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Your most powerful changes come from your daily habits. If you want to make significant changes to your lifestyle, your mental capacity, your skills, your connections, then start by looking at the tiny daily changes you can make. Too often, we are caught up trying to make big “all-or-nothing” changes, and then get discouraged when we can’t keep jumping the hoops we’ve set for ourselves.
We need to have this conversation with ourselves in long-form, and know that we’re in it for the long game.
Here are 3 daily habits that I am working on, which have made me happier and have begun the process of change this month:
Waking up at 5:00am: Now, I’m not about to harp on about the benefits of how life-changing this is in the way that many lifestyle gurus do. This was definitely, unequivocally, a personal choice for me. I wanted time to myself, to energise and centre myself before getting into the day. The decision to get up at 5:00am was to nourish me.
It’s been an interesting process, but it has definitely made a difference in how I feel going into the day. Waking up and 5:00am and getting up immediately to go for a walk or run, despite how groggy I am feeling, is absolutely brutal, and I consider myself a morning person. But about 5 minutes into the activity, I am more awake than if I had woken up at 6:15am and done my usual morning routine. The energy, space, and time I gain is absolutely worth the challenge of getting myself up. With the time remaining in the morning, I am able to journal, get clarity on difficult decisions and conversations, and get to the tender spot of reflection which doesn’t happen easily on a day-to-day basis.
In waking up early and giving myself time, I give myself clarity. My rehearsals and lessons have been more focused, I have been more authentic, my conversations have greater direction and purpose, and I feel centred and happy for more of the time. Yesterday morning, my one day a week without an early morning choir rehearsal, I had from 5:00am to 6:45am to myself. I did 10000 steps, made a pot of coffee, journalled, reflected upon the week, came up with 3 creative ideas, and had space to get into my day. I don’t pretend I’m going to nail it every time, I am SURE that I will trip up. But my day had more clarity, joy, direction, and purpose than I can remember prior to this routine.
Getting out of the “Can’t”: This relates directly to the above habit of waking up at 5:00am. The very realistic and cynical side of me says, “Yes, but it’s the first week of Term 3, of course you’re feeling positive and well-rested, of course you’re working with greater clarity!”, and that ultimately I am going to trip up and not be able to carry this through as a habit. This mindset is what has stopped me from really going after the scary things. I have experienced great success on everything small-to-mid-range. But I’d like to go for something where I have no guarantee, and I know that this is what is stopping me. Will I trip up on this habit? ABSOLUTELY.
There’s no way I’m going to nail it every time. But I’m going to sit in the middle ground. If I keep a solid routine, if I’m sure about my “why” for doing this, and if I problem-solve like a MF and go up against the “can’t talk” that buzzes loud in my head, I am going to nail this most of the time and be able to get back on track faster. Already, I can see the difference in my teaching + interactions with others.
Things that would normally derail me have become “just things that I need to solve.” I have leaned into interactions with challenging people and those who annoy me as a practise ground for how much I can turn a conversation around. I’ve tried to keep the mindset of, “Nobody ain’t gonna rain on MY parade!” And it’s not because I’m well-rested, it’s because I’m making the choice, and seeing how much room I have to move in a situation. It’s creativity and play at it’s finest, really!
Connection: I close up the most around the people I love the most, or are the most important to me. My Mum and Dad, my closest friends, and my most important relationships. I have been consciously practising interacting with these people in tiny steps, rather than just doing the introvert thing that I do of shutting down and going back into myself where it is safe and waiting until I am presentable to come out. I am trying to put into words exactly where I am at, share a small joke or light-hearted moment, or connect through something a little more vulnerable, especially if it’s a “sliding door” moment, and I have the choice to go there or not. I think of myself as a joyful, compassionate and authentic person, but this daily and sometimes hourly practise has made a significant change to how I feel walking into a classroom, a conversation, and my energy levels at the end of the day. I feel happier walking into situations where I am more vulnerable and tender, or less comfortable, than I have for a while. And while the change is imperceptible to most people, I can feel the release and lightness within myself. It costs me less energy to connect, because I am practising it every day.
This week has been a wonderful first week of school.
And the fact of the matter is this: You are scared shitless of me.
Of my light,
because the air around me changes when I enter the room,
and I am affecting just by existing, I am so happy to be alive,
and despite saying all the correct words,
that you are not coping with me being me,
and I laugh,
because I can finally see the fear behind the bravado,
the instability behind the big words,
and the insecurity behind the loud voice,
and overly grand gestures,
and will I let this set me off balance, you ask?
