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Expectation vs. Reality – Hot Yoga

In my never-ending quest for self-care, living a healthy lifestyle, and relaxation, I tried hot yoga at Element Hot Yoga for the first time this week. I’ve taken several yoga classes, but it’s been a while-and none of them were hot.

The class I took was called “Recover,” which offers a mixture of smooth movements that support flexibility, deep stretching that encourages muscle lining to release, and restorative postures to lower stress levels. As with most yoga classes, it’s designed to relax the body and ease the mind. I went into this class thinking it would be super easy to relax and do all the poses.

Within the first 10 minutes, my insecurities kicked right in. I was surrounded by yogis, who clearly had been practicing for quite some time. With the mirrors in front of us, it was hard not to look at myself and think, “Do you know what you look like compared to everyone else in here?” I was sure that everyone around me was watching me and silently judging me for not being able to do a half split.

woman wearing black top and leggings on green yoga mat
One day, maybe? Photo by theformfitness on Pexels.com

I quickly realized that most people in the class had their eyes closed, or if they were open, they were focused on the instructor. I shushed my inner critic. “Hey you! Shut up and focus! NO ONE CARES what you look like. They are trying to connect their mind, body, and spirit, so you should too!” Inner critic promptly slithered away, embarrassed for momentarily influencing me. I follow the amazing Jessamyn Stanley, who promotes a body positivity approach to yoga. Her Instagram videos actually motivated me to explore hot yoga.

The class was an hour long. After I got over my initial insecurity attack, I really don’t know where the hour went. It was intense. I sweat a lot, but it wasn’t a hard-core workout sweat. It was a cleansing, detoxifying sweat. The cool towel with lavender infused oil on my face was honestly the best thing I’ve had after a workout. The class gave me permission to really listen to my body. I could tell what muscles needed extra attention and I was successfully able to shut out the noise and stress of the outside world. I can’t wait to go back.

Expectation: Stretch, sweat, fall, make a fool of myself. Leave class embarrassed, move to another country, and never speak of hot yoga again.
Reality: A relaxed body, with a clear mind and calm spirit. Ready to run out and buy “all the things” pertaining to yoga including a Namaste Bitches tank top.

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Women to Watch – Stacy Cassio

“I’ve never met a woman I couldn’t learn from.”

The founding principle of Pink Mentor Network

Stacy Cassio is the Founder and CEO of Pink Mentor Network, an organization dedicated to connecting women through mentorships. She started Pink Mentor Network two years ago as a side hustle (#bossbabe) based on her curiosity of how women find mentorships. “I found that it was very difficult to go beyond coffee and the initial conversation,” she said. “I wanted to know how we could get to the next level.” Stacy left her full-time job last year to pursue her passion and invest in herself via the Pink Mentor Network business she started from the ground up.

Stacy always had great mentors who taught her about Marketing and Business Operations. The absence of women in a role where she was leading an engineering team is what inspired her to look for female mentors. She wanted strong female examples of leadership. “It just didn’t exist at that time,” she said, “So I went outside the organization looking for it.”

“We need examples to mimic the courage and bravery of entrepreneurs.”

Pink Mentor Network didn’t start as a women’s only organization. At its inception, it was a group of Charlotte, NC transplants. She changed the format to accommodate for the vulnerability she found in women. “Mentorship is about being a strong leader,” she noted. “You need examples and mentorships help to explore what is out there.”

Pink Mentor Network now has over 1,400 members with 240 mentors. It’s very different than a typical mentorship, as the community is holding each other accountable for growth and inspiration. “It’s been so much fun to watch all the growth that has occurred within these women!” she said happily. She conducts monthly “pop-up” events around the Charlotte, NC area with 12-15 women, one mentor, and one host at a female-led business or venue. The mentor shares her experience and expertise and the group asks questions. There are about 6-8 pop-up events per month in the Charlotte area.

“We initially think of mentoring as one relationship you carry through your life, but what if you had many different relationships you could build for conversations with specific needs?”

Mentorship doesn’t exist in just one relationship. Every woman needs seven types of mentors in her life. “You don’t always know who to ask or what questions to ask your mentor,” said Stacy. “We don’t do a great job about being specific about our needs and we expect our mentors to have all the answers.” Different mentors can fulfill specific goals and answer specific questions.

Stacy’s business continues to grow and thrive. By the end of this year, she’ll have a published book about mentorship and the principles of the organization. Beyond that, she’s looking forward to moving into new communities. “When you have a community built on gratitude and experiences,” she said, “you can learn so much.”

For more information on Pink Mentor Network, visit www.pinkmentornetwork.com and www.popupmentor.com.

Unleash Your Inner Superhero

I wasn’t a huge superhero fan growing up. With the exception of the world of Batman, I didn’t know much about any of them. I didn’t read the comic books or play with the action figures, and not because I was female, but because it simply didn’t interest me.

Fast forward some years later and Spiderman hit the big screen (the Tobey Maguire version). I really liked that movie and the two that followed. Around 2008, the first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) came out – Iron Man. My family watched that and all of the subsequent movies that followed. Again, I had no interest, so they often saw these without me.

Fast forward again to 2015. I start dating a huge Marvel “nerd” and it becomes clear that I’ll have to watch these movies because they are “awesome.” So, we do. By the time we get to the first Avengers movie, I’m hooked.

Just a few of the many Marvel female superheroes!

Aside from the fact that the story of each movie is very good, I enjoyed watching the characters develop. But I really started to get into them when I saw a stronger presence of female superheroes such as Black Widow, Shuri, Okoye, Scarlet Witch, Wasp, and Captain Marvel (my favorite). Finally, women were taking part in something bigger than themselves. They were smart, strategic, and strong (some even stronger than their male counterparts). They were literally saving the world!

Every woman has a female superhero. She may be alive or dead, historical or fictional, but she’s there. She inspires us, motivates us, and reminds us that the struggles we’ve faced are universal. More importantly, we have a superhero inside each of us waiting to come out. She confident, ambitious, and she’s got a hell of a lot to prove. She’s stronger than she knows. She fights for what she knows is right, no matter the cost. She’s brave, even when she’s scared. And she stands up for those who don’t have a voice.

Female superheros are another way to encourage confidence in young girls. They remind us that we can do anything if we put our mind to it and work hard even when it feels hopeless.

Unleash your inner superhero. Let her out. Stand tall. Stand proud. Fight for the greater good. And no matter how many times you fall down, get back up.

Expectation vs. Reality: Self-Care

Welcome to the newest series within the You First blog: Expectation vs. Reality! In this series of posts, I’ll break down the expectations we set for ourselves with various areas of our life (self-care, fitness, happiness, etc.), the reality that actually occurs, and how to accept that reality.

When I was putting together my vision board for 2019, I included the words Expectation vs. Reality on the board. If you’re familiar with Cosmopolitan Magazine, you know they do a monthly feature in photos of Expectation vs. Reality. That’s where I found the phrase. It stuck with me because my expectations are often very different than the reality.

Expectation – Living a Healthy Lifestyle

When I was working on goal-setting, I broke the large goal, Living a healthy lifestyle, down into smaller tasks that would help me achieve the goal:

  • Work out 3-5 times per week
  • Make healthy choices
  • Avoid eating out more than once per week
  • Walk 30 minutes daily
  • Get at least 8 hours of sleep nightly
  • Drink at least 80 oz. of water per day

All of these things are essential to achieving the goal of living a healthy lifestyle. They are specific. They are time-oriented. They are measurable. I’ve outlined the expectations for myself. I know what I need to do to be successful.

Reality

What we fail to understand or account for is external factors that can impact how we reach our goals. The reality is that when my work life gets busy, some of these things just do not happen for me. Part of it is due to timing. If I have to work late, I miss my gym sesh. I’m part of a gym that does evening classes and the classes I like the most occur earlier rather than later. I’m an early bird (thank you, dogs!) so I’m usually up by 5:30 AM on a weekday. I try to make the most of my mornings by walking my dogs, meditating, journaling, and reading. I complete these tasks in the morning so that when I get home from the gym, I can make sure I do what I need to do to get to bed on time.

There are late nights due to commitments with friends. I’m very focused on improving my expertise in my career and I spend a lot of time outside the office doing networking events and attending workshops. I’m also committed to this blog and growing my followers. And the reality is that sometimes “all the things” happen in one day, or even one week and I have to make choices.

Instead of talking down to myself, I do my best to stay positive. Some months of the year are busier than others at work, so I know that my lifestyle won’t be as healthy as I’d like it to be. I have to remind myself I am doing the best that I can and continue to push myself to do better. I can accept that although they might not be the best choices (Chick-Fila, missing a workout, getting to bed at 11:30), those are the choices I made to fulfill another obligation in my life that is also important to me (family, friends, work).

