Society’s Expectations

cory muscara, letting go of your mind's dreams, elaina avalos

I follow Cory Muscara on social media. I’m not sure how I happened across him but it was probably via one of the podcasts I listen to or via one of many mental health professionals I follow, who shared his content. Dr. Rick Hanson, maybe? I listen to several podcasts that teach about mental health and wellness, mindfulness, positive psychology, and even neurobiology. So it’s not surprising I found him. Muscara was a monk at one time and is now a teacher and speaker as well as an instructor of positive psych at UPenn. I find many of his posts extremely encouraging and helpful. THIS one is soo good. He quotes Viktor Frankl (who has some quotes that blow my mind, by the way) in that reel. It’s incredibly powerful, in my opinion.

But this quote above, which he posted on Facebook, irked me. He writes in the caption:

“If you want to align with the life you are meant to live, you have to let go of all of your preconceived ideas of who you should be, where you should go, and what your life should look like, even the longstanding dreams your mind has desperately held onto. The soul’s path is a quieter, more subtle, moment-to-moment unfolding. Sometimes your mind and its dreams are aligned with it, other times they’re reciting outdated scripts, fears, and desires.”

So why did it irk me? It got under my skin because if there’s one thing I don’t want to think about, it’s letting go of the “longstanding dreams” my mind has “desperately held onto.” For me there is no more clear longstanding dream than being a mom and having a family. Can I technically consider myself a mom? Yes. Has the dream happened the way I thought it should, planned for it to, or hoped it would? Not even a little.

For the most part, I’m not sure it’s not part of God’s plan for my life in some way. I truly believe I was meant to be a mom. Until I’m incapable, I will do whatever I can – to have the family I’ve always dreamed of. But why would Muscara’s post, when generally I’ve found him to be thought provoking and encouraging, make me frustrated and uncomfortable? Because maybe I am still holding onto old paths to get where I want to go? Or maybe my attachment to a specific set of plans, ideals, or expectations has tied me to a path that isn’t mine to walk?

That doesn’t mean motherhood or a family isn’t in my future. But maybe it does mean that I’ve so focused myself on the dream, I’ve lost sight of the “moment-to-moment unfolding” of what God has for my soul. Or maybe it’s just that in releasing my attachment to a specific idea, I’d find a much better plan. I’m not really sure. What I do know is that my life has never taken a normal course. Not ever. I’ve always been behind schedule in literally everything. Haha. If you only knew. I joke about being old – but the truth is, I’m convinced my life has only just started.

When I get caught up in society’s expectations, I can find myself dissatisfied with the direction I’m walking. But I’ve never had any desire to live a life that complies with the status quo or the expectations of most. Never. Even from the time I was a tiny girl. In fact, the mere thought of doing what everyone else does/did infuriated me. Haha. But somewhere along the way, other’s expectations started to define my own life. I lost sight of that bold little girl who just didn’t care what things were “supposed” to be like.

I don’t know where the path is leading. I certainly have a wish, a hope, a dream. But I don’t care how I get there – not really. The paths I take to get there – or anywhere for that matter – should not be my focus or even an afterthought. Nor do I want to be so tied to the dream itself that I miss the life I was meant to live. I think I’m standing on this precipice of change and in spite of how hard change and opening myself up to hurt and disappointment can be, it’s the only way to the kind of life I want.

Earlier I mentioned Muscara’s reel that featured a Frankl quote. Here’s my favorite from Frankl.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Viktor E. Frankl

While it has taken some work, I’ve slowly seen the power of slowing down before responding or acting. There is power in choosing my response versus reacting. I think this fits well with the Muscara quote, to be honest. At some point, even after we determine to accept that our mind’s vision of our dreams and future may not be the full picture, it can be hard to stay on course. Especially when other’s expectations creep back in. But in slowly ourselves down – in between that moment of stimulus where the thought enters the mind – and our response, lies our power to choose a response. With that power comes a freedom that I’ve now experienced, in a way I would not have imagined, a couple of years ago. I’m still working on it – every day. Today, I sucked at it and let a very challenging person get to me. But if we can slow that response thing down when a thought enters the mind (the stimulus) it can truly change our lives.

The trajectory we find ourselves following can be moved along by the internal knowing we’re on the right path, met the right one, or found our calling, etc., etc. If we’re too concerned with the outside world, societal standards, and what everyone else thinks, we can easily get knocked off course. In the moment, when I’m tempted to judge my life and future path based on what everyone else thinks should happen, that is the moment to choose my response. In this case, it’s to throw off the expectations everyone else has, which weigh me down, and keep moving, moment-by-moment, to the life I know I’m meant for.

Don’t Be Overwhelmed by New Years Resolutions

don't be overwhelmed by new years resolutions, elaina avalos

It’s about that time. We’re barreling toward the start of a whole new year. From late autumn through Christmas every year, I spend time evaluating how my year has gone and think ahead to the upcoming year. While I have multiple long-term, life goals (and smaller goals I hope to meet and often do), I do not give myself a long list of resolutions each year.

