Embrace the Happy

"Just Be"
Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Let me set up the scenario for you: something amazing just happened (you choose the amazing because that definition is different for everyone), and you are dancing on air. You can’t wait to share the news with everyone around you, hoping for the same cheer and light to infuse their day, even if it’s just for a fleeting moment. You can barely keep still, and the words jumble together. If you battle depression, this moment shines even brighter for you because it means you’ve climbed out of the pit and felt the sun on your face for the first time in days, weeks, maybe even months. Your face feels like it might split wide open, you’re smiling so bright. Your present your news and pause for the reaction.

And they just stare at you.

The entire world falls back around you in shatters, and you feel like a complete and utter fool. If you’re really unlucky, you receive a lecture about having the nerve to be so cheerful during “this time” (I’m not referring to any time in particular – sure we’re experiencing COVID-19 right now, the upheaval of race relations, the trauma of LGBTQ rights being revoked, but there are also individual times that get thrown at you). All of the life goes out of you, and the chasm splits under your feet to cast you back into the pit.

How DARE you be happy?

Because no one on this planet is ever allowed to be happy (well, except for them, of course – don’t you dare ever consider doing the same thing to them). Happiness must be squashed out at every turn, crushed into the mud and silenced lest it brighten the world. You spend 95% of your life depressed and miserable, and – dammit – people want to push that to 100%. What’s the phrase: misery shared is misery halved? Yeah, that’s bullshit; misery shared is misery compounded.

The truth is you have every right to be happy, regardless of when it happens. It’s not like you have a crystal ball to predict and plan out your moments. Happiness is random, spontaneous, and, frankly, the times it needs to be shared are when everything is falling apart. You can’t just save it up until “time is right” – who knows when that might happen? Do you want to wait months to share the news that you got a job? Got engaged? Are pregnant? Bought a house? Finished a story? Will you still feel the same rush of joy months down the road?

Of course not!

Share the news when you have it (not before – you’ll jinx it). Don’t feel guilty about your happiness, and don’t let anyone rob you of your joy and excitement. You’re entitled to be happy! Every person on this planet has that right! If the people around you feel a need to lecture, then they aren’t the people you need in your circle. You should be allowed to be yourself at all times with the people who support you, and that includes being allowed to share good news – whenever it happens.

If you wait until the “right moment” for something…are you prepared for that moment to never happen?

Dream Out Loud

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

Our dreams are one of the few things we don’t mind sharing with people. I’m not talking about our nightly dreams (though we often share those, as well – especially the weird ones); I’m referencing our dreams for our lives. I mean the dreams that follow the fateful words, “What I really want to do is…” The words are said in wistful tones, as if we feel they’re completely impossible.

NOTHING is impossible.

We conceived of those dreams – those GOALS – for a reason, and it wasn’t so we could stare longingly at them for eternity. You might have put that dream up on a pedestal, but somewhere, in the deep recesses of your mind, it was a finish line – ACHIEVABLE. No, it wasn’t necessarily achievable tomorrow or even next week, but marathons aren’t sprints (and I don’t run, anyway). Sure, people laughed or scoffed, but those hypocrites have their own dreams – they just didn’t tell you between their derision.

To quote Tangled: “Everyone has a dream.”

And you have two choices on what to do with that precious little star: you can continue to stare at it on the pedestal for the rest of your life (it’s a popular choice – plenty of people opt to do so), or you can pull up your britches and actually DO SOMETHING that carries you towards that finish line. Not many people choose that second option. Why would they? It involves work, it involves risk, and it’s scary as hell. Sitting on your butt and admiring the image of the dream from afar is much simpler, and there’s no chance involved. There’s also no gain, no achievement, and no satisfaction.

See where I’m going?

I sat in the former group for a long time. I was terrified of taking the step off the edge of the cliff, and I believed all of the detractors who scorned me. I’m an intelligent person, and I knew the odds of success – it wasn’t hard to accept my failure. Except that you ARE a failure when you don’t even try (fun little caveat). And I don’t accept failure – I’m not that kind of person. So I summoned every drop of courage, crept up to the very edge of the cliff, and got some encouragement to slide my foot off the edge (read that as one of friends THREW me off the cliff – and she didn’t check to ensure I had a parachute first, either).

Guess what happened?

I fell to the bottom of the chasm, mangled and bleeding.

Just kidding – I’m now working my dream job. My stress level has bottomed out (I’m not going to discuss the current quarantine stress – that’s separate), my health has improved, and my happiness has skyrocketed. I feel like MYSELF for the first time in eons, and my confidence has returned. All because I took the risk of standing up and deciding I wanted to follow that dream. I defied the naysayers, the odds, and my nagging doubts and took the chance on that glittering finish line.