It’s important to adjust my expectations based on the reality I’m currently in. The seesaw of life does not always stay perfectly balanced. But as many times as I fall off, I always get back on and try again.

April Challenge: Spring Cleaning

As the warm weather settles in, most of us go on a Spring Cleaning spree. We do things we don’t normally do like clean the insides of windows, wash pillows (which by the way you should be doing every month), and dust places we don’t normally see all the time (like the top of the fridge). We clean out our closets and get rid of items that are too big, too small, not worn, and shouldn’t be worn. There’s something invigorating about a super clean home, right? And donating bags of clothes or items you no longer use to those in need is always a good thing.

But what if we applied the Spring Cleaning concept to more than just one area of our life? What if we cleared out our minds and souls to make room for more joy? The Everygirl did a great post about this recently and it inspired me to challenge everyone to do some additional spring cleaning for self-care.

For 14 days, I’ve outlined various tasks that can help you clear your mind, enrich your soul, and find joy. I’ll be participating as well and will be sharing what I did each day on social media (excluding the two days that involve avoiding social media and technology). Use the hashtag #youfirstlifestyle to show/tell me what you’re doing each day.

There’s also a daily challenge to meditate, journal, and find gratitude. For some of us, the gratitude and journaling go hand-in-hand. At any rate, find a least 3 things to be grateful for each day and write it down. As you journal, pay close attention to how you feel at the end of each task. Put those thoughts to paper. Clear your mind of stressful thoughts and negative beliefs so that you can make room for positive energy and good vibes.

You can also download the PDF of the challenge here. This challenge starts Sunday, April 14. Happy Spring!

Conquering the Mountain

Last weekend I went on another girls trip with two co-workers I affectionately refer to as my “work wives.” I really admire and respect both of these women for different reasons and when we get together, it’s a lot of laughs.

We’re all pretty active and enjoy being outdoors so we decided to do a hike at Chimney Rock State Park. Once we arrived, I looked up to see how far we’d have to hike and all I saw was stairs. A lot of stairs. We started climbing.

At the first lookout area, with an American flag flying high, I thought “Yes, I made it!” until one of my friends pointed out we still had a ways to go. I started to get discouraged. I should point out that one of these women is ex-military and the other is a spin teacher so they both are in excellent shape. I was struggling to keep up-even though I work out and hike fairly regularly. At this point, my insecurities and negative beliefs kicked in.

“You can’t do it…”
“You’re not in as good of shape as you thought you were…”
“Just let them go ahead, you’re holding them back…”
Give up now…”
“Just accept that you can’t do it…”

Chimney Rock State Park – The halfway point

If you know anything about how negative beliefs work you know that it takes a lot of work to change them. It’s not enough to change your thoughts behind the negative belief. You have to change your actions. (Andrea Owen of Your Kick Ass Life has a GREAT podcast about this topic!) This was a defining moment for me. The Universe was testing me to see if I would give in. And guess what?

I didn’t.

It straight up sucked at times. And yeah, I was not moving as fast up the stairs as my friends, but I did it. 500 wooden steps later, I was 2,200 feet high above the ground looking at the world below. I saw Lake Lure sparkling in the sun. I saw where we first started walking. I thought to myself. “I did this. I f-ing did this! I am a BAD ASS!” (thank you, Jen Sincero)

If I had given up on myself and the hike, I would have missed out on a lot. I would not have experienced the beautiful view. I would not have felt the surge of pride for finishing something I set out to do. I also would not have seen the struggles of other people, such as a woman who was walking up the stairs WITH A CANE! She was one of the reasons I kept going, because if she’s out there trying to move forward and overcome an injury, I have no excuses.

This mountain is a metaphor for life. The hike to the top (your goal, your dream, life) is long and hard. It straight up sucks at times and you’ll want to give up because it’s too hard. Even at the halfway point when you think you’ve done it and realize you’ve still got a way to go, you have to keep going. When you finally get to the top of the mountain, you’ll realize how strong you were. Nothing in life worth having ever came from taking the easy way out or from giving up on yourself.

Don’t quit. Believe in yourself. Conquer your mountain. And enjoy the view from the top.

Women to Watch – Gretchen Campbell

Gretchen Campbell is the owner and founder of Grow, Encourage, Empower, a licensed professional counseling service for young girls. Since starting her practice in 2015, she has assisted countless families by working through crisis situations, parent/child relationship issues, child and adolescent behavioral concerns, and young adults struggling with life transitions.

Originally from New Jersey, Gretchen received her BA in Psychology from Kean University in Union, NJ and her Masters Degree in Counseling at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ. She worked in the mental health field for over 10 years doing community work,  inpatient treatment and case management services when she realized she wanted to reach people on a more personal level. “I always knew I wanted to be a therapist,” she says. “I wanted to impact people’s lives one-on-one.”

When you step into Gretchen’s office on Chatham Street in downtown Cary, NC, you immediately feel relaxed and at ease. Her environment is tailored specifically to teenage girls. Her goal is to provide an atmosphere where patients will be able to sense a feeling of authenticity and genuineness to ease in taking the healthy steps needed toward making positive changes in their lives.

“I wanted to impact people’s lives one-on-one.”

She specializes in working with adolescents experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, socialization stressors, mood swings, self harming behavior, and parent/child relationship issues. Mother/daughter issues can be quite prevalent during teenage years (oh the hell I put my poor mother through!), so Gretchen offers parent/child sessions to address the issues that arise in that relationship.

Young girls often have a way of thinking negatively about themselves . Social media has a huge impact on a young girl’s perception of herself. With the thousands of Instagram accounts of celebrities, models, etc., it’s easy to see why girls are constantly looking for the “perfect” body or thinking that they just aren’t good enough. “Social media is a gift and a curse,” says Gretchen.  “You can’t shelter them from it, but it’s important to implement boundaries and to set limitations.” She helps young girls understand that they are not alone in these feelings while working to improve confidence in themselves.

With each patient, Gretchen identifies the areas of struggle and how to manage stress and anxiety. They work together on creating a treatment plan by defining goals and objectives as well as how to measure them. She also gives them homework and many times, they girls are proud to come back and tell her they’ve actually done the homework she assigned. “It’s very rewarding to see them grow and apply what they are learning in here.” she says.

Creating balance and focusing on self-care was ingrained in her from the early part of her career. She makes it a point not to take work home with her and has adopted the practice of mindfulness in her daily activities. “I try to be present in the moment instead of focusing on what’s next,” she says. She’s also an avid fan of meditation and encourages that practice with her patients. “The earlier you start, the better,” she smiles.

“I try to be present in the moment instead of focusing on what’s next.”

Through her practice, Gretchen offers several events to help young girls navigate the challenges of their teen years. She even provides mother/daughter mini-retreats to help improve communication while having fun. She helps moms connect so they know they are not alone in the struggles they experience raising young women. Gretchen plans to continue to grow her practice and dreams of opening a wellness center that provides yoga, meditation, and counseling services.

For more information about Grow, Encourage, Empower, visit https://www.growencourageempower.com/.

Do you know a woman who should be featured in the Women to Watch blog series? Contact me today!

Thank You, Next: How I Learned I Was Enough

“Thank U, Next” by Ariana Grande is one of those songs you can’t help but sing. The song is an ode to past relationships that made Ari who she is today. About the 30th (or so) time I heard the song, I started to think about what I learned from my past relationships and how they’ve shaped who I am today.

My list of relationships past is long and paved with many dead ends, heartbreak, and turmoil. I’d like to tell you I learned something different from each one, but the truth is I often made the same mistake over and over again with different men.

I did not make good choices with men.

It took me a long time to come to that conclusion and even longer to vocalize that realization. From a young age, I knew what a healthy and loving relationship looked like. I was raised to be very independent. I didn’t have “Daddy issues.” So why did I keep making bad choices?

I’ve never experienced severe trauma in my relationships. I knew there were things I absolutely would not tolerate without question, such as physical abuse or control. I was never scared. But it is clear to me now that I didn’t value myself in most of these relationships. I was always apologizing-even when it wasn’t my fault. I constantly put the needs of the other person before my own. I often suppressed my true feelings to avoid conflict. I never wanted to give up on whatever relationship that I was in. I allowed these men to make me feel like I was not enough. I lived in fear that I would lose the person I was with and that they would find someone better than me.

After the (many) mistakes of my early twenties, I knew that I needed to figure some things about myself and I wanted a clear mind to do it. I avoided dating completely. I spent a lot of time alone or with my friends and family. I really got to know and love who I was as a person. I learned my strengths, my faults, and the value I bring to all relationships. I journaled a lot. I traveled alone. I did what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. I became incredibly comfortable with who I was. And I started to fall in love with myself.

