Inspiration From Bernice Johnson

“Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you; they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.” ~ Bernice Johnson
It’s not easy to change your life. But while it may be the greatest challenge there is, it’s also one of the most worthwhile, because changing your life will get you closer to where you want to be — and closer to the person you’re meant to be. And that person is the culmination of everything that has happened in your life, everything you’ve experienced and everything you’ve overcome.
In one of the first blog postings on this site, I discussed how all of the experiences you’ve had thus far have made you who you are today. This quote confirms that I’m not the only one who thinks that. While some of the experiences have been trying, difficult, or seemingly impossible, they have all shaped the person you have become. Those challenges that you’ve overcome have helped you get to this point, and have helped you determine what’s important to you.
These experiences that have brought you here have made you really evaluate your life and determine how you want it to turn out. They’ve given you the courage to take charge of your life and turn it around. They’ve helped you “discover who you are.” And how can that be a bad thing? You’re pretty great! So embrace the challenges for what they are: opportunities — to learn more about yourself and decide what you want out of life, to become a stronger person who can tackle anything, and to fulfill your true potential.

Your Relationships: Starting With Yourself

You can blame the people around you for the problems in your relationships or even your lack of a relationship. It’s easy, and it might make you feel better for a little while. But it takes more than one person to be in a relationship. And guess who the other person involved is? You.
That’s why when it’s time to actually make progress in your relationships and move forward, it’s best to start with yourself and acknowledge your role in the whole shebang. Now I’m not saying other people haven’t done bad, horrible, or disruptive things, but if you’re trying to take charge of your life,  you need to start with you.
Relationship Problems
Maybe you’ll ultimately decide a relationship isn’t worth saving, or you’ll admit defeat when the other person involved doesn’t want to make the effort. Or maybe you’ll decide on a whole different course of action to find contentment. Regardless of the ultimate outcome, the changes you make to yourself and your role in your relationships will help you in the future. You’ll be stronger, more confident and capable. So look within.
OK, easy to say. But what does that mean?
  1. The first step is to stop assigning blame. Even if the initial break or current problem in a relationship was started by someone else, your reaction played just as much of a role in what resulted. And if you’ve decided that the relationship is worth salvaging, you need to adjust your reaction. Instead of just blaming the other person, think about what role you may have played.
  2. Make the first move. Don’t expect someone to make it for you. Be the bigger person and take that step. It may mean swallowing a little bit of pride, but it will also give you some control, too.
  3. Acknowledge your role — to the other person or people. Again, swallow your pride and accept some of the responsibility. Even if you’ve already admitted to yourself that you were part of it, saying it out loud will prove you’re serious.
  4. Start a dialogue. Open the lines of communication so you can really get somewhere in mending your relationship.

Ideally the person you’re communicating with will also acknowledge his or her role, and the relationship will be back on firmer footing. But let’s face it, that doesn’t always happen. The other people may not be willing to acknowledge their role in the problem. Keep trying. Anything worth having is worth fighting for.

Lack of a Relationship
Ever hear the phrase “you can’t love someone else until you love yourself”? Yes, it’s hard finding Mr. or Miss Right. Slim pickings and all that. But before you can even be in a relationship, you need to be ready. Are you happy with yourself? Do you like yourself? Do you consider yourself a worthwhile human being?

If your answer to any of those questions was “no,” then you’ve got to take care of that before you can start looking for your missing half. If you don’t consider yourself worthwhile, why should he or she?

Now if you truly have difficulty accepting your worth, then there are tons of books out there that can help you. I encourage you to pick some up and spend some time reading. I’m no expert on the human psyche. I just know that you are a worthwhile human being. You have a unique personality, and skills that are truly yours. No one else can be you. Isn’t that great? Rather than shy away from your unique traits, embrace them. Be you!

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Make a list of what you love about yourself
  • Make a list of areas in which you excel
  • Determine your favorites: part of your body, personality quirk, thing that makes you unique
  • Think about why you’re not happy with yourself — then find reasons they’re all lies

If there really is something you have a problem with, do something about it. A little overweight? Take charge and come up with a diet and exercise plan. Feel stupid? Read newspapers, magazines, websites, until you feel comfortable making small talk. Too shy? Put yourself out there: smile to strangers, chat with cashiers, call your friends.

