You Can.

Honestly and truly. Whatever it is you want to do with your life, you can do it.

You’re Free to be Great, So Go for It

This past week I officially hit the 900 mile mark of my 1000 mile running goal for the year. It’s been a trying 11 months to get here, and I have a feeling this final month will take everything I have to finish. My body is tired. It’s been sore and achy and fatigued more days than it hasn’t. And yet, I still feel strong. I feel like I can do anything.

Over the course of this year, I’ve looked for and found a variety of different things to listen to/watch while I’m running, the most prominent being my ever changing playlist on my phone, aptly titled “Running.” Consistently among my favorites on the playlist is “The Greatest” by Sia.

The song starts as follows:

Uh-oh I’m running out of breath, but I’ve got stamina.

Uh-oh I’m running now I close my eyes, well I got stamina.

And uh-oh, I see another mountain to climb

But I got stamina

For obvious reasons, this first verse makes sense on a running playlist. I mean what else besides stamina—and the slightest bit of insanity—do you need to get yourself running? To add to that, in the next part she sings:

Don’t give up

I won’t give up

Don’t give up, no, no, no

Which again, is exactly the kind of mindset you need to have while running.

The part that really hooks me though, is the chorus:

I’m free to be the greatest, I’m alive

I’m free to be the greatest here tonight, the greatest

The greatest, the greatest alive

The greatest, the greatest alive

I tell ya, whenever that chorus kicks in while I’m running, I break out into a sprint. Because aside from being the kind of inspirational “go team” type of sentiment that I need when I’m exercising, it fills me with motivation that I can take further.

I’m free to be the greatest, she says, I’m alive.

In other words: I’m free to be the greatest I can be, in anything I choose to try, because I have the great privilege of being alive. I firmly believe that the idea behind these words is what gets me out there running every day. It’s what put the idea in my head that I could run 1000 miles in the first place. For there’s truly nothing greater than making your dreams a reality and your doubts fiction.

So, I encourage you to chase them with everything you’ve got. Because as of today, as of this moment, you are completely free to be the greatest you can be, so you might as well go for it.

 

How to Kill a Word

This past week as I was making a delivery for work, I was listening to Eric Church’s song, “Kill a Word.” In it he brings up a number of individual words, primarily those with negative connotations, and discusses his desire to destroy them.

In the first verse he mentions: never, goodbye, regret, fear, lonely, and hate.

In the second: brokenness, heartbreak, upset, disgrace, and over.

And in the third: temptation, evil, wicked, vice, vile, and hostile.

As I listened to this song, I thought about all the times I’d let words like these control me. They’ve controlled my thoughts, my actions, and my choices; at times it felt as if they all but suffocated me.

Single words can be powerful, often far more than we realize. In my last post, I mentioned me and my mom’s tradition of focusing on a single word for an entire year. In 2016, my word was”give”, this year, it is “patience.” And similar to those mentioned by Eric Church, I have no doubts that other words will try and take over. Words like doubt, greed, fear, and failure. They’re all going to be sitting there on the sidelines, offering a hand when things get hard.

I’ve seen myself fall victim before. I’ve seen “achievement” swerve towards “disappointment” and land in “heartbreak.” For along with every positive word we can focus on, there will always be a countering negative.

In the chorus of the song, Eric Church sings, “if it were up to me to change, I’d turn lies and hate to love and truth. If I could only kill a word.”

Yes, if only.

Because no, we can’t kill words. But we can kill their power over us. We can’t prevent finding them, but we can navigate around them.

So this year, whether you set an intention to focus on one word, or find a number of words to focus on along the way, know that you can hold on to them. And just as there is always a negative to counter a positive, there are bigger and better positives to combat that negative.

When I think about like that, I like to imagine we actually can kill words, not with our hands but with other words. Hello can kill goodbye. Time can heal brokenness. Hope can kill despair. Inspiration can kill disappointment. Love can kill hate.

