This Thing You Call A Risk

You know that girl who lives the charmed life? She has every detail of her future peacefully and perfectly planned, and rightfully so, as it was all thoughtfully stacked in a tidy pile before she was born. Between her college fund and her trust fund, she has no need for exploration or finding her passions. Her life is mapped out before her, and she easily journeys along to the finish like a game piece in a friendly game of Candyland but without those infuriating cherry pitfalls (you know, the stuck spots in the game.) No offense to this charmed individual who glides effortlessly through life following the unwritten instruction manual, but I am beyond thankful I am not her. I feel certain she is more a facade than a real girl with a real life anyway. Life is full of mountain and valleys, twists and turns, dead ends and open highways regardless genetic fortune or socioeconomic status. Without life’s ups and downs, there’s no reason to take risks. Without risks, we never learn to fearlessly pursue our hearts’ desires. My adult journey looks much more like bidding blind nil in a game of spades than dominating a whimsical child’s game. The past decade of my life has been speckled with risky decisions due to a tug on my heart that always turns into a beautiful mess of expression and self-discovery. We all battle feelings of mediocrity. Why not bust out of our feelings with boldness?

At 21 years old, my fiancé had earned his title by explaining that he believed when you’re ready to be with someone, you know, and waiting to marry me was a waste of time. I, in my education and career focused state of mind, had planned to complete my PhD before even considering marriage (still waiting for that opportunity to be dropped on my doorstep), but I figured when you find a charming, daring, and handsome redhead, you don’t tell him “no” to forever. As I researched and pursued graduate programs, my heart’s desires led to fixation and certainty of an out of state program. I knew it was the fit for me, even with the out of state tuition. I remember the panicked look on my young finance’s face when I showed him my tuition statement. Nonetheless, I was unshaken. In my heart, I knew where I was meant to be when the fall semester blew in with the changing leaves. Only hours after opening my hefty tuition statement, I received a call from the department head of my graduate program who offered me a graduate assistantship for which I had not applied. This position included part time pay and 100% tuition compensation, including out of state fees. This is how I began to free fall into adulthood in good faith.

Halfway into my graduate school journey in that program my heart so desired, just in time to begin my first clinical semester, my husband was called to interview for a job position back in our home state. This position would allow him to work alongside staff he already knew, respected, and trusted and with students both of us believed in deeply. After thoughtfully weighing pros and cons, it was clear making that major life change would not be a logical move for us. I was at the point of no return in a graduate program where I was growing and thriving. Beyond that, the move would mean a significant pay cut for our household (not that it was impressive as it was). Prayerfully, we took the risk anyway because our hearts were bent in an unreasonable way. Shortly after moving into our old, fixer-upper small-town Mississippi house and completing significant cosmetic renovations but with many more costly renovations to come, we left for a fundraiser not knowing that as we turned the key, our feet were walking out of our home as we had known it for the last time. An EF4 tornado literally opened, crushed, and ripped our home and belongings into chaotic tidbits. Moving across states was a huge risk, and there we sat, broke (I still laugh in disbelief about how little money we had to our names), exposed, and homeless. It only took moments for us to pull ourselves together in trust that we made the right decision to move to this state, this city, this neighborhood, and this house. Days later, we sat down with a dear friend of ours who happens to be a phenomenal architect. We planned to rebuild because we felt in our hearts we were in the right place, even when people made hasty comments about how we could choose to move to a “better neighborhood.” Later that week, we were called by a new HGTV television program who wanted to help us rebuild our house. Exactly two months after losing our little fixer upper to a natural disaster, my husband and I moved back into our home except this time it held the functionality necessary to eventually provide shelter and stability for our growing family. Our hearts said, “go,” and though no part of taking those steps was painless, I have no regrets. This move gave us our home which is a lot more important than the walls and roof of our house.

Only a few years later, I had just completed my M.Ed. where I was named most outstanding by my faculty. I had served as an officer in my program’s honor society chapter, and I had built important connections and relationships… in that state. Here I sat in my rebuilt house in a state and area where I would have to start over professionally. While diligently completing job applications and trying to find balance in living in only one state and home again, a friend announced that he needed a couple to take on the role of exchange parents for a teenage Belgian female. Everyone told me I was crazy to consider bringing a stranger so close to our age into my home and under my supervision, but I had this stirring in my heart that assured me this beautiful new home wasn’t simply for my comfort. Responding to the call of my heart is how my husband and I became possibly the youngest, most nontraditional exchange parents in history. The result of this risk was a lifelong best friend who has become, is, and will remain our companion in international travels. She is my soul sister, and I can’t imagine a life without knowing her calm spirit and adventurous passion for life.

