The Importance of Helping When You Know You Can

Ponder this: If you knew in your heart that something needed to be done to help someone, and you had the tools to do it, but you knew it would take up your time and require some effort on your part-would you do it?

Now ponder this: if you knew something needed to be done to help several people, and you had the tools to do it, but knew it would take up your time and require effort-would you do it?

I was in this scenario and it kept coming back to me. When the universe knocks again and again you can’t help but pay attention.

We’re all trying to manage our day to day lives and each day presents it’s own set of challenges. Back in November, I took a part time job that allowed me more time with my family, flexibility, and more sleep. Being part-time also means that I have to schedule my day right. You see I’ve set my hours so that I have one hour in between to do something for myself before I pick up my sons. I’m failing miserably at truly using that hour for myself and it’s frustrating. It has to be my job to figure out the why. I have the tools to fix this for myself and only I alone can fix this issue. Did you catch that? I HAVE THE TOOLS TO FIX THIS. It’s something in my psyche that blocks me from doing things for myself. It requires some effort and of course time on my part to understand the why and how of it and to kick the negative voice out of my head.

When you’ve got the tools to fix something that needs fixing- naturally – it’s a no brainer. But I’m here to tell you-it ain’t that easy. Sometimes we need signs to repetitiously tell us just how we’re needed; it’s the universe blatantly pushing us to hurry up and do something. When it relates to ourselves it’s not as clear sometimes how to fix the problem because we can’t be objective. When it relates to others,  it’s so much easier to see and devise a plan for resolve.

Here is an example of exactly this below.

I have had hundreds (maybe even a thousand honestly) of moms let me know that the main reason they are looking to join the working moms group I facilitate on Facebook is for connection and friendship. You see each time someone requests to join my group I ask what they are hoping to gain from joining.  More and more in the last year the answers read in almost the exact same fashion.

“I’m looking to connect with other moms, I am new to the area and don’t have many friends.”

“I’m looking for moms with children the same age as mine for play dates and also friendship.”

“I’m looking for friendship, it’s isolating having a baby sometimes.”

“I need to get out with other moms for sanity and I’m curious how they all juggle this.”

Do you see a common denominator? There is an epidemic of isolation and loneliness taking place and it showed up on my doorstep with the universe begging the question,

“So what are you gonna do about it Amber?”

I knew that me simply adding these women to the group would not give them what they were seeking. This knowledge was based on two things I had already tried in the past that ended up flopping : summer playgroups and monthly mom’s nights out.

For the summer playgroups Facebook messenger was the platform I had tried using by creating groups by town and ages of children. I had to draw diagrams that dissected towns by gender and ages of the kids before setting up each group in a chat which took hours and hours of my time.

On the other hand, the mom’s nights began very successfully and on average 8 to 12 moms would show. Gradually, that number waned and the last year of mom’s dinners has resulted in 2, maybe 3, women showing up. Clearly there had been a shift in the way to go about getting people together. These women needed something more tangible, more intimate, and a way to chat via text to arrange get togethers and playdates. I had to help these moms and I had to figure out the right way to do it so it was not too cumbersome. Of course it would take up quite a bit of my time and effort. But I had the tools- a computer, access to each mom, and a conscience. I knew that simply adding them to the group would not provide them instant access to friendship and connection. Knowing this and doing nothing about it felt irresponsible. Ignoring their call for help felt morally wrong.

During a time of brainstorming in terms of  what would be the right platform, I had a work meeting on a Sunday afternoon in which I was going to introduce myself to an au pair and her host family as their new counselor. After the meeting was over, I was on my way out the door and I asked the au pair what she had ended up doing over the weekend. She mentioned she had connected with some other au pairs on the WhatsApp app and they had all arranged to hang out. My mind held onto that sentence- almost as if it was in bold type. I had this app she mentioned, but had only used it once or twice to text with a friend who got spotty cell service at work. I felt it was too coincidental for the au pair to have mentioned that app in her conversation with me as I was walking out the door.

As soon as I got home, I looked up all of the apps offerings. Unbelievably, I discovered quickly that this was the PERFECT platform for my mom connection idea. Fast forward and I’ve launched mini connection groups for several towns. Each group needs/has a leader to help take charge and organize the get togethers. Out of the groups created, a few are stagnant while the others are really taking off. They’ve had many playdates and even a mom’s night with decent attendance. This was also all within the first few weeks of being up and running.

To see this makes my heart incredibly happy. My time spent was worth it because these moms are developing friendships, getting out of their houses with and without their babies, and some sunshine is back in their lives again.

I’m thinking fathers could really benefit from this type of outlet as well. Something I’m toying with and a story for another time.

Is there someone in your life you know you could be helping but you haven’t yet because your plate is too full? When it’s so blatant that you have the tools to do something whether it be for yourself or others -do you ignore it? There is always more we can be doing for ourselves, but listen when I tell you how fulfilling it is to help others.

