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life is a circus: 5 lessons from inside the big top

 Keep the circus going inside you, keep it going,
don't take anything too seriously,
it'll all work out in the end.

David Niven

 

I've always had a sort of love affair with the circus, and lately I've been a lot more focused on it as I've been planning a circus-themed baby shower. (So focused on it, in fact, that I even watched Charlie Chaplin's The Circus last night -- a silent film, which is usually so not my thing.) Despite the misgivings I have about the circus (the treatment of animals, the creepy clowns, etc.), there's something about being part of a circus that seems magical -- traveling around the country preforming and entertaining people, doing things that seem impossible to others and knowing how they all work. There's something magical about being the force behind the magic.

When I think of the circus, I think of sawdust and swinging trapeze artists. I think of twinkling lights and towering big tops. I think of excitement and experience, the dusty trails of knowledge kicked up by all the traveling performers. I'm sure there's much more to it than what I envision (... all the most magical things are always so much simpler when you're on the outside), but to me the circus seems like a wondrous place.

Beyond the wonder and magic of the circus, there is a lot we can learn from what happens under the big top. The circus, in many ways, is a metaphor for life -- it's crazy, unexpected, filled with a wild range of emotions. Under the big top, you can go from laughing your head off to holding your breath in fear in just a matter of moments. As in life, the circus is filled with some odd characters, many of which have a great deal of knowledge to share if only we look a little closer. Let's pull back the curtain on the big top and see what life lessons we can find amid the sawdust and the sparkles...

 

Be the ringmaster. It's your life. 

If life is a circus, then you should certainly be the star in your own ring. The ringmaster controls the show. The ringmaster is the most visible performer. The ringmaster is in charge. You can't control everything in life, but there are many things you have the power to direct. Don't let someone else be the ringmaster in your life. Take the reins (or the whip, in this case!) and remind yourself that you have the power to be in charge of this crazy circus we call life. 

 

You're on a tightrope. Keep your balance.

Just like the walk across the wire is for a tightrope walker, our lives will be most successful if we find balance. Lean too far in one direction and you'll find yourself toppling over. Balance is not always easy to master when juggling relationships and jobs and passions, but it's essential for living a positive and present life. Imagine yourself on a tightrope and ask yourself, "Am I leaning too far in one direction?" Don't let one area of your life -- no matter how important it might seem -- distract you from achieving balance. 

 

Toss your hat in the ring. Get involved. 

Like a circus coming to town, our lives are brief but wonderful. Don't waste your life sitting on the sidelines. Get involved with activities, hobbies, friends, jobs. Say "yes" more than you say "no." Do the things that scare you. Push your boundaries. Take the challenge of living life to the fullest. Life is a circus that's magical to watch, but even more wonderful to participate in. Don't waste your life being a spectator. Throw down your inhibitions and throw your hat into the ring. 

 

Set up a sturdy net. You will need back-up.

No matter how balanced you try to be, you'll make mistakes. You'll slip and fall. Nothing could be worse than a fall without a net so make sure you have a strong network of people to help you get back up on your feet. You don't need a lot of people -- a few will do the trick -- but you do need people who will catch you when you fall, who will dust you off, and who will help you get back up on your feet. You won't often need your safety net, but you'll be thankful you have it when you start to lose your balance. 

 

Clown around. Life's too short to be serious.

Even if you're a bit wary of clowns (there's just something not right about a painted-on smile...), it's hard not to appreciate their ability to make life a comedy. Life is much too short to spend your time being serious. Take a lesson from the circus clowns and make a joke, share a laugh, do something so silly and outrageous that you make yourself crack up. Seriousness has it's time and place, but it's the silliness you'll remember most. So clown around. Laugh

 


Life is very much like the world under the big top -- filled with the unexpected, the exciting, and the terrifying. It's a lot to take in, but if you look closely, beyond the curtain, beneath the glitter, you'll see the wisdom that lies behind the wonder and the whimsy...

