#fireworkpeople: a community for women who are already changing the world

#FIREWORKPEOPLE (2)This blog post is part of the #fireworkpeople blog tour happening from October 15-30. You can learn more about #fireworkpeople on Ashley’s blog, on twitter at #fireworkpeople, or in the #fireworkpeople facebook group.

I met Ashley Beaudin when she followed me on twitter last summer, and she invited me to join the #fireworkpeople twitter party.

I’ll be honest – I’m a bit of a skeptic. When I see a brand or motto that tells people how great they are all the time, I always raise an eyebrow a little and think to myself so you’re basically telling someone they’re awesome when you don’t even know them? How can you claim that? But then I remember that some people are genuinely nice and really want to be cheerleaders for people they don’t know, and while I don’t always get it, I do respect it.

The main draw for the people in the group was how positive and encouraging it was, but I wasn’t entirely convinced someone could authentically encourage me if they didn’t actually know me. But as the months progressed, I have been so impressed by the people who are a part of this group. They talk about their lives and their struggles and the lessons their learning, and their ability to bounce back from heartbreak and their resilience in the face of struggle truly inspires me. This is not just a group of people who want to change the world: this is a group of people who are already equipping themselves to do those things. There are real live women in the world who exist off the internet, doing and spreading good lessons with great power. And this inspires me.

If I could sum up the message of these women and their passion, I would simply say this: you are not alone. And I think this is a message we could all hear a little more often, that we are not the only ones who grieve and rage and fear. We are a part of the beautiful community that is Humanity, and if we have nothing else in common, we have our love of being a part of it.

It inspires me greatly to be a part of such an honest, wise community. And I read, and listen, and think. Women tell their stories, and I laugh and cry and feel with them, because I have been there. I have been mocked, I have been humiliated, I have been loved.

And I hope this community of compassion will spread to the edges of our worlds by the time we’re done.

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Redefining fierce

Since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be known as “fierce”. As a kid I was as feisty and stubborn as they come, but I was also short and blonde and had a huge smile that I wore daily. I was “cute”. Always cute. Sometimes adorable, occasionally even pretty, but never fierce. Fierce was reserved for taller, slimmer women who were tan and wore lots of eye makeup and lots of black dresses.

That was never me. That could never be me. I would never be tall and slender, I would never have high cheekbones, and I was not the kind of girl who wanted to spend much time in front of a mirror.

I was taught that you earn words like awards, trophies you collect and frame for the world to see. And words like Fierce, Sexy, or Strong were not words I had earned. I did not look the part, so I could not play the part.

I was so, so tired of being cute. I grew resentful for my unintentionally naïve appearance and sweet smile. So I decided I would smile less, with the hope that I might be taken more seriously. But it never works to try to embody someone you are not, and I quickly realized my end did not justify my means. No single word could bear the weight of all I want to become.

So now I wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and tell myself that I am fierce and sexy and strong. It doesn’t matter if I’m wearing gym shorts and soccer cleats or 3 inch heels – I am a force to be reckoned with. And when I give myself this power, I don’t shrink anymore. I don’t feel small. I can stand tall in the strength I have taken for me, because I stopped waiting for permission to believe in myself. It was in me all along.

The one where I give away my self esteem

I found my person.

You know, the one who posts fabulous pictures on Facebook and Instagram of her fantastic life, effortlessly maintaining my dream job and doing epic things with her many stylish friends. Every day looks like a good hair day. I get bitter just thinking about it.

It took me 19.5 years, but I found her. Slim and trim, athletic, stylish, friendly. Higher up in the writing world. Thriving life on campus with a group of awesome friends, all of whom I adore. (The worst part is that she’s actually a great person with a tender heart and snappy sense of humor, so I can’t even hate her. How horrible am I that I wish I could hate her?) Basically, I measure myself and fall short in every area, and this is the first time I have ever felt so inadequate.

After all of the years of youth group talks I heard and articles I read about comparison and its deadliness, I never truly understood until I experienced the sinking feeling of Facebook stalking someone who is out. of. your. league. If I am a level 10, she is a level 25 – not so unreasonable that I can remind myself of how impossible her life is, but just impressive enough to make me wonder why doesn’t my life look like that? 

It sucked. Man, it really sucked. I have never felt so low.

Then I wondered, how can I battle this? No obvious solution remained in sight. Normally I might look for something I have that she doesn’t (there’s always something, right?), but there was nothing. Literally nothing.

Stripped to the bare bones of who I am, I realized: I just have to love me. Not for what I’m good at or what my GPA is or what extracurriculars I do or the fact that I am incredibly proud of my 80s rock playlist.

I have to love me because there is literally no one else on this planet like me. No one has been through the same crap, no one has hit rock bottom at the same angle. No one pulled themselves out with mint chip ice cream and The Hawk and the Doveand daily lives on a diet of slam poetry and 70s disco. No one smiles with their entire face like I do. Besides me.

And even if they did, they still wouldn’t be me. No one, and I mean absolutely no one shares the same unique life experiences and lessons that I have experienced. I am one of a kind. And I have to learn to love that, even if I wanted to be a different one in the million.

Here’s the truth, friend: comparison isn’t inherently bad. It’s our instinct to gauge where we should be headed based on the paths of others who are walking alongside us. Without any kind of comparisons, we couldn’t chart the average amount of kids that are illiterate or what should be considered minimum wage for a state or country. Some of the things that are used to help us require comparisons.

However, for all intents and purposes in this case, comparison is horrible. We take it to a whole new extreme when we compare pant sizes, talents, personalities, photogenics, children, and salary. We turn each other into our competition, instead of working alongside each other to bring quality and meaning into our lives.

