Two Decades to Build a Tribe

Truth Byte #43

“Life is a team effort.”

 

For many, many years, I bought into this lie that I was supposed to be able to do everything.

 

All by myself. 

 

As soon as I launched from my mother’s home into the big, complex world of adulthood, I assumed that I was on my own, and somehow, I was supposed to “make it”. Sure, I had friends and professors and bosses, but the responsibility for my life was now in my own hands, and I had to damn-well make it work.

 

And for a while I did!

 

Well, kinda.

 

I hustled through nine years of academia after leaving the shelter (and occasional mayhem) of my tight-knit family of origin, living on a shoestring student budget and the generosity of my mom’s and aunties’ unexpected and unasked for (but oh-so-needed!) long-distance cash deposits and care packages. Every so often, I would swallow my pride and even reach out to my long-lost dad for a little bit extra to keep the heat on and the gas tank half full and maybe a plane ticket home for Christmas.

 

But I was making it, right?

 

Kinda.

 

In between the late-night babysitting and bleary eyed tutoring jobs, I was getting that degree so I could be that grown up that everyone wanted me to be.

 

But when I met my would-be husband, everything about my solo life changed.

 

For the first time in my life, I felt like I could breathe. I was living back in my mom’s basement, completing my Ph.D. because it was unaffordable for me to continue another year in California while I completed my research and writing phase.

 

My old bed and old room were long gone, and I remember how proudly my sweet mother displayed the faded Mickey Mouse bedding in the new space she had carved out for me in her home. When my face fell, so did hers, and we realized simultaneously that I wasn’t a kid anymore, and yet I still couldn’t afford to really be on my own while I finished up.

 

Huddled in that basement at the unfamiliar desk, I sat, night after night, transcribing interviews, tearing up drafts, and chatting on MSN with the young, patient Chicago Cubs fan who I would one day marry.

 

And today, I can boldly say, I could not have finished my Ph.D. dissertation without his flirtatious encouragement and my mom’s persistent and relentless monitoring of my progress. (Some would call that nagging, but not me, right?).

 

So why am I telling you this story?

 

I want to remind you that you don’t have to do this alone.

 

Once I married him, I was sold. I realized I didn’t have to do this alone. I now had a buddy, a confidante, and a partner in crime who would do half of all the stuff I used to have to do all by myself.

 

And ten years later, I have realized that one person is not enough. It’s just too much pressure!

 

It was only after getting married, having two kids, owning a car, building a career, and buying a house (in my mind, the pinnacle of my personal capacity for “adulting”), that I was ready to take the risk and begin building a tribe of like-minded others. I had friends from my past, we all do, but they all live far away and none of them really know each other anymore. So I decided I needed a local crew, people whose eyes I could look into without a screen between us. I started small with invitations to coffee/tea/smoothie/some-other-drink to larger events like home-grown dinner parties for people I thought I might one day want to let it all hang out with.

 

Fast forward one year.

 

This weekend, I went out for dinner after an incredible workshop that I co-facilitated with three other therapists. Three.

 

For those of you that know me, you know how hard it is for me to share a stage.

 

Three other therapists. And I didn’t hog the mic.

 

During the course of the workshop, I realized how we gelled, how we built each other up, and how we were harmoniously helping the women in the room to come to their own aha’s. And as I looked at them, I didn’t see colleagues or my competitors.

 

I saw my girlfriends. 

 

These were women I had cried with and to, women who had poured out little pieces of themselves into me, women who faced the same challenges that I had, and probably do the same little happy dance in their messy kitchens or pristine offices when shit goes right.

 

At the dinner, I looked around at the table and asked myself: would I refer a client to these women? The answer was a resounding "YES!" Then I asked a bigger question. Would I refer my own brother or sister or mom to these women if any of them needed a therapist?

 

I was stunned to her the same "YES!" at the same volume in my head.

 

I have found a group that I respect professionally, and that I trust implicitly. Even with my own family.

 

Plus, we have fun and like each other’s fiances and husbands and kids and parents – which is important when you are building life-time relationships.