Conventional Wisdom

#ShoutYourStrong

Throughout our lives, possibly even multiple times a day, we will tell ourselves, “I can’t.” It’s too far, it’s too high, I’m too weak, I just can’t do it.

Well, to put it lightly, we’re wrong, so wrong.

The truth is, we can do anything, you can do anything.

In today’s world, we are not strangers to sharing what we do. With a wide variety of social media outlets, we can document nearly every moment of our day. In doing so we have the ability to connect with and inspire others, as well as express ourselves in a unique way. When we post, we start a conversation, and today I’d like to start one that, while not necessarily new, is still extremely important and very personal to me.

As some of you may know, I climbed Mt. Whitney a few years ago and it changed my life. It woke me up from a long period of negativity and an “I can’t” mentality, and jump-started my path to self-acceptance. Throughout the training process and ultimately the final climb, I discovered something within myself that I can only describe as “my strong.”

We all have it. No matter who we are, where we come from, or what battles we are fighting, our strong is the intangible measure of what we can do, and against all odds, it moves us forward.

Today I hope to encourage all of you to not only discover your strong, but embrace it, utilize it, and share it with the world. So, I’m starting the hashtag #shoutyourstrong, which aims to celebrate all that we are accomplishing, both in the physical and mental battles we are fighting.

It is my hope that this hashtag can act as a community, a celebration of the positive changes we are all making in our lives amongst the ever-present negativity found both on- and offline.

#ShoutYourStrong will strive to inspire, not spark comparisons. We are all facing different struggles and we should not let the success of others diminish our own, nor should we be discouraged to share our steps forward, even if they seem small. For when we have the courage to admit what we’re going through, we give ourselves a voice. When we find the strength to fight back, we allow that voice to echo. And should another who struggles hear that echo, it might finally give them the courage to speak.

So today I encourage you to join the conversation. For no matter who you are or what you’re going through, and as hard as it may be to believe, you do have a unique strength inside of you that will help carry you through whatever comes your way. And not if, but when you find it, don’t just share it, shout it!

#shoutyourstrong

shoutyourstrong.com

 
Obstacles
Jubilant
 

I’m Not Strong “For A Girl”

“Sign here please,” said the man behind the counter.

I took the pen he offered with a nod and scribbled my sorry excuse of a signature on the paper in front of me. Then, sticking my keys in my back pocket, I thanked him and reached for the package I came to pick up.

“Here, let me help you,” he said.

“I’ve got it, thank you though.”

The man persisted, “No please, allow me, this is much too heavy for a girl.”

I flinched. Blinked. Frowned. Then composed myself. This was, after all, a professional interaction, so I didn’t feel I could say much in the way of protest. Plus, as I looked at the man—who was well into his sixties—I knew he honestly didn’t mean to offend me. But as I drove back to work I still had that phrase playing over and over again in my head.

For a girl

It was a simple three words, the last of which has been interchanged countless times to make assumptions about an individual. Be it a girl, a boy, a kid, a person of color, or a follower of religion, this phrase is used to impose an identity on a person based solely on their likeness to another. How often do we find ourselves being the subject or speaker of this phrase? And how wildly dangerous it is to be either. For phrases like these do nothing but convince us that we are only as good as we are already believed to be; that our abilities have some sort of cap set by people who don’t even know us.

When I got back to work that afternoon, I walked around the back of the car and looked at the box. The one that was too heavy. Then, bending from my knees, I lifted it from the trunk and carried it inside. Because it was not too heavy for a girl, and it was not too heavy for me. And my ability to lift the box doesn’t make me strong for a girl, it just makes me strong. I’m not looking for anyone to commend this strength, I’m just asking to eliminate its assumed absence based on my anatomy.

I, like everyone else in this world, am my own brand of individual. I am more than my surrounding stereotypes make me out to be. I have my own strengths, my own weaknesses, my own likes and dislikes. There is no one like me, just as there is no one like you. And while there will always be those trying to box us into ignorant ideals, looking at us like identical stacked houses, it is our choice to rent the room. For there are thousands of minorities and majorities that make up the world, but they all have one thing in common: there are made up of unique individuals and we should all be treated as such.