NO FUCKING WAY, little man.
Well then. One serve of courage, please!
Did you know you can close up anytime? It’s so easy that it’s almost imperceptible if you’re not aware. And then the minutes and days pass and suddenly, you find yourself on the other side of the window, with the glass getting mistier + cloudier, and you go to reach out and – can’t.
It starts small.
“Hello” only, rather than, “How are you, what’s happening?”, because in that moment, any more than “Hello” is too much effort.
It’s the change in inflection in your voice.
Rather than putting something into words, just moving, moving, moving. The “what’s next” is so seductive, and so easy, that you wonder if you dreamed that moment of worry and vulnerability. Did you know that a moving target is harder to hit? Devastating, hey?
Don’t wear that colourful scarf. Too much to wear those gorgeous earrings. Not feeling that fabulous polka-dot coat. Put the plain-coloured everything on.
I’ll do it tomorrow.
Look down, rather than looking up and engaging, and risking that interaction because there is a chance that it might be uncomfortable, or joyful, or weird, or funny, or – something other than easy.
I’m not ready yet.
Put the bowl in the microwave, heat it up, eat. Don’t want to clean the glorious oil spatter off the kitchen counter, or have chilli make your eyes water and you watery with laughter, or have the house smell like garlic for days. Keep it clean.
Don’t ask that extra question, you might start a landslide or create a wave. You might find yourself on the edge, or worse still, the outer. You might get a reputation.
Why reach out anyways? They’ll be busy. They’ll have other things on. Too tired. No time or energy. Next time.
That worked last time. Do it again, cut and paste, repeat.
It’s so easy, way too easy, to close up.
Be a little more awkward and daring, hopeful and vibrant, and step up.
Look around. There’s more. Embrace the stomach flip. Feel the awkward acutely.
When you are depleted, I think you need to work even harder, harder than you ever have, to keep the pulse of your heart alive. It’s so contradictory, but so truthful and essential. I cannot believe how many times I fight this and then arrive at the same realisation. There’s the recipe for a good life, ladies and gentlemen; to do this over and over against rhyme and reason, just for the sake of you.
Hang tight, my darling girl, because awful, unfair, unrealistic things will happen and you need to figure out a way to get out from underneath them. Look around! There are examples of grace and courage happening every day, from every person who ever lived authentically. Nobody lives a charmed life if they are living fully.
To really LIVE; it means making peace and creating reason from the tumultuous and unreasonable. When you have nothing, give. I know it sounds incredible, but that is what will awaken humanity and connection. Give a smile, a word, a cry, an explanation, a hug, something. Please, my darling girl, don’t close yourself off because it’s a little safer, the cost is too great. By all means, go in there and say your piece. Fly your freak flag. Show your passion and emotion. Fight hard and argue even harder. Rock that boat and make waves. But come back in, connect, love more, MORE than you thought possible. Not in sacrifice, but holding yourself sacred and coming back with tender vulnerability, open to hearing what the world has to say.
And my girl, please, pry open every door or window you close yourself or that gets closed on you. Move every stone in your pathway. Like a swimmer breaking through the surface of the water, gasping with pure will to live, you must fight to keep your heart open as if it were breathing.
Why? For YOU, my darling girl.
For you and those that matter to you. If it happens to line up with those who hurt you, or those you disagree with, then…WHATEVER.
You’re tracking this scene. You’re writing this script. The only goal is to keep that pulse of life, love, hope and connection flowing through your heart, and that cannot be done when you’re wondering where your ego is.
You breathe in that good shit for YOU and ONLY YOU.
I always do a blessing on my house each morning. Being a first generation Chinese-Vietnamese Australian, there are things you do partly out of love, partly out of tradition, and partly out of warding off the first-generation karma.
Lately, I have asked for courage. Sometimes, it’s a conscious request with a specific scenario in mind. Like, “Please grant me the courage to have that god-awful and awkward conversation I’ve got to have with one of my students who’s failing. Help me speak with compassion and directness, help me hit the right mark, help me go there and hold space for the discomfort.”
Other days, it’s just what pops up into my heard + heart, unbidden, “One order of courage today, please!”
In asking for courage, here is what I have received in my last term of teaching:
I asked for courage, in order that I might have the self-compassion and patience to be out of action for 7 days to soothe my spirit and recover from the sickness of intensive travel with the ANZAC Music Tour. The tenderness with which I have to speak to myself, that I might understand and fully embrace the fact that I am not super-human, that I must rest, and that the exhaustive pull of this sickness will pass, and I will recover, and my spirit will rise up again.
