positive

Life is simply endless troubleshooting.

Life happens for us on a constant basis. We're lucky in this way until we die because it gives us endless opportunities to build our resilience from stretching and growing.

Except most people don't see life in this way at all! They see it as constantly happening TO them and not FOR them. I remember when I viewed my life the same way most of the time, but I can also tell you that it's transformed in big ways since shifting my frame of mind.

And the new frame or mindset I use is this: life is simply endless troubleshooting. No matter the circumstances, life is just choice after choice of "how am I going to fix this or change this or solve this." But most people have this whole other frame of mind that keeps them suffering endlessly. I see it really clearly with my mom pretty much every time I speak to her but I also see it all over the place on social media and listening to people.

People have this constant background narrative of "it shouldn't be like this" or "this shouldn't be happening" and life becomes this constant struggle and inconvenience instead of a series of incidents or opportunities to be solved. Once you notice it, it's hard to turn off. People come from this place of "UGH! IF ONLY this wasn't happening, my life would be going just fine," but the truth is, they'd probably still find something to complain about or be bothered by. Why? Because nothing stays the same ever and the reason for that is because the Universe is constantly growing and expanding outward. Trying to make things stay as they are, either us or another person or a job or something else, is literally fighting the way things are. It's fighting reality.

It's like trying to keep a wave upon the sand [name that tune!]. 

Have you ever tried to keep a wave on the sand? That sounds crazy, right? Think about some other analogy in nature and it's easy to realize how silly it sounds but then we try to make people, places or things or aspects of our lives stay the same when it's just not how things are.

So when cars break down in traffic or mail is delayed or appointments get changed or people die or we get fired or politicians impose bans or men and women harass each other (because they do) or any of the big and small ways that life just shifts and changes, instead of seeing these things as major inconveniences or things that shouldn't be happening, we can just see it as endless troubleshooting. 

Life is just endless things to be solved from moment to moment. It's not personal. You didn't deserve it. It's not happening TO you and it's certainly not wrong or bad. It's just the way things are.

Try using this frame or mindset for one day, ok start with the next five minutes, and see what you see!

Two kinds of positive.

I once thought that positive was positive, plain and simple.

One was either a positive person or not.

 

I've come to see that positivity is rich and complex.

There are basically two kinds of positive. The first is what I call fake positive. Some people spout positivity day in and day out or seem to just exude it when you hang out with them for an hour or two. They just keep throwing up memes and phrases encouraging you to "be positive". How do these people do it? you might wonder. What is wrong with me or my broken life that I can't pull that off? Do they really not have issues or struggles?

Then, there is real positive. Other people who you KNOW have it hard, because they share it, but they still seem to find silver linings in life--sometimes in places where they are least likely to appear. The positive is  real, hard-earned positive. 

More people have commented or called me positive in the past year than I can count on my fingers and toes, and I started to think about why that was. My life, in many respects, was never MORE difficult than it was this past year, so why was I coming off more positive than when I had it "easier"? 

Here's what I think: there are people who make it look like things are going well. It's often an unconscious act to fool people--namely themselves. Many people think if they are positive, they don't have to feel pain. If they act like nothing's wrong, nothing in fact IS. See what I'm saying?

Listen, I'm not judging. I'm speaking from personal experience here. I know and love people like this--a few people come to mind right away. The more you know people, the more you see how much work it takes to manage all that. And how all that work and energy to maintain often prevents them from actually overcoming it.

I've also been this person.

For many years I acted like the relationship I was in was working for me. I acted like things were fine and dandy when the whole time we were warring like enemies. I put up an image that I saw people believing, and it became more and more intolerable for me. Part of why I stayed in it for so long was because I had a lot invested in showing a positive experience to the world--but it was positivity of the wrong kind. It was fake positive. It was lying.
 

THEN, THERE IS ANOTHER KIND OF POSITIVE. IT COMES FROM LIVING THROUGH THE HARDEST THINGS AND SPEAKING ABOUT IT AND FINDING A WAY OUT THROUGH CONNECTIONS WITH OTHERS. AND SHARING THE GRATITUDE THAT COMES WHEN YOU SURFACE AND SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY AGAIN AND FEEL THE WARMTH OF IT IN YOUR BONES. 
 

This past year, I didn't share every nitty, gritty detail of everything I experienced but I DID share. I was honest about leaving the relationship. I was honest about how it felt for me, including the victim part of me battling the part that needed to be responsible for not leaving sooner. I shared about the trials of rebuilding my business on the heels of a gender transition. I shared about making it through the gauntlet of grad school administration during a deep period of grief when all I wanted to do was quit. I shared about the absence of my family.