Would I say I’ve achieved everything I dreamed of? Of course not, but that’s the beautiful thing about dreams – you get to keep dreaming. You get to keep moving that finish line further out and running towards it (okay, walking towards it – I’m still not going to run). The only person standing in your way is you.

So are you going to continue to stand there, or are you going to MOVE?

Nothing Ventured…Everything Lost

If you dare nothing,

then when the day is over,

nothing is all you will have gained.

~Neil Gaiman, THE GRAVEYARD BOOK

Everyone out there has dreams: little dreams, big dreams, supposedly impossible dreams (okay, if you’re dreaming about being made ruler of the entire world, that one is impossible – because my tiny demon has that one in the bag). Everyone has probably also shared those dreams with other people and heard variations on the following theme, “Yeah…that’s not going to happen,” or “Do you know what that would cost you?”

Then one of these happen: you bury that dream in the backyard (with or without funeral rites), you laugh it off as a joke (“I can’t believe you thought I was serious!”), you channel your disappointment and/or frustration into about twenty pages of journaling that no one will ever see, or you turn those words into a fire of determination to prove the idiot wrong.

Guess which one is LEAST likely?

Risk is scary, and following a dream is crazy-risky. It takes hard work, commitment, and sacrifice – not just on your part, but on the part of the people around you. You may be the one standing on the edge of the cliff, ready to jump, but those people have to be prepared to LET you. They don’t know that you have any idea of what you’re doing (frankly, neither do you), but you have to convince them to untie the safety line, stop holding your hand, and let you take that leap.

Not to mention, then YOU have to jump.

Taking risks is what makes us ALIVE; it gives our existence MEANING. Otherwise, we’re just plodding along a set path like robots. And following a dream – no matter how large or small – involves taking a risk. Maybe it means choosing a different career, or starting your own business, or showing your artwork (whatever the medium) to a critic…or just the public. It’s a risk that invites failure, and that is HORRIFYING. People don’t want to fail, don’t want to have to scrape back to those nay-sayers and admit you screwed up.

Which is why we often end up huddled on that cliff, looking over the edge and just sit there…for days…for weeks…for months…for years. Eventually, our friends and family get tired of watching us, and they drift away (can you blame them? How long are you going to stand there and watch for something amazing to happen?). They took a risk in believing, and it isn’t panning out.

Take the jump!

What’s the worst that can happen? Okay, yeah, you can fail and plunge to the bottom of the cliff. You’ll learn something, at least. Maybe you’ll be a little battered and bruised when you climb back to the top and try again, but you’ll have some rudimentary wings to help the second time around. You’ll have a new energy, a new drive to take that chance again. And maybe, this time, your jump won’t end in disaster.

The best part is, when you’re willing to take a risk, people are willing to stand behind you and cheer you on. People love determination, and they cheer for people who face up to fear. You can inspire someone else to take their own risk, to reach for their own dream.

Or you can huddle on the edge of that cliff for the rest of your life, wondering what could have been. The choice is yours.

Open Brain – Insert Reason

Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

By now, you have probably had the unfortunate experience of witnessing first-hand what happens when human beings go into idiotic panic mode. It is really easy to point fingers at governments or media as the source of the problem – and I won’t deny that they have a share in the blame – but the truth is that the majority of that blame comes right back home to rest with each and every individual who ran out blindly without a single thought in their head. They forgot they were rational creatures, capable of reason, and turned into a mob of insanity that generated an entirely new problem.

Because we really needed a new problem.

When I was getting my Wreck Diver certification, they put us through an exercise that has stuck with me ever since, especially in these kinds of situations. Our masks were lined with aluminum foil so we couldn’t see out of them, and then we had to dive in a pool full of obstacles – this simulated a dive where visibility was lost and you needed to navigate blind (a real possibility in caves or wrecks). We ended up tangled in ropes, caught on pool hooks, and our instructors would turn off the air on our tanks (lots of fun). The purpose of the exercise was to teach us one simple thing: when a situation arose, our first reaction wasn’t to panic (that gets you dead), but to stop and think about what was going on first and THEN figure out how to react.

Every last one of us failed the first time.

It was hard – especially when you realized air was no longer flowing through the regulator – to think first instead of reacting first. Once they hauled us out of the pool and told us that we were killing ourselves, though, things started to make sense. No, air wasn’t flowing, but we still had air in our lungs, and provided we DIDN’T panic, we weren’t going to suffocate instantaneously. The second time around, when we stopped, thought about where the tank was on our backs, and how to reach the valve, we did fine. The same with all of the other obstacles. It didn’t even take long to stop and think before puzzling out the problem and how to correct it (crucial when you’re diving and might have a limited air supply).