 

Almost two decades after leaving my mother’s house, I am finding my tribe.

 

And it’s such a relief! Though flying solo felt a lot safer, it also was uber lonely. When things went wrong, it sucked.  When things went right, I had very few people to share it with that actually got it. And though at times I am gripped with an irrational fear that they will ditch me unexpectedly, I remind myself that my ego is a tricky saboteur. It doesn’t approve of my vulnerability or this growing intimacy with people outside my tight-knit family of origin.

 

But my spirit knows that this path of life was not meant to be walked alone.

 

And I look forward to the tribe growing and evolving as we all bring back the deliciousness of life and share it with each other, and the world.

 

Curious about who these women are? Check them out: my powerhouse super-mama: Nasreen, my deep soul-sister, Shahaa, and my long-lost giggling girlfriend Jena. And join me at www.talktosaira.com or on Jena and my YouTube Talk Show Today is Your Day if you are tired of the loneliness and want to learn to build a tribe of your own.

From Baseball to the White House

Truth Byte #42

“You have been sleeping, and it’s time to wake up.”

 

Have you had the sense lately that you have been sleepwalking through a pretty pleasant dream, and you have woken up to find the world is not quite how you left it?

 

I sure feel that way right now.

 

Two historic things happened for my American husband this week: the Chicago Cubs won the World Series (first time in 108 years!) and Americans voted in a new president.

 

One event took us to the moon with joy.

 

The other made us feel like we were walking through a cold, terrifying night in Hell.

 

I will let you postulate on which event had which impact.

 

The one event from last week (you know which one I mean, right?) has got me thinking about what it means to be free.  It has me devouring history textbooks to see how societies of old managed belligerent, steam-roller dictators who put the shouts of the many over the cries of the vulnerable.  It has me predicting world events like I am some sort of self-proclaimed political scientist.  Many of my friends and colleagues are using the language of fight or flight.

 

I could go on for pages, but I won’t.

 

Because this blog is all about your own choices, and the truth as I understand it.

 

What I know to be true is that no one can give you freedom.  Just as no one can take it away.  Sure, someone can take your things, take your land, take your family, force you to change you name and your religion, but no one, and I mean not even the Devil himself, has a right to the part of you that actually matters, your spirit.

 

In the most inhumane circumstances, the human spirit has survived, and lived to see another generation of love come forth.

 

Today, we need to wake up and see that we are the creators of our own personal destiny. And yes, we are part of a collective.  We have neighbours and friends and co-workers who have ideas that may be different than our own.  But we also have agency.  We have agency over our actions, our thoughts, and what emotions we let flood our bodies.

 

I would implore, to all my brothers and sisters who believe in the human spirit, now is the time to remember your anti-bullying workshops from high school.

 

Maybe it’s been a while, so let me remind you.

 

Bullies thrive on attention.  They thrive because they get a rise out of people, and they get an audience.  In order to stop a bully you have to a) refuse to react and b) band together.  In the anti-bullying training my son receives at his elementary school, a program called “Bully Back-Off”, children are taught specific words to say to a bully when s/he is picking on someone.  The bystanders are taught something very simple.  They are to stand beside the person getting bullied, and say, firmly and with direct eye contact: “I want you to leave us alone”.

 

They say “us”.

 

They don’t say leave him alone or leave her alone.

 

The bystander joins in and says, “I want you to leave us alone.”

 

And sometimes, a second or third or fourth bystander will join in and say, “I want you to leave us alone”.  And the group keeps growing.  And surprise surprise, eventually the bully backs off.

 

I implore you, let’s remember to stand together, and tell the haters to leave us alone.  The people who will are most afraid are the ones who also will find it hardest to speak when the bullies come knocking.  But if enough of us say, “I want you to leave us alone”, then the bully backs off, once and for all.

 

So enough about that, let’s go back to the Cubs.  Years ago, I attended a game at Wrigley Field.  It was the most incredible experience.  This team hadn’t won in a century, and yet the stadium was packed up to the bleachers, and everyone knew the words to every song and chant.  There was such happiness and hope, and even though they lost that day, I felt like I was part of something so meaningful.

