Mastering the Art of Wholeness One Day at a Time

We’re born whole.
All of us, in our own way.

When we’re little we’re confident in knowing who we are without question or doubt. We simply, are. As we master the art of motor-skills we reach out towards the world with each waking moment. We look under rocks to see what’s hiding there, we wonder how it is that light can dance on water, & we’re pretty darn tootin’ sure that there’s nothing better in the world that spending a day at the beach.

From our first breath we know what we like (hugs!) and what we don’t (being hungry/wet/etc). We also know what makes us giggle & what fills our minds with endless curiosity.

In the beginning all of our milestones are celebrated, too. Our first smile, our first words, our first spaghetti dinner (so beautifully messy), our first steps. As we grow, we’re told we can do anything – and I mean anything – if only we put our minds to it & work hard. More than anything though, we’re safe in knowing that we’re special.

Unique.
Individual.
Quirky.
Beautifully nuanced.
If we’re lucky, we maintain our awe when it comes to celebrating the differences in others. Mostly though, we learn that sameness is safer.

That said, when we’re young we find wonder in others. In their skills and in their successes. We play games, form teams, and work towards a common goal all for the sake of being together and growing together. We move through childhood hungry to learn and ready to take on the world. Oh that big, wide world. It really is our oyster in the beginning, isn’t it? 

Everyone tells us the world is our oyster. Which even now at 38yrs old makes me giggle. I love the idea of the world being something interesting & shiny – but as someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy oysters, I’d rather the world was a musical & approach life like that.

But, I digress…

As a 4yr old, I loved playing sports. 

I’ve loved being a part of a team for almost my entire life. There’s something inherently grounding about knowing you’ve got the backs of your best buds on the field of play & that they know you’ve got theirs. Trust is established. Sometimes it’s broken. But mostly playing sports means we’re learning how different skillsets make a group of people stronger than a single individual. Also, beyond learning how to play by an established set of rules, teamwork builds up confidence & resilience in all of us. 

When I was four years old, I started playing softball. Even though I was one of the youngest kids on the team I loved the physical, mental, & emotional aspects of playing a game I loved. In my first year, I excelled. In fact, I took out “The Little Slugger Award.” Not only was I quick rounding the bases on little feet, but I could connect my bat with a pitch more often than not. For full disclosure, my Dad played for the Los Angeles Dodgers back in his Glory Days – as Springsteen calls them – so I could catch a pop-fly & throw a ball before I could even put one foot in front of the other.

If anyone was swinging for the fences it was Little Cass (fun fact:I’m still swinging for proverbial fences daily). Believe you me not only did I play the part, I looked it too. I swaggered like a little slugger & owned my athleticism. I wore high Bobby-socks with stripes, short golden shorts, a purple jersey, & a visor that reigned in my pig-tails (just) while keeping the sun from my eyes. I walked confident in knowing myself. I stepped up to the plate without fear of a slider or curve-ball. More than that, I loved my bruised shins & skinned knees.

Off the diamond, I took pride in out-pacing the boys at foot races. 
Eat.
My.
Dust.
Stinky, beautiful, silly boys.

Ah to be a child of summer in Southern California, eh? 

Through primary, middle, high school I was comfortable in my skin. I was comfortable in my competitive & curious nature. I was passionate about my dreams & was single-minded about doing what was right by my own moral compass. The Little Slugger was growing up. And, she was growing into who she knew she could be. 

While sports were a big part of my maturing into an adult, music was as well. I played clarinet in the marching band & sat as second-chair in our concert band. From 8yrs old I took lessons, practiced a ton, & honed my skills when it came to ye olde liquorice stick. NERD ALERT! Am I right?

When little doubts about the coolness of clarinet playing started to trickle in to my psyche in high school, I swapped the clarinet for the piano. Whilst most of my peers were deep into honky tonk country twang or emo music like Nine Inch Nails, I was into Elton John. He was all glitter, glamour, & amazingness (he still is). So, following in Uncle Elton’s footsteps, I took to playing rock music on a classical instrument. I love it then & I love it now.

Through teenager-hood, I kept my nose clean, studied hard, played music, learned experimental photography, wrote poetry, played sports & got more & more excited about the whole “the world is your oyster” thing we’d all been promised.

Fast forward to university life.

After high-school I had one last hoorah of a summer to share with friends before heading north up the 101 through LA & Ventura & on to my college campus. Upon arriving in a new town full of people I didn’t know, I became more introverted than I’d ever been. My confidence took a hit. But, Santa Barbara is a magical place & I met people & made friends quickly. I also found solace in the comforting nature of playing sports.  

