Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Friends - The One with All the Life Lessons

I've seen many articles about the show Friends, such as this one from BuzzFeed. While I find them all hilarious, I think (and go ahead and laugh if you want) my love for the show is based on the fact that I truly relate to so many of the situations they portray. I think we all do in one way or another, otherwise it wouldn't still be so popular. 

I was a kid and a teenager when it was on air, but over the years, I have watched every episode. I own most of the seasons on DVD and can quote them with the best of them. Admittedly, I have even got into serious discussions about which characters are the best and why (although, I love them all). It was–and still is–a great show, full of great one-liners, subtle life lessons, and humorous situations that most of us can relate to.

Have we all bought a pair of leather pants and experienced the terrors of trying to make a pair of paste pants? Do we all sing goofy songs about sick pets at a coffee shop? Probably not, but we can all relate to so many of the situations that occur in our twenties. We've all had jobs that truly sucked. We've all had breakups and awkward family moments. We've all had to learn new skills–sometimes skills we should have learned earlier in life. We've all questioned whether or not we needed to make life changes. We've all tried to please everyone at some point, eventually realizing that, as long as we're happy, that's all that matters. 

Over the years, I've watched and related to the struggles of some of the characters, and when I reached the age that they were all portrayed to be, it was a stunning realization that the show was pretty spot-on for many areas of my own life. 

These are the lessons I've learned from Friends, and that I think many twenty-somethings learn (either with or without the help of the show, although the show makes it much more entertaining):

It's okay to make mistakes. We all do it in some form or fashion. We're human. Some of them will be doozies, so big that our friends will lovingly make them into anecdotes for years to come. Some will be littler, even if they seem huge at the time. But, we all come out of it stronger, wiser, and ready for the next step in our lives. 

Always aim to make improvements!

But be aware of the fact that your friends will call you out on things from time to time.

People and the connections we make are the best things in life. Those people with whom you can let down all pretenses and let your true colors show are the best people in the world. They'll be the ones who will pick you up when you fall down, who will laugh with you–and make you laugh–when you need it the most, and who will be your greatest support system. They'll also be the ones who will be around when you want to do nothing. They'll catch a ball game with you, share meals with you, watch movies, drive around, do nothing–but be everything, all in the same breath. Those are the people worth holding onto and keeping in your life forever. 

When you find friends who will help you deal with life like this, you've found your people.

The best medicine is to laugh at yourself, or to spend some time with those who know you best. If you can't laugh at yourself, you should. But, if you truly cannot, tell your best friends what you've done, and more often than not, they'll do it for you. Sometimes, we get so concerned about our "problems" that we lose sight of the genuine humor of whatever mess we've gotten into. 

Feeling down? Made a mistake? Took some bad advice on a tanning salon? Tell a friend, and laugh about it. 

Siblings will always be one of the most important parts of your life! They were there for the goofy years, they saw you through the "bangs" phase that didn't quite frame your face, they know all about those embarrassing teenage crushes, and they know your weaknesses. Still, they're your support system. They're the ones who will be there whenever you need it most, and they'll be the ones to agree to do something equally stupid with you in adulthood. They're your go-to for those things that are a little too embarrassing to do with anyone else. 

Being competitive is something all of your friends will tease you about–but it can be a good thing. If you're the one who always wants to be the best, you'll take a ribbing for it, but everyone will want you on their team when it comes time for the game (whatever game that may be).

Channel your inner Monica and go for the win!

Relationships are messy, and dating is hard. How many times did we watch Ross and Rachel screw it all up? Too many! And the whole time, we all got to see ourselves on that screen, remembering or even empathizing with how it feels to be in those positions. Dating is messy, because there are people–and feelings–involved, and that just leads to a place where a million things could go wrong. We can all relate. 

So many opportunities for things to get messy and confusing...

Pampering yourself is a necessity at times, and it's okay to do what you want. We all need a little downtime. At times, we need a buddy to sit and watch TV with, an evening to ourselves, the "Joey special" for dinner, a run with someone who will push us to the limit, or a bubble bath. Whatever you need to do for yourself on those days, take it and do so without compromise. 

We've all had those days!

Sometimes, you just have to say "no" to anything you don't want to do.

Hard times are going to come. It's inevitable. There are going to be those blows to the gut that bring you to your knees, and as you're staring at the ground in pain, you're going to realize (for the millionth time) that life isn't fair. Maybe you get fired from your job for taking "complimentary" steaks, maybe you find out that the one you still love is with someone new, maybe it's something as simple as the fact that you have to share your fries. Whatever it is, hard times happen. 