I asked for courage, that I might catch the newly-awakened love of leadership that came from leading the tour. You always get what you absolutely don’t want, and I cannot tell you how MUCH I DID NOT WANT to lead this tour. I didn’t know the crevices of it, I hadn’t planned it, my heart wasn’t embedded in it. And yet, I found myself holding the reins, in charge of the emotional, musical, and physical safety and joy of the students under my direction. I got on that plane, leaned in, and led like a MF. All the while, knowing that I would have been just as happy with a holidays curled up reading, or cooking, or fresh-faced from a morning run along Henley Beach, and I was on the other side of the world, discovering, experiencing, leading, learning, feeling; wholehearted, courageous, and completely present. I gave my heart to that tour, those kids, and my supporting staff. The fire in the belly has been awakened, and I find that I like being in the driver’s seat. That I like considering the dynamics and well-being of a team, and that I like pin-pointing potential and helping others to grow.
I asked for courage, that I might take a bigger, more audacious bite of life. I am always on the conservative side of the average. But lately, by design or by default, I have found myself pushing limits. Reaching in, asking for more clarification, talking, engaging in discussion, and leaning hard into discomfort. So much so that I come home completely wrecked and exhausted, sometimes wondering if I’ve done right by everyone – and knowing, instinctively, that I have.
I asked for courage, that I might let go more easily, learn how to forgive more completely and honestly, learn the process of forgiveness more intimately, that I might take bigger, more audacious bites of life. The more that I protect myself and tell myself and the world that everything is okay, the more that I don’t embrace the gritty reality of forgiveness. Forgiveness is what allows each of us to fully embrace life, and allow us that “lean-hard” into joy. Because unfortunately, there cannot be a filter for embracing life completely; if you want the joys, you need to run headlong into the shitty moments. Forgiveness is the navigation tool of the bold and brave-hearted.
I asked for courage, that I might love more fully. Loving is such a unfurling, tender, human act.
I asked for courage, that I might not embrace fears before they actually become fears. I see the audaciousness of those much older, much less educated, much more courageous that I am, and I see that they are living life with balls-out, audacious, vibrant wholeheartedness. And I cry, because I realise how many times I have played small from fear. I have the complete Derwent set of pencils in language, emotion, connection, life, stability, family, love, friendship, finance; the ONLY thing stopping me is fear. And perhaps a well-made flat white. I have everything I need to live life audaciously + fiercely.
I asked for courage, that I might learn how to navigate the unforgivable. When fear or circumstance make people act in ways that are less-than, when there is no rhyme or reason to a decision, an act, or a situation. I am afraid of becoming closed-off and bitter when I have to navigate these situations. Conversely, I don’t want to treat them superficially. So therefore, I ask for courage that I might engage with every part of life, even the situations which challenge me deeply and I do not easily understand, those which are seemingly unforgivable, incomprehensible, and driven by fear. I ask that I do not respond in fear, but I respond with courage and compassion, that I might retain and even build my understanding of myself, the world around me, and my understanding of humanity, and continue to live fully. One of my greatest fears is becoming bitter and not knowing myself.
I asked for courage, that I might be perceptive. That just because someone is embedded in a place of leadership or power, that does not make them a person of integrity and worth, and those qualities need to be demonstrated and trust earned over time. I ask that I learn to see things authentically, that I process things thoroughly, and that I anger + react slowly.
I asked for courage, that I might have the courage to be different. Lately, assimilating has been strangely seductive for me. Perhaps it’s been a long term, perhaps I feel like I am up against it, but I ask for courage that I continue to think differently to others, see my different points of view, and bring fresh new insights to the table, even if they seem – different. I am put here to be creative and compassionate, playful and insightful, and no one else will see from my point of view. And just because a decision is not made in my favour, doesn’t mean my viewpoint isn’t valid. The validity is not the question. It’s whether I have the courage to embrace seeing things from my point of view, and whether or not they make sense and are done from a place of generosity and egoless-ness.
I asked for courage, that I might live. When it gets too tiring or overwhelming, I want to fucking dance.
In asking for courage, I got a shitload of challenge, problem-solving, closed doors, fear and unfairness.
I’d say The Universe delivered very nicely, don’t you think?
I got comprehensively “couraged”, and I walk with battle scars, head-up, and a whole new sass.
