You are more than a mind.

Truth Byte #73: “Some things can’t be measured.”

I was a perfectionist as a child.

This was really challenging in the era of pen and paper, before word processing and the delete button were invented. I still remember painstakingly measuring, cutting, and gluing for the border of a title page, and crumpling it up, over and over again because it wasn’t perfect. School was where my perfectionism shone, because it seemed that was one place it was really valued. There was something special about getting 100%, something deeply rewarding.

That, plus my parents were unhappy settling for anything less.

I remember in third grade, I got nine out of ten on a spelling test. My dad was extremely disappointed in me, asking “What happened to the other 10%?” The following week, I came home with all ten words right. I was beaming, so excited all day to show him my test. Somehow,  he had realized that there was an option to get two additional bonus words. So he asked me why I didn’t get the bonus marks too. That fueled me to try for the bonus words every week. I finally did get 120% one week, and my dad said, “It’s about time.”

I could feel the balloon of pride pop inside me. Nothing was ever good enough, and there was going to be no celebration, even if I was more than perfect.

The next year, in fourth grade, I came in second place at the spelling bee, and the word I got wrong was “coffee”. (P.S. Why would they expect a nine-year old to know that word?) I was scared to tell my dad I didn’t come in first, so I didn’t even let them know about it. It was a classroom competition and it didn’t really matter anyway, right? As my teachers congratulated me, I just felt like a fraud and a failure.

My dad left us when I was in fifth grade, and I spent the rest of my academic childhood trying to impress a ghost. The silver medal that I got at the science fair in sixth grade felt like a slap in the face, and it was one more reminder about how I was not, and never would be, number one. Then seventh grade came around, and I spent my teen years getting award after award, prize after prize for my academic achievements. I was often number one. But for some reason (much clearer to me now) the emptiness, the longing and feelings of failure just  didn’t go away, no matter how many bonus marks I accumulated.

Being the best couldn’t fix my family.

It has taken me many, many years to admit to and begin recovering from my perfectionism. And by sharing this story, I am not trying to blame my dad. He was a hopeful, hardworking immigrant whose university degree was not recognized in Canada, and he knew that as a girl, and as a person of colour, I would be held to a much higher standard throughout my life. And so he pushed me, and I am grateful for that work ethic and that love for striving to be the best that he instilled in me.

But in some ways, it really altered in how I viewed myself and the world around me.

So yeah, it’s taken me many, many years to recover. For most of my life, I wore my perfectionism like an armour, like a badge of honour.

As long as I was getting A++ (remember, there’s always a chance for bonus marks!) I didn’t have to feel the pain of divorced parents or a deeply troubled younger brother.

As long as I could lose myself in school, I didn’t crumble under the pressure of helping my mom raise my brother and baby sister, and the sadness of not fitting in with other kids my age, who were actually having a childhood.

By reading a book in the grass, I could manage the embarrassment of not knowing how to do simple things like swinging on the monkey bars or jumping rope.

My school-orientation gave me a place to be when I didn’t feel like I fit anywhere else, I could lose myself in the world of ideas and not really have to deal with the pain of people.

Fast forward 30 years, and now I am a therapist by profession. I did the academic thing, even got a Ph.D., but that didn’t help soothe the lonely little girl in me. What I have realized as an adult is that I am an extremely deep feeler, and for most of my younger life, I used knowledge and learning as a way to escape my feelings. As long as I could stay up in my head, I didn’t have to acknowledge what was happening in my heart.

And now I swim in the waters of feeling. Every single day. And there is no way you can get 100% in this realm. There is no “right” way to feel.

There are some things that simply can’t be measured.

Now, I have no way of really knowing whether I am doing my job “right”. I have no one giving me a mark out of ten, no one pushing me to be better and get those bonus marks. But what I do have is a life raft of hope that I have been building throughout my life. My job is to simply show people my raft, let them sail on it with me for a while, and then teach them how to build their own. There’s no right way of coming back from trauma, no right way to manage loss. There is only the way that works, which will be different for each and every one of us.

