The Trials and Tribulations of Life as a Dragon

I knew this week would be a challenge at work, and although I was feeling far from dragon-y this week, I did manage to coax the dragon to a meeting where I presented information about an unwelcome change. I have been better at being a dragon at work over the last year, but prior to that I was one pro-looking mouse, so it’s no wonder that some people found my dragon-stance a bit shocking.

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My first reaction was to beat myself up, assuming I did something wrong because of the response I received. I was back to obsessing; “If I had only done better, it would have gone better.” But the fact is, I spoke the truth (even though my voice shook) and they simply didn’t want to hear it – I can’t own their response, that’s their stuff. A valuable lesson that I’ve learned I’m learning is that we are not responsible for managing other people’s emotions, and we shouldn’t be trying to.

voiceI’m proud of myself for being a dragon even when it wasn’t easy. (Yay for commit stage – See here for more info on the stages of the readiness for change by Dr. E. A. Wilson: Wish-Want-Commit) Dealing with the consequences of doing so have been challenging though because I still struggle with wanting everyone’s approval, needing to make everyone happy, feeling unsafe when others are upset, fearing rejection, and the list goes on. It certainly helped me understand why I was a mouse for so long and why it’s so easy to get stuck in that role. However, by being a dragon and facing these consequences head on, and persevering, it has helped me challenge those beliefs and move past those fears. From this experience alone I already feel more secure with the idea of people being upset with me, and less like I need approval from everyone to keep my worth. It’s empowering to even entertain the idea that my worth could be unshaken by external forces, and I would never be moving in this direction had I kept my mouth shut.

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The dragon life is hard work, but nibbling on cheese never got me close to flying.

 

Put up the “No Bullshit” Shield and Strike with Courage

The role of courage has been a recurring theme for me this week. Just as the Cowardly Lion in the Land of Oz, I too have come to realize how being courageous is not about having no fear, but acting despite the fear.

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As adults we can avoid many things that we are afraid of or situations that may cause us embarrassment. We no longer have an outside party pushing us to join that soccer team or read aloud in class. It’s in our hands; we are the only one there to push ourselves to go past our comfort zone. It’s easy to get stuck in a cycle of avoidance – sometimes without even realizing we are doing it.

For example, I always have the best intentions of going to dance class (Ballet Wednesday, Contemporary Thursday). I make it to ballet most weeks; however, something always seems to come up on Thursday. The excuses always seem valid at the time – it wasn’t until tonight that I’m starting to see through them. Now, you would probably assume that I enjoy ballet more and that’s why I am more motivated to get there. However, it’s contemporary dance that speaks more to me; that I dream about, watch on youtube, and “practice” in my basement (when no one’s looking). All in all I get more out of it… so why have I been avoiding it? I’m afraid of it. Ballet isn’t better, it’s just a “safer” option. I’m less confident in contemporary class, so it takes more courage to show up, which means it’s much more susceptible to falling victim to the excuse-machine.

Funny enough I realized this after attending a Contact Improvisation Dance class (aptly named “The Art of Leaning In”) which is even farther outside of my comfort zone than a Contemporary class. Awareness is such a powerful tool. Sure, Contact Improv takes a huge amount of courage, but I’ve been aware and accepted that from day one. The hours leading up to class I still have to fight the excuses that bubble up and basically force myself to go (literally until I walk in the door- tonight it was hard to find parking and for a second considered using it as an excuse to go home); but the difference is I can see the avoidance for what it is and I preemptively put up my “no bullshit” shield. I know that being courageous is the strong and healthy thing to do. Even if I feel like I didn’t do anything right the entire class (thanks inner bully), I still feel stronger for having shown up.

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Courage is quickly becoming the most important ingredient in this self-improvement journey. Everything worthwhile seems to take courage, and having courage day in and day out is fucking hard!

Being brave enough to reflect on the areas in your life that need improvement, and having the courage to sit with unpleasant feelings and emotions that come up are no easy feats. It takes courage to take the blinders off, courage to lean into what’s there, and courage to take the steps to change. Courage, courage, courage..