When in doubt, express yourself through creativity. I've found that my most productive writing comes in rough times. Whatever your creative outlet may be, find it and run with it. It's cheaper than therapy, and it's usually more entertaining. 

It may not always be beautiful, but it can help.

True friends are those who are going to be honest with you. They know your strengths and your weaknesses. They know what you've been through, and chances are they've gone through what you may be experiencing now. They're the ones who can offer you a hug, a drink, and a well-meaning pep talk. 

Best to be honest…

After all, they know you best...

Humor is truly the best option in most awkward situations. Sometimes, it'll make it worse, but hey, you can't say you didn't try to ease the pain of running into an ex, sticking your foot in your mouth, or being forced into someone else's drama. Who knows? You might make them laugh and make it better. 

Seriously, where is Beyonce hiding in this small world?

We all doubt ourselves on occasion. There were weaknesses and strengths within each character, and they all had things they didn't like about themselves. They made a lot of mistakes, and they doubted themselves. They were vulnerable on occasion, but they grew through each mistake.

As a twenty-something, we've all had some ups and downs, and some not-so-fine moments. Embrace it, grow from them, and be happy.

Life gets better and better. As a kid, I was always sad when something good ended. My dad's response used to always be that things kept getting better and life kept getting sweeter as time went on. He'd always remind me that, if we had been able to freeze time in happy times past, we'd have missed out on what we just got to experience. I always held onto that, and I think one of the genuinely beautiful things about the show is that, they display that fact. Sure, there were heartaches, there were steps backward, there were so many bad things that each of them endured, but with the right people by their sides and with enough time, it all took the shape it was supposed to, and life got better and better. 

There are always great things to look forward to!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Slump

When you're playing softball or baseball, it's the slump. If you're a writer, it's writer's block. If you're just living your day-to-day, there are many things we could call it.

The slump is never fun...

Whatever we choose to call it, we all hit a roadblock every now and again. It can be a storm of life, it can be focusing on distractions, it can be "getting lost" temporarily. We lose sight of who we are meant to be, what we are meant to do, and what we can offer the world.

The simple fact of the matter is that we all have moments of feeling inadequate or like maybe we've "missed the boat" on something. We get distracted from all that we are, and we focus on what we're not. We lose sight of those dreams that have driven us, and we get caught on an off-roading experience in which we stubbornly refuse to ask for directions.

I think we've all been there a time or two, and it can be a difficult thing to overcome. We start looking and nitpicking every detail of everything that's not quite perfect, instead of actually doing anything about it. Or, we obsess and decide that we're going to "fix" it all. We get caught up in the cycle of constantly trying to overcome it, all the while asking "is this it?"

Call it a bad case of not knowing "where to go from here...."

It's as frustrating a time as it is unproductive. We can't all be everything; nor, should we try to do so. We will fail, and we will be left even more frustrated in the wake of the post-superhero complex trail of shame. Nonetheless, we can all be something, and we can all be great at something.

Whatever your unique talents or skills are, there is someone out there who needs them. There is someone who needs to be inspired by you, to learn from you, to grow as a person because of you. It is when we lose sight of this fact that we get caught up in the "slump."

It happens...

Each of us has something to offer. Maybe, you're the funny one whose comic relief can get someone to laugh in a hard situation. Maybe, you're the teacher whose influence will shape future leaders or help that kid who needs it most. Maybe, you're the writer with a story to tell. Maybe, you're the musician whose creation can touch hearts and resonate with people. Maybe, you're the mom or dad who is the your child's hero. Maybe, you're a best friend who can offer a shoulder to cry on or a pat on the back, an athlete whose drive and determination inspires young children, or an everyday person working and fighting to provide for your family whose example of strength will forever be remembered.

There's a little bit of "hero" in each of us, regardless of how we spend our days, and there is someone looking to each of us to be those things. We all hit a slump from time to time, but you were made to be something. Go out into the world, and be it. Be it boldly. Know your name. Know your influence. Know who you were meant to be, and don't let a slump ruin that.

When in doubt, quote Dr. Seuss...yeah, that just happened.

Life is a journey, full of some weirdness, ups and downs, and a little bit of losing your way. But, it's all about remembering what's important, finding yourself again, and using who you are, where you are, and what you can contribute to make the world a better, kinder, more beautiful place. If you're in the slump, keep swinging, slugger! Swing, miss, fail, strike out, but always keep swinging.

