Knock Yourself Out

knock-yourself-out

I had convinced myself that I didn’t believe in God, that religion was a joke and a way for people to justify their bad behavior that happens between Sundays. It wasn’t a theory I came to lightly, but for years I have had a hard time even looking at bible verses, let alone subscribing to the philosophy behind them. I was hurt, broken, and felt betrayed by a religion that I had built my life around.

There are very few people that I have shared this part of my life with, the part of me that gave up on trying to understand why a higher power that I had been told to pray to and also had been planning the hardest times of my life, supposedly from the time I was born. I have been very selective with those that hear my story, both because I wasn’t sure I actually believed it and also because of how personal of a decision it was for me to walk away.

Before Justin’s diagnosis in 2011, I had been an active member of my childhood church. I grew up going to service on Sunday morning, was an angel in the Christmas Eve pageant, was an active youth group member, and continued mission work well into my college years. It was that building where I met my husband and built our relationship, it is where we were married, and was an extension of my home. When, after only 15 months of marriage, at the age of 28, Justin was diagnosed with lymphoma my faith flatlined. The more that I had heard that “it was all in God’s plan” the more hurt I felt, and couldn’t come to understand why anyone should have to endure that kind of pain. Associating struggle and pain with the faith I had invested so much in broke my heart, instead of turning to my faith to help pull me out of the struggle, I cemented myself in the stance that it was all a joke. I didn’t fault anyone for believing, but for me, it no longer made sense.

The few people that I felt safe enough to share this with were supportive, understanding, and let me dwell in my feelings. I felt no judgement or push from them. They listened, shared their story, and encouraged me to stay positive. Even in my positive space, when I felt comfortable with the decision I had made, I felt doubt lingering in my resolve. I would hear someone mention staying strong in their faith, hear scripture, see someone lift themselves up through their relationship with God and it made me wonder how they stayed so committed and optimistic. I began to contemplate visiting a Sunday service, sitting way in the back of the sanctuary, hopefully unnoticed, just to see how it felt to be back in that space. The only time I got the courage to go was to attend a funeral for a family friend,  someone taken from this earth way too soon. Not the best way to break through the wall that I put up. That was fourteen months ago.

Last week when Justin’s grandfather asked if we would attend that Sunday’s service where he would be honored as a veteran, I said yes with no hesitation. Of course we would go and stand with his grandfather. Inside I was curious of how I would feel walking back into the building that I know so well, conspicuously attending a service we’ve missed for the better part of the last five years. We sat with Justin’s family, stood up in front of the sanctuary behind his grandfather while he was honored, and listened to one of my favorite people give her second sermon as the Head Pastor of the congregation. In the midst of my anger, my hurt, and my avoidance, I forgot how much I enjoyed to listen to her preach. She has an incredible way to make you feel like you’re having a one-on-one conversation, magically she picks up on the single topic that has been weighing heavily on your heart and mind. It seems like she is just up there chatting, those of us that know her know she spent countless late nights preparing for this very moment. Her opportunity to reach all of us in the room, and inspire us to keep moving forward for the week ahead.

On this particular Sunday, a little unexpectedly, it was like she was speaking right at me. I had forgotten about her ability to pull you in, read your mind, and put you at ease. With the presidential election finally over, we were a country divided, and a country in need of love, kindness, and understanding. I had walked into the sanctuary that morning feeling drained and unsure of our future, scared of the actions being brought to light after such a polarizing electoral process. She shared a story from her own personal life, about a time where she was asked “What’s your story?” and had the opportunity to not only share, but learn about the culture of the life of the serviceman sitting next to her. It was an opportunity for understanding. If only we could all go through life look and speaking to understand, we might not feel so divided. If we could “knock ourselves out with kindness and love” we might be able to break down the walls in between us. I smiled, made a note on my bulletin, and felt a little thawed from my time away.

I am still not sure that I have all the answers, maybe no one does, but I know that going through life feeling betrayed isn’t going to inspire anything other than frustration and anger. I refuse to live my life in that way, and I absolutely refuse to create those feelings for myself. On a beautiful November morning, I felt a little less hurt and a little inspired by the message put forth to the congregation. Knocking ourselves out with kindness and love.

Stalling the Finish Line

I’ve been stalling.

Almost nine weeks ago, I signed up for my first blogging challenge. I had witnessed a few from afar by reading posts and themes, but I had never before committed my writing to a particular theme or person. I had very little expectation for what this would do for me, beyond meeting new bloggers and just extending my circle in this world a little bit. What I ended up walking away with was so much more.

