April 30, 2015

The Importance of Listening to Yourself

Take the time to stop, get quiet, and listen to yourself. What do you really want? What's best for you?

I've always been a big believer in research. For a fair number of years, research was actually my day job. But, 9-to-5 business aside, when it came to making decisions, especially big decisions, I have long been someone who researched the heck out of things before deciding. I look at all of the options, learn all of the pertinent information, narrow the field, gather additional input, and then make a decision. Generally speaking, I think this is a good thing, this data-gathering.

To a point, that is.

When I bought my first car on my own, I knew the specs backward and forward before I went into the dealer. I think I startled the salesman when I started asking really detailed questions about the inner-workings of the car I was interested in. (He really didn't expect to hear that come out of the mouth of a woman in her early twenties. Which, of course, I loved. I've always loved surprising people who have made assumptions about me based on my age or gender or both. Yes, I can drive a stick shift. Yes, I know what I'm talking about in those business meetings. But that's another blog post.)

But two things about that have changed as I've gotten older.

The first is that options have become seemingly infinite in our current world. I mean, seriously, have you walked down the cereal aisle in a grocery store in recent years? Or the shampoo aisle at Target? Or tried to buy a new hairdryer on Amazon? The options feel limitless when you try to assess everything that's available. So, considering everything out there when making decisions, big and small, is pretty close to impossible. And it's most definitely exhausting.

For me, this has meant narrowing the consideration set faster. For example, I only consider the more natural haircare brands, and I only look at their volumizing and scalp health lines. This narrows the field considerably before I even start reading labels and product reviews.

It also means that I'm more likely to listen to trusted recommendations. For example, I asked my hairstylist what hairdryer she recommended. I then looked on Amazon at the one she suggested, saw it got really good reviews and was available at a reasonable price, and ordered it. No further research.

And, I'm more likely to stick with something that works. I have bought the exact same four cereal brands each time we run out for quite some time now. They are the cereals that make my family happy and meet my requirements. So, until they stop working, I will keep buying them. And I will walk right by the 500 other options available in my grocery store. (I shop with a 3 year old. I don't have time to peruse.)

But most importantly, I have gotten more comfortable with these ideas:

- Nothing is perfect.
- The grass isn't as green as it looks over the fence.
- Nobody really cares about the 20, just get the 80 and get on with it.

Super extensive research is really about security. It's a way of making ourselves feel comfortable with decisions we fear getting wrong. I don't want to be the dumbass who buys the junky car or who pays way too much for it. I just don't. So I research the heck out of it to make sure I'm making a good decision. Not only do I read up on the cars, but I also ask other people for their opinions on those cars.

Which brings me to the second thing that has changed as I've gotten older: I now recognize the importance of listening to myself.

That does not mean that I don't ask other people's opinions when I'm making decisions. I do. A lot. But I don't always take their advice. This, of course, drives my husband nuts. He hates it when I ask his opinion on something and then proceed to do the exact opposite.

Me: "Do you like these shorts in the blue or the black?"
Husband: "The black."
Me: "Yeah, I think I'll get the blue."
Husband: Sighs, shakes head, and walks away.
Me: Checks out butt in mirror one last time.

That's because I've learned that, though I really want my husband to like how I look in the outfits I choose to wear, he'll never actually see me in those outfits unless I feel good in them. So I value his opinion, but I have to trust my own feelings. If the blue shorts make me feel better, then the blue shorts I shall get. If both things are truly equal for me, then I'll choose the one he likes...he's a great tie-breaker, my husband.

This approach was never more apparent than in our recent car buying decision.

My husband and I recently decided it was time to trade in my current car (a small SUV) for something a bit bigger. After some initial research (led by my dad, actually...thanks for the help, Dad!) we narrowed it down to one mid-size SUV and one minivan. I, of course, was soliciting advice on this decision left and right.

And, almost without fail, everyone told me to get a minivan.

I hemmed and hawed over this decision. I listed pros and cons of each. But I was torn. Because here were all of these smart people, whose opinions I trust, telling me to get the minivan...but when I stopped and really listened to myself, I believed the SUV was the right choice for me.

Guess what I got?

Yep. The SUV. I take delivery on it next week.

Lucky for me my husband actually felt the same way I did about the decision. (Whew!) So that helped a lot. But ultimately it will be my car, so it was up to me.

You know what did it? A conversation with my dear, dear friend, Wendy. She reminded me that I was getting all caught up in listening to other people and I was forgetting to listen to myself. After my talk with her, and a side-by-side, look-at-every-feature-and-sit-in-every-seat comparison, it took me all of 30 seconds to make the decision.