It may feel awkward in the beginning, but once you’re comfortable in your own skin, then you can look outward. As your confidence builds, you can feel more comfortable making the first move, putting yourself out there, and being yourself on those ever-important dates. After all, being you is pretty great. And you should want to let everyone know it.

At the same time, make sure that what you’re talking about isn’t all about you. Just as a lack of confidence can discourage potential mates, so can an egotistical streak. Relationships are a two-way street, so make sure you balance you with the person you’re with. Don’t just talk about yourself. And don’t disregard his or her feelings. Reflect your personality, and let your date reflect his or her personality as well.

Setting Mini Goals

If you’re anything like me, you’re looking at the huge life experience that you want to change and you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed. That’s a huge undertaking you have there! Perhaps you’ve started breaking it down a bit, biting off manageable chunks so it feels like you’re getting somewhere. Perhaps you’ve got a game plan in place to move you in the right direction.

At some point, however, it’s going to feel like you’re not getting anywhere. Your goal is so far in the future that it feels next to impossible, and while you’re still moving in the right direction, you don’t feel like you’re making much progress. At that point you’ll probably get discouraged, want to give up the whole thing and insist that life before had to be better than this purgatory that is your life.
Depressing thought, huh? Well, before you get too depressed, I’m here to tell you that there are ways to combat it. And the simplest way is to set mini goals. That means instead of just striving for your ultimate, big, huge goal set somewhere in the future, you have smaller, more tangible goals that are attainable in a much shorter time frame. The goals can be as big or as small as you need them to be — anything that will keep you motivated and pushing ahead. Want some examples?
Enroll in a class or program — then pass it and graduate
Apply to (specific number here) jobs a day, a week, a month
Pay off a single credit card or loan
Save (specific number here) in a savings account or retirement account
Set up (specific number here) dates or meetings with people you want to boost relationships with
Attend (specific number here) family functions
Make a doctor’s appointment — keep it — and follow the doctor’s recommendations
Commit to a vitamin regimen for (specific number here) days
Making a Difference:
Volunteer for (specific number here) days, weeks or months
Mentor a child for (specific number here) days, weeks or months
As I said, you can make your goals as big or small as you want, so you can fill in whatever number you want for the (specific number here) spaces. And these are just ideas. You can make your mini goals whatever you want — whatever will have meaning for you and keep you going.
As you reach your mini goals, reward yourself. (Just make sure your rewards don’t counteract your progress!) Not only does it feel great to get a reward, but you’ll feel as if you actually accomplished something — instead of making a lot of effort for nothing. As long as your mini goals bring you closer to your ultimate goal, you’ll consistently make progress. And as time moves on, your ultimate goal will move closer and closer. While it may still take a while to get there, it’ll feel a lot sooner than you think. And that’s a whole lot better than getting depressed!

Inspiration From John Updike

“Dreams come true. Without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.” ~ John Updike

If you’re a cynic, you probably don’t agree with the quote above. (Then again, if you’re a cynic, this blog probably isn’t for you anyway!) But I happen to agree. Dreams can come true. I think they just need a little help to get there.
As I indicated in one of my first blog posts here, if you just expect fate to hand you what you want, it probably won’t happen. While fate certainly plays a part in what takes place, you have a brain, and the will and desire to change your life. So why would you just sit back and hope that things work out? Make those dreams come true.
At the same time, I think that if you put yourself out there and make the effort, you will be rewarded. I’ve read in a few places the quote “the harder I work, the luckier I get,” and I think the same applies to dreams. The more you reach for them, and strive for them, the closer they get. Maybe it’s because you make it happen; maybe it’s because fate just sees how much you want it then. Either way, I’ll keep working hard and take my chances!

