art, beauty, dreams, writer, writing

Beautiful: Writer Anne Lamott on How to Become Who You Are Meant to Be

Illustration: Brian Cronin

I love Anne Lamott. She is among my favorite writers because of her raw, honest turn of phrase and her fearlessness that allows her to cut right to the chase. In her efforts to thoroughly understand herself, she is a mirror for her readers.

In 2009, she wrote this gorgeous article in O, The Oprah Magazine, about how to be who you are meant to be. Her advice is this: stop. Figure out what to stop doing, who to stop pleasing, and where you don’t need to be. It’s akin to the advice that learning what not to do gets us closer to figuring out what to do. And then I would also add that you meditate because while you may be able to stop physically, you need to also give your brain a break from its tireless whirr of thoughts.

Enjoy this article and then tuck it away in your folder labeled “inspiring writing to read when I’m feeling down on my luck.” You are not alone in the pursuit of your own greatness; we’re all here with you, doing exactly the same thing.

“We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be. The only problem is that there is also so much other stuff, typically fixations with how people perceive us, how to get more of the things that we think will make us happy, and with keeping our weight down. So the real issue is how do we gently stop being who we aren’t? How do we relieve ourselves of the false fronts of people-pleasing and affectation, the obsessive need for power and security, the backpack of old pain, and the psychic Spanx that keeps us smaller and contained?

Here’s how I became myself: mess, failure, mistakes, disappointments, and extensive reading; limbo, indecision, setbacks, addiction, public embarrassment, and endless conversations with my best women friends; the loss of people without whom I could not live, the loss of pets that left me reeling, dizzying betrayals but much greater loyalty, and overall, choosing as my motto William Blake’s line that we are here to learn to endure the beams of love.

Oh, yeah, and whenever I could, for as long as I could, I threw away the scales and the sugar.

When I was a young writer, I was talking to an old painter one day about how he came to paint his canvases. He said that he never knew what the completed picture would look like, but he could usually see one quadrant. So he’d make a stab at capturing what he saw on the canvas of his mind, and when it turned out not to be even remotely what he’d imagined, he’d paint it over with white. And each time he figured out what the painting wasn’t, he was one step closer to finding out what it was.

You have to make mistakes to find out who you aren’t. You take the action, and the insight follows: You don’t think your way into becoming yourself.

I can’t tell you what your next action will be, but mine involved a full stop. I had to stop living unconsciously, as if I had all the time in the world. The love and good and the wild and the peace and creation that are you will reveal themselves, but it is harder when they have to catch up to you in roadrunner mode. So one day I did stop. I began consciously to break the rules I learned in childhood: I wasted more time, as a radical act. I stared off into space more, into the middle distance, like a cat. This is when I have my best ideas, my deepest insights. I wasted more paper, printing out instead of reading things on the computer screen. (Then I sent off more small checks to the Sierra Club.)

Every single day I try to figure out something I no longer agree to do. You get to change your mind—your parents may have accidentally forgotten to mention this to you. I cross one thing off the list of projects I mean to get done that day. I don’t know all that many things that are positively true, but I do know two things for sure: first of all, that no woman over the age of 40 should ever help anyone move, ever again, under any circumstances. You have helped enough. You can say no. No is a complete sentence. Or you might say, “I can’t help you move because of certain promises I have made to myself, but I would be glad to bring sandwiches and soda to everyone on your crew at noon.” Obviously, it is in many people’s best interest for you not to find yourself, but it only matters that it is in yours—and your back’s—and the whole world’s, to proceed.

And, secondly, you are probably going to have to deal with whatever fugitive anger still needs to be examined—it may not look like anger; it may look like compulsive dieting or bingeing or exercising or shopping. But you must find a path and a person to help you deal with that anger. It will not be a Hallmark card. It is not the yellow brick road, with lovely trees on both sides, constant sunshine, birdsong, friends. It is going to be unbelievably hard some days—like the rawness of birth, all that blood and those fluids and shouting horrible terrible things—but then there will be that wonderful child right in the middle. And that wonderful child is you, with your exact mind and butt and thighs and goofy greatness.

