Picture Perfect Puzzle Pieces: A Story

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Blossom“Most people think happiness is about gaining something, but it’s not. It’s all about getting rid of the darkness you’ve accumulated.” – Jo Oz @ozlifeadvice

I posted this quote a few weeks ago, but I had to revisit it because it presents such a different perspective on happiness as we know it. Let me begin by stating that I do believe that things and people have the ability to create happiness, or to at least encourage happiness. We would all be liars if we said this is not somewhat true. My family, friends, my wonderful future husband, and having a few extra bucks in my pocket makes me very happy. And to be perfectly honest, I look forward to and hope for more love and more money. Really, who wouldn’t? But when I look at society and within myself there seems to be this insatiable desire to chase happiness at all cost. We chase and chase even more without ever looking internally to examine the thoughts and areas of our past that may be preventing us from finding or sustaining happiness. Some of us still carry negative thoughts, defensive walls, warped perceptions, shallow vision, and sabotaging behaviors that often cause us to overlook and destroy the happiness right in front of us.

Story time: Imagine with me for a moment that you are sitting on the floor in the middle of a medium-sized room. On the walls around you are bright colorful pieces of art neatly arranged against white walls. Scattered in the spaces among these paintings are large framed quotes of what you later realize are successful people of our time. As you put your hand down to begin standing up you hear a crunching noise and the feeling of something small and sturdy beneath you. Around you are about 100 puzzle pieces randomly piled in all directions. Fascinated by the paintings and quotes, you begin walking across the room with your eye fixed on a frame entitled “Keys to Happiness.” As you get closer you notice the quotation is by [insert the name of a person whose success you admire and dream to have]. Eager to see more, you examine every piece arranged around the room noting every signature on the paintings and each name quoted in a frame. They are all from people you admire. Naturally, you begin examining your life and plot out what you might need to do to achieve the level of happiness expressed through every piece. How did they create such beautiful pieces? How did they create such beautiful lives? As you ponder on each piece, you begin to notice that the puzzle pieces scattered across the floor have a seemingly consistent color scheme. You see the shades of blues, greens, browns, whites, and yellows and realize that they might connect to create a larger image. Confused as to why they are randomly in the middle of the room, you begin looking around for a box or someone to explain the odd occurrence. Across the room you spot an intercom and are about ready to push the button when you notice something strange about one of the paintings. Now less then 12 inches away from it, you discover that the painting is actually made up of tiny puzzle pieces! Astonished, you look toward the floor, drop to your knees, and begin trying to assemble the puzzle. After five minutes of intense focus you pick up a few puzzle pieces and find a note: “If you can assemble this beautiful masterpiece, it is all yours.” Determined to own a piece of art, you painstakingly find each proper piece one at a time. While assembling the pieces, you notice that they do indeed fit together but are damaged thanks to you walking all over them. Nonetheless, you carry on building your masterpiece. Halfway through your impromptu art project you make a startling discovery – you are a part of the puzzle. Somewhat disappointed that you might not be building a “masterpiece” if you are in it, you still continue on curious to see what the entire image will reveal. Finally finished, you take three giant steps back to see an image of you with/in [insert the people, things, or places that you envision as your ultimate image of happiness]. In awe, you realize the beauty in front of you but also all the dents and rips you created as you crushed your own picture in pursuit of everyone else’s in the room. As you look around again, you now notice that every beautiful image and success quote in the room is made up of tiny puzzle pieces. Overwhelmed by the experience, you slowly sit back on the floor. While staring at your partially self-inflicted damaged image of happiness, you realize that your beautiful masterpiece could have been as beautiful as the collection in the room if only you had not been so quick to reach for the keys to happiness in someone else’s dream.

The moral of the story: Find happiness in the small puzzle pieces life has given you, because from them will come your image of true happiness. Borrowing pieces from someone else’s puzzle will never quite fit yours perfectly. However, what you can take from their puzzles are (1) the steps they took to learn how to love the puzzle pieces they were given and (2) how they used the small piece to create a beautiful personal masterpiece.

Jo Oz’s quote reminds me to not overlook the light that is inside of me. We have the potential to create the same bright happiness we see in others, but we have filled ourselves with so much “darkness” that we believe that our light is not bright enough to create anything similar. If we were to get rid of some of the “darkness,” I am almost positive that we would see the happiness in the small things, in the people around us, in the present situation, and in ourselves. We would move from chasing happiness to becoming happiness; having become happier, we will attract more happiness; and as we attract more happiness, we will look up one day and see that we are overwhelmed with happiness only to then realize that we never had to chase something that we already had. It gives new meaning to the phrase “I AM happy.”

