Happiness Interview: Erin Szymanski of glitteR & gRit

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Erin Szymanski and I met through a local mastermind group just before she opened her bridal shop in Pittsburgh.

You’d never guess by looking at Erin that she owns a bridal shop. She’s more likely to be wearing black leather pants than white lace, but that’s exactly why she created glitteR & gRit: she wanted a place for people like her.

It turns out there are a lot of people like her. Her shop has been wildly successful, in no small part because of Erin’s unwavering ability to listen to her gut.

I’ve never met anyone so in tune with and willing to listen to their own intuition.

I’ve watched Erin make numerous business decisions – seemingly effortlessly – by checking in with who she is and what her vision is. “No, that just isn’t a good fit for me,” she’ll say.

I aspire to have as much confident in my instincts as she has in hers. This is a woman we can all learn a little something from.

Erin SzymanskiWhat makes you happy?

Sunshine peeking from behind dark clouds, a good cup of coffee, sitting with my besties and just watching their kids, staying at the dinner table for hours after the food’s gone because the conversation is so good, baby animals. Oh. And wine.

Really though, anything that connects or roots me to a moment. Something that calls your attention to be fully present.

How do you incorporate what makes you happy into your day-to-day life?

Since connecting is so important to me, I try to make a point to have something in my day that does just that, be it a sunny text to a friend, meeting someone new – or not – for coffee or a drink, thanking someone for their impact in my life. I reach out a lot; nurturing relationships with the people in my life eases my soul.

Are there any “shoulds” you’ve had to let go of in order to pursue your happiness?

I took the steps in my adult life that were as close as I could get to all the “shoulds;” go to school, work hard, have a profession. And then I threw it all away!

Working in a cubicle was wrong for me from day one, and having my own business, while completely terrifying, has been the happiest “misstep” ever.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about happiness?

walk with the dreamersIt’s more of an encouragement to leap; for me, that’s happiness.

Want more inspiration? Read the rest of the happiness interviews.

The Unexpected Gifts of Depression

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

walk the line“I feel like I’m always one wrong move from falling into the abyss.”

She described it perfectly.

My friend was talking about the delicate balance between making progress and falling into self doubt, and she put precisely into words how I feel about living with depression.

I walk a constant tightrope.

One misstep and I may wobble a little, have to flail my arms about to regain balance and keep going.

Or I may fall off completely.

I may fall all the way to the net and have to start completely over back at platform one.

And there is a part of me that hates that. There is a part of me that hates this part of me, that screams, “it’s not fair that my brain makes me so damn vulnerable all the time!”

I want a wider line. I want more leeway so that I don’t have to always be vigilant. I want my path through life to be a sidewalk, or a country road, or even just a matted down cow path so that just once in a while I could look up and enjoy the view without fear of falling to my death!

Instead, I walk the line.

And in return, I am granted a few rare gifts.

5 unexpected gifts of depression

1. I avoid the comparison trap.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

I cannot afford to spend too much time looking left or right. I mean, I am certainly tempted – but managing my depression means paying close attention to what I need to survive. I simply don’t have a whole lot of energy or attention span leftover to obsess about what’s happening on someone else’s path.

The comparison trap results in jealousy, low self-esteem, and a constant chasing of dreams that are not your own.

2. I appreciate the net.

I have no illusions about being superhuman or immortal. I know that I will fall from time to time.

And when I do, I know from experience that there will be a net to catch me. That net is my husband, my kids, my mother, and my closest girlfriends.

I have fallen into their gentle embrace too many times to take their support for granted.

3. Self care is not optional.

I see friends of mine who put off good self care. They put themselves last, promise to rest later, and go years without really and truly nurturing themselves. They manage.

That would kill me. Literally.

I can choose to take care of myself as a preventative method, or be forced to take care of myself in order to come back after a fall. Either way: self care is inevitable.

I will rest. I will listen to my body about what it wants to eat and when it wants to move. I will make connection a priority.

I am simply not built for martyrdom. Thank God.

4. I have to share the pain sometimes.

The worst part of depression is the overwhelming despair it can unleash. It is bigger than me, more than I can contain inside my own little body and head.

I have to let it out. I have to.

And that’s why I write and tell stories and stand up on stage and share my most vulnerable truths.

People have said it’s because I’m brave. “Thank you for being so raw and honest.”

But people like me don’t choose raw and honest. Raw and honest are our release valves; we let out the ugly so that it doesn’t consume us with its hugeness.

And in that release, our curse becomes our gift.

We let others know they aren’t alone. We give perspective; our darkness reveals what is light. We flash the world our insides and those who have the option to stay cloaked now know that opening up is not a death sentence.

5. I value happiness.

Perhaps the greatest gift that depression has given me is my appreciation for happiness.

I don’t think that depression is the opposite of happiness. Happiness is a choice; depression is a combatant.

But in fighting to stay alive, to stay on the line, I’ve come to demand more than just not dying.

I want this struggle to be worth it. I want every fall and every climb back out of the abyss to mean something, to have been in pursuit of something more than middling.

I want to see where the line is taking me.

VIDEO: Before You Listen to a Happiness Expert…

Monday, April 14th, 2014

This story about how a nurse treated my 9-year-old daughter reminded me that not even the expertise of professionals can trump what we already know about ourselves.