Taking chances has been a part of our story since long before our young marriage whether we realized it or not. My husband and I have had a stirring in our hearts independently and as a couple to the adoption cause for more than ten years. As I slaved away ceaselessly as a community mental health counselor over the years, my heart was bent toward the issue of sibling separation. More than 5 years ago, my husband and I vowed to adopt siblings before attempting to conceive biologically. This choice lost momentum and simplicity as the years passed, and we experienced major hardships, namely a parent undergoing a liver transplant (donate life, friends) and another parent suddenly and unexpectedly dying at a young age. People have expressed question, disbelief, and judgements over our risky decision to begin our parenting journey as a foster to adopt household rather than taking the more obvious path to building a family. The result of this risk has been a lot of hard life lessons, a lot of pain, and immeasurably more beauty and blessings. My daughters were the missing pieces to our family’s puzzle.

Before I began this risky journey, I was owned by anxiety. Every choice I made was primarily influenced by fear of failure, fear of judgment, and fear of mediocrity. The secret is this thing you call a risk, I call faith. I take risks in good faith that the stirring in my heart is more than a feeling. Playing it safe and following the rules and basic social protocol may produce success, but taking risks produces freedom, confidence, and fiercely fulfilling relationships. I watch my daughters trust fearlessly when they enter novel situations, such as starting a new school mid semester or jumping off a 20 ft. ledge into the river. I admire and aspire to such fearlessness and faithfulness. Friends, if you’re feeling the weight of your mediocrity today, I challenge you to take a risk. Create your own reality in a world full of pain and destruction. Do not let fear and anxiety own you. To reach a destination of happiness and fulfillment, we must first own the courage to take a leap even if the free fall feels scary rather than thrilling. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.

Starving for a Break

You know those families who are always trying to keep up? They buy huge unaffordable houses to fill with a plethora of unaffordable objects. They buy comfortable oversized luxuries vehicles only to transport them to school and work because they’re so strapped financially by monthly payments that they cannot afford to wander anywhere else. Life is so STUCK that the individual family members gradually smother each other and themselves in things while they are clueless to the reality that they are all starving for a break from it all. Trying to keep up leaves amazing people feeling completely mediocre every time. We all know these families who are drowning themselves to keep up with the Kardashians, but what about those families who try so desperately to save money and make frugal decisions that they miss out on life as well? What began as good intentioned rational life choices transformed into a group of “no guys” who do not remember how to take chances. They are so busy saying “no” and sitting in their reasonably priced homes on discount furniture eating off brand popcorn and watching free movies that they too are overwhelmed by feelings of mediocrity and starving for a break.
Confession time: my household struggles lean a little more toward the off brand popcorn, free movie scenario described. We try to be mindful of where we spend our money to emphasize the important parts of life (in our opinions): nature and travel. Our time on this planet is short, and my husband and I feel it’s our responsibility to teach our children how to respect the natural gifts we’re given and to always wonder about and explore the world around them. In an effort to begin our children’s worldwide explorations, we’re beginning to plan their first international trip. Next summer, the six of us (because of course our first daughter-Belgian former exchange student-has to join us in our international adventures) will backpack Costa Rica visiting and exploring beautiful rain forests, waterfalls, volcanoes, and beaches. As we’re currently undergoing major career and life transitions, the financially responsible decision for this summer was to stay close to home and focus on the beauties of our home state, but friends, we were starving for a break. Our small home overflowing with emotional distress, fears of change and instability, and typical family stressors was bursting at the seams, and it was worth it to take a short beach vacation.

One of my beautifully complex daughters has been struggling with our adoptive journey in a unique way lately. Her struggles, though so easily empathized, have manifested themselves as manipulative, hateful actions that have left each of us feeling powerless and mediocre. For the past two to three months, every decision or action taken in our home has been dictated by fear of her outbursts, and we have served her a large helping of tough love that hurts me infinitely more than it hurts her. Our little beach escape offered us life’s greatest gift: perspective. We are all on the same team again. We are a whole and healed family who built extravagant sandcastles, danced at sunset, rode waves on an oversized watermelon float, night swam, and even practiced mindfulness in the breaking waves. Taking this break gave us a chance to dust ourselves off and get back up again. My beautifully complex, terrifyingly angry daughter smiled ceaselessly for four days. Her sisters forgot they were resentful of her. I forgot just how exhausted I was by our unique hardships. Most importantly, we took the time to stand in awe of creation much larger than we are and remember that in the midst of our personal storms, the world keeps moving. It’s okay. We’re okay. We may be a mediocre family, but our purpose is far from mediocre.

