Happy-and-Successful1This article was contributed by Lauren Sapala

The secret to success is the most sought-after treasure in our culture. We all want to be successful, whether that means being financially abundant, being an expert in our field, or being in good health. But what is it that successful people do to get where they are?

The secret is that it’s not what they do. It’s what they do differently.

And it all comes down to the power of choice.

About ten years ago I was struggling in all areas of my life. I worked in a retail job I hated, I had serious problems dating, and I thought I would never achieve my dream of writing (and finishing!) a novel. At the time I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong. It didn’t seem like it was my fault that I didn’t have the skills to get a better job, I never met the right person, and I just couldn’t seem to get started on that novel.

But it was my fault. Because most of the choices I was making dragged me down, instead of lifting me up.

Back then I was a big fan of soap operas, and I really got into reality TV when it came out. I didn’t have a whole lot to do at my retail job and so I read the news avidly, drinking in the all the updates on the latest scandal, disaster, or dire prediction. The people I hung around with socially didn’t challenge me to move out of this zone either. They were mostly concerned with meeting at the bar every night for happy hour and then some.

It wasn’t until I took the terrifying step of joining my first writing program that things began to change.

In that program I started to see how each one of us makes choices every day, but successful people turn the power of choice into a work of subtle genius. Because they study the big picture of what they want and where they’re going, they consciously implement systems of choice in their lives that are always in their best interest.

Successful people know that every decision they make, and every opportunity that comes their way, stems from one fundamental choice they made from the very beginning. We all make this choice but most of us are unconscious of it. It breaks down into 3 core factors:


Your time, attention, and energy are the essential components that make up your life force. Whenever you divert even a small stream into something that isn’t worth it, you’re draining that precious force away from your best interests and wasting a part of yourself that could have been put to better use.

When I was going nowhere and struggled every day feeling dissatisfied with my life, I had been unconsciously giving away my power of choice. Instead of directing my energy towards my dreams and goals, I got scared and let it leak away. Watching mindless TV, reinforcing my fear-belief system through the news, and spending too much time at the bar with like-minded people sucked my time, energy, and attention away so that I didn’t have to deal with the big question.

Who and what did I want to choose to spend my life force on?

When I asked myself that, it was the beginning of bringing conscious awareness to my power of choice. This is what successful people do all the time. In fact, they’re so familiar and adept at it that it’s become a built-in habit and they don’t even think about it anymore.

Unconscious people tend to let these kinds of choices be made for them, just like I did ten years ago. For instance, if you turn on the television for background noise and end up half-watching the news or reality TV, you have now allowed the fear of the media or the drama of the Kardashians into your head space. That sort of energy worms its way into your field whether you pick up on it or not, and it has a significant effect on your thoughts and emotions.

The same goes for social media. If you log in to Facebook to check one message and find yourself still scrolling through a stream of nonsense an hour later, you’ve made the choice to waste your time. And every single post you’ve viewed—whether positive or negative—has been cataloged and absorbed by your brain for digestion. Is that the kind of stuff you really want to be feeding your mind?

These are just two examples of the way choices can end up happening to you instead of you making choices for yourself. This is what successful people do differently. They build their lives in such a way that very little unconscious noise gets through to distract them from their real work and life purpose.

The awesome thing is that anyone can take back their power of choice. It just takes a couple of weeks of adjustment to a new set of system controls.

Here’s the quick-and-dirty guide to taking back your power of choice:

News and Media
If you are committed to following the news, pick only a few websites that you trust and be conscious of the articles you read. Choose only to focus on topics that you actually care about. Read each article you’ve chosen all the way through. If you find you’re only visiting news websites to skim the headlines, stop visiting those sites.

If you watch the news on television, limit yourself to 30 minutes per day and no more. If you’ve got CNN constantly running in the background of your home, it’s time to turn it off.

Cut yourself off from reading or watching any sort of celebrity news, gossip, or generic fluff pieces on lifestyle and what other people are doing. Successful people aren’t that concerned with what other people are doing. They’ve got their own work to do.

Social Media
If you choose to continue engaging on social media, remove any and all social media apps from your phone. Set aside 30 minutes a day to use social media and use a timer to enforce this rule. When you’re engaging in your 30 minutes make sure you’re sitting down, you will be uninterrupted, and you are only doing that one thing.

Cut out the distraction-driven constant checking of social media accounts while you’re trying to do other things. Successful people don’t have their head buried in their phones when they’re walking down the street. They have too many great plans in the works to risk getting hit by a bus.

Relationship Elimination Round
If you feel like you can’t open up about your dreams and plans with certain people in your life, those people need to be eliminated. If you can’t cut them out entirely, keep things civil but always short, and seek out new people who are interested in supporting and encouraging you.

The best way to do this is to check out Meetup groups in your area for people who share similar interests, sign up for classes and seminars, and explore different types of volunteer work. Positive people are constantly searching for ways to improve themselves and the world. And successful people know that big dreams must be surrounded with positive thinking.

After I joined that first writing program I started meeting other writers. I had a place to go every week filled with people who were interested in my work and who urged me to keep going. Then I met someone in the group who connected me with a better job opportunity and I quit the retail store I hated. I began to open up emotionally through my creative work and was able to bond more deeply with the man I’d started a relationship with and now we’re married.

None of this is easy at first. If you’re addicted to the news, or social media, or negative people, it will feel like a loss when you stop participating with any of them. But as with any addictive energy, the feeling of loss is only on the surface. The important thing is that you’ve stopped giving your power away. You’ve halted the process of others making choices for you.

What you’ve really done is taken your power back, and the first step toward joining the ranks of the truly successful.

Lauren Sapala is a fiction writer, writing coach, and blogger. She founded the Write City writing group in San Francisco, and its sister branch in Seattle. She coaches all levels of writers, helping them to discover their voices and realize their goals and dreams. Lauren currently lives in San Francisco and is working on her fifth novel. She blogs regularly at www.laurensapala.com.


Buddha8This article was contributed by Janietta Robinson.

What happens when you first fall in love with someone? Life becomes bliss for a time doesn’t it? You have met someone who is a perfect match for you or so you think.

Something about the other resonates with some deep part of you. You are in tune with each other, at home in each others company, able to relax and be at ease with yourself. You feel warm, safe, accepted, known and happy. Life is good and you feel good. Everything seems divine and you believe you will feel this way for ever….only you don’t!

Sooner or later feelings of unease can creep into even the best of relationships. The bubble begins to burst a little.

When this happens don’t PANIC!

Let me explain why it’s important not to overreact and worry that you have made a wrong choice or that your relationship is doomed to fail. Don’t reach for the number of the divorce lawyer just yet…..there is life EVEN after the rosy glow of first romance begins to wane.

This is all good; it is all as it should be.

Let me explain.

Relationships, especially the most intimate of relationships, exist in order to provide a rich environment in which to nurture and foster our own growth as human beings, helping us to burst through our limited perceptions of who we are so that we may grow into the fullness of our true selves.

This kind of growth requires energy and that is why a certain amount of friction between two people can be a good thing because it is the friction that provides us with the vital energy needed for growth.

However there needs to be a balance. Too much friction can lead to stress and break down while too little can lead to stagnation. Both of these scenarios can produce unhealthy and arguably unsustainable relationships. I know this from first hand experience (twice divorced and now married for the third time). Here’s a quick peek into my background.