Dealing with your rage and grief will give you life. That is both the good news and the bad news: The solution is at hand. Wherever the great dilemma exists is where the great growth is, too. It would be very nice for nervous types like me if things were black-and-white, and you could tell where one thing ended and the next thing began, but as Einstein taught us, everything in the future and the past is right here now. There’s always something ending and something beginning. Yet in the very center is the truth of your spiritual identity: is you. Fabulous, hilarious, darling, screwed-up you. Beloved of God and of your truest deepest self, the self that is revealed when tears wash off the makeup and grime. The self that is revealed when dealing with your anger blows through all the calcification in your soul’s pipes. The self that is reflected in the love of your very best friends’ eyes. The self that is revealed in divine feminine energy, your own, Bette Midler’s, Hillary Clinton’s, Tina Fey’s, Michelle Obama’s, Mary Oliver’s. I mean, you can see that they are divine, right? Well, you are, too. I absolutely promise. I hope you have gotten sufficiently tired of hitting the snooze button; I know that what you need or need to activate in yourself will appear; I pray that your awakening comes with ease and grace, and stamina when the going gets hard. To love yourself as you are is a miracle, and to seek yourself is to have found yourself, for now. And now is all we have, and love is who we are.”

business, entrepreneurship, time

Beautiful: Be Your Own Consultant

From PinterestAbout a year ago when I was preparing to leave my corporate job to start my own company, I went to see Brian, my incredibly wise and supportive therapist and coach. I was telling him about all of my concerns and questions as I began this new venture. His few words of advice: “be your own consultant.”

We (myself included) love to give advice to others, but we don’t always apply our advice to our own careers and lives. For example, I decided to mine the social media following of one of my clients as leads for new partnership development opportunities. Why haven’t I done the same, simple task with my own social media following? On Saturday, I sat down and did just that. I’ve had a number of product ideas kicking around in my head and had yet to spec them out. Yesterday, I put (actual) pen to paper, created the user interface design, and sketched a product development timeline and work plan, just as I’ve done for clients and employers many times before. This time, this work was all for me and it felt amazing!

It’s empowering to be my own consultant, to listen and take my own advice. There’s a lot of peace and confidence to be gained in action. Give it a try – it may just be the toughest job you’ll ever love.  

apartment, home, New York City

Beautiful: Making a House a Home

From Pinterest

Now that I’ve been in my new apartment for almost two weeks, it’s beginning to feel like home. To this point, it’s felt like I’m in a hotel room that I’ll be leaving soon. I’ve had to learn new patterns around my neighborhood and inside my apartment. I didn’t realize how rooted I was in my old apartment. I wondered if I would ever feel at home in this new space. Would I ever settle in mentally and physically?

On Thursday night, I went to bed late after being out to dinner with friends. When I laid down in my bed, I let out a long sigh. I thought to myself, “It feels good to be home.” And then a huge smile found its way onto my face. Home. It had happened. Since Thursday night, I feel gitty every time I walk through my front door. While I have been busy putting everything in its place, this place has been busy transforming itself into more than just a box. It’s a sanctuary. It’s a place of creativity, peace, and joy.

When things are right in our homes, they are right in other areas of our lives, too. Feeling at home these last few days has helped me to see that everything is going to be okay – in my career and my personal life. Just as I’ve been transforming my home, my home has been transforming me. I’m standing taller. I feel like options for opportunity abound, and many of them begin with me just making a choice to reach for them.

Change is good. And change – real, lasting, good-for-you change – begins at home.

education, media, science

Beautiful: My Review of the 2013 White House Science Fair

Wilfried Hounyo (left) and Golden Rockefeller pictured with Charles Bolden, Administrator of NASA, a retired US Marine Corps General, and former NASA astronaut

From a water filtration system powered by a stationary bike to a writing system that aids those afflicted by neurological hand tremors, the White House was brimming with the creations of young innovators at the third annual White House Science Fair. One hundred students from 40 different states attended the event, proudly accompanied by their teachers, parents, and mentors. It’s hard to overestimate the excitement of being invited to the White House by President Obama. I’m not sure who was more thrilled – the students or the adults – to be in those hallowed halls, sharing our passion for STEM education and careers.

