My Greatest Strength, My Biggest Downfall

I took the StrengthsFinder test this year and discovered my top strength was achiever. Suddenly my entire life was summed up and explained to me in this one word. Achiever. My entire life has been driven by the need to make things happen, to create, to build, to run at life with a passion that often exhausted me. It also explained my frustrations in life, how I became agitated at immobility, at being stagnant, at feeling held back in achieving my dreams and goals. When I finally saw this about myself, it helped me to recognize my biggest asset and strength in life, as well as my biggest downfall and weakness.

As I see it, I have two choices in the matter. I can use my strength for good and learn to manage the downsides, or I can let it cripple me and hold me back or make me feel like I am completely useless.

I still haven’t figured out quite how to do this, but I believe that God gave us each different strengths for a reason and that we are meant to use those gifts in the world. The more we can understand about ourselves and the person God created us to be, the more we are able to find the path that God calls us towards.

Throughout my life, God speaks to me through my determination at working hard, starting on a new project, and the joy at seeing the fruits of my labor. This is how God communicates to me, this is where God leads me.

 

Here’s to walking our own path.

 

Yours truly,
a girl who dreams

 

Snowboarding: Fun…Until it isn’t

Looking back, my recent blog reflections seem to dwell on the painful slowness of life, of not getting to where I want to be, of being immobile (in the figurative sense) and feeling frustrated at that.

Well, it seems that life can be funny sometimes. Now, I am literally immobile (in the physical sense). Well, not totally immobile. I can move for sure. I guess you could say I have been forced into an incredibly slow pace of life. You see, I broke my wrist while snowboarding.

The bone that was fractured is connected to my elbow so they put me in a cast that covers all the way up my arm. As expected, it takes me a little bit longer to do my daily activities. Washing my hair, one hour. Putting on clothes, ten minutes. Opening a jar of peanut butter, five minutes (there was no one around!). Typing with one hand? Managing it.

Given this ironic situation – being frustrated with immobility and then getting slowed down even more by an injury – I was tempted to say that this was God’s way of really teaching me a lesson. Patience? You ain’t seen nothing yet!

Isn’t that what people tend to say when something bad happens? That God is testing us? Or what about when something good has happened? We usually respond with how God has blessed us.

“I just got a raise! God has blessed me.”

“I’ve been unemployed for six months. God must be testing me.”

I admit, I usually say things like this without really thinking about the meaning behind it. It’s easy to say God blessed me because I got something nice, but what about someone else who doesn’t have much? Does God not want to bless them? Or when I’m going through a hard time I might say God is just testing me. But what about those for whom their whole life is a constant struggle? Does God really not care and just keep sending hardship after hardship as if they just don’t seem to “learn the lesson”?

The question of the day is, “How do I/you/we view God?”

Are we putting God in a box? Is God an ATM machine who gives us nice things? Is God a mean God who sends painful struggles our way just to teach us a lesson?

Putting God in a box is comfortable. And we like having faith that is comfortable. We know what to expect, we have an explanation for everything. But God does not live in a box, nor is waiting at our command holding our “Dear God, can I please have___” lists. As the Narnians in C.S Lewis’ book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe describe it, “He’s not a tame lion.” God is simply waiting, waiting for us to say, “Yes.” Yes to God’s plan, yes to God’s love, yes to an open heart.

It is life itself that is full of hardship and we derive lessons from our experiences, drawing on God for strength to get through it all. Our true blessings come from our relationship as being God’s beloved. The things that bring us joy help us experience our world more fully, a world which God created with love. We are blessed because we are loved by God, knowing that whatever life brings, God will give us strength, courage, wisdom, acceptance, peace, or whatever it is we need to get through the day.

God calls us beyond comfort. God challenges us to be better people. God longs for us to grow deeper in our faith. Putting God in a box is easy, but our faith requires more than just “easy.”

Yours truly,
a girl who dreams

 

Living Honestly, Living with Positivity

Living Honestly
Living in relationship with others helps us to live (if we allow it) more honestly and humbly. Other people reflect back to us aspects of ourselves we might not have realized before. By seeing that reflection, it helps me to examine and reflect on how I might be perceived by others. Being in a long-term relationship, for example has shown me so many things about myself I had never noticed before. Some of them silly or trivial – I had never realized, for example, how my cooking can sometimes resemble the swedish chef, or the fact that constantly tripping over things or dropping things is not actually normal for the average person (the struggle is real). But there are serious things I’ve learned as well. Like how I can no longer run away from my cranky self, my bad moods, and pretend that they don’t exist. I have to face them head on and learn how to ask for support, time by myself, or just a nice big hug. I have learned that my positivity or negativity can affect how others see me. I have learned much about myself through the eyes of others.

