The Difference Between Tough and Strong

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I like to say that I’m good at doing things on my own, probably because I am. But on the contrary, you won’t typically hear me say that I’m terrible at asking for help, especially when I need it. But that’s also true.

I’ve always been that way. When I was 7 years old, I dreamt of being an author (because I had just figured out that books were written by actual people) and let my mind escape into a future where I was my own version of wonder woman…you know, the one who wrote novels and started a non-profit organization. Oh yeah, she sang too and wrote her own lyrics and knew how to play every instrument. She was also a top secret agent who performed concerts with her girl group on the side. They were called the Soul Sisters or something along those lines. You know, realistic goals.

Even when I dreamt these things that were in collaboration with others, I dreamt that I was in charge of making things happen. Some people might translate that into a knowing that you want to be a leader of some sorts, but what I’ve wondered about is whether its mostly because I am still not fully able to trust others.

I like things to be done a certain way and sometimes, I think that I’m the only person who is able to accomplish what it is that I need. I know, I know, it’s a little egotistical…or a lot. But what it comes from is not having a stable sense of support growing up and so I got used to this assumption in my head that reminded me that people were unreliable. You have yourself in this world and no one else. The message was pretty clear and pretty true when I was growing up…and then I hit the real world. Then I moved out of my parents home. Then I was introduced to a whole new set of faces and personalities. But I always remembered what I learned. I always remembered that whoever these people were, they were not to be relied on.

It was only recently that I came to realize that this is a very lonely way to walk through your life. To place this assumption that you ingrained in yourself since childhood, and now seem to apply to everyone else around you and anyone you will ever meet. To believe that you have a right to help others but they don’t get that same chance with you. It’s a very ‘tough’ person thing to do, but what I now want is not to be a tough person. I’d rather be a strong person, instead.

The difference between being tough and strong is the amount of vulnerability you offer from within yourself. I’ve gotten used to being tough because I didn’t know there was even a difference. Tough meant I didn’t want to look weak, so I didn’t show my emotions. Tough meant I put a big smile on my face every day and buried the truth deep inside of me until even I couldn’t see it anymore. Tough meant that even my closest of friends knew nothing about me. Tough meant that I lived through a representative, instead of who I actually was.

I’ve come to understand that strength looks a lot different than this. Strength means opening yourself up to connection. It means saying your truth. It means letting people in. It means trusting those who have shown up time and time again. It means letting people show up for you in the first place.

I thought that to be strong meant that I had to do it on my own, but really it means the exact opposite. I’m still learning, I’m still trying to catch myself in these moments. But I think that understanding the difference helped. And when that voice inside me screams that people aren’t reliable, I remind it that I am learning how to distinguish the truth of that. Because, as Brene Brown says, “When you first start trying to be vulnerable, people are going to freak out and there will be pushback. You will scare some people. But vulnerability is a great filter. If people can’t accept your vulnerability, they don’t deserve your trust.” Meaning that all of this is not to say that I am suddenly trusting of all humans that walk this planet, but I’m practicing sharing with people who have earned the right to hear my story. I’m practicing allowing them to show up. I’m practicing this whole connection thing that I’ve strained away from for most of my life.

What I’m beginning to realize is that I may have been missing out before, because the more I practice, the more I know it’s worth it.

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Secret Lives and False Beliefs: The Stories We Keep Hearing

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My creative process relentlessly sets a place on the table for music, and ever since I can remember, it always has. Since I was a child, I didn’t play with toys that had no musical element to them. Growing up, books and music were my escape from reality. I create stories to music. I create scenes to lyrics. I owe a lot to the artists and musicians who have allowed me those fantasies and worlds apart from my own.

If you were to talk to my mom about my childhood, she would kindly state that I was always half present, if that. Most of the time, I was far away, somewhere distant. Somewhere no one could quite understand and somewhere I had no words to explain. We laugh about it now, how she thought that there was something off about me. That it was strange that I would have to ask people to repeat themselves dozens of times before I made myself pay attention to what they were trying to say. And other times, I would pay such close attention but not say a word in response. I would just observe and then drift away, completing their sentence, making up the remainder of their story.

My world had friends and lovers, magic and dragons. My worlds were romantic and tragic, evil and envious. But I could only be 100 percent in them if I were listening to the music that set the tone they had. I actively sought out lyrics that matched my characters and their moods. I gave them faces and bodies that were present in my real world, from people I actually knew. And then, I got to make them into whatever I wanted. I got to play in a way I felt restricted otherwise. No one had to know about these places I went to. It was my dark secret and I felt both clever and misunderstood when I was taken for an aloof, ignorant, or naïve kid.

My family moved around a lot and being a quiet and socially awkward introvert didn’t exactly make me the most popular kid either. For most of my childhood, I lacked friendships and when I got them, it didn’t take them long to realize that there was no way to relate to me. It was only in high school that I learned how to socialize properly, mostly because I felt I had to. I mean, when you have an extroverted older sister who is always flying through men and envied by women, there are certain thoughts you have. Thoughts that typically pertain to all the faults you might have. I wondered why I couldn’t be more like her. Why I enjoyed being on my own so much. Why I didn’t want to be with real people as much as I wanted to be with my characters. There had to be something off about me. I mean, everyone else thought it so it was about time that I did, too.

When I first started to form “real” friendships, I still had my secrets. I felt very Hannah Montana, living a double life. One where I was truly happy and with my music, my characters and my other world. The other where I got through the day. I was 14 and then 15, my secret world becoming something much bigger. Now it was not just in my head, but it was blogging, finding a whole community of people online, learning the ins and outs of CSS, HTML, and web design. It was getting a web internship with a marketing firm in Los Angeles where I got to be a web designer and created layouts for different brands. I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I mean, I was 15! But somehow I did and I told no one about it. I would get phone calls from my boss in LA and we would have meetings about what the next company was looking for.