 

Cubs fans never gave up on their team. 

 

And finally, they played the game we were all waiting for, and won it.

 

If we could believe for a hundred years that this team would rise again, just you wait till 2020.

 

We are finally awake, and we are not going back to sleep.

 

More thoughts on “waking up” on my weekly YouTube Talkshow, Today is your Day.

What Are You Thinking?

Truth Byte #41

“Your thoughts have the power to change your life.”

 

Think about who you were ten years ago.  What did you prioritize? How did you spend your time? Who were your closest friends? What was your general mood? Has a lot changed for you or is your life pretty much the same?

 

Have you ever met someone who, year after year, seems to be caught in the same rut?  Are you that person yourself?

 

I am here to remind you that your thoughts can actually transform your entire life.

 

It can begin with a small, general, wishful though, something like “everything happens for a reason”.  Because when you don’t let yourself believe things are happening for a reason, then you find yourself at the mercy of random events happening to you.  And your bad mood tends to get activated a lot.  Your kid misbehaving at a restaurant activates you.  The laundry, damp two days in the dryer, activates you.  The bumper to bumper traffic during construction activates you.  Your spouse’s tone or look activates you.  World events, continents away, activate you. Not having the right kind of coffee whitener activates you.

 

Everything becomes a trigger when you are not consciously directing your thoughts and attention.

 

I have seen this in my clients.  Those who are focused on what they want, and are determined to have an ease-filled life of contentment tend to be more successful in therapy than those who spend sessions ruminating on problems and refusing to see their current challenges in a new way.

 

The thoughts that you continue to repeat in your mind eventually become beliefs.

 

And when you believe something, truly and deeply, you live your life as if it were true.

 

Let me give you an example.

 

Years ago, I truly believed, from the bottom of my heart, that life was about working hard, being disciplined, and being liked by people around me.  I tried everything I could to be nice, to be thoughtful, to fulfill my commitments, and work harder and longer than all my peers.

 

I thought that if I did all these things, I would fit in, make my mark, and be happy. 

 

But in reality, I was very very unhappy.  Though I smiled a lot and never rocked the boat, I felt like a shell of myself.  People close to me didn’t even really know me because I was so busy playing the part of “hard-working-nice-girl”.

 

And then things changed.  In my Master’s program, I met people who were toying around with a whole different approach to life.  They knew how to work hard, sure, but they didn’t prioritize hard work over connection.  They didn’t prioritize being liked over being authentic. They didn’t keep their commitments at the expense of their own health or integrity. They didn’t take themselves so seriously, and they knew how to have fun without the guilty hangover.

 

My world opened up.

 

I saw, in just a few short months as I settled in to life in California with these new classmates, the value of living a life driven by a different measuring stick.  What if connection, authenticity, personal integrity, and playfulness trumped those other things?

 

Finally, my life started feeling like it had meaning.

 

Fast forward ten years.  My deepest belief today is that life was meant to be fun and easy, and that it’s natural for me to feel supported and celebrated.

 

And the more I believe that, the more it happens.

 

And I am not the only one who it’s working for.  There is an entire field in mental health called “cognitive behavioral therapy” that focuses solely on shifting a person’s thoughts and behaviours for a more ease-filled life.  Pair that with “positive psychology”, where the therapist focuses in strengths and enlists the client’s optimism, and voila, a recipe for a better mood and outlook.

 

And your mood does matter.  Because when the exact same traffic jam happens and you are “Zen” about it, the disturbance does not bleed into the rest of your day.  When you are feeling good and your kid or spouse or business partner snaps about something, you see it as a call for help rather than a personal attack.  When you think about tragic world events, you find yourself sending thoughts of hope and help rather than despair and anger.  When the coffee whitener is out, you just choose tea instead.  It was time for a change anyway, right?

 

The choice is ultimately yours: to feel good or not? To change your thoughts or not? To stay stuck or move on?

 

So which one sounds better to you?

 

Ready for real change? Grab a cup of something warm and join me for my weekly YouTube Talkshow, Today is your Day and join me at www.talktosaira.com