Why would the White House host a science fair? President Obama plainly and earnestly made the case for this event, which he refers to as one of his favorite events of the year.

“If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House. Well, if you’re a young person and you produce the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too.”

Three of the 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge winners attended the event. Gustavo Zacarias, a middle school student from San Antonio, Texas, built The Dark Labyrinth on Kodu and was invited to exhibit his video game at the fair. The Dark Labyrinth is a 3-D maze that players navigate by solving math challenges. Gustavo began playing video games at age 4, and plans to build a career as a video game designer.

“I never thought I would be exhibiting my game at the White House,” said Gustavo. “I worked very hard during the making of the game and was very happy about winning a national competition, so I’m very excited and thankful for the opportunity to be part of this great event.”

Gustavo was joined by two students from the D.C.-area, Golden Rockefeller and Wilfried Hounyo, who won the Open Platform high school category of the National STEM Video Game Challenge. Golden is now a 16-year old freshman at University of Delaware studying mechanical engineering. Wilfried, a junior in high school, is currently looking at Berkeley, Stanford, and Penn State, where he plans to study computer science as a path to eventually work for NASA. Their game, Electrobob, teaches players about the nature of electrons by combining subject matter from physics, chemistry, and robotics.

Halfway through the fair, all attendees were escorted into the East Room to hear President Obama speak about the importance of STEM education and his continued financial and program support for it. Wilfried and Golden joined President Obama on stage as he repeatedly stated how amazed and inspired he was by all of the students at the fair.

“Young people like this have to make you hopeful about the future,” he said.

The President made several significant announcements during his speech:

  • A new AmeriCorps program focused on STEM education.
  •  The launch of US2020—a campaign by ten leading education nonprofits and U.S. technology companies to encourage companies to commit 20 percent of their STEM employees to 20 hours per year of mentoring or teaching by the year 2020.
  • The Summer of Making and Connecting program will encompass more than 1,000 summer learning events hosted by leading education-based organizations; the Joan Ganz Cooney Center of Sesame Workshop is one of the organizations involved.

The President concluded the event with a simple, powerful statement that resonated with teachers, parents, and mentors all around the country.

“We’ve got to do everything we can to make sure that we are giving these young people opportunity to pursue their studies and discover new ways of doing things. And we’ve got to make sure that we’re also leaving behind a world that is safer and cleaner and healthier than the one we found. That’s our obligation…students, we could not be prouder of all of you.”

Check out my collection of my photos from the 2013 White House Science Fair

change, community service, creativity, time

Beautiful: Progress is a Daily Process. Take Your Time.

“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.” ~ Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

We want to make an impact in every moment. Everywhere. For everyone. We are a society of immediacy, a nation of broadcasters. We’re about scale, leverage, and reach. Bigger, faster, cheaper, now.

What I’ve found is that there is a lot of beauty and meaning in the small. Compass Yoga, my nonprofit, began with one small class for a handful of people in my sliver of a neighborhood over two years ago. Now we serve over 200 people per week in a dozen classes. We are a slow growth organization and that’s just fine by me because what we are building is deliberate and sustainable over time. We have phenomenal teachers, passionate students, and dedicated partners. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Do what you can do right now, right where you are. The future will find us. It always does. The opportunities will present themselves as long as we put real heart into our work. Help will arrive when we need it as long as we remain authentic and true to who we are.

Every journey of change is built one tiny purposeful step at a time.

grateful, gratitude

Beautiful: Why We Should Be Grateful for Difficulties

From Pinterest

“A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner. ” ~ English Proverb

We all carry our share of challenges. We don’t have enough time, energy, money, or space. We can feel paralyzed by our giant and never-ending to-do list. Life can be a slog.