Note:  for a little context, I found myself in one of these slumps recently. It was a strange case of knowing that part of my dreams had come true, and that I now find myself in my dream job, surrounded by some of the most fantastic people in the world. I'm not sure if it was an issue of complacency, of realizing that I still want so much more, of questioning this "new normal," or what it was...but, the slump came unexpectedly. For a brief time, I lost sight of so many wonderful things. I stopped working on new writing projects and worked on picking apart old ones. I blamed writer's block. I let myself waste time. I was wandering (well, and wondering...they can go hand in hand, I suppose). It wasn't until I gave a friend a copy of my book yesterday, and she smiled so big. She said to me, "You're a writer. That's so cool that you can just say, 'here's a copy of MY book' and know that you wrote this." It was a simple moment, but it was one that resonated with me, reminding me that I AM A WRITER. Throughout the evening and into today, that replayed in my head, serving as a reminder that, while I've been in a slump, I have something to offer those around me. I have stories to tell, and I have people to matter to. That is never something to dismiss or to cast aside, regardless of other situations. We all have an identity, and a slump shouldn't detract from that. Whatever you do, do it and do it well! 

It's okay to wander from time to time, as long as we come back to who we are.

In honor of the sappy, feel-good nature of this post, I'm including everyone's favorite sing-along, encouraging song...(made extra special by the fact that it's got the lyrics conveniently displayed, karaoke style, just in case your slump made you forget the words).

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Like a Girl

After seeing the new Always commercial floating around YouTube and various social media sites, the wheels in my head have really been turning. 

You know, "like a girl...."

(Note:  I watched it about a week ago, and have been somewhat contemplative about the subject ever since). 

We see it every day, the way that doing something "like a girl" is considered to be a negative, somehow less than the masculine form. We're told that there are things that men do better, and we're told that being feminine is frowned upon somehow. 

Yes, I'm good-natured enough to laugh along when my friends make the occasional "women in the kitchen" joke. And yes, I'm feisty and passionate enough that I do get a bit of rage when someone claims that women basketball players aren't really playing a sport. Yes, I'm a woman and can proudly turn on a dime, so both scenarios can go back-to-back. But, the fact of the matter is that, we are all subjected to the pre-conceived public notion of what a woman "should be," or in some cases what a woman is. 

There are many varying opinions of what a woman is. For the most part, (at least if you asked most men—and even some women), women are moody, indecisive, and volatile. To some degree, all of that is true. But, at a deeper level, there is the internalized part (the part that plagues many women internally). This is the part that suggests that being a woman makes us weak, makes us less intelligent, or makes us less-than somehow. 

It's the Mad Men moment, if you will. We were put here to serve, to be a ditzy sidekick, to be whatever is needed. We were put here to be the right hand of some high-powered man. While I've never claimed to be a "feminist," hold with me, if you will for a moment. 

I've always been somewhat unsure of the feminist movement as it is typically explained, due to the simple fact that it typically claims that we are no different than men. The simple truth is that I believe we are quite different from men. It is in this fact that we draw our feminine strength (something I feel all women should be encouraged and even empowered by). Am I suggesting that there are things that men can do that women cannot? Absolutely not. I think these are the gender stereotypes that can lead to the negative connotation. I believe that every woman is fully equipped to take on and succeed in any role in which she takes on; just as I believe that societal norms and preconceived notions can skew incorrectly suppressing some women in a lot of ways. However, I think that our differences are where we find our strength. 

As women, we attain the ability to have several emotions at one time. Are we happy, sad, strong, amused, intrigued, or confused? Whatever we are, as women, we can experience them all at once. We may be sad something is ending but happy it occurred—all at the same time. We may have an emotional response to something but be able to note that we have a physical need such as drowsiness or hunger at the same time—and actually be able to process the two as separate entities. While men are complex beings as well (and I'm certainly not trying to create a reverse stereotype in the process), many feel what they feel at one point and time and focus on that solely.

As women, we are typically more analytic in our approach to situations. Do we sometimes operate by pure instinct? Yes, of course. We are human. We still have access to our innermost basic instincts, but often, we consider the outcomes. We analyze. We even tend to overthink (cue that emotions running wild thing, if you want). But, we look at all sides of the coin. Who will be affected? What will happen if I react a certain way? While we sometimes act irrationally or emotionally, we have often thought the process through. We are thinkers. We are dreamers. More often than not, we have considered all possible outcomes and become okay with the risks involved before asking or acting. On the flipside, most men I have encountered operate by instinct, by the “what’s the worst that could happen?” mentality. It’s a brave one, I’ll give that to the boys, but it’s also one that is alarming—perplexing, even—to us women. Nonetheless, it’s part of what makes us different.