After years of therapy, self-improvement work, and a lot of time alone, I began to understand that I am enough. Actually, I’m more than enough. For the last four years, I have been in a relationship with a wonderful man. I was not looking for him or any type of relationship at all when he showed up in my life. And when he showed up, I couldn’t ignore him or the way I felt about him. I knew he was different. His favorite thing about me is my confidence-that I know who I am and I don’t apologize for it.

“I am enough. Actually, I’m more than enough.”

We talk through our issues. We are honest with each other-even if it hurts. We speak to each other with kindness and love. We challenge and motivate each other. We understand and respect each other’s need for alone time and self-care. We have a mutually respectful and loving relationship.

On the worst days, I remind myself that he is a good man and loves me for everything that I am-flaws and all. He’s never once asked me to change anything about myself. I know that’s he committed to me 100%. He’s supportive, genuine, and inspires me to be the best version of myself. I am happy-and not just because I am with him. I am happy because I know who I am and because I love myself.

My self-discovery process never ends. If you think about it, you’re always changing and growing. I’m not the same person I was at 21, 27, or even 30. And when 40 rolls around, I know I’ll be a different person than I am now. Learning from my past has made me stronger and it’s helped me appreciate my experiences. Every experience, good or bad, has taught me something. And from now until the day I die, I know…

I am enough.

Girlfriends: A Necessary Part of Self-Care

“Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the latitudes and longitudes.”

Henry David Thoreau

Last weekend, I met my longtime girlfriends for an overnight trip at a local vineyard. We’ve been friends for over 15 years. Some of the best times of my life have been in the company of these women. There are so many nights in our past full of laughter, tears, adventures, and love.

As the years have gone by, it’s been more difficult for us to get together as often as we’d like. Our lives have taken us in different directions. Weeks or even months may go by, but when we get together, it’s as if not a day has passed.

Me and my girls-they give me life!

Much like alone time, fitness, and meditation, spending time with my circle of friends has always been a crucial part of my self-care routine. I not only want to spend time with my friends, I need to. My friends feed my soul. They know the best and worst parts of me. They’ve celebrated with me in times of joy and they’ve seen me through the most painful times in my life.

I returned from my weekend refreshed and rejuvenated. Spending time with my girls was just what I needed. Each of us has a unique personality yet, we all bring out the best in each other. We are brutally honest-even if it hurts. My life would not be the same without these women. I am better because of them. As the years go by, I know that we will remain in each other’s lives no matter what.

Creating a Healthy Work-Life Balance

Having a healthy work-life balance is a key part of self-care. Working too much can have a negative impact our home life and health. No matter how much you love your job, it’s important to remember that self-care is just as important as providing for yourself or your family.

Most career-oriented women often have a difficult time achieving a healthy work-life balance. We are programmed to do everything and be everything to everyone. We push our needs to the back burner too many times to take care of others. It’s important to work hard and be successful in our careers, but it’s equally as important to enjoy life. So how can we create that necessary balance? Here are a few tips:

  1. Be clear about what is important to you. What are the activities you enjoy outside of work? What commitments in your personal life need your attention as much as your job does? Figure out what it is you need to be harmonious. Maybe it’s the daily gym sesh or attending your kids school activities. Knowing what is most important to you outside of work will help you communicate what it’s important.
  2. Use your calendar. Block off time for the personal commitments you have – including self-care. If you know that you have a 5 PM spin class on Tuesdays, then maybe you’ll work through your lunch hour to make up the time for leaving a little early. If something is in your calendar you’re more likely to honor the commitment instead of blowing it off.
  3. Don’t just do the things you have to do in your personal time. Do the things you want to do. We tend to spend our time away from work doing things that need to be done – laundry, grocery shopping, house cleaning, doctor’s appointments, etc. It’s part of life. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make time for fun. This is where prioritizing yourself comes into play. Need a new dress for an upcoming event? Make time to shop. Dying to catch up with an old friend over coffee? Make it happen. Devote some of that time away from work to taking care of yourself!
  4. Practice healthy habits. Get a good night’s sleep. Eat healthy foods. Exercise. Drink plenty of water. Practicing these habits on a consistent basis will naturally give you more energy and make you more productive.

You can have an amazing career and a wonderful life. Try one (or all of these) and see if you notice a change in your work-life balance.

Celebrate Women Every Day

Today is International Women’s Day. Across the world, we honor and celebrate women and the contributions they’ve made.

For years, women have been subjected to scrutiny in a variety of ways. We’ve been fighting our whole lives to gain the same rights that men were born with. The right to vote. The right to work. The right to make choices about our bodies. The right to serve in public office. And the list goes on. It seems like each generation of women has a new battle to fight, but the question is, when will the war be over?

In the last year, the #MeToo movement has brought to light many injustices women have had to deal with over the last few decades. Thousands of women have reported sexual assaults, workplace misconduct, harassment, and more.

I am in awe of how many women have stepped forward and raised their voice. We are finally building a society where this type of behavior is no longer acceptable and that there are consequences for reprehensible actions. But why did it take so long for our voices to finally be heard?

We continue to come together to stand up not just for ourselves, but for the young girls who are growing up in this current world. We’re giving them a voice and showing them they have the power to change the world. They know they can grow up to become CEOs, Supreme Court justices, entrepreneurs, or presidents. We’re teaching them to respect themselves,  work hard, and dream big,

As women, we’re providing more opportunities to mentor and be mentored. We’re taking a more active role in our financial future. We’re following our dreams and pursuing our passions.  And most importantly, we’re putting ourselves first.

Celebrate women-today and every day.

Women to Watch – Jessica Garcia

“I realized there was an opportunity for me to take my experience and help other women take a more active role in their financial planning and future.”

Jessica Garcia, Founder of Brainstorming Women

Jessica Garcia is the Founder of BrainstormingWomen, a business dedicated to empowering women through financial literacy. She started her business in 2015 after she realized there was a need to educate women on financial matters. Throughout her more than 20-year career in Finance and Banking, Jessica frequently encountered women who did not have a strong understanding of their finances. “I realized there was an opportunity for me to take my experience and help other women take a more active role in their financial planning and future,” she said.

Through her business, Jessica helps her clients, mostly women, to build budgets and create business plans. “It’s so important to understand each client’s goals and priorities to help them stay on track,” she said. She was approached by an attorney who asked her to help put together their finances for a divorce, which led her to obtaining a certification as a Divorce Financial Analyst. She helps couples put together financial plans and budgets pre and post divorce, saving them time and money in the long run.

Jessica helps clients by collecting their financial documents and using them to build their financial picture. Your financial picture is made up of income, expenses, assets, and liability. Through her services, Jessica helps clients become more familiar and comfortable with the financial language. “We look at the whole picture to help them make sound financial decisions,” she said.

I love what Jessica does because I can see the need and value for this service offering-especially among women. I too was a woman who had trouble understanding the various aspects of finance until about three years ago. She’s changing the conversation and giving women the power to take ownership of their finances while giving them the confidence to make sound financial decisions.

BrainstormingWomen has offices based in Charlotte and Raleigh and is open between 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM, Monday through Friday. For more information about Jessica and her business, visit https://brainstormingwomen.com/.

Do you have a suggestion for Women to Watch? Contact me today!

Things My Mother Didn’t Teach Me

Today is my mother’s birthday. In honor of her, I am sharing a post I wrote several years ago from an old blog with some modifications.

My mother taught me a lot of things. Because of her, I can make some delicious spaghetti sauce. I know how to put on makeup well. Like my mother, I am inquisitive and have the constant desire to know more. These are just a few of the things my mother taught me. 

Several years ago, I read a blog post by a woman who was reflecting on the wonderful lessons her mother didn’t teach her. It inspired me to think about the many lessons I learned without the help of my mother.

I’m thankful she didn’t teach me how to fail.
From a very young age, I was taught that no matter how times you fail at something, do it again until you’re successful. Tying my shoe, riding my bike, cooking, and parking a car are just a handful of examples in which I’ve failed countless times. Instead of giving up like I wanted to, she pushed me to do it again, sometimes in a gentle way, but more often than not in a “You WILL learn how to do this because you don’t have a choice!” way.

I’m thankful she didn’t teach me how to be a woman waiting for a man.
Throughout my life, I saw lots of moms who were so involved in their daughters’ dating lives. I hated that they were always pushing their daughter to find a boyfriend or cautioned them about how much they ate. It was as if they were already being prepped for finding a husband. My mother raised me to be independent and to have my own life. Even in my serious relationships, she encouraged me to focus on my education and go after my dreams. She had a wonderful relationship with my dad. They each had their own lives and interests outside their marriage, but the love between them was genuine, strong and fulfilling.