I do, however, chose a word for my year. I’ve done this for so many years now I’ve lost track. My word for 2022 found me (as they usually do). The word was acceptance (or radical acceptance). I was so uncertain about the word, that I almost changed it, for the first time ever. But it was the right word.

“Radical Acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our lives as it is.”

~ Tara Branch

While I don’t want to go into a long story about how this word did/did not apply to 2022, I can tell you with confidence that as the “one word” concept has done every year, acceptance became the lesson of this year that has ultimately helped me tremendously. While it seems kind of nutty to make statements like this, it was life-changing. How was a word life-changing? If I told you all of that, you wouldn’t read. It’s a long story. 🙂

If you feel stressed about a new year, that’s just hours away, or find yourself stressed within the first few weeks of a new year, don’t be overwhelmed by New Years Resolutions. I tackle my year by choosing a word that becomes a theme (of sorts). I set intentions around that word. I know what you’re thinking . . . aren’t intentions, goals or resolutions?

Yes and no. Intentions look a little different to me than resolutions/goals. They’re also self-focused and don’t require participation from anyone else. Do you ever make resolutions or goals that involve other people? These could include changing careers, improving relationships, etc.? The problem with those goals and resolutions, are that they require other people to get in line with your goals/resolutions. That just doesn’t work because you can’t control other people.

If your goal is to “work out every day” or hit 10,000 steps a day, do those goals account for your own needs or potential changes in your schedule, health, your family’s schedule, your career, etc.? Would it be easier to hit a 10,000 step goal if it was actually a weekly aim? If your plan of attack is 50,000 steps in a week – you’re not beholden to accomplishing that every day. You have 7 days to make it happen. That might be a lot easier to make happen than 10,000 a day.

If your intention is to be the best girlfriend, wife, employee you can be – it’s entirely dependent on you. It doesn’t matter what anyone else does/doesn’t do. It doesn’t matter what your boss does, if you’re appreciated, or what your opportunities for advancement are.

Well . . . it does matter. Those things do matter. But us becoming who and what we need to be, is dependent upon our choices. Choosing a word for the year helps me be – in admittedly sometimes small increments, to be the person I want to be. And it’s entirely dependent upon me and not circumstances.

If I have a long list of resolutions and goals, there are 100% guaranteed obstacles to accomplishing those. I know I’m not alone in that. So why do that to yourself?

Here’s what I do or think through, as the year comes to a close, and a new year begins:

1. Evaluate the course of my previous year and determine what I loved, didn’t love, and what I wished I’d done differently.

Example: If my word is “acceptance” how well did I accept circumstances as they came? Was I content regardless of circumstances? What were my biggest “negative” emotions around my various intentions or the word itself?

2. Determine what new intentions I have for myself or what I didn’t get to the year before. Were the negative or neutral emotions or experiences, reoccurring themes? Were my failings or near-misses reoccurring themes?

3. I spend some time connecting those reoccurring themes and those things I hope to make a reality in my life and usually end up with a word that covers it all. Because of my faith, prayer is woven throughout.

Example: A pretty constant theme throughout my 2022, was anxiety and fear. Fear was prevalent. It literally kept me from accomplishing some things that I’d hoped to. It kept me from career dreams that may have been a reality – had I been less fearful.

4. Once the word is clear, I use my phone’s notes app, journal, etc., to make a list of things I’d like to do in the new year. Most of the time, these are big picture desires.

Example: Improving my health is a big picture goal. It’s not 10,000 steps a day or yoga every day. But it may be slowly making better choices that lead to major changes over the course of the year. For instance, I wanted to do Yoga with Adrienne’s daily yoga practice in January. But my joints aren’t sure of that at the moment. What is possible? Regular walks with the dog and yoga a few days a week and when I can’t sleep. I do have plenty of specifics listed, too. For instance, if I want to be more organized, I create an additional list of specific things I need to organize.

Fearless: free from fear : BRAVE

My word for 2023? It’s Fearless. It’s not the first time I’ve had that word. But it’s never fit better. So what does that look like for intentions? I’m certainly not sharing here. Haha! But I can tell you that it’s a word that is an extension of acceptance.

Listen, I know. This isn’t the advice most people are going to give you. I’m not most people. I sympathize with those who may be working their way through health issues, loss and grief, or any other number of challenges. Why beat yourself up on the path to becoming a better version of yourself, when you don’t tick off every little thing on that list of yours?

Being driven is not a bad thing. Neither is determination to meet your goals. But if you’re like me and need a little more grace, the word thing works so much better.

What is your biggest obstacle to meeting your goals? Do you find yourself overwhelmed a few weeks or a couple months into a new year as life hits your best intentions? If so, you might like giving the one word thing, a shot.

Here’s to a 2023 full of good things!