In my first marriage I paired up with someone who was so like me that there was no spark and no energy exchange between us. This led to boredom, lethargy, frustration and dissatisfaction within the relationship. In my second marriage it was just the opposite – sparks flew all the time, we never saw eye to eye, we were poles apart as individuals and we lived with a constant tension that finally, literally pulled us apart. Now in my third marriage I am learning to be vulnerable and real and honest. It’s not always easy.

We grow in relation to other people.

Let’s just take a moment to have a look at the nature of this growth. We are all born with something that psychologists call the organismic valuing system which is our inbuilt natural tendency for growth and development. We are wired for this growth whether we are conscious of it or not.

As humans we like to push the boundaries. We like to try new things, develop new skills, invent new technologies and travel the globe in search of new experiences. All these are evidence of the organismic valuing system at work in our lives. It seems we just can’t resist embracing growth – when it is applied to external things.

However when it comes to our internal growth (perceptions, attitude, beliefs, awareness, self understanding) it seems we are not so eager to expand our horizons. When it comes to this kind of growth we often need the help of other people around us to facilitate the growth process.

Although we all enter this world as perfect, wonderful, whole and unique beings as we go through life we can lose sense of this perfection as we begin to form an image of ourselves that is limited in its nature. In our desire to please the significant people in our lives, to fit in, to belong and to acquire love, approval and acceptance we allow ourselves to cultivate the characteristics that we think will bring us what we want while at the same time shunning the ones that we think will bring disapproval.

This results in a self image (a way of identifying ourselves) that is partial and incomplete based more on whom we think ourselves to be rather than whom we feel ourselves to be.

When we don’t feel whole and complete we are like a jigsaw with some missing pieces, seeking completion elsewhere in external things and in other people.

When we first meet someone whom we are deeply attracted to what actually happens is that we see in them all the ‘good’ parts of ourselves that we have so far rejected or been unable to own as being a part of whom we are.

Seeing these in the other completes us and we feel happy and whole and wonderful for at time.

However we will never feel whole for long if we are unable to recognise and own the qualities that we are admiring in the other person as being a part of who we are.

We are meant to bring these qualities into ourselves so that our self image can expand and become more complete.

The problem is that quite often what we long for is the very thing that we have been taught to believe is wrong, insignificant, worthless, useless or just ‘not for me’ and because of this it is hard to accept these qualities as being a part of who we are. Because we have judged these qualities in a negative way we shun them from our self image and before too long we begin to shun them in others too.

Suddenly our illusion of the perfect partner is shattered and where we once saw perfection we now see imperfection. Where there was once bliss and harmony now there is strife and conflict.

This is all good. This is all as it should be.

Why? Well, because this is the end of the illusion that a ‘perfect’ person will come and rescue us from our (unconscious) impoverished sense of self. When we are disillusioned with love we are freed to begin to learn to love in more real and wonderful ways.

But what does all this mean in practice?

Well it seems that the things that annoy us most in our partners are the very things that we most need to reclaim in ourselves. Let me give you an example from my own life.

When I first met my husband I was immensely attracted by his vibrant and joyful nature. He embraced life full on, something that I had never been able to do. Unconsciously I wanted the same for myself and unconsciously I reached to him to provide it for me.

However for a long time I remained unaware that his vibrant love of life was something that I needed to cultivate in myself and instead I fed off his energy believing that that was all I needed.

While I was doing this however, I wasn’t growing internally as a person. Eventually my own inner sense of lack began to show and what initially attracted me to my husband began to annoy me especially his constant habit of making a joke about everything.

This contradicted everything I had grown up to believe about life. As a child I had grown up in a happy enough household but just not one where jokes, wise cracks and light hearted banter abounded. The message I received was that life was serious business and not something to laugh and joke about. My husbands approach to life was in direct opposition to all this and it felt plain wrong to me.

Initially the only way I could cope with this and maintain my own self image was to make my husband out to be wrong so that I could be right. (More of this in my blog: Keeping ourselves right by making others wrong.)

You’ve heard the phrase ‘What you spot you got!’

In a nutshell this means that all the missing parts of ourselves that we have not internalised as our own remain outside of us where they gain our attention through the behaviours, personalities and actions of others. My husband’s joviality was meant to invite me to find my own joviality but because I wouldn’t or couldn’t own this trait in myself I had to push it away.

By reacting to my husbands joviality what I was essentially doing was re-enacting it externally rather than choosing to experience it internally – a defence mechanism designed to keep my own, familiar, limited self image safe and intact.

What we push things away from ourselves we are able to criticise, judge and condemn in others without condemning ourselves.  This is divisive. Having separated ourselves from the perceived ‘bad’ trait we now need to separate ourselves from the ‘bad’ person who is exhibiting that ‘bad’ trait and thus rather than experience closeness with our partners we experience conflict as mistrust and suspicion build up between us.

The only result of this conflict is to either flee (withdraw) or stay and  fight which usually means trying to get the other person to change so that he/she fits with our beliefs about how they should be in the first place!

Keeping our focus external from ourselves means that any problems we are experiencing in our relationships is the fault of the other and nothing to do with us. Often we can become so embroiled in our partner’s faults and their need to change that we forget to live our own life!

Essentially our conflict is never about them, it is always about us!

Things began to change for me when I realised that my husband’s behaviour was actually a mirror showing me, in rather an exaggerated way, what it was I needed to reclaim from the deep shadows of my inner self.

My husband’s behaviour was highlighting, that is throwing light onto the very things that I needed and that would allow me to live a happier and more fulfilling life. I was annoyed with his constant joviality because deep down I longed to be more joyful, free and light hearted but so far I had not allowed myself to be so.

Now whenever I experience irritation with my husband rather than push my negative energy away from me so that I can play the blame game I try to sit with it and feel what it is trying to teach me. I try to feel joy that wants to rise up in me rather than squash it down with criticism and disgust. The more I am able to do this the more liberated I become as I begin to take responsibility for my own life rather than expecting my husband to change in order to make me happy.

The more I can love and accept myself the more I can love and accept my partner.

It seems the best thing we can do in any relationship is to work on ourselves because as our own self image expands and becomes more complete then there are less missing parts for others to reflect back to us. Consequently there is less to react to, less to label ‘wrong’ and less blaming, judging, condemning and withdrawing from each other.

Embracing a new sense of self builds a bridge of intimacy between ourselves and our partners and is the quickest way back to the land of bliss that we experienced in the early days of our relationships.

It’s a simple enough process but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy!

When we can find the courage to own that which we spot in others we find that the door we had slammed shut between us opens and we are able to unite in our common humanity and our heartfelt longings to be loved and accepted. Suddenly we find ourselves back on the same page, singing the same song – even if, at times, we are singing slightly off key and/or losing our sense of rhythm on occasions!

So whatever annoys you most in your partner be it their messiness, their tendency  to be late, to always have the last say or to selfishly indulge in their own passions and hobbies – take a closer look and see if you can spot something that you have not allowed yourself to develop in your own personality. Sometimes what we see mirrored back to us can be in a rather exaggerated form but this is just to grab our attention. If we can dilute the annoying actions a little then usually we can get a clearer picture of what is being shown to us.