But still, I’ve been stalling.

revofkindnessThe seventh and final week of the Kindness Challenge was to focus on secret kindness, to spread kindness without mentioning it in conversation, to just put kindness out in the universe and watch the natural ripple effect that occurs. For the first time in those seven weeks, I had decided that I would move forward without a plan. I wouldn’t plan how to be kind, I wouldn’t go out looking for the bloggable moment to share. I wanted to just live, and when the opportunities presented themselves to be kind, to do more, to be the best version of myself, I took them. No questions asked. It was, by far the easiest week of the challenge, the previous six weeks had prepared me to live in this way, the most challenging part of my final week participating was that I’m not even allowed to blog about the actual kindness “tasks” that happened. It forced me to even rethink the words I would use to describe the actions that took place.

Of all the words, all the sentences, all the posts that came to my head, it all boiled down to one word: happy. I spent that week being happy, feeling loved by those that I purposefully was kind to, I remained positive when my natural inclination would be to be negative, I was calm, I was helpful, I saw some of my relationships strengthen in a matter of days, I was just happier.

But yes, I was stalling. I was stalling because I wasn’t ready for the challenge to be over. Writing this post and sharing my final reflection was the one thing I had to hold onto and force myself to keep moving forward in this mindset. Once I hit publish, I have no anchor to keeping my focus, no task at hand. I just have to live and keep it moving myself. I can no longer depend on Niki to give me a prompt for the week, to check in with me, and to ask questions that make me think deeper. I had to do all of that on my own and I wasn’t entirely sure I trusted myself to do it.

In the last two weeks I’ve been both successful and challenged in my quest to keep moving forward, acting with kindness. It was obvious to both myself, and those around me when I was feeling challenged by it, and incredibly obvious to me when I was feeling successful. It was now up to me to notice the difference and make the choice as to which road I would take. I will continue to look at the inspirational people in my life that I use as pillars of kindness, the people that have somehow managed to make this a part of their personality naturally. They will be my yardstick for measuring my success, and I will keep moving forward.

I want to finish with my appreciation for Niki, who put together this challenge and did an amazing job facilitating conversation and insight throughout the entire process. I don’t think you realized the impact that this would have on so many people when you had your initial thought to put it together. I applaud your courageousness for doing it, and your engagement with each of us throughout the process. Thank you for spreading kindness.

 

High Five for Friday: Welcome, July!

H54FJune was an odd month. Nothing spectacular, not awful, just a regular ol’ month that flew by without a second thought. The weather warmed up for us in June, we saw consistent sunshine as summer officially hit Michigan. As if on cue, I woke up this morning to our first drops of rain in almost two weeks! If that isn’t a metaphor for washing away an old month and bringing in a new one, I don’t know what is! Unlike June, this week seemed to fly by and before I knew it, Friday arrived!

  1. Justin is out of town this week visiting friends in Texas, I’m excited for him to be able to spend some time with his best friend and think about something other than hospital visits. His doctor was incredibly supportive of him traveling this summer as long as he pays attention to body, and wears a mask on airplanes. Deal!
  2. I am in the process of earning my Certified Nonprofit Professional credential as part of my professional development for the year and yesterday I got some direction and clarification from the program advisor. She was impressed with my ability to, essentially, advise myself on how to move through the program without speaking to anyone. I just laughed. I’m feeling more connected to my field overall just by doing the research to prepare for this process.
  3. June was a decent month for The Corner Office. At the beginning of the month I set a few goals for myself just to keep the motivation flowing. I surpassed most of them and started to bring my numbers out of the slump I’ve been stagnating in. There were 501 views, 211 visitors, 79 likes, and 45 comments in June! I continued as a participant in the Kindness Challenge, posts for Week 4, Week 5, and Week 6. I started a new category for the blog: EJFP Chapters, where I tell stories from my life. I’m incredibly humbled by the 13 new followers that started reading, and the people from the 13 countries that stopped by this month!
  4. On Monday of this week I gathered my team after assigning them the task of completing the Strengths Finder 2.0 assessment. We had an engaging and interesting conversation about the strengths of each member of our team and how that could impact our ability to work together. I was really excited to start the conversation and think about us each individually and as a group of individuals.
  5. Also on Monday, Justin decided he wanted to go out to dinner for some wings. We headed to Applebee’s and binged on fried appetizers and I had my first beer in a while. A Short’s Soft Parade really is delicious. We had some great conversation, laughed a lot, and one of us (me) might have gotten a little buzzed and had to hand over her car keys. It was nice to just spend some time together doing normal people things, a little reminiscent of our life 5 years ago.