While those are two simple differences, I think it’s a basic call to the fact that we are different—and that that’s okay. It’s perfectly fine to us to have something that is “like a girl,” as long as it’s not perceived as a negative connotation by society as a whole—and that’s the true shame in the whole thing. It’s the part that makes young girls question their identity, the same part that makes women mold themselves into shocking and alarming standards of beauty and conformity that defy who they were meant to be.

Truthfully, there is nothing shameful about being “a girl.” There is nothing that women should question or conform to, regardless of what society tells us. We are strong. We are empowered. In many cases, we call the shots. How many times have we heard it said that someone is “whipped?” How many times have we seen someone attempt to change to woo a girl? How many times have we seen an empowered female completely take charge?

We are strong. And, we are such in our femininity. We don’t have to embrace masculine attributes, "toughen up," change our interests if we like typically "non-girly" things, suppress our emotions, change our looks, or even adopt harsh outlooks on life. Instead, we can embrace who we are. So what if we’re moody, indecisive, and volatile? We’re experiencing complex emotions, considering all possible outcomes, and reacting whenever the world throws us a curveball stereotype of what they think women should be. We’re reacting with strength, intelligence, and all the complexity that makes us great—that makes us strong and unique and female.

We may have once been perceived as the weaker sex, but with each outspoken and empowered woman, we are truly making a difference in the public persona. I commend Always for making a statement and for making us all question what we perceive “like a girl” to mean, just as I commend every woman boldly living her life “as a girl.”

For me, personally, I have always been surrounded by strong women who encouraged me to take pride in what it means to be a woman. I'm incredibly grateful for this influence in my life. Most of my role models and mentors were women. I was raised by a mother who could accomplish anything she set her mind to and whose stubborn determination to get a job done right is still something that serves as a strong reminder of who I am and who I can be. I had grandmothers who didn’t take “no” from anyone, and who fought tooth-and-nail for their place in this world. In my adult life, I have seen far stronger women than I ever imagined. Currently, I work at a woman-owned company, where I see the strength and intelligence of women displayed daily. In our society, I see many places where women dominate a market or an industry. 

I am fortunate, but many are not. Many are oppressed, held down by society’s downcast look at all that is feminine, and I am disheartened by the fact that such a view still exists. Being a girl is not something to disregard. Being a girl is empowering. May we all embrace our identity as girls—as female—and may we all be strengthened by the fact that, while we may be different from men (as I believe we are), we are strong in all that we are, in all that is unique. And, may we all be strong enough—confident enough—examples of womanhood to inspire young girls to embrace who they are. We are all complex, just as we are all ever-changing and ever-growing. We are all bold, and we can all be an example of just how empowering, how exuberant, it is to be “like a girl.” 

I have played sports, graduated as valedictorian, earned a college degree, climbed the career ladder, faced heartache and recovered, overcome adversity, grown personally, and achieved many dreams....all "like a girl," and I'm proud to have done so. I am a girl and am proud of the fact. It's my hope that we can all be an example of feminine strength, living proudly as such, as an unspoken or out loud example to young girls across the globe. Each girl needs a mentor, a teacher, a coach, an aunt, a mother, an example. Be that example of what it means to be "like a girl," and remind each young girl that she can do anything she sets her mind to, regardless of what society says. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

These are the things I no longer wish to understand.

These are the things I no longer wish to understand. 

These are the answers I'm no longer seeking, and these are the questions that I must stop asking myself. 

These are the things I will stop dwelling on; in turn, letting go of these is a key to true happiness. 

Having always had a thirst for knowledge and a desire to research everything, read about subjects of interest, and learn daily, I have come to the point where I have realized that–while I will always be an information seeker and a lifelong student (even when I'm not in a classroom)–not all things are meant to be understood. And, oftentimes, if we try to understand them, we over think, overanalyze and sometimes even obsess over trivial things or things that simply cannot be understood. 

For that reason, I no longer wish to understand certain things. 

