Giving Enough and Getting Enough

Truth Byte #66

“Not everyone is as nice as you.”

 

I was raised to be nice. I did not yell at people, I did not swear, I did not gain any pleasure from other people’s pain.  Jealousy, rudeness, and stinginess were frowned upon in my family, and generosity, care, and selfless giving were our pillars. I took on the eldest sister role and learned very quickly to put my wants aside so the littler ones could be happy. We would hunt out the strays during the holidays and bring them home, because my mom felt no one should be alone at Christmas. We always made extra loot bags at birthday parties, because, as my mom used to say, “You never know who’s going to show up!” Read More

Who You Are, Not What You’ve Done

change, self-reflection

Truth Byte #65

“You are more important than your accomplishments.”

I grew up in an immigrant household where only one parent went to university, and that parent was only around until fifth grade. My under-educated, single-parent, working-class mom knew that the best way to secure our future was to push us to do well in school.

So I did.

I did really well.

Ph.D. well.

And because of that, so much of my early sense of worthiness came from my academic success. Preparing that neatly written report or getting the 100% (plus bonus marks!!) on the math test or knowing the teachers adored me was what gave me a sense of identity, a feeling of value. Read More

Sweat and Yoga

Truth Byte #63

“Flexible is the new strong.”

 

I started up my yoga classes again. It has been a few months since I rolled out my mat, because I was starting to feel like an hour of yoga every week was a bit indulgent. After all, I could be spending that time folding the pile of laundry that chronically sits in my guest bedroom, or vacuuming out the backseat of the car (damn kids and their food crumbs) or catching up on emails (over 4000 in my Inbox that need to be filed or deleted) or de-cluttering my garage. So I skipped yoga for months, thinking I would spend the time doing all these other annoying tasks, which, by the way, I never did. I simply took a longer shower and chatted on the phone with my sister instead.

 

But I digress. Back to yoga. Read More

The End of an Era

Truth Byte #55

 

“Everyone changes, even you.”

 

For a long time, I used to wonder whether people could change.  I would have late-night debates with my friends from university about whether lasting change is possible, or if people just put on a show to win whatever life goal they are grasping for without ever really changing the fundamental fabric of who they are.

 

What I learned last weekend is that everyone changes, even me.

 

And I learned this lesson in the most unexpected place: on the ski hill.

 

But wait a second, let me back up a few years.

 

When I was in fifth grade, my eldest cousin took me and a gaggle of other little cousins up to a ski hill.  For an immigrant child, skiing was about the most “Canadian” we could get (besides drinking beer and eating back bacon, neither of which were culturally sanctioned for me as a nine-year old Muslim girl), and maybe playing hockey, a sport that was way to expensive for a “working-three-jobs-each-to-make- ends-meet” parental budget.
Read More

Being the Lighthouse

Truth Byte #49

“Stop trying to make the way you feel someone else’s fault.”

 

Sometimes people are mean. Downright cruel. Sometimes, for no good reason, people pick on you. I have been having this experience lately with my three-almost-four-year-old.  Sometimes she is just mean, for no good reason.

 

So you know me, I hit the research on parenting and child development. Why is she angry? Where is this coming from? What can I do differently? And usually, I am right on point, able to diffuse and re-direct, able to love her through her tests and boundary-building exercises.

 

But sometimes, every once in a while, I take it personally.

 

And that is when s#!t hits the fan.

 

And I tell her she has made me mad, or that she has made me sad.  And then she tells me it’s because I don’t listen to her. And back and forth until one of us is screaming.  More often than I would like to admit, my voice raises louder than I want it to, and suddenly, we are two preschoolers, having a shouting match.

 

This week, my seven year-old (who is also her big brother and takes that role very seriously) called me out on that.  He said to me, “Mama, no one can MAKE you feel anything.”

 

Don’t you hate it when your own words come back to bite you in the face?

 

And I had to admit he was right.  No one can make me feel anything.  People can have behaviours, demonstrations, opinions, and they can act out in front of me, but how I respond….well, that’s on me.

 

That’s what I tell my clients, and now, that’s what my second grader was reminding me.

 

So for the past week, I have been applying this truth to how I interact with my kids.  I know it works with adults because I do it all the time.  Someone acts out or throws a tantrum or says something hurtful or makes a “joke” that’s more like a jab, and I take a breath and decide how deeply I am going to let that one land.