Picture the beautiful enveloping warm sun on your face. This is comparable to how you feel on the inside when you set aside what you have going on and spend the time using your tools to help someone else.

Next up, I’ll be trying to use my tools to carve out me time and not schedule over it every.single.day. I’ll be writing about why I do this to myself (yes, I’ve recently discovered why) and how I’m going to try and tackle it next.

What tools do you possess that you’re not using to help yourself or others? Are you paying attention to the signs the universe is giving you on just how to use them? Think about it friends…

 

The Opponent in the Mirror

Recently I came across a quote in a stickerbook I was thumbing through and eventually bought at Michael’s craft store. I fell hard and fast for this beautiful gem.

“If you’re lucky enough to be different, never change.”

Oftentimes our society believes that being different can be a bad thing. More and more  I think that stigma is shifting in a refreshing way. Most of us wonder how we’re perceived by others. We know who WE are, but do THEY really know who we are? Do you sometimes feel misunderstood?

We all have something we’re good at, something we struggle with, strengths, weaknesses, etc. But let’s examine for a moment something very specific that makes you….you. What  characteristic do you possess that you think people don’t necessarily know about you, misperceive, or maybe misunderstand? What makes you different? I’ll share with you a big part of what makes me tick as a person and why, quite possibly, some people misunderstand me.

The definition of someone that is competitive is as follows: having or displaying a strong desire to be more successful than others. 

Many people fall into this category. I think the world of sports would be nothing were it not for this breed of competitive people. These competitors keep people watching with baited breath, rooting for victory, and proud of their impressive athleticism. The world of business also has healthy competition that can be fun to observe; Apple vs. Microsoft, McDonald’s vs Burger King (sans the healthy part here), and Coke vs Pepsi-to name a few.  Our planet of animals has some serious competition when it comes to mate selection; think of peacocks, and that hilarious dancing bird of paradise.  And last but not least, humans in courtship have the competition of other potential suitors. This causes a multitude of craziness to take place – just watch The Bachelor or The Bachelorette for a drama filled crash course on this topic.

Now that you’ve conjured up these images, it’s probably hard to think that some of us humans just aren’t built with the competitive gene as it relates to others. I’m one of these people and I wholeheartedly accept that this can sometimes be misunderstood. It’s also quite boring for my competitive friends out there.

Here are four examples in case your perception of me is already off: 1.) If someone is running next to me in a 5k and the finish line is in site, I’m not inclined to speed up to beat them. 2.) I love to play Scrabble with my husband even though I only won once in 16 years. 3.) If I have a friend that’s gorgeous with a six pack and a perky butt, let’s toast to that rockin’ bod! When I’m motivated in the Spring, I’ll call her to be my accountability partner. Sidenote: I can’t get on the bandwagon with people that say , “ugh, don’t you just hate her?” Because …I don’t hate her. Why should I hate her just because she’s taking good care of herself and looks great? I’ve never understood that norm in society among women. Let’s be happy for other women! 4.) When I see how successful fellow writers or bloggers have grown to be, I’ll reach out and ask what worked best for them to see if there is something I can be improving upon. There’s no shame in learning from your mistakes. I say there’s shame in not learning from them!

The real deal is that I’m acutely focused on beating one opponent at all times – myself. This is how it’s always been. Is it weird? Maybe. But I’m not measuring myself against anyone else because no one’s life is the same, no one’s physical appearance is the same, and we are all uniquely ourselves. There’s no other way for me. So if you want to race me or compete with me- I’m not your gal. I once won a Halloween costume contest when I was 10 or 11 at a friend’s party and I was mortified. I didn’t want to be the winner because I thought people would automatically not like me! Blending in felt safer and I thought more girls would not be inclined to talk about me if I didn’t stand out. Now if that isn’t waving a carrot for someone to psycho-analyze me right now, I don’t know what is!

Looking back on that memory now, it makes sense why I’ve tried to hide some of my differences or dull my shine.  I realize now that I have a characteristic to be proud of. Being a cheerleader for others and not having the drive to compete with others is unique and I embrace it now.

My goals are for myself and no one else and I’m my toughest coach and my most critical judge. What may be an important milestone for me- may be laughable to you. That’s just what I’m getting at here. If you’re achieving what matters most to you, in my opinion, that’s all that should matter. Unless you’re on a sports team or some kind of competitive team- then you’re looking out for the team as a whole.

Recently, my son said to me after his basketball game, “I’m really proud of myself Mom. I know I played pretty good out there today.”

This was coming from a kid who just 2 months ago said he was quitting.  Turns out one of his teammates actually told him he “sucked” during practice. It took me 45 minutes of the “if you fail try, try again” spiel and anything else I could think of, to convince him to stick it out. To hear his pride this past weekend felt like a warm blanket draped around my heart. In the end, he pushed himself and didn’t measure himself against what anyone else on the team was doing.

