vulnerable path

Make yourself a stronger woman.


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Lights, Camera, Confidence!

It was that moment when the spark ignites, the moment I look for all year long as a Girl Scout Leader.  “Miss Chris”, said one of my Scouts, “I think that people who are bullies really feel bad about themselves.  And maybe if we try to help people have more self-confidence, then there would be fewer bullies.”  Then another one added, “If people had more self-confidence, bullies and cliques wouldn’t bother them so much.”  These kids were on to something, and I knew we had the ingredients for a great Take Action Project.

Award_editedIn case you are unfamiliar, a Take Action Project culminates a Girl Scout Journey.  Journeys are an integral part of the Girl Scout Leadership experience.  It’s the heart of the National Program, and Journey curriculum is available for every age level in Girl Scouting.  It focuses on three core themes — It’s Your World, Change It; It’s Your Planet, Love It; and It’s Your Story, Tell It.  Journeys teach girls the three keys to leadership — Discover, Connect, and Take Action.  Discover something about yourself or an issue that is important to you.  Connect with others in your community who hold those same beliefs.  And Take Action to create a sustainable solution to that problem.   The ultimate mission in all this is to build girls of courage, confidence, and character that make the world a better place!

The Journey our Cadette troop (6-8 grade) did this year is called aMAZE, and it focuses on how teenagers can improve their relationships with their peers.  I knew how much my girls needed to have the chance to talk about what they are going through in school.  I knew that several of them had already suffered bullying.  And I knew some of them struggled with self-esteem.  They needed tools to navigate “the twists and turns of getting along,” as the Journey book calls it.

As adults, we sometimes forget.  But being a teenager is not easy!  I wanted to encourage some heart to heart discussions about peer pressure, gossiping, cliques, stereotypes, first impressions, bullying, and more.  But in the end, my girls pinpointed one root cause of many of these issues — a lack of confidence and self-esteem.  And they decided to throw a “Confidence Rocks Party” to help solve it.

pop rocks_editedThe girls created a playlist of confidence boosting songs that they felt would uplift and inspire others.  We decided that a good place for a party is our local roller-skating rink, and the Skateaway was more than happy to partner with us on this project.  We designed a flyer to promote the event and emailed it to all the Girl Scouts troops in our community.  We pulled inspirational quotes from the songs on the playlist and made party favors with Pop Rocks candy, attaching the quotes.  We created some awesome decorations by “tie dying” coffee filters!  And we set up a photo booth with a backdrop, costumes, and props to encourage Party-goers to let their Confidence shine.

When I plan Journey sessions, I go on a Journey myself.  I learn just as much, probably more, than my girls do!  I find amazing resources on the Internet that I use in my lesson plans.  This year, I found so much good stuff that I decided to put it all in a blog post so I could share it with parents and other Girl Scout leaders.  Here’s how my journey began.

ConfidenceOne day last summer, I received an email from my niece.  She sent me information about a group called Lehigh Valley Girls Rock.  She thought my daughter would be interested in their program.  What this group does is pretty amazing.  They teach girls how to play instruments, help them write music, form bands, and perform — all in a week long camp setting.  But if that wasn’t cool enough, it was through their website that I discovered some other very inspiring women who have a thing or two to say about self-confidence and self-love.  A whole bunch of inspiration just fell into my lap!

First there is Gala Darling and her Radical Self Love Manifesto.   Gala started out as a fashion blogger, but soon discovered her true calling and devoted herself to helping other women fall in love with themselves.  Admitting that her teenage years were full of turmoil, she found a way to overcome her struggles and turn her life around.  She is now a very successful entrepreneur.  Her website is just chock full of inspiring essays and activities such as her “Radical Self Love Bible School” which is an art journaling self-discovery program.  I recommend watching her TedEX talk on You Tube.