I’m thankful she didn’t teach me the easy way out.
As a lazy and spoiled teenager, I often wanted to “take the easy way out” with my homework. There were countless fights over this. I soon realized taking the easy way out didn’t really get you anywhere but lost. Part of the reason I have such a strong work ethic today is because I stopped taking the easy way and chose the one that required more work. And to be honest, the rewards are greater when you’ve worked so hard.

I’m thankful she didn’t teach me to stay at home.
I couldn’t wait to turn 18 so I could get out of my parents house and go to college. For the first month or so, I really loved it. I was on my own, I didn’t have a curfew-in short, I could do what I wanted to do. I loved it. And when I was older, I lived by myself for 2 years. It was AMAZING! I was happy being me, in my own space. I could move the furniture any way I wanted to. I didn’t have to worry about waking someone else up with my music. I could put the air down to 65! Living on my own was a very satisfying experience that I will always treasure and it’s because my mother gave me the wings to leave the nest and fly on my own.

I’m thankful she didn’t teach me everything.
There are so many things your parents can’t teach you. This is why you go to school, you live alone, you live with friends, you travel, you work, etc. Some of the best lessons in my life I learned on my own. I wouldn’t have had the freedom to make mistakes, to love, to get my heart broken, to know pain and to truly live if she had taught me everything. If she had, my life would have been so boring.

And my life is anything BUT boring thanks to you, Mom (and Dad). 

Women to Watch – Michelle Cummings

“Do it your own way, but don’t do it alone.”

Michelle Cummings is another one of the lovely ladies I met at the Jen Sincero event in December 2018. We struck up a conversation and I knew right away I wanted to feature her on the blog as a Woman to Watch.

Originally from England, her family moved to Long Island, New York in her elementary years. During her senior year of high school, her parents moved to the Poconos. She realized there wasn’t much opportunity for her there, so she moved back to NY and had her first apartment by the time she graduated HS. “I had something to prove,” she said smiling. At 18 years old, Michelle was living on her own, working, and attending Nassau Community College. She went on to Hofstra where she would complete her BBA and MBA degrees. She obtained her CPA license while completing her MBA and working for one of the largest accounting firms in the world.

After working for two more Fortune 100 companies in New York, she moved to Massachusetts to work for the largest privately held investment services firm. Michelle spent most of her career in Financial Services during which time she and her husband  started a family. Her drive for success led her to more and more challenging roles, integrating new products across the firm.  “I was fortunate enough to have a position that allowed me to bring people together,” she said about the role. After some time, Michelle realized she wanted something a little less demanding.

Michelle started to explore her options. “I wasn’t really finding anything good enough to keep me away from my boys,” she said, “so I moved out and began consulting.” This role allowed her to choose how she spent her time. It offered more flexibility between work and home life – a balance that can be difficult to achieve.

Michelle was able to select the projects she wanted to work on while enjoying more freedom to explore the possibilities that life offered – which led her to Rodan + Fields. She was interested in the skincare line and took a closer look at the products, the doctors, and the business model. “This company was very transparent,” she said. “I could personally attest to the quality and value of the products.” 

“I could do things on my terms.”

Partnering with Rodan + Fields gives Michelle the opportunity to grow a business her way. It fits her personality and the personal goals she wants to achieve. She’s able to work remotely and spend time with her family while generating income. Building this business allows her to connect with people – something she really enjoys doing. She even hosts a dinner about every six weeks to bring female entrepreneurs together. “There are a lot of incredible women out there and I want them to meet each other!”

Despite all she has going on, Michelle makes self-care a priority. She walks outside almost every day and installed a treadmill desk in her home office. “Self-care is about scheduling and planning,” she says. “You have to be disciplined.”

Michelle is not slowing down anytime soon. She plans to continue to grow her business with Rodan + Fields as they expand globally. “You can do anything you want to do,” she said. “Do it your own way, but don’t do it alone.”

 

Self-Love Quotes

No surprise here, but I’m a huge proponent of self-love. When you learn to love yourself, wonderful things can happen. Here are ten of my favorite quotes about self-love for when you need a little inspiration.

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we’ll ever do.” – Brene’ Brown

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”  – Eleanor Roosevelt

“You must be fearless enough to give yourself the love you did not receive.” – Oprah

“Kindness and love will get you everywhere your dreams want, especially when you love and are kind to yourself first.” – Andrea Owen

“Our first and last love is self-love.” – Christian Nestel Bovee

“It’s okay, you don’t have to like me. I love me. Self-love trumps all hate, negativity, and insecurity from others.” – Sylvester McNutt

“Loving yourself isn’t vanity. It’s sanity.” – Katrina Mayer

“How you love yourself is how you teach others to love you.” – Rupi Kaur

“Never apologize for who you are. It lets the whole world down.” – Jen Sincero
What are your favorite self-love quotes?

February Challenge: 14 Days of Self-Love

“Loving yourself isn’t vanity. It is sanity.”

Katrina Mayer

I’ve never been a fan of Valentine’s Day.

When I was single it was a reminder that people were coupled up and in love. It’s not a great feeling. But even when I started dating my partner almost four years ago, I still wasn’t a fan. In my opinion, it’s a Hallmark holiday. I believe you should tell your partner/spouse/love of your life how you feel every day and not just one day of the year.

Much like our partners, it’s important we tell ourselves how we feel every day. How do you speak to yourself? Are you kind? Are you loving? Are you happy with who you are? We’re all guilty of not treating ourselves the way we deserve to be treated. So I’ve created a February Self Love Challenge to help you out!

The challenge is simple: I want you to write down 1-5 things you love about yourself every single day for 14 days. You can always find at least one thing you love about yourself. Always!

Use the hashtag #14DaysofSelfLove on social media and tag me with the things you love about yourself. The challenge starts on February 1.

Go ahead, show yourself some love!

Women to Watch: Carol Clokey

Last year, I had the great pleasure of attending Jen Sincero’s Bad Ass Book Tour event. In case you haven’t heard, it was amazing. In addition to witnessing Jen in all her bad assery, I had the opportunity to meet and connect with some wonderful women.

Carol Clokey was one of these women. She immediately drew me in with her warm smile and glowing personality. I soon discovered she has her own self-care blog, Dancing Around the Fire. Carol’s blog speaks to women in their fifties or older. “As women, we’re used to taking care of everything and everyone else,” she said. “Years go by before we wonder where our lives went.” Her blog encourages women to take time for themselves.

“Every woman I know around my age wished they had put self-care first sooner.”

Carol is a full-time lawyer, a career which demands more time for work and less time for self. Perhaps it’s why she started her blog over 20 years ago. As her website says, Dancing Around the Fire is a state of being, intimately connecting to Source and Self. It’s dancing, loving yourself, living your life for you. “I want women to know it’s okay to take care of others, but it’s necessary to take time away for themselves as well,” she said. “Every woman I know around my age wished they had put self-care first sooner.”

In my opinion, the most remarkable thing about Carol is her resilience. Many years ago, she experienced a horrific trauma. Over time, Carol was able to heal and move forward. After hearing her story, I was in awe of her. She turned her pain into joy and now helps other women focus on taking care of themselves.

Carol is also a Channeler, Mentor, and Healer. More information on what she does can be found on her website.

Do you have a suggestion for Women to Watch? Contact me today!

Decluttering is Part of Self-Care

I have been Marie Kondo-ing my house for the last week. It started small and has now grown into a full-blown obsession. I’ve always been a fan of her methods, but the Netflix series kicked me into high gear (like everyone else.)

I have never been a fan of clutter. I like things organized and orderly. If the room or closet looks cluttered, my anxiety kicks in. And when my anxiety kicks in, I can’t relax. I’m so focused on what needs to go where or why so many things are in the room.

We have a storage room just off our basement that is full of “all the things” we’re not using but “might need one day.” It quickly became a place to put things that we didn’t need or were in the way. New dining room chairs? Put the old ones in the storage room. Boxes of stuff from the closet we cleaned out? Put them in the storage room.

We got fed up with this and my wonderful partner took it upon himself to go through everything in the closets and the storage room down there. We hauled a mattress out to the curb for pickup, donated several things to Habitat for Humanity, and dropped some old electronics off at the recycling center. We also threw out a ton of papers, boxes, etc.

As I was watching the room empty and things go away, I immediately felt relaxed. My boxing bag is in the storage room and I haven’t been able to use it for months because we kept throwing random stuff in there. Keeping our space decluttered is another form of self-care. It shows I value the things I bring into my home and that I know when to let go of things that no longer benefit me or give me purpose. There’s no reason to hold on to things we’re not wearing or using that are just taking up space.

How does decluttering improve your life?

My 2018 Reads

I love to read. It’s one of my favorite activities and brings me a lot of joy. Walking into a bookstore is almost as bad as walking into a shoe store. I want ALL the books because there are just so many great ones out there! When I get a gift card to Amazon or Barnes and Noble, I immediately want to spend it on books.