Relationships are heaven sent. They are a gift given that we may waken up from the illusion that there is something wrong/missing/incomplete about us and that we need some divine person to come and make us better/whole/complete again.

Once this illusion dies we are freed to love in healthier, more fulfilling ways. Now relationships are not about finding the perfect partner but about becoming the perfect (which is just another world for complete) self.

When we arrive at this understanding we no longer have to spend our live going from relationship to relationship seeking out the perfect partner. Instead to quote Marianne Williamson we are now able to stop jumping from ‘pink to pink’ and able instead to stay in a relationship and discover and revel in a ‘full rainbow of colour’!

This, my dear friends, is the real world of ‘Happy EVEN after’.

Screenshot_1Jannietta is a poet, writer and blogger with a firm belief in the power of words to heal and transform lives. After facing a series of losses in her life she now embraces with joy the process of re-discovering her true self and celebrating the wonder of being alive. She is author of three volumes of poetry. Barefoot on Green Grass; Wild Swans Flying and Arriving: Poems to bring you Home.You can find out more about her and read her blog on her website www.Jannietta.com

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Scared? Perfect!

by AJ Walton

PeaceThis article was contributed by Brooke Steff.

How nervous does being afraid make you? Have you really looked at it before? Your deepest fear or even those simmering anxieties that keep you up at night.

Don’t misinterpret my intention here, I’m not out to make you feel bad for feeling afraid of anything. This actually brings me to the point of this post quite quickly- we are always made to feel negatively about experiencing fear, that if we share our concerns or exhibit any signs of being afraid, it “says something” about our character.

I have always struggled with the “showmanship” that we are meant to portray to the world. I’m not suggesting that we all become quivering masses of fears and tears, but perhaps we don’t actually have to desperately scramble for those around us to see how well we have our shit together?

Even if we don’t?

You didn’t enter this world knowing the art of mastering it, so when (and my god, why) do we adopt the belief that the switch should flip and one day we have it all figured out.

None of us have it figured out. Not really. The only thing we find ourselves confident with is the alternate reality where we can go back and live our lives over, but differently. Oh how we would do things differently! Because we’ve been here before.

If that didn’t land for you, think of it this way- we are all infants in our own state. Each and every day is new to us, just like every anniversary, world event and age.

Has your grandmother ever been 90-something before? Experienced the troubles you’d expect to, being nearly a hundred years old? No. It would be a new experience for her. And if she doesn’t appear strong in the face of rapid aging do we demand her to be so? Of course not. The same can’t be said for the rest of us. Apparently, we should know how to roll.

We all have fears. And they can be few or wide-ranging. We enter each and every day the best way we know how with the tools we have picked up along the journey and pray to god that we won’t have to face a cataclysmic event that forces us to use all of our resources at once.

That’s fear.

And we all feel it on some level. So why can’t we be around each other and act with authenticity and humility?

Fear is a neat little reminder that you’re not totally in control of how things manifest in your life. Fear is your knowing of this.

You wish that you could govern your life freely without any resistance or obstacles, but what must be understood is that life is like a divine collaboration.

Lead your life without fear paralyzing you.

Instead, let fear run along side you quietly, keeping you alert and ever so grateful. Learn to embrace the heightened, electric state of awareness that fear gives you.

Some people think that a secret to happiness lies in being fearless. This is naïve at best. Fear is very important and every one of us feels it to some extent. Fear is not something to be ashamed about, as the people who recognize its value have more chance of reaching heights that soar above the rest.

Fear demands either bravery, or nothing at all.

Don’t glamourize fearlessness. It doesn’t require you to be brave and it certainly isn’t a co-factor for happiness.

The obvious place we send fear-blame is the ego. Of course, the ego lives it’s life in the shadowy areas of comparison and competition. But, I don’t want to ego-bash here. It exists, and it can be a great teacher for us.

The pearl is to acknowledge what the ego wants but understand that it may not actually bring you the feelings of self worth and validation that you feel you need.

Wouldn’t it be more liberating to look a fellow human in the eye and declare “I’m doing my best, I don’t know what’s going to happen, and I know you are doing your best too”?

Fear can only paralyze when you feel that you’re alone. Knowing that everyone is doing their best on their pilot flight of life makes you breathe a sigh of relief and deep sense of togetherness and compassion.

It is our imperfection and common struggle that connects us with others and it is only when we think our suffering is abnormal that we feel isolated.

The ego and it’s offspring, fear, don’t like us to understand this.

But, fear has another story also.

Someone wise (I can’t remember who) said, “Fear is me realizing my own power”.

Fear is you on the edge.

Think about it for a second. How often does fear come up when you don’t care about something? My money’s on never. In this way, fear can be another word for love.

When you care for something or someone intensely, there is an associated possibility of losing that special something or someone.

That’s scary, no one disputes that.

But, if we are to use the above wisdom as a guide, it’s the monumental courage and strength to overcome such loss that causes us fear and hence brings us face to face with our own POWER.

Being afraid, not knowing what the hell you’re doing or where you’re going sometimes is okay. We all feel it. None of us actually know what’s going to happen. Just give someone a hug and let them know that you really understand. You totally get it.

brooke sBrooke Steff is a degree qualified Naturopath, Medical Herbalist, Strength and Conditioning Coach, Seeker and the founder of Crazy Beautiful Healthy.

At Crazy Beautiful Healthy she provides purpose-driven women who want to live healthy, fulfilled and passionate lives without sacrificing their individuality or self expression.

You can also connect with Brooke on her Instagram profile or Facebook and Twitter pages.

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happy dayThis article was contributed by Kathryn Hall

I’m just going to lay my cards on the table, put myself out there and say it.

My name’s Kathryn Hall. And I’m a happy person.

I love my life. I love my family. I love my career. I love the cute little bakery round the corner from my house. I love the birds that dash and dart outside my office window. I love the waves of the sea that are 5 minutes from where I live. Yep, life is sweet. I am indeed a happy person.

Now before you go running to the bathroom feeling queasy at the ‘Disney’ style joy that appears to be pouring from this article, let me first set the record straight on what my life actually looks like.

Because, despite how I have made my life sound, I don’t jump out of bed every morning grinning from ear to ear like some kind of maniac.

In fact, sometimes I like my bed more than I like to get up.

There are times when I just can’t get going, like last week when I spent a whole afternoon lying on the sofa because I couldn’t get my arse in gear to do any work (you know – that work that I love?)

I sometimes get frustrated when my boyfriend leaves his socks on the floor when the laundry basket is RIGHT THERE! And then there was that driver who nearly knocked that woman off her bicycle. I felt angry about that for a while.

And then I cry sometimes. Maybe because I’ve watched a sad film, maybe because I feel overwhelmed, or maybe I’ll cry just because…there doesn’t always have to be a reason.

In fact throughout my life, I have felt and continue to feel every emotion going. The ups and the downs, the twists and turns. Excitement, sadness, gratitude, frustration, love, fear, and of course pure unbridled joy.

And do you know what?

I’m ok with that. I have accepted that during my life I will have moments when I won’t feel completely happy.

Because I am a human being.

And as human beings it’s impossible to be happy all of time. We are complex, beautiful, creatures that experience the full rainbow of emotions. It’s what makes us who we are.