I had dreams, too. BIG dreams. Whilst at UCSB – a school that had tenured professors & Nobel Laureates at our disposal – I wanted to do two things with my life: the first was to play tambourine in Elton John’s band, and failing that – I wanted to travel the world as a photo-journalist.

My poor parents were forking out dinero like no one’s business to educate me & here I wanted to live on the road shaking whatever I could shake (yes, including that which my momma gave me…) in a band of older, foreign men. Oy vey! My parents, being the amazing humans they are, laughed the Elton fantasy off & masterfully steered me towards a more secure future. When I graduated from UCSB after four years with a degree in History & Spanish Language/Literature, I put my tambourine away. Tucked gently away in a box or a dresser drawer somewhere.

Graduation day was a trip! Family from across the USA came to celebrate. Missouri mixed with So-Cal mixed with the UK. It was magical, fast, & the earth seemed to be spinning at a pace that was faster than normal. At one point in the day though it seemed as if the world stopped for a moment & pivoted in place. Actually, the world didn’t pivot – what it did was it threw me for a good ‘ol 360.

Looking back I reckon this 360 happens to almost all of us at a big juncture in our lives when we cross the threshold from child to adult. 

Enter working life. 

Whoa, welcome to the real-world, Little Slugger. Where once the world I was told that the world was my proverbial oyster, I learned that wasn’t true. Lots of grit, very few pearls.

The world it seems, is a ladder. And, to climb it, we must start at the bottom rung & climb only as & when we’re allowed to. Your gender, skin colour, economic standing, & culture all determine how quickly you get to move from rung to rung. The rules? They’re the rules & we’ve got to play by them. Yuck.

At the point in life when we learn that we must play by rules we never had a hand in writing, things get uncomfortable. So to become more comfortable, over time – without even realising it – the rules become us. We become them. We don’t question anymore, we simply do what we think is “right.” In doing so we tend to lose ourselves to labels assigned to us by random job titles, undefined skillsets, & somewhat relevant professional experience. We truly believe that this is the only way to be happy & stable & to pay the bills every month when they come due.
Again, yuck.

In today’s modern media world, world we’re connected to our devices & to each other all of the time. There’s no clocking in & out for the most part. We’re tethered to our emails. The pings, buzzes, whizzes, whimpers of notifications tell us we’re busy & important.

We’re always on.
Everything we post, comment on, like or share becomes a part of what is now deemed our “personal brand.” People we don’t even know form opinions on our skills or bankability by the people we follow on LinkedIn & by people with blue-ticks who re-Tweet us on Twitter.

Older Millennials like myself are of an age where we’re the test-cases for a huge social experiment that we’re not sure is going to turn out super amazing for our physical or mental health. We dove into the world of online & digital without nary a look back – & now that’s a lot of what we seem to be doing. Looking back. Social media & the people who built platforms to hook-us (hello dopamine) have a lot to answer for. But so do we, the willing participants of said experiment. When do we decide that enough is enough? I don’t have an answer just yet for this question, but I’m working towards one.

I remember long car drives as a kid. We’d roll down the windows & sing to whatever tape was in the player. Mostly it was Tom Petty or Wynonna Judd. We didn’t have phones to distract us. We took photos without anywhere to post them other than to our friends through the mail or on our bedroom walls.

It’s different now, eh? Do you find it hard to remember disconnected times?
I sure do! In the world we’re working in & navigating today though, we’re on. Logged-in. Liking, sharing, commenting, hash-tagging. To what end though? What I’ve noticed quite a lot recently is that, even though we’re living in new times, we’re still doing things like our parents did before us. And there parents before them. Ad infinitum… 

We get up each morning, get in our cars, hustle kids to school and head in different directions to spend time with people who aren’t our family or loved ones. If we’re lucky, we don’t get stuck in traffic for an hour before arriving at an office where we send emails, cover our asses, and sit in meetings all day.

Only to wash, rinse, repeat day in and day out… year after year… and for what? Security? The ability to intertwine our job title into the fabric of our own importance? 

The longer we play the games of adulthood, the more we believe in a false-idea of becoming who we should be. 

Right here, right now we’re living in an era where anxiety, depression, & suicide rates are sky-rocketing. In the past two trips around the sun I’ve lost six (SIX!) friends to depression & suicide. That’s six too many. We’re a generation of lost kids – kinda. We’re lost not only to others, but to ourselves & we’re digging our heels in deeper & harder when it comes to how things should be. We’re blinded by a blurry past-tense that the generations before us believe we need to bring into focus while living in a present-tense that is just that…tense.