 

The Sky is Always Blue

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The Sky is Always BlueAlthough I have what I would call “a health fear” of flying,” I still love to get in a plane and soar above the clouds. There is just something quite calming when we finally reach the cruising altitude where the clouds are beneath us like fluffy cotton balls drifting off into the sun. I don’t know why, but I often stare out at the clouds and contemplate life. The combination of the beauty, the strange idea that I have no control if the plane decides to stop working, and the awesome technology that is planes makes every problem seem literally and figuratively small. At the end, I always arrive at the same conclusion about life: beyond the darkest clouds and the roughest turbulence usual lies beauty and peace; it is just a matter of perspective.

When I was a teenager, I listened to a sermon entitled “The Sky is Always Blue.” Lies, I said. Lies! I sat there trying to anticipate where the minister was going with this lie. How could that be true? I sat there thinking about the many rainy days I’ve lived through and wondered if maybe he lived in a place like California where there was always blue skies and sun. But, it didn’t matter where he lived because the rainy days in my neck of the woods meant his statement should not include the word “always.” After thinking back to a flight earlier that year, I concluded that maybe he actually was not lying to me. I remembered the rain beating on the windows and the wind shaking the plane like the earth needed salt and pepper. I remembered the turbulence shaking every secret ounce of pray out of my heart as I tried to remain calm and “trust God” with my life. “Please remain in your seats. We are experiencing a little turbulence,” said the pilot. A little? Good one Captain, good one. Despite the rough ride, the pilot kept taking us higher and higher until eventually we reached an altitude above the storm. Boom! And there it was! Nothing but blue skies, a bright sun, and shades of pink and orange as the sun was beginning to set. So the minister was right – beyond the clouds, the sky is actually always blue.

Thinking back to this moment makes me wonder if some of the solutions to my problems are simply a matter of my ability to change my perspective about what’s in front of me. What if in some cases, the success I seek is just a few more steps past what seems like nothing. Whatever the circumstance looks like, there is always hope and blue skies on the other side, if I can just soar above it. Yes, there are challenges that may come with “soaring above” but that conversation is for another post for another day. So for now, just focus on trying not to get stuck in the turbulence of life by keeping those wings flapping. Until next time, flap on!

 

Getting Out of The Box: How I Get Over the Fear

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Get Out of the Box“Step outside of the box.”

“Think outside the box.”

“Break outside the box.”

This little box must be made of some extremely durable substance because the entire world is either living it or trying to get out of it! No, seriously. I am not joking. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard these expressions about this box. Darn it, I have even said them many times. The funny thing is that it is always “the box” not “your” box, but I digress. It is very true that I need to “step out of the box” some more but I was wondering, can I bring the box with me? I mean the box has done so much for me in my life; its walls acted as a sturdy pillar as I tried to walk before I could crawl and it protected me from the elements (society) when I was not strong enough to brave it. Thanks to the box, I was able to grow and develop the skills I needed to survive once outside the box.

Some of our boxes are different sizes because some of us need more room to grow into the “element” fighting beast that we need to be. Then the time comes when the box has given us all that it can, and at that time and not a minute sooner, we should leave the box. Time is everything and leaving the box too soon might mean we are under-developed and too weak to sustain ourselves outside the box. See, that’s why I want to bring the box with me!

Don’t get me wrong, I believe we need to get our booties out of that box. However, that can be a scary task. Sometimes I am afraid to leave the box because I question whether I am ready to tackle the dream before me. Sometimes the fear is in wondering if leaving the box means that I won’t have anything to fall back on. So, I decided to think this way: take everything I need out the box, place the contents in an air tight container, step out of the box, and then say goodbye to the box. Genius! This way I figure that I am solving the problem of living as an oversize giant in a tiny box and the problem of worrying that I have the essential tools I need along the journey. With the goodies that make me strong and competent safely tucked away, I may pull them out whenever I feel I need to rest, regroup, and remind myself that I have already been nurtured to accomplish the task ahead. I don’t know about you, but envisioning that I can take everything with me that “made me” makes getting out the box less intimidating. Maybe it is all a placebo, but whatever, it is working and I am stepping outside of the box… and that’s all that matters.

Do Good and Be Good.

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Do Good Be GoodHeadphones in. I was feeling good. Honestly, I was just focused on getting to the conference room inside the hospital to set up for my workshop. The only thing separating me from achieving my goal was a steep hill and a much older man slowly struggling to walk up the hilly entrance to get to what I assumed was an appointment. Crap! Half of me wanted to say hello, slow my pace, strike up a conversation, and walk up this hill together. The other half of me just wanted to breeze right by him, keep bobbing my head, and let the guilt of never saying “hello” roll right off my shoulder. Hey, sometimes I am just not in the mood. Don’t judge me. Well, the greater good in me prevailed and I dislodged my headphones, caught up to him, and struck up a short conversation with an old man that I would likely never see again.

As I slowly walked side by side chatting to what seemed like a sweet old man, he started to explain why he suffered such a slow, limp-ridden walk. Unfortunately for him, this steep hill was the only entrance onto the main hospital campus (they obviously did not consider the disabled and handicapped patrons when they chose the land to be a hospital). He told me that an issue with his back was to blame for his knee no longer bending forward as he walked. I found it quite ironic that the doctor he visited to help relieve his pain was located on terrain that required his body to prove that it was failing him.