As I continue to step into myself, I realise increasingly how adaptable I am. And while I carry my own vibrancy and momentum, when I am confronted with a force or personality greater than mine, more selfish and unpredictable, less sensitive and thoughtful, I either fold into myself or adapt to that person. I move toward and I please. That is my MO.
It’s so subtle that I don’t even realise I am doing it sometimes; I am so able to mold myself to a situation that I convince myself this was the correct option, even if it means working harder or differently. And I also tell myself that it is good to learn, think of the greater good, I shouldn’t be so set in my ways, and that I need to stretch myself.
And it’s certainly not because I am not comfortable and confident in myself. I feel that I am confident in standing my ground authentically and simply, without fanfare. I am playful, joyful, energised, vibrant, interested, and I continually evolve in courage, perception, and strength.
And yet, there it is. Only when I draw back far enough do I realise that I am adapting imperceptibly, even to myself, to a situation “for the greater good”. Or, if I am being brutally honest, because I am afraid of confrontation and am used to being “the one who thinks differently”. Being the one on the outer with some sense of optimism and personal momentum, when you are surrounded by strong, bull-dozer of a character with a whole cast of minion sicko-fans is a real litmus test to feeling your DIFFERENT-NESS.
So I’ve noticed something unique about this week: So far, every day back at school has been a gift. I have loved being back in the frontline, and some of the stresses I had last year have been removed just by having time away. The gift has come from the deep recalibration that a holiday offers. All the things that you assumed were okay are realigned to have merit and worth, and you find your equilibrium, not that of the workplace. And until things are pulled away from this centreline, I intend to listen hard to this equilibrium and honour it in my favour, for my own well-being.
During the holidays, I have spent time with people who see me completely, and love me playfully, honestly, and warmly. And now, at this unique time of getting back on the treadmill and running fast, I want to catch all the times that I am feeling discomfort as a warning sign, an indication that I need to pay attention and be alert and NOT automatically adapt.
I’d like to stand at that crossroad fully, and decide if I will choose to adapt and ask more of myself, or if I will stand in my own truth and rock the boat a little. Or a lot.
I am doing things differently this year.
I will no longer allow myself to do the following:
Dim my light to make others around me feel more comfortable. I come back from my lessons excited, or wrecked, and everything in between. I am unfailingly honest and excited by my work, and I know that I do connection with my students exceptionally well. I will not make myself small just in case people around me feel small from my success, or have the pettiness to feel triumphant from my failures. I will step into my own, because it suits and celebrates me. I will walk into a room and my cup will overflow, and that sass will ooze from my being. And that is all there is to it, my friends. No debate.
But what I will also do is make sure I choose “my people” well. I will give the bare facts of what happens in my classes to connect with my department to be an effective colleague. But I will make sure my most special + unique successes are shared with the people who matter to me, and very likely outside of my department. These are people who are in my inner circle, who will cheer me on because I succeeded.
Allow others to make off-hand comments that are designed to cut me down. You know the ones; the comments which take the shine off something wonderful, or something I am excited by, or something that is unique to me, like my love of colour. Let me remind myself that:
The conversation with myself will be different, though. Rather than huddling into myself and seething, I am going to remind myself of these two points, work through the anger + frustration, and when I am ready, lay it down. Because I have so much more that I want to be filling my life with. It is also worth mentioning that no matter what the stress level or situation, someone who has my back will NEVER make me feel less than my full worth. I might have to press pause on a conversation, but I will NEVER be made to feel small for trying. Let me remember those wonderful, strong leaders I have worked with who treated me with that sort of boldness + integrity combined. Hell, let me become a leader! There’s another conversation for later…!
I don’t want to be ANYONE’S “Girl Friday”, unless it’s someone I love. This is an uncomfortable conversation, but I’m laying it down. Those females who absolutely thrive off a quasi-flirtatious relationship with their seniors, who gobble up slightly demoralising banter like its manna from the sky. Those females who love that they can have that intensive one-on-one banter and forget that that there are other people around them, because they are relishing the adoration of being the first wife, the alpha female. I just want to throw up, my goodness. That intelligent, beautiful women simper and crumble at this sort of attention and destroy not only their sense of self-worth, but any self-worth their female colleagues had for them. For me, let me always remember to try and expand the circle. I will not buy into that intensity of friendship in the workplace, because I’d like to care for the well-being of the team. And if I catch myself doing that, as a colleague, or as a teacher looking after my own classes and supporting the class dynamics, I hope that I will have the grace to pull back and readjust.