Refresh

Size Strong: Size is a Number, Strength is a Feeling

When I was in high school I—like most teenagers—was extremely self-conscious about my body. I didn’t have the same stick thin build as my friends, and when I saw the way that type of frame was admired, I felt like my own body type was, for lack of a better term: wrong. So, I convinced myself that the only way I would be happy with my body is if I wore a specific size, a small size, the “right” size.

But you see, size is just a number. A meaningless integer stamped on itchy tags that you cut off the second you get home, and a value that pops up on the bathroom scale to ruin your day. Numbers do nothing but stare back at you. They treat you like an object, rather than a person. They convince you that their value determine your worth. But let me tell you something here and now: numbers lie.

For even among these “perfect sizes” and “ideal bodies” are hearts that hurt and words that cut; no number is ever going to protect you from judgment or comparison. Thus, beauty can never solely be something we see on ourselves, but something we must also feel in ourselves. Because if that admiration for our outward appearance acts as a flashlight does in darkness: temporarily piercing a narrow path of hope, complete acceptance of ourselves, inside and out, will act like the sun: swallowing darkness all together. And this light, this all-encompassing freedom, comes solely from within.

Size is a number but strength is a feeling. And no number, not one you find on your jeans, in your bank account, or among your social media followers, will ever determine how much you are worth. Strength is the only thing that can save us from ourselves, and it is something that we all have within, no matter how deep it is buried or how doubtful we are in our ability to find it.

With strength, our size doesn’t matter.

With strength, we are able to give what we previously only sought to receive: peace.

And in peace we can finally be happy, for we are finally the perfect size: Size Strong.

Envy

What a Pair of Overalls Taught Me About Equal Representation

A few weeks ago I was scrolling through my Instagram feed when I came across a photo of a girl holding a basket of fresh vegetables.

“Sunday morning at the Farmer’s Market!” she said in the caption.

“Cute overalls,” I mumbled to myself as I admired her outfit.

When I was little I had a pair of overalls that I wore over and over until they were covered in rips and paint stains. And when they went back in style my senior year of high school I shopped around for a pair, filled with nostalgia. As I looked however, I was reminded that in the years since my first pair, puberty had given me thick thighs and round hips while many of the girls around me remained tall and thin. And as the trend grew, I saw the outfit in magazines and television shows, all worn by the same body. Tall, thin, long legs, flat stomach. I would never look like that. Maybe, I thought, maybe overalls just aren’t for people like me.

That day however, when I came across the image of the girl at the farmer’s market, I noticed that she was curvy, just like me, but she wasn’t allowing herself to be restricted by her body or wishing to be showcasing a different one. She was just standing there, confident and proud in the skin she was in, sharing with the world her own unique beauty.

“I wonder if I could pull those off,” I mumbled aloud.

And there it was: the seed.

The notion that inspires someone to believe they can do or be something they thought they never could.

How silly was it for me to think that I couldn’t wear an outfit because I didn’t look like the other girls that wore it? How silly is it for anyone to think they can’t do something because of the way they look?

We are all made differently and we are all made brilliantly and each and every design should be celebrated.

Take Target’s Halloween ad featuring a girl with leg braces and arm crutches: target_disability

(Image source: Target)

Or Barbie’s introduction to a line of diverse dolls:

635900292796826984-EPA-USA-BARBIE-DOLL-BODY-TYPES

(Image source: Matel)

We must continue to plant these seeds because even the smallest one has the power to sprout within us a belief that we are more than we think and greater than the surrounding stereotypes make us out to be. For at the end of the day we are all beautiful, we can all be princesses, and we can all wear overalls.

Don’t Mind the Gaps & Kick Some Ass

Last January I struggled through—however completed—my first ever 5k. It was a huge feat for me, as the only previous accomplishment I’d made in running was beating my dog in a sprint across the backyard. Then again I only won that because my dad got home right as I yelled “Start!” and my dog b-lined into the house to greet him. But after some deliberation,  the officials (me) and I (me) agreed that it was deemed a forfeit, thus crowning me the lawn sprint champ of 2014.