Reacting to the world around us, we empathize, we build relationships, we dream, we create and we explore, all of us journeying through this life the best way that we can. The emotions and feelings we experience every day are simply part of life. They are the signs that we care, that we are not simply robots, that we have evolved as a species to be more.

So, bearing this in mind, how can I stand before you and claim to be a happy person?

Well, I personally believe it’s about 2 things.

  1. How I feel about the things that are most important to me as an individual
  2. How I feel the majority of the time

My career is important to me but as a business owner there are certainly times when I get fed up with my work. When I feel anxious as to whether a blog post will get the desired results…when I get frustrated because the technology I am trying to use doesn’t do what I want it to do…when I feel bored by the task in hand.

However (and this is the clincher), just because I feel negative emotions now and again doesn’t mean I don’t love what I do. Ultimately my career makes me feel happy. I have shaped it to fit beautifully with who I am and what I want. I no longer get that sinking feeling on a Monday morning and for the majority of my life my career brings me satisfaction and joy.

Yes, there are odd moments of frustration and anxiety, but I challenge you to show me a business owner (or employee for that matter) who doesn’t have an off day now and again – I’m pretty sure there’s no-one out there. It’s normal, and so I forgive myself and move on.

The problem however is when these negative emotions take up too much of your life. When those off-days aren’t simply odd days here and there, but are in fact how you spend most of your time.

If every day that you go to work feels like a drag, then there’s probably something wrong. If you feel frustrated and angry at your partner more than you feel happy, supported and loved is that really the life you want to live? Perhaps something needs to change.

As Steve Jobs put it…

I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘no’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

And I guess that’s the point really. Ok, so you may have the odd grumpy day here and there. But if those grumpy days are consistently seeping into and overshadowing the important parts of your life, take time to think about what that means.

I know for sure that happiness isn’t the emotion I want in scarcity. Instead I want it running in abundance through the core of everything important in my life.

Because when the core of your life is full of joy, it doesn’t matter what other emotions show up.

You’ll always return to happy.

Kathryn Hall is founder of The Business of Introverts, an avid writer and mentor to individuals across the globe who want more freedom, solitude and creativity in their careers. She’s big on helping people to embrace their introversion in all its glory, while creating a life they love.


Photo by nhi.dang


ThinkingThis article was contributed by Zachary John of Crucis Road.

May I be forever grateful that at times, I did not receive that which I truly deserved” – Unknown

The poignant phrase above is tattooed across the right side of my chest – at the time it was simply a group of words that, in fancy typography, looked pretty damn cool in jet black against my somewhat paler skin. I’d scoured the Internet for unique sayings just minutes before the inking took place, and if you had asked me to recite the words that were being stamped into my skin forever at the time, I would have struggled to remember correctly.

As we grow up, we’re bombarded with advice from all directions – advice that purports to offer wise insights into either specific situations we’ll encounter in the future, or the day-to-day running of our lives in general. One of the more popular examples of this guidance, is the suggestion that the more you put into life, the more you get back – simply implying that there is direct correlation between effort and reward. I grew up believing this wholeheartedly because it makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? The harder you work, the greater your return – cause and effect, simple and easy to understand.

Of course in reality, this is far from the truth. I knew it subconsciously and I think everybody does, because we don’t live in a perfect world where everybody gets what they deserve. All our lives are vulnerable to extraneous variables that constantly alter the rules of fairness and more often than not, these rule changes are out of our favour.

I was eighteen years old when this subconscious knowledge well and truly brought itself to the forefront of my attention. Having studied drama ruthlessly for two years at college, and coming out with good grades, I decided to apply to the best acting schools in London for further education. It was the opportunity I had dreamt of during most of my teenage years and there was no way I was going to let it slip through my fingers. My last few days at college were spent perfecting numerous Shakespearian monologues, I spent money on acting classes, watched online videos of previous rehearsals at the same schools, and even looked up which tutors I’d be performing in front of to better understand what they’d be looking for. I was as prepared as can be.

Obviously, you can guess what happened. I failed, miserably. The other aspiring students I was up against had been auditioning at these schools for years, they knew what was expected of them, where to go, what to do – some of them were even on first name terms with the tutors I’d tried so hard to get to know. I was rejected by most of my choices before I even had time to sit down and reflect on what the hell was going on.

The week of auditions I had booked, practised for, looked forward to and subconsciously labelled as unbeatably poignant in my life thus far flashed before my eyes. I woke up the morning after my last rejection and felt as though, in one day, my entire future had been reshaped into an unidentifiable mess – in terms of self-confidence, I was at rock bottom.

But how could this be? I’d spent three whole years preparing for this moment – sacrificing a social life, sacrificing the majority of my spare time, spending my hard-earned money on improving myself – and all for what turned out to be literally nothing, not even the reassurance that I’d just been ‘unlucky’ … I thought that’s what everyone was supposed to say when you don’t succeed at something!

The realisation came surprisingly quickly, actually. Unfortunately I can’t say it was the Hollywood ‘glanced at my tattoo and finally realised the meaning of life’ moment, but it was something similar.

Those actors that had beaten me to a coveted place at RADA or LAMDA had auditioned at these places multiple times before. They would have been rejected time and time again and every year they’d have returned – relentlessly hopeful of doing something they know they’ve failed at on numerous occasions in the past, and each time that little bit savvier as to what is required of them to be successful.

For the effort I put in, I deserved a place at one of those acting schools, but sometimes that’s simply not enough. You need luck, you need perspective, and most importantly you need the bottle to take it on the chin when things inevitably go wrong at some stage.

Looking back, I’d still rather have achieved what I set out to achieve, but I’m also incredibly grateful of the experience for teaching me such a valuable lesson. I guess that lesson is that the collective injustices one goes through during their time on Earth can be labelled simply as ‘life’, and you can either accept them as the inevitabilities they are, or inadvertently look upon your existence with a subtle overtone of bitterness.

Which one would you prefer?

Zachary John is a keen writer who is currently authoring the amazing fact-based blog, Crucis Road. He plays the guitar, the piano, and is constantly on the lookout for things that make this world appear a little more incredible than we think.

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beach workoutThis article was contributed by Linda Katz of SingingBirdHealth.

One day I woke up and my Facebook newsfeed was dominated by a handful of events: weddings, new babies, and people completing a marathon/triathlon/mud run/other super intense physical activity. Now, don’t get me wrong, as a health coach I am all in favor of everyone getting more exercise. It’s good for you physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. But it seems like the more extreme the exercise these days, the better. People are pushing their bodies to the brink time and again.

Perhaps I am a little sensitive to this because I used to push my body to the limit and not listen to the signals it was sending. I mean, how many people do you know that get a chronic shoulder condition from an at-home yoga practice? My shoulder would cry out in piercing pain with each vinyasa that I did, but my mind had somehow convinced me that this daily yoga practice was still what my body and soul needed.

And there is the rub. Too often we are working against our bodies, willing them into submission. Silencing their quiet cries for help with icy hot and pain medication until those whimpers become a scream and that’s when we end up with a serious injury.

How do we stop this cycle? It’s all about recognizing your motivation. Some days your body will feel strong, you will be full of energy and a high intensity workout will be exactly what you need. But other days you may feel sluggish and sore, and it might be time to take it down a notch.

These are three motivations that if left unchecked may lead you to push your body too far.