 

I have been perfecting this one with my large, close-knit, extended family. In my family, people love each other deeply.  They are also all up in each other’s business.  A lot.  Everyone has an opinion on everyone else’s choices.  And it really does come from a place of genuine love and concern.  But sometimes, it is a bit too much. It is hard to know, sometimes, whose advice to follow, since so many of them have conflicting opinions. And so, a few years ago, I started to take my mom’s advice, “Listen to everyone, respectfully, and in the end do whatever you want.”

 

My old approach was to argue back, make a case, prove my point. 

 

Now, I thank them for their input, weigh it’s worth for a moment, and add it to my mental pros and cons list for whichever decision I was trying to make.  Because I really do think that sometimes the people who love me can see me better than I see myself.  When I am in clouds of self-doubt, when I am feeling small and unimportant, when I am unsure of my footing, my family sees me as capable and competent and on the right track.  And sometimes I need a reminder.

 

But I also don’t want to get in the trap of always needing their approval.

 

I have been there, and it sucks.

 

Because it’s true, nobody can MAKE you feel anything.  Even good about yourself.  Because when it’s coming from the outside, it doesn’t actually last very long or penetrate very deep.

 

These days, I am admitting to myself and teaching my clients that the way we feel is absolutely, one hundred percent, our own responsibility.

 

Now I can anticipate that you may think something like: “My family member is sick/unemployed/addicted/incarcerated/heartbroken. Of course I am going to feel bad.  And it’s his/her fault that I feel bad/worried/sad for them.”

 

And I would actually challenge you on that one. 

 

You get to choose how you respond.

 

Are you going to join them in their despair and worry, or are you going to be that person who can be the steady lighthouse for them while they navigate the stormy waters of their own tribulations?  Are you going to shine your best self onto their world, or are you going to dim yourself a little to make them “comfortable”?

 

It’s really your choice.

 

I have found that when I go the “dimmer switch” route and stop shining to accommodate other’s insecurities, I end up not being very helpful anyways, and then wonder why I put myself in that situation in the first place. In my experience, it’s better to show up with all systems ready for action, and excuse myself if I am being asked to dim down.

 

Even at funerals.

 

I allow myself to be the steady so people can fall apart around me. (And let’s be honest, sometimes I am the one falling apart.  The point is, I feel my own feelings and don’t get swayed to just go along with the mood in the room.)

 

Now if only that three-year-old’s “NO!” didn’t get under my skin so deeply. In the end, it’s a work in progress, even for me!

 

Want to learn how to take your life back from everyone who has a stake in it? Watch our YouTube show, Today is Your Day and send us your questions and comments!

 

Birds of a Feather

Truth Byte #48

 “Some people don’t know how to be happy for you.”

 

People who know me know I am an exclaimer.  When people tell me good news, my voice rises, my face cracks into a wide smile, and I exclaim.  When people tell me bad news, my eyebrows furrow, my jaw slackens, and the concern is all over my face like an “I’m sorry” card from Hallmark.

 

People love telling me good news.  I think if we had had Instagram when I was at university, much of my feed would be other people capturing my delighted, surprised, oh-so-happy face.

 

But let me back up here. I am not trying to say I am always happy.  What I am, consistently, is expressive.

 

Maybe it comes from a long line of adventurous, immigrant women who had a flair for the dramatic. Or maybe it comes from watching Young and the Restless with my grandma when I was way to young to watch it without giggling through the kissing scenes. Or maybe it’s just that I have always secretly wanted to be a stage actor, and these live-out-loud expressions are the closest I can get.

 

Where ever it came from, this expressive trait is here to stay, and sometimes I forget that not everyone is wired like I am.

 

Recently, I shared some really excited and game-changing news with a family member.  I was met with a blank stare.  I assumed he didn’t quite understand, so I explained why this was such a big deal for me.  To which I got a slight nod and a “Good for you” in a “there-there-dear” tone of voice.  As I reflected on it, I realized I was looking for a big reaction.  But this is a person who never gives big reactions.

 

So my expectations weren’t really fair.

 

A few months ago, I told a different family member about a new project I was launching.  And this person is very expressive.  And I care about her opinion (first mistake), so was excited to have her in on it.  What I got was “Why would you want to do that?” When I explained, her next question was, “How much more money will you make it you do that?” After that second question, I got it.  No matter how many “correct” answers I gave her, she was not going to be happy for me. 