The only person that knew was my mom…sort of. She knew I was doing something, but she didn’t ask too many questions. I still got my secret world. The one with my characters and music, then the one where I got to really be me, say whatever I wanted through my blog, and then my internship. It was exhilarating. I didn’t feel so alone anymore, not when I was away from school and my friends and the real people in my life.

There was a girl, Yolanda, who taught me all about web design and Photoline (which was the cheaper version of Photoshop back in the day). She started a website that became an online magazine and asked if I could be an advice columnist on it. We became close and I guess she’d been reading my blog and somehow thought that 15 year old me had something she could advise other people. I’ve never been one to back down on anything that gets me excited, so I gave her a “hell yes”. Running my blog on the side, I had a separate email for that advice column and was flooded with emails every day. Somehow, I always knew what to say. It was so easy for me to help other people manage their lives even though it was next to impossible for me to manage my own. Yolanda eventually moved on to other things and left the domain completely when it expired the next year so I was just left with my blog.

The reason I’m telling you all of this is because I remember this time so clearly. Every moment that I felt out of place and where it was that I finally felt I belonged. I remember it because I believed people when they said there was something wrong with me. I remember it because I’m far from it now, even though I still feel like that socially awkward and ‘out of place’ kid a lot of the time. And I remember it because I know a lot more now than I did at those ages. I know that it’s my differences that have got me to where I am. It’s my love for living in other worlds that let me finish the first draft of a novel. It’s the socially awkward parts that let me become a great listener and observer. Doing that makes me understand people better, write dialogue better, create stories better and also have stronger authentic friendships (in real life). All of which I thought was wrong with me are now things I am so grateful for.

There’s always messages floating around that are there to tell you your differences should be embraced, but none of it makes sense until it actually clicks. Until one day you wake up and you realize you’ve lived a very strange and curious life. That it’s a life you want to continue living. Even though for most of my life, the things that have set me apart felt like a burden, they don’t anymore. Because what I’ve come to learn is that you cannot have any sort of influence on the world by being just like it.

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The Rate of Frequency: What To Do When Life Becomes Repetitive

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Energy matches energy, and the frequency that you put out into the world is what you receive back from it. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately because it’s something I really believe in. But I’ve also wondered on what level that remains true. If I’m having a bad day and not in the most upbeat mood, does that mean I’ll attract more sorrow? If I’m angry about something, does that mean I will attract more madness? And in that sense, if I have a rough day, does that mean I’ll have a rough time ahead of me? What I’m trying to understand is whether this notion applies to a daily attitude or a deeper intention.

Lately I’ve been feeling like I’m attracting more and more chaos because my mind has been chaotic and I found myself worrying that this cycle of a scattered mind that matches a scattered life will carry on for a long period of time. If it’s just a wheel that keeps turning in the same energy because the more scattered my life feels, the more scattered my mind becomes and vice versa. So in this way, I wonder how lasting this effect will be and how to go about changing it.

When our lives start feeling circular, how do we keep moving forward?

In an effort to not drive myself too crazy, I wanted to dive deeper into what it means for energy to match energy. And, in this search, I realized that your mindset and intentions are your frequency, whereas your mood or emotions are in constant fluctuation. Emotions are supposed to be fleeting – that is, unless we cling on to them. So on a day to day basis, I think it helped for me to know that I’m not screwing up my life by being in a shitty mood. And what I can do, is change the way I talk to myself in the midst of whatever it is that I’m going through.

Though my days didn’t look exactly the same (because none of ours do), my mindset was pretty circular. I kept worrying that I would remain in this chaos forever. That this is all it will ever be. And it was this energy of worry and permanence that attracted more anxiety, worry, and circularity. My thought pattern was the only thing that remained static, but because I focused so intensely on it, that’s how I began to perceive everything else. And in response, I attracted even more of that.

I think we get too caught up in this idea of permanence. That our lives will always look one way simply because they have been for a little while. And when I started panicking about how my bad days would mean I would have a bad life, I had to give myself a serious reality check and bring myself back to zero. Sometimes I get too caught up in details that I miss the point, and when I overanalyzed this particular truth that I believe about our lives, I forgot the most obvious thing.

Energy is interchangeable. It’s a wave that can be altered and replaced at any point, meaning that it is most definitely not permanent. But that doesn’t mean we don’t pay attention to our days because, in the long run, it is our days that make up our lives. It just means that maybe we have to set a daily practice, a daily intention. Each day asks something new of us and I think it’s our job to take at least 10 minutes for ourselves to reflect and understand what that is.

Maybe it means finding one thing to be grateful for throughout the day. Maybe it means to let out what you’ve been bottling in and let yourself have a good cry. It could be reaching out to someone for help or offering yourself to them. It could mean exercise or a mindfulness practice. It could mean spending quality time with friends or spending time in solitude. Or it could mean trying your best to have a positive attitude at work. Each day asks something new of us and each day brings something new to us as well. But we’re all looking for the big signs and missing out on the little clues, offerings, and gifts that we receive every day.

Changing your mindset is a daily practice that can look different for everyone, but it involves setting intentions or altering them. When we talk about energy matching energy, it doesn’t mean that your sadness today will become a permanent state. Nothing is ever that simple. But you do get to decide what kind of person you want to be in the emotional state or energy you are in. You get to decide how you talk to yourself in this place. As David James Lees said, “Be mindful of your self-talk. It’s a conversation with the universe.”

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