A few months back when he had first attended a basketball clinic, the coach went around and asked each player who their favorite basketball team or player was. I could feel the stress rising in my chest wondering how he would answer this question since we don’t really watch basketball at our house.

But my son answered the question matter of factly, “I don’t watch basketball, I just like to play.” He didn’t show a morsel of embarassment. To him it was no big deal to be different than the rest of the boys in the group. Following his answer, two other little boys gave the same answer …and they did it confidently as well.

I swear to God we can really learn a thing or two from kids. Why do we feel like if we’re not like the rest of the group we’re weird? Why is being different bad? Case in point…IT’S NOT. We, ourselves, just make it that way. It’s pretend.

When I share an accomplishment with a friend, it’s because my inner butt kicker is pleased. It dawned on me recently that maybe when I’m sharing a personal accomplishment, people may view it as hyper competitive or braggy. I am quite the opposite, but if they are a newer friend and don’t know me well yet, may be this is how they’re perceiving me? Maybe I’m overanalyzing? See what I mean about the perception game? It can drive us crazy!

In closing, I’d like to say that maybe what makes you unique is something that can help people. Like that quote at the beginning, I feel lucky that it seems innate for me to cheer for other people and not feel insecure or threatened by their successes. With all the social-media-comparison- downward -spiral stories I’ve read, I’ll take this difference to be a good thing. My opponent- she’s in the mirror.  There’s nothing like kicking your own butt at something because it’s always going to be win win situation.

 

 

 

Guilt Is My Alter Ego- Part 1

It was interesting to peer into my young mind and relive what was unfolding inside the words. Reading my journals dating back to 1987 has been an experience.

Combing through past experiences exposed how my all-consuming  inner voice was formed.  It’s pretty much an alter ego and her name is Guilt. She consumes me as a working mom, a friend, a wife, a daughter, and a sister. Better yet, she’s my arch nemesis and alter ego rolled into one. Beyonce doubles as Sasha Fierce, David Bowie had Ziggy Stardust, and Bridget the Bergen became Lady Glitter Sparkles. But I’m stuck with the not-so-glamourous and sparkly version of myself .  She hovers over me like I’m her whipping boy, saying to me, “It’s GUILT Bitch!” which somehow doesn’t have the same chirpy ring of Britney’s fun voice. And based on pretty much anything you read related to motherhood, it would seem a lot of other moms also get bogged down by their feelings of guilt.

A few weeks ago, my husband gave me some advice. I was running around in a million directions, trying to clean with one hand, talk on the phone in the other, play with the kids with my left foot and eat with my right. After hanging up the phone, I griped to him that I felt all jittery and mega stressed. It felt like I had just finished beer-bonging coffee.

He said, “Look at yourself. Look at all the things you were just trying to do at the same time. You’re doing all these things because you think you should do them. You go through your life doing things all the time you think you should do, but do you ever ask yourself what you actually want to be doing?”

This must be a man thing because it would seem so many men can just turn off the stress and veg out in front of the TV. I do not not seem to possess this same gift of compartmentalization. As in being able to say to myself, “Now I will relax. Later I will do X. Tomorrow I will do Z.”

No way. It all is on fire and has to be done now. That’s is the way my brain always sees it.

Anyway, after I picked my jaw off the floor from his Dalai Lama advice sucker punch , I thought about what he had just said and he did have a major point. All of the things that were causing my stress to go into overdrive were self inflicted: 1.) I had answered the phone because it was someone I hadn’t talked to in awhile, so I felt like I had to answer; even though it was hands down the worst time of day to talk. 2.) While talking on the phone, I was feeling guilty over not interacting with my kids because it felt like I hadn’t really engaged with them all week. This thought is what led me to tell them I would play legos with them, but then I answered the phone, so actually I was half playing with them, half talking on the phone. 3.) Piles of laundry were all over the place so I was carrying the basket to and from the washer/dryer with the phone cradled on my shoulder followed by plopping down to fold the clothes right next to where we were playing legos. Yes, I thought I could fold, talk on the phone, and play legos with the kids all at the same time. 4.) The kids love to tell me how hungry they are whenever I’m doing anything. So I was making popcorn, cutting up apples, and pouring glasses of water upstairs, then going downstairs during intervals of folding clothes, playing with the legos, and talking on the phone.

I’m tired just writing this. This is the stuff I do to myself ALL. THE. TIME. And it basically boils down to guilt in addition to feeling like I am available to and owe everybody something at all times.

My husband continued on in his Dahlai Lama state of mind and asked me to think of all the decisions I’ve made in my life – both big and small -current and past.  Are they driven by other people’s wants or my own? Had I EVER based my decisions on what I felt like I wanted to do for myself? Or did I just default to what my brain was telling me was the “nice” thing or the “right” thing to do at that moment.  He pointed out that something bigger was likely driving my guilt.

Guilt manifests itself out of different experiences, fears, and beliefs we all have. Over time these patterns are hardened and then it feels impossible to break the cycle of that nagging voice.