  1. I am not good enough. - “I am not good enough” can seep into your psyche because you are not happy with where your body is at, or it may have nothing to do with the physical at all. This feeling may appear because you made a mistake at work, didn’t score as highly as you would have liked on that exam, or felt like you let a loved one down. It can take you down a path leading to all kinds of unhealthy behaviors: emotional eating, binging, starvation, and addiction to name a few. In comparison to those nasty habits exercise looks like a pretty great way to deal with this negative emotion! But the problem is that you are not coming from a place of self-love and this can result in you taking out your frustrations and aggressions on your own body. That stress will also be felt in your body as physical tension and stiffness, which can lead to injury.
  2. I was bad and now I need to punish myself. - This one is very common, and a slightly different and more easy-to-identify flavor of “I’m not good enough”. Most people can probably relate to this. You ate too much pasta. You drank too much wine. You had (gasp!) two pieces of chocolate cake. And now you feel really bad about yourself. What happens when your kid does something bad? You punish them. When you get tired of the guilt-ridden voices in your head, you turn to punishing your physical form. I will work off that cake even if it kills me, damn it!  Once again, this kind of thinking can lead to a place where exercise isn’t about loving your body and making you feel better, but about punishing your body and making you feel pain as a form of retribution for not living up to some expectation you have set for yourself.
  3. Total body domination. - This can drive people to run for 100 miles. Work themselves to the bone in a spin class. It’s mind over body at all costs. I believe that the mind, body and spirit are all inextricably linked together. The body contains wisdom that the mind doesn’t necessarily comprehend. For example, when shown a picture of a snake for a split second, the bodies of people who are afraid of snakes show a clear reaction – increased heart rate, palm sweat – even though the subjects are mentally unaware that they were even shown a snake. Their brain didn’t register it, but their body did. Our bodies have so much to offer us. They are sending us signals all the time about what they need to maintain homeostasis and optimal health. The problem is, we ignore the signals. We overpower them with our minds. I may feel tired and worn down today, but I will still go on my run because it was on my calendar and if I don’t that is bad, and if I am bad today I will have to work twice as hard tomorrow and in comes reason #2.

Like I said earlier, of course exercise is a key component of living a healthy and happy life. I am definitely not advocating that we all sit on our butts and watch TV! But where is the middle ground?

Follow your bliss. Exercise in a way that makes you feel good, where you enjoy the activity in itself and not just the feeling of accomplishment after you are done. Your body will tell you what it likes and doesn’t like, all you have to do is listen. While I still like to sprinkle yoga into my exercise routine when I feel like it, I found that pole dancing really thrills both my body and soul! I have always loved to dance, so there is the fun factor. There’s also the supportive group of women and my body feels great exploring the feminine movement. You can check out my article on why I love pole dancing here. The moral of that story is try to keep an open mind, explore, and don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone to find a movement your body really digs!

What I have also found that works well for me is scheduling time for exercise, but not pre-planning the activity. Then see how you feel in the moment. Ask your body what it wants to do? Cardio? Strength training? Maybe just some light stretching? Whatever it is, follow its guidance without guilt. If you are afraid you lack motivation or self-discipline, make sure that the time you set aside for exercise always involves some movement, even if it’s only a walk around the neighborhood. If you are a person who likes to take group classes, remember that you are still in control of how hard you want to push yourself, not anyone else. Over time, you will learn to work with your body instead of battling against it all the time. Then exercise will also be so much more enjoyable because your body, mind and spirit will all come together in the movement. And there is nothing more pleasurable and healthy than that.

Linda Katz is a certified holistic health coach and writer, who focuses on helping women find more energy naturally, and learn to love their bodies and their lives. Some of her favorite things include cooking, yoga, dancing, mountains, spending time with friends and family, and dogs, especially her 75-lb pit bull, Sophie. You can check out her health coaching page at www.singingbirdhealth.com.

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near death experienceArticle contributed by Alexa Carlin of HelloPerfect

On Jan. 26, 2013, I went into septic shock and was medically induced into a coma for six days at Shands Hospital in Florida, after experiencing flu-like symptoms for about a week. The doctors never quite found out the cause.

I spent 10 days in the intensive care unit and had a one percent chance of living. What happened instead, was a miracle. Now I want to share with you, the life lessons I learned from my near-death experience.

1. Don’t wait for a tragedy to realize that you matter.

When I was in the coma my friend and sister created a Facebook page for me called Good Vibes For Alexa. People from all over the world went on it to pray for me. To pray that I would survive and to tell others how I made a difference in their life. People I never even met sent me flowers and cards and told me how they prayed for me every night. It was overwhelming the amount of love I felt after I was discharged from the hospital.

It’s during times of tragedy that people gather and tell you that you made a difference in their lives. That you mattered to them. Although I wish we can all have that kind of support and love shown to us on a daily basis, that is not reality. No matter how alone you may feel, you are never really alone. There are people in the world that need you. Don’t wait for a tragedy to occur to know that you matter in this world.

2. Death is scarier for the people not dying.

I was never scared when I was in the coma or ICU. I didn’t fear death. For my family and friends though, that was definitely not the case. They were terrified of losing me. My mom hid behind a vending machine in a small corner in the ICU screaming, crying and praying that I wouldn’t die. When I thought I was dying, I was at peace. Don’t feel bad for someone who has passed away because it is you who is hurting more. Take care of yourself and keep living your life because all they want is for you to be okay. My fight to live wasn’t for my own life, it was for my mom, dad and sister’s lives.

3. Our mind is extremely powerful.

When I was in the ICU,  I had a mask on my face, a tube down my throat, and I was hooked up to 9 different bags of antibiotics. I couldn’t move, speak or breathe on my own. All I had was my mind. I pictured my mind to be a pure healthy pink color and the rest of my body was black and rotting away. It was like my mind was the only thing working. So, I began using my mind to heal my body. I pushed down this pink healing color to the rest of my body. I pushed with every ounce of energy I had left. Four days later, I was discharged from the hospital. The doctors said it would take 6 months to get my heart beating back to normal, my heart started beating at a normal rate in less than 3 months after the hospital. I believe, with all my heart, that my mind healed my body.

There is a rapidly growing body of research evidence suggesting that everything that is taking place in our physical health is the direct result of what is going on in our mind. Remember, what you think, you become.

4. Your body wants to heal itself.

It is our natural condition to be healthy. Everything about the way we were built points to the direction of wholeness and health. There are billions of cells working every second, around the clock, to make sure you stay healthy. Think about it, right when you get a cut, your body begins to heal itself. Take care of your body because it is always taking care of you.

5. Always listen to your body before any doctor or expert.

After I got out of the hospital I had a compromised immune system, digestive issues and a list full of other health issues. I went to hundreds of doctors in Florida and New York trying to find someone who can help me. Every person I met had a different opinion of what they thought could help me each going against the previous doctors suggestions. I was letting other people tell me how to get better instead of listening to my own body. After almost a year of doing this, I was so overwhelmed and stressed over all the different opinions that I decided I was going to heal myself. I realized that my body had all the answers the entire time, I was just ignoring the signs. Once I started listening to my intuition I knew the steps I had to take to get healthy again. I went on a gluten-free vegan diet, began juicing every morning, and became more optimistic about my health condition. In a matter of two months, I healed my body this way and now know that before I listen to any doctor or expert, I am going to always listen to my own body first, for all the answers lie within.