Lately I’ve been taking a different approach when the seas of life get rocky. I take a deep breath and whisper a quiet thank you. Difficulties breed growth.

We don’t grow when life is moving along swimmingly and perfectly (but, oh goodness it’s nice to have that feeling once in a while!) The lessons that stick with me the most, that impact my life in powerful and magical ways, were all gained during times of trouble. When I am tested, I rise higher than I thought possible. When I really need strength, I dig down deep and find it harbored within my heart. We don’t know what we’re made of until we actually need to know.

I don’t wish hard times on anyone. I have tremendous compassion and empathy for those who are bearing a heavy load. I lend a hand anywhere and everywhere I can, and many times that means helping  others to see the blessings available to us in every moment, difficult or not. There is always a reason for gratitude.

beauty, happiness

Beautiful: Follow the Joy

“Beauty is whatever gives joy.” ~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

They say beauty is the eye of the beholder. I say it’s all around us in the form of joy and happiness.

A smile on any face is beautiful.
A laugh or a giggle from anyone of any age is beautiful.
Sunshine, dancing, singing, art, and music of any variety are all forms of beauty because they give joy.
In our family and friends, furry and otherwise, there is an immeasurable amount of beauty.
I find beauty in even the smallest acts of kindness, grace, generosity, and gratitude. These are all paths to joy and we would do well to take them as often as possible.

Joy – it’s all I ever wish for. Beauty – it’s all I ever seek.

beauty, creativity, grateful, learning, teaching

Beautiful: The Road to Wholeness

“Nothing in life is trivial. Life is whole wherever and whenever we touch it, and one moment or event is not less sacred than another. it. You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.”Vimala Thakar

It all matters. The simple and the complex. The difficult and the easy. The joyful and the heartbreaking. Each moment comes to our door to teach us something – about ourselves, about others, and about the world and our place in it.

I’ve been wrestling with this idea a bit this week, trying to make sense of why things go haywire, why they fall apart, and what we do with the pieces that remain. As best I can tell, we pick them up one at a time and help others do the same. They don’t fit together neatly as they did before. But what they create is stronger, more unique, and reflects what we learned in the process of putting it all back together.

Difficult circumstances are hard to live. They’re hard to examine. They’re hard to release. But the process of getting through them, reflecting on what they taught us, and figuring out a way to move forward is an act of sacred healing in and of itself. We can be whole again.

creativity, education, science

Today I am at the White House Science Fair

20130421-230213.jpgToday it is my extreme pleasure and honor to attend the White House Science Fair. I currently consult at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at the Sesame Workshop. At the Cooney Center, I manage a program called the National STEM Video Game Challenge. Students in grades 5-12 submit video games that utilize STEM skills. Several of our winners from last year’s Challenge have been invited to exhibit and attend. I am thrilled beyond words by their accomplishments!

There are a few ways to follow the event from anywhere in the world:

Watch the live feed:

Follow us on Twitter: and the hashtag #WHSciencefair

Follow us on Facebook:

I hope you’ll join in the fun and celebrate the ingenuity and creativity of these students. They are our greatest hope for a brighter future!

charity, community

Beautiful: How to Help in Boston and West Texas

In the midst of the anxiety and horror of last week, the light is beginning to shine through and the very best of human goodness is driving out the darkness.

Mary, a dear yogi friend and loyal reader of this blog, told me about The One Fund. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino announced the formation of The One Fund Boston, Inc. to help the people most affected by the tragic events that occurred in Boston on April 15, 2013. To learn more, click here. To donate, click here.

West Texas
The Waco / West Texas Fertilizer Plant explosion caused widespread destruction, loss of life, and severe injuries to many in this small town. There are many ways that you can help ease their pain. For a list of organizations that are offering support and assistance, click here.

And it goes without saying that your continued thoughts and prayers will be needed for a long time to come. Keep them going.