Strengths and Struggles

What are you good at? What are you not so good at? Most of us would far rather answer the first question than the second. We’d prefer to think about our strengths over our struggles.

It’s hard to admit what we struggle with. Our culture has set up the expectation that we live as though we aren’t weak in any areas, like we don’t need help with anything at all, like we can do it all ourselves.

But I know that’s not the case for me. And I’m willing to bet it’s not the case for you, either.

There are things I’m good at. But there are also things I’m not good at. Some of those things are issues I’ve battled time and time again, frustrated each time I see them cropping back up even after I think I’ve wiped them out.

Struggles make us stronger. If we only paid attention to areas in which we’re already strong, we wouldn’t have to challenge ourselves as much. We wouldn’t experience as much growth.

We should recognize and lean into our strengths. We have them for a reason. They provide us with ways to help those around us and make the world a better place. They give us opportunities to do things that we enjoy.

But we can’t be good at everything. You and I are unique. We have different sets of talents and gifts. We are good at different things, and we work better together as our strengths complement each other. If we were one hundred percent the same, our friendships would be very dull. We wouldn’t have as much fodder for conversation, less to learn about one another, fewer things to discuss, and less room for growth. We need our strengths and struggles to make us unique individuals.

We are better together. We need each other. In order to work best, though, we have to acknowledge the areas in which we are weak, the places for growth in our lives, and be willing to be vulnerable with others we trust. Then they can walk with us in our struggles, provide advice, give encouragement, and share their own experiences.

Our strengths can provide opportunities to teach others and share our skills with them. And our struggles are areas in which we can seek opportunities to learn from others. In both cases, there are ways for us to challenge ourselves, grow, and build relationships with others.

It’s important to focus on strengths and struggles that are really important to you. If you’re strong in an area that you’re not passionate about, know that you don’t have to spend all your time pursuing it. Maybe it will come in handy in some small (or not so small) way later on. Maybe it is something you can simply choose to not pursue right now. There are plenty of other things you can focus on instead that would be a better use of your time.

Similarly, I suggest focusing on improving areas of growth that you think are important to your life. You don’t have to be good at everything. You can choose to just not worry about being good at some things, knowing that you are good at others and your worth doesn’t lie in your ability to excel at everything you try. However, sometimes there are things that you really do want to improve on, like photography skills (that’s where I’m at), organization, healthier eating, exercise, or kicking a bad habit.

In order to pursue anything very well, we need to be willing to really focus on it. If our attention and efforts are divided between too many things, we aren’t able to pour enough energy into any of them because we’re spread too thin.

Choose to pursue what matters most to you, whether you consider it to be a strength or struggle.

Know your strengths. Lean into them. Find ways to explore them in new ways. Grow them. Challenge yourself.

Admit your struggles. You can’t get better at things if you don’t face them. Look to others who are good at what you’re not. Seek advice from them. Get help if you need it. But give yourself grace to know that you don’t have to be good at everything.

What are your strengths? What are your struggles? Have you found good ways to improve your strengths or grow in areas you’ve struggled in? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Loving Your Right-Now Life

I often find myself thinking I’ll be happier when I achieve certain things or change this or that. But there’s always something else that sneaks onto my list. It never ends.

And I’m pretty confident that I’m not the only one.

It’s easy to think that acquiring more things or achieving bigger goals will make us happier. And maybe they do. For a while, at least. Until some other shiny thing catches our eye.

When is enough enough?

How do we get to a point where we can just love the lives we’re living right now?

I think we can start today. We can start right here, right now. Wherever that may be.

We don’t have to wait for tomorrow, next month, or next year. We don’t need more money, better jobs, bigger homes, or more impressive lives to flaunt on social media. We just need contentment. We need to be grateful for what we have and see the emptiness of continually chasing after what we don’t have.

If we don’t put a stop to it, we’ll find ourselves in a never-ending chase. We will never be satisfied. We’ll keep pursuing one thing after another, hoping the next one will bring us happiness, only to find that none of them can.

So, how do we find contentment? How do we satisfy ourselves?

We find ways to love our right-now lives. We pursue joy right now, right here. We don’t put off happiness until something else happens for us. There’s no guarantee that it will. The only way to really live abundant, wholehearted lives is to embrace the beauty of life as we know it today.

What can you love about your life right now? It’s easy to see the things you wish you could change, but I want to challenge you (and myself, too) to seek out and list the things that are going well.

Are you healthy? Are your family members healthy?

Do you get to spend time pursuing a hobby or favorite pastime, even just a little bit?

Do you have enough money to provide basic necessities (food, gasoline, mortgage/rent, utilities)?

Do you have access to a wide variety of entertainment options (Netflix, cable, books, music, podcasts, radio, movies in the theater)?