6. You are not your body, you are your soul.

While I was in the coma, I was having vivid hallucinations. I remember it all, it was so realistic, almost more realistic than the life i’m living today. I was running in a field of grass with beautiful big red mountains in the background. The colors were so bright, brighter than any color i’ve ever seen in real life. I was running but it wasn’t my body that was running, it was my soul. I was a ball of light, chasing the wind. I was free and happy. To this day, this visualization reminds me that our body does not define who we are. We are a soul and I believe our soul lives on forever.

7. Life is meant for the living.

I’m going to make a generalization, we take life for granted. Now that may not be true for everyone, but for the majority of the population, it is. Before I got sick, I was waiting to live my life. It was my senior year of college at the University of Florida and all I wanted was to graduate and move to NYC to start my life. I stopped going out, stopped hanging out with friends, stopped going to football games and so on. I was over it and ready to move on to the next chapter in my life. Then when I got sick, the words “did I live?” rang in my ear. I had a bad feeling that I let the last few months of my life slip away.

If you want to do something with your life do it now. Don’t wait because now is as good of a time as ever to do it. Live each and every day of your life because you never know when your days will end.

8. Our collective conscious matters.

Aside from believing my mind had a significant part in saving my life, I also believe the collective conscious of everyone who was praying for me made a difference. There were thousands of people praying for me and together, they helped save my life.

9. Reliving the past will never create a healthy present.

For the year I was sick after I got out of the hospital, I continued to relive the past. I kept going over what happened; I couldn’t get the pictures out of my head and I continued to ask myself, “why me, why did this happen to me.” The thoughts alone could have killed me.

Sepsis took over my body out of nowhere and I was so terrified it would happen again. I developed post traumatic stress disorder and thought I would live in fear for the rest of my life, I couldn’t see a way out until I realized I was living in the past. Sepsis was in my past and I was living like it was my present. Once I realized this, I knew I had to take steps to live in the moment.

My favorite quote from Lao Tzu is, “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” This quote helped me realign my focus to the present moment and live each day as it comes, not fearing that the past might happen again nor stressing what the future may bring, just living in the now.

10. Everything happens for a reason.

It’s hard to believe everything happens for a reason when you are experiencing a tragedy but now that I have come out of the dark hole I was in, I have realized that I had to go through what I did in order to become who I am supposed to be. The experiences we face in life are there for a reason. We need to learn from them and move forward in our lives to create a better future for ourselves and for the world. I believe I survived for a reason and I have a purpose for being here. We all have a purpose, and once that purpose is fulfilled it may be our time to move on from our current being. Sepsis has led me on the path I am on now, working to heal people through nutrition and the mind and starting a non-profit to inspire people to love and believe in themselves. If I didn’t go through what I did, then I would probably be on the path I was headed, living in New York City working in the fashion industry.

11. Our breath is sacred.

Our subconscious mind takes care of breathing for us just as it controls our heartbeat. We don’t have to think about breathing, our body just knows to do it and because of this, we don’t appreciate what our breath does for us. My breath was taken away from me. I couldn’t breathe on my own for 8 days. When the mask was taken off and I was finally able to take small breaths again, I was so grateful. I was grateful for this breath of air, for this beautiful breath of air called life. Our breath is very sacred and every day we should honor it by taking a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth, feeling grateful for this moment.

12. What is meant to be, will be.

If I was supposed to die, I would have. It seemed like it was my time. The doctors thought I was going to die and the odds of people surviving from sepsis (1 in 3) verified it. But I survived. It wasn’t my time to go. This is why I believe what is meant to be, will be. Don’t stress over trying to control everything in your life, if it is supposed to happen it will happen and if it isn’t, it just means something better is manifesting for you to experience in your future.


AlexaRoseCarlinAlexa Carlin is an entrepreneur, speaker, certified health coach and activist. She is the Founder of Hello Perfect and has been featured in Talking Good, Mashable, The Cut, Lydia Magazine, Beutiful Magazine, and Her Campus among others. She is a Board Certified Holistic Health Practitioner and life coach.

After almost losing her life to sepsis in January 2013, Alexa is committed to helping others heal themselves through nutrition and the mind. Alexa’s mission is to empower people to love and believe in themselves so they can accomplish their dreams and make a difference in the world.

Receive health tips from Alexa and follow her on Facebook and Twitter!


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Sad-Girl1This article was written by Rosanna Casper from Hackerella

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is considered to be one of the greatest books ever written. It is dubbed literary magic; a flawless work of art. It also has 57 one star reviews on Amazon.

“The self indulgence displayed by the author is astounding and alarming”, one reviewer writes. “Terrible story-writing and patience-burning” says another.

I encourage you to head over to Amazon and read some of the negative reviews of our most lauded books. There’s always a critic.

It’s a powerful reminder that no one, not even the most celebrated and respected creative minds, can please everyone. Especially today, where, because of the Internet and this beautiful thing called anonymity, people can be (and are) so hateful and critical. It’s everywhere.

And it scares me. There’s a certain fear inside of me that makes itself known each and every time I prepare to share my work, whether it’s a pitch for an guest article on the benefits of meditation or post on my own blog about my month on a crazy gluten/dairy/nut/soy/everything free diet. But I always hit the send button. I always share the work.

Share the Work

We must share our work because criticism and rejection are part of the game. And while no one likes to be negatively judged, anything we do or create in life is measured by the feedback and support of other people. You can’t have a bestselling book without readers. Your business cannot thrive without customers. A blog will never grow without an audience.

We have to care about what other people think because feedback is the only way we can get better. But it must be done in a way that allows us to turn the criticism into tools for improvement and accept the things that are helpful, while letting go of the things that are not.

It’s not easy to shrug off the negativity. There will always be unknowns, mistakes to be made, and unfortunate situations. The no’s will be plentiful, and many of them will be unkind. There will be haters and trolls and people who say horrible things about the work that we do and the people we are. Things will happen to us that, if we let it, have the power to define us in a self defeating way.

Get Used to the Uncomfortable

If we’re going to cope in a way that allows us to grow, we have to force ourselves to get comfortable with the feeling of being uncomfortable.

This means exposing ourselves to unexpected and unfamiliar things, and broadening that circle we call our comfort zone. Maybe start with something small and silly that provides just the right amount of discomfort, but not too much that it’s anxiety inducing. Break routine and bike to work when you normally drive. Try wearing a silly sweater or watching a movie alone.

Want something a little more challenging? Join a gym or enter an obstacle race and subject your body to a little physical pain. Sign up for a language class, learn an instrument and remember what it’s like to be bad at something. Frustratingly, pull-your-hair-out and scream awful at it.

Keep pushing, a little more each time.

Make the phone call. Send the email. Ask for a favor. Apply for the job you’re supremely unqualified for. Publish your writing.

And when you have faced awkwardness, criticism, rejection, uncomfortable situations, and unexpected challenges enough times, you’ll be so used to this discomfort that you’ll be able to handle just about anyone and anything. The driver who cut you off. The mean boss. The child throwing a tantrum in public. The obnoxious commenter on your blog. The person who says no, you’re not good enough. You’ll own them all.