1) The what-ifs. 
The past can be a pretty muddled place when we start looking back. While the future is uncertain, there are many what-ifs that can hang over our heads. We can get so caught up in wondering what might have happened if we had taken a slightly different path, if we had stayed instead of left, if we had left sooner, if timing in a relationship might have been a little different,  if we had said "yes" instead of "no," whatever the case may be. It's easy to assume that we might have had the perfect life had we made a few different decisions, but truthfully, our mistakes make us all stronger (and no one really has the "perfect" life). So, while it's tempting to dwell on how things could be different, it's important for each of us to realize that we can't change the past, we will never truly know what might have been, and each experience shapes us. There is a lesson in everything and a reason for everything. We don't have to know or see these things right away, and some of the reasons we may never actually know. Maybe things fell apart because better things are in store. Maybe the path you took will take you to places you couldn't imagine. Maybe you just had to go through something to prepare you for a situation later in life. Maybe there's a second chance down the road. We can't be certain about what's coming; we can only choose to not look back and consider those alternate realities. I'm abandoning my need to consider the what-ifs. They truly are joy-stealers. Things happen, and we grow. We don't need all the answers, and we don't need to let consideration of how things could be better take away from the beauty of today. We simply need to live in the moments, enjoy where we are, and strive toward future growth and happiness.

It can be tempting, addicting even, to entertain these thoughts, but they are toxic to one's wellbeing.

2) The unfairness.
Life isn't fair. I've heard that statement time and time again, and there have been many instances in my life where its truth has angered me. I don't expect fairness from life, but there are times where the magnitude of the unfairness has seemed a bit overwhelming. Even so, while I very much believe in a purpose for all things, I don't have to understand why circumstances are unfair. Yes, I have a love for justice, fairness, and balance. I always have. I like all to be treated equally–and with compassion. Unfortunately, though, good people get hurt. Those who try the hardest or want something the most don't always get it. Things break. People break. Things end. Often, these circumstances happen without explanation, making the pendulum swing even farther to the unfair side of things. Nonetheless, when these things happen, I no longer have an interest in figuring out why life is unfair–or why certain people insist on operating in an unfair manner. 

Why is life unfair? We really don't know, and we may never know...

3) The arrogance.
My biggest pet peeve in life has always been arrogance. I cannot wrap my mind around how someone can legitimately presume themselves better, more deserving of human decency, or somehow higher than another. It is my firm belief  that we are all human, and we all deserve the same basic rights and kindness. Still, I encounter arrogance and hatred often. While I'm still frequently shocked by it all–though I should probably be used to it–I am forgoing my need to try to understand it. I don't get it. I never will. By the same token, some will continue to presume themselves above others and hurt others in the process. It is not my job to understand their point of view or how they can hate someone they don't know or understand, and I will no longer try to do so. 

Just because we may not be able to understand the arrogance or hurtful nature of others, we can offer the world an extra dose of compassion in exchange.

4) The approval process.
While many of us are strong enough in our self-identity to not have the desperate need for the approval of others, I think we've all hit a point or two where we want to hear some sort of affirmation. I try to stray from this, but it sneaks up on me sometimes–as I'm sure it does most of us. While I will always give myself the chastising "don't seek their approval" chat if I ever find myself looking for it, I don't need to understand why we so often do not have the approval of others. The fact of the matter is that the approval of others is not what makes life fun. It does not make life more complete or even more enjoyable. I do not need to understand why others have certain criteria that they think I should meet, or why they think I should be something other than what I am, and I do not need to see what it would take to gain their approval. At the end of the day, aside from my boss, I don't need to have pleased anyone or met anyone's approval. As for my life decisions and my choices that make me happy, I simply need to make sure that I'm not hurting others in the process of being happy and make sure that I'm taking care of my needs. I do not desire to understand the approval process of others when it is my happiness on the line. 

Suggestions on how to live my life? Approval to validate my decisions? No, thanks. We must be strong enough in ourselves to stop seeking approval from anyone else.

5) The "plan."
The future is uncertain; we all know this. We've heard it repeated a million times, and sometimes, the questions of what will come can be overwhelming. No matter how insightful an individual may be, there is no way to see the big picture fully. We can plan all we want, and I'm a fan of general direction plans–such as moving toward personal growth, career advances, and goals–but we cannot map out where we are going. Sure, we should have general direction and enough drive to move us forward, but since we cannot know what will come, we cannot obsess over the possibilities or potential failures of the future. I'm guilty of losing sleep at night, plotting out future workout plans, writing timelines, vacations I want to take, etc. I'm also guilty of stressing over situations that may never actually come to fruition or even getting caught up in a day dream of beautiful things that could come one day. It's important to dream, to work hard, and to move forward, but we cannot let the focus on the future take away from the beauty of today. Whether it's obsessive planning for the future and stressing about made-up problems or pining away about some fantasy that may or may never come, it takes away from being present in the moment. 