Courage and vulnerability go hand in hand. As Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage”. When we truly embrace vulnerability we can authentically connect with others and ourselves, which is a magical thing – one of the reasons life is worth living (in my opinion). The catch? Putting ourselves in situations where we feel vulnerable require courage, sometimes A LOT of courage.

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This week at an ACT group we did an exercise where we look into someone’s eyes, silently, for four minutes. I’ve known for awhile that I have an issue with eye contact, but WOW.. As soon as we started the defenses came out full swing; attempts to deflect being vulnerable with humour, the fidgeting, the fake smile, etc. Even writing about the experience, and sharing my struggles with vulnerability on here, is making me squirm. The courage that this required continued long after the buzzer went off; it’s taking courage to reflect on why it’s so difficult, and furthermore, it’s going to take courage to work on it. Knowing the importance of vulnerability is giving me the strength to continue to find that courage.

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I’m making it my mission this week to keep my eyes peeled for times I am avoiding vulnerable situations, and focus on being courageous instead. To start, this dragon’s dragging herself to dance on Thursday.

How will you bring more courage to your week?

 

Celebrating the Wins, Big or Small

What a week roller coaster. I never would have thought I’d end this week feeling like a strong dragon. Winter was being a relentless beast again, another illness took me out of commission, and an attempt at completing personal directives with my Mom went even worse than anticipated (which lead to more grief and guilt). I felt weak and was having a hard time not taking it as evaluation (“I must be worse, I’m not a dragon anymore”).

However, thanks to everything I’ve learned and the tools I now have, I knew to (at least try) not fuse with those thoughts and to practice self-compassion. After a few days of doing “strong and healthy” things I was starting to believe in myself again. And then I made a rash, super brave, decision. I scheduled an appointment to get a root canal done the next day. I decided I was tired of being afraid of it (it’s been almost a year that I’ve known I had to do this and every once in awhile the tooth starts to hurt and I panic- and obsess over it for days weeks.) For all you ACT peeps out there, I chose to use the “As If” technique to the extreme.

Still afraid and not sure I’d make it through (I am extremely claustrophobic with the dental dam and last time I had work done I was sedated), I found myself power posing in the bathroom of the dental office repeating “I can do this, I’m a fucking dragon”. Far from confident, but determined to give it my best shot.

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Check out Power Posing Here

 

It wasn’t a breeze, but I’m proud to say I made it through the procedure (without drugs) and now I am so happy to have this behind me, and more importantly, to know that I can handle it.

When the appointment ended I was super proud of myself, but then I quickly dismissed and minimized it. I sarcastically snorted at myself, “Wow you did something that everyone else would be able to do no problem”.  Thankfully the dragon was on fire so I didn’t listen to those thoughts long. I could not wipe the crooked smile off my half-frozen face. I felt happy, brave, incredibly proud, and strong.

I celebrated by buying myself banana popsicles, watching a comforting show, and walking dancing around my house the whole evening singing “I’m a motherfucking dragon”.

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So why celebrate?

As someone who uses the strategy of positive reinforcement with children on a daily basis (and sees the pay off) it still took a bit of adjustment to apply it to myself. Simply put, you do something good, you get something good. Being reinforced for listening to your strong and healthy self makes it more likely that you will continue to listen.

Celebrating is also important because it lets you truly appreciate the good job you’ve done. By taking the time and effort to celebrate, it gives you more space to really lean into the feelings of being proud and strong. Acknowledging and sitting with this strong feeling is important because the peaks are where we recharge.

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Had I let myself cut down my accomplishment and stifle that proud dragon, I would still be feeling weak like I was the day before.

I think it is difficult for us to acknowledge when we do a good job because we have this idea that doing good should just be a given. When we don’t live up to our standards we are quick to beat ourselves up; however, when we do well by ourselves we basically say “So what, you only did what you should have done – that’s nothing special”.

Well, it is special, and we can show ourselves by celebrating those victories, both big and small.

Making Room for What Could Be

When we hold onto ideas of who we are and what our life is (and what it’s going to be) too tightly we become consumed by those stories, leaving little room for anything else.