There will be times when we’re the top dog, and those days are fabulous. But there will also be days when we don’t feel like we measure up. Someone is pursuing your dream job and winning at it, or is a part of the group of friends you wish you had. Maybe her baby weight came right off. Maybe she just seems so happy, and your life feels devoid of what hers is brimming with.

When I thought long and hard about why this girl was like a thorn in my side, I realized it was because she was excelling in all the areas I already felt like I was failing. Before I ever looked at her Facebook page, I felt like a failure. It really wasn’t because of her at all. I felt ashamed that I wasn’t more successful as a writer, I felt insecure socially (being introverted in college is tough), I felt uninvolved on campus, and I felt left out. By comparing myself to her, I was preying on all of my insecurities.

You can blame Facebook or social media or whatever you want, but the heart issue really lies with us. Before we can stop comparing ourselves, we have to accept who we really are – warts and all. I am not a princess in a castle or a face in a photo. I am a real, breathing, feeling, messy human being. And that is OKAY. You are acceptable. You are worth the effort.

You’re not doing yourself any favors by lying to yourself. You’re only putting off the inevitable crash that will ensue. Instead, ease yourself into the idea of loving you.

Start with forgiving yourself. Give yourself permission to exist as you are. And that will be the groundwork for what is to come.

The one where I apply to give a TED talk

Three weeks ago, the beautiful and talented Sarah Kay sent out a Facebook post with a link to the TED blog, saying something along the lines of, “TED@NYC is looking for poets and artists and creative inspirational people, so you should all go ahead and apply!”. I clicked on the link and went to the blog, read the requirements, and realized Hey! I fulfill all of these! Why not send in a video?

So I did.

It seemed pretty ordinary to me, but my brother thought it was basically the coolest thing ever. I reminded him that the chances of me getting in were pretty slim.

When he asked me if he could tell his friends, I asked why? I will probably never stand on that stage, never deliver my speech, and never make it onto the famed TED Website.

To which he replied, “It’s okay, it’s awesome that you even tried.

 

How often do we try?

How often do we aim for something truly unlikely, just because?

How often do we take the risk of failing just to smile and shrug our shoulders and say, it’s okay, it’s awesome that I tried.

I don’t know what you’re going through. I don’t know what kind of storm you’re facing. But the worst thing you can do is refuse to try. The people who earn respect for themselves are the ones who pick themselves up, dust the crap off their jeans and keep trudging forward. Those are the people who learn to smile when they see themselves in the mirror.

And maybe I’ll risk sounding like a broken record with this one, but champ, keep on keeping on. Don’t stop trying. Don’t throw in the towel. Try something you’re sure to fail at, just so you can smile and say hey, I tried.

That alone makes you awesome.

That one pep talk we all need right now

Being a college kid sucks right now.

Finals are two weeks away and everyone is so sleep-deprived and stressed and really ready for a break. It’s so easy to lose steam right now. The day I come back from Thanksgiving break, I have two papers due. What the heck? Can’t a kid rest every once in a while?

Holy burn out, Batman.

The finish line is in sight, so I press on. But boy, I’m tired.

Here’s something I need to hear today, and I’d like to share it with you:

It doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman, a senior, or a senior citizen. We all get burnt out from time to time. Life can burn you out, can’t it? It’s hard and exhausting and sometimes it’s bed time and I think can I just go back to bed and start this day over? Because sometimes I screw up, majorly, and the day already sucks before I even get up in the morning. (Or, let’s be real, by the time I get up in the afternoon. I’m a college kid.)

But you know what? You got this. You are one tough cookie. You have had a life so far, a life that has had its ups and downs. But you are strong. You have one big, buff, worked-out and worked-on heart that is ready to take your life by storm.

What’s making you so weary? Change it. Stop waiting for your circumstances to change themselves. Go back to school and get your master’s, even if you’ve been in the same career for 20 years and change makes your knees buckle. Or, if you’re really feeling the YOLO life motto, get your doctorate. Don’t pass up the opportunity to live the life you really want to see in the mirror in the morning. You only live once, you know.

What relationship is holding you back? Maybe it’s time to say goodbye, or maybe it’s just time to say hey. I’m tired. I think I need a break. A good friend won’t blame, judge, or criticize. A good friend will give you the space you’re asking for.

If they don’t…hey, maybe goodbye is for the best.

Here’s the thing: sometimes, life just sucks. Life is just hard. There’s no good explanation for it, and there’s nobody to blame. It’s just how it is.

When life is hard, you have three options:

1) Get depressed, groan, cry, etc. There’s nothing you can do, so you enter the eternal cycle of Ick, Suck, and Crap. It’s my party so I’ll cry if I want to.

2) Denial. What? Life is great. Why would you ever say life is hard? Life is freaking awesome! Now don’t mind me as I lock myself in my bathroom for a little while…not like I’m crying or anything…

OR

3) Sit in the muck for a little while. Embrace the suck. Let yourself  feel crappy. It’s okay to feel that way. Being sad doesn’t make you weak–being sad is being honest. Then let yourself be done, pick yourself up again, and do something. It’s so easy to fall into the eternal downward spiral of sadness and eating ice cream for every meal. (What? I’ve never done that…)

Don’t let yourself go there. You can stop it before it starts.

So, College Kid or High School Kid or Grown-Up Kid or Elderly Kid: it’s time. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off. Start going to bed earlier so waking up in the morning doesn’t feel like leaving your bomb shelter. (NOTE: coffee ≠ good night of sleep.) Start encouraging other people–it makes you feel better. Start noticing the beautiful weather, even if it’s cold. Start dressing for comfort over appearance.

This is one of the busiest, most stressful seasons of the year, but don’t let it break you. The finish line is in sight.

Good luck.

 

A hug and a good old-fashioned fist bump,

-H