Then there is Jaime Karpovich.  Jaime is a Vegan, produces a cable TV Show called Save The Kales that airs in several markets, and keeps a blog of the same name.  She’s a freelance writer and public speaker and loves to talk about vegan cooking and lifestyle, body positivity and self-esteem, and personal empowerment to name a few.  I tried to arrange for her to speak to my Girl Scouts, but it didn’t work out this year.  I still have my fingers crossed that we can work together soon!  I think she would really impress upon them how important it is to be true to yourself and follow your dreams.

crafted with beautySomewhere along the line I stumbled upon a gem of an article by Anna Lind Thomas called, “Life is too short for crappy friends,”   Thomas is a writer and comedian who really nails it when it comes to explaining to girls why being “popular” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  She also has some hilarious things to say for us grown-up women.  Here’s a link to her blog.

Oh, and I cannot leave out Brene’ Brown.  I am absolutely obsessed with her book The Gifts of Imperfection.  I carried it around for months on end.  I read and re-read it, marking it up with pencil and highlighter.  I preached it to anyone who would listen.  Her guideposts for wholehearted living resonated with me like nothing else ever has.  It just makes so much sense.  It was inspiration from her research that led me to create this blog and name it Vulnerable Path.  If you follow my blog, you know I have talked about her A LOT in previous posts.

The one thing that Brown has to say that I felt was very important to convey to my Girl Scouts was this:

You are WORTHY now, right this minute, AS IS!!!!!

Brown has an amazing TedEX Talk and other videos on her website– even one about empathy that I recommend for kids.  You can find all of them on here.

The thing is, confidence and self-esteem isn’t just a teen issue.  There are many times throughout our lives that we struggle with a lack of self-confidence.  If we feel bad about ourselves, we are performing that script for our children.  Their young eyes are on us every day as we make choices and navigate our own complicated lives.  We are in the spotlight, the camera is focused on us.  So it’s up to us, first and foremost, to be a good role-model for our children.  As I’ve said before, we can’t give our children something that we don’t have.  (Actually, I think Brene’ Brown said that!)

hero_editedTo help our children gain self-esteem, we have to change the script.  We have to be willing to look in the mirror and say, “I look great today!” instead of “Do you think I look fat in this dress?”  We have to show them that it’s OK to walk out the door with no makeup on.  We have to make positive changes in our lives when we are unhappy.  We have to stand up for ourselves when others treat us poorly.  You can tell them everyday how awesome they are.  But what they really need to see, in addition to all that, is how awesome you think you are!

All I want for my daughter, all any of us want for our children, is that they do better than us — be wiser, smarter, stronger.  We want them to discover their talents and ignite that spark that leads them to their dreams.  The first step in helping them is to help ourselves.

This is a Journey for all of us, young and old alike.  I hope you rock your confidence!

You can download our Playlist and our confidence activity calendar from these links:

Playlist for Confidence Rocks Party

Confidence Rocks Calendar

© Vulnerable Path, 2015

 

 


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Reflections: looking back at the path

While everyone else is making resolutions, I decided to take some time to reflect on what I’ve learned on my journey this past year. This blog has been a major accomplishment for me. Not only a creative outlet, it’s also been a way for me to share my personal journey. It’s helped me to solidify my own feelings about the things I’ve been through, take responsibility for them (good or bad), and take action toward spiritual growth.

Reflections on acceptance: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

I discovered this quote from a Leonard Cohen lyric while reading Brene’ Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection. I used this quote in my very first blog post that you can read here. As many of my blog followers know, this was a life changing read for me. It provided confirmation of what I knew in my heart for a long time. That I am OK just as I am. I’m imperfect, and I am able to accept myself that way. My life has been full of cracks. I’ve made bad choices. I’ve allowed myself to fall into life’s pit of quicksand where I get stuck on stupid. I’ve been ashamed of many things I’ve done and of things that have happened to me. I bet you know the feeling; I am not alone in this! So this year I made up my mind to let the light shine on all my bumps and bruises and to use them to become a better person.

Reflections on failure: “Sometimes when things fall apart, that’s the big opportunity to change.”

My daughter watches a cartoon called Adventure Time. One of the characters is a dog named Jake who profoundly states, “Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.” The cartoon inspired me, and I have repeated that quote to my daughter many times during cross-country practice, or violin practice, or algebra homework. I’ve sucked at many things too, especially in my relationships. Some of these failures have been catastrophic. Like a nuclear bomb going off, my life has been leveled by heartbreak. Yet somehow I found the hope and the strength to dust myself off. I wrote about how acknowledging failure is the first step to healing in a blog post you can read here. Pema Chodron points out in her book When Things Fall Apart that our tough times are there to help us grow.  This is a constant in life. It can apply to any struggle. Sometimes we need to lean into our pain in order to get closer to our truth, which brings me to my next point.