It doesn't mean that all those people didn't give me great advice. They did. But ultimately I needed to listen to myself and make what felt like the right decision for me.

And I think that's a lesson that applies to everything in life.

If going back to work after having kids feels right to you, even if all of your friends are staying home, get to work. If being less busy in an over-committed world is right for you, drop the commitments. If cutting your hair short feels like what you need to do, even though all of your friends have long locks, chop it.

If your soul needs quiet time alone, or a night out with your friends, or volunteer work, or creative expression, or a date night, or a pedicure, or time to journal, or coffee with a friend, or a thriving career, or playtime with the kids... Whatever it is that your soul is telling you it needs...listen. Listen to it. Listen to you. And give yourself what you need.

Until next time, get quiet for a moment or two and listen to what your heart is saying. And give yourself some of that.

Or buy your heart a mid-size SUV. Whatever works.



P.S. Please don't leave a comment telling me why I should get a minivan. It's too late.

P.P.S. And by the way, I love my new hairdryer. Super lightweight and still quite powerful. It's a Babyliss Pro TT 3000. In case you're in the market.








April 14, 2015

What Vacation Taught Me


I learned two lessons while on vacation last week.

1. I need to take more vacations.
2. I need to be more vacation-y everyday. (It is not a word. But it should be.)

One morning in the middle of my vacation week I went out for a run. It was my first run outside in probably 5 or 6 months. I ran for 45 minutes on a beautiful, sunny day, surrounded by blooming trees and flowers and bright blue skies. It was just wonderful. It was wonderful to be outside and not be cold. It was wonderful to run. It was wonderful to be surrounded by beauty. It was wonderful to be alone and listen to my own music. But most of all it was wonderful to be running along with the vacation attitude.

I feel lighter, on vacation. I feel like I've left something behind at home. To-Do Lists. Responsibilities. Routines. Grief. Cold. Heaviness. A Rut.

Running feels easier. Everything feels easier.

I got in four rounds of golf while I was there. And I had a few awesome shots. One pretty good round. But I mostly I played pretty awful. And I loved it. Because I was on vacation. Where there really are no rules and everything is easy going.

Which begs two questions: Why do I wait so long to go on vacation? and Why can't I translate this attitude and feeling to my everyday life?

Right now, we have a long span of time with no vacations...pretty much from Thanksgiving (our last trip of the year home to visit family) until an Easter-time Spring Break at the end of March. That's four months with no change of scenery. And it's the four worst months of the year...the winter months. When it's cold and snowy and we're mostly stuck inside and oftentimes sick. And I end up a bit depressed. Maybe more than a bit.

It's really quite awful.

Now, between April and November, we're all over the place. This year we'll take at least 6 trips in those 8 months. That's pretty darn good. But that wintertime vacation drought is just no good. I think I need to add a couple of trips in there. Everyone should have a break from January and February if they live in the north. Even just a little overnight somewhere relatively close. Though somewhere warm and sunny would be the best.

Those vacations are important. The break in routine. The change of scenery. It's important.

But what's probably more important is figuring out how to translate that vacation attitude to day-to-day life at home. Why can't most days feel like vacation days?

They should.

Dammit.

I am so sick of feeling like I'm slogging through the muck and mire of to-dos and should-dos and get-it-dones. I'm sick of feeling overwhelmed by all the stuff there is to do. I'm sick of letting those time-sensitive "must-dos" get in the way of the stuff I really want to be doing...reading, writing, being creative, going for a walk, playing with my kids, hanging out with my husband, chatting with friends. There is always more laundry to do, more errands to run, more meals to cook, more phone calls to make, more emails to read...

I'm suddenly having a bit of blog-deja-vu. I just realized that I wrote about a similar idea around this same time last year. (You can see it here: http://mamamanagement.blogspot.com/2014/04/top-ten-mantras-for-my-life-right-now.html) Maybe it's seasonal for me. Maybe it's the difference between sweet sunny skies and cold rainy clouds.

Maybe I simply need more vacation attitude at home. Maybe I need to wake up and not worry about getting the carpets cleaned and finding a landscaper and getting the kids to school on time and squeezing in a trip to the grocery store. Maybe I need to wake up and smile and enjoy my cup of coffee and then head out onto the golf course for a quick 9 holes.

Oh, wait. Right. That's the part I can't translate to my regular home life.

Oops.

But maybe I can still ignore all the other stuff that I'm "supposed to be doing" and instead play a game of Go Fish. Color some pictures. Read a book. Write a book.

And if the rain and clouds and cold ever go away, I can go for a run outside.