The way I learned this lesson wasn’t easy, but it has been invaluable. By realizing the constraints that these stories can put on us, we can begin to see beyond them.

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For me, having the motherhood card removed from my life was a big blow, but it helped me see other areas of myself that I had long forgotten because I had been so invested in that one story.

For many years I neglected many parts of myself, in fact I didn’t even see a reason to spend any time on them, since they weren’t helping me to complete this one storyline. It really hit home how much I have put aside parts of myself when I realized that most people in my life didn’t even know I enjoyed writing before sharing this blog. It’s funny how much we overshadow when we focus too much on one aspect of ourselves.

And the learning didn’t stop there – in my experience the more you delve into this the more you find. I’ve learned that there are many other ideas about myself and my life that I have been simply taking as truths -not questioning them or the possibility of anything different. Challenging these “truths” has allowed me to see hope for change in areas that I figured I would always be identified with that were certainly making me feel weaker (example: The story that “I’m an anxious person”). Through this process I have learned to let go, or at least loosen my grip, on a lot of the stories I have been holding onto.

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Lately I’ve noticed that I have more room to dream, more space for possibility in my life. For the first time in a long time I have a sense of excitement for what I can do with my life. I am starting to see possibility where before I saw dead ends.

Though it wasn’t so much of a “letting go”, as it was life prying it out of my hands, the lesson it taught me has set me free. I am no longer a character passively (or way too desperately) acting out a pre-written plot. Life is now an adventure – and I’m the author.  

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The first step to moving forward is being aware that these stories exist, and understanding how investing in these stories affects you (does it make you feel weaker or stronger?). When you stop seeing them as absolute truths, or begin to understand that they are only part of who you are, you can begin to see what else lies beyond them.

I encourage you to take a look at your life and the beliefs you have about yourself; is there anything you are holding onto a bit too tightly? Imagine what might be uncovered if you loosen your grip…

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Taming Your Inner Bully

After spending the week couch-bound due to the lovely influenza bug, engaging in nothing more than distraction behaviours (binge watching TV and movies), I found myself judging my worth and abilities.

“How can you miss so much work – you are letting so many people down – you’re such a horrible person! And how in the hell did you think you were suited to host a mindfulness challenge when you’ve spent the whole week trying to do anything but live in the present?”    

My Inner Bully was having a field day.

It seems inevitable that these bullies are going to keep showing up, but what we do with them is what matters most. By being more aware of them it gives me an opportunity to make a conscious choice – Will I let them beat me up or will I practice self-compassion?

Through my experiences these last few months it has become clear to me how important, and amazing, self compassion is –  yet it is still the thing I struggle with most.

Kristin Neff explains that self-compassion involves three basic components; self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us notice our own suffering (Awareness is the first step to everything!). Self-kindness is being kind and caring in response to that suffering, and common humanity is remembering that suffering and imperfection is part of the human experience.

See her website for more of her work (including the self-compassion quiz)

When it comes to compassion, it is a lot easier to apply to others than it is to yourself. My default (and I’m sure some or all of you can relate) is to judge, harshly. I can easily get into the mind-set that “Sure, I’ll practice self-compassion, but only when I deserve it”. And let me tell you, if you are making yourself “earn it”, it’s not self-compassion.  True compassion is non-judgmental.

But it’s true what they say, old habits die hard.

In an effort to force this into the grave and replace this with compassion I’ve been trying the following strategies.

One strategy I use is to visualize myself as a young child. The distance this creates helps me see myself as someone who deserves compassion and protection from the Inner Bully. It sparks a strong urge to protect and comfort that child, which makes it easier to practice self-kindness.

Another strategy I try is talking to myself as I would a friend. When I remember to use this strategy the words and tone I use instantly change from my usual self-talk. This again helps with the self-kindness.

Self-kindness is by far my most challenging hurdle in the self-compassion triathlon; however, I also find it difficult to remember to extend the common humanity to myself. It’s easy to personalize our struggles and to think we are failing while the rest of the world would be doing just great in our situation. It’s become clear to me that I need a reminder of this (for the times that my healthy tribe are not around). So I wrote myself a message..