Balance is such a crucial part of life. Whether you’re a starving college kid, a single young professional, a parent of three, or a retiree, focusing all your attention on work, money, and success is never the answer. I’ve heard it said that even focusing on family too much can be a downfall. I think the importance is in which aspect of family you’re focusing on. I’m somewhere in the middle of these life stages, and we’re also somewhere in the middle of how our household focuses our attention and spends our resources. I am certain we will not survive our personal family hardships if we block ourselves into a trap of mediocrity due to focus on unimportant parts of life.
Friends, take a vacation. If you don’t have time, make time. If you can’t afford it, adjust your standards. Practice yoga on the beach (even if you look crazy). Dance in public (even if you have no rhythm). Eat a double scoop ice cream cone (even if it blows your diet). Leave your phone in the room (even if you have a work deadline). If you never unplug and focus on the people and landscape of your life, what are you working for anyway? If being mediocre means offering my children a balanced life, I choose mediocrity. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.

These are the Tales of Worried, Torn, and Confused

You know that person who has wronged you beyond forgiveness? This monster has hurt you directly, intentionally, and aggressively. Worse than the malice behind the crime this person committed acts that not only hurt you and send your life into a tailspin, your loved ones are also writhing emotionally. The pointed attacks that have been launched against you leave you sleepless at night questioning your relationships and who you are altogether. How should we cope with these painful relational encounters? Should we seek revenge? Should we cut the unforgivable person out of our lives entirely? Should we forgive and move forward? Though I realize it seems very clear that I’m setting the path to preach on the topic of forgiveness, that is not what this is. Let’s talk about foster care.

All families have struggles. All families have secrets. In my family, both struggles and secrets run deep and scar even deeper. Our struggles not only leave scars on our relationships, they leave me feeling deeply mediocre as both a mother and a human. My husband and I are fostering to adopt our three radiant, courageous, and endearing daughters. I am offering a glimpse into our personal pain and struggles by calling each girl by the primary feeling that dictates her life though we are faithful and sure that their days as foster children are nearing an end. These are the tales of Worried, Torn, and Confused.

Worried is a wise and enlightened child. She is undeniably strong and reliable. Though she is only a young child, she could be trusted to care for other children. In fact, she did a decent job with childrearing before she ever started Kindergarten. Worried understands some heavily important adult concepts, namely selflessness and encouragement. Day after day, she aims to help, serve, and please those around her. Worried sees the good in people, and she is not afraid to hand out compliments and encouraging words as she feels them. The pain that makes Worried a worrier lies in the reality that she did not meet her mommy and daddy until she was in the second grade. Though she has known many important people and families over her short life, many whom she misses and remembers fondly, she never experienced the ease of having someone in her corner. She never had someone make sacrifices for her wellbeing. She never had someone kiss and bandage her scrapes when she fell out trees or from roofs she probably should not have climbed in the first place. Worried does not believe she is ever going to live a day without fear and worry of losing all the safety and beauty of her life. Worried believes she will have reason to worry forever.

Torn is a brilliant, imaginative child. Torn is careful and calculated in every task she attempts. When Torn is corrected by an adult, she twists and bends the correction around in her mind until she molds it into a successful outcome. I am convinced that there is nothing in this world that Torn cannot master. She is thoughtful about every activity she encounters, from learning to read to choosing when to show affection. Torn is perceptive and sees people as they are beneath the surface, and when she shares her love, it is impossible for anyone to withhold their own heart from her. Torn is a survivor. The pain that makes Torn feel so torn lies in the reality that in the past, every time she gave her love away, the holders of her love were ripped away from her life. Though she loves her family and friends and sincerely thanks God for her beautiful life, Torn does not believe she can keep the happiness. Torn cannot make sense of all the pain in her life when she experiences happiness. Torn fights the ones who love her day after day because she does not believe she will ever stop feeling torn long enough to embrace the love.

Confused is a deeply joyful child. She is possibly the happiest child one could ever meet. She does not whine, complain, or hold grudges as most children do. Confused gains favor and makes friends through every door she enters, from the grocery store to her daycare. She loves all her people fiercely, freely, and wildly. She holds no fear of pain or consequence, and she always knows where she stands with people because she unapologetically calls the shots in her relationships. The pain that makes Confused feel so confused lies in the reactions of others. Confused doesn’t understand why Worried worries about her all the time. Confused doesn’t understand why Torn both physically and emotionally stiff arms her without warning. Confused doesn’t understand why people say her mommy and daddy aren’t her real parents. Confused understands so simply and clearly that though her mommy and daddy did not make her biologically, they are really her mommy and daddy. Her parents and sisters work hard to  ensure that she knows the truth about her past and other facets of family. Confused experiences confusion because she believes the rest of the world needs to get it together and just be happy instead of getting hung up on details like last names and biology.