Your Money: Get the Family Onboard

If you’re married and/or have children, chances are the changes you plan on making will affect your family. This holds true no matter what you’re tackling, but when it comes to money, the effects will be even more noticeable. Therefore it’s important to make sure your spouse and children are onboard with your changes. Why? A united front is a whole lot stronger than a house divided. And together your chances of success are much higher. So how do you go about doing this?

The first thing you’ll want to do is talk to your family. Let them know about the changes you’re considering, and why you think they’re important. Let them know you want their input, and that their feedback will be taken into consideration when you’re figuring out your course of action. This gets them involved, and makes them feel like they’re part of the team, instead of outsiders just watching the game.

Opening the lines of communication can also help in that you can get valuable ideas and insight you wouldn’t normally have gotten. Looking at things from others’ points of view can help you figure out which direction will be best for all of you in the long run. And getting this feedback early on will prevent backtracking later if you discover that your decisions negatively impact those around you.

Be Specific
When talking to your family, try to be as specific as possible. Rather than speaking abstractly about cutting down spending or bringing down debt, discuss what exactly needs to change. Will you be eating out less? Spending less on clothing?

The more specific your goals, the better. Not only will it help your family understand where you’re coming from and where you’re going, it will also give you a definite course of action, with a clear understanding of what you have to do to get there. And being specific in your course of action will let your family know what they have to do to be involved in the process.

Make It Fun
Making the experience interactive can bring the family together and unite you in your goals. To do this, make charts or goal thermometers to track your progress. Celebrate with small rewards when you reach milestones. Reward family members if they have a great idea or do something that brings your goals closer.

You can also get the family involved in activities that directly affect the goal. Have everyone clear out their closets to hold a tag sale. Who will make the most? Have a contest to see who can spend the least on school supplies or clothes. Encourage family members to make gifts instead of buy them — and reinforce how much more meaningful it is, in addition to saving money.

Get Creative
Show everyone how being frugal can really be about being creative. Rather than depriving yourself, you’re just finding different ways of doing things, and different ways of getting what you need or want:

  • Can’t afford that new gadget? How can you use what you have to do the same thing?
  • If something goes wrong in the house, learn how to fix it instead of hiring a professional. You can learn a valuable skill and save money at the same time.
  • For children, show them how they can use what they have and the free things around them to still have fun. Surf the internet to find craft ideas using household items.

Once these things become habit, you’ll see how much you’re actually learning and how much more valuable the entire experience has been. Instead of just dishing out money for something, you’re gaining skills and experiences that will last a lifetime.

Stay Positive
While it can be difficult to remain optimistic, the more hopeful and positive you can stay, the easier it will be for your family to stick with you. If you consider your actions a hardship, so will they. But if you look for the fun in it, and encourage them to do the same, then it will be easier for them to see how these changes are positive. And isn’t making your lives better what it’s all about?

When Wants Conflict – Setting Priorities

If you want to change more than one aspect of your life, chances are there will come a time when those wants will conflict. In other words, moving forward in one of your goals will create a problem with another one of your goals.

A Decision To Make
For me, the time came when I was about 4 months pregnant. Obviously having this child was very important to me. My husband and I were very anxious to be parents, and we had been trying for a while. At the same time, I was trying to change my career. I was working on establishing myself as a writer, including writing and marketing my novels, working on a website and writing articles for another site. One would think that the two would have little to no effect on each other. My body was taking care of the baby making, and any free time I had was being filled with writing endeavors. No problem.

Well, no problem — until the baby making took its toll on my body. I was exhausted, unmotivated and lazy. I wanted nothing more than to sit and watch movies all day. Not exactly a great idea when I have a career to get off the ground! My plans were thrown into upheaval, and I found myself getting more and more behind in my goals. So what did I do?

I had to make a choice.

When your wants conflict, you simply have to decide what’s more important. Which want is more pressing, more vital to your happiness? For me, I could push myself harder, get my work done, but continue to add strain to my body. I would likely move forward in my career goals, but there was the chance I would have a negative impact on my baby. Or, I could take it easy, let my body do what it had to do, and cut myself some slack on the writing goals. I chose to put my baby first. Yes, I got behind in my career goals, and I’m still trying to play catch-up. But I didn’t want to do anything to harm my baby. That was more important to me than advancing in my career.