 

If you love the circus like I do, here are some sites, songs, and sources you might want to check out: 

Circus-Themed Music Videos (includes my fav, Britney Spears' "Circus")

The Night Circus (amazing novel with a new twist on the circus)

Ringling Museum of Art (worth a trip to Sarasota, FL!)

Life is a Circus (my Pinterest board)

Charlie Chaplin's The Circus (part 1 of 8, but you can find all 8 on YouTube)

Circus (a PBS documentary you can watch online)

 


how to manage mixed emotions

 

Last week, my boyfriend brought me gift from his business trip: a mood ring. I hadn't had one since the '90s and was thrilled. Back then they hadn't worked so well, but apparently they've upped the technology in these rings since my childhood (or perhaps my moods have just gotten stronger...). In any case, the ring seemed to work like magic -- turning to purple (love) when I was fawning over my Bella pup, pink (romance) when I was with my boyfriend, yellow (anxious) when I was about to give Bella the medicine I knew she didn't want to take, and green (mixed emotions) when I was feeling an array of things. It was magic -- and I was mesmerized, checking it every so often to see if it matched up with my current emotions.  

mood ringThough for the most part it stayed normal (blue), it surprisingly morphed to green (mixed emotions) frequently over the course of the few days I was wearing it. Which got to me thinking: how often are we really in one emotional state? I often find myself defining my emotions with a single word -- "happy," "sad," "angry," etc. -- but wearing this ring (as silly as it is) has made me realize that my emotional state is often much more complex than a single word. And this past week was a particularly good illustration of that. 

Last Wednesday (the very same day I received the mood ring!), I launched Live Happily Ever After Now : A Guide + Workbook for Living in the Moment. I was overwhelmed with the wonderful response I received (and am still receiving!) for the workbook. It is the first product I've launched and I had no idea what to expect. The positive feedback (and sales!) had my heart soaring, confirming what I'd been questioning from the very first day I decided to leave my full time job: would people really want to pay for my work? Turns out the answer is YES! and I couldn't have been happier.  

But my stellar mood was dampened by a frustrating and sobering reality: Bella, who had already lost nearly two of her eight pounds, wasn't eating.* This meant Bella wasn't taking the medicine she needed to help regulate her kidney disease. No matter what I tried -- fresh chicken, salmon, treats -- she wouldn't eat. I was devastated, recalling the vet telling me that one of the signs of it being "the end" would be that she would stop eating. As thrilled as I was to be launching Live Happily Ever After Now, staying in the present was increasing difficult. 

My emotions were all over the place -- one moment I was thrilled to see another sale pop up in my inbox, the next I was looking at super-skinny Bella with tears spilling down my cheeks. My mood ring was green and my emotions were most currently mixed. Coping with constant assents and descents was maddening (Should I allow myself to be happy about my workbook's success while Bella lay starving at my feet? Should I direct all my attention to Bella, who seemed so frail and helpless, and ignore those exciting emails flooding my inbox?), and in the midst of it all I realized that this must be common.

At some point, we all encounter days (months? years?) filled with altering moments of happiness and sadness, fear and hope, gratitude and anger. When we face these emotions one after another -- or even at the same time -- managing them can be difficult. What do we focus on? What do we push aside? I've never been an advocate of ignoring emotions (they always creep back in eventually...), but how do we cope with a myriad of emotions at once? 

Managing mixed emotions can be incredibly difficult, especially when in the midst of experiencing them. In a highly emotional state, the last thing you probably want to do is think about how you can manage your emotions -- but, believe me, it's worth putting in a little extra effort to help yourself cope. Below are some of the things I've tried over the past few days, things that have really helped me to cope with the ups and downs...

 

5 Ways to Manage Mixed Emotions


1. Acknowledge your emotions.
Emotions are not choices and we don't usually contemplate on which one we could like before we experience it. They sneak up on us and suddenly we're feeling happy or sad or angry or elated. The first step in managing your emotions is realizing that they are there. When you find yourself feeling or acting emotional, take a moment to think about how you're feeling. Ask yourself what emotions you are really experiencing. Pay attention to your body. It will give you clues (clenched fists, increased heartbeat, etc.) to alert you of a new emotional state. Once you've identified your emotions, you have a much better chance of managing them. 