Here’s the list of everything I read this year. My “Future Reads” list is quite long-almost 35 books! I plan to review as many of these as I can in future blog posts. What books do you recommend?

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Patrick Lencioni
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership – John C. Maxwell
Stay Hungry – Sebastian Maniscalco
The Sun and Her Flowers – Rupi Kaur
Milk and Honey – Rupi Kaur
You are a Bad Ass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life – Jen Sincero
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life – Mark Manson
The Art of Saying No: How to Stand Your Ground, Reclaim Your Time and Energy, and Refuse to be Taken for Granted (Without Feeling Guilty!) – Damon Zahariades
Dreams from My Father – Barack Obama
The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a S%&* – Sarah Knight
Get Your S%&* Together – Sarah Knight
You Do You – Sarah Knight
Becoming – Michelle Obama
Hindsight and all the Things I Can’t See in Front of Me – Justin Timberlake
Failing Up: How to Take Risks, Aim Higher, and Never Stop Learning – Leslie Odom, Jr.

I am looking forward to plowing through my list of 2019 reads. Here are the ones I’m hoping to start and finish this year:

Uncommon Type: Some Stories – Tom Hanks
Nice Girls (Still) Don’t Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers – Lois P. Frankel
Own It: The Power of Women at Work – Sallie Krawcheck
Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life – Byron Katie
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos – Jordan B. Peterson
Own the Day, Own Your Life: Optimized Practices for Walking, Working, Learning, Eating, Training, Playing, Sleeping, and Sex – Aubrey Marcus
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead – Sheryl Sandberg
Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person – Shonda Rhimes
Bossypants – Tina Fey
Yes Please – Amy Poehler
What Happened – Hillary Rodham Clinton
Maybe It’s You: Cut the Crap. Face Your Fears. Love Your Life – Lauren Handel Zander
Big Love: The Power of Living with a Wide-Open Heart – Scott Stabile
A Place for Us: A Novel – Fatima Farheen Mirza
Lions Don’t Need to Roar: Using the Leadership Power of Personal Presence to Stand Out, Fit In and Move Ahead – D.A. Benton
You Are a Bad Ass at Making Money – Jen Sincero
You Are a Bad Ass Every Day – Jen Sincero
The Bullet Journal – Ryder Carroll

What is on your list to read this year?

Women to Watch – Dr. LaTrea Shine

“If it’s your passion, then you can find a way to get it done. It’s all about making the commitment.”

Dr. LaTrea Shine

Dr. LaTrea Shine has had a passion for education for most of her life. “My father is very into education and he pushed me to get the highest level of education possible,” she said smiling. So after she finished her four-year degree for Management Information Systems at the University of Georgia in 1997, she immediately went out to pursue and receive her MBA at NC State.

Dr. Shine joined Lenovo in 1997. A few years after finishing her Masters, she started to think about getting her Ph.D. “I have always been interested in IT, ” she said, “So it made sense for me to get my Ph.D. in this field. She wanted to go to campus, but with three kids, it was not a feasible option. So she enrolled at Capella Online University and started the process of obtaining her Ph.D.

It took seven years, a lot of hard work, countless hours at Starbucks, and so much more, but Dr. Shine made it her mission to get the Ph.D. “I had a very supportive manager, ” she said. “It was so helpful because I was able to take time off to review drafts and do the work required to get the degree.” In addition to having the support of her manager, her co-workers were excited as well. IT is a mostly male-dominated career. “It felt like they wanted me to win,” she said, of her co-workers who watched her through the years as she continued to pursue her Ph.D.

I was most impressed with Dr. Shine’s quest to pursue her degree because while this was going on, she was raising three kids. “I had to treat my pursuit of my Ph.D. like a job,” she says. She dedicated a significant part of her evenings and weekends to work on the degree. After picking up her kids and having dinner together, she would head off to Starbucks each night to put in serious work. “The people at Starbucks knew my name and my order,” she laughed. “I was there all the time!”

Her thesis centered on the learning styles of men and women. “I wanted to see the differences in their learning styles and if these differences impacted their leadership styles,” she explained. Through her research, she discovered that, surprisingly, our learning styles were not so drastic that it caused a decline in leadership. I met Dr. Shine at a presentation of her thesis to a group of women in technology and I too was surprised at the results. Women are often criticized for our leadership styles differing from men. Her research proves this is not the case.

Dr. Shine’s quest for education is not complete. She wants to complete more research in her field and hopes to publish a journal within a year. Through all the obstacles standing in her way, Dr. Shine never lost sight of her goal. “If it’s your passion, then you can find a way to get it done,” she says. “It’s all about making the commitment.”

Do you have a suggestion for Women to Watch? Contact me today!

Bullet Journaling

I recently discovered the art of bullet journaling. As a person who lives and dies by her calendar, I’m officially hooked. There were quite a few podcasts I listened to this year that stressed the importance of writing things down by having a physical planner and not just a virtual one. It makes sense, because the more you write it down, the more likely you are to remember. I also realized that my life had become a series of Post-It Notes. Grocery lists, to-do lists, reminders. They never seemed to end. There had to be a better way to organize this information, right?

Enter the art of bullet journaling.

I can’t remember how I stumbled upon this concept, but I’m so glad I did. Developed by Ryder Carroll, this method of journaling compiles EVERYTHING. Your calendar. Your lists. Your reminders. That book you wanted to read. It’s all in one place.

Ryder’s site provides a tutorial on how to outline your pages. Your planner has a table of contents so you can outline each page or section of the journal. When I first started this method, I was using one page to list out all the dates of the month. (I quickly realized that was not enough space, but more about that later) Each month gets a dedicated task list. This is where you list all the things that you have to do within the specific month. There’s also a Future Log that spans six months so that you can move tasks that didn’t get completed in a specific month to the future log to help you remember to include it in the next month’s task list. For example, “Change air filters in house” has been on my monthly to-do list for two months now because it’s just not getting done.

I realized I had to dedicate more space to each day of the month to list “all the things.” I wanted to see how others were doing it, so I went searching on Pinterest. I found over 1,000 posts on how others have gotten creative with their bullet journaling. It’s inspired me to be a little more creative as well. There are so many stickers and enhancements you can order on Amazon. Be warned: it’s easy to get sucked in and go nuts over your journal.

Remember I mentioned you needed a place to write down that next book you want to read? There’s a page in your bullet journal for that. I now have a running list of all the books I want to read. The page is also listed in your table of contents as a reference point so you’re not flipping pages looking for it.

Bullet journaling is a great way to stay organized, motivated, and dedicated to the tasks you need to complete on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. It’s meant for those who really like to take the time to plan out their days, weeks, and even months. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

 

Creating a Vision Board

As 2018 comes to a close, it’s time to start thinking about next year. What are your goals? What do you hope to accomplish in 2019? What is your vision? These are all great questions to ask yourself as you start to build your vision board.

What is a Vision Board?
A Vision Board is a compilation of words and images that describe your vision for the next year. It can be filled with words, phrases, images, and more.

There are hundreds of ideas for vision boards on Pinterest. Each one is unique. You don’t have to do what everyone else does. Put your own spin on it and make it your own.

How do I make this happen?
Start by finding newspapers or magazines that you or someone else is done reading. Cut out words that speak to you. When I was putting mine together, I was looking for words and phrases that went nicely with my goals and how I saw myself as a person. You can also add images. Maybe you want to spend more time being mindful in 2019. So add images of yoga, meditation, and reading. Simply put, add whatever inspires you to this board, because you’ll be looking at it every day.

Once you have all the elements for your Vision Board ready, start to lay them out in a manner that makes sense to you. I used a poster board that I got from the dollar store as the backdrop for my board. I dedicated the left side of my board to words I felt best described me and would remind me of the bad ass woman I know I am. On the right side of my board, I arranged my goals with words and phrases that played nicely with those goals. And in the middle, I placed phrases that motivate me.

What does your 2019 Vision Board look like? Use the hashtag #youfirstlifestyle and upload them to social media so I can see.

Make 2019 your best year yet!

Related Reading

Goal Setting for Success – Part 1
Goal Setting for Success – Part 2

Women to Watch: Brooke Bongiorno

“I love being on the journey with others. It’s so rewarding to be a part of changing someone’s lifestyle!”

Brooke Bongiorno, Owner and Founder of Fit and Balanced

This is the second post in the Women to Watch series. You can find all the posts from this series on the Women to Watch page. 

