On The Bookshelf – The Joy Plan by Kaia Roman

Joy is interesting. In my own life there have been times joy was plentiful and an easy state of being to achieve – and at other times something that has seemed elusive and lacking. Most recently, I have been in a season of life where joy seems to be elusive and lacking. Some of that can be attributed to the challenges of parenting through the obstacle course that is our reality. But some of it can be attributed to the simple fact that I have a very bad habit of putting my own well being dead last on my to-do list.

True confession – there have been many occasions in recent months when my husband has flat-out asked me what I need to be happy. There was even one specific occasion I can think of where he looked at me and asked, “Where did your joy go?” It’s one thing to know in my heart that I am lingering too frequently in the dark. It’s another thing entirely for the person who knows me best in this whole world, to see me lingering in the dark and put voice to the fact that I have lost my joy. So when I was offered the opportunity to read and review an advanced copy of The Joy Plan by Kaia Roman, I did not hesitate.

The Joy Plan has been referred to as a “practical memoir”. It is part the very honest journey of one woman and part research backed scientific and psychological “plan” for cultivating joy. The combination of these two very different perspectives hooked me from the start. I love the rawness of a well told personal story and my inner geek loves anything that has solid research as a backdrop. Roman delivers on both as she weaves her own experiments in cultivating joy into a deeply personal account of the why and how she sought out and successfully increased her own levels of joy. She then takes it a step further and outlines a plan that others can follow to increase their own levels of joy.

Most importantly to me, Roman is honest. She is honest in how she lets us into her journey. She is honest about the choices she made that were ultimately joy stealers and the choices she made to help replace those joy stealers with joy builders. She does not pretend to assume that her joy plan is “the joy plan”. She shares her experiences, what worked, what didn’t, and provides some tools that readers may choose to use as a piece of their own joy plan – but she all does all of that while managing to steer clear of the “shall and must” territory that bogs down so many self-help type books.

My hunch is that The Joy Plan is a book that I will revisit sections of over and over. There is no doubt in my mind that at this point in my life, I need a joy plan of my own. As no two personal realities are the same, no two joy plans will be the same. Reading The Joy Plan gave me some inspiration and ideas for implementing a joy plan of my very own. I don’t think it will be quite as systematic as Roman’s plan, but hopefully the outcome will be the same. After all, it truly is the journey that counts, not the destination. And since I have a tendency to get derailed by the minutia, having another reminder to embrace joy on my journey is welcomed and helpful.

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Choosing Grace

Should.

That’s a trigger word for me. I know I use it with myself too much, but I make an extreme effort to not use with it other people. In my opinion, “should” feels critical or judgmental. It diminishes the possibility that there is more than one “right” way to do or be or feel. Should lacks empathy and limits perspective. It is a word that has the ability to make a person feel small and question their choices. It is not a positive word.

Clearly I have an opinion on this. But why?

I am my own worst critic. Truly I am harsh on myself. There have been periods in my life when I constantly and consistently “should-ed” everything I did or said, or didn’t do or say. Those were seasons of self doubt. Hand in hand with the shoulds I put upon myself,  I would also absorb the shoulds that that world put upon me.

Life and time and age bring the gift of perspective, if we are open to receiving. Thankfully, those long seasons of self-doubt are somewhere back in my younger days (along with big hair and questionable fashion choices). That’s not to say that I don’t still occasionally slip a “you should” into my own self-talk, but it does mean that I am infinitely better at not allowing the shoulds of the world color my perspective or choices. It also means that I try really hard to not limit the perspective or choices of others – I’m not perfect, but I am certain that should is not a word that passes my lips toward another person very often.

Bottom line? Should removes the space in which grace – toward myself and others – can thrive. And instead of choosing to live by should, I have chosen to live with grace. Dozens of times each day, my inner voice reminds me “Grace in. Grace out.” When I remember to treat myself with grace and treat others with grace, I counteract the shoulds. Living with grace means allowing for possibility and perspective and choices. Living with grace means allowing for mistakes and second chances.

As a parent, wife, daughter, sibling and friend – instead of choosing should, I choose grace. With my voice and my actions – instead of choosing should, I choose grace. In a world that is becoming increasingly divided – instead of choosing should, I choose grace.

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Life Lessons from Anne of Green Gables

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed yesterday morning and noticed that a friend from college had posted about Netflix airing a new original series based on the Anne of Green Gables books by L. M. Montgomery. I “liked” the post, and thought about how it was probably time to begin sharing one of my childhood literary obsessions with my own daughter.

Later in the day, I was scrolling Facebook again and noticed that several women had commented on the original post about the new Netflix series….and all of those women were friends from college. At this point, I added my own thoughts to the comments – including the question “What is it about Anne and Wells women?”