Guess what? Lesson works in real life.

For some strange reason, people want to panic first and think…well, they don’t want to think; they decide that thinking is overrated, that Fake News, or an idiot with a big mouth is good enough for them. For some, it does go back to school and the fact that we’re failing to teach children to think for themselves anymore. For others, they slip into hysteria and forget that they ever learned the skill in the first place. Either way, it’s damaging – to everyone. I’m not saying that you have to adopt the pose of The Thinker and write out a 10-page essay on the topic, but take a breath and ask yourself, “Wait a second – what am I reacting to?”

I’d like to say this has always benefited me, but since not everyone in the world thinks, it hasn’t. I can say, with a clear conscience, that I have employed this lesson to myself before I’ve done anything – though I stretch it a bit into the overthinking realm (you do have to learn where to stop). People don’t like to think – it’s uncomfortable (for some, it’s painful – you can see it on their faces), it makes them responsible, and it sets them against the grain of the mob. However, if the mob is hurtling off the cliff, why do you want to go with them?

Thinking is not illegal – yet. And as soon as it DOES become illegal, we need to stand up and question why because there’s a problem. It doesn’t take much time or effort to ask a single question of yourself before you react to anything. Thinking is a quick process, for the most part, and it saves you from looking like a complete and utter moron.

Or you can always blindly follow the mob off the cliff. But it’s a little late to question why when you’re falling onto the rocks.

Be Anyone but Yourself

I've always loved the idea of not being what people expect me to be. - Dita Von Teese

One of the biggest lies you will ever hear from another human being has to be, “Be yourself.” Those two little words come from everyone: family, friends, teachers, motivational posters in medical offices. The words come in the form of empowered scripts, cute kittens, every range of emoji, and endorsement by any number of celebrities. Indoctrination begins way back in kindergarten and follows you into adulthood, becoming more and more of a parroted line with every recitation. Now, I’m not condemning the sentiment or even every person who tells you to, “Be yourself,” because there probably are people who were – and are – genuinely honest. Let’s be real, though: the vast majority of people say those words with a little tiny caveat attached.

Be yourself…with the following conditions.

People really don’t like us to be ourselves; they like it when we’re THEIR version of ourselves. So, be yourself…but don’t wear that, don’t say that, don’t speak up, don’t join that group, do join that group, don’t write that way, don’t associate with those people, don’t vote for that person, do vote for that person, don’t support that cause, don’t color your hair that shade, don’t color your hair at all, don’t wear your hair in that style, don’t wear glasses, do wear glasses but not that style, don’t listen to that music, etc., etc., etc. The list goes on and on and on, and suddenly you’re no longer yourself, you’re a ridiculous clone of the person who told you to, “Be yourself.” Sometimes, you can’t even remember who you actually ARE. Did I really like Top 40 music? Do I even like reading mysteries? Have I always liked the color green? When did I sign up as a member of the Walking History Tour Fans? How did I ever end up with green braids in my hair? Suddenly, you find yourself staring in the mirror, struggling to figure out who the hell that person is looking back at you – not because of depression or any other mental imbalance, but because you’ve lost your personal identity under a tidal wave of, “Be yourself!”

Actually being yourself means NOT listening to those people. It means closing out all of the other voices when you make your daily decisions, not worrying about what someone else is going to think about your choice. Not everyone is going to agree with you (that’s a good thing, by the way), and they’re going to make faces, and they’re going to roll their eyes, and they’re going to say things – usually worded quite cleverly – to make you question yourself. They do that because they want you to BE LIKE THEM! Consider that when you hear that slight inflection at the end of their words questioning your decision. After all, cutting your hair super short and dyeing it ice-blue isn’t going to end the world (personal experience, here). Speaking your mind, rather than keeping things bottled up and eating you alive inside, may or may not be detrimental – depends on how you say things – but it’s a thousand times better than keeping pain inside, allowing it to fester and destroy you. Honesty isn’t going to win you a lot of friends, but it is always, always, always the best policy.

If you can look in the mirror and see YOU – 100%, genuine, YOU – and be content, then that’s a win. It likely means disappointing people, annoying people, aggravating people (all of which has the potential to be fun, if you look at it the right way), but where lies the greater peace? Making everyone else happy, or making yourself happy? Looking in the mirror and seeing the Indianapolis 500 version of yourself, created by everyone around you, or looking in the mirror and seeing the you that you have worked so hard to create yourself?