Work-life Balance is BS.

Enter work-life balance.

Never truly-defined, we chase an idea of work-life balance that is, at its core, an illusion. As we chase this illusion, we move further away from who we are at our core. If you can’t define something at scale then how do you attain it? Dunno. But we’ll try! We’re hard workers.

That 4yr old Little Slugger I used to be? Yeah, she became a whisper of a memory that was merely a ghost. A memory. A thing of the past. For many years I learned to dress as someone else & recited lines verbatim from professional up-skilling books like a good corporate citizen. I replaced the Little Slugger in me with a woman in a business suit who straightened her hair every day, wore expensive heels, & donned make up – all in an attempt to hide herself. To fit in. I tucked away the intense blonde curls that used to naturally grow out from my under my cap. While she was away, I missed my Little Slugger. So much.

A few years ago I worked for a company with a great reputation as a place to be employed. My first day on the job was magical. Great people, great vibes & lots to dig into & help with. Not long into my tenure with the business, a senior member of staff took me into a room & told me that I was not, in any form, to communicate outwardly through social media, digital media, or anything IRL without express consent of the business even if said communications were personal & seemingly unimportant.

My opinions? Yeah nah.
They weren’t mine to share anymore.
Huh? Wha? Bacon powder…?
How’s that supposed to work?

Before working for this particular business I’d built myself up a fairly strong personal brand over the course of a decade or so working with some big brands across sectors. I loved the challenge of new tech & media. I loved learning, growing, & sharing ideas. I spoke passionately at conferences on a range of topics spanning from professional to personal & back again. I also stayed sane by writing blogs for myself & an occasional article or three for publications with big readerships. Oh, I was also friends with a whole lot of people from a whole lot of different walks of life.

All of these things were giant red-flags for the company.
I was told I was a risk to the brand.
I was told to stop or else.

Or else.

Long story short:
Over the course of my tenure working for this company I stopped.
I went with the safe route – mostly.
I succumbed to or else.

I stopped tweeting.
I stopped blogging.
I stopped speaking.
I stopped seeing my friends.
I stopped going to the gym.
I stopped taking photos.
I stopped learning.
I stopped calling my family.
I stopped smiling.
I stopping chasing my creative passions.
I stopped being me.
<insert sad panda emoji>

I STOPPED BEING ME! And, I crashed & burned big time emotionally because of it.

For a long time I was angry with the business who’d given me the cease-&-desist order for the hard times I went through. But over time I realised that I’d played the game, their game. And the game won (as did my eventual therapist & her bank account for all of the sessions I needed to un-do the un-doing of me.) I was at fault for not pushing back. I could’ve chosen or else & probably been better for it. I didn’t though.

Toeing the line meant breaking down. My marriage broke down. My confidence broke down. My mental health broke down. My life became something that was not my own. Leaving the job was the biggest gift ever. It took a while for me to stop being angry with myself for playing the game. Especially when I could see it happening in real-time.
But, I’m better now. Much, much better. And, kinder with myself.

There’s hope for all of us, yet.

In truth, we all play the game. And, in playing it we become a part of the machine. So the machine keeps going…slow, steady & unchanging. All the while, we lose pieces of ourselves. We take up less space. We speak up less, and we forget to lift (or fear lifting) others.

Recently there’s been a revival of purpose-driven brands though. Businesses big & small who champion their people & who truly believe that great brands aren’t built from the ground up, but rather from the inside out. When I think of great brands I think of their people. 
I think of the women of Wildfang.
I think of the people who make Patagonia magical.
I also think about Nike.

Nike? Yep! As a business, it seems as though (from the outside looking in) they empower people from all across their organisation to post, create, & curate information about their time working for the businesses. I feel like I know more about the beating heart of the gigantor that is Nike than I do about some local brands closer to home.

I also think about my friend Miri Rodriguez from Microsoft. Miri is a powerhouse. She’s a storyteller, a momma, a friend, a colleague and one helluva human being. She also happens to work for Microsoft. In knowing Miri, I’ve taken a different view of a brand that once was corporate, buttoned-up, cold, & looming in my eyes. 

People matter. 
People being themselves matters.
Good brands aren’t built from the ground up, they’re built from the inside out. 

Life-life Balance rocks my socks.

I have a hot-take on work-life balance: I don’t believe it’s actually a thing.
In fact, I call bullshit on the entire notion of it. Instead, I believe there’s something more attainable & real, I believe in life-life balance.

So many of us talk about the ever-present struggle to attain work-life balance. WORK- LIFE BALANCE. Ahhhh… if only. 

