To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
The meaning of success is an ambiguous term. We all seek to live successful lives, just by different definitions of the term itself. In our modern, western society, success is often equivocated with money or degrees or the people you associate with. But with everything I do, I seek to challenge this in every regard.
I grew up with this quote on the wall of my grandmother's house, and I would whisper it to myself every time I saw it because it had such power. Words can be like that. When used correctly, they have the power to change lives. And these words in particular have changed and defined my life. In many ways, they embody all that I aspire to be. I am thus dedicating the next couple blog posts to discuss the meaning I personally have found abounding in this quote.
We have made success too complicated. Some of the people who are the most successful in my eyes are the parents that have raised children to be kind adults. Their life accomplishments will not go down in any hall of fame, but will live on in the people they have left on this earth. To look at this in another light, just because you become the president of a country or a CEO doesn't mean you have lived a successful life. This is why the words to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived are so powerful.
How many of us can say that we have made others' lives easier because of our presence and actions on this earth? Not as many as we would like to imagine. A name on a cold, lifeless plaque or trophy is truly nothing compared to repairing a living, breathing human heart. To those who have been graced with easy and steady breathing, remember all those whose breaths come in short, quick gasps. Their hearts are all worth helping or saving. To those whose breaths are unsure or weak, help always finds a way in many shapes or forms to those who ask for it. We all know what it is like to struggle for every breath in this smoky world. And we have all easily filled our lungs with the clean air our world can also occasionally provide.
So instead of judging your success based on test scores, job titles, followers on instagram, wealth, or fame, judge it upon the lives you have changed. It's not always as dramatic as saving someone from the brink of suicide. Sometimes it's sitting with someone who needs a friend. Sometimes it's smiling at a stranger. Regardless, we'll never fully know the impact we have had on others until we are among the legions of guardian angels. So until we are, make a promise to yourself for your own sake and for others, to make someone else breath a little easier.
It's the little things that bring us the success our hearts are truly longing for.
"I gave all my oxygen to people that could breathe
I gave away my money and now we don't even speak
I drove miles and miles, but would you do the same for me?
Offered off my shoulder just for you to cry upon
Gave you constant shelter and a bed to keep you warm
They gave me the heartache and in return I gave a song
It goes on and on
So before I save someone else, I've got to save myself"
-Ed Sheeran "Save Myself"
I believe we all innately have the capacity to empathize. Some of us find it easier to connect with others' pain or others' joy. Some of us are so caught up in our own struggles that we fail to notice the suffering going on all around us. And some of us go past empathy to the point of drowning ourselves in others' problems that we have become blind or immune to our own.
Nevertheless, empathy is a powerful thing, and a beautiful one at that. It allows us to just for a moment experience with another the strongest expressions of their emotions, tap into something we perhaps do not understand, broaden our perspectives, and see beyond ourselves. When we empathize, we cannot help but be changed, and I like to think the other person's pain is lessened a least a little. I know personally that pain hurts a little less when there is someone who understands.
It was a lesson that took me years to learn. We cannot solve everyone else's problems. The most we can usually do is listen, offer what little wisdom we have to share, and allow them to feel less alone because suffering is lonely. However, I easily get caught in dwelling in people's problems. More recently I've realized that for me it is a distraction from my own complications and my own struggles and insecurities that are easier to ignore when they are pushed behind everything else.
How can we expect to heal others when we ignore the brokenness inside ourselves? Obviously not all kinds of broken are easily healed, and sometimes it's those that are the most broken that heal the most. As honorable as this is, it's incredibly draining. Often we aren't fully equipped to be reaching out to others when we haven't healed our own kind of broken.
I want to close these short thoughts with a little self reflection... Ed Sheeran's song really hit me tonight. I realized that my exhaustion at the end of the day is because I am constantly finding myself dwelling in the problems of others. While the ability to empathize is something to be treasured, it's quite another to dwell. It's an easy distraction from some of my own insecurities that aren't as easy to address.