Doctor: “So, how has your leg been feeling since our last appointment?”

Old Man: “Great, as I long as I don’t put too much stress on the knee and back.”

Doctor: “Well, you should really stay away from hills and stairs.”

Helpless, I just smiled, listened, and offered to be nothing more than his walking partner four minutes. He tripped. I waited. And then, we finished the short journey together in the 88 degree heat.

The world moves fast and it moves on. Circumstances were less than ideal for this old man and his leg and I couldn’t change it. But, I could somehow and in some small way let him know that he was not alone if he tripped again; and just in case he did, I was there for four minutes to let him know that someone really did care about his limp and his journey.

You may never know what someone else is going through and you certainly cannot help everyone, but welcoming the opportunity to help the people that do cross your path might just prevent this world from running out of love. A little flame can still create a huge fire. So, do good and be good. I mean really, what else are you on earth for if not that?

Going With God

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Boston Skyline

“So, you are going with God,” I asked. “Yes,” they replied.

I am a firm believer that God can do the impossible; but I also believe that we cannot expect miracles to happen if we don’t put forth the effort to prepare ourselves to sustain that “impossible opportunity” once it happens. The statement above was the last exchange in a conversation with a friend who was applying for a job promotion. After talking through the entire process, I began asking them if they knew anyone that might be able to put in a good word for them. “I am sure I do” they said, but proceeded to inform me that they decided to just leave the outcome to fate.

This reminded me that in some situations going with God is the best decision one can make. It is very easy to become accustomed to working hard for new opportunities that we just stop believing God has any hand or place in the paths we take. Funny thing is that God gave us the ability to work hard in the first place so it probably all leads back to God anyway; but I digress. Nonetheless, we can often find ourselves so caught up in our own world and abilities that we forget that God wants to be a part of them. We get to the point where we so heavily trust our partners, family, friends, our skills, our networking, and our resumes that we forget to sometimes solely trust God. So, maybe when you are picking your next success team and assembling your success checklist you will remember to pick God to be on it; and if you want to go that extra mile, you can do like my friend and just go with God as your sole team member. If you do, whatever the outcome, you will clearly know that “it” was or was not meant for you.

I understand that sitting back and letting things unfold is not always the best strategy; but for those ambitious people that may forget to include God in decisions, this is just a little reminder. We tend to trust friends, family, and at time even strangers enough to rely and depend on them. I wonder if I really trust God that much?

Validation

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ValidationValidation: To make legal. To confirm. To give approval to. To recognize or affirm the worth of.

Life deals us a hand of cards at birth and we begin to live and respond to the cards we’ve been dealt. Circumstances, background, family, disappointments are all used as explanations for the deficiencies, nuances, and quirks that we develop along the journey. I grew up somewhat naive about many of the things people do to cope with this thing called life (ie. drugs, sex, YOLO (“you only life once”) moments, “turn up” extravaganzas, and street life survival techniques (aka fights)). Although I didn’t participate in much of anything considered “fun” when I was younger, I had more than my fair share of the same emotions that prompted those activities in other people: pain, hurt, happiness, sadness, confusion, desire, love, emptiness, joy, and desperation. On the long list of reasons we provide for people’s behaviors and choices, “validation” is often left out.

We often say people are looking for love, success, peace, happiness, answers, and even adventure in life. However, I don’t often hear people give the same weight to the idea that validation plays a big role in the decisions people make in their life. In some cases, we might seek a certain level of success to validate our belief that we are indeed intelligent, competent, and valuable. People sometimes join groups to validate their worth and to gain acceptance. Sometimes we care about our image solely because compliments reassure us that we are beautiful/handsome. Often people find themselves accepting a strange kind of love in relationships because, whether wonderful or painful, that love oddly validates the idea that they are lovable. Everybody wants to be validated and reassured that this world wants his or her existence. Think about it. Who wants to feel like the world could care less if they were ever created?

The reason we seek validation is the same reason we are drawn toward believing that we have a greater purpose in this life. The problem begins when people seek external validation more than internal confidence. I would be lying to you if I said that we don’t need validation from people from time to time. However, people can only validate you to the extent that they believe in your worth. People waver; and if they do, that might also mean your confidence will waver too. In order to develop a true unwavering sense of internal validation, you need to find the inner conviction that you are valuable and have something meaningful (great or small) to offer the people in your world. Internal validation is not something that develops overnight; you might need to have multiple sources, places, and routines to keep your validation scale tipped in the internal versus external direction, but that struggle is just a part of life.

I have found that the greatest validation I have ever experienced in my life has been the sense that I have been created ON purpose and FOR many purposes. When I feel connected with the universe and God, it reminds me that I am valid and have been legitimately placed on earth.

What is your source(s) of validation?

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