While I was training for the 5k, I discovered something very important. A place within—that is found in all of us—that whole heartedly believed that I could. It was a resounding YES that drowned out all of the previous “no’s”, and it was unintimidated by failure because it thrived off of the courage of a try. I started calling it the BIFC (pronounced bifsee) door, a.k.a the Because I F*cking Can door. A passage way to success that our negative selves like to keep shut, however we can kick open Kool-Aid man style and achieve our wildest dreams.

In November of last year, after months of kicking at this door and feeling it resist, and having recently completed a half marathon relay with my sister (I ran half, handed her the baton and she ran the rest), I was standing behind yet another starting line, wondering how in the hell I would make it through a full half marathon (13.1 miles) alone.

Suddenly the gun sounded, a cheer erupted and the MC came through the speakers yelling “GO! GO! GO!” And as the pitter patter of hopeful runners began to fill the air I felt nervous, but then I thought of my Papa.

A while back my mom told me about a theory he had regarding traffic.

“There are always gaps.”

As a native Southern Californian, I am extremely familiar with traffic and the hold it can place on an entire day. However it is true that every once in a while, whether we notice them or not, there are breaks. Gaps. Little openings that give us the opportunity to cruise. But being the impatient drivers that we are, we usually see these openings as an opportunity to wildly accelerate, if only to prove to ourselves and those around us that we still know how.

When the gun sounded that November morning and the feet around me started clamoring to run, I felt that familiar pressure to keep up. To go fast. To wildly accelerate in order to impress those around me. But in that moment, I thought of my Papa and decided to take a deep breath and cruise. And as the herd of hungry runners passed me and the walkers faded behind me, I quickly found myself in a gap. There was no pace to worry about keeping, no faces to worry about impressing. This race was mine to run, and there was no one else I needed to worry about.

Later, as my mile count grew, and the finish line approached, I began to notice the throng of people lining the streets cheering. They didn’t care what my pace was. They didn’t want to know about everyone I had passed or who had passed me. They simply wanted to help me finish my race. And as I smiled back in gratitude, I thought back to all the times I’d stood on the sidelines, praising others yet doubting myself.

On the last mile, I saw a woman holding a handmade sign that said, “You can do it!” And as I glanced at the bystanders surrounding her I hoped that, along with every runner, they too read these words. That they too heard that voice within and thought to themselves, “Maybe I can too.” For having recently completed my second half marathon, I truly believe with the courage to try and the patient to cruise, you can accomplish anything. And if anyone should stand in your way, doubting you, including yourself, and ask, “why?” Answer back with a smile and a swift kick to the door in front you, “Why? Because I F*cking Can.”

The Reason I Don’t Want to Be Golden Globe Nominee Gina Rodriguez

For those of you who don’t know, Gina Rodriguez is the funny and talented badass that plays Jane on Jane the Virgin. Coming off a win last year, she has been praised by critics and fans alike and was recently nominated for her second Golden Globe. That being said, I have absolutely no interest in standing in her shoes.

Let me explain.

If you saw her acceptance speech at last year’s Golden Globes, you will know that she draws a lot of inspiration from her family. “Wake up every morning and say, ‘Today’s a great day, I can and I will,” her dad always told her. “Well dad, today’s a great day, I can and I did.” Spoiler alert, this is when everyone cried their eyes out and wanted to give this woman a damn hug, or a high five, or both, definitely both.

I was late in discovering the quirky wonder that is Jane the Virgin. Netflix gave me an early Christmas gift this year by recommending it on a day when I just needed to laugh. When I was about halfway through the first season, I looked up Gina Rodriguez online to see if she’d been in anything else I would know. This is when I rediscovered her acceptance speech and got a glimpse into the wonderful human being that she is. I flipped through her social media profiles and read magazine articles, all of which were flooded with inspirational words for young girls. It was clear that she is a natural born role model, though not one you find every day.