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I also found a mantra to help remember the keys to self-compassion.

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Imagine how comforting it would be to know that you always have someone (24/7) that will be compassionate and soothing whenever you are suffering. I’m sure self-compassion will be something I continue to struggle with for a long time, but I know the more steps I take in this direction will make me a stronger person dragon. 

I’d love to hear any strategies or tips you have for practicing self-compassion!

Tweaking the To Do List

I have been a list person for as long as I can remember. My lists ranged from the mundane “take a shower” to the extreme “pay off debt”. But one thing they all had in common was that they were lists of things I had to complete before I could do anything I wanted. As an obsessive list maker I also had a list for those other things that I’d like to do; go for walks, read a book, see friends, etc , but this list was my day dreaming – they were only to be realized after all the “To Do” lists were complete. The rational of course was that “Once I finish x,y,z, then I can do all of these wonderful things that will make me happy and healthy”. Funny, but no matter how hard I worked, that day never came.

For a long time I didn’t see the problem with this; I just accepted this as the way the world works, and continued to be frustrated with the amount of crap to be done, and my inability to get through it quick enough so I could finally move onto the good stuff.

Once I started concentrating on self-care, these healthy things (go for walk, meditate) were added to my To Do list. It was a step in the right direction, but they still ended up being things that weren’t “Have-To’s”. So, if I didn’t get the dishes done, they didn’t happen.

There was one day in particular that I remember. I was frantically cleaning the house all day and before I knew it, the day was over and I hadn’t finished in time to go for my walk. I had completed everything on my to do list, except for this walk. When my husband got home from work I proclaimed in frustration that “I feel like I didn’t do anything today”. Clearly, this wasn’t true, but what i came to realize is that because I didn’t get to do the one fulfilling activity, I felt empty.

At the time I felt like a failure because I didn’t make it through my To Do list in time to get to the healthy walk that I had been looking forward to. The real issue, of course, is that I should have been prioritizing my To Do list very differently. I have since learned that you need to start with the “make it or break it” activities; the ones that have the biggest impact on your well-being. Sure, having the dishes done is nice – but I now know that if I get to meditate and spend time with friends, I will still go to bed with a smile on my face- even if the sink is full of dirty dishes.

Replay the same type of day, but this time I was aware just how important that walk was to me. I knew I needed to prioritize it so I started my day by going for a walk. The result? I felt fulfilled and I was able to complete the rest of the tasks without the pressure to rush and the fear that I would end my day feeling depleted.

So first, make sure to add those fulfilling activities to your To Do list,  if you don’t already,  and then prioritize them.

Sometimes I make a “Have-To’s” category and now I make sure to add those “Make it or Break it” activities to that section. Is it just as important as paying the power bill? Damn straight it is.

The next thing to look at is the reason for doing anything on your To Do list. This is all about prioritizing based on VALUES.

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Now, before you can truly do this you need to clarify what YOUR values are. If you don’t yet have a good idea, I encourage you to take a look at InspiredLivingMedical’s blog posts: (Clarifying Values) and (What we all need).

Over months of exploration I have discovered that my values are; TRIBE, CREATIVITY, GROWTH, HEALTH, BEING PRESENT, CONTRIBUTION, as well as AUTHENTICITY, VULNERABILITY, and COURAGE.

So what do these things have to do with that list you scribble on a post-it Monday morning? The answer is EVERYTHING!

For every item I write on my To Do list, beside it I write the VALUE in it.

“What’s the value in this?”

Adding values to your To Do list highlights the importance of every activity; clearly marking them so you can see why you are doing the things you do, and this then helps you prioritize.

When you are dedicated to living your values, it’s harder to ignore those To Do items that may at first seem frivolous, but are indeed very aligned with your values – and therefore should not be pushed to the back burner.