I’ve Lost Enough Time

I’ve had a heck of a day. 

Anxiety has been out of this world – stealing time on this last day of the Veterans Day weekend. I’ve worked enough hours lately that after a quick work task this morning, I was planning on spending my last day at home – writing, cooking, & decorating.

That’s not at all what happened. It took me hours & hours to write, battling intense self-doubt. I needed to stand firm & write. But I was flooded with distracting thoughts of my expanding to-do list, my dad’s living situation, missing the ones that are missing, and worrying about the future. None of which are helpful for focusing on a novel that *must* be finished. 

Eventually, I did what I intended – writing 2,036 new words, of a novel that has had my heart, since the summer of 2020. As I was looking out at my patio & the woods, I was reminded of the precious nature of our time. If you’d told me I’d never see the man I love again, I’d go back and change some things. Nearly six months ago, or further back – if you’d told me my baby brother would get to heaven before I do, I’d tell you were crazy. But then I’d change some things. If I knew the number of my days, would I live differently?

The thing is, I don’t know the number of my days. None of us do. But one thing loss has taught me is that we don’t need to know the number of our days to make the most of each moment. Anxiety, worry, living in anger or unforgiveness, or the past – they all take from these precious minutes we have now. When I look back, I want to know I’ve used them wisely and that I’ve pushed through the hard things, to keep living the life I’m meant to.

I refuse to lose more time. It may have taken longer than I would have preferred today – but I found my groove, while looking out at the woods – with the golden autumn light warming this chilly day. I’ve lost enough time. So have you. 

“Write clear and hard about what hurts.” – Hemingway

You Deserve Better. You Know You Do

you deserve better you know you do, elaina avalos

You deserve better. You know you do. I do, too.

“As William James observed, we must reflect that, when we reach the end of our days, our life experience will equal what we have paid attention to, whether by choice or default. We are at risk, without quite fully realizing it, of living lives that are less our own than we imagine.”

– Tim Wu

Sometimes we hope and long for things that feel right on the surface. Our feelings are our feelings. We love, hope, dream, and plan around them at times. We are attracted to people we are attracted to. And yet, our feelings can betray us in many ways. There’s not much you can do to change them. You can love or care for someone and not be able to change that. But it may also mean that your feelings are pulling you in the wrong direction.

I deserve (you deserve), the absolute best. I reached a point (took forever) not too long ago, where I was just done with certain people. I’ve held onto or kept open connections because of obligation, my career, or an inability to let go (for reasons unknown to me). I have, in increasing measure, grown ruthlessly protective of my life and the days that lie ahead.

But sometimes, even still, I’ve found myself letting my feelings carry me away – without standing firm in what I want for my life. I don’t want (and you shouldn’t either) sloppy seconds, being chosen last, or being carried away by feelings, in general. Particularly when, as the quote above says, “we are at risk without quite realizing it, of living lives that are less our own than we imagine.”

What does that really mean? Frankly, I interpret this to mean – stop wasting time on men (or women) and relationships that are less than what you truly want (and deserve). I think it means that we go along with the current, carried by circumstances and feelings, without thinking. We’re pulled along in that current – without reaching for truth, remembering what we’re here on this earth to do, or what we know we truly want.

I can care for someone until I’m blue in the face. My feelings may try to steer me in their direction. But that doesn’t mean it’s what’s best for me. Your feelings are just that. We shouldn’t deny or hide them. Nor should we live a life void of them (of course). But we have to evaluate them and when they’re not steering us right, we have to choose differently.

I’ve shared this video above because I love the idea of making conscious decisions to choose. We have countless choices to make, boundaries to set, and paths to take. We can choose to remove ourselves from relationships that don’t keep us on that path or that potentially derail us from getting to that life we know we truly want to live. Additionally, we don’t need to sit back and passively wait for some future thing to happen for our lives to begin.

We can choose. I choose to believe that I’m worth more than someone who can’t make up his mind. I’m worth more than a man that is flattered by the attention, but doesn’t care for me and want what’s best for me. I’m worth more than someone who isn’t all in. You are too. You know this in your gut. You deserve better. You know you do . . .

I’m fully committed to choosing the right partner. I’m fully committed to choosing the path I’m on and the boundaries I need to set, to stay on that path. Don’t be swept up in the current of your feelings when you know you deserve more.

See Reality As It Is

acceptance Thích Nhất Hạnh, Thích Nhất Hạnh, elaina avalos, radical acceptance

“To think in terms of either pessimism or optimism oversimplifies the truth.
The problem is to see reality as it is.”
~Thích Nhất Hạnh

After a long journey through loss and grief and dreams delayed, I stumbled onto something unexpected – acceptance. I’m not going to say I don’t have moments of doubt, but I am saying that there is a great deal of freedom that comes with accepting the situation as it is. And frankly, that acceptance is super motivating in other ways.

Here’s to a great Monday & week!