2. Accept what you're feeling. Accepting emotions doesn't come always come easily. For example, it was hard for me to accept my feelings of elation when I knew Bella wasn't doing well. Happiness seemed like a contradiction (even though it was unrelated to her illness). Even so, I realized I had to accept my emotions -- whatever they were. We're all entitled to feel how we want to feel (what we do with those feelings is a different story...). When faced with mixed emotions, it's important to both acknowledge and accept them. Even if your emotions don't seem to fit with the situation, even if your emotions seem to contradict one another, accepting them without judgment will help you cope. 

3. Find outlets for your emotions. Emotions don't do well when you keep them all bottled up inside. It helps to let them out -- through talking about them, writing about them, etc. Identify an outlet that works for you (for me, it's writing) and let your emotions flow freely in that arena. For some, it might be hours of chatting with a close friend. For others, it might be taking to the field, gym, or court and expressing those emotions through physical exertion. Whatever works best for you, find it and make good use of it. Letting your emotions out in a healthy way is one of the best ways to manage them, especially when you are dealing with more than one emotion.

4. Indulge in relaxation. In a heightened emotional state -- particularly one with multiple emotions -- relaxation is probably going to be the last thing on your mind. When I found myself overjoyed and overwhelmed last week, the last thing I wanted to do (or even thought I could do!) was relax. But relaxation really helps to put things in perspective. No matter how crazy things are, find a few moments to take a break and relax. Even if it's just a minute or two, taking some time away from whatever is impacting your emotions can work wonders. A deep breath, a brisk walk, a moment alone -- all of these can help you find solace in times of emotional craziness. 

5. Bring yourself back to the now. Especially when dealing with a mixture of negative emotions, staying in the now doesn't seem like the best idea. However, most negative emotions are a result of worrying about what could be or fretting about what could be. Staying in the moment allows us to focus on what's happening right now -- not what could happen or what did happen. Even when it's hard, being present is always more positive than focusing on the past or future. When I was struggling last week, I pulled out my Live Happily Ever After Now workbook and started filling it out. Doing so brought me back to the moment and made my magnitude of emotions much easier to manage. 



More than we'd probably like to admit, we're ruled by our emotions. Good or bad, they often find a way to permeate our lives, our work, our interactions with others. Most people just let their emotions take the reins because it seems like the easiest path in times of extreme emotion. Of course, the easiest path is often an illusion and letting our emotions have control often results in more difficulty than delight. While we'll never be able to control everything we feel (and don't think we'd want to), we can take some responsibility for our emotions.

The small scrap of paper that came with my mood ring reads: Your own energy will cause the mood ring to change color to reveal your inner emotions. Whether or not you're wearing a mood ring, your inner emotions are on display through your words and actions. Your emotional state plays a huge role in what kind of day you will have, how you will interact with others, what types of decisions you'll make, etc. Don't let your life be ruled by your moods -- instead, take control of your emotions, take accountability for your feelings. You have more power over your emotions than you realize.  

 

* Bella's now eating again and seems a little bit more like her old self. Yay! 


7 ways to celebrate summer

 
 
"Summer afternoon, summer afternoon --
to me those have always been the two most beautiful words
in the English language."

Henry James

 

I love summer. Always have. As a child, I loved the warmth and the freedom and the fireflies. I loved knowing that my birthday is coming. As a teenager, I loved the freedom from school and the long, lazy days spent by the pool. In my youth, summer always symbolized freedom.

And even now, as I look longingly out the window at the beautiful June day, summer is freedom. Summer is freeing. There is more time (longer days!) and more happiness (how hard it is for me to be sad when the sun is shining!). There is tanned skin and sun-kissed hair. There is warmth and joy and a slowness that calms everyone just a little bit.