My People

My PeopleThere are certain people in my life that I look up to for guidance on how to be a person and how to function in a world that is becoming more and more negative. For most of my life I have let negativity pull me, kicking and screaming, along for the ride. Instead of trying to rein in the anger, frustration, disappointment in the people around me, I have just joined them in their misery. Sometimes that’s helpful, sometimes you just need someone to agree with your assessment of the situation, other times you need someone to help bridge the divide between screaming and laughing.

While having lunch with a friend, I was telling them about how frustrated I was because I was constantly trying so hard to be positive, to be kind, and to not get caught up in the negativity that seemed to be swelling around me. The more I resisted, the more the negativity seemed to grow. This was the fourth time, at least, in the last few weeks that she has had to be there to pick me up on a bad day. She has a knack for doing that, for telling me exactly what I need to hear, exactly when I need to hear it. Without fail, she sympathized with my frustration, and picked me up in a way that very few can. She was my person that day, my person that turned things around for me, made an impact bigger than she could imagine, and set me back on my path. It’s that aspect of her personality that I love most, her undeniable and genuine respect for people and desire to build people up rather than tear them down. It’s inspiring.

When I read this week’s focus for the Kindness Challenge, I knew immediately who I would write about. It also, just so happened that I had lunch with her on a day that I was needing some inspiration for reflecting and getting my thoughts into a coherent post. Thinking of the person who inspires me to be kind was the easy part, determining the traits that I most admire in them and implementing them into my own day-to-day life is the more complicated challenge. Sometimes it seems like being able to control your natural inclination toward joining the negative forces around you is impossible, because, as we know, misery does indeed, love company. I choose not to accept that. I choose to follow the lead of my person and push forward.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve had these kinds of conversations lately, and this particular friend isn’t the only person I’ve engaged with on this topic. Just last week I was having a separate conversation with another one of my positive friends and we ended up chatting about how it’s not worth our time to focus on negativity. It sucks the life out of you and leaves you in a worse condition than when you started. Negativity builds like a snowball rolling down a hill, drawing in more negativity, and pretty soon, before you know it you’re snowball is 10ft tall flying through town at high speeds. It’s not worth it.

So between these two amazingly positive people I have in my life, I have made a list of characteristics that I most admire in them, and I believe it’s these characteristics that have drawn me to them and make them so special to me.

They are genuine, respectful, loving, understanding, honest, kind, thoughtful, reflective, supportive, and caring individuals. They are two people that I would run to if I needed someone to remind me why I am striving to be more kind in my life, they are the people that I know genuinely want to know how I am doing. They can sense when I am not okay and they reach out to just let me know they are there. Sometimes it’s a text that says “Sorry this is happening. I love you.” or it’s eye contact in the hallway, or noticing that I am pulling away need to be pulled back in.

They’re my people and I am grateful for them.

The Bystander & The Husband

A little over a year ago, I was struggling with the emotional state of my team at work. We were getting work done, but not necessarily meshing as a group of people and I wasn’t actively spending time cultivating our relationship as a team. I wasn’t sure where to turn as a manager, I felt like I was failing them, and ultimately, myself.

In an effort to not spend everyday in the office in misery, I sought out inspiration on the internet. I watched YouTube videos, searched endlessly on Pinterest, and read books on how to break bad team dynamics. Slowly, I became inspired and started to devise a plan that I would implement as soon as I returned from a vacation. I started a Pinterest board called “Moving Forward –>” (Yes, the arrow is included). The board had developed into a place where I would keep pictures, quotes, and motivation that later would be sent to my team in the form of a “Motivational Monday” e-mail. It was a little high on the cheese-o-meter for my personal taste, but I figured a little cheese never hurt anyone.

Together, we decided that one consistent aspect of our weekly e-mails would be listing three things that we are grateful for. I start with my Monday e-mail and, when they feel like sharing, the team hits “reply all” to share their three things as well. Ultimately, starting our week by focusing on what we’re grateful for.

Over a year later and, for the most part, those e-mails go out every Monday morning. It isn’t always easy, I’ve run out of stuff to fill up the space with, sometimes I’m not in the motivational mood, I run out of time in the morning, or just felt like it didn’t matter anyway, but with the exception of a few weeks, I have been very diligent with making sure that e-mail goes out. Whether it actually motivates anyone is not for me to say. No one has complained yet – at least not to me.

revofkindnessPersonally, by starting my week with listing out three things that I am grateful for, it has forced me to be more intentional with reflecting on gratitude, I now have a more natural inclination to recognize my sparked gratitude. So, when I read the focus of Week 5 of the Kindness Challenge, I knew I was equipped to accomplish my goals.