Are you in a season that will pass all too soon, one that you should savor and appreciate as long as it lasts?

Do you have a vehicle that safely gets you from point A to point B?

Do you have a solid community of people to support you and live life with you?

Are there moments of everyday beauty you can pause to enjoy? How about things like the sunset and sunrise, your child’s perfectly imperfect artwork, an adorable puppy, a gorgeous flower, a moment of quiet before the chaos of the day begins, a delicious meal, or a sweet conversation with a friend?

For me, loving my right-now life looks like being grateful for the job I do have instead of spending all my time dreaming about another one I might like more. It looks like investing in decorating and updating my current home. It looks like pouring into my friendships because I have the ability to do so right now without a family of my own to devote time to. It looks like being grateful for my safety after sitting in snowy traffic, because although I had to wait to get around a handful of car accidents, I wasn’t a part of any of them.

What things do you love about your right-now life? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

 

Image source: Artem Kovalev, unsplash.com

You Can’t Be Good at Everything

I have a bad habit of avoiding things I know I’m not good at, or strongly suspect I wouldn’t be good at. I don’t like to look foolish or feel incompetent. I enjoy doing things that I’m better at.

While I don’t think this tendency is uncommon, I’m not convinced it’s healthy.

I know I can’t realistically be good at everything, but I think I subconsciously want to be. I would love to be great at everything.

But that isn’t realistic. I don’t have the natural aptitude for some things (ahem, organized sports), or the time and effort required to hone other skills I might be otherwise able to pursue (speaking another language, playing piano).

I have limited time and energy. I can’t work hard enough or long enough to be good at everything. I have to pick and choose what I want to invest in, which means letting go of some things in order to pursue others.

And that’s okay. That’s what makes me, me.

And the things you’re good at are the things that make you, you.

Of course, we can work to gain new skills— and we should. There are things that would make doing our jobs easier or managing our families smoother or simply living life better. But we don’t have to do it all. We can choose which things we’re going to support and invest in, which ones we’re going to let others do for us, and which ones we’re going to let go.

But we don’t have to do it all. We can choose which things we’re going to support and invest in, which ones we’re going to let others do for us, and which ones we’re going to let go of completely.

There are tons of resources and services for things like meal planning, meal deliveries, mail-order prescriptions, subscription services for makeup, food, clothing, and more. If those aren’t things that you enjoy doing, or things that you’re not particularly good at, you can choose to let someone else take care of it for you.

I personally like grocery shopping and cooking, and I highly value having a clean home. But I’m choosing to not worry about the fact that I don’t know how to do home improvement tasks or car repairs myself or the fact that I don’t use Twitter. Those things just aren’t me. And that’s okay.

There are things that I would like to eventually learn (like watercoloring and better bicycling skills), but I’m giving myself permission to not stress about them. Maybe one day I’ll get there. Maybe I won’t. Either way, it’s not the end of the world.

For now, I’ll stick to things that I really enjoy, whether I’m good at them or not. And I won’t waste my time trying to be anything I’m not. I’ll let others be good at what they’re good at and do my best to squash the voice of comparison telling me I have to compete to be the best at everything.

 

What things do you love doing? What things are you choosing to not do? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

 

Image source: Steinar Engeland, https://unsplash.com

Don’t Rush Ahead

Do you remember going for walks or bike rides with your family as a kid? Were you the one who always went as far as you possibly could because you were just too excited to hold back? Did your parents have to tell you to stop and wait for them to catch up, to not go any farther than they could see?

I don’t think I really did that when I was a kid. I have always been really cautious when it comes to things like that. But I do think I take a similar approach to other things in my adult life.

I want to know what’s coming. I want to be prepared. And, if at all possible, I want to get ahead. I want to feel like I’m buying myself extra time by skipping steps or getting things done faster now so I can have a buffer later. And I certainly don’t want to feel like I’m wasting my time doing things that I don’t need to be doing.

I don’t like waiting. I don’t like doing the foundational work that feels like nothing at all. I want to get to the big, fun, challenging, heart-of-the-work things that produce results and give me something to show for all my work.

I have a bad habit of cheating myself out of my stretching before and after my workouts. I do stretch some, but not nearly as much as I should. And, of course, I never realize it until the next day when my muscles are sore and tight because I didn’t take the time to stretch them properly.

The problem is that I don’t give stretching its due. It feels useless. I have limited time allotted for working out, and I don’t want to “waste” it on stretching when I could otherwise be doing cardio or strength training- things that make my heart beat harder or strain my muscles in ways that I can feel in a more tangible way right then in the moment.

When I was in school, I always loved the professors who gave out course calendars and detailed rubrics for projects ahead of time. I loved knowing what was coming and what was expected of me. It allowed me to plan out my time and energy efficiently. In courses where I didn’t have a clear view of what came next, I found myself wondering what laid ahead.