Reflections on vulnerability: “The most courageous thing we can do is allow ourselves to be vulnerable.”

In yoga class we practice poses called heart openers. These are particularly good exercises for me because they force me to put my shoulders where they belong: back and down. I carry all my stress in my shoulders and neck. The muscles in this area of my body always seem to be contracted.  I’m like a cat who’s just been surprised, walking around with my back scrunched up.  I am always working to correct my posture and focusing on ways to soften and relax.  This contractedness is a physical manifestation of what I have felt emotionally many times. I put the guard up when I’m afraid. It seems natural. When we have a bad experience, we want to protect ourselves from having that happen again. So we set limits with ourselves and with others. But the truth is, we need to do just the opposite. We need to open our hearts. Vulnerability isn’t a topic I’ve written a specific blog post about, but it’s a theme that runs through everything here. We have to be brave to conquer our fears, brave enough to be vulnerable. Because otherwise we are blocking ourselves off from our future happiness. In order to love and be loved, we must take a chance on possibly getting hurt – again. In order to accomplish new things and express ourselves creatively, we must risk being judged.

So I will set forth into 2015 with these reflections in mind. To accept myself, to embrace my failures and take them as opportunities for change, and to open my heart to my own future happiness. May our journeys be blessed in the New Year!

© Vulnerable Path, 2014


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Healing Steps

There was a celebration this week. My daughter attended her cross-country team banquet.  This was a big deal; a first, because she had never participated in a team sport before.  I knew she was really excited about going to the banquet when she asked for a hair appointment!  She wanted to look her best.  And she did look beautiful!  The joy for me, however, was seeing her acknowledged for the effort she put into her running this fall.  As any Mom would, I hope it brings her confidence and pride in herself.  She started the season with zero running experience.  She could barely run a half mile.  But she kept at it.  I know she was scared and self-conscious in the beginning, worrying about fitting in or being criticized.  Soon all of that dissolved; this was a tremendously positive experience for her.

Wall_editedOn banquet night I silently celebrated a major accomplishment in my life. My relationship with her Father had dramatically improved over the course of the cross-country season.  We were able to sit with each other at this banquet, share a meal, and find pleasant things to talk about, such as travel plans and ideas for Christmas gifts.  We’ve come a long way from the days when we couldn’t even be in the same room with each other let alone carry on a conversation.  A long way from bitterness and resentment.  I wouldn’t say we are buddy-buddy.  But we are truly being great parents for our daughter.

So how did we get here? Was it simply the old cliché “time heals all wounds?”  No, I don’t think so.  I think, at least for me, the wounds were healed because I worked really damn hard at it.  After experiencing the worst betrayals of my life several years ago, I finally got to the point where I realized that I had to do the work to come to grips with the emotional wounds.  Neglect wasn’t much of a salve.

We’ve all had times when we feel so much pain that we just want to curl up in a ball under a blanket on the couch and stay there forever. TV remote in hand, I can hide from the world and drown my sorrows in a tub of ice cream.  I can watch “Pretty Woman” for the 50th time and fantasize about the fairy tale ending.  That’s the easy way out, to just stuff the feelings.  It’s actually cowardly.  I didn’t want to be that.  I didn’t want to take one more emotional beating and let it take the spirit out of me.

So to get up and fight is the only alternative. To make up my mind that I will do whatever it takes to not let other people crush my spirit.  That’s the first brave step.  And to win this battle, you actually have to peel off the armor.  You have to allow yourself to be vulnerable.  What does this mean?  Why is vulnerability such a big theme of mine?  Because putting up the walls, and pretending that there is no problem, and living in denial about how you feel and what’s really stealing your life out from under you is no way to live.  You are going to have to take down the walls, stop pretending, admit the problems, and start living fully.  That’s a scary place to go.  Because it leaves you bare.  It leaves room for all the things we fear – judgment, criticism, and the potential to be hurt again.  But it’s the most courageous thing you can do to bring about change in your life.