My greatest gift is being the mommy of Worried, Torn, and Confused. I hate the pain they experience due to careless adults in their past. I hate the insecurities they feel due to the broken foster system. I hate how they attack me when their pain is too intense because it is a mother’s job to take all the hard punches. I know that the cure to the pain is not revenge. Taking out my pain on my children or the people and systems who have hurt them cannot be the answer. If I am honest, giving into anger is the act that leaves me feeling the most mediocre of all. Pretending children battling loneliness and hopelessness in foster care do not exist is also not the answer. Apathy is nearly as weak and powerless as anger. Friends, love is the answer and solution to pain.

As a therapist, I have always believed and reiterated with child after child that our hearts do not stop growing or fill up. The more people we encounter and lend empathy in our lives, the larger and roomier our hearts grow. Friends, don’t be afraid to love. I have found reasons to love the people from my children’s past because I believe love is the answer to coping with my pain. When my children’s pain overwhelms them, and I get caught in the line of fire, I just try to love them harder. No matter how mediocre we feel, our love is not mediocre. Our hearts are stronger and more powerful than we realize, and even the most shattered heart can heal with time. Love ceaselessly. Love large. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.

I Meant YOU Can’t Be Perfect, Not ME…

You know that woman who is basically a walking, talking airbrushed fitness ad? As you reflect on the message of strong, independent females throughout your life preaching, “the women in those magazines aren’t real; it’s photoshop and camera angles,” she struts past the pool with flawless muscles flexing in the sun (no stretch-marks, cellulite or jiggle to be found). She is always full of energy and encouragement as she shares her gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, FLAVOR-free recipes with her girlfriends after finishing her seven-mile run and before hitting the gym. You run into her at lunch while you scarf down a burger before rushing back to work, and she kindly invites you to join her for yoga while calmly consuming her perfectly proportioned rabbit food. The worst part of knowing this woman is realizing she has birthed multiple children and is five years older than you are, shooting bullet holes all in your book of excuses for being a mediocre looking woman of a certain age. I am certainly not this Miss Fitness perfection package described. I am admittedly more the person who finally accomplishes a one-mile run after talking about it for three weeks and celebrates by binge eating health food and soaking in self-loathing because I am just so mediocre and disappointing. Though I am not the Miss Fitness perfection package we all know and adore, I know something about her. She has the same “I’m never enough” struggle I do because we are all struggling with feeling mediocre when the reality is we are just normal.

It’s one thing to know that there is no such thing as perfection. It’s another thing to tell your friends or children to accept their mistakes and move on because there’s no such thing as perfection. It’s a whole different ballgame to accept your own flaws and missteps because, “I meant YOU can’t be perfect, not ME.” Our culture focuses so one-dimensionally on achievement that we often forget to appreciate life’s lessons and the journey to self-awareness while we’re watching a post-game-film of our lives criticizing any step that didn’t result in numbers on the “life goals” scoreboard. Education and career are common areas of life where mediocre people like myself feel inadequate.

I was the kind of kid who would punish myself for B’s while my parents stared at me blankly and confused over my emotional response to an above average mark. While we’re on the subject of parents, let’s talk about my problem with authority. When we hear someone has a problem with authority, we assume they don’t like following rules. I have this other problem with authority; I’m a bit of a parent-pleasing teacher’s pet. Whether I was working hard for straight A’s, serving as an honor society officer, focusing on achieving the highest honor among my graduate class or aiming to meet the highest production standards at work, I have always aimed for academic and professional perfection. I am consistently kind, empathetic, helpful and efficient in a professional setting. I get the job done, help others and steer clear of workplace drama. Even so, my first wake-up call about my professional imperfection existed in the form of not one, but two administrators of the facility looking me in the eye with disapproval. One facility administrator who I barely knew stated, “There’s been a complaint about you by a client who claims you triggered her and made her want to kill herself.” I was dumbfounded. Not only did I barely know this administrator, I had not worked with the client described in nearly a year, but when I did work with this person, we had an excellent rapport. I had simply referred this individual to more intensive mental health services due to an increase of symptoms and a request to be seen more frequently than I could offer as an outpatient clinician. The administrator reminded me of a detailed event in the previous week when my previous-client (standing beside the current clinician) greeted me loudly in a crowded lobby in the community. I politely responded with a casual, “oh hey, how are you?” to which she responded, “I’m suicidal.” As over a dozen pairs of eyes glared in our direction in shock at such a candid yet heavy response, I awkwardly said, “Oh man, life…,” lost the words to use, made eye contact with the current clinician and swiftly escaped the searing awkward of the lobby. The not one, but two administrators explained how I had failed to show proper empathy in the situation and continued to explain that they expect more from me as an excellent clinician and employee. Though I knew that the situation described was unique, and my reaction was far from malicious, I left the meeting with not one, but two administrators with the words, “you’re never enough,” ringing almost audibly in my head while I moped in my mediocrity. My career has continued down a path filled with obstacles and learning opportunities, as well as achievements, because being the best professional I can be is not textbook. Sometimes making mistakes shapes us into better versions of ourselves. While I’ve come to understand and accept that I will never reach physical or professional perfection, the area of perfection-striving I struggle with most is my relationships.