I attended Wells College in Aurora, NY.  At the time I was a student, it was a women’s liberal arts college. (The college became co-ed in 2005.) It was a time, and place, and an experience that shaped me into the woman I am today. It was a magical place and time, (I graduated one year before the first Harry Potter book was published, but in the years since I have been known to describe the college as resembling Hogwarts), where personal growth was encouraged, community was fostered, laughter and tears were shared in equal parts, and grace was lived out loud.

So what is it about Anne and Wells women? If I took a poll of my friends who graduated from Wells, I’d venture a guess that the vast majority of them would say they did read the Anne books as young girls, or at least watched the movies sitting in a dorm room.  Anne Shirley is fearless, unpredictable, intelligent and compassionate. She isn’t perfect. She’s real. She’s somebody I could both relate to as a young girl, and also aspire to be like. The women I went to college with came from a wide range of backgrounds, and we have all gone on to an even wider range of “adult lives”, but there is something at our very core that unites us. It’s a spirit that lies at the center of each of our beings. I recently was back on campus for my 20th reunion, and wrote about that spirit as being Joyful Confidence. Anne Shirley personifies joyful confidence. Wells women personify joyful confidence. That’s what it is about Anne and Wells women. That and the fact that Anne Shirley understood, “Young men are all very well in their place, but it doesn’t do to drag them into everything, does it?” (L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables)

Once I had followed that thought thread to the end, I picked up the next thread. What lessons did I learn from Anne Shirley,  and the other characters in those book, that I want my daughter to learn and own as she is teetering in the space between childhood and adolescence? There are so many life lessons in these books, but these are the ones I want most to pass along to my daughter.

Be yourself and speak your mind, but always be open to people and experiences that may shape you or change your opinion. “I do know my own mind. The trouble is, my mind changes and then I have to get acquainted with it all over again.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island

When you live life with confidence, people will often be influenced by what you think and what you do. Use that influence for good…be a change maker and live with compassion. “We ought always to try to influence others for good.”  ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Life won’t always be easy and you won’t always win, but never be afraid to try. If you learn from your mistakes, you will always come out a stronger person. “Next to trying and winning, the best thing is trying and failing.”  ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Find your people. Build community. “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

No matter how bad things seem, know that there is always tomorrow. Each day brings a new opportunity to be your best self and shape the world for yourself and others. “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

It IS nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it. It is also nice to think about how much fun it will be to share Anne Shirley and her friends with my daughter,  and discover what life lessons she is able to pull from the works of L. M. Montgomery.

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Joyful Confidence

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It’s Monday morning. I returned home late last night after spending 4 days at my 20th college reunion. 4 days away from my family. 4 days with amazing women who inspire me. 4 days in a place that is equal parts natural wonder and historical beauty. 4 days of laughter, memories, tears, and love. 4 days that went a long way toward healing my heart and soul, and gave me back a piece of myself that I lost somewhere along the way.

Several times in recent days, I looked out on the waters of Cayuga Lake and felt a peace that I had not experienced in a very long time. All weekend, I tried to figure out what I was feeling in that place, and with those people, that I had not been feeling elsewhere. Then I sat at the airport last night scrolling through the dozens of Facebook pictures that show me laughing, and smiling, and genuinely joyful and realized that somewhere along the way I had misplaced a piece of myself. Somewhere I lost my joyful confidence.

At some point in my college career I read the following quote from George Eliot, “Hold up your head! You were not made for failure, you were made for victory. Go forward with a joyful confidence.” The concept of joyful confidence struck a deep chord with me and for many years I tried to live my life,  and make both big and small decisions, with the idea of joyful confidence in mind. For a long, long time that worked. I am not saying that I was always joyful, or always confident….there have been many difficult seasons of life in the past 20 years, and during many of them there was little joy and lack of self-confidence, but through everything I never felt like I was unmoored or lacking in direction.

Then came the current season of life. The one in which I find myself trying to parent an adolescent through struggles caused by anxiety and panic disorders. This is a season of life that is messy, and broken, and heart wrenching. It is a season of life in which I have attempted to be proactive, and yet often find myself having to be reactive as we never really know what each day, week, month will be like for our son. It is a season where the need to ease the pain and struggles of my son, have left me very little time or energy for anything else. It is a season of life that has left me – for possibly the first time in my life – feeling unmoored. It is a season of life where I lost my joyful confidence.

Being in Aurora this weekend, allowed me the space I needed to reconnect with who I am and what I want in life – it helped me find my joyful confidence once more. The reality of this messy season I am in has not changed, but I am feeling better equipped for fighting this battle and finding victory.

Life is hard and we’re all a little broken, but how will you choose to walk through this life? If you are feeling unmoored, take some time to find the people or the place that helps you reconnect with who you are and what you want in life. Find your joyful confidence.