When you find yourself stuck in an unpredictable river, use the quiet times to strengthen your raft. When the rapids come, all you can do is trust and hold on. That’s not the time to jump ship. We are in unpredictable times, and some of us are navigating this time better than others. Help each other fortify your rafts, and whatever you do, don’t let go. You may not get bonus marks, but if you keep your head and your heart connected, you will get through this river and have a story to tell.

You can do this, and I am with you.

It’s your life, and only you can live it.

Check out my YouTube Channel, Dragonfly Wellness TV for more inspiration and education to help you get through to the other side. For 1:1 support, contact me at www.talktosaira.com, or join our groups to learn how to build and strengthen your own life-raft with others who get what you are going through.

On Beauty

Truth Byte #68

“Beauty shines, no matter what.”

 

When I was a little girl, I would look at those blonde-haired, blue-eyed dolls lined up on the shelf at Toys R’ Us with an ache in my heart. That was back before the days they realized little girls with dark skin and black hair may need a doll that looks like them to feel normal. I looked nothing like those perfect, pink dolls, and I wondered how I too, could feel pretty.

 

Luckily, those pirated Bollywood films my parents enjoyed on our living-room TV on Saturday nights gave me an alternate version of beauty that I clung to into adulthood. To be beautiful (in my parent’s culture) you mostly just needed those big, beautiful eyes that spoke of love and longing and brimmed to the edge with tears every so often.  Lucky for me, I had inherited those exact eyes from some sexy, demure grandmother in my lineage. Long, thick, black hair and light skin helped too, but the focus in those old-time black-and-white movies was always those eyes, ringed with black eyeliner and full of mystery.

 

I have spent years wondering if I am beautiful.

 

Then this weekend, I delivered a TedX talk called “People matter more than things.”  As I looked at myself in the mirror before going on stage, I realized that when someone is walking their talk, when they are sharing their heart with no walls up, when they are being real, the beauty shines through. Sure, a cute haircut and well-fitted clothing may help, but real beauty is simply undeniable. We don’t have to look a certain way, we just need those eyes – those eyes that reflect our souls.

 

Today I plead with my sisters – let’s celebrate beauty, in all it’s forms.

 

So much of my childhood pain around beauty came from other girls and women, from a look, or a giggle, or a face turned away. My so-called friends would mock my clothing choices, not realizing that I had little influence on which hand-me-down outfit happened to fit my always-growing body.  My cousins, fairest of them all, would encourage me to stay out of the sun because I had a “problematic complexion”. Women that knew my mom would poke my extended, pre-pubescent belly, pinch my cheeks, and chuckle.

 

They all fed into the Toys R’ Us standard, and I truly didn’t fit it.  And though no one directly told me I was ugly, each of these moments made me go a little deeper into my shell, dimmed my shining light just a little bit more, until in my mid-twenties I found myself obese, bald, and stuck in the hell that is also known as self-loathing.

 

My mom was different though. As a child, she always pointed out my eyes, my hair, my heart. She taught me how to dress elegantly, and how to enjoy bright, bold colours. She promised me that one day they would all see what she did, and she stayed the course, even when I was feeling my ugliest.

 

Finally, that day has come.

 

Mothers, protect those precious little girls, let them know that their beauty will shine even while their bodies change and grow and feel alien to them. Aunts, cousins, be kind to each other. It’s not a contest. There is enough room here for all of us to shine. If we do, it simply makes a brighter, more beautiful world.

 

It’s your life, and only you can live it.

 

Lemonade and Gypsy Trips

Self-esteem

Truth Byte #62

“Self-doubt will slow you down.”

 

When life gives you lemons, what do you do?

 

I know when I heard that phrase as a child, I panicked.  I had no idea how to make lemonade. The closest I ever got to that sweet and tart beverage was dumping a can of frozen pulp into a plastic jug and stirring.
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How Yoga Saved my Baby

Truth Byte #56

 

“It’s better to bend than to break.”