I shared all of this. Because this is my life. And in sharing, I searched for a way to frame it in ways that were positive and inspiring because it helped me wake up and put my feet on the floor another day. It helped me not lose sight of all the good when I felt overwhelmed with the "bad". It helped me to learn something from all the lessons that came my way. It helped me to nurture positivity not as a way to avoid the pain or challenging times but as a means to cope with them and work through them. 

Because the world needs neither another fake positive person nor a complainer. You don't need someone sugar-coating the incredibly challenging human experience. You don't need someone dodging the bogeymen of self-doubt and criticism that finds you no matter where you move and hide. 

You also don't need another negative, disempowered person citing thing after thing that is annoying, uncomfortable or difficult. We all get it. We all experience those things in different ways. You need the "so what" of how to get up and over that obstacle. I know you need this because I NEED IT! If I can find it, I want to pass it onto you.

During my retreat this past weekend, this really hit home for me. As someone who studies and practices Buddhism, I try to share the big picture of what that religion/spiritual path provides me: TOOLS. Tools to make sense of why I feel what I feel and WTF to do to feel differently. Tools to better understand why difficult things happen. Tools to make sense of what doesn't seem to add up. And one tool I was reminded of was the importance of being positive. Not fake positive, spouting platitudes and carefully filtering what I share and don't (in person and on social media) to avoid dealing with it but REAL positive. Like, "hey this was horrible and then I worked through it like this and here I am now and PHEW, that's better". 

Because, life is a long time. And things will continue to be horrible (and also great). And if I keep wanting life to stop being horrible and only be great, I will keep finding reasons to suffer. If I can accept the horrible, find ways to work with it (not avoid it) and frame it positively (even through gritted teeth sometimes) then I set myself up for the long game I have ahead of me.

And maybe you can do that, too.

The Wizard of Pos(itivity)

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What is to give light must endure burning.

-Viktor E. Frankl Man's Search for Meaning

Very recently, I was invited to share a story of my life in a public setting. When I solicited suggestions from my Facebook followers and friends, one person said this:

"You're just such a positive person. I admire that about you. Was there ever a time in which you struggled with loving and accepting yourself? I just feel like someone else who may be struggling with that would be inspired by you."

It's really beautiful and very important to me that people experience me as a positive person now, especially if it inspires them to transform their own perspective on life. But I realized there is an important story to tell about my path to positivity. My journey reminded me of a similar story, so I'll call this The Wizard of Pos(itivity).

When I was in college, I had the Midas touch. Do you know that story of King Midas? Everything he touched turned to gold. That's how I felt in college and into my early young adulthood. I'd say I wanted to have or do something and it would literally materialize before my eyes. On the first day of college, I squinted at the people moving us into our dorms and said, "that will be me, someday." Indeed, two years later, I became a hall/resident advisor. It was also that year that I was granted the opportunity to study abroad in South Africa. I needed to raise a lot of money, but I applied myself that summer and raised $3500 to fly myself across the Atlantic and made my 10-year dream to go to South Africa come true.

Things like that kept happening for me well into and throughout my young adulthood.

And then, a few years ago, something happened. I fell into some kind of rut where things worked decently but not the way they had for many years. It got worse with each month and then things sort of bottomed out for me. It didn't look like that to a lot of people, but it FELT that way to me. My business was suffering and my mental and emotional health had plummeted. I grew increasingly discouraged and disheartened with each passing month until last year, I heard myself say, "I lost my Midas touch. I can't make things happen like I used to."

My light had almost gone completely out. I was growing increasingly negative and fearful. I had become spiteful and often complained and compared myself to other people and their perceived success. Despite achieving so much, other success or accomplishments seemed elusive. The infamous Gemini tendency toward duplicity sort of ran the joint on a daily basis.

I hardly recognized myself. Despite my awareness of my behavior, I felt unable to turn things around.

I was desperate to understand what was happening and what I could do to change it.

I started digging deep, really deep. I came to fully embrace that was raised in a family that tolerated my existence but rarely celebrated it.  To overcome that neglect, as a child, teen and younger adult, I sought out a lot of loving and wonderful people once I realized what love could feel like. From the time I was young, I was always gregarious and loving so I always seemed to find these people, even if they were sometimes hidden among the weeds of a toxic or dysfunctional environment or community.

But the part of me that knew neglect, abandonment and the feeling of not being cherished or adored, still sought out people and places that would reinforce that experience for me. It was familiar, after all, if not all that comfortable.

Despite making some really great decisions to remove myself from situations or relationships like that during the past few years, I was still subconsciously doing it in other areas or with other people. Since I had made great progress and so much WAS working, I couldn't see these blind spots. But they were there, and eroding the confidence and strength I strived to build in other areas. They were counteracting the progress I'd make and set me back for days or weeks.