Let me explain, I don’t start & end when I walk into an office or a meeting. Nope, I bring myself – all of myself – along for the ride. The quirks, the silliness, the passion, the belief in a better world. And when I bring my whole self to work, the ensuing trust engendered means the business gets just as much a halo effect from me as I do from working with them. Chasing the unattainable is what our parents & our grandparents did. It’s not what I’m about to commit to. Not for one more day/hour/minute. 

The reality of the work-life balance fallacy is that we’re living in the most connected time ever known to humanity, yet we’re still expected to disconnect from ourselves when we’re at work. Lucky for me, I’ve found a great business to work with that is filled to the gills with people I admire, respect, & like. I’m allowed to be me. All curls & denim & big ideas.

A little while back a colleague of mine lost her father. Her Dad had been ill for a long time & had weathered some scary storms of getting ill & then getting better again. So, when the end was actually nearing she was understandably upset. We’d seen her ride the rollercoaster of grief – hope, sadness, despair. We’ve all been there, all of us.

Here’s where magic happened: Instead of asking her to wipe her tears & park her grief at the door, our leaders wrapped her up & lovingly supported her through some of her darkest days. Watching a trusting relationship between colleagues unfold in real time & with real tears filled my heart. Our friend brought her whole self to work.

She showed up when she could on her terms.
So we showed up for her.

This is what I mean by life-life balance. 

We all get 24 hours in a day. 
We do not stop being who we are when we cross the threshold to an office block. 
We get one life.
One. 

Living it individually & authentically is the only way any of us will ever be truly happy or connected to ourselves, the people around us, & the environment that sustains us.

Back to good.

How do we then find ourselves if we spend most of our time in places where we learn to be anything other than the confident, curious small humans we were waaaaaaay back in the beginning?

We must empower each other in our weakness & walk confidently in our unknowing. Weaponising the unknown or poo-pooing curiosity is like shutting off a tap when you’re already thirsty. In a world that awards a highly curated, overly-perfect ideal of “self” at work, it’s necessary for us to feel comfortable in our own skin. To do this we must allow for imperfection.

What does empowerment look like for me? Well, it means sitting at the boardroom table in double-denim, docs, & a backwards baseball cap while simultaneously being respected for my experience, ideas, and passion. Because, in reality, getting back to who I was when I started out life – hungry to learn, impassioned by the mundane, and driven to help others is where I want to be more than anywhere else.

It’s also where any brand I work for will get the most value from me. Over the past few years I’ve gotten to know myself again. I’ve learned to trust my intuition & I’ve started having playing just for the sake of having fun!

4yr old Cassie, went away for a long time.
I spent almost 20 years pushing the Little Slugger away.
But, lucky for me, she didn’t go too far. 
She’s back & ready to take on the world.
She’s at the plate, smiling & swinging for the fences.
She whispers “Bring on those curve-balls. Bring on those change-ups.”

I don’t have any high socks, short-shorts, or pigtails anymore – well, I do, I just kinda wear them at home when not many people are looking at me – but I am very at home in my skin.
And, I wish the same for you. 

Go on, revisit your passions. I hope, in doing so, that you find your Little Slugger again – that part of yourself that is curious, comfortable, & charging ahead without fear. 

When you re-connect with yourself, confidence & calm are what you’re left with.

Talk about magic! 

Come At Me, 2019! 

It’s January 1st, 2019. I’m writing this from the future. Kind of. 

I’m sitting in my living room in Auckland, New Zealand looking at the ocean. The ball hasn’t yet dropped in NYC & most of the the Northern Hemisphere is still winding-up for a night of frivolity.

From my vantage point, the first sunlight of 2019 just peeking out from behind the clouds & is warming my feet as I sip a coffee. My computer is perched on my lap. It’s peaceful. Quiet. Blissful.

Deep breath in, deep breath out. The tippity-typing sounds of my keyboard are all that I hear (other than a sweet song of our local Tui couple who live in the Kauri tree outside our window), & they’re currently serving to remind me that I’m determined to start this year right – right here & right now. 

After the coffee is finished, that is.

My wife is happy, still lounging in bed. Our daughter is on the couch next to me. Giggling intermittently at something on YouTube, eating Nutrigrain, & regaling me with minute-by-minute updates of how/when/where she met her idol (a Shortland Street actor) on a small town beach somewhere 14 minutes out of Whangamata yesterday morning. 

This life.
This IS The Life.
Idyllic, right?
Yeah, completely. 