So before going out and solving the problems of the world, make sure you know if the problem solver has their own problems relatively solved. Remember that at the end of the day, its your own insecurities, your own struggles, you have to face when you wake up in the morning. It's much easier to wake up and begin touching others' lives in a positive way when you can look at yourself and look at the world with confidence.
I rejoice therefore that I have confidence in you in all things.
2 Corinthians 7:16
A friend reminded me something tonight which I have been told over and over again through the course of my life, which is something I have a difficult time accepting. “Everything happens for a reason.” Every thing we say, everything we do, everything that is said to us, everything that is done to us, everything that occurs outside of ourselves, it has purpose. Often that purpose is greater than ourselves, much greater than we can understand.
This is the hardest to accept when we know we’ve done wrong, when our actions, our words, have cut deeply into others and brought them pain and suffering. And when we make these mistakes, it’s the easy thing to do to run away, to justify our actions, to pretend what we did wasn’t wrong. However when we remove the wood from our own eye, when we let go of our blindness just for one second to allow ourselves to see without prejudice, something deep inside is still able to recognize right from wrong, wrong from right.
Recognizing a mistake I’ve made is incredibly painful. It often forces me to realize with it other mistakes I’ve similarly made. It’s hard to accept we aren’t perfect and that we are just like anyone else on this planet: human. It’s hard to understand that some things I’ve done aren’t completely fixable, and no matter what I do I can’t make my actions go away or heal the scars.
And from mistakes I’ve made, especially recently, I’ve come to understand a number of things.
1. Our actions have a reason: the good, but especially the bad. God takes everything we do and transforms it into a purpose of his own. We have to open ourselves to letting God work his magic. When we make mistakes, we have to own it, do whatever we can to fix it, but ultimately let God handle it.
2. When we hurt others and recognize our mistakes, we also need to heal. Though our pain perhaps isn’t equal to the pain we’ve caused, what we are feeling is also raw and also constitutes pain. Time and prayer works wonders.
3. In moving on from our mistakes, we have to forgive ourselves. It goes without saying that we have to forgive those who have hurt us, but when we make mistakes we hold it in for a long time and let it eat away at our gut. It doesn’t do anyone, even the person or people we’ve hurt, if we hold our regret and pain inside.
4. We have to let our mistakes transform us. If we just try to fix it and cover it up, we keep making those mistakes over and over. In owning our mistakes, forgiving ourselves, and instilling within ourselves a desire to never let it happen again, we grow as people.
5. It’s important to let ourselves be forgiven. When forgiveness is offered and the opportunity for repentance extended, we have to take it. When we let ourselves be forgiven, we allow change, God’s change to take place within our hearts and in the lives of those around us.
We make mistakes for a reason. These reasons inspire change. Smile then, because trusting in God and each other allows us to move on from our mistake and let our mistakes and God change us.
To those whom I’ve hurt: I’m truly sorry. Your pain is echoed in my own heart. As you heal, please know I’m hurting for you in the process of someday forgiving myself.
It's a depressing title, I know. But pain is an ever-present part of our lives. Even through the happiest of times, it is the constant strand in a complex array of webs that unites us as humanity together. The types of pain are varied with an infinite amount of levels. Often it is the smallest of things that can consume us and lead us down a path where pain consumes our lives and everything about our existence.
Nonetheless, instead of allowing this shared, underlying pain to unite us, it is rather the most magnified divider of people. In fact, the people who are hurting the most are often the ones to bring others serious pain. As humans, its one of our biggest temptations to subconsciously imagine the world to revolve around ourselves, making our own pain one of the most central aspects of our daily lives, rather than recognizing the hurting that goes on all around us. The small negative things that occur in our lives begin to add up until suddenly we are looking at a miserable existence. This pain can become so great that our simple human minds can't contain it anymore, and it begins to be expressed as harmful verbal or physical lashing out. Internalized pain takes a lot of time to heal, and in the meantime it's extremely difficult to deal with.
However, when we are the victims of these lashing outs, we tend to focus on our own pain and not the origin of where our pain came from. This blindness leads to us ignoring the pain of others and continuing this cycle of pain.