Only you can make the decision as to what’s right for you. Perhaps your choice would have been different than mine. Perhaps you will find yourself more conflicted, unsure which path to choose. It may not be easy. But ultimately you have to do what will make you the happiest. If something had happened to my baby because I had pushed myself too hard, I never would have been able to live with myself. Will you be able to live with your decision?

Setting Priorities
Chances are your choices will not be a matter of life and death. Few choices are. But knowing your priorities, and which goals mean more to you, can help make your decisions easier. It can also help you figure out what to focus on so you don’t get overwhelmed trying to change everything at once. Which want do you want to change the most?

It may help you as you go if you sit down and list everything you’re looking to change — no matter how big or small. Then, place them in order of importance. What are you looking to change first? What can wait a while? What will have the biggest impact on your life? Does one thing have to be done before another?

Setting your priorities can not only settle your mind, it can also make it a little easier when what you want to change conflicts. And checking items off that list is a great feeling!

Inspiration from Booker T Washington

Booker T. Washington said “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which one has overcome while trying to succeed.”

It’s kind of like watching a movie or reading a book. If the dilemma stated at the beginning was resolved in five minutes, you would consider money and time wasted. What was the point? But the conflicts, the problems, that arise as the plot unfolds make it all worth it. You learn about the characters. They gain substance and, well, character. You understand where they’re coming from, what brought them to this point and what will ultimately help them succeed. The plot will, hopefully, keep you on the edge of your seat. Will the goal be reached? Will it have a “happy” ending? And when that ending comes, will it leave you satisfied? With all great movies and books, the ending will be justified. It will be the right ending. And it’s the journey that makes it so.

As you stand at the beginning of your new journey in life, I find this quote is particularly motivating. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t succeeded yet. You will. And the struggles and difficulties you encounter along the way will make the end that much more rewarding — and you that much stronger. It won’t be an easy path, as I’ve indicated already. But it will be worth it. And if the path to get there was easy, simple and clear, then it wouldn’t be as satisfying when you reach your goal. But if you persevere, and do your best to accomplish what you need to, the ending will be justified. And the path that got you there will be the reason.