My greatest strength in my relationships is synonymous with my greatest flaw (life hack: accept that this is most likely true of you as well). Confession time: I love unbelievably hard. This means if I have ever loved you, I still do. This means if you have ever hurt me, all that is needed of you is an acknowledgment of hurt with regret, and our bond is instantaneously stronger than before. This means if you disappear from my life with no warning then call me asking for a favor two years later, I will grant your request without hesitation. Even with all this grace and love for my people, I still lose friends just as any other mediocre individual does. I still disappoint my children in one way or another every single day. I still know acquaintances who describe me as cold and apathetic. Sometimes living a perfection-driven life as a perfection-driven person in a perfection-driven world, I grow so exhausted with my own mediocrity that I feel like breaking.

One rainy morning, I lied in bed feeling small and mediocre over the stress of my upcoming career change, falling behind on family responsibilities, an argument with a friend and my child’s emotional distress. It was a rare moment where I let my emotions consume my being, and I just froze with tears trailing down my face and feelings of loneliness overwhelming my existence. My care-free little bit of a four-year-old climbed up my bed, kissed my head, rubbed her nose gently on mine and whispered “we will have a happy day.” Through my tears, I responded, “Mommy just doesn’t feel happy right now.” My baby smiled softly and said, “it’s okay Mommy, you’ll get over it.” Friends, she was right; I did get over it. I drug myself out of bed and kept working hard and loving hard. I continued to accomplish goals and face my mistakes with courage and regret, and I continue to grow a little less mediocre in each of my life roles day after day. Even when I feel the weight of my imperfections physically, professionally and relationally, I am enough. Friends, don’t let the voice in your head labeling you a failure grow louder than the voice of your entire being which isn’t a failure at all, rather a survivor of all of life’s chaos and pain. When you fall short of perfection, don’t be afraid to try again or try an entirely new endeavor. Success and “good enough” cannot be measured and kept in a box in your attic. Don’t be afraid to get to know even the least glamorous parts of yourself. Don’t be afraid of the journey to self-awareness. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.

Socially Lazy and Oh So Mediocre

You know that guy who has his social life mastered? It seems like he’s at every community function or social gathering, restaurant or bar, or even school and church activities. As smoothly as a chameleon, he always dresses the part, but more importantly, he’s always socially confident as he nonchalantly wows the masses. He never trips over his words or his own feet. He never relentlessly shoves his foot in his mouth when he encounters new people or any novel social setting. I am certain this guy would find me either charming or intolerable depending on the amount of grace he holds for mediocre social losers, such as myself.

When I was younger, I was boldly and confidently me. I wore what I liked, said what I meant, and did what I was compelled to do without fear of social scoffing. In high school, I was a unique mediocre character, but I was proud of that character. Throughout college, I was so outgoing, I couldn’t enter a single restaurant in my small college town without running into a handful of acquaintances with whom I could casually chat it up. Upon entering my graduate school program several years ago, I completed the Myers Briggs Personality Indicator. I scored a zero in the introversion category, which honestly makes no sense considering the reality that introversion and extroversion act more as a continuum. I live convinced I am much more introverted and mediocre at this phase of my life, though the source of my daily energy continues to pour in from social interactions. My current bout with social inadequacies leaves me mulling over the question, do we change socially over time or do we simply change our minds?