Fitness has always been a part of Brooke Bongiorno’s life. As a child, she took gymnastics and dance and later moved on to figure skating and ice hockey. Her eating habits weren’t always great and she realized they were connected to some of the health issues she was having. After buying P90X for her husband one Christmas, Brooke decided to do it with him. “I did the food plan and workouts with him and saw great results,” she said. After having her fourth child, she knew she had to make some serious changes in her life. She became certified as a fitness instructor and put her passion into motion. In just seven months of study, she became a Sports Performance Specialist. “I have seen so many coaches doing it wrong with these kids,” said Brooke. “They start them working out incorrectly and creating more chances for injuries and imbalances. I wanted to fix that.”

Clients getting their workout on at Fit and Balanced

Brooke is now the proud owner of her own fitness studio, Fit and Balanced. When she opened the studio in 2015, she had a clear vision of helping her clients fix imbalances and injuries and work out with proper form. “I wanted to help others progress through fitness the right way,” she said. Fit and Balanced brings a holistic approach to fitness, teaching clients to use natural healing, stretches, clean eating and more.

As a mom of four, Brooke stays busy. She is very active in the lives of her children and still finds time to put herself first, working out every day whenever she can. Brooke’s day often begins at 3:30 AM, as her first class is at 5:00 AM. Her last class ends at 7:00 PM when she heads back home to get her kids ready for the next day. It’s a huge tag team effort between Brooke and her husband, but they make it work. All of her kids are athletes and she creates workouts for them based on the sport they play. “They give me a hard time sometimes,” she smiles, “But I have to keep teaching them the importance of working out.”

Brooke is now taking steps to take her business to the next level. She wants to work with youth and adult athletes to help them train properly, extend their performance, and reduce the risk of injuries. Her long-term goal is to create a true health center with professional trainers who specialize in certain levels of fitness. “I want people to come to my gym and move through the different stages of training based on their fitness goals or any injuries they may have,” she said. “I love being on the journey with others. It’s so rewarding to be a part of changing someone’s lifestyle!”

Brooke has a dedicated group of clients who show up for her classes consistently and truly enjoy the training and guidance she has to offer. With her unique approach, Brooke has created a health and fitness community that continues to grow. But she won’t stop there. “If you have a passion for something, chase that passion,” she said. “Don’t ever let others hold you back from something that makes you happy and fulfilled.”

Brooke teaches 14 classes each week. Her schedule accommodates early birds and night owls so you can find a class time that works best for you. Classes passes are available for purchase online as well. For more information on Fit and Balanced, contact Brooke Bongiorno at fitandbalancedinc@gmail.com or visit her website at https://www.fitandbalanced.net/.

More About Brooke

Brooke is a graduate from the National Personal Training Institute of Charlotte (NPTI) in North Carolina. She is certified through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) with certifications for group training,  speed, agility and quickness training, cardio for fitness specialists, youth exercise specialist, and sports performance specialist. 

Books For You: The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a $%&*

I don’t remember how I stumbled upon Sarah Knight and her literary works of art but I’m glad I did. All of her books I’ve read really are life-changing, even though that phrase is only used in the first title. At present, she has three books and I strongly recommend reading them in order as each book has a theme that ties into the previous book. The first of her amazing literary works of art is The Life-Changing Magic of NOT GIVING A F

The life changing magic of not giving a f

This book is all about prioritizing what you care about. Think about the way you interact with people on a daily basis, the conversations you engage in, the way you react to certain things. You may discover (or even already know) that you are often participating in things that you don’t want to because it’s what you should do. I mean this is how we were programmed to live life, right? Suck it up, be nice, do some things we don’t want to do because it’s what we should do. Sarah’s message is simple: Guess what? You don’t have to live this way. 

I’ll give you an example. I don’t care about football. Other than the fact that people are boycotting the NFL because players are choosing to take a knee for good reasons, I have absolutely no interest in this sport. Watching a game on TV or even in person gives me zero satisfaction. When I walk into work and hear people talking about “that game last night,” I hit the snooze button in my mind. I’ve gone to several football games and watched several in my 20s. Why? Because it’s what my friends or significant other at the time were doing and I felt like I should too. 

These days, if someone asks me if I want to go to the game or watch it on TV, I politely decline. When I hear people talking about football, I excuse myself from the conversation and find something else to do. I’m not being rude. I’m establishing a firm boundary with myself and others that this is something I just don’t have an interest in participating in. And that’s okay! 

Make a list of things that you care about or really enjoy. A few of mine include my dogs, Fall, mafia documentaries, makeup, self-improvement, wine, and my family. (not necessarily in that order). Once you have that list, make another list of things you don’t really care about. This can be anything-such as going to baby showers, the latest political scandal, Brussel sprouts, etc. You get the point. For context, a few of mine are: vegan foods and anything have to do with veganism, counting calories, whiskey, hunting, other people’s opinions about how I live my life, and unsolicited advice. I took that list and put it into action. If someone says everyone in the office is going to try that new vegan place and I should go with them, it’s a hard pass for me. When I hear unsolicited advice spewing from people’s mouths, I hit “Play” in my head and hear whatever song has been stuck in my brain for the last 24 hours to drown this person out. 

This book also helped me to be tolerant of other peoples f’s. Someone doesn’t want to discuss why one eyeliner is better than the other? Cool, it’s not their jam. Jane Smith likes to binge watch Storage Wars on the weekends? Awesome! Not my thing, but I can respect that you have your passions and I have mine. You do you. (More on that book later).

Engage in the behaviors/activities you want to and stop participating in those which do not bring you joy. This allows you to spend your time the way you want to and not the way others think you should. Be polite, yet firm. You’ll be amazed at how much happier you feel. 

November Challenge Wrap-Up

When you say “yes” to others, make sure you are not saying “no” to yourself. 

-Paulo Coelho

The November challenge was very simple: Say “no” to one (or many things) so that you could say “yes” to yourself. For a Type A personality who says “yes” without thinking twice, this was definitely a challenge for me.

Here’s a list of things that I said “no” to this month:

  • I didn’t go to a movie I really wanted to see (and had free passes for) because I needed a workout more than I needed a free movie. 
  • I took a walk by myself with no dogs on a Sunday afternoon. This is unheard of as the dogs are pretty much always walking with me.
  • I  spent several of my lunch hours working on personal development instead of eating mindlessly and working through lunch as I often do. 
  • I gave my partner stipulations about spending time together in the evenings and weekends after I was done taking care of me first. I’d like to think he appreciated that as it gave him more time to do what he wanted to do as well. 
  • I went to bed at 7:30 one night instead of staying up to watch TV because I knew my body needed sleep.
  • On Thanksgiving morning, I went to a 7:30 AM workout so that I could really enjoy what I would later be eating that day. 

By saying “no” to other things I wanted to do (and some I didn’t want to do), I was able to say “yes” to all the things my body and soul needed. It was definitely a NOvember for me- and I still have a few days left in the month to keep this trend going!

Get ready for the December challenge: 21 days of self-care. More information about the challenge will hit the blog and social media tomorrow. 

5 More Lessons I Learned From Hamilton

“I am the one thing in life I can control.”

Aaron Burr

I’m still on a high from seeing Hamilton last week. If you missed the post about Five Lessons I Learned from Hamilton, check it out. And while you’re at it, here are five more.

  1. You are the only one you can control. Aaron Burr realizes there isn’t much in life he can control except himself. It’s so true. You can’t control how other people react, the weather, or basically anything else in life. You can only control your actions.
  2. What comes next? Good old King George provides a bit of comic relief when he asks what comes next for the Revolution now that they have broken free of his control.  “You’re on your own now. Awesome, wow.  Do you have a clue what happens now?” They probably didn’t and most of us don’t when a dramatic change occurs in our lives. Wondering what comes next is natural. How we move forward is what matters most.
  3. Take a break. Alexander was a workaholic. Between the war, establishing the U.S. treasury, and writing the Federalist papers, he spent a lot of time away from his family. Eliza begs him to take a break and spend the summer with her and the children, but he doesn’t. Does this sound familiar? Take a break. Work less. Live more.
  4. How lucky we are to be alive right now! A recurring theme of the musical was “Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now!” This pretty much speaks for itself. There are so many tragedies in this life, and yet, there is still so much joy to be found. Cherish life, each and every day.
  5. Who lives, who dies, who tells your story? When it’s all said and done, how do you want to be remembered in this life? What is the story you want people to tell about you? Alexander often wrote as if he were running out of time, a fact no one understood until after he was gone. Eliza throws herself into raising funds for the Washington Monument and opening the very first orphanage in New York City. As Eliza says, “And when my time is up, have I done enough?”

When your time is up, will you have any regrets? Look around. We’re lucky to be alive right now. Live your life with purpose each and every day. 

5 Lessons I Learned From Hamilton

“Talk less. Smile more.”