At some point during my research (cyber stalking), I came across a tweet that a girl sent her, phrased as a letter to God, asking to be turned into the 31-year-old actress.  A perfectly average and acceptable reply could have featured a few loving emojis or some short words of gratitude, it was just a loving note from fan, something I’m sure she receives thousands of on a daily basis. But Rodriguez took the time to really read this message and notice its subtle self-deprecating nature, replying with, “I can’t wait until you grow into your beautiful self and know how lucky you are to be you.”

Amazing, right?! Who wouldn’t want God to turn them into this woman!?

Spoiler alert: this was the exact moment I decided that I had no interest in becoming Gina Rodriguez.

Call me crazy, but it’s really her you have to blame. She’d gotten through to me, straight to the core, and my mind was clear.

I didn’t want to be Gina Rodriguez because there already is a Gina Rodriguez and she kicks ass.

I didn’t want to be Gina Rodriguez because then there would be no one left to be me.

The truth is none of us should wish to be Gina Rodriguez because it would be a disservice to the world to rid it of our own uniqueness.

I’m sure there have been points in her life when she had no interest in being Gina Rodriguez, but I know that I, along with many others, are extremely glad that she is. And I hope one day I can be a role model, just as she is for me, who inspires someone not to be just like me, but rather to be the best version of themselves, because even if they don’t know it, that person kicks ass too.

 
Admire

What Dumbledore Taught Me About Anxiety & Other Crippling Emotions

When I was little I had an intense phobia of being kidnapped. Every evening I had a routine that I had to complete before I would feel safe enough to get in bed. Then, once I was under the covers, I could not and would not even consider getting up before morning. I’d lay awake, convinced I heard sounds of an intruder, quivering in fear.

Eventually I grew out of it, and now I often find myself joking, playing it off as immature paranoia, however I can still remember the fear I felt every single night; the paralysis I could not overcome until the sun came up.

These days I often experience anxiety in waves. I have a “worst case scenario” state of mind when it comes to new experiences and I tend to get overwhelmed in certain social situations. However, I’ve been working hard over the last few years to overcome the fear that bubbles inside me, and recently I found inspiration in perhaps the most unlikely of places: the mouth of Albus Dumbledore.

Now, if you’ve read any of the Harry Potter books you’ll know that Dumbledore has a knack for inspirational quotes. He likes to drop them on Harry and walk away, leaving his wizard’s mic on the ground. In doing so, he often leaves the reader speechless and Harry confused and longing for a straightforward answer.

If you’ve never delved into the Harry Potter world, neither in books or movies, let me give you a minor background before I continue.

Harry Potter is a wizard whose parents were killed by an evil wizard named Voldemort. Before he was born, it was foretold that Harry would become Voldemort’s greatest threat, so just after Harry’s 1st birthday, Voldemort hunted him down in order prevent the prophecy from coming true. Voldemort killed Harry’s parents, but Harry survived, and it blew everyone’s mind, including Voldemort’s.  Oh and Dumbledore is the head honcho at Hogwarts, a school for young wizards and witches. He’s the only other person Voldemort has ever feared, and he’s a low-key badass that has a pet Phoenix.

Okay, now that we’re all caught up, back to Dumbledore’s mind-blowing rhetoric.

In the second to last book of the series, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, there is a moment when Dumbledore is explaining to Harry how the prophecy affected Voldemort; how his fear of defeat got in the way of his quest for victory. He explains that Voldemort himself created the enemy that was now equipped to defeat him. After hearing the prophecy, he had taken matters into his own hands, assuming he could vanquish its foretellings by killing Harry before he had the chance to grow up. But in doing so, he unknowingly set the prophecy into motion.

In our every day lives, an assumption or a rumor can present itself as a prophecy of sorts. We hear of something that might happen or we take a guess based on the circumstance, and we send ourselves into a frenzy of panic and anxiety. And this works for any emotion that controls our actions: anxiety, fear, addiction, depression, low self-esteem. They all act as our own personal Voldemort living inside our head. They react quickly and rashly, neglecting to pause and let other opinions be heard. They look at the smaller picture, the one stop solution. They act to prevent bad, while also deflecting the possibility of good.