Though the season hasn't technically started (hard to believe, with these 90-degree days!), I want to make sure I make the most of it when it arrives. Here's how I plan to embraced this much-loved season . . . 

 

7 Super Ways to Celebrate Summer

  1. Spend a lot of time outside. It's hard for me to tear myself away from my computer, my TV, my indoor comforts, and go outside. In general, I'm an indoor girl. But summer is the time I need to go outside and take part in outdoor activities (even if by "activity" I mean laying by the pool and reading...). Just this weekend I rationalized it was perfectly fine to spend a beautiful Saturdays indoors because I had "things to do." Sure, I was very productive, but nothing I did was a necessity and I wasted a perfectly sunny day sitting in front of the computer. This weekend I won't be making the same mistake!

  2. Pay attention to nature. Just the other day I noticed some of the leaves falling from trees and thought to myself, "Wow, summer will be over before I know it!" I need to pay attention to the season before it passes me by. I need to look at the bright blue sky and feel the warm sun on my arms as I'm driving. I need to make note of the green, green grass and all of the beautiful flowers still in bloom. As much as I love the rainbow of colors in the fall, summer has some great things to offer nature-wise and I need to open my eyes and take in all of the summer beauty.

  3. Enjoy summertime foods. There's nothing quite like summertime foods to remind you of how great summer is. There are certain things I eat during the summer that I rarely have any other time of the year -- watermelon, corn on the cob, and fruit salad being three of my favorites -- and I need to eat more of those while they're in season. It could be another year before I'm likely to eat them again so I need to take advantage of them now, enjoying them in all of their summertime glory!

  4. Sit outside at restaurants. During the summer, most restaurant hosts will ask you when you arrive, "Inside or outside?" I often hesitate. Outside seems like the logical choice, but it is awfully hot out there. I need to put my wussy little "it's too hot" whiny self aside and remember that only during a few months of the year do I have the opportunity to sit outside. It might be warm, but it's refreshing and freeing to sit outside and eat. There's something about dining al fresco that's liberating. Next time a host asks me where I want to sit, unless it's rainy, you better believe I'll be responding, "Outside, please!"  

  5. Appreciate the warm nights. When the nights are warm and I'm wearing flip-flops and shorts to walk the dog, it's easy for me to forget about all the nights in winter where I had to bundle up in a big puffy jacket and boots just to take a quick, freezing stroll around the block. In the summer, however, I just slip on my flip-flops, grab the leash, and go. I need to remember what a joy it is to have the freedom to leave the house without a jacket, to know I won't have to brace myself in preparation for a cold blast of air when I open the door. So while I have 'em, I'm going to appreciate the warm summer nights. 

  6. Take a day (or a few!) off. Now that I work for myself, it might seem like I could easily take the day off to enjoy a beautiful day, but it's much harder to vacate from my "office" when my time off isn't paid. Even so, life's too short not to enjoy the beautiful season of summer. Hard as it might be to step away from my desk, I'm going to take a day or two off this summer to just relax and enjoy the season. It might seem lazy and even wasteful, but I doubt I'll ever look back on my life and say, "Wow, I wish I hadn't enjoyed that summer day so much."

  7. Make good use of long days. When I finish work in the winter, it's dark. When I get back to my apartment, I don't feel like doing much of anything. Darkness, to me, signals time to sleep. The nights after work in the summer are different. It doesn't get dark until hours after I've dragged myself away from the desk. There's little desire to sleep when the sun's still shining. For the rest of the summer, I'm determined to make the most of these long afternoons. I'm going to do things after work (instead of just sitting on my couch, which seems to be my current preference). I'm going to get out there and make myself enjoy the long days! 


Depending on what you like do and what kind of person you are, your ideas of enjoying the summer might vary greatly from mine (which, as you've probably noticed, fail to include anything too strenuous, nature-oriented, or expensive). No matter what you enjoy doing during the summer, you should do it. The days seem longer, but the season always comes to an end much sooner than we realize. Make the best of it and start celebrating your summer!

What do you do to celebrate summer?
How do you make the most of those long days?