rough.

When I'm sitting in my oven-hot apartment and I start to think about the lack of power (and the uncertainty of when it will come back on again), my mind bubbles with annoyance and irritation. I ask questions that I want answers to: When will the power be back on? Why must it be so hot? How can I possibly survive an entire evening without my computer? And what am I to do with myself when the sun sets? Without lights and television, what can I possibly do to entertain myself? My mind is racing and I find negativity creeping in stealthily from every corner. I remind myself of the blackout that took place during the cold, bleak month of February and I force myself to see the reasons why this blackout is better. And yet... frustration overrides all rationalization and I find myself slumped on the floor, back against the couch, complaining about the heat and the lack of constant mental stimulation. I'm bored. I'm hot. I'm irritable.

After finding ways to pass the time that first night (thank god for my iPad, episodes of Modern Family, warm enough weather to walk Bella and witness a beautiful sunset I probably otherwise would have missed, and a boyfriend who's willing to unfold the Scrabble board and pass the time crafting words and tallying points with me), and making it through that first fitful night of sleep without air conditioning, without a fan, and with the consistent panting coming from the overheated dog, I woke to a new day -- a day without power, but a new day nonetheless. And, without warning, I felt an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. Sure, I was drenched in sweat and had no idea how I was going to ready myself for the day in my pitch black bathroom, but I was happy. I realized just how lucky I was to actually have all of these electricity-drive amenities. Even though I might not have had them at the moment, I was incredibly thankful to know that, generally speaking, I have all of the conveniences a privileged life has to offer... I am grateful to have these things, even now, when they are starting to seem like a distant and wonderful dream.
 

 

. . . I am grateful to have lights that allow me to enjoy my time and post-work activities long after the sun has set.

 

. . . I am grateful to have air conditioning, which allows me to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

 

. . . I am grateful to have traffic lights, the green-yellow-red that makes driving so much easier than I realized.

 

. . . I am grateful to have refrigeration, an amazing concept that keeps my food and drinks cold (and safe!).

 

. . . I am grateful to have a television, which may seem silly to some but provides me with endless entertainment.

 

. . . I am grateful to have the internet, a force that has changed and enhanced my life in so many ways.

 

. . . I am grateful to have outlets, little homes for my chargers and appliances to store energy so that I may use them.

 

. . . I am grateful to have a dishwasher to keep my dishes clean with minimal effort on my part.

 

. . . I am grateful to have an oven and stove to (hope someone else will) heat and bake my favorite foods.

 

. . . I am grateful to have a fan, which cools my bedroom and erases external noises so that I might sleep soundly.

 

. . . I am grateful to have the freedom that comes with being able to plug something in and have it come to life.



Truth be told, it really sucks not having power. It's uncomfortable and unfamilar and nearly everything requires extra thought and preparation. However, it's actually been good for me to experience being without power a few times this year because it's really brought into focus how easily I take advantage of the "givens" around me. I assume, as so many do, that it's a given to have lights and food and water and a safe place to lay my head. But it's not. It's a privlege, not a right, to have these things. Spending so much time with my lights and TV and internet on, I often forget just how lucky I am to have all of these things. This week, the loss of power has brought me back to that point where I can see the benefits of electricity through new eyes and realize how incredibly grateful I ought to be for the things I so often use and think little of. Though I wasn't entirely ungrateful before (after all, the trauma of the blizzard-related outage is only a few months in my past), this week I've learned to really take a good look at the things I have in my life and learn to truly appreciate them. The power outage really made me realize that, no how negative a situation seems, something positive can be taken away from it. This week has served as great reminder that no matter what kind of darkness comes along, there is always an opportunity to find the light. 
 

What aspects of your life are you finding the light in? 
How do you cultivate gratitude in times of darkness? 


it's never too late: 5 steps for becoming who you want to be

 


A few months ago I watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and picked up on this amazing quote, which stuck with me long after the (very long) film had ended. At one point in the film, Benjamin is giving his take on life, a collection of life lessons that I found to be incredibly powerful (and true!). Here, read them for yourself: 

 

"For what it's worth: it's never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit; stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same; there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again."