Usually, when I am listing out the three things I am grateful for each week they are relatively simple things, I don’t go too deep with them, I try to remain professional, but I tend to keep a balance between little, silly things (coffee), and personal, important things (family). I tried to focus more on the latter last week. There were numerous points in the last eight days when I said to myself “Grateful!” – there were so many moments that felt special and I was appreciative to be a part of them. As I ran down the list of “Gratefuls” I started noticing a pattern, most of them fit into one of two categories:

  1. Moments between other people that I witnessed from afar
  2. Justin

One of the aspects of the Kindness Challenge that I have appreciated over the last five weeks is that our challenge was not structured to just focus on ourselves. It wasn’t just about the kindness that I put out into the world, but also about observing kindness around me. That experience seemed be the most influential, it forced me to observe the people around me in a meaningful way, to think about kindness outside of the four walls that I tend to put everything in. Now, several weeks later, I have noticed that I have clung to that concept, only now I tend to notice them without making a conscious effort.

The one moment I was grateful to witness that stuck with me the most happened on Friday. I, for the first time ever, was responsible for facilitating a parent-child interaction group. I have managed to go six years and three promotions without having to facilitate this particular kind of activity. I volunteered to be the lead staff member on-site so that my team could have a couple of extra days off after traveling. I was happy to do it, but not necessarily excited about it, it just isn’t in my wheelhouse. I had a room full of parents and young children swirling around me, I was aimlessly walking throughout the room just making sure that I was engaging with each family. At one point I felt comfortable taking a step back and just observing the room as a whole. I slowly paned the clumps of people, ending my sights on a mom and her three year old son. He was sitting in a little kid chair, mom was crouched down beside him. From what I could gather, he was asking her when it would be time to go home and what they would be doing for the rest of the day. They had a calm and loving conversation about their agenda, kissed and she rested her head on his. At that moment he wrapped his arm around her face just embracing their moment together. They sat there, still, for a few moments before the graham cracker he was munching on fell apart to the floor. Mom and little man just laughed and broke apart to continue with the group. In those few minutes that I was able to observe their quick interaction, I felt so grateful to bear witness to their love and kindness toward each other. It’s comical that something that has nothing to do with me, and quite honestly borders on me looking like a creeper, had an emotional impact for a bystander across the room.

I suppose that’s the point of all of this though: putting kindness out into the universe can spread to other people, eventually coming back to you. Imagine what we could accomplish if we all took a little more time to absorb the kindness that is out in the world and less time absorbing the negativity that seems to be so readily available.

Early on in the week I started to pick up on the fact that I was racking up a list of moments with Justin that I was grateful for and that gratitude kept building throughout the week. Justin and I have been together for over thirteen years, and we were friends for about four years before that. At this point there is very little mystery in our relationship, we understand each other more than we understand ourselves on occasion. I found that Justin surprised me a few times last week, which is something to be grateful for in itself. Since moving into our new home, we have made it a point to try and eat dinner together, at the dining room table every night. No dinners in front of the television, just us, our meal, and conversation. One night we ended up talking about marriage, and the kind of work that goes into deciding to fight for your partnership, every single day. We laughed, and poked fun at each other a couple of times, but the conversation was real, we were saying real things that we probably hadn’t said to each other in a while. He said things that I so desperately needed to hear, and I said things that I so desperately needed to say to him. We took the opportunity to build each other up instead of focusing on the mundane, frustrating, and difficult aspects of keeping a marriage alive. I was so proud of who we have become, as a team.

Through the last five weeks I have learned a lot about myself and what kindness means to me in a practical sense. It takes courage to be kind, to be open and vulnerable. I have developed a greater appreciation for the people in my life that are genuinely kind, those are the people that I have gravitated toward as I have pushed forward with this challenge. I have found a confidence and sense of calm as I know my words and actions are rooted in kindness, I don’t second guess my intentions. I have become more selective with the qualities that I look for in the people I surround myself with, and I have started, organically, initiating kindness that never would have crossed my mind previously. I had no idea what to expect when I took this journey, I figured, at the very least, it gave me a weekly blog post to keep up with. What I’ve gotten is so much more valuable than seven blog posts, and there’s still two weeks to go.