Luckily we all have the power to be our own Harry Potter. Granted we don’t have the whole wizard thing going for us, but Harry learned that magic wasn’t the biggest weapon he had against Voldemort. Love, selflessness, bravery, trust, joy. All qualities Voldemort could never possess. All qualities our own Voldemorts shy away from when times get hard.

In the Harry Potter series, Voldemort is the most feared wizard of them all. The things he can do, the way he uses people to get what he wants, the paralysis he inflicts upon entire cities at the mention of his name. Anxiety, fear, addiction, etc. all have the power to do the same to each of us if we give in to their grasp. And while our attempts to grapple with our own Voldemorts might be feeble at times, it’s the resistance that counts. No tyrant lasts long when the resistance starts. So I encourage you to fight, in whatever way best suits you. If it’s simply taking a moment to breathe or seeking a doctor, take the steps necessary to start your own fight against the dark wizard inside your head. You never know what you’ll find within yourself when you take the time to start digging.

The Girl in Row G

This past weekend my sister and I went to see my favorite band in concert. Our seats were in Row G, which was up pretty high and to the right. As the opening acts played on, more and more people arrived, filling the belly of the theater with bodies and noise.

As the minutes remaining until the opening act took the stage ticked by quickly, the seats around us remained empty. Everyone was moving down and in, filling the unclaimed chairs, but we stayed put, waiting for the curtain to fall.

At 9:45, the theater went dark and cheers of anticipation filled the night air. Suddenly, a drum beat and the screams got louder. A bass guitar strum and everyone on the lower level stood up. When the stage lights flashed on, the song swam through the speakers into the crowd and everyone began to sing the words they knew so well.

The first song played was one of my favorites, and I swayed in my seat with its melody. I looked down at the pit and saw people jumping and dancing and waving their arms, completely enraptured. How badly I wished I was with them. My voice would be drowned out by the crowd and my dance moves blocked by other bodies. I would be anonymous, unseen and totally free.

Row G was quiet. A few groups were scattered around us, all determinedly seated, mildly bobbing their heads; I didn’t dare stand up here. If I did, I know I’d feel eyes on me; pointed fingers and quiet laughs. The rhythm would feel awkward on my body and I’d feel the need to sit back down.

With a sudden scream of the electric guitar the next song started, sending the lower level into a frenzy and my knees into a seated bounce. Row G remained quiet and still, but my body began to resist its clutches.

I again looked down at the pit, still longing to be an anonymous voice in its choir, but then I realized the true implications of this request: to be a voice unheard and a face unseen. If I were to dance and sing in the pit, no one would think twice about it because that’s what everyone does there. I’d blend into the mass like a bee in a hive. If I stood up in Row G, few would fail to notice. Their peripheral vision would awaken at the sight of my dancing silhouette. But that’s just it, they would notice.

Who knows how many of the people around me felt the exact same way I did. How many other knees were bouncing, anxious to stand? And what was keeping us in our seats besides the unspoken assumption that that’s what we were supposed to do in our section?

As I felt my toes continue to tap uncontrollably, I realized that this simply wasn’t going to work for me. I didn’t care who saw me, I didn’t care what they thought, I was going to stand up and I was going to dance.

Over the course of my life, I’m sure I’ll come across many situations where I’ll have the choice to stand or stay seated. The decision won’t always be easy, nor the answer the same. I will have to react to each situation in a way that is true to who I am, without worry of how I’ll be perceived by others.

It will always be easier to stand among the crowds, knowing that my words are like a single clap in a stadium of applause. And while more difficult to speak, the words among silence will be those truly heard, even if it’s just lyrics by a rock band sung completely unhindered. It will take a lot for me to speak these words, and at times I’ll probably find myself paralyzed with fear.  But applause is built on single claps, and the first one often awakens the rest. We all have the right to be that first clap, just as we all have the right to stand up, even the girl in Row G.