Your Career: Finding Your Calling

With so much to cover in my initial category postings, I was only able to touch on each change or dilemma briefly. The intent of Wednesdays’ posts will be to elaborate on specific changes you may want to make, and how to move forward in them. I will offer general information and ideas to get you started or move you along, and each Wednesday will cover a different topic.
When it comes to taking charge of your career, if you find yourself a “jack of all trades, master of none,” or simply find yourself floundering, unsure of how to start, this post is for you.
Finding your niche, or “calling” can be a lot easier said than done. I know. It was my biggest hang-up when it came to changing careers. I didn’t want just another job. I wanted something that was meaningful to me, that I would enjoy, that I could see myself doing for years, that wouldn’t bore me. Definitely easier said than done!
Your criteria may be different. Perhaps you’re not as picky as I was (for your sake, I hope you aren’t!) and will have better luck finding something that “clicks” for you. Perhaps you have a few career paths that interest you and you’re just trying to narrow them down. Perhaps you’ve got some ideas floating around in your mind. Or perhaps you have no idea where to even start.
What’s Important to You?
Before even thinking about which career path to choose, you may want to take a few moments to think about what’s really important to you. What qualities are you looking for in a job? Are you looking for something with a consistent schedule, steady paycheck and great benefits? Are you looking for something that lets you think creatively, coming up with ideas that are “outside the box” on a regular basis? Do you want to work with people or independently? In a large corporation or mom-and-pop operation?
The questions are endless, but only you can really answer them. Only you will know what’s important to you, what will make you happy. If you relish working independently but find yourself in a job that requires you to be part of a team, would you be OK with that? If you need the security of a steady paycheck but find yourself drawn to a commission-only profession, how will you deal with that?
Taking the time to really evaluate these criteria, before you fall in love with a job that won’t work for you, will help ensure you find a career that is truly the best fit.
Getting Ideas
Once you know what’s important to you, it’s time to start exploring your options. Whether you have an idea of what you might want to do or not, getting a feel for what’s out there will help you be sure of your choice.
I found one interesting way to get ideas was to take personality tests. You answer a bunch of questions, and your answers are interpretted to give you an idea of which category your personality falls into. Included in the results are usually famous people who had your personality type and some career ideas that may appeal to you. Using these tests as a starting point may inspire you and lead you into a direction you hadn’t even considered. Below are some online tests to get you started.
There are other ways to brainstorm career ideas, too. Think about hobbies or interests you have and visit online job search sites, such as CareerBuilder or Monster. Type your hobby or interest in the keyword search box and see what comes up. The jobs don’t even have to be local; you’re just brainstorming here. Or you can do a Google search with your hobby or interest and “job” or “career” to see what comes up.
Another option is mind-mapping. Take a blank piece of paper. In the middle of the paper write a hobby, interest, or job characteristic that’s important to you. Circle it. Now draw a line from that circle and write a word that relates to it in some way. It can be a job idea or just another interest, job characteristic or random thought. Circle that, too. Continue to branch off the circles, both the original circles and the ones you create as you go. See where your mind takes you. You might be surprised at the chain of ideas!
Stay True to Yourself
While the ultimate choice for me ended up being “obvious” — and was in the back of my mind the whole time — I think part of the reason I didn’t pursue it earlier was because I knew it wasn’t an easy path. There would be no 9-5 job for me. There would be no guaranteed paycheck or benefits. I would have to constantly use my brain, my creativity, to push myself forward. And what about writer’s block?
But, honestly, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the “different” job — the difficult, challenging and thought-provoking job that didn’t fit the definition of “normal” — was the right one for me. I relished the challenge, and regular jobs bored me. The “normal” job had never been the best choice for me. And I think that’s an important thing to keep in mind. To find the job that’s truly right for you, you need to do some soul-searching. You need to think about what you enjoy doing, what challenges you, what gets you excited, what stirs your blood. It’s about bringing together what’s important to you and what’s interesting to you. Even if the path to get there won’t be easy, if it’s something that’s meaningful for you, the end result will be more than worth it.
For some of you, the path will be easier. The job you decide on will have a set training plan, a wide variety of jobs available, and excellent pay and benefits. Congrats if your calling falls into that category! But if what you’re thinking about doesn’t fall into that category, don’t try to make something else fit. Even if the path is a little rockier, the experience will be more meaningful for you if you stay true to yourself instead of convincing yourself that something else could be what you want to do.
It may take a while to discover the right career for you. You may have a few false starts. But stick with it. The process will lead you to the right choice.

Making the Most of What You’ve Got

If you’ve got it, flaunt it, right? Well, when it comes to making changes in your life, if you’ve got it, utilize it. This could be time, money, people, resources — anything that can help you in your new mission. Let’s see some examples, shall we?

  1. You want to find a new career, so you tell everyone you know. (Utilizing your friends and acquaintances.)
  2. You want to earn more money to get out of debt, so you spend your weekends mowing lawns and raking leaves. (Utilizing your spare time.)
  3. You want to repair your relationship with your mother, so you enlist your younger brother, who has a close relationship with Mom, to help. (Utilizing your family members.)
  4. You want to lose weight, so you scour your cabinets and cookbooks to find low-fat recipes and ideas. (Utilizing your resources.)
  5. You want to make a difference in children’s lives, so you spend a couple of nights a week coaching a basketball team. You also take some of your personal funds to purchase uniforms and equipment for the team. (Utilizing your spare time and money.)

These are obviously not the only ways you can use what you’ve got to move you forward, but they’ll give you some ideas. Below are some more ideas to really get the ball rolling.

Time can be your greatest resource, and using the time you’ve got can be a valuable way to get what you want. In the examples above, time was used to take action on changes you want to make. Time can also be used to research, network or plan out a course of action. And putting time to good use will move you forward more than anything else.