For example, if you see “Go to movies with friends” and you are strapped for time you may think to yourself “Oh, I can just skip that”; but when it’s written “Go to movies with friends – TRIBE it’s harder to scratch it off because you know TRIBE is important to you.  By having the VALUE right in your face, you can make more informed decisions on how you spend your time, and ensure you are living your values.

Even if you choose to remove a valuable activity to complete a less valuable activity (washing dishes), you will at least be more aware of the choice you are making, and have a good understanding of why you may feel more depleted. The more aware we are, the more we can do about it.

Comparing your list of values to your To Do list is also helpful. If one of your values is CREATIVITY, but you either don’t have a creative item on your to-do list, or you never prioritize it, this gives you the opportunity to change that.

Here’s an example of one of my To Do lists from before Christmas. It’s messy, but it’ll give you an idea of what it can look like.

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If you have a chance to try any of these strategies please let me know how they work for you (perhaps even a To Do List show and tell??). I’d love to hear about your experiences and any other tips you have for making To Do lists.

 

Hard is Hard. Complain about Broccoli and Hang Up on Insurance Scams

Society seems to have caught itself in this web of lies that makes everyone feel like we are all competing for a limited amount of “real” and “justified” pain – and the authorized support that comes with it.

We compare ourselves to others, we compare others to others, we compare real situations to fantasy – we fucking love to compare. And depending on how that one person’s situation (or our idea of it) stacks up against whatever we are comparing, we judge whether we/they should or shouldn’t feel a certain way.

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People can be seen minimizing themselves and others all the time in this comparison war. Listen carefully.. it usually starts with “at least”.

One of the most clear, and repulsive, examples of this I witnessed was a discussion in an infertility support forum – an area that was specifically designed to provide support to those who were struggling. The desperate call for support was from a lady who recently miscarried, and the responses to her struggle went a bit like this; “Sorry you’re having a hard time, but at least it was early, let me tell you – miscarrying later is way more painful”, “I’ve had two miscarriages, be thankful you’ve only had one”, “I know of someone who had a stillborn, can you imagine how much harder that would be??”  When you see it laid out like that, it’s absurd! Why do we feel this incessant need to compare, judge, and only give support when it’s “earned”?

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Would it be acceptable to go up to a man who just lost both his arms and say, “Hey, at least you can walk”?

And if you think you don’t do this, double check with that voice in your head. So often we are our own bully. We don’t give ourselves permission to feel what we feel – we wind up down the comparison spiral in a heap of guilt, we try to rationalize with ourselves until we feel crazy (because despite our “logic” it doesn’t stop us from feeling), and we convince ourselves that we don’t deserve support because “it’s my fault” or “I shouldn’t feel this way”.

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There will always be something that could be called “worse” -but that DOES NOT mean you can’t feel shitty about your stuff. You have every right to own your experiences and you 100% deserve support.

Turns out you don’t have to feel guilty about hating broccoli just because there are starving kids in Africa.

Ash Beckham says it best – I strongly urge you all to watch her TED Talk

“..there is no harder, there is just hard. We need to stop ranking our hard against everyone else’s hard to make us feel better or worse about our closets and just commiserate on the fact that we all have hard.”      Ash Beckham 

The ridiculousness of this trap that we find ourselves in reminds me of my call centre days. My job was making cold calls to sell dismemberment insurance (you can just imagine the fulfillment this provided 😉 ). I remember having to explain to the poor fools who hadn’t yet hung up on me that they would only qualify for the money if they lost two limbs, “You can lose one eye and one arm, or one leg and one arm… and you need to lose them both from the same accident.. and it has to occur at the scene of the accident, you won’t qualify if they later remove your leg at the hospital.” Clearly, a scam. So why in the world do we buy into this  “you only qualify for support if you meet these ridiculous criteria” when it comes to our feelings? It’s no less of a scam, and it’s time to hang up.

We have to contest the whole premise of needing to earn the right to be upset. We can do this by giving everyone permission to own their feelings and provide genuine support and empathy. No more comparing. Furthermore, we need to tell ourselves that we have a right to feel this way and we do deserve support – despite what we’ve been told or what the voices are still shouting out from the background.

