A friend of mine asked how I was during a phone call yesterday.
"Living the dream!" I answered, with a good bit of both truth and sarcasm.
"You really are living the dream," he said. "Your life is so blessed. You've got it all going on over there."
While at first I simply agreed and continued the conversation, I was compelled to return the call a bit later.
"I need to clarify something," I said. "I am indeed blessed. I've got a crazy, wonderful life, and I'm thankful for every moment. But I'm concerned that you're translating the way I consistently speak about my life to a perception that I've got fairies flying around over here cooking and cleaning, and there are $100 bills growing on the lemon tree in the backyard."
Before I go on, can we all take a moment to process the fact that I was voted "Biggest Complainer" my senior year of high school?
Truth. If you don't believe me, here you go (sidenote: WHY am I smiling if I was the biggest complainer?)
My God, everything was a problem, all the time. The wind was coming from the East, my sock was only 91% cotton, tile #398 in the cafeteria was chipped, we didn't order pizza often enough, and when we did there were only 20 pepperonis on it and my magic number was 23.
There are several hundred people who will confirm that I once lived this way, for they suffered through the dark gray cloud known as Liz on a daily basis. I'm sure they'd love to chime in with their memories. Comment away, folks. I can handle it.
By this point, you're likely wondering, "How, Liz, did you EVER get from there to here?"
I'm so glad you asked.
This blessed, beautiful space in which I now admittedly live arrived---as it does for many people---after navigating a series of trials, most of which weren't seen or known about by anyone beyond my closest friends.
It also arrived after...wait for it because this is super deep and extremely complicated...a change in my attitude!
Reality: I still have minutes, hours, days and weeks where, if I wanted to, I could likely (justifiably) lament the challenges that arise.
And while I do realize that most of my challenges are the kinds that my spiritual guru, Erin, would refer to as "luxury problems"---the kinds of problems millions of people would literally kill to have---they were still my battles to fight, and they weren't easy.
What defines a challenge in each life is completely subjective---and it's no one's place to judge the "degree" of one person's challenges as compared to someone else's. Doing so assumes an awareness of a person's backstory and brain chemistry, and there's also probably something to be said, depending on who you ask, for what their sun and moon signs are and whether they are rising in Aries or Libra.
As you can clearly see (so long as you haven't been distracted into wondering about the influence of your own astrological signs, because I was), judging is not only pointless but a ridiculous waste of time.
The ONE reason you can be sure of as to why I consistently proclaim that life is great (albeit overwhelming and terrifying) and I'm so very blessed is: I CHOOSE to see it that way, regardless of what emotional or logistical challenge has recently presented itself (and you can be damn sure one has).
It's RULE #2 of my third book: CHOOSE HAPPINESS.
It's conceivably the one and only area over which we DO have constant and complete control in this life. Nothing and no one can take away your decision to be happy, even in the midst of the "worst" circumstance.
And everyone's definition of "worst circumstance" differs. I've seen people brave terminal illness with more grace than some brave 2 red lights in succession when they're late to a job they don't even want to go to.
I've no need on any given day to make a laundry list of my challenges because they're irrelevant and boring.
But of course I have challenging days. Hell, I've had months (and not all that long ago either) where I wasn't 100% sure how I'd pay the electric bill! And, being all too intimately aware that finances and health are two areas that can change status in an instant, it seems we'd better not get real comfortable only being able to declare happiness when either is in good standing.
Beyond Karen and Erin reminding me that I'm going to make it and bringing Starbucks and a paper bag when things get REAL bad, I no longer need anyone to validate whether or not my challenges entitle me to having a bad day. THAT is why I no longer publicly list the day's challenges with any regularity, not because there aren't any.
If you think about it, the primary reason people share their challenges in public forums is that it's the only way they know to get the support they need. And that's fair.
But can we just get to a place where we support one another by acknowledging that we ALL have challenges. No one's are necessarily any more luxurious or any worse than anyone else's.
I don't love that it appears as though I have it all together all the time because I don't. And I don't love that we assume that because people are smiling on the outside they are smiling on the inside.
Robin Williams reminded us that's often not the case.
We need to be compassionate about what we don't know while craving what we (think we) do.
That high school girl who was convinced that every day was the worst day ever because the grass wasn't the right Pantone color or a ceiling tile was missing in the chemistry lab? She simply decided at some point that that mentality just didn't work. And in one moment---almost literally---she decided to switch it up.
A new habit was created as I reframed one asinine complaint at a time.
I've been at this new habit for a while now. These days, for the most part, I choose silver linings, happiness, and laughter, and I ask forgiveness from my children or undeserving bystanders in Target when I'm so exhausted that I'm not capable of the above and, therefore, tell them (loudly) that we are NOT getting 5 cartons of ice cream and they they need to agree on 2 and meet me at the register.
The above described Target incident? It occurred 15 hours ago. I could hear them "negotiating" from the other side of the store (at least I knew they were still IN the store). We left with two cartons of ice cream everyone then refused, a fact that somehow became my fault.
The dog is limping for no apparent reason.
4 of my kids have to be in 3 different places today at 3:30.
I have what I think is a mosquito bite on my leg but it also might be Ebola and WebMD isn't giving me specific enough information to make me feel better.
And I'm pretty sure my toilet is broken.
But I'm very blessed, just me and my chaos, living the dream.
With great love,