As with most new starts, heralding in 2019 with my two beloveds is the best gift I could imagine. We were well abed before the fireworks started exploding over our city last night (lucky for us, we can see & hear them from home) which means we’re well rested & ready to see friends & family today. 

Yes, there will be mimosas ahead.
And no, the diet doesn’t start until tomorrow.
Or, actually, it’s not starting. Screw diets. 

Hugh Jackman (uh huh, the buffed & uber-cut Wolverine himself) recently said that all of the steamed chicken & broccoli in the world is not worth being a TEN. “Be a six, a seven… be anything! Just eat the yummy stuff while you can!” Hugh, I’m with you. I’m eating for curves from here on out, not for speed. 

I digress. Seeing that it is New Year’s Day, I can’t help but look back on the most recent trip around the sun we all made it through. I can say, hand on heart, that last year was a constant lesson in growing up. And thankfully, in growing older.  

I grew up a hundred times last year.
Maybe a thousand if you split big moments into smaller ones.

I grew up in flying to California for work & in driving across the desert to see Elton John in concert for the 21st time in 21 years. This time we had great seats. Seats so great that not only could we see Elton right up close – but that we were invited on stage AND I DANCED ON STAGE while Elton played Saturday Night’s Alright! Holy cow, Batman! If you know me, you can imagine the weight of this moment. A moment that came & went faster than any other moment before or since. This blink-and-you’d-miss-it moment was something my 12yr old self could only ever dream of. Something she dreamt of for decades. And now? Grown up Cassie has cried a lot of happy tears since remembering it. Bucket List dream, tick! 

I grew up in saying “F*ck it!” to the cost of a ticket home for a 4 day turnaround. I hopped on a plane to surprise my hero (my Mom) on her 70th birthday & spent time with my brother & his family in doing so. We got Mom good, too. She was BEYOND surprised & I think it’s fair to say that she had a magical birthday. Talk about money & time well spent. Memories are all we carry with us for life. I grew up going home. I also grew up throwing caution & my bank account to the wind. Invest in people & moments. Always & often. When you can, take a side road or push yourself beyond a well-worn routine. I promise you’ll find magic in the unknown.

I grew up staying close to home & in travelling across oceans & countries to speak on topics close to my heart, & even closer to my profession. Social Media Marketing World, two VidCons, Digital Day Out, Growth Marketing & too many more to count. I grew up as I grew into my own voice. A voice I’ve made quieter throughout my lifetime as not to be seen as too opinionated or obtrusive. F*ck that. I grew into me, into the words I spoke & speak. Instead of running away from having an opinion, I backed myself. I swallowed my anxiety. I found myself in my fear & transformed it into excitement instead.

I grew up when depression hit me. Literally, right in the face. When my wife picked me up off of the concrete floor, the black eye it left was a doozy – but not as much of one as the slog back to finding myself. You see, I’d been lost for a lot longer than I thought. Growing up is hardest when you have to admit you’re not as strong as you think you are. When you showing your weaknesses to others is all you can do to survive. With great support, great insight, unending love, steadfast friends, the best therapy, & the right medication, I worked my way back to me. I am still working my way back to me. And, I’m cool with that. 

I grew up when I learned that kindness is often mistaken for weakness, yet I stood strong in my own skin. Frightened, but safe. I refused to be an asshole just because being an asshole was easy, or everyone else was being one, or because it felt good to be a jerk. I held my tongue when I needed to. And I let it loose when necessary as well.

I grew up by opening up. And I mean really opening up. Talking to people I trust about hard stuff meant I was able to build foundations of stone in relationships instead of falling for the sweet words spoken by people with feet of clay. By sharing my whole self with others I’ve realised that I need to practice what I preach & be kind to myself first. The good news is that I have promised to be nicer to myself. To give myself the space to fail, learn, grow, & repeat. 

I grew up a lot last year. A lot. In ways that perhaps even I’m unaware of right now. I lost friends & made others. I let negativity crawl into my heart & it almost broke me. I also ate far too much Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream (can someone ever eat too much of it?) I apologised when I messed up – believe me, I messed up my fair share. And, I’ve started to find comfort in relaxing. We don’t always have to pray at the altar of busy-equals-important to be successful. Slowing down is the best way to dive deep & create.  

This year, I’m sure there’ll be just as much (if not more) growing & knowing more about myself, my beloveds, & the world we all share. I truly believe that the journey is what we’re here for. Not a pre-determined destination. 