As a little challenge to you, when everything seems to be going wrong and people seem to be hurting you again and again, focus on the pain they might be experiencing. First of all, it's a distraction from your own pain, and third it leads to compassion. And a world of compassion is a world is one of so much less pain... :)
For my entire life people have told me "Claire, you are smart." I've been called various names such as the Book Girl, or the Nerd with many other variations. I lived for accomplishing the next goal, the next task, the next dream to reach. But it happens in every persons life when they don't reach that goal or that dream. When something they thought they'd been good at all along crashes and burns all around them, and suddenly they don't feel good at it anymore. From someone who's experienced this, it hurts. A lot.
It was when I entered high school that I finally came to the realization that there were an incredible amount people out there who were just as smart and smarter than me. I wasn't and couldn't be the smartest one out there. I felt purposeless and ambition-less because it seemed like there was no way to win. Records are there to be broken, and no matter what you do, there's always someone out there who's better than you at what you do. Maybe not now, but definitely somewhere down the line.
If not smart then, what was I? It's a deep question I had to ask myself, and all of us have to ask ourselves similar questions. Looking beyond the talents we have, who are we as a person? What is our self worth based on? Because if we base our self worth on something temporary, we are only setting ourself up for major heartbreak down the line.
I was waiting to someday accomplish some unknown "ultimate goal" that would finally bring fulfillment. I'll make this quick, it doesn't exist on earth. There is always some other goal to aim for. At the end of the day, I wanted someone to tell me "you did it. You finally are enough." You are enough. Those are such powerful words, at least to my mind. I didn't understand or fathom in any way that God had molded me and created me in a particular way, and when He was done, He looked at me and saw that what he made was good. I am good. You are good. Is that not absolutely remarkable? No matter what we accomplish in our lives here on earth, what records we break, what we are the best in, we are still just as good in God's eyes as the average person next to us.
Our value is not in our grades, it's not in how fast we can run a mile, it's not our vocal range. Our self worth is that we were created by God with a much higher purpose than getting into a certain college or making a certain amount of money. It's little things that bring fulfillment. It's long conversations with a friend late at night, it's playing a board game with a sibling, it's catching up with an old acquaintance, it's laughing so hard your stomach hurts, it's going on a walk and simply being along with your thoughts. There is so much joy in our lives, we have so much purpose contained in our bodies, and no matter what we do, we are enough in God's eyes.
I in no way intend to sound preachy, though I probably do. I am not at all perfect at this, but it's something I've come to a major realization with in my life and I wanted to share that with you :).
I think while God was making the world, He took one look at Adam and thought, "This world is going to be too boring. I think I'll make woman to make things a little more interesting." At least we know that an omniscient God knew what He was getting Himself into.
As I've mentioned before, I love the word remarkable. And girls have a remarkable way of tearing each other down. I hate the word remarkable in this context but it fits quite well. We, as the female species, have a talent not derived from our maker for using our words and actions to scratch at each other's hearts and leave scars which we cannot even fathom except by feeling the scars on our own. I don't know what it is about our nature, human nature in general, that drives us to bring others down to our level when we are in pain or suffering. Somehow we think that if we have to be in agony, it will somehow be lessened by taking others down with us.
I've met people before whose scars I recognize simply from looking into their eyes. The scars of self harm, insecurity, bullying, depression, and so many others can be so prevalent. I am terrified of them and yet drawn to them at the same time. These scars can cause people to viciously attack the unblemished places on our hearts, and opposingly it can also make them some of the strongest people I have ever met.
Most of the scratches and cuts on our hearts never really go away. Sometimes they become inflamed and infected again and other times they fade into the background. But we all have the cuts that will always hurt at least a little bit. This pain should be a reminder to us of the pain in the world we live in and the desperate need for the love we can provide.
I laughed a little reading that. I give advice much better than I follow it. I've left countless scars on people, as have all of us. Every scratch we leave on another cuts a small mark on our own hearts, and those marks add up. Sometimes I think those are the marks on my heart that hurt the most.