Step One: admit my own failures.

I had to admit I had failed in my relationships. That’s not to say that others hadn’t failed me.  They had.  But I made bad choices too.  I had to stop blaming others for my problems and accept responsibility.  At the very least, I’m responsible for how I choose to respond to other people’s behavior.

Step Two: practice forgiveness.

I also had to choose to forgive. I knew that I needed to resolve my feelings of hurt and resentment because I had to continue to deal with these people on a day to day basis.  As much as I wished it could be so, they were not going to be out of my life.  I read a book by Edward M. Hallowell, MD titled “Dare to Forgive” in which he outlines the process of forgiveness.  I learned that forgiveness is for me, not the other persons.  It’s about letting go of resentments.  It’s not about forgetting what someone has done.  And it’s certainly not about letting them do it again.  It’s about moving on.

It was in this book that I found advice that really resonated with me and that applied so well to my situation at the time. Hallowell explains that when a relationship ends, it’s an opportunity to get to work on yourself.  He recommends strengthening the healthy connections you already have with friends and family, groups you care about, and activities you like.  He also suggests to “Work on your connection with your physical body; try to get yourself to a place where you feel good about how you look.  Take as a call to action the feelings that were exposed in you.  Make yourself a stronger woman.”

The day I read that, it became my motto: Make yourself a stronger woman.  I wrote it on a note and stuck it to my desk at work, where I read it every day.

Step three: Build my self-esteem.

shoesThis was a tremendous thing to find in a book about forgiveness, because it made me realize that I needed to make myself a top priority, to take the focus off of the people who hurt me, and center my intentions on making myself a better person.  Letting go of resentment and moving on is a part of that.  But so is working on confidence and self-esteem.  And my confidence grew each time I went for a run or a bike ride, or made it through a boot camp class.  It was during this period that I kayaked for the first time, and I was so proud of that because my ex-husband had laughed at me when I said I wanted to kayak.  Turns out I was absolutely strong enough to paddle, and do anything else I wanted to do.

Step four: let go of what doesn’t serve me.

There was still another piece of the healing process that I needed to focus on. It had to do with letting go of things that didn’t serve me anymore.  For me, this included belongings that I had to give up and goals that needed to change.  Facing divorce meant letting go of my home and other belongings that I valued.  I spent many years ignoring the inevitability of my divorce, mainly because I didn’t feel I should have to give up “stuff” that I was attached to.  How silly is that.  The stuff doesn’t matter.  But it took me a very long time to accept that.  I didn’t need a house, or property, or a garden, or furniture, or just about any other object we owned at the time.

IMG_0874I am still in the process of re-evaluating my goals and adopting new plans, hopes, dreams, and desires. These are mine to fulfill; I don’t need to negotiate them with anyone else.  But I can tell you that there is far less physical stuff on that list.  Own a home?  Nope.  Have awesome experiences?  Help my daughter grow into a confident, smart, beautiful woman?  Do what I can to make the world a better place?  YES, YES, AND YES!

Did time heal the wounds? No, a lot of brave steps on the vulnerable path did.

© Vulnerable Path, 2014


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Four things I was surprised to learn from being a Girl Scout Leader

That I can accept failure

My involvement as a Girl Scout volunteer started out simply enough. I was asked to manage the Daisy troop checking account.  A couple years later, the Brownies needed a leader.  Without knowing what I was getting myself into, I just said yes.  I was a Mom with good intentions and some extra time on my hands.  I jumped right in; this is a good job for a control-freak/obsessive-compulsive/perfectionist. I assumed, wrongly and naively, that this would be easy.  It didn’t take me long to learn that this is a vulnerable place.

Afraid_editBrene Brown gave a speech about criticism and creativity http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-JXOnFOXQk in which she said this about vulnerability:  “If you want to show up and be seen, there is only one guarantee.  And that is that you will get your ass kicked.”  She was referring specifically to creative people such as artists.  But I think this is a universal truth.  If you put yourself out there, whether it’s in a leadership role, or as an artist, or student, or business person, you will face judgment, criticism, and failure.  But if you truly love what you are doing, you have to accept the good with the bad.  My volunteer work has really taught me this.  Ideas I loved haven’t jelled with the girls.  I have overestimated their maturity and their skills.  I’ve faced criticism from parents.  I make mistakes all the time with the spotlight shining on me.  Yep, embarrassing and humbling.  But it hasn’t stopped me from wanting to show up and be seen.  Thankfully, I am surrounded by friends who pick me up and dust me off, as Brown says.  The joy of working with these girls far outweighs my fear of failure.