6) The actions of others.
While I believe that it's important to put oneself in another's shoes and see where they are coming from if possible, there are times when this is not an option. Much as life is unfair, some people are unfair. It can be because of differing opinions, differing perspectives, or just more of a self-focus. If the actions of another did not affect me, it is of no consequence to me why they chose what they did. It is not my place to understand or judge. If the actions directly affected me, I will attempt to understand. If, after putting myself in the shoes of the other person and attempting to see why they did what they did, I still cannot understand, I will accept the fact that I won't understand. I resolve to still look at them with as much compassion as possible, realize that I won't get it, and work on forgiveness. That is really all we can do when someone acts outside of what we deem to be acceptable in terms of treating us or the ones we love. 

7) The absent apologies. 
I no longer wish to understand why some apologies never come. Sometimes, we're hurt by others–intentionally or otherwise. Maybe they'll ask for forgiveness. Maybe they won't. Either way, we must learn to forgive and move forward, not questioning why an apology never came. It's not our job to figure out if they still believe they were right, if they don't care, or if they simply do not want to admit their mistake. What's done is done; we must learn to be done with it. 


In light of these things, I think it's also important to note that there are still many things I wish to understand, accept, follow, and seek. These are the things that will help me grow and continue to love who I am. I will continue to get to the bottom of my own motivations, my feelings, my actions, and my goals. I will analyze my strengths and weaknesses and work to understand those more in depth to make improvements and make a difference through my strengths. I will continue to figure out day-by-day then follow my plan, my decisions, and my happiness. I will continue to accept the wisdom offered to me by those who are more knowledgable, just as I will continue to place great consideration on the needs of those I love. I will gracefully seek to accept the advice of those who care about me and use those tidbits to guide me when my own knowledge of a situation is cloudy, while still following my heart and not straying from my own identity. And, I will accept today in all its beauty and understand reasons and lessons as they are revealed. These, I will seek to understand. As for the rest, I think it's okay to let go of the need to know the unanswered "why's."

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

11 Truths About Best Friends

Best friends. It’s a concept many try to explain and define. For many of us in our mid-twenties, we have seen friends come and go. We have considered many friends who were not. But, we have seen those who have stuck by our sides—regardless of time passed, miles between us, or other factors.

For me, those who are best friends are the ones who I can count on for certain things, the ones with whom I’ve had certain experiences.

They get my jokes, and I get theirs. Regardless of how long it’s been since we’ve talked, I know that my friends are the ones who will get that those random movie lines, memes, or inside jokes that I choose to text when the moment is right. Similarly, when they send me funny articles or videos of random people they saw in Walmart, I’ll laugh like I would have if we were seeing the sight in person. We get each other, we know what the other one appreciates, and we have similar senses of humor. It’s just a friend thing.

They are there for me in the good times and vice versa.  I got a bonus at work. You passed a test. I had a great date. You got a promotion. Whatever it is, we know that we can celebrate together. No matter what is going on in the other’s world, we’ll toast to you—long distance or in person.

I can count on to them empathize with me, and I can empathize with their life situations.  If one of us is hurting, has suffered a breakup, or has been through something that makes us question our worth, we can count on the other to pick us up. A bottle of wine, a Skype session, or even providing a song perfect for the situation, we’re on it. We’ve got this covered, and we’re ready to rock. Whether it’s offering the truthful statement that “they don’t deserve you,” or if it’s offering support and sympathy, we’re there. We will always be there.

If this is what the other needs, we're happy to be of assistance! 

However, over a pint of Ben & Jerry's, we can discuss what the other one is worth!

Together, we’ve made bad decisions.  We’ve had those moments when we’ve both drank too much, crossed some lines, or done things we shouldn’t have. We’ve seen each other at our worst, but there’s not judgment. Instead, there’s love, and there’s a good story in there somewhere. Together, we’ll tell the stories of the stupid things one—or both of us—has done, or we’ll keep the secrets with a sly smile anytime a subject reminds us of the story. Either way, we’ve grown and learned from these situations.
We know the good, the bad, and the ugly!

We can offer the perfect song to get the other through a given situation.  The fact of the matter is that we know the situation at hand. Without even speaking half of the time, we know what the other is actually feeling about a situation, and can offer up a song to download off of iTunes that accurately depicts the sentiments the other feels without the other actually having to admit our true feelings.