And I’m finding myself in that place once again. I started a writing course a couple weeks ago, and I’m having a really (REALLY) hard time not rushing ahead. I did the prewriting exercises faster than the standard course timeline laid it out, but now I’m finding myself itching to look at material I’m not slated to encounter for a few more weeks yet. And I really don’t need it until then. But this little part of me just wants to know it all. To be prepared. To avoid surprises.

The more I think about it, the more I come to realize I do that with all of life. I want to avoid big surprises. I want to know what’s coming. I want to be prepared.

But life’s unpredictable. And if I run ahead, I might encounter something sooner than I’m meant to, and I might not be prepared to handle it because I didn’t let the waiting do its work. If I skip steps in my writing, I can most likely come back to them later. If I forget to stretch, I’ll be sore the next day, but I’ll survive just fine. But if I skip steps or rush ahead in life, I might make wrong turns, poor and uninformed decisions, and find myself ill-equipped to handle obstacles because I didn’t let my character grow before plowing forward. And if I knew everything all at once, I would certainly get overwhelmed.

I know it’s important to take things one step at a time. The steps exist for a reason– they make the journey easier, allowing me to tackle just one at a time instead of the whole staircase. I just sometimes need the reminder to not skip steps and try to rush ahead without doing the important foundational work first.

So today I’m reminding myself: Take life one step at a time. Don’t rush the process. Don’t skip steps just because you can’t see why they’re important right now.

 

Do you tend to run ahead? Do you have any tips for taking things one step at a time? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

What I Learned: February 2017 Edition

I’ve been wanting to take part in Emily P. Freeman’s What I Learned community link-up for a while, but never made note of it early enough to get the jump-start on the writing that I need.

But I wanted to share with you what I’ve been learning because I wanted to spread the link-up to you and see what you’ve been learning, too!

I learned that living like love includes loving myself. Self-care, giving myself grace, resting, taking breaks, listening to my body’s need for rest days, exercise, good food, imageand balancing social commitments with solo time. I’m starting to get a handle on balancing my social calendar with my introverted need to recharge alone, knowing that it’s 100% okay (and even necessary) to spend time basically doing nothing, at least from a standard productivity perspective (like reading, coloring, or watching a few episodes of a show).

I learned more about writing for the right audience and creating a more cohesive voice through the Hope*Writers podcast and a webinar they did called “Why No One Reads Your Blog and How to Fix That.” I’ve also been getting advice from Chandler Bolt and Jeff Goins lately, so it’s been information overload at times, but truly good material and encouragement!

I’m realizing that my body is trying to communicate to me, and I should really start paying attention. Aches and pains, minor injuries, fullness and hunger cues… I haven’t been good at listening to them, but they’ve reached a fever pitch lately, so I’m starting to tune into them, and I think it’s going to make a world of difference.

I’m reading Joining Jesus on His Mission: How to Be an Everyday Missionary with my community group, and together we’re learning about what it means to live life on mission with God. I like the contrast the author, Greg Finke, drew between working for 4164727oxxl-_sx326_bo1204203200_God and working with God. I need to remember that He’s already moving (whether I can see it or not), and it’s not my job to strive to do good things for Him, but to humbly seek opportunities to join Him in what He’s already up to.

My eyes are slowly being opened to the fact that when spent correctly, I have time to do all the things I consider to be important. If I’m not paying attention, I can spend way more time than I am even aware of watching back-to-back episodes of shows on Netflix, calling it “down time” or a break between tasks, when I could (and probably should) cap it at one or two and move on to something more productive or more fulfilling. This weekend I was more conscious of how I spent my time, and while I did still watch several episodes of my current shows, I didn’t plan the rest of my weekend around them, and I turned them off when I needed to get other, more constructive things accomplished.

There are some things that are just worth investing more money in. I’m a naturally frugal person, so it’s sometimes almost physically painful to hand over a large sum of money for something (whether it’s objectively a large amount or just large for whatever I’m paying for in return). But I’m learning that there are instances in which I need to be able to see the value in paying more for higher-quality items that will last instead of going for cheaper options that will wear out or not be exactly what I was looking for.

The spiralizer might just be my new favorite kitchen gadget. It’s so easy and so muchunnamed-2 fun! I’ve made zucchini noodles, sweet potato noodles, and sweet potato fries so far, and I look forward to using it to make more delicious concoctions. I love how fast it is, because as much as I LOVE cooking, I’ve been looking for ways to speed up the process because it sometimes feels like I spend all my time in the kitchen.

I’m working on improving my Instagram photos (in terms of taking better ones and playing more with the settings) and posting more regularly. I really like Instagram, but always felt like I just wasn’t a good photographer. But after reading some tips and downloading the VSCO app for my phone (to use instead of the normal camera app), I feel like I’m making some progress!