 

After hearing these words, I thought back to a night not too long ago when I was lying in bed and thinking to myself, "Why do I keep thinking about writing a novel? It's never really going to happen. I should just stop thinking about it and talking about it. I should just give up. I thought it would be written and published by now. I thought I'd be smiling at people from the back of my book by this point. But I'm not. I'm still doing what I've been doing so I might as well just forget it." Yes, those words were swirling around the mind of Ms. Positively Present herself. It was then that I realized that I was doing the very thing I tell my readers not to do all the time -- I was focusing on what wasn't working for me in my life instead of what was. And, instead of taking action about what I wanted to change, I was dwelling on how things weren't going my way. 

It was after revisiting the quote above and coming to the realization that I was exactly who I didn't want to be -- someone who sat around doing nothing while complaining that her life wasn't going the way she wanted it to -- that I recognized the desperate need for change in my own life. I came to the understanding that, contrary to my own negative thinking, I really wasn't too late for me to work on and someday reach my goal of writing a novel. I came to the understanding that, if I wanted it to happen, I was going to have to make it happen. 

It's one thing to come to some exciting realizations. It's quite another to actually take action on them. So many people have great ideas, huge dreams, and lofty goals, but how many people actually take action? I don't want to be one of those people who dreams of something and never works to make it a reality. However, making dreams a reality can often involve risk and risk is a scary thing. It's hard to put faith in yourself and really believe that you have the ability to do whatever is it that you want to do. But that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to develop a plan that will help me be the me I want to be. And here's what I'm going to do...



5 Steps for Becoming the Me I Want to Be

 

Step 1: Believe. First and foremost, I have to believe in myself. I have to believe that I can achieve what I want to achieve. If I let my mind be flooded with doubts, I will only become my own worst enemy. As you may know, it can be a lot harder to believe in yourself than it is to believe in others, but I know it's an essential first step to getting on the path to making my dreams a reality. 

 

Step 2: Think. As much as I'd just love to dive in head first to my dreams, creating a plan is essential and I have to give a lot of thought to what I'm going to do and what will be impacted by my new-found dedication to making my dream a reality. Once I've gotten an idea in my head, it can be hard for me not to simply react, but it's imperative that I give some careful thought to what I want and how I'm going to get it. 

 

Step 3: Plot. After giving all of the issues surrounding my goals careful thought and consideration, it's time to start plotting. It's time to take all of the little bits and pieces of what I've dreamed of for so long and start making it into a reality. This is the hardest part of any dreamer's plan. When you have big dreams, it's hard to focus on the nitty gritty details of getting it all done, but if I want this to be real, I have to develop a plan of action. 

 

Step 4: Act. Once the plotting's done and there's a plan in place, it will be time to act. The acting can be the hardest part. The risks will come into play here and it will be a leap of faith (in myself!) that will have to propel myself forward. I will have to take action if I want my dream to be real and I know these actions will be scary -- but I also know that if I believe in myself and look around at all of the other people who believe in me, I'll be able to take that leap. 

 

Step 5: Create. Finally, the fun part will begin. Once I've figured it all out and taken action, I'll be able to begin creating, taking those dreams of mine and pulling them down to reality. This will be the step I'll be thinking of as I'm thinking and plotting and acting. It will be the motivator and the best reward for all of the work it will take to get to this point. It won't be an easy step (maybe even the hardest of all!), but it will be the most rewarding. 



For so long, I've had dreams and I always had that "someday" mentality. Now I wake and realize that it is someday and there's no magical formula that will turn dreams into reality. Unless, of course, you believe that hard work and a lot of effort can swirl together and be considered magic. It's taken me a long time to really start making an effort to do what I've always wanted to do. I've always had this idea that it was something that would just happen and I was waiting for that day when it would. Now I'm no longer waiting. I'm working toward that goal and, lucky for me, I'm not alone. I have so many wonderful, supportive people in my life and I know they will help me take these dreams of mine and turn them into something I can hold in my hand. It's not going to be easy, but I have a good feeling that, in the end, it will all be worth it... And, as George Elliot said, "It's never too late to be who you might have been." 
 