Let me offer you a picture of who I have become socially. I thoroughly enjoy sitting at a pub bar alone during the middle of a work day with only a couple stragglers to accompany me in a large open room. Quiet conversations on my back porch over a glass of wine and the hum of early 2000s indie rock are my favorite nighttime moments with friends. I’m not sure if countless hours spent listening to explicit details of individuals’ traumatic pain as a counselor or my own personal losses and grievances landed me in this smaller, quieter, more selective comfort zone. What I am sure of is the reality that becoming an uncomfortable, insecure, mediocre yet extroverted professional and mother leaves me shamelessly failing at socially keeping up, and I’m fairly certain living this way is nothing more than my own apathetic choice.

Because I live in a region with a tropical climate through much of the year, our community offers a plethora of fun in the sun activities. There are festivals, farmer’s markets, and water centered attractions to provide families with outdoor entertainment and social engagements speckled throughout the calendar. One of my family’s favorite community events poses as a free, outdoor live music series held downtown on evenings in the spring and fall. We love spending time with blankets and chairs sprawled amid a crowd of other people, eating dinner from food trucks, and engaging in social networking all while listening to local artists explode unique sounds across the city. There are two facts these events reveal about who I am: 1. I am obviously outgoing because in this crowd of hundreds, I know a lot of people. 2. I can’t do crowds of people sometimes because I am just socially lazy and oh so mediocre.

What is social laziness? One Friday as my children and I made our trek from our parking spot to the city park where the fun would take place, I felt the weight of my husband’s absence. He’s a coach, and baseball season was still underway, and let’s be honest, he wouldn’t have forgotten the chairs. I walked up with the diaper bag on my back while carrying a large blanket that my girls and I would use as our base for the evening. My diaper bag, though I have no baby in diapers anymore, (moms, keep that diaper bag. You won’t regret it!) held juice pouches for the girls (because we’re poor), baby wipes (because we’re a hot mess), sweaters and a first aid kit (because we’re prepared-ish), and a bottle of Cabernet and a stemless glass (because we’re classy). Immediately after spreading our blanket across our chosen grassy space (okay we were kind of late per usual, and it was the only space left), my children abandoned me to check out the arts and crafts vendor or some other child friendly activity (I hope…), leaving me forced to flex my social muscles. I sat on my blanket and checked my phone to find that my favorite people were running even later. I scanned the crowd around my safe little square of fabric only to be comforted by more than ten faces of individuals I know well enough to approach and easily start a conversation. That same voice that yells in any other uncomfortable social situation sounded off alarms in my head. My thoughts yelled, “nope, not today,” so instead I pulled out my bottle of cab, poured a glass, and put my shades on sitting awkwardly and unapproachably on the ground while all the other adults were doing life the right way, talking and at the very least sitting in a chair. No one approached me, and most people looked at me with understandable judgments and concern while I sat sipping my wine and smiling to myself, as I people-watched. Friends, I’m not socially handicapped, I’m socially lazy and just an overall mediocre individual. (Disclaimer: when my best friend showed up, her disappointment in my awkwardness at least compelled her to buy me an acceptable vessel from which I could consume my wine at such events in the future and remain classy).

If you’re reflecting on my social awkwardness and assuming you don’t struggle with this social laziness concept because you’re not particularly fond of people watching, consider these common mediocre moments: Have you ever stared at your phone and scrolled through social media to avoid making eye contact with a stranger in the waiting room? Have you ever turned down an isle in the grocery store then immediately turned around to avoid superficial small talk with an acquaintance? Do you make up excuses not to go to events just because it’s been a long week? Friends, being socially lazy leaves you feeling mediocre and disconnected. Don’t be afraid to approach people and make a new friend. Don’t be too scared to network within your community. You need people. We all need people, and building relationships is the best way to beat all the negative self-talk we attack ourselves with day after day. Get outside and have fun. Turn strangers into acquaintances, turn acquaintances into friends, and turn friends into family. Be socially daring instead of socially lazy, no matter how mediocre you believe you are. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.

Chasing Happiness After 5

You know that rush of freedom that flows through your body when you reach a goal? There’s this fixation on leaving the mediocrity of your recently conquered stage of life in the past while diving fearlessly into the open abyss of novel experiences and opportunities for self discovery and happiness. These are the emotions that overwhelm every high school or college graduate as he or she flips a tassel from left to right. These milestone meeting individuals have been fed a not-so-balanced diet of ambiguous messages, such as “you can be anything you want to be,” “work hard, and you’ll be happy,” and “if you find a career you love, you’ll never work another day in your life.” These encouraging messages offered by mentors throughout our early years leave happiness scavengers feeling boxed in and plagued with the fear of choosing the wrong path. From kindergarten to death, spring represents a season of growth, change, and accomplishments. As the days grow longer, and the outdoors beckon us, I’m left pondering the reality that this is just another season breeding young adults caught between fear of change and a search for fulfillment in all the wrong places.