My hope for 2019 is that I’ll be able to grow older as well as to continue to grow up. Our time here on earth is finite. Each day we get above ground is a blessing. To everyone reading this, I wish you the best of the best. I wish you happiness, kindness, optimism, & adventures. And, as Whitney Houston once crooned to Kevin Costner as he walked across a chilly tarmac & away from their slightly weird love affair “above all this I wish you looooooooooove!”

Bring on this year. It’s bound to be a goodie.  

15 things for 2019 

  1. Just buy the damn ticket home, you’ve got the money (if you don’t, you’ll pay it off.) As often as you can, be with the people that made you. Be in the places that heal you.
  2. Try new things often. Start. Simply, start. Nothing’s scarier that not doing something… so jump in. The water’s fine, I promise.
  3. Enjoy the heck out of routine. Never feel guilty about routines that help you feel grounded. Whether it’s your first sip of a morning coffee, a not-so-secret-dorky-handshake with a colleague, or the way you reach for your toothbrush before bed. Relish in routine when you can.
  4. Talk to your friends. Ask them questions. Listen to what they tell you about yourself. Truly listen. And if you need to pivot or make a few changes in your life, that’s cool. The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. You’ve got this.
  5. Talk to strangers. Sometimes the most insight you’ll ever find happens in conversations with people who have zero context of who you are or where you’re from. When you’re a blank page to a new person, you get reflected back to you the openness you give. Be open. Laugh often.
  6. Enjoy the hell out of your greatest hits playlist. Why is it that we feel guilty listening to the songs of our youth on repeat when we know there’s a GIANT AMOUNT OF NEW MUSIC happening out in the wide world? I have tried for so long to stay up with the kids. Nah. Not anymore. I reckon we should all relish in tunes that get our motors running. Sing all the songs you love over & over without shame. Repeat is a feature on iTunes for a reason, Team. 
  7. Enjoy your work. This one is very important. It takes remembering that what society says is valid work isn’t actually what validates any of us. If what you do day-in-&-day-out does not feed your soul, find something that does. There’s no such thing as “balance” when it comes to work & life. You only get one life. Treat it as a gift. 
  8. Get outside more. Run. Walk. Jump. Climb. Sit. Sleep on the beach. Breathe in the air. Swim in the ocean. Surf. SUP. Skateboard. Skip to your lou, my darling. Do whatever it is that moves you. Just get outside more.
  9. Prioritise time for yourself. Hand on heart, I am really shitty at this. I give all of my time to others. Well, 99% of it. And, though I love my people, as an introvert I need time to myself to decompress. I love being in my own company & sitting in an emotion or moment & feeling it. Make time for yourself if that’s what you need. Tell those you love what you need & protect your headspace. 
  10. Walk away from drama – or, run from it. This one’s simple. If people don’t make your life better, then they’re making it worse. As with your job, you have the ability to chose who you spend your time & energy on. Spend it wisely. 
  11. Fall in love with the words that other people write – then write your own. I love a good hour or two getting lost in #inspirationalquote hashtags on Instagram. The elegance & eloquence of other people’s pain & passion drives me wild. The musical movement of words on a page fill my soul. And, in turn, I put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard). Falling in love with words is my favourite way to while away an afternoon. 
  12. Food is fuel – and FUN. As Hugh Jackman said above – eat. Don’t worry so much about being a TEN. Ten is kinda perfect. Perfect is boring. But, you know what’s never boring? Cake. Eat the damn cake. I’m not saying you should ignore the kale or the broccoli or the sashimi – but along with the inherently healthy, a treat is okay if you’re lucky enough to have one.
  13. Hug your little humans more often than necessary. Cliche alert: they actually do grow up so fast. So, so, so fast. I remember the moment I found out I was pregnant with my daughter as if it was yesterday. The detail, the fear, the excitement. That’s saying something, too, because I can’t even remember what I had for dinner yesterday. I also remember the moment she was born, her first words, holding her & rocking her to sleep 1,000 nights in a row. She’s almost 13yrs old now. She’s her own perfectly imperfect micro-adult. I miss the baby years, HOWEVER I love her now more than ever. And, I still cuddle her, yell out from other rooms how much I love her, & try my best to annoy her, kindly. 
  14. Dance. Anytime, anywhere, with anyone. My wife & I dance basically from sun up to sun down 24/7/366 & we aren’t in the least bit sorry. No music? No worries. Just dance regardless.
  15. Remember, no matter how bad it gets, there’s help. The most important of my list – this is a reminder that hidden behind even the blackest of storm clouds is a summer sun. Asking for help is hard. When I asked for it, I felt like a failure. I felt weak. I felt broken. But you know what, my friends & family helped me get through those feelings. Now I feel strong. I feel worthy. I feel potent. I feel helpful & hopeful. We all fight our own battles. We wage our own wars. If ever you need me, I am here. I see you. 
2018, Wrapped Up.