Instinctively, we know what the other needs.  Whether it’s a wine session, a walk in the park, lunch, a chance to talk about that ex we should be over, a pint of ice cream, a beer, a night on the town or on the prowl, or a mindless comedy to forget, we just know what the other is afraid to ask for. We know when the other needs that pick-me-up text or just a night to not think, and we’re happy to offer it. You’re there for me, and I’m there for you. For my friends who are miles apart, it’s like they can just tell when I need something.

We can just tell what the other needs, and we're happy to help however we can!

We’ve seen each other at our worst.  Hungover. No makeup. No pretention. We’ve seen the worst. We don’t judge or think any less. We are friends, and true friends love each other at their best and their worst. For those I’m closest to, I know that, even if I choose to show up in a ball cap, jeans, yesterday’s t-shirt, and no makeup, I’ll be met with acceptance. I’ll always accept them at the same. Appearances cease to matter at the point of true friendship.

We’ve seen each other at our best and will always push each other to that point.  We know what the other is capable of. We know each other’s talents, and we’ll always encourage each other to reach our full potential. No matter what is going on, we know what the other is capable of, and we’ll fight for who you can be. Whether it’s a pep talk you need or a reminder of who you are, we can offer it. We’ll do it for each other when you need it the most. My best friends are those who know my dreams, my hopes, and my goals, and who will not let me forget them—no matter what happens.

We know what the other needs, what the other is capable of accomplishing, and we'll make sure the other knows this. Friends are reminders of what we are worth! 

They can use my family’s names as descriptors.  They know me and my weaknesses, but they also know my family. Having been raised together, my best friends can use my family members’ names as verbs, adverbs, and adjectives. They can ask me if I’m acting like a certain family member or call me by one of the names, and we’ll both know what it means.

They know my weaknesses, and I know theirs.  Some of us tend to fall too hard. Some of us drink too much and dance too freely. Some of us overthink things. Some of us don’t think enough. Whatever your weakness is, your best friends know. Mine know, and will remind me when I’m doing something to the excess. When I’m creating a problem or when I’m trying to perfect things that can’t be anything but imperfect, my best friends will call me on it and direct me to another outlet.

They tell me the truth—whether I want to hear it or not.   Rather it’s about a shirt I want to buy or someone I want to date, they’re not afraid to give me an honest opinion, and I’ll always offer them the same. After all, we want the best for the other.

The fact of the matter remains that best friends are hard to find, and that they are the true values in life. I love all of my best friends, and I appreciate them for the wonders that they bring into my life. They help me learn more about my life and challenge me daily. They are the ones with whom I can always be real, with whom I can always tell the truth, and with whom I can be me—regardless of what that may look like. They are, truly, the chocolate chips of life! 

Leave Bitterness Behind

Jaded. Hardened. Cold. Bitter. 

Call it what you want, but we all know it when we see it. For many of us, we've come face to face with it. We've stared into cold eyes and wondered what made someone that removed. For some, those eyes come from the mirror. 

Our generation has a pretty messed up idea of toughness in a lot of ways. It's considered a strength to be harsh, aloof, unattached. It's considered part of this game we're playing, part of the "challenge." But, life is not a game, and if you're really looking for a challenge, play a game of Jenga after drinking a bottle of wine, train for a 5K, or find another outlet for your competition. Nonetheless, many have taken society's cues and become hard and downright harsh when dealing with others. 

Where does this harshness come from? The fact of the matter is that life will tear each of us down at some point. We will be hurt by another. We will be lied to. We will be cheated, stolen from, used, and left feeling as though we can trust no one. Some bounce back and realize that one bad person or experience doesn't mean that everything or everyone is bad. For others, that's the end point, I suppose. That's where they get off of the bus. That's the point where they check out. That's where they decide that nothing really matters, no one but them is worthy, and there's no reason to really try to be a part of someone else's life. 

Life hurts. But, it doesn't have to harden. We simply have to hold onto who we are.

I've heard it phrased many different ways, but it's all bitterness disguised:

"I don't want to get hurt."

"Everyone hurts everyone."

"I have trust issues."

"I take care of myself and look out for no one." 

At one point in my life, I thought I could understand–and possibly even respect–this hardened nature. After having seen how it affects those closest to the bitter person, though, I just can't. Because, I can't wrap my mind around it. Yes, I respect independence, and as an independent person myself, I find great value in it. But, although bitterness and "trust issues" are disguised cleverly as independence, they're a far cry from legitimate independence. There's more lurking behind those words. It's arrogance. It's self-centeredness. And, those are concepts I've never quite been okay with. 