 

She had dug in her heels into her life’s own unhappiness, and was just not willing to let anyone else be happy in her presence.

 

If you talk to this person, she will tell you she loves her life.  She has a successful career and close relationships. She has hobbies that are meaningful and travels often. And yet, there is this air of unhappiness about her.  All the time.

 

For many years, I thought I could change that.  I thought if I continued to be bubbly and loving and optimistic around her, she would soften. I now know that when someone is steeped in bitterness, the road back to the sweet life is slow and deliberate, and that first step has to be taken by them, not me.  It’s their road to walk, not mine.

 

I have walked this hard road.

 

I have lots of good, reasonable, justifiable reasons for being miserable. In less than four decades, I have battled depression, obesity, sexual and physical assault, relationship betrayal, and all kinds of other physical and emotional barriers to my well-being. When I finally got my own inner house in order and reached out to help others, I had to face the glum reality that nobody around me was really thriving either.  Some of the people closest to me were struggling with drug addiction, divorce, death, potential incarceration, and all forms and flavours of trauma.

 

Plus, I had chosen a career in which people spent their time with me talking about their problems.

 

At some point, I had to make a decision about who I was going to choose to be. Was I going to be a feather in the wind, tossed around by the events that Life was throwing at me, or was I going to be the bird, choosing my own path? Being a bird took grit and perseverance.  It also required that I do something that no one else in my world was doing at the time: taking accountability for every part of my life. 

 

I had to examine my wings, and recognize that they were made up feathers. I had to come to the understanding that the events in my life had impacted me, sure, but I could choose whether or not to let them define me.

 

I call this learning how to fly.

 

I had to start re-framing those past events as character-building exercises, and journalled until my hands were raw about the lessons I could look for in them. I had to stop blaming the people and situations that had wronged me, and begin letting the past truly go.

 

I took a course in forgiveness.

 

At the Master’s level, for credit.

 

With one of the world’s leading-edge experts on the topics.

 

Cuz’ if I was going to learn this stuff, may as well throw my whole self into it, and learn from the best. (He has written some great books by the way, if you are interested. His basic intro and the one that changed my perspective on Life pain is “Forgive for Good” by Dr. Fred Luskin.)

 

And I had to make choices in all arenas of my life that would bring me closer to being that intentional bird rather than the victimized feather.

 

So yes, I am expressive. And I get in trouble now because when I sense someone is about to tell me their sob-story, they can tell within seconds that I am going to re-frame it with them. I am not going to sit around and let my friends and family members talk badly about themselves, their partners, their lives, or their choices.

 

I am going to call them out. 

 

Every graduation/closing session I have with a client, we talk about flying. I tell them, through guided images and a simple completion ceremony the following truth:

 

“You don’t need me, or any other therapist. You have recognized that you are not a feather. You now know what’s in your wings, and you have been getting stronger. And now you know how to fly.  You can’t un-learn that. All you need now is to remember who you are, and set a course for where you are going.”

 

And every decision has it’s consequences. One of my consequences is that I have stopped hanging out with feather-like people. Another is that I have found a flock that knows how to be happy for themselves and for me, and shares my flair for expressiveness.

 

And while it’s scary at times to be up here, soaring above the bitterness, it just feels so much better.

 

Want to join me, and learn to fly too? My good friend Jena and I are starting a Get Happy Club. Email me at connect@talktosaira.com for details on how to join!

Confessing My Love in 2017

Truth Byte #47

 

“It’s time to say I love you.”

 

I have been looking at myself in the mirror ever since I was a child.  When I was little, I would admire my sparkly dress or new shoes or the way my hair caught a beam of sunlight and changed from flat black to shimmery, coppery brown.  I would look at my eyes, one open, the other open, both open, both closed but squinting, peeking at myself through the slits.  I would turn this way and that way, and most importantly (because it was the most fun!), I would stand in front of my parent’s full-length mirrored closet and twirl and twirl and watch the fabric of my skirts and dresses float magically and elegantly in to the air.

 

In my mind, I was a real, live princess/beauty queen/superstar, and I loved what I saw shining back at me.