Living with Positivity
With that said, this Lent I have decided to adjust my attitude towards a more positive one. It doesn’t mean I hope to be happy dappy and chipper everyday. It simply means that even on tough days I am trying to not dwell on things I cannot control and to put a positive spin on the situation.

I realized this morning that in order for me to cultivate a truly positive spirit, I must first recognize and show gratitude for the many blessings in my life that bring joy, and I must also better learn the Ignatian spiritual practice of detachment. If I can get those two things down, I will make it.

Detachment, despite the awkward soundingness (almost like cold and calculated) of the word, actually just means that one refuses to attach oneself to any object, person, idea, etc. as their ultimate means of happiness. Things happen in life. One minute you’re running happily through the neighborhood, the next thing you know, your phone slaps on the cement sidewalk. Shattered screen (yes, this did actually happen to me this weekend). A person who practices detachment would be able to accept that physical objects come and go and that happiness does not come from phones. Instead, our happiness is rooted in our faith and relationship with God. Detachment sets you free, allowing you to pass through life unafraid of what might happen, what might break, what you might lose and accept that all things pass away. But no one can take away your attitude in life, or your love for God.

Maintaining positivity starts with being grateful for all the things in life I have been given and, really, how wonderful they are. Friendships, warm beds, the ability to go to college, living in eternal sunshine, food in the refrigerator, a refrigerator (I have gone without one before, it’s not easy), a loving boyfriend, a fun family, the list goes on. The more I can recognize what I already have, the more I can see how blessed my life is, and to not be impatient when I don’t get what I want right now. I can sit back and know that things will come together in time, and that even if they don’t, or if they come and then leave again, my happiness will not be dependent on any of these things.

My dear friends, pray for me to cultivate a joyous spirit of positivity through Ignatian detachment and a grateful heart this Lenten season.

Yours truly,
a girl who dreams

 

Traffic is God’s Way of Telling Me to Slow Down

Traffic is God’s way of telling me to slow down, calm down, and stop freaking out at everything that is completely out of control in my life.

My drive to work is around twenty minutes (eleven minutes on a good day according to google) and while it is nothing painful to drive through, I still find anxiety welling up inside of me as I maneuver through traffic. Everything about rush hour makes me tense and, more often than not, angry at random strangers.

HONKKKKKK! Yeah, that’s right buddy. Shouldn’t have cut into my lane so close!

HELLOOO! Are you gonna block me or what?!

Why is this grandma car driving so slow?! Nothing is worse than the grandma car that drives 40 mph in the middle lane. MOVE OVER lady!

Why are there so many cars out today? I have places to be!!!

So, you see, traffic can make me a little cranky at times. I can’t help it if there are so many uneducated and or/oblivious drivers in California.

But, you know the worst thing about traffic is? We always think that other drivers on the road are the cause of traffic, but as it turns out, we are just as guilty. You see, if I choose to not get in my car each day, there would be one less car on the road. So yes, we all cause traffic to some degree.

I am a contributor of traffic jams.

It is frustrating to admit that in some ways, because although I have no control over what others do, I have control over myself, over my own actions and behavior. But maybe sometimes, I just don’t want to admit that. Maybe I prefer to think that life’s problems come from someone other than myself.

Sometimes my problems are caused by my own frustrations of immobility. I hate being still, motionless, out of control. I prefer the open road, the constant steady pressure of the accelerator, the freedom of space to move forward. I crave momentum.

Stop. Slow down.

How often do I stop to think that my frustrations don’t have to be frustrations? I simply need to adjust my expectations, my attitude towards myself and others, and accept the lack of control. God tries to tell me this on my commute everyday, but I guess I just don’t listen. Accepting immobility is easier said than done, but there is a peace in it and I am trying to remind myself.

Every morning when I take the on-ramp to the I-8, I can choose to face life with annoyance and anxiety, or I can choose to turn the music up, think about all the blessings in my life and just sit with that for a while. Sit with God in my car, with good music, and forget about all those other drivers. Because in the end, I choose my own attitude, I choose my own happiness.