 

What have you been learning lately?

 

Joining Jesus on His Mission image source: https://www.amazon.com/Joining-Jesus-His-Mission-Missionary/dp/193884002X

Let’s Share What We Learned This Winter by Emily P. Freeman

Be “All In”

all_in_graphic_1110_624You and I both know that we do much better work on things when we give it our all. If we’re not fully committed, we’re more likely to try to get by with just the bare minimum instead of putting our heart and soul into something to make it really extraordinary.

But isn’t that what we really want out of our lives– something extraordinary?

If we want to get more, we’ve got to give more. We need to be all in.

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to go through life on autopilot. Being all in takes intention and purpose. We have to know what direction we’re headed in, what we’re aiming for, and why.

It requires vulnerability and authenticity, being willing to be our truest selves, not holding back. That’s no insignificant risk, one that we often feel deeply.

But that’s the only way to really live. If we don’t let others get to know our hearts, we’ll never really get to know them. And what’s life without any real connection? We can’t hope to really experience joy, love, friendship, or wonder without allowing ourselves to truly connect with the world and the people around us.

If we want our relationships to really thrive, we need to be open and authentic. We need to be present, giving our friends and family our attention and putting effort into maintaining those relationships. They don’t just happen, and they can really suffer when we only give them a half-hearted effort.

The same goes for our work. Whether it’s our day job or a side hustle or hobby, the end product is directly related to the amount of heart and effort put into it. If we want to do a good job, we’ve got to be willing to put in the time and the work.

But ultimately, if we want to live a truly satisfying life, we have to be willing to be all in. We have to be okay with getting dirty, entering into the messy, nitty-gritty moments of life as well as the beautiful, joyful experiences. Both are necessary parts of real life, and both require us to engage fully with the world around us and with our own hearts.

If we distance ourselves from the bad things to avoid feeling the full brunt of pain and disappointment, we won’t be able to fully bask in the greatness of joy and celebration when the good things happen. The two are inextricably linked; we can’t dull one without dulling the other. And I don’t think any of us want to live a dull life.

We only get one chance at life, and there’s no guarantee that we’ll even get another day. So we’ve got to make the most of the limited time we’re given, really investing in the lives of the people around us, living intentionally, and not being afraid to jump in with both feet.

 

So are you all in? Are you willing to give your life your all? Will you jump in? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

 

 

Image source: http://theaterchurch.com/media/all-in1

7 Ways to Read More

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Nothing compares to books when it comes to opening our eyes to new perspectives, new information, learning new skills, and escaping to other worlds.

But in the busyness of life it’s easy to think that we just don’t have time to read.

I’ve been working to read more, and I’ve found some helpful tips for getting more reading into my daily life.

Check books out from the library. One deterrent to reading more can be the cost of books. Even if they’re not individually expensive, the total adds up quickly. But books, audiobooks, and ebooks can be checked out from the library to lighten the load on our wallets.

Listen to audiobooks when you can’t otherwise be reading. If you have a long enough commute or find yourself doing household chores for a while, adding an audiobook can be a good way to get more books in during your normal routine. They typically take longer to get through than reading the printed book would, so I suggest listening to them when you can’t read a print book.

Mix up the medium. I love a good old hardcover book, or even a paperback. There’s nothing like flipping through the pages and holding the book in your hand. But sometimes it’s not the most practical option, especially if you’re traveling. Reading some ebooks can be more convenient, and even if you don’t have an e-reader, you can add the Kindle app to your smartphone or device of choice.

Read more than one book at a time. This can either work really well or not at all, depending on your reading style and the types of books you choose. I recommend choosing books that are dramatically different from one another so you don’t start confusing them. You can pick different time periods, subject matter, genres, and mix nonfiction with fiction. Then if you hit a wall with one, you can switch to the other for a break.

Read in the little moments. Carry a book or Kindle (or device with the Kindle app) with you so you can pick it up when you have a few minutes to kill waiting in line or before your next appointment. The small amounts of time add up, and you’d be surprised how much it can contribute to reading more books!

Be okay with giving up on books that aren’t right for you. If you get stuck reading a book you’re not very invested in, it will likely cause you to put off reading that book or any other. If you read more things that interest you, you’re more likely to keep reading.

Track your reading to know what types of books you like and get recommendations. I use Goodreads to keep track of what I’m reading, what I’ve read, and what I want to read. It’s a good way for me to keep tabs on books falling into these categories, and I like that I can write a review to remember why I did or didn’t like a particular book. I also like that Goodreads gives recommendations based on what I’m interested in. Between that and Modern Mrs. Darcy’s podcast and blog, my to-read list is truly never going to end!

 

Are you an avid reader? What do you do to get more reading in? Do you have any book suggestions? I’d love to hear them!