 

I have been learning the last few weeks about flexibility. I get moving in a certain direction, and then I have to pivot, to quickly and effortlessly turn on the spot as Life throws me an unexpected, better opportunity.

 

I know, it’s a good problem to have.

 

And I learned this same lesson many years ago, in a much more painful way: yoga.

 

So let me take you back there, to the halls of my graduate program where we were learning about all things spiritual.  One of the graduation requirements was that we adopt a body discipline.  First year, it was mandatory Aikido. Amazing, loved it, but I wanted to try something new by second year.

 

Enter Course 234: Yoga.
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Befriending that Voice

Truth Byte #53

 

“Even in partnership, you must learn to walk alone.”

 

I have an incredible husband. Despite my drama stories to the contrary, he is the most patient, steady, loveable, and supportive guy I know. He rides with me on the roller-coaster of parenthood, the stormy ship of entrepreneurship, and the oft hum drum boredom of long-term commitment. He is in it for the long haul, says the right thing at the right time and always knows how to make me laugh (or at least roll my eyes while smiling).

 

But even in the midst of a truly rich marriage, I have learned that I am alone.

 

And not in a bad way, just alone.

 

Let me explain.

 

It hit me during the first few months of our marriage.  We had been building up to our big day for months, and had waited until after the wedding to move in together. Our honeymoon was perfect, two weeks of uninterrupted time in a tropical paradise.

 

And then we came home.

 

And we had jobs, and groceries, and car payments, and in-laws, and laundry, and all the other little things that “real life” is composed of.

 

At first, I happily played along in my new role as “wife”. But after a while, I noticed that we had separate lives. We work in completely different fields, so there isn’t really any “shop talk” that happens at home.  The poor guy had to explain his early tech projects to me in fashion metaphors, it was the only way I was going to follow along!  We had different work schedules, so the time that we spent at our home just playing was minimal.  But it worked for a while.

 

Then the babies came, one then another. And that changed everything.  Suddenly, we were tag-teaming as we negotiated who would do what for which kid and how we could be impactful and available parents while still trying to build our careers and run a household. And there were moments when I was nursing a baby or driving a little one to preschool or trying to make friends at some mommy-social that I felt so alone. And not in a good way.

 

Somewhere along my journey of university, career, marriage, and kids, I had to face the fact that I am alone. All alone.  Late at night, when I wake up with a start, it’s just me. Sure, I could reach over and shake him awake, or cuddle up with a kid or two, but what happens in my inner landscape is something only I can experience.

 

So why am I telling you this? What’s the point?

 

I have had many clients over the years that are running from loneliness.  Whether it’s a spouse they yearn for, a child, a pet, or some other kind of companionship or love, so many of us are looking to fill the emptiness inside. And what I have learned, both personally and professionally, is that no matter what the quality of our relationships, if we can’t be comfortable alone, those relationships will never be enough.

 

Let me say that again: if you aren’t okay being alone, no one else’s love will ever be enough.

 

Now I am speaking as an extrovert, and I know there are introverts out there who are probably thinking: “I am TOTALLY fine by myself!” And that may be true for some.

 

But for all of us, no matter what our social leanings, there is that corrosive voice inside that we don’t want to be left alone with.  You know, that voice that tells you that you are a failure, that you are screwing up, that you are a fraud and a fake, and that all your plans will ultimately fail.

 

That voice.

 

When you can learn to be in the presence of that voice and just not believe it, then you have really arrived.

 

Then you have a hope in hell of letting someone love you all the way, and being able to love them back without walls.

 

So this week, I challenge you to face that voice. To look deep inside into the part of you that was planted a long, long time ago, and really hear it. Hear the pain, the hopelessness, and the judgment. And just let it be.  Don’t “technique” it away with all the self-help tools you have collected (journaling, meditation, positive self-talk, etc. etc.), just be with it.

 

See what happens. 