What advice to you have for a dreamer like me? 
How do you make your dreams into reality?


5 steps for recovering from a bad decision

  "The doors we open and close each day
decide the lives we live." 

Flora Whittemore

  

 

Sometimes we find ourselves faced with difficult choices. We can be staring at two options and almost literally feel torn between which one to choose. We might know what the right choice is, but we might still have the desire to make the wrong one. Life is filled with moments in which you feel as if you are standing in a fork in the road, looking down two potential paths, and wondering which way you should go. Sometimes we find ourselves lost, uncertain of which path will lead us home. Other times we know which path will lead us further away and, yet, we might be so curious that we want to take that path. The wonderful thing about life is that we often have the option to travel down many different paths. However, that ability to make choices can also be one of the most terrifying things about life. 

In a life filled with choice after choice after choice, we're bound to make a few mistakes. Life can sometimes feel like a big game of trial and error, and often you don't have any idea what the best choice might be. But, at times,you've probably been in situations where you knew the right choice but chose the wrong one. And these situations, my friends, are some of the worst situations to overcome. It's a terrible feeling to make the wrong choice, but it's an even worse feeling to make the wrong choice when you knew the whole time that it was wrong. Coping with the aftermath of a bad decision with the knowledge that you knew from the get-go you were making the wrong choice is one of the hardest things to deal with. 

Having (unfortunately) had some experience with this myself, I've come up with some ways to deal with the effects of having made a decision you knew was wrong. It's not easy to make mistakes and it's certainly harder to make mistakes when you knew the whole time that you were making them, but, by focusing on the present and on being positive, it's possible to overcome, well, pretty much anything. 



5 Steps for Recovering from a Bad Decision

  1. Take full responsibility. The first step you must take when having made a poor choice is recognize the part you played in a situation. It does no good at all to make excuses or rationalize or pretend that, for whatever reason, you aren't to blame. If you want to move forward from wherever you've found yourself, you have to take responsibility for your choices and actions. 

  2. Understand your choices. Next, it's essential that you understand why you made the decision you made. Keep in mind that this is not a time to think of excuses for why it happened; this is a time to understand why it happened so you can avoid making similar decisions in the future. Really take some time to think about why you did what you did so you can begin to move on. 

  3. Apologize and explain. If your decision hurt anyone else, the best thing you can do is apologize and explain. Don't offer excuses or try to play down the situation in any way. Be honest and open with those you have hurt and explain to them what you realized from Step 2. Once you've done that, it's also important to apologize to yourself and do what you can to come to terms with your decision. 

  4. Focus on the present. When you've made a bad decision, it can be tempting to dwell on that but, believe me, that's a waste of time. The most productive thing you can do to move forward from your choice is to focus on what's happening now. Cut yourself some slack and begin to focus on the positive things you're currently doing instead of the negative things you have done. 

     

  5. Be proactive in the future. The best thing you can do for yourself when you find that you've knowingly made a bad decision is to find ways to be proactive after the fact. Ask yourself what can be fixed or changed now. And then think about what you can do in the future to make sure you don't find yourself making similar decisions. Don't downplay the importance of taking future action. 



When you find yourself in a situation in which you've made a bad decision and there is no one to blame but you, it can be tempting to feel down on yourself and to start thinking negatively, but DON'T! No matter what you've done or what choices you've made, there is always hope for the present moment. The past, unfortunate as it might be sometimes, is gone. The only thing you can do at this point in time is move forward with a positive attitude and a focus on the now. That's not to say that things that happened in the past aren't important; they are. But you must realize that the only moment that is real is the moment that is right now -- and it's up to you to start making choices that will leave you feeling positive and happy to be living in every moment of your life. 

 

 

How do you cope internally with making bad decisions? 
What is the best way to handle the effects of a bad decision?