Maybe I need to cut things down to just what is truly essential, and let the other stuff go. Maybe then things won't get overwhelming. And maybe I won't become Debbie Downer.

Maybe?

Until next time, let a little vacation attitude into your everyday life. Let the dishes wait. Sit back and put your feet up. Relax. And when that sunshine peaks out from behind the clouds, soak it in, my friend. Soak it all in.

Namaste.



April 9, 2015

Book Love: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe



I read this book on vacation last week and kind of fell in love with it. It's different from a lot of the books I've read of late. And I liked that departure. The book is sweet and honest and real.

And I miss the characters now that I'm done. That's always, for me, a sign that I loved a book.

So here is where you'd likely expect me to give you a brief overview of the book. A blurb of some sort that might get you interested in reading it and tell you what it's about. But I've been thinking about that. And I realized that I, as a reader, am less interested in a synopsis, in knowing what the book is about, than I am in knowing how it made a reader feel.

Did you love it? Did it make you cry? Did it make you laugh? Did it bring back memories of your childhood? Did it leave you awed? Was it fun? Was it beautifully written?

That's what I want to know.

I am not often reading book jackets before choosing a book these days. I'm reading reviews from people who loved the book. Then I get it. And I read it. And I am often super surprised by what it's about.

All I knew about this book before I started it was that it was Young Adult and that a blogger I trust highly recommended it. That's it.

I guess I like the surprise.

And surprised I was. A few chapters into the book I thought I knew what what going on between the main characters. But by halfway through I was certain that I'd been wrong. Then, at the end, we circled back much closer to where I'd started. But that's no matter, really.

What you need to know about this book is this: Saenz so beautifully and accurately captures this snapshot of his characters' lives that it makes my heart hurt (but in a good way). They are all, even the more secondary characters, so wonderfully drawn. Like an artistic rendering of emotions and life on a page. I said it before and I'll say it again: This book is sweet and honest and real. It is beautiful and true. It is heart-wrenching and uplifting. It is a portrait of love and friendship and family, and the sweet, aching beauty of adolescence.

I recommend it. In case you hadn't picked up on that yet.

Seriously. Go check out Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz.

Until next time, happy reading!



April 1, 2015

Binge Reading: The Testing Trilogy


Last year I read Joelle Charbonneau's book The Testing and really enjoyed it. It's a little Hunger Games, a little Divergent, but with it's own unique twist. I just love the strong female characters we're finding in the YA dystopian future realm these days. It makes me happy to see literary role models out there in popular, main stream fiction that personify strong women: strength of character, physical, mental and emotional strength, intelligence, common sense, caring and humanity (no mention of beauty, thank you very much)...all the characteristics of good people and good leaders...all in young women. It's a beautiful thing.

Plus they're fun, fast-paced, enjoyable reads. Bonus!

Anyway, I finally tracked down the remaining books in Charbonneau's trilogy at a local library and promptly binge read books 2 and 3 (Independent Study and Graduation Day, respectively) in the course of one week (and I wasn't even on vacation...I was trying to escape my own life, though, so...and I do love a good binge reading episode).

And they delivered.

Some of the ever-popular trilogies really flop on book 2 (like The Maze Runner...book 1 was good, but book 2...flop!...I didn't even make it to book 3), but I thought Charbonneau did a good job. She kept the story moving forward at a good clip through all of the books, and kept my interest throughout--as evidenced by how quickly I devoured these books. Book 1 was still the best (as it almost always is), but the entire trilogy is worth the read.

Here's a blurb about the trilogy from Charbonneau's website:

THE TESTING TRIOLOGY

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Isn’t that what they say?
But how close is too close when they may be one in the same? 

The Seven Stages War left much of the planet a charred wasteland. The future belongs to the next generation’s chosen few who must rebuild it.  But to enter this elite group, candidates must first pass The Testing—their one chance at a college education and a rewarding career.

Cia Vale is honored to be chosen as a Testing candidate; eager to prove her worthiness as a University student and future leader of the United Commonwealth. But on the eve of her departure, her father’s advice hints at a darker side to her upcoming studies – trust no one. 

But surely she can trust Tomas, her handsome childhood friend who offers an alliance? Tomas, who seems to care more about her with the passing of every grueling (and deadly) day of the Testing. To survive, Cia must choose: love without truth or life without trust.

So, if you like YA dystopian future novels...if you enjoyed The Hunger Games and Divergent...if you like a good, fast-paced, fun read...then I recommend reading The Testing Trilogy. Check it out.

Until next time, happy reading!



P.S. Booklist says it's for Grade 7 and up.