 

See if you can sit in that uncomfortable place of self-attack and find another way, find another truth. Because until you do, you will be looking for someone else to drown out that voice. And no one else really can.

 

Ultimately, the only relationship that matters is the one you have with yourself.

 

And isn’t it time to listen to the most important person in your life: you? Even if you don’t like what s/he has to say?  Of course, there are ways to be supported in this task, and many people seek out counselling to have a reliable and consistent framework as they move through befriending that voice, so if you need that support, get it.

 

And in the meantime, keep looking inward. It’s where all the answers lie.  More at www.talktosaira.com

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!

 

Want to keep crawling?

Truth Byte #44

 “Evolving means un-learning.”

 

I have been watching my kids, and how quickly they learn.  One of the critical skills they also need for success is to be able to un-learn.

 

Let me give you an example.

 

When my fist little guy started crawling, it was bells and whistles all around.  We were so excited and encouraging of him, and finally he could get around on his own, kind of.  A few months later, he was mastering a new skill: walking.  As expected, we celebrated with whoops and hollers when he mastered the wobbly dance of one-foot-in-front-of-the-other.
And for most parents, that would be that.

 

But since I am obsessed with the human potential for growth and change, I couldn’t leave it at that.  I was really interested to see how he would make this transition.  After all, he had spent months getting his muscles and mind to work just so to be able to crawl, and now he had to forget all that (or maybe build on it?) and move to a completely different skill.  Sometimes he would opt to crawl instead of step-step-fall, especially at the beginning.  But as time passed, he chose the “easy way” less and less, until the point that he could say to me “Mama, crawling is for babies”.

 

My daughter, on the other hand, had a different learn-unlearn trajectory.  She learned to sit up, then scooch forward on her bum, and one day she just stood up and walked.  Once she started walking, she never went back to scooching.

 

She is better at un-learning things.

 

And I see this in other aspects of their personalities.  When he makes up his mind about someone, he interacts that way with them for ever and ever.  So if he likes you at first, he likes you forever.  And if he doesn’t really like you, too bad. But with her, she gives you a fresh chance every time you meet her.  She will adore you one day, and then be distant the next.  She has un-learned who you are and what you mean to her as soon as you are out of the room (though, like most kids even she has one or two favourites).

 

And while her life seems more tumultuous (she is three after all!), she is also living in the moment a lot more, rather than being informed by the past.

 

I have seen how as my children develop through their natural developmental stages, they become less adaptable, less able to unlearn.  It’s almost like Nature is saying, “You tried that before, don’t make that mistake again, if you want to stay alive!”  And they haven’t even hit double digits yet!

 

And so fast forward to you and me and the adults all around us.  Many of us have spent decades learning, and not too much time un-learning.  Even when what we had initially learned has become maladaptive, we continue acting that old, safe way.  We continue to crawl, even though we suspect walking would get us there faster.

 

The first requirement if you really want to grow is to be willing to un-learn.

 

Which means you have to be willing to say, “Maybe I have been wrong about this or that.”

 

And for some reason, for certain people, admitting they are wrong is worse than ‘being a baby’.  It’s just plain out of the question.  They continue to trudge along in their usual, unhappy, unfulfilling way of doing things, judging the people around them as ‘uniformed’ or ‘living in the clouds’ or ‘clueless’ or ‘lucky’, while day after day, they insist that their way is the only way and the rest of us should stop running forward into this great glorious life and crawl instead.

 

On our hands and knees.

 

Feeling bad about everything and doubtful about ever reaching any of our big dreams.

 

You may have people like this in your life.  I sure do.

 

When I run in to them (which happens more and more infrequently, I must say), I remember my infant son.  Maybe one day they will decide to take the first few difficult steps, and I will happily be there for them as they master the new skill.  But I can’t keep pretending they are so accomplished when all I see is crawling and complaining, year after year.

 

I can no longer play along with that lie. 