Turning Obstacles into Opportunities

I’ve gotten more rejections than I care to count in my short time as a blogger, and I’ve had posts that have bombed spectacularly. They don’t faze me. In fact, I file them in a spreadsheet – not to keep a tally, but to understand what went wrong. Was my pitch weak? The style not a fit? The writing not strong? Was my timing bad? My subject off? Did I miss something? I turn it into a game, analyzing my web of data points and assessing these inputs like a mad blogger scientist. I ask for feedback, I improve the work, write some more, and share it.

And guess what? People still say no to me! But they say yes too (which I also file into my “what went right” spreadsheet) and it’s a wonderfully satisfying feeling knowing that I paid my dues and pushed through.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be immune to the critics. You probably won’t be either.

All you and I can do, then, is master the art of embracing the hard stuff and use what’s around us as opportunities to keep learning and improving. And we’ll be that much closer to accomplishing things we never thought we could.

hackerellaRosanna Casper is the author of Hackerella.com where each month, she embarks on a new personal wellness challenge. From engineering the perfect night of sleep to learning how to meditate to finding the ideal to do list, Rosanna is committed to finding ways to help busy people make small improvements in their lives.


SONY DSC This article was contributed by Kylie Dunn

3 steps to making better decisions for your life

Life is a series of choices - chicken or fish; the high road or the low road; the red pill or the blue pill. Often we don’t realise that we’re making choices; sometimes we don’t realise that we have the ability, and the requirement, to make our own choices. And sometimes we know that we should be making a choice, but we decide not to.

In November 2011, I created a self-development project for myself, based on the wisdom of TED Talks. Called My Year of TED, it involved a series of 30 day activities, largely designed to help me work out who I was and how I wanted to contribute to the world.

But there were activities around helping be a better person, to myself and others, as well. It was during two of those activities, 30 days of Choice and 30 days of Being Wrong, that I finally came to understand a difficult reality about my relationship with decision making.

Quite simply, for some of the biggest decisions in my life, including the decisions to marry my two ex-husbands, I did not make a decision. I was passive in that decision making process, just going along with whatever life or other people wanted me to do. This was a shocking realisation for the control freak side of my personality, and I resolved that I would never be passive in the important decisions of my life again. It’s not a surprising outcome though. In a recent interview I did with Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice and TED speaker, when we were discussing this trait he explained:

…there is a temptation to let big things happen to you, because people are so worried about how they’ll feel if they take ownership of big decisions and they don’t work out. It takes courage to own up to the fact that you’re in charge of this and you have to decide… Fear of a bad outcome just completely dominates the anticipation of a good outcome when it comes to big decisions.

While it makes me feel better about not actively making decisions in my life, or the big decisions in my life, I am still committed to fixing that for myself - and I’m trying to encourage everyone else to do the same. After My Year of TED, I think it comes down to three steps:

Step 1 - Having the confidence to make decisions When we look back on our lives, we are all faced with a number of poor decisions - a partner, a job, that hairstyle in the 80s. Hindsight is a wonderful opportunity for us to convince ourselves that we cannot be trusted to make good choices. Hindsight is biased; our brains are biased to remembering the negative outcomes, partly to try to prevent us from making those mistakes again.

It is important to remember though, that the less than optimal outcomes are what help us learn and grow. Life lessons are achieved through the things that go wrong, not the things that go right. Finding a way to remind yourself about all of your good decisions is a great way to maintain confidence in your ability to make the right choice. It is also important to think about what the outcomes of your bad decisions have been, because chances are they had some positive impact.

For example, I most likely would not have been posted to Headquarters Air Command if it wasn’t for my relationship with my second husband - and whilst that relationship was a train wreck, I loved my job and met my current partner there. I have found that remembering this fact helps - there is no such thing as a good decision or a bad decision, there is only the decision that makes the most sense at the time.

You can never truly know what the outcome of that decision will be until you have made it and followed the path it takes you on - so don’t beat yourself up about that outcome if turns out poorly, learn from it and make more informed decisions later.

Of course, this only rings true when you actively make the decision. If you are living your life passively; allowing other people and events make the choices for you, then the first step is to start making your own decisions.

Step 2 - Knowing what you want in the first place

There are some very fortunate people who know what they want from their lives at a young age, and are able to pursue that path. Sadly, they are in the minority.

I’ve learned that there are far more people in the world like me; people who understand some of the things they don’t want from their life, have a vague understanding of the things they like, but are generally stumbling around and seeing what life throws their way - or worse still, living the life that other people want for them.

Making decisions based on other people’s ideas of success for ourselves is a guaranteed path to unhappiness; since nobody else knows how we truly think or feel about things.

The first step to living a happy and fulfilled life is to know what you want from it - it’s probably also the hardest step.

Developing success statements for the important aspects of your life is a great way to start.

These are a simple, present tense statement of what success will look like when you reach it for your relationship, family, finances, career, health and so on.

Step 3 - Giving yourself permission to own your life

You’ve developed an understanding of what a successful life will look like for you, and renewed your confidence in your ability to make decisions; the final step is the bravest one.

You need to give yourself permission to actively make decisions in your life to achieve what you want from it. When you are presented with choices, when it is time to make the big decisions, you need to actively follow the path that will lead you towards your concept of success for yourself.

This is possibly the hardest path, because most of us have spent a lifetime trying to please other people and fit into the moulds of who they think we are, we often don’t feel like we have permission to follow our own path and live out our own dreams. But it is your job is to understand who you want to be, and give yourself permission to actively make decisions to pursue those outcomes for yourself.

Easier said than done

It’s incredibly easy for you to treat this like most of the other content on the internet that you read. You can close this page and head off to another article, thinking that I don’t know what I’m talking about or that it sounds good but it’s all too difficult - let’s watch some animal videos.

I was 39 years old when I started my journey to understand all of this for myself. It took a year-long project where I was completely immersed in knowing who I truly was – before I developed this understanding, and another year before I was able to articulate it for others.

I’m not saying that this is easy, if it was easy everyone would be doing it and you wouldn’t be reading about it here. What I can tell you is that my life changed once I got it, and started to live accordingly.

That empty feeling inside that I referred to as my soul crying, the one that had been there for most of my adult life, is gone now. So you can move onto your next inspirational post, cat video, or ice bucket challenge, and forget all about this - or you can start with step one. What are you going to do? What choice will you make?

tn_Bio-pic-1 Kylie Dunn is a writer, blogger and the creator of My Year of TED. Through her business, dinkylune, Kylie helps other people find the confidence and courage to obtain the life they want, the career they desire and the relationships they deserve.She has recently developed a set of free resources, called Positive Decisions, to help people with this process.Visit her personal website, http://dinkylune.com.

Photo by Shan Sheehan


Dog1This article was contributed by Karen Eller from KeysToJoy.

It had been about nine months since our dog, Charlie, passed when my husband, Don, began urging me to get another dog.

The past several months I had been enjoying having zero dog responsibilities…not heartaches. The idea of going through all that again – the diagnosing and misdiagnosing of ailments, suffering, loss (why do we humans dwell on the small quantity of bad stuff and so easily forget the huge measure of good times?) was almost too much for me to think about. Almost.

Because the memories of good – no, great- dog times were within me, under the surface of the more recent agonizing ones, I was able to contemplate adopting a new dog. Since childhood, Don had yearned for a husky. After realizing my only preference was to have my Charlie back (sad face), I agreed on a husky.