Now before you start arguing “I have no free time!” take a good hard look at your day. How much time do you spend watching TV? Surfing the web? Texting or chatting with your friends? That time could be spent moving you forward in your goals. If your nights and weekends are already filled to the brim, see where you can maybe cut back on some extracurricular activities that don’t mean very much to you. Or use your lunch break to look for that new job, search for healthy recipes or research volunteer opportunities.

If what you want to change is in the money category, this may not be a plentiful resource for you to use. But before you dismiss it completely, take a look at your finances and make sure you’re really putting your money to its best use. Are you wasting money on eating out? Frivolous purchases? Special features on your TV or cell phone bill that you don’t use? Redirect your money so it’s moving you closer to your goals.

If money is not an issue for you, then perhaps it can help you in your mission: fund education to advance your career, enlist the help of a counselor to help with your family or relationship troubles, hire a personal trainer to help in weight loss or working out goals, donate to a charity that means a lot to you. The sky’s the limit.

Your friends, family and acquaintances can also be a valuable tool when it comes to advancing your goals. As I mentioned in a previous post, telling everyone you know can give you a kick in the butt when it comes to keeping you on track. But talking to them about your changes can provide you with support, information and leads on new ideas and opportunities as well. This is called networking and many people will tell you that it’s the only way to get ahead. Even if you don’t know how to get a foot in the door at a particular place of employment, or you’re not familiar with the latest medical breakthrough, a friend of a friend might. And that’s a very powerful tool to have in your belt. In addition, simply talking to others about your changes can encourage ideas that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

When you’re accepting the help of other people, however, make sure you’re not taking advantage of them. Just as they can help you, you may be able to help them. Keep your eyes and ears open for any opportunities that can help someone you know, and be willing to lend an ear to someone else who needs to discuss making changes, too.

Just about anything else can fall into this category. In the example I used above, I mentioned using the tangible items — food and cookbooks — that you already had to guide you. But even intangible items can help you in your mission. For example, if you’re reading this blog, you have the internet at your fingertips. The internet offers a wealth of information on any subject imaginable. Using it to research what you want to change can give you tons of ideas. Likewise the library and the people who work there can provide information and leads in a variety of subjects.

More abstractly, consider taking a walk to clear your head. This can free your mind to problem solve and think more creatively. Listen to music. Paint a picture. Doodle. Your greatest resource is your brain — use it!

I Think I Can

There have been books written about it. People have spoken about it. It’s pretty powerful stuff. What it is? The power of positive thinking. It’s like the Little Engine That Could, chugging up that mountain. If you think you can do it, then you can. By the same token, if you think you can’t do it, then you can’t. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. So moral of the story? Believe in yourself, and you’ll get far.

There is a quote I’ve loved since I was in high school. In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia says “we know what we are but know not what we may be.” It’s been quite some time since I’ve read Hamlet, so I don’t recall the context exactly. But I’ve always interpreted it to be saying that anything is possible. We don’t know what we’re capable of. And while that can be good or bad, I prefer to see the positive side of it: I can do anything. I can achieve anything. I can be who I want to be. If you believe in yourself, and you truly want your goals to become reality, you can achieve them.

Now this may sound cheesy to all you cynics out there. Even I can acknowledge that it’s a slightly skewed version of things. But I really believe that the more you think positively, and the harder you work toward your goal, the more likely you’ll achieve it. Negative thinking doesn’t move you forward. It will just make you depressed, discouraged, and unmotivated. Try to keep yourself going in the right direction.

This journey you’ve decided to start won’t be easy. There are times when you’ll think it’s just better to throw in the towel and go back to how things were. But remember what brought you to this point. If you haven’t already, take a moment or two to visualize what your life will be like when you’ve made the changes you’re trying to make. What comes to mind? Try to remember that when the going gets tough. Remember that image you just visualized. If it helps, find a picture or symbol online, print it out and post it on your fridge or somewhere else you’ll see it every day. That is what you’re striving for. That is what will keep you going. And if you believe you can get there, you’ll get there.