Plus it’s just so damn 1960s and pre-feminist in values! How utterly demoralising that you can be won over by a flirtatious compliment and strung along? While I want to enjoy all of my woman-ness and femininity, I am not going to swoon over a compliment over my looks, my new white blouse, how I’ve done my make-up, my legs, or anything else of that nature. That beautiful and delicious part of me? Absolutely reserved for the very special people in my life who have permission to find me sexy, gorgeous, alluring, and breathtaking.
That shit in a place of work, even the bare whiff of it, is deeply uncomfortable-making for those of us who want to shine our own authentic, truly beautiful light and work hard.
Please, girls + women, do not take the easy compliment and alienate all those around you in the strong sisterhood. Please have more self-respect than that.
p.s. For me? I’ll take the compliments on my work, the joy in my appearance (non-flirtatious, just in the colours, thank you!), the quality of my teaching, the integrity with which I work, and the connections I have with my students.
My compass + quality of work. I forget that just because someone is in a position of leadership, that they may not have my best interests at heart. I am an incredibly effective employee, but that does not mean that every bit of feedback a person in leadership gives me is necessarily with good intentions towards me. And while you would hope that people in leadership work with integrity, and most do, unfailingly so, I am going to take a moment in between to judge for myself. I am not going to allow the seniority of a position dictate the merit of a comment or piece of feedback. I will put it in light of my own performance and the judgement of the personal providing the feedback, and then decide if it is something I would like to act upon.
Emotional strength + health. The conversations I have with myself are extraordinary sometimes, and not in a good way. I looked back at some of my reflections from last year, and the words that I began an overwhelming number of them with were, “I’m so tired.” I was emotionally tired from hold back, adapting, and not acknowledging my true worth. And the thing is this; if I allow this to happen, there is no way that I will fully step into my worth further, or continue to have weight and merit. Let me hold myself in high esteem that I may resonate authenticity and merit, and let those people I have allowed to take way too much + mental energy play catch up with me. The conversations I am having with myself this year are going to put ME at the heart of them, and continue to build my courage and emotional resiliency. They will not all be optimistic or easy. But they will be focused on me, not the situation, not the unfair slight, not the interaction that made my blood boil, but what I can do about it.
Numbing + time. I am embarrassed at how much time I have wasted numbing on Youtube + Facebook, again, almost imperceptibly. Just another 10 or 15 minutes, and I have lost 1 to 2 hours of glorious creative time. And do you know what it was which made me do this? FEAR. Always FEAR. I was afraid that if I truly looked inside myself, I would find that I had no idea what to do, no solution, and that it would all cost too much to sort through my thoughts and emotions. But we have to start. And anything of value takes time, including the hard solutions. So rather than unhealthy, extended scrolling and numbing, I am going to embark on those hard sit-down-and-dissect sessions with myself. Because the time I am saving right now is significant, the connections I am fostering with people I love are amazing, and the clarity I am gaining, just mind-blowing. I feel like I am walking a straight path, head high, even if the weather is inclement, where as last year I was climbing over branches and dodging potholes in a changing climate.
Life is interesting, girl! Life is really interesting! Spare time wasted without agency or choice is a block of time that you’ll never get back. When you are creating + engaging, in a relationship, friendship, creative project, or practising a skills, personal or professional, life is truly engaging. And as I realise how much I love being creative as a means to unwind, rather than just lying on the couch scrolling Facebook, I think sadly and wistfully back to 12-year-old me who just raced through her piano practise at breakneck speed so it was “done” enough to allow me to be inert. What is the point of done, when all the interest lies in the journey?
Nothing is permanent. In Pema Chödrön’s book, When Things Fall Apart, she explores the concept of impermanence and how disappointing and frustrating people find this, when it is a fact of life. For example, I get so hung up about a flowerbed that I have freshly weeded sprouting brand new weeds that it almost outdoes the satisfaction of the week of weed-free garden that I have enjoyed. The same applies to the house getting dusty when only two weeks ago, it was pristine. Why do we get so frustrated? Why do we expect things to just be perfect and in a state of unmoving, clinical “safety” all the time? Life isn’t written like that, and to clean or weed is to have a beautiful place to live. Let me rethink my unreasonable petty frustrations, and my aversion to cleaning, knowing that life is an every changing beast, continuous and surprising.
So yes…I am doing things differently this year…! 😉