He found a local husky rescue group which we visited a couple of times. Now, when I say rescue group, do not mistakenly form a mental picture of a big building devoted to dogs. It is a legitimate dog rescue group, but it is simply a woman’s modest house with no special accommodations which had thirty plus dogs in it!

Suffice it to say I was a bit overwhelmed. The first time we were there, we actually were only in the fenced backyard. Even that was overwhelming.

I had no experience with huskies. If you aren’t familiar with them, they are a tough, rugged, high energy, powerful breed. Picture dogs pulling a man and all of his supplies on a sled through the Arctic and you get a good idea of their power.

She brought a few dogs at a time outside for us to meet. Every one of them nearly knocked me over with their vigor and excitement. I felt that they were sweet, but feared that I could not handle them.

Standing there exhausted and sweating from the near 100 degree summer day (which, by the way did not seem to affect the fur-laden dogs, in the slightest), the rescue group woman sensed that I was not keen on any of the dogs thus far.

So, she said she had one more dog.

She didn’t think I would be interested in her because she was an especially unruly and rough one. To this day, I do not know why she even brought Ella outside that day. It must have been her intuition.

To the woman’s surprise, Ella immediately sat down right between Don and me. Not one of the other dogs sat, let alone right between us. I remember how she looked up at each of us, right into our eyes, back and forth. It seemed like she was trying to tell us something:

“It’s me. I’m the one you want. I’m the one you are going to keep.” And then as quick as she had sat down, off she went! She ran and played all rough and tumble just like the other dogs.

A few days later, the woman with the rescue group brought two dogs over to our house, Ella being one, and the other a dog that I considered because he was timid and shy. Hence, I was not afraid of him.

The quiet, polite Ella that a few days ago had sat obediently between Don and me was nowhere to be seen on this visit! She came rip-roaring through our house – racing up and over all three parts of our sectional couch, into the next room, circling around, up and down the stairs, through the bedroom and back again and again and again!

She took a split second for a breather and then played roughly with Don on the floor. Simply stated, I was petrified! As for the other dog, he was so extremely timid (from an abusive background, no doubt) that he would not even approach us and mostly just watched The Ella Show.

After they left, my terror turned to a bleak depression because I came to find out that Don thought Ella was the greatest dog ever. What!? For the next several days, Don and I “discussed” adopting Ella.

As I was contemplating the decision to adopt Ella, I asked myself why did I not want her to be a part of my life? Of course, her excessive wild side. But what specifically about that? These questions triggered an insight to come to me. I realized that I was afraid. I feared her wildness, unruliness and the possible destruction of our house.

But, as I thought about it more deeply, I discovered that my fears of Ella actually were symbolic and highlighted already existing personal fears.

What I really feared was losing my peaceful life, losing control of my life, and doing things I didn’t want to do.

I realized I had been living my life based on other people’s ideas and beliefs. I had been living from a place of primarily considering what would make others happy or would get their approval rather than acting from my own heart and intuition. Ella’s wild personality simply was a trigger that helped me clearly see my own behavior, which I did not like.

So back to the matter at hand, I had two levels of fear. One was fear of not getting the good opinion and approval from others when I was my true self.

The other, a more primal, physical fear! Now that I was fully aware of these root fears, I had two choices. One was to not adopt her but know deep within myself that I cowered in the face of my fears. The other was to take the plunge and deal with what I feared, face-to-face with Ella.

So I chose to face my fears and adopt Ella.

The opportunity to confront fears sure did happen quickly. After welcoming Ella into our home and lives, not only was she excessively rough, wild and overflowing with energy, but she was aggressive towards me.

She must have sensed my fear of her and Don’s instantaneous love of her (experts say animals sense fear. I agree and think they sense more emotions than merely fear).

She took on the role of ‘Protector of Don’. She was protecting him from…me! When I sat next to him or sometimes even upon my approach towards him, she would approach me growling, her lips up with her sharp teeth showing.

How do I know they are sharp? Yep, she bit me on the back of the arm when I sat down on the couch next to Don. After crying (mostly from the emotional trauma, not the physical bite), I told Don I didn’t think I could handle her. He said her behavior was unacceptable and agreed she had to go back to the rescue group. It turned out that the woman at the rescue group was out of town for a couple of days. I agreed to keep Ella until the woman arrived back in town.

It is an interesting “coincidence” that the specific day we wanted to return Ella, the rescue group woman just happened to be out of town (coincidence in quotes because I believe there are no coincidences; everything happens for a reason). These couple of days gave me some time to center myself mentally, emotionally and spiritually before taking her back.

With this time, I recalled my purpose, which was to confront my fears. Well, here they were and what was I doing? Cringing, shying away and changing my mind. I realized that wanting to do something and actually doing it are not equivalent. If I was going to face my fears regarding Ella, I was going to have to muster up some strength, connect to my all-powerful divine self and not give up.

Practically speaking, I was going to do this by reminding myself why I wanted to do it.

I wanted to do it because I did not want to deny my true self due to fear of, not only Ella, but anything.

I wanted to do it because I wanted to learn how to be peaceful amid chaos (and boy would there be chaos).

I wanted to do it because I wanted to learn how to feel free to be my true self despite what others (including dogs!) around me were doing or telling me.

Facing my fear of Ella was really about myself – how and who I wanted to be in my life. This actually had nothing to do with Ella, per se. But she sure was going to help me accomplish it. This meant she was not going back to the rescue group. God help me! Literally.

Despite sounding crazy, we told the woman we wanted to give it another try and really hunker down. (What we did not tell her was that I wanted to face my fears and Ella was going to help me learn how to do that.) She gave us some basic tips about how to train huskies as well as the name of a professional dog behaviorist.

I also read – studied is a better word – Be the Pack Leader by Cesar Milan (aka, “The Dog Whisperer”), and watched loads of episodes of his television show. All of these tips were helpful and gave me a basis from which to begin.

Through the process of applying these techniques (sometimes with an oven mitt on for a sense of physical protection!), an amazing and unexpected thing happened. I started to feel more confident, not only regarding Ella, but about myself overall.

Facing my fear of Ella made me feel empowered, capable and worthy…in all areas of my life. I began to clearly see when I was altering my behavior to suit someone else, going along with another’s view merely to “fit in”, or not speaking up if I feared the other person would not agree with me. Awareness is the first and biggest step in making a change within oneself.

In facing my fear of Ella, not only did I gain the courage to face other fears, I realized that the root of my fears was my own lack of self-worth (check out my blog, keystojoy.wordpress.com for more info about self-worth, ego and joy!). My fear of being my true self had nothing to do with anyone else – person or dog.

When I know my value and worth, then I do not seek the approval, recognition or good opinion of others. I can freely be my true self without worrying about what others will think or say.

Ella and I are best buddies now. It is a completely loving relationship…in other words, no fear!

She still keeps me on my toes at times by incessantly and demandingly barking at me to play. Sometimes I do, sometimes not, depending on what my true self wants to do.

I’m not exactly sure how I realized I could start learning from Ella…but it turns out she’s one of the best teachers I’ve ever had.

Karen Eller is the creator and writer of the Keys to Joy blog: keystojoy.wordpress.comShe has been researching and applying methods for personal growth for over 15 years. She is a Reiki Master and has her Master’s degree in Sociology, as well. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and dog.