Adding More ‘Me’ Into My Days

Lately I’ve been taking stock of things. You know, adult-y, important, life-y things.

And, in taking stock of all these adult-y & life-y things, I’ve come to a fairly heavy, yet ridiculously common sensical conclusion – there’s just not enough time in the day.

Seriously! I work hard. I support my family. I try as hard as I can to stay in good touch with friends. That said, the time to do things beyond the daily routine seems as elusive as something, erm… elusive.

With time coming out as the main winner in the what-I-need-more-of stakes, I’ve gone around in circles (not literally) to figure out where I can cut corners, clip edges, & add more of time into my days.

Ruh roh, Rorge!

Bad news alert: Other than altering the algorithm of the universe & manufacturing more actual time, there’s no short-cut to making more space in our calendars other than doing just that.

In taking the time (see what I did there) to take stock of 37yr old me, I’ve come to find that I am really good at making time for others. And, by rights, I am shockingly bad at spending time on me. That’s set to change though. It has to.

I’m not sure when exactly it was that I stopped prioritizing time to understand my own thoughts, values, & goals – but I imagine it was when I was staring down the barrel of a traditional lifein my early 20’s.

Married at 23yrs old, child by 24yrs old & wanting to fit into templated cultural standards imposed on me, I went with the proverbial flow – even at times when I felt like swimming against the tide.

Living the ideal of Western adulting was an easy way out. I see that now. The few times I tried to fight to find my individuality, I was put squarely back in my place. Plus, I was  safe, content, mostly happy, & cool with how life felt when there wasn’t any conflict.

So I stopped fighting.

That was then. I built my life & my sense of self on pleasing others & helping others to succeed. This filled my soul almost to full, but the last little bit was always missing. The deeper I dug into what made others tick, the more I realized I wasn’t wholly aware of the things that make me tick.

Not knowing myself made it hard to truly know others, though. And, with the end of my first marriage & in falling in love again, I knew I’d have to really invest in myself to be happy & to make any close relationship truly flourish. Yassssss, ain’t flourishing grand??!?

Let me tell you this: the act of trying to understand oneself is an act of unravelling in itself. It’s also a piecing together of a puzzle that I now realize will always be a whole picture, even when incomplete.

So, how have I been adding more me into my days?

A bit like this…

1.      Allow yourself to be complex

Nothing is simple. Not a single damn thing. Especially not human beings. Humans, as being are inherently a state.

To behuman.

To bein motion.

To beanything is to be human.

Right? So when we try too hard to streamline who we are, or in an opposite turn, ignore who we are completely – then we lose ourselves. By allowing ourselves to be complex & to love the minutiae of who we are, we then give ourselves permission to be imperfect. We strive not for the simple, but for the beauty in the details. And, beyond everything else, when we embrace the complexity of being human – we embrace the beauty of who we were, are, & will become all at once.

2.     Say “Bye Bye” to the Binary         

We all reckon there are only two sides to a coin. But, good news, life isn’t like flipping a coin. Our trips around the sun, should we be lucky enough to experience enough of them, are beyond black & white. And, let’s be honest, Yin & Yang only offer us all so much in terms of understanding the world around us. No singular pro or con, expression of self, or way of being is binary. When you look for them, there are grey areas in which to pay, explore, & discover who you are. In doing so, you learn what matters most to you. And, when you know what matters most to you, you prioritize your time differently. You fill your soul more readily.

3.     Know your tipping point & really feelyour feelings 

We’re nuanced. Hugely so. However, when it comes down to it – we’re our own best judges when it comes to whether or not we’re about to speed full-tilt off of a cliff face or not. My coping method for corralling stress for a long time was to keep moving. My favorite quote was (and sometimes still is, but in a different way) ‘motion begets motion.’ By not slowing down, & by speeding towards a cliff-face I ignored all of my ore-determined warning signals that are in place to tell me I’m heading towards disaster.

Lately however, I’ve been making a concerted effort to really feel my feelings. I’ve suited up, grabbed my goggles, & decided to swim in the mire & murk of confusion. I’ve gotten comfortable with discomfort. And, in the process, I’ve become more attuned to understanding when, how, & why I need to slow down. By tuning in to my gut feelings, I’ve been able to sit in discomfort long enough to change tact. In doing so, happiness & relief follow. Halle-frickken-lujah!