That our differences aren’t a barrier to belonging

This group of girls is like a bag of licorice all-sorts. They come in every shape, size, color, and flavor.   It amazes me how these vastly different girls can come together and create a bond.  We have different family structures, cultures, and personalities.  We have different skills, abilities, and interests.  Some are shy and quiet.  Some are loud and outgoing.  We have ice-skaters, dancers, singers, musicians, swimmers, volleyball players, cheerleaders, artists, cooks, and heavy equipment operators!  My daughter will show up with her hair uncombed, wearing sweatpants, and listening to classic rock on her iPod.  Her best friend will have perfectly coifed hair, a very girly outfit, and will listen to the latest boy band.  So different, yet best friends.  Don’t get me wrong, they do have their share of disagreements!  But I have never seen them be intentionally cruel, hurtful or unaccepting of each other.

The same is true for my adult Girl Scout friends. These are amazing women that I may never have known if not for scouting.  We too have drastically different interests and don’t always agree.  But they are my mentors and confidants.

Maybe this shouldn’t surprise me. This is one goal of Girl Scouts, to teach acceptance and respect for others.  But I know the world isn’t like this.  I know our girls face bullies in school.  I know they will face challenges as adults in the workplace and in their grown-up relationships with others.  It’s not easy to find where you fit in, where you belong.  I’m so grateful that our Girl Scout group has become that safe place for us.  We are a living, breathing example of the Girl Scout Law – being a sister to every Girl Scout.

That being a Girl Scout Leader is my most meaningful work

It was an unexpected realization.  An “aha” moment.  I LOVE what I’m doing – this is so rewarding.  It wasn’t about my job of 20 years, it was about my volunteer work.  It came to me one day when I was putting together photographs of our activities on a display board for an event.  Looking at all the great experiences these girls have had, I realized that I was instrumental in that.  I could see that I have helped them step out of their comfort zones – on a ropes course, or in a kayak, or in a tent.  I could see their pride in themselves – from planting a garden, or building a parade float, or working with younger girls.  It’s hard for me to come up with something I could do that would be more meaningful.  And it doesn’t even pay the bills.

IMG_3170It’s easy to get caught up in thinking, “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” How awesome it must be for people who accomplish this.  But I realized I didn’t need to put that pressure on myself.  The work that really gives my life meaning doesn’t need to come with a paycheck.  It actually comes with something much more valuable – a sense of purpose.

 

 

That we need to be silly

I take my Girl Scouting pretty seriously. I have a strong belief in the mission of Girl Scouts.  Girls today need strong female role models, showing them how to be brave, confident, and accept no limits.  So I try very hard to get the meaning and message of the program across to my girls.  But there is one thing I forget sometimes.  They are still children.  They need to be having fun.

IMG_1009It’s important to make time in our lives for just being goofy. We have to lighten up.  Well, at least I know I need to.  Things don’t have to be so serious all the time.  We spend our days handling the pressures of long to-do lists and tight schedules.  There needs to be a release.  We all need a dose of the sillies once in a while.  And in spite of my efforts to keep us on track, my scouts invariably need to get their ya-yas out during our meeting times.  I’ve been fighting it for a long time.  But they’ve got me thinking.  We need to set aside time for this, not only at Scouts, but in our everyday lives.

One of the things I remember most about being a Girl Scout as a child was singing funny songs.  I loved “Going on a Bear Hunt.”  Thankfully, these traditions are still alive and well in Scouts today.  We need to sing loud and off-key.  We need to dance wildly and not care who is watching.  We need to tell silly jokes and laugh hysterically when someone shoots juice out of her nose!  I’m taking this new attitude to my next Girl Scout meeting.  I think my girls will be pleasantly surprised.

© Vulnerable Path, 2014

“Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.”