Aaron Burr to Alexander Hamilton

I went to see Hamilton last weekend. It was everything I thought it would be and more. The dancing! The singing! The acting! Everything about this musical was as phenomenal as I had imagined and heard from anyone who’s ever seen it.

I’ve been listening to the soundtrack on repeat for two weeks now and I started to realize there are so many lessons within the words of the story that are worth sharing. Here are five lessons I learned from Hamilton.

  1. Talk less. Smile more. This is the advice Aaron Burr gives to Alexander Hamilton in their first meeting. They don’t really sink in for Hamilton, because he talks A LOT. He’s intent on getting people to listen to him and his revolutionary plans. But there’s something to be said for talking less, because it allows you to listen to others. You never know what you’ll learn by observing and listening.  So, talk less and smile more.
  2. Don’t throw away your shot. Everyone has that one opportunity, or shot if you will, to do something remarkable. In Hamilton’s case, he joins the Revolution. He couldn’t pass that up. What opportunities are  you hesitant to go after? That impossible-to-land job? Starting your own business? Moving to another city? Don’t throw away your shot. Go for it!
  3. When in love, you truly are helpless at times. Eliza Schuyler, the daughter of a prominent Army general, falls in love with Alexander at first sight. An entire song is dedicated to how helpless she felt the first time she met him because of his eyes. That was all it took for her to fall for the great Hamilton. So many women have been in her shoes. We operate on feelings. But of course, there’s more to the story. 
  4. Satisfaction – friend or foe? Angelica Schuyler, Eliza’s sister, tells the story of the first time she met Alexander. It seems Angelica and Alexander are two people who are never satisfied. I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing, because if you’re never satisfied, it means you’re never settling. But if you’re never satisfied, does that mean you’re never really happy? That’s a tough one. Angelica’s wedding toast to her sister and Alexander includes the words “May you always be satisfied.” Spoiler alert-he never is.
  5. Wait for it. Aaron Burr has an entire song where he’s pondering why he’s lived when so many others he’s loved have died. “But if there’s a reason I’m still alive, then I’m willing to wait for it,” he says. We may not understand why things happen the way they do, but there’s a reason for it. Wait for it.

I walked away from the performance with a sense of awe. The central issues of Hamilton’s world are much of the same issues we face today. We want to make a difference. We long for honest and true love. We don’t want to settle. We question why things happen. We make mistakes. Simply put: we’re human. It’s a nice reminder that even though centuries have passed, most of us want the same things that Hamilton and the rest of our founding fathers built this great country on: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Self-Care in Times of Grief

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The last picture I have of us – March, 1996

The death of a loved one can, quite literally, bring us to our knees. At times, it’s unbearable to deal with the loss without relieving the memory of the moment they left your life forever. You often wonder if you’ll be able to go on without them.

I lost my father almost 13 years ago. Most days, it does feel like it happened years ago, and I consider that a blessing, because it means that I have learned to move forward. But there are a few days a year when it feels like I’m living his death all over again.

I won’t even pretend to tell you what the first week without him was like. I honestly don’t remember much. What I do remember are flashes of moments. It’s like I have a large puzzle with several pieces missing and I’ll never know what that finished puzzle looks like.

I remember a friend driving me to the golf tournament we had organized prior to his death to help raise funds for his medical bills. He died the day before the tournament and everyone who registered (at least I’m told) showed up. I was probably there five minutes before I said, “Take me home.” This same friend forced me to eat by taking me out for a sandwich. It was probably the first I had eaten in two days and I know I only had a few bites, tasting the salt of my tears on the bread. I remember one of our neighbors taking me out to buy a dress for the funeral-the only time I’ve ever hated shopping. And I remember a dinner the night after his funeral with a few friends of mine where I thought, “I’m going to be okay,” and then bursting into an uncontrollable fit of tears when I got home. It was in that exact moment I realized the life I was living before was officially over and that things would never be the same for me.

Life was not the same. The rest of the world had moved on and I (along with my mom and siblings) felt stuck. There were a lot of weeks and months following his death that I definitely wasn’t taking care of myself. I was hooking up with an ex who was anything but good for me. I ate my feelings. I was angry. I had no regard for anyone’s feelings. I felt alone. I was looking for something I’d never find.

If I could go back to my younger self in that very moment that I lost my father, I would tell her to take better care of herself. It can be hard to take care of yourself in difficult moments, but it’s so important to your future self. I spent years not taking care of myself and now I’m spending years undoing the damage I did.

Allow yourself to feel all the feelings that come with grief. But also give yourself permission to heal and to care for yourself. Weeks, months, or even years from now, you’ll be glad you did.

Women to Watch: Sarah Calhoun

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Sarah Calhoun, Founder of Reflections of Zen

I’m excited to launch a new series of the blog called Women to Watch. I’m a huge proponent of women building each other up, sharing their struggles, and celebrating their successes. This series will highlight women who are putting themselves first, following their dreams, and making shit happen. I’m honored to feature my dear friend Sarah Calhoun as my first post in the Women to Watch series!

Sarah is one of those of remarkable people that draws you in with her glowing personality. I was instantly drawn to her because of her warm smile and strong spirit. She’s passionate about many things (including the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots, sadly) and is focused on living a life of joy.

(I’m not just saying these things because she’s my friend; it’s the truth.)

White Howlite Natural Stone 108 Beaded Mala Necklace

Sarah recently launched her own online boutique of handmade jewelry. Reflections of Zen features an assortment of yoga/meditation bracelets and necklaces that are all made by Sarah. “As a child, I always enjoyed making crafts,” she said. “It sort of followed me into my adult life.”

Even if you’re not a yogi or a meditator, you’re likely to find a piece that speaks directly to you. There are pieces that encourage patience, lower stress, clear your mind, and enhance self-acceptance (my personal favorite). “All of the beads and stones I select are the highest quality,” Sarah says. “The stones have various healing properties and have a unique look and feel to them.”

Tiger's Eye Natural Stone

Her store launched last month and has seen an influx in orders. It’s a perfect gift for the women in your life who are all about peace, love, and self-acceptance. I just ordered my first piece from her and I know I’ll be ordering more.

As a Woman to Watch, Sarah is proof that you can incorporate your personality and passion into building your own business. Visit https://www.etsy.com/shop/reflectionsofzen to view the full line of jewelry and learn more about the healing properties of each piece listed.

Do you have a suggestion for the Women to Watch series? Send it to youfirstlifestyle@gmail.com.

Living With Intention

Life is full of busyness. Meetings, getting the kids to school, doctor’s appointments, sports practices, school plays, and so much more. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day.

One of the newest concepts I’ve put into practice is living with intention. Each week when I’m looking at my planner to see all of my commitments, I set an intention for something I’d like to do every day.  The intention is small but meaningful. Some examples may include:

  • Walk for 30 minutes every day
  • Meditate for 10 minutes every day
  • Skip desserts this week
  • Work out 5 days this week
  • Read for 20 minutes every day
  • Don’t buy anything unnecessary this week (even coffee!)

I’m sure you can think of many more. The idea is to focus your energy on your intention each week to promote small, positive changes in your behaviors or lifestyle. You may be surprised at how one small change can lead to big results.

Books For You- The Art of Saying No

The art of saying noWhen I first started my self-improvement journey, I realized that I had to learn to say “no” to a lot of things in order to say “yes” to myself. One of the first books I picked up to guide me through this process was The Art Of Saying NO: How To Stand Your Ground, Reclaim Your Time And Energy, And Refuse To Be Taken For Granted (Without Feeling Guilty!) by Damon Zahariades.

After breaking down why we say “yes” for a variety of reasons, such as wanting to be liked, pleasing others, being reliable, FOMO, etc., the book goes through the specifics of how to say no in a respectful, but firm way. There are small chapters dedicated how to say no to co-workers, friends, and even family.

This book helped me to realize that my time is just that: mine. I am ultimately the one who decides how to spend it. And in case anyone hasn’t noticed, free time is rare these days! So if you can’t take on another project, help a friend move, or spend a day watching a football game you couldn’t care less about with friends you do, then you have the power to say no.

The most important point I picked up from this book is that you are not responsible for other people’s reactions. You can only control how you deliver the message. And if you deliver that “no” in a firm, friendly, and respectful way, then your job is done. How people choose to react to that “no” is on them, not you.

Several months later, I have found myself saying “no” to more things in order to allow myself more time to take care of me. This small habit has reduced my stress and really allowed me to spend my time the way I want to and not the way I have to. I know it’s okay to say “no” to others in order to say “yes” to myself.

I’d love to hear your thoughts if you read the book!

Goal Setting For Success – Part 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about goal-setting for success.  I outlined some basic questions to consider as part of the goal-setting process to set your “big” goals for the year.