 

I have also learned, through painful mistakes, not to call them ‘babies’, and feel somehow better or ‘more advanced’ than them.  This is a really slippery slope in the field of personal development.  We hear phrases like, “Oh, she’s just not there yet” to help explain the closed hearts and minds around us.  Here’s what I have discovered: some people genuinely do not want to be there.  They are happy where they are, and don’t want to be told that there is a way out of their drama.

 

It’s not fair for those of us who can run to taunt the crawlers. 

 

All we can do is keep running, keep laughing, keep playing, and trust that if they are meant to stand on their own two feet in this lifetime, they will.  And if they don’t, it’s not our personal failure.  It’s simply the unfolding of their journey.

 

Human consciousness is evolving.  And for those of us at the leading edge of those changes, we will have to un-learn, and un-learn fast.

 

My challenge to you this week is this: think of something you believe, from the bottom of your heart, to be true, that is making you miserable (for example, germs are everywhere, or life is short, or success takes hard work, or there will always be poverty). I would challenge you, just for a week, to see if you could unlearn that fact.  Pretend, just for a week, that something else could be true instead.  See if you can challenge yourself to un-learn the “truths” have you have been entrenched in for years.  Self-reflection, followed by conscious evolution is the way out of personal chaos, so today, “I’m starting with the (wo)man in the mirror.” How about you?

A Smile Goes a Long, Long Way

Truth Byte #39

“It doesn’t take much to make someone smile.” 

 

Today, I read a story to my 3-year-old daughter as she waited for her dance class to start.  While we were reading, three other little girls and and older brother that was dragged along for the carpool snuggled up around me and secretly listened.  I invited them to join us (as if they already hadn’t), and their faces lit up.  Someone noticed that they were interested and invited them to join in.

 

That was all it took. 

 

As the dance teacher came out in the middle of our second story and the girls ran in to class, the older brother, who was about four years old, was left with a half-read story and a pile of ballerina books.  He shyly leafed through the book I was reading to them, sneaking glances up at me.  I asked him if he wanted me to finish the story.  His face broke into an ear-to-ear grin as he nodded enthusiastically.  So I sat there, for just five or six minutes, completing the story with this little big brother.  And he smiled the whole time.

 

There are a lot of things we can do to make each other smile, and most of them don’t even take five or six minutes.  The easiest thing is just to smile to ourselves as we look out onto the world.  Have you ever noticed a happy stranger?  The people who walk around in the world just looking like they are at ease with everything? That’s who I challenge you to be this week.

 

But here’s the catch: it’s hard to be genuinely happy if you are

  1. Beating yourself up about something
  2. Judging other people

 

And really, those are the only two barriers.  I know this because I have met and counselled people who have every reason to be miserable, and yet, have found a way to maintain positivity.  I have also met people who seem to have all the good things, and yet their “inside voices” are like pure acid.

 

Smiling, and being willing to seeing the world through the filters of hope and positivity, is simply a choice.

 

And for the scientists out there, here is a brain-science tidbit: your mind can’t really tell the difference between a fake smile and a real one (even though your best friend probably can!) So at first, it may just be about a fake smile.  Eventually, you really will start feeling better.

 

And I am not encouraging you to be inauthentic, or just put on a happy face.  I am a true believer in showing up as you are, and being the real you.  However, there are always a variety of ways to look at any situation, and if you really look for it, there is likely a reason to smile, even if it’s just because you are smiling at the irony of it all.

 

And if it’s too hard to smile in the grown-up world that we have collectively imagined and then created, take a break from it for a while and go hang out with some kids under six.  They will remind you about wonder and curiosity and being happy for no good reason.  No kids in your vicinity? Enter YouTube.  Hundreds of videos of kids just being adorable, lovable, and laughing uncontrollably.

 

Rather than furrowing your brow at the latest world news or family drama, what if you just allowed yourself to hang out with happiness and smile?

 

It will probably make you feel better.

 

And it may even rub off on someone around you.

 

It’s your life and only you can live it!

 

Check out my weekly talkshow for inspiration and practical advice on how to live a happier and more effortless life.  More at www.talktosaira.com.