But I began to see it. Ever so slowly. I started experiencing the same patterns in every aspect of my life--a person here or there would be a clone of another. I heard these people complain about others, compare themselves or speak in ways that revealed a lack of self-awareness of their actions. They all seemed, in varying degrees, unwilling or unable to see or be responsible for the impact of their choices and behavior. They were resistant to the actual hard work of personal growth and appreciation of themselves and their own gifts, despite evidence to the contrary. From the outside, they presented the image of being "put-together" or "the pinnacle of positivity" but were actually very different if triggered or shaken or confronted in some way. These were very different relationships from my old friends, those people I had found earlier in my life, who had lit my path with the light of self-awareness and a passion for growth and healing. These people in my life now seemed to be showing me one face and the world another, and it confused me so much--particularly when I confronted them and suddenly became the focus or target of their projections. I went from trusted confidante to Enemy #1 sometimes overnight.

And then I realized why: I was acting as a mirror for them and vice versa. As I spent more and more time around people who were resisting their own vulnerability, authenticity and inner demons, I took on their secret negativity and insecurity. As I surrounded myself with people who focused their energy more on putting up appearances and avoiding the painful complexity of life than confronting it, I did too. I complained. I gossiped. I hid. In this environment, my gender transition, an already delicate and vulnerable process, became increasingly less of a celebration and more of a prison as I rejected and resented people more each day. I saw threats at every turn and doubted myself and my abilities. It wasn't who I had ever been, but I absorbed it and sent it back out into the world.  And, just like these people, I managed to develop two versions of myself: the one I was "behind the curtain" and the one I showed the world.

I had become the Wizard of Positivity--pulling off the feat of impressing the world with my strength and courage but also feeling like a fraud as I feverishly manipulated controls and switches to keep up the illusion of happiness, confidence and inner peace.

The more I did this, the more I experienced rejection and reprisals. My own behavior was literally creating the alienation I experienced from people and opportunities. All the healthy food and personal development trainings in the world weren't filling the void of not feeling appreciated, valued or cherished for who I was.  It felt like a sinkhole and the more I tried to grasp at a solution or a person, the more I felt them slip through my fingers. The way out was elusive and I knew a despair deeper and darker than any that Anne Shirley could ever imagine.

But I knew why I was experiencing all of it. It was my creation. I had allowed the parts of me that didn't believe I deserved love, recognition, support or success take over and I had put myself into environments or among people who weren't truly thriving themselves, despite their illusion to the contrary. I had fallen for those illusions, just as others were, and now had to reconcile with the truth. A lot of things look and feel a lot like love. But where there is a question, there is no love. And where there is real love, there is no question.

I had chosen to settle for less because it resonated with a part of me that felt it was all I deserved. And conflicts that came up were from a different part that knew I deserved better. Despite the pain and fear of changing, I knew I had to remove myself from anything or anyone that wasn't real love--in work, relationships and anything else.

And that's exactly what I did. Hand over hand, I climbed out and through and away from identities, behaviors, habits, situations and people that kept me from being fully expressed or fully seen and appreciated. The more I did, the better I felt and it gave me confidence to keep going.

The pain of whatever was lost wasn't stronger than my will to overcome that dark, negative place I had been in for so long. I began to see everything come into relief--everything made sense as my life improved over three months and then six and then nine. Positive and encouraging oppportunities seemed to serendipitously find me again, effortlessly. When I found myself chasing something or someone like I had before, I instantly saw the dead-end sign and would turn back.

And that's where I am now. I'm experiencing relationships and business/life opportunities like the ones I knew before and also the ones I dreamed about. I'm rather feeling like I've been raised from the dead. Things are happening in my life that make no logical sense and are mind-boggling for me, but they are the things I used to want so much---so I won't second-guess the Universe and look a gift-horse in the mouth. It seems I've definitely got my Midas touch back!!

The work keeps expanding in front of me, because the old habits are strong and deeply rooted in that part of me that needs to heal fully and completely. It couldn't heal in environments that reinforced it--it is healing in atmospheres of abundant love and reciprocity.

It would be great to say my transition made this all possible, that it inspired the change I needed to make. But the truth is, I've never felt more like the "old me" than I do right now. I just sound a little different and have bigger muscles.

Perhaps it was the courage to transition that allowed me to finally overcome whatever held the "old me" back. It was the genesis of finally exposing what hadn't ever really been given room to breathe.

And being alive feels great--especially since I've known what not living feels like. I've known all that fear, shame, rejection and neglect. I remember how it felt to be around it and who I became as a result and how hard I had to work to keep up the dual identities. I don't want to experience that again so all I can do now is be love and feel love and share it.

And the most important part of all is now when people call me positive, I can agree with them.