Go ahead, hang up on that sleazy insurance broker and curse your veggies without guilt.

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A Beautiful Consequence

Taking the leap to share this blog was certainly one of the greatest acts of courage and displays of vulnerability that I have taken so far. The love and support I have received from doing so has moved me more than I could ever hope to express through mere words. Beyond this, I have noticed something else powerful happening. It seems that this act of opening up has created more space for other people’s vulnerability, and inspired more sharing, and connecting on a deeper level.

Realizing the beautiful consequences of creating such space, has in turn allowed me to be more aware of opportunities to create and experience that space in other areas of my life. Last night I was lucky enough to watch experience a dance performance; it was a true demonstration of how beautiful vulnerability (and the courage behind it) can be, and it moved me to tears. I am so grateful to the artist for sharing it with me, and am so happy I was able to experience it from a space where I was able to appreciate the depths of its beauty.

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My reaction to the idea of sharing in the past has been that it is selfish and wrong, I felt this need to pull back and shut my mouth in order not to burden others. A big part of my vulnerability practice has been fighting that urge and quieting those voices. The more times I push past this, the more open my eyes become.. and I’m starting to see what’s really there. What I imagined would be a very individual process has become something much more expansive.

It seems that the more you open yourself up, the more you give everyone around you the space to do the same. Your authenticity becomes a sign to the world that “Yes, you can bring your true self here, it’s safe”. You not only give people permission through your actions, it seems that you in fact encourage them too.

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I used to think the best way to support others was by telling them that they can open up, while I stayed a closed book. I thought it was about being quiet and ready to listen – until I opened my mouth. Never in my life have I felt so trusted, and received such openness from people about their stories and emotions then I have by showing my own vulnerability first.

The connection that grows in this space is beautiful, and bearing witness to other people’s acts of vulnerability and courage is incredibly inspiring. There’s really nothing quite like connecting with someone as your most authentic selves. I didn’t understand this until I felt it, and it has significantly changed my life.

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I urge you all to explore (or continue exploring) your own practice of authenticity and create this space – I’m sure you’ll be amazed at what grows there.

 

Going All In

When I was setting up my website, I started with the “About Me” page. I started by writing about the details of my life, the nitty gritty of what lead me to transform my life, and then I reconsidered. Thoughts rushed through my head; “Maybe I don’t want people to know that much about me”, “Who knows who will end up reading this”, and my all time favourite, “People don’t want to hear this”. So I started over, writing about the good things that have come out of the transformation process for me, what I’m focused on now, the end goals, and the reasons I believe they are worth striving for. All rainbows and unicorns, nothing to make a reader uncomfortable, it’s all smiles here.

Then it came time to write my first blog post and I put this off for days weeks, telling myself it was because I couldn’t figure out what to start writing about. I looked over my main goals (in my life, as well as ideas I hope to focus on in this blog); authenticity, practicing vulnerability, tribe, connection, mindfulness, living my values. So I started to write, but I stopped myself. “Wait, I can’t include that, I decided not to include those personal details”. I heard it as soon as the words left my mouth. Before even starting my blog I had already strayed from my values, already lost sight of what it was really about, doing the exact opposite of what I was writing – out of fear. I had convinced myself that I just didn’t know what I wanted to start writing; but no wonder I couldn’t write, how do you write a blog about authenticity without being authentic?

I sat back and stared at the front page, “It’s time to emerge from our caves and own who we are”. How did I ever expect to write about this stuff while I hide in my cave, only pretending to be a dragon?

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It was clear. I had to commit to going all in. If I was going to do this, I had to own my stories, own who I am. Not hide away, not censor the details that leave me vulnerable. Not assume what the readers want to hear. If I am committed to live as a dragon, I cannot write from a place of fear.

And so, I’m jumping in head first. I’m still afraid. Terrified, actually (cue the eye twitch). But it also feels powerful, liberating, and exciting.

First lesson learned.. Turns out living as a dragon isn’t as simple as picking a domain name.

 

I’m proud to say I’ve added My Journey  (be warned- it’s not a quick read).