Parents, educators, and other mentors consistently lecture children throughout their early years about relying on school for gaining knowledge and work ethic so they can one day earn a degree and a good job, and as a result of those two accomplishments, they will find a happy life. Well-intentioned fallacies about work, career, and happiness result in adults living in a constant state of identity crisis over the small portion of their lives that are their careers. Webster defines an occupation as “the work in which a person is employed.” Friends, careers are jobs filled with training, effort, task completion, and commitment. Work is supposed to be work. When we enter the workforce as naive students desiring a taste of freedom and happiness, it’s no wonder we’re left starving and empty as we find that no matter what passion or path we chase, there’s always so much hard work involved. Is the problem that we’re overly focused on finding happiness in our toil?

It’s confession time. The greatest struggles in my life are the result of my love of pain. I think a person’s experience of meeting and surviving pain is his or her most important trait. With that said, I thrive under stress, and I chose a career path that is not only stressful, but I am privileged with the task of holding individuals’ baggage for a while so they can unload and rest before packing back up and facing their lives all over again. Just because I love the stress and pain of my job does not mean it’s the only job I could do to provide for my family and contribute to society. Is a career a calling? I think so, but aren’t our roles in relationships and other activities we participate in day after day also a calling? The stress over choosing the right college major or job to earn a happy future is an epidemic that needs to come to an end.

I have a close friend who works somewhere in the world of numbers and money (I’ll choose vagueness in an attempt to convince you all I’m not an idiot). As we discussed current careers and job changes of people within our social circle, she made the profound statement, “I wouldn’t say my job is the most fulfilling and exciting thing out there, but my friendships and weekend activities are.” Friends, when we view career as life purpose, we feel mediocre and empty. If we can adopt my friend’s way of thinking, we can be successful members of society who feel accomplished and productive by a job well done but more importantly who experience happiness due to the relationships and adventures we chase after 5:00 PM.

My husband is a teacher and coach whose love of baseball surpasses any passion or hobby of mine. For him, baseball encompasses all the good things in life. One year ago, he was capping off the school year as a successful science teacher, soccer coach, and baseball coach. He was prepared to begin the next school year in a comfortable position professionally that would create a posture for an even more successful year to follow. Instead of making the “right call” professionally, my husband chose to take a step down. This school year he moved to a much smaller school with lower academically performing students (overall) to coach a baseball team who entered this baseball season with 12 consecutive losing seasons under their belt. As the last game of the season (and let’s be honest, losing with a horrific final score was only a small piece of what made this year tough), my husband was privileged to watch his three little girls run the bases and learn how to throw a pitch. He made this “crazy” job move where he would have to work harder and endure more failures so he could spend more time with his girls. Long story short, it was worth it. He chased happiness after 5:00 PM (or even better, happiness after baseball season).

Are you struggling over professional decisions for fear of failure or misstep? Remember there is no right path to success. There is no job that will produce ultimate satisfaction. When evaluating your career or current job, ask yourself these questions: Are there things you like about your job? Do you feel productive at work? How does your job affect more important areas of your life? If you are left with a positive impression of how you’re spending your efforts, it’s going to be okay. Don’t be afraid of fading away in the mediocrity that is an eight to five. Focus on the happiness and success your family and friends bring you. Regardless your focus, you’re either growing or shrinking. Make decisions based on personal growth. Be a person whose success is about more than a job well done. Focus on your people. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.

Brown Eyes, Thick Thighs, No Lies

What’s that one forbidden subject in every circle or family? Maybe it’s not forbidden, but it at least can’t be acknowledged with any honesty. Adolescent boys are taught that in order to live a happy heterosexual life, they must learn to use automated responses to make matrix style dodges regarding the subject. Girlfriends learn that in order to receive the same grace from others, they must learn similar automated responses. We tiptoe around talk about weight and beauty standards, or we shame people altogether. The difference really lies in the height of social appropriateness we feel the need to manage in any given interaction. No matter how much pressure is placed on me by airbrushed media images and herbivores of the soccer mom classification, those pressures can’t compare to that of my own voice. To all you males, I know you have these struggles too (Remember, as a mental health therapist, I hold the secrets of individuals of each sex so you can’t hide from me with your tough, confident exteriors). As we gaze into mirrors at our mediocre facial features, curves, and stretch marks, the silent voices in our heads cut us down with such nasty language and labels, it’s no wonder we have such a hard time loving ourselves.