The fact is, we can all be independent without being cold. In fact, the kindest people I know are some of the most independent. They don't really need anyone. They give freely. They listen. They delight in doing things for others, but they do their own thing. They take care of themselves. They're pretty content alone. The only difference between them and the hardened, though, is that they don't do "their own thing" at the expense of another. They can recognize that, while they're fine on our own, at the end of the day, what matters in life are people. Therefore, bitterness is not the answer. What good are we doing if we're constantly shutting people out, constantly putting ourselves above others?

Am I suggesting that we should forsake our own protection and our own needs for others? Not necessarily. This isn't one of those "be subservient" high-horse, soap-box moments. I'm not saying we forget about ourselves, and I'm not even taking it to the point of saying to always put others before yourself. I do believe that has power, but I'm not even getting that crazy. I'm looking even more basic than that. All I'm saying is that, at the root of our decisions, there should be at least some consideration for what our actions will do to others. I have found that, unfortunately, at the root of this jaded, "looking out for me" mindset, there is little regard for anyone else. Sure, there's much to be said about taking care of yourself and making sure that you are okay, but at what expense? If we allow ourselves to grow so hardened that we hurt others without even flinching, how are we better than those who once hurt us and hardened us? 

We're not. We become part of a screwed up cycle of hurting and of creating a generation of robots who use, cut down, disregard, and cast aside–and who do it all while turning a blind eye and casting a casual, cool, almost clown-like "don't give a damn" smile in the direction of the one we've left in our shadow. If we allow ourselves to become hardened, devoid of any true connection or feeling, and jaded, we are part of the problem. Under this cycle, all we are doing is creating another wave of bitter individuals, and isn't life too short for that? 

For that reason, I believe that true strength is not shown in the hardness of the heart. Instead, true strength is exhibited when one has been hurt and does not allow it to change who they are. Those who are truly strong can still see that each person offers them something different–and sometimes that hurts. Still, they do not completely shut people off. They do not use. They do not become hard. They do not discard people. They do not believe that all people are automatically bad because they've had one–or even ten or twelve or more–bad experiences. They are wise enough to see that there's still good in everyone, and they are strong enough to see the merit of each individual. The strong are those who have been through hell and still realize that people–connections–are what matter most in life. Those are the strong. And, quite honestly, I believe that bitterness has its own glaring aspects of weakness, for it is the weak who allow their circumstances to change their hearts, change who they are, and change the way they treat people. 

If you are jaded and hardened, take a look at why. My guess is, you were hurt. Maybe you were left, maybe a friend turned on you, maybe you had a rough upbringing, maybe you've been let down. All of us have been hurt in some way. Don't take it out on the world, because you trusted one who didn't deserve it, but also don't assume that no one deserves your trust. While you're at it, take a minute to realize the fact that you are still allowing someone who once hurt you to remove future happiness from you. We cannot experience true joy or true connection without at least a little bit of vulnerability, trust, and willingness to look for the good in others. That is how we connect–how we find the happiness of human connection–and it's impossible to do that with such bitterness. Therefore, the one that hurt you so badly–the one who is indirectly causing you to hurt others in the name of bitterness–is still controlling your life. 

My advice (and take it for what it's worth, because it's coming from the one who still believes in tenderness and sees that as a strength):  we've all been hurt. Those who still have that softness have probably been hurt even more often than you have. But, it didn't change their hearts to the extent that they use others or treat others as though they don't matter. Somehow yours did, and that's okay. But, let it go. Stop shutting people out. Stop chasing those who treat you horribly because it's "easier" to feel nothing. Stop running from your feelings. 

Feel. Hurt. Heal. Be tender again. Because, in the process of hardening yourself, your sharp, hard, cold edges cut those who did nothing but care for you. Don't be the reason that another wave of bitterness in born in the world. Instead, be soft enough that you, too, breed softness and kindness. At the end of the day, even if you get hurt, it's worth it knowing that you actually have the capacity to care for another and that you are, in fact, still alive, breathing, and functioning as a human with emotions. 

Be soft; don't be hard. Be kind; don't be bitter. Be warm and tender; don't be cold and cutting. It's okay to feel and experience life. Stop wearing your bitterness as a badge of honor. It is not courageous to be afraid to connect, to feel, and to experience life.