The UnProfound One

 

One could say I have been existing in a vegetative state over the last few days. Oddly, the open week I’ve had, both at work and at home, has caused some sort of breakdown between my brain and my body. I’ll think of something to do, to write, to say, and it seems by the time my brain has sent that message to my limbs a fog has descended. My mind is working over time thinking of all of the things that I’ve wanted to accomplish, I’ll even go as far as preparing for action, and…nothing.

I wouldn’t even categorize the last few days as bad days. I’ve smiled, laughed, gotten a few things done, relaxed, and visited with some of my favorite people. So, in an effort to force the fog to lift, I’m going to finally finish this post, which I have started a remarkable six times. I may or may not say profound, thoughtful things. There’s no telling what’s in store for you, especially if I decide to take another 37 minute break in between paragraphs.

There has always been an anxiety living inside of me that comes to a head when I have unplanned interactions and conversations with people I am not fully comfortable with. An odd fear of small talk, awkward pauses in conversation, ruining a first impression, or just being put in a situation where I have no exit strategy. I enjoy spending time with myself, being able to process the thoughts in my head, taking time to be creative, recharging my batteries, disconnecting from the outside world, and just focusing on my inner circle of family and friends. A true introvert I am. I don’t hate people, I am not cold, bitchy, rude, or withdrawn. Lately, it seems as though being an introvert is very trendy. Hipsters across the land are wearing their skinny jeans, plugging their ears with iPhone earbuds, whining about their social anxiety. Finally! I am on trend! This is one of those instances when a sarcasm font would be most helpful.

revofkindnessTwo weeks ago, Niki announced the task at hand for week four of the Kindness Challenge: take your kindness to others. It’s not like I hadn’t expected for the challenge to include some practice at some point, but I just wasn’t as excited as in previous weeks. I wanted to practice being kind, but it is so out of character for me to go out of my way to do some random acts of kindness, or what I was picturing as big, dramatic gestures for people I don’t necessarily know. I wanted to do something that I knew I could maintain, because, after all, is that the point to doing something like this? To think think about what kindness means to you, and to find ways to incorporate it into your life in a way that allows you to keep it flowing through your daily life? Maintenance is the goal.

In true introvert fashion, I thought about my options, imagined what my week looked like and what was most practical to set myself up for success. Sometimes it’s exhausting to be so introspective (and trendy). I decided I wanted to focus more on incorporating kindness to others in the form of eye contact, greetings, and just general positive interactions that I normally would not think to initiate.

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it”…

It wasn’t difficult, incredibly easy, actually. It’s not hard to just be nice to people, to hold a door open, to surrender your seat in a crowded waiting room, to stay the extra minute to listen to a story, to make eye contact and genuinely ask someone how their day is going. What was more striking is how doing those things actually made me more happy and kind to myself as I went through my week. That stream of kindness that I was putting out into the universe boomeranged back to me in the form of reciprocation. It’s human nature to be kind to those that are kind to you. The cycle just keeps going. It was oddly comforting to know that you can put just as much energy into being kind to others as you can being kind to yourself, but when you’re focusing on pushing that outward, you get something in return. Two birds, one stone.

This week, Kindness Challengers are encouraged to practice gratitude for the kind things that others have done throughout the week. I already know what I’m going to share with you from this week. I better get started now, as at this point it may take me a week to tell you the story.

 

Kindness: A Broader Definition

revofkindnessDoing all things with kindness, putting my energy and focus on using kindness as a foundation for my week, that’s was the challenge put before for week 3 of the Kindness Challenge. Truthfully, I struggled. While, I don’t think I did anything that would be considered “unkind” I found myself feeling frustrated looking for the kind response to the world around me. I tried everything I could think of: practicing conversations in my head, taking deep breaths, listening to understand – not to respond, space, and even looking up synonyms for kindness to spark my inspiration.

Affection, warmth, gentleness, concern, care, consideration, helpfulness, thoughtfulness, unselfishness, selflessness, altruism, compassion, sympathy, understanding, hospitality, neighborliness, and generosity.

I suppose, that if you look at kindness with a broader definition, it’s a little easier to build that foundation for your life. Once I realized just how diverse kindness could look like, a sense of calm came over me and stayed with me throughout the week. Knowing that the energy that I put out into the universe was, indeed, kind built my confidence in my interactions with everyone around me. By responding with kindness, it took away the question that I tend to ask myself as to whether or not my actions, words, or reactions were founded in selfishness. I knew they weren’t because I took the time to focus on my intention. Funny how a little kindness that is directed at others can help to build a sense of calm and confidence in yourself.

Next up for the Kindness Challenge: Kindness in ACTION!