But this wasn't a testimony to the awfulness of the human condition. Certainly at times in my life I've had very little, if any, faith in humanity. However, time and time again I have been reminded of the human capacity to heal, so much stronger than the capacity to hurt. We girls have mastered the art of picking up our own broken pieces just enough to put others' back together again when they themselves cannot. Get yourself some friends like mine who in the midst of their own broken hearts have found nothing less than miraculous ways to mend mine. And sure they aren't perfect. In their own unintentional and sometimes intentional ways they have left some scratches on my heart as I'm sure I have on theirs. But those scars are a reminder to me of the beautiful ways in which they managed to heal me. And this is nothing short of a God given talent and gift.
love the word serenity. I'm a wordy kind of person where I love finding the perfect word to describe something, a word that embodies exactly what I am trying to express. And some of those incredible words are absolutely beautiful, like the word serenity.
People talk about the loud and noisy and busy world we live in all the time. Some people absolutely live for the noise, they relish it. And being an outgoing person myself, I admit myself that I love conversations and doing interesting things with different and unique people. Quite simply, I love people. But people are very loud. Even quiet, shy people are loud. Their silence and quietude is almost louder than noisy and talkative people like me. When you live life constantly thinking about the next thing and the next conversation and the next activity, you rarely stop to truly listen to yourself. If you believe like I do that there is a deep reason everybody is on this planet, then you understand like I do that everybody has something incredible to say and contribute but before we can share that with the world, we have to listen to us ourselves.
Though it's rather a contradiction, I find it quite easy to hide in conversation. I hide from myself and God as well in many things, including conversation. I prefer tuning into the busy world that tells me to do what I want instead of myself and my inner thoughts and consciousness which is telling me something that I don't want to hear: this planet that I both love and despise simultaneously is WRONG, that I am wrong to listen to it and throw myself into it.
And then we return to serenity, "the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled". I laughed the first time I read the definition. I'm only fifteen but oh to be UNTROUBLED again. I can't distinctly point out a time where I have been absolutely and completely untroubled since what I call the point of "awareness" in my life when I began to actually understand and comprehend and think about important things. For a time I didn't like the word serenity since it felt like an impossible ideal to reach. But truly, it isn't an impossible thing.
I am no expert in this (believe me), but I am working on ways to teach it to myself. I am such a goal oriented person, that I become terrified when I take a step back and realize I'm not in any way enjoying the present moment. Serenity is the way in which I've discovered I can do that. For the first time in my life, I search for serene moments and time where I am completely tuned in to myself and my thoughts. Doing that allows me to then write down my thoughts here.
Calmness is such an essential part of serenity. Find somewhere where you can truly be alone. Personally, I've found the best way to "tune in" is by focusing on the white noise that is always present, the sound of the waves, the air conditioner, the wind, perhaps the physical silence. I allow myself to focus on the first, most random thought train that rolls through my mind. And I dwell on it for a while. Sometimes our consciousness and our instinct (guided by God) gives us the best advice we could ask for. Without worrying or being anxiousness and just simply BEING and THINKING, you start understanding yourself more than you ever thought you could. It rarely occurs to us that at some level, we have to meet ourselves. We and God are the only two beings we absolutely have to live with for the rest of our lives, shouldn't we be able to know and understand them?
If anybody's ever been in a truly black mood before, then you'll understand what I mean when I begin describing this dark place I got myself into one evening. It's this all consuming vortex of loneliness and melancholy swirling with all your deepest fears. Lovely, right? Before you begin thinking that I need a therapist, I will warn you that this was brought about mostly by severe exhaustion. The thoughts that brought me down to this place were feeling let down. I felt let down by the people closest to me, the friends I trusted, the people that have raised me, the people who are related to me (disclaimer: I really do have wonderful friends and family. I was seriously in a very bad mood).
And so if you believe me that I truly do have wonderful friends and family, you're of course questioning why I would ever doubt these people that are in my life. As I often do, I blame society. I blame a culture that seeks unrealistic perfection. I am a huge believer in self improvement, while oppositely I absolutely despise unrealistic perfection. It's this addiction that never allows you to find happiness in the present moment as you constantly search and are looking for ways in which you aren't up to par and fixating on those aspects until they are fixed. I personally set perfection expectations of myself. It's a blessing in some ways, but in many more it's a curse. Having high expectations is completely healthy, but perfection expectations can slowly kill a person.