As a mediocre looking female with a mediocre body type, I find myself amongst many different groups of people wearing different roles based on my appearance and size. As I reflect on the extreme variations in my perception of self due to a change in crowd, I realize I can’t be the only person dealing with the identity crisis that goes hand in hand with this confusing self-talk.

In my family, I’m some combination of angsty rocker chick and tomboy. I’m the one who refuses to spend money on clothing I want but don’t need, and I’m doing well just to apply eyeliner and mascara appropriately (thank God I finally figured it out after years of using it to express my tragedy and self-loathing to the general public). I’m still patting myself on the back for figuring out how to look normal, and now the Kardashians insist I should learn how to use 12 different brushes to create an optical illusion changing my face shape entirely. I guess it will be all chubby cheeks and dimples for me because when I’m running through my house in the morning with one shoe on, cramming lunch boxes in bags, and clipping bows atop three little bouncing, bobbing heads, the idea that some women spend more than five minutes on makeup seems like a tall tale. My sister, on the other hand, is picture perfect whether she’s dressed for an evening out or wearing a baseball cap and t-shirt. Her makeup is beauty blog flawless, and her huge brown eyes and thick bold lips leave everyone we pass commenting on her beauty. I spent so much of my life secretly wishing to be just as glamorous, but I matured into this creature who lacks beauty skills or even the passion to try so I just do enough to get by and not scare the children. In this environment, I take on the role of ugly duckling.

In high school (and especially when I reunite with those old friends today), I was the big girl. I was the tallest, curviest, thickest of the mediocre small town Mississippi white girls, no doubt. I guess it’s my fault for making friends with the girls who were actually a lot less mediocre than I was, but seriously, one of my friends is eight months pregnant right now, and she’s still thinner than I am. I lived my childhood slumped in the shadows of the pretty girls never allowing myself to be okay (much less happy) with the shell that houses who I truly am. I decided in high school to opt for a thrift store style and sarcastic attitude because if you can’t beat them, scare them away, right? Not only did I fail at scaring them away (I love you all, my beautiful friends), I forced myself into the role of invisible.

Amongst my colleagues, I have an almost opposing role to the previous descriptions. I’m the edgy, trendy girl wearing all black and designer heels. I have been described as a “model” or “life-size Barbie” by multiple coworkers and clients. (I’m aware this makes my family and friends fall out of their seats with laughter). These people who don’t know me well view me as someone who has her life together and takes great pride in her appearance. In reality, I’m not so much a “Barbie,” rather an individual who believes an important part of doing good is feeling good so I wear my favorite color and favorite shoes, and I apply enough mousse and hairspray to construct the most confident version of me. My role in this setting, much to my surprise, is the pretty girl. These three opinions and descriptions have two things in common: They’re all based on comparison of self to others, and they’re all painting a picture of the same mediocre me.

What does all this mean? Am I the ugly duckling, the invisible girl, or the pretty girl? Friends, I’m just a mediocre girl much like the rest in that I’m too hard on myself, and I compare myself to others regardless the circumstance. When I watch my three little girls playing pretend garbed in princess dresses and my high heels, all with completely unique appearances, labeling any one of them as more beautiful than the others is unimaginable. My oldest girl is wrapped in lean muscle with long, thick, dirty blonde hair and an envious complexion and tan that doesn’t fade away as the leaves change. My middle girl is long and thin (mostly legs) with deep green eyes and hair as bright blonde as corn silk. My baby girl is a solid little chunk with huge brown eyes, the longest eye lashes I’ve ever seen, and brown curly hair resting on her shoulders. I would be devestated for my children to compare themselves to each other in the way I have always compared myself to the girls standing to my left and right. My thick legged little four-year old and I have a high-five where we chant, “brown eyes, thick thighs, no lies.” She regularly floods my soul with humiliation by randomly throwing it out there around strangers (such as the teachers in the car line), but I am so excited she’s proud of her appearance! An even greater tragedy I would mourn if my girls critically judged themselves in comparison to peers is the failure to appreciate their beautiful souls. My oldest daughter’s compassion and intuition is much more beautiful than her athletic build and perfect complexion. My middle child’s creativity and independent spirit is more gorgeous than her super model frame or striking blonde hair. My baby’s openness and sense of humor are much more precious than her big brown eyes and matching brown curls.

Friends, be proud of and content with who you are. Appearances are ever-changing, but the beauty at the core of who you are will remain. As long as you’re peaceful and happy in your heart, your beauty will be reflected outwardly. In a world where makeup tricks have every woman striving to look the same, own your uniqueness. Don’t tear yourself down for living your life looking, acting, and feeling like you. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.