Now that you’ve established what your big goals are, it’s time to set your small goals that will stem from the big goals. Let’s take a look at the original goal I used in the last post:

Have $12,000 in my savings account at the end of 2019 by allocating $1,000 each month from my take-home pay.

We’ve already established this goal is S.M.A.R.T. It’s specific, you know how to measure it, and you’ve even established a timeline. Now let’s break that goal down into smaller goals to help you reach the big one.

If you intend to save $1,000 each month to reach your goal, you need to determine how you’ll save that $1,000. How will you ensure that you have that $1,000 to allocate each month in addition to your planned (and sometimes unplanned) expenses? Break it down by month (or even by week) to help you stay on track.

January: Save $1,000 this month by not eating out.
February: Save $1,000 this month by putting my tax refund into savings.
March: Save $1,000 this month by not shopping for clothes.
April: Save $1,000 this month by not having drinks out with friends for Friday happy hour.

Setting up a budget weekly can also help you figure out how you’ll save that $1,000. The most important thing is that you track your progress on a consistent basis. Reaching the smaller goals will give you the motivation to keep striving for the big goal you set for the year. Find a system that works for you and it will help set you up for success.

 

October Challenge: Self-Care Sundays

Challenges can bring out the best in us. They push us to meet our goals and help us to keep going when we want to quit. So for the month of October, I’m launching Self-Care Sundays as a challenge to each of you to find at least 30 minutes to one hour per week to give yourself some TLC.

textgram(1)Week 1 – Sunday, October 7
Take a walk for 30 minutes by yourself. No dogs, no other humans, just you. On this walk, pay attention to your surroundings. Is there a place you’re drawn to when you’re out walking? Use this time to clear your head and enjoy being alone. You don’t have to converse with anyone or worry about your dogs barking at someone else. It’s just you and your thoughts, strolling along and enjoying the beauty of the world.

Week 2 – Sunday, October 14
Treat yourself to a manicure. Or a pedicure. Or both. Whatever you decide, relax and let someone else take care of you for a little while while you catch up on the latest celebrity gossip in a magazine, sip your latte, or just close your eyes and tune out the rest of the world.

Week 3 – Sunday, October 21
Start reading (or continue reading) that book you’ve had sitting on the nightstand collecting dust for weeks. Reading is a great way to nourish your mind and your soul. If you have trouble settling down to read, put your phone on do not disturb and set a timer for 30 minutes. Most of us sacrifice reading for scrolling through social media (I’m just as guilty), so put down the phone and pick up a book.

Week 4 – Sunday, October 28
Take a nap. Yes, I said it. Take. A. Nap. Put your favorite jammies or napping clothes on, put your phone away, and give yourself permission to nap in the middle of the day. Napping has because a weekend practice for me and I love it. Why didn’t we enjoy naps as kids?

Maybe you’re someone who is just not into reading or doesn’t nap. If so, cool, you do you. I just ask that you give yourself 30 minutes to one hour every Sunday in October for some self-care. Use the hashtag #Youfirstlifestyle when you post about your #SelfCareSunday time.

You got this!

Goal Setting for Success – Part 1

This weekend, I finalized my goals for 2019 and started on my Vision Board (more about that in a future post). Goal setting was a concept I had been familiar with my entire life, but have only recently put into practice. This was a fun exercise that forced me to look at what areas of my life I wanted to make progress in next year.

Why should I set goals?

Setting goals gives us purpose and meaning. They give us something to work for. They also help us measure our success. Goals help us see how far we’ve come and how we can move to the next level.

How do I set goals?

There is a tried and true method for goal setting that defines how to set goals known as the SMART method.

SMART goal graphic

 

For example, setting a goal of “I want to save more money,” is not a SMART goal because it only defines the goal and not how you’ll reach it. A better example would be “I want to have $12,000 in my savings account by the end of 2019 by allocating $1,000 each month from my take home pay.” You have defined the goal, how you’ll reach it, and in what time frame. Depending on your annual salary and monthly expenses, you can determine if this is achievable and relevant.

How many goals should I set?

If it’s your first time setting goals, I would suggest three. You don’t want to have too few or too many. Focus on setting smaller goals that will help you reach your large life goals. So if you want to quit your full-time corporate America job one day to start your own business, figure out what smaller goals you need to set to reach that large one.

How should I track the progress of my goals?

Develop a system that works best for you. If you are someone who needs a little more accountability, start with weekly check ins. You can also break your goal down into smaller chunks to avoid stressing yourself out. If you use the example above, you will have to anticipate some large expenses may come up as life happens. Perhaps your small goal for January is “Avoid eating out this month to have some extra cash on hand for next month since my car taxes are due.” You have now planned for a large expense next month and figured out a way to budget appropriately so that you do not stray from the larger goal of putting away $1,000 per month. You may find that sitting down once a month to track your goal progress works better for you. No matter what, find a system that works for you to help you track your goal progress.

In the next post, I’ll talk more about my goals for 2019 and how I am breaking them down into smaller and manageable tasks that will help me achieve my goals. Dedicating more time to my personal development is one of the goals I have mapped out and I’m excited to share that with you!

Goal-Setting Success – Part 2

What Are You Holding On To?

As Summer fades into Fall, it’s about time for me to switch out my wardrobe. Fall is my FAVORITE season and if I could stay outside all day, I would. The weather is cooler, my hair is straighter, and nature is just beautiful.

Every time I switch out my wardrobe for the seasons, I always end up cleaning out my closets. I’m fortunate enough to work for a company where we have a relaxed dress code, so I don’t wear dress pants, suits, or blazers unless I have a corporate event. Every closet has signature pieces. My signature pieces are jeans, long sweaters, baby doll dresses, leggings, and lots of boots. But do you ever feel like you’re holding on to things you don’t need because you’ll “wear that one day” or you’ll “get to that size” after you finally stick to that diet you’ve been working on for two years.

Why do we hold on to these things and how can they possibly help us move forward in our path to self-improvement? It’s okay if those pants don’t fit; you can buy new ones that make you feel sexy and confident and fit in all the right places. If there’s a dress you wore one time and you’re fairly certain you’ll never wear it again, why is it taking up space in your closet?

Chalene Johnson has a two-part podcast on decluttering and it CHANGED MY LIFE. When I was switching out my Fall/Winter wardrobe, I got rid of a lot of clothes. I had dropped about 4 sizes in clothes, so a lot of things didn’t fit. And as I was taking things out, I realized my style had changed. I no longer wanted turtleneck sweaters or needed all those cardigans. I dropped four bags of clothing off at Goodwill and it was as if a huge weight had been lifted from my chest.

When I shop for clothes now, I ask myself, “How often will I wear this?” or “Do I genuinely need this?” If I’m not in love with how it looks on me than I’m not buying it. I’m sure I’ll still be getting rid of some pieces this weekend, but I know it will be much easier knowing that I’m no longer holding on to things I don’t need.

I challenge you to put this into practice when you start your decluttering projects. You’ll feel so much better and you’ll realize that this simple practice is yet another form of self-care.

It’s Time To Put “You First”

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You are a warrior!

Welcome to the first post of “You First,” the blog that’s all about putting yourself first! It’s my hope that you’ve found this blog as part of your path to self-improvement. In fact, I started this blog as part of my path to self-improvement.

My path to self-improvement started slowly. I’ve always had a desire to be a “better” person, but what does that really look like? And it’s not like I thought I was bad, but I’ve always believed I should aspire to do more, learn more, be more.

I’ve been to counseling and therapy for most of my adult life (more on that later). Over the past few years, my therapy sessions have evolved into how I could work on being a better partner in my relationship. As time went by, I realized I couldn’t be a better partner, friend, family member, etc. unless I was truly being the best version of myself.

This is how I started my quest for self-improvement.

It started with podcasts. I found one, binge-listened (if that’s not a thing, I just made it one) to almost every episode in about a week. I immediately began putting into practice what I was hearing. But it wasn’t enough. I wanted to know more; I needed to know more. I found more podcasts and began furiously taking notes on what I was hearing in a journal that I carry with me every day.  I read a few books and thanks to Amazon’s recommendations, I found even more to read. I started talking to other women about their journeys and realized I wasn’t alone.

I also realized I wasn’t making myself a priority. I spent so much time doing for others, making sure everyone else was taken care of that I barely had any time left for myself. I was exhausted, frustrated, and often felt defeated. I decided that if I was really going to do this “self-improvement thing,” I needed to go all in and learn how to take care of and love myself better. I had to put me first or I was wasting my time and effort on being a better person.

The purpose of this blog is to share what I’ve learned and how I’m working on being the best version of myself. Everyone’s journey is different, but maybe you’ll find some inspiration here, just as I found in many of the resources I utilized to get to where I am.

I am so excited about the journey I’m on and I hope you’ll come along with me!

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