 

When I turned fourteen, and the girls around me started shaving and waxing and plucking and tweezing and adding and subtracting to make their bodies look different, I started looking at myself in a whole new way in the mirror.  As a Canadian girl of Indian heritage, my wavy brown-black hair didn’t fall straight or sit in a ponytail the way the “other” girls’ hair did.  I had frizz and strays everywhere. And there was hair in so many other places that I had never noticed before, like my legs, my arms, my cheeks, my eyebrows, my underarms, my upper lip…even my chin!  My teens were a full-time battle against the hair erupting on every surface. As quickly as I removed it, more would grow.  And this is what I used the mirror for now: to check for hair and pimples, and notice how I didn’t measure up to the slight, svelte, petite, hairless beauties around me.

 

Most of the time when I was around other girls, I felt like a clumsy, hairy, oily giant.

 

I knew I was smart, but that never showed up in the mirror, no matter how had I looked, or how trendy my glasses were.

 

And my twenties were an extension of that. I looked at myself in pieces: okay, nice enough eyes, exotic maybe? Chin, nothing special, remember to tweeze. Legs? Could be more toned. Arms? To skinny. Stomach? Too squishy. And I broke myself up into little parts that I would coax into shape through toning and training and waxing and threading and eating or not eating or push-ups and spandex undergarments all promising me the body that curved in all the right places.

 

I never saw myself as whole, and the parts I did notice were all just slightly not quite acceptable.

 

Fast forward a decade, and up until this summer, I was fighting the same battle. I would look in the mirror and shudder at the imperfections.  All while I was coaching others on self-love, positivity and loving kindness.

 

 I felt like a fraud.

 

This summer I confided my body image stories to a friend who didn’t see me as parts.  She never said, “Your hair looks good today,” or “Your legs look good in that,” or “I can see you finally shaped those nasty eyebrows,” or “Wow! You have gained/lost ten pounds!”  These are some of the many things other women in my life have said to me over the years, mostly out of love and sometimes out of spite or competition, but even the positive comments just made me feel more self-conscious and unattractive.

 

The problem was not really what they were saying, but what I was hearing.  I was hearing: “What matters to me is how you look, so that’s what we are going to talk about.”

 

What was missing was my own capacity to see myself as a worthwhile whole person.

 

When I told this friend “my issues”, she looked at me with raised eyebrows and a huge grin and said, “But Saira, you already have curves in all the right places!” And we laughed.

 

And laughed.

 

And each time I have felt unattractive or ill-fitted since then, I remember that moment. 

 

Because what touched me in that moment was not her comment (she could have said anything, really), but rather her love and acceptance of me pouring through.  She didn’t stop, scrutinize, and give me workout or diet advice.  She basically said to me:

 

“No matter what you think about you, I love you just the way you are.  And I trust you to get there too, in your own time.”

 

Today, she invited me to her wedding.  And not for a second did I consider my outfit or how I would look in it.  All I could think about was how I could support her in making this the day of her dreams, and what I can do over the next few months to lighten her to-do list.  And we had a sweet moment this afternoon where I knew and she knew how indispensable we have become to each other.  I have met a woman who refuses to compete with me, and is learning, like me, to say “I love you” to herself in big and small ways. A sister who sees me as whole and loveable, no matter what my dress size or state of my un-waxed legs.

 

And it’s not that I have never met anyone like this before.  I have.  I was just too insecure and self-conscious to see these women as my equals.

 

I kept comparing. 

 

I kept feeling like the fat/geeky/un-stylish/non-athletic/un-cultured/poor (fill in any other comparison) friend.  I was too afraid of leaping in to utter vulnerability and finding out that my worst fears were true: my love for them was one-sided.

 

So what I learned today, I bring in to this new year, and I invite you, my lady-readers (men, please pass this on!), to consider it for yourselves as you set your own goals and intentions for 2017. When we can truly say “I love you” to that woman in the mirror, with all her curves and lumps and hair and flavour, we can truly and authentically start saying “I love you” to other women in our lives. So girls, let’s do this together.  We can truly open our arms to the sisterhood that many of us have been craving since we were girls playing dress up with our mother’s things, spinning in front of those mirrors years ago.

 

Want to join in person me for more stories and join our newly-forming brother-and-sisterhood? January 19 is the Kick-Off Party for our Get Happy Club in Surrey B.C.!  Email me at connect@talktosaira.com for information and details.