 

Yours truly,
a girl who dreams

 

Am I Good Enough?

am i good enough

I used to have a guitar student who could play a mean improv rock solo. His fingers slid up and down the fretboard, masterfully plucking out a melody that always evoked a few dropped jaws and a whole lot of awestruck stares from onlookers. He’d then finish abruptly as if suddenly self conscious about his playing and look up at me with his intense brown eyes, silently asking for confirmation. “Had I done a good job?” his eyes asked me in that brief flicker of a moment.

“Am I good enough?”

Despite how successful or talented we are, all of us have struggled with the feelings of inadequacy – not doing enough, giving enough, praying enough, not talented enough, beautiful enough, likable enough.

Our yearning to aspire for greatness, to better ourselves, and achieve our dreams and goals in life can sometimes bring us to the brink of a large canyon we find we are unable to leap over. Our ambition suddenly transforms into weakness, incompetence, inadequacy. We find ourselves lacking and our hearts ache with that realization. On days like that, we allow our minds to swarm with distorted ideas and beliefs of the measure of our abilities.

“I will never be good enough to do that.”

“I’m not pretty enough for a guy to like me.”

“I’m out of her league.”

“I’m not smart enough to apply to the school I want to.”

“I don’t have enough experience to get that job.”

“I don’t have the guts to do that.”

“I haven’t gotten to where I expected to be in life.”

These feelings of not being good enough can stem from outside influences – societal pressures, family expectations, comments from friends, even strangers – but most often, they come from within. We constantly compare ourselves to others. We fall short of our own expectations. We focus on what we haven’t done; we allow our failures to define us. We look over at the next person and think, “I’m not like them. Look how amazing and successful they are. Why can I not be more like them?”

 

Enough, friends. Enough.

 

The fact is, you are not like that person because you are not that person. You are YOU. You have different strengths and talents that were meant to be used by you alone. You are a child of God and you exist for a very specific reason. You were made in God’s image; you were created by the same artist who painted golden sunsets and fashioned delicate flower petals. You are God’s beloved.

sunset god's beloved

“The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” ~ Job 33:4

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” ~ Jeremiah 1:5

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” ~ Psalms 139:13-14

god's beloved

Don’t allow yourself to accept the idea that you are not good enough, for you have been carefully crafted into the person you are. God will continue to lead you to discover more about who you were meant to be and the path God is calling you towards. One of my favorite books, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, written by Fr. James Martin, speaks of vocation and discernment in life. Who are we called to be? Where is God leading us? How do we use our strengths and abilities to express God’s love and live in a more engaged and fulfilling way? Fr. James explains it simply:

“Each of us is called to a unique vocation in life, based on the desires that God plants within us, as well as our talents skills, and personalities…That means letting go of the wish to become someone else and remembering that your own vocation – not someone else’s – is the path to happiness. You don’t need to use anyone else’s map to heaven, because God has already placed within your soul all the directions you need.”

When we start focusing on what we know to be true to our self and our own unique strengths, we instill in ourselves the power to move with forward momentum. Despite our human limitations and weaknesses, we have the capability to persevere and triumph over our personal obstacles and challenges. No matter how inadequate we may feel at times, God is our cheerleader, inviting us to see just how wonderfully made and delightful a person we have grown to be. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of focusing on what we can do in the moment, to do our best with whatever we have and to not be afraid to use the gifts we’ve been given.

you are loved

What if I don’t know what my strengths are? What if I’m not talented at anything?

If you don’t know your own strengths and limitations, now is the perfect time to do a little personal reflection. Maybe go on a retreat, ask your friends and family for feedback, or spend some time alone to discover what is truly unique about YOU. If you think you are not talented at anything, YOU ARE WRONG. Everyone has gifts and talents and it is our life goal to discover and utilize those gifts.

“A rough and unshapen log has no idea that it can be made into a statue that will be considered a masterpiece, but the carver sees what can be done with it. So many…do not understand that God can mold them into saints, until they put themselves into the hands of that almighty Artisan.” ~ St. Ignatius of Loyola

Ultimately, when we stop comparing ourselves to others and start focusing on what God is calling us to, we refuse to be defined by others’ standards of success. Understanding and following the path God is calling each of us towards brings us to a more satisfying and fulfilling way of living. God knows exactly what we can excel best at and calls us to use those strengths. Start with what you know, build on your strengths, strive for what makes you feel alive, and let God do the rest.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” ~Marianne Williamson

 

My friends, you are God’s beloved. You are more than good enough.

 

Yours truly,
a girl who dreams

**This article was originally posted on the Words of Witness Blog.