Always remember that you are the expert on your own happiness.

Your opinion and insights on how YOU feel and what YOU need are at least as valuable as anyone else’s.

Trust what you know.

What Happiness Looks Like: inBetween Magazine’s Rachel Naud

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Rachel Naud is the co-founder and editor of inBetween, an online magazine for parents of teens and young adults. I was thrilled when she reached out to me last year to tell me about this venture, because parenting a teen can feel lonely.

But this post isn’t about raising teens. In fact, Rachel doesn’t even have a teenager yet.

This post is about a woman who works at home, building a business while parenting a son and nurturing a marriage. This is what happiness looks like for Rachel.

rachel-inBetween

What makes you happy?

Having conversations with my seven-year-old son, Tristan. When you look at him, he’s just this cute little boy with missing front teeth, big blue eyes and a mop of wavy hair. But when you sit and talk to him, some of the things he comes up are so profound, it amazes me. He’s insightful beyond his years and can hold his own in a conversation with a roomful of adults. He’s sweet, thoughtful and really funny. He has a heart of gold and I am so proud to be his mom.

 I also love spending time with my family and friends. My husband, Chris, still makes me laugh (most days) after 12 years of marriage and my sister, Rebecca, is my best friend. We see each other every day. I also love going to movies, shopping and trying new restaurants.

Spending time with my fur babies – my two old english sheepdogs – also makes me happy. It’s so easy to please a dog. All they want is love, some exercise and a bowl full of food. It’s so simple. We could all learn a lesson from our four-legged friends.

Speaking of food, surprisingly, I find happiness in cooking. I’m not sure how this happened because I’m not a great chef or anything. But when you make a meal for someone, I really do think it’s one of the greatest ways to show someone that you love them. And when they enjoy it and thank you for your efforts, it’s nice to receive that acknowledgment and appreciation. I just have one rule: If I cook, I don’t do the dishes. That also makes me happy.

How do you find time to do what makes you happy?

I’m a work-at-home mom, so I’m lucky enough to be able to walk Tristan to and from school and that’s when we have some of our best conversations. Other than that, I just make family time part of the daily routine. Every night we eat dinner together and talk about our days. And after dinner, I take the dogs for their nightly jaunt and watch them run, play and smile.

I try to go out for girls’ nights with my friends every once in a while. And when the timing works – and we can find a sitter – the hubs and I will catch a movie or dinner.

There's nothing more important than happinessAre there any “shoulds” you’ve had to let go of in order to pursue your happiness?

Before I had Tristan, I was very focused on my career. I was hell bent on climbing the corporate ladder. The plan was to keep working until I landed my dream job or dream salary. In fact, when I got pregnant, I was only going to take 10 months of maternity leave and return to work early (we get a year in Canada).

And then I met my baby boy, fell in love and quit my job.

And although I probably should have stayed in the corporate rat race (because lord knows I’d be making more money than I am now!), it was the easiest decision I have ever made. And the best. I’ve never regretted it. Not once. Thanks to that decision, I’ve been able to freelance, travel and now, even start my very own online magazine.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about happiness?

There’s nothing more important than happiness. So chase it, seize it and never let it go.

Read more happiness interviews.

What I Learned From Yoga About Making Massive Changes (Or Not)

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

yoga sort of

I love yoga. I love it because it feels easy to me – or at least, I think it feels easy.

I’m never scared to go to class. I’m never nervous about failing or taking on too much. I don’t fear hurting myself.

A couple weeks ago I fell on my face in yoga.

Literally.

I was trying to get into crow and I got too much forward momentum. My head slammed into the ass of the poor girl in front of me and my face smacked into the wood floor.

It hurt – my pride and my head.

But the next week I still had no apprehension about going to class.

I have never fallen on my face running, but running scares the shit out of me.

Before I even begin I am thinking about the certain wheezing and the burning in my legs and how hard it will be to haul my body up and down the hills that surround my house. I won’t be able to finish.

So I don’t start.

Yoga tricks me into working hard. Yoga asks me to start slow and then go a little less slow.

And then maybe push, just a little.

And then a little more.

And inevitably I find myself thinking, “holy crap every single muscle in my body is flexed and – is it supposed to be this hard to stand here like this? How did I get like this?!”

Inevitably I do more than I would have imagined I could, more than I thought I would be doing.

I realized on the way home from yoga last week that I like this form of exercise because it lets me focus on the most immediate step right in front of me. I am not intimidated by one small step.

It occurred to me that I often get overwhelmed in other areas of my life when I am focused on more than the next small step.

The big picture is important. It’s easy to drown in the immediate next step, to become obsessed with the details and lose sight of forward motion – especially when you don’t have a teacher standing by to tell you when it’s time to move on.

But the big picture is useless if the magnitude of it stops you from making any progress.

Like maybe, just as an example, you’ll decide to just stay home and watch another episode of The Good Wife instead of tackling all of the goals and all of the tasks and all of the changes.

Hypothetically.

Don’t get tangled up in the immediate details, but find a way to focus mostly on just the next manageable step. That’s my intention.

Funny how it always comes back to balance.