When They Don’t Want Your Help

Truth Byte #46

 

“Not everything is your business.”

 

I am a helper.  Always have been and probably always will be.  So when I hear a cry for help, even a silent cry for help, I spring to action.  I want to heal your pain, solve your problem, and make you smile again.

 

But this winter I have learned that not everything is my business.

 

I come from a very close-knit faith community.  Whenever I go to one of our gatherings, even if I am in a totally different country than where I usually live, somebody in the group will know someone from my family.  We are a community of adventurers, explorers, and pioneers, that left the pain of our poverty behind as we forged new vistas.  We are an immigrant community with international roots, and even though my great grandchildren will likely know little of the cultural ancestry that I have subconsciously marinated in, the rhythms and flavours of “back home” run deep and strong in the caring way we interact, our collective, hidden anxieties, and how we dance and laugh with reckless abandon on the big days of celebration.

 

We have come a long way, both literally and psychologically, and we have a lot to be proud of.

 

But as an intimate, caring community, we are also painfully aware of those who are struggling.  When tragedy strikes in one family, the ripples run quickly through our networks and reach the farthest corners of this planet, all the way to the lands where we came from. Long before the click of a button, our collective information travelled quickly, often with well-meaning embellishment and loving prayer along the way.

 

So when something bad happens to someone in my community, I feel it.

 

And I want to help.

 

But there are millions of us spread all across this blue/green globe. And I can’t save everyone.

 

This winter, I have learned that not everything is my business.  I have sat with people in pain, and allowed myself to be uncomfortable with my impotence.  I have watched the inevitable unfold and been powerless to change it.  I have realized that you can only help someone who is willing to grab on to your hand as they are falling.

 

I now unnderstand that sometimes people unconsciously prefer pain over change.

 

I know this not only as an observer, but as someone who used to live there.  There was a time in my past where I thought I knew everything about myself.  I thought I knew every nook and cranny of my inner landscape, and I had unearthed even the darkest of demons.  I was emerging from an intense few years of personal transformation, and I felt shiny and perfect.

 

And suddenly, the people around me, the people I considered my community, started exploding.

 

Marriages fell apart. Careers were in shambles. Children got seriously ill and injured. Addictions took hold. Friendships deteriorated. Hearts broke. Life just generally sucked for multiple people in my life simultaneously.

 

And I couldn’t save them.

 

I couldn’t fix it.

 

I had all this incredible knowledge and training and experience, and yet I couldn’t help the people who mattered the most to me.

 

Because they hadn’t asked for help.

 

And when they finally did, I wasn’t the one who could get through to them.

 

So years ago, I had to step back.  I had to look around at all those I loved, and I had to make a choice.  Would I spend the next decade furiously trying to fix it, or was there another option?

 

Perhaps I could gently turn back around to the people in my world who were thriving. Could I focus on building something that would last, rather than constantly trying to salvage bits of hope out of rubble of the personal tragedies around me?

 

Even though I kill plants on a regular basis, I know about the fundamental law of gardening: what you focus on will grow.  I was ready to focus on what was already growing, rather than trying to fix what needed repair.

 

And as I shifted my attention, the seeds of hope took root in my heart once again, and my life began to unfold organically. The people who could benefit from my particular flavour of care started knocking on my open door, and the results were incredible.  I was making a real and lasting impact on lives. And those who I couldn’t help also, somehow, began to find their way.  By letting go of the “how”, I stepped aside and the Master Teacher in each person light their own path.

 

Today, my community thrives. The leaders have woken up to the depth and complexity of the issues, and have found solutions that address root causes rather than handing out the sparkly band-aids of the past. I have found my place as the quiet listener who sends prayers and heart and referral letters. And when I hear those calls for help, even the silent ones, I trust that I am not the only one listening.

 

I challenge you this week to take a step back.  What are you assuming about the people in your life who you think need help? Are you giving them enough credit? Can you see their path, even if it’s difficult, as a spiritual unfolding rather than simply a tragedy? Can you focus on their resourcefulness, their resilience, their capacity for recovery? Can you, from a place of true care and compassion, put them in the hands of their Creator, and take a break from playing God?

 

That simple shift will probably make the holidays a lot more enjoyable for all!

 

Questions? Comments? Email me at connect@talktosaira.com