While I internalize these expectations, there are others that externalize them, focusing their perfectionistic ideals on those that surround them: looking for perfect relationships or perfect houses or perfect appearances. Unfortunately, my internalized expectations can sometimes lead to externalized ones where I expect and want the highest caliber of relationships possible when we live in a world that that becomes incredibly difficult.
When I look at other peoples relationships, I see the perfected picture that they show the world. This is of course makes me feel worse about myself and even worse about my own connections with others. And this is what led me to my lonely dark mood.
My personal way that I've come to deal with this is prayer, which is an entirely different topic in itself. And secondly, I change my outlook. I have to constantly remind myself to look for the good in others but not seek and demand the perfect. Though we all should strive for excellence, we are human. We aren't God so we aren't perfect. If I shouldn't be asking and seeking absolute perfection of myself, how can I possibly ask anybody else to do the same? So instead of demanding and expecting perfect people, perfect relationships, perfect things and getting ourselves into dark holes when we predictably don't get this, we simply have to remind ourselves to see the joy and most especially the good in what we have. And when people and relationships temporarily or permanently fail, we can't blame them when we ourselves could be failing right along beside them.
I read a quote today (randomly on a shopping bag) that said something along the lines of "your outlook on life is a reflection of the way you view yourself." If any of you have ever had a mind blowing moment, you'll understand my description of this revelation of mine as a small, personal epiphany. It's often small things that strike us the most. For me it's usually a random quote on Pinterest, or something that is casually said to me. I'm sure I will be discussing a number of other epiphanies like these in future blog posts, though you likely may have already thought similar things yourself.
To return back to the epiphany at hand, I certainly don't consider myself a negative person though I wouldn't go as far as to describe myself as a positive person at all times, as few if any at all are. That being said, I have a number of dissatisfactions in life which I often blame on my circumstances, rather than myself (egotistical, I know). The first time I read the much afore mentioned quote it didn't quite register with me until I really began to think about the problems in my life that can deter my naturally positive outlook into a negative view. My dissatisfaction with my family isn't necessarily because of any fault of theirs. Rather, the deeper root is due to my dissatisfactions with my own failures as a daughter and sister. It's a similar situation with my friendships. My occasionally negative views aren't due to any wrongdoings of my friends, but my faults in being a good friend.
So instead of blaming others for our personal problems that lead to negative life outlooks, we really should be looking to ourselves and bettering our own actions in order to improve the way we view the world around us.
I discovered weird markings on myself the other day. Convinced I had cancer and the end was drawing near for me, I told my friend that I was pretty sure I was dying. When she saw the marks she just laughed and told me with a smile, "Claire , those are stretch marks." Now this didn't assure me much more because I had always considered stretch marks to be something that happened to women after they had kids, or to "older people". She then proceeded to show me that she had stretch marks herself.
It's funny how we consider these physical reminders of growth a negative thing. We hide them, we are ashamed of them. We want to appear that we have perfect lives, and that we remain the same happy, beautiful, intelligent, creative, kind people all the time. Stretch marks don't fit this facade that we show the world. And so we hide them, as we do all the things that are a reminder to us of our uniqueness, our personal identity, our flaws, and the ways we've changed from what we ourselves or others would like us to be.
Sometimes growing up is painful. But it's something we like to hide. Except sometimes for our closest friends, we don't want to admit it when in the process of discovering our identity that we struggle, constantly and often. Nobody stays exactly the same forever, at least if some people do I've never met them. But the process of stretching, reaching for our goals hurts. Anyone who has done physical stretching before or after running or playing a game understands the uncomfortable, slightly painful, yet welcome feeling that comes from actually stretching our limbs. Growing up is kind of like that too. It's painful, but at the same time we know that through the pain is something good.
Stretch marks are a reminder of our physical growth, but in a way they are also reminders of the continuous growth of our minds and our hearts. It's a "blemish" on our skin, while really they are the markings that tell us that change can also be good and beautiful though it may not appear that way at first.