4.     Step away from sameness

Same ‘ol, same ‘ol. There’s comfort in routine – to a point. I find I’m at my most creative, passionate, & driven when I am challenged. Challenges aren’t born of monotony. They just aren’t. When we surround ourselves with difference – time flies, innovation happens, & silliness is welcome in spades. Making a concerted effort to change little things, to shake stuff up a bit, & to embrace the opposite of sameness gives us all a better view of who we are & how we feel when we’re learning. I’ve always found beauty in difference, and as I grow older, I now realize that it takes a truly concerted effort to step away from sameness.

5.    Chase your happy

Listen to your gut, and when it’s feeling happy, take note. Then, chase that feeling. If there are big chunks of time in your day to day life dedicated to things that make you feel anxious or unfulfilled, throw them out. Seriously. Chase your happy. Those notes you took earlier when your gut told you that you were having a good time? Keep them close to you & read them back when you need them. Most importantly though, lace up, stretch, & sprint towards the things that fill your soul. I love to mull things over & wade in worry as much as the next person. But, there’s no better way to be happy than to chase your happy willingly. Go on y’all, try it.

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping

And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp

When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

 And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening

People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

Fools, said I, you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you

But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

 And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said,

The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence

 Ah, the Sounds of Silence.

Simon & Garfunkel’s haunting ode to the darkness & the light is ghostly & beautiful. Throughout the song, two seemingly opposing forces that work together to build deep foundations in the heart of a busy, urban loneliness. Every time I hear this song I get chills.

Every.
Damn.
Time.

I can remember the first time I heard this song. The way goose-bumps crawled down my neck & into my soul. These lyrics weren’t jaunty, twangy or trite. Pop music this was not. The words that threaded together to build a world in my mind seemed to be holding onto the remnants of deep-longing & hurt. That, with a dash of sweetness found in soft voices, helped to cut the bitter taste of it all.

Deep in my little girl’s soul, after hearing this song, I understood completely that becoming life-long friends with darkness would be a beautiful, sometimes wild, ride. So, I did what any buckled up.

And, though I could never put my finger on it, from a young age I dove into finding & exploring the yin & the yang of my being. Through this searching, I learned inner-strength that allowed me to smile through times that usually called for rage or sadness. I also learned to relish in the different ways in which one human could interpret silence.

Diving into language, melodies, & dreams of darkness became an escape for me. A meditative one (though I didn’t have the words to explain it as such until recently.)  For my entire life, I’ve chased the promise of stillness & silence. This chase, unlike others I purposefully lace-up for, is one I’ve always known to be futile – but worthwhile, & beautiful.

Finding Beauty in Uncertainty

Bliss. Living near the edges of doubt & change means that you can see the perfection in the imperfect. You’re able to taste the bitter & the sweet. And, you’re able to accept yourself as whole – even when you’re at your most broken.

All of the elements of personal-fulfilment I’ve chased during 37 trips around the sun have been imperfect. Much like me. Darkness, stillness, sunshine, rainbows. They all coexist in me as a fairly well functioning community. They all have the power to both heal & destroy me in equal measure. Sometimes they do both at the same time. Fulfilment has always been a tug-o-war between healing & destruction. A roll of the dice, even. All taking place in the here and now.

Call it what you will but the two sides of the same coin that I flip to wish upon are really more like vacation destinations that I’ve been to a million times before. When I call “heads!” or “tails!” I’m choosing from two different realities that look the same. They’re both home. And, they’re as familiar as anything. But, they feel completely different.

These are my retreats.

Retreats of the soul.

One of these retreats is a place where I find rest & calm. A place where the morning hustle to get kids to school (only to dive headlong into traffic) is okay. The rush is do-able. Nothing’s really a hassle. My thoughts don’t act as weights that pull me down or scream out at me “BUT YOU COULD BE DOING SO MUCH MORE THAN THIS!” In this place, I can handle anything life throws at me.

This first retreat is where I spend the majority of my time. There’s no laundry pile too tall to break me, no responsibilities too overwhelming to steal my smile, no anger, no doubts, no Mom-guilt, & no rush. This place is basically a forever spa treatment. In this place, the idea & fear of being busy all of the time doesn’t exist. Worries drop away as the sounds of gentle, flowing streams fill my head.

I stretch out on a massage table. Muscles, mind, & soul relax. I can smell special oils. Ah, special oils! Along with the flowing water, I hear the gentle gongs of spiritual music. I breathe in the inviting warmth of glowing candles, drink in the sweetness of human touch, & relish in a pleasurable pain as all of my muscles are worked over.

I love this place. This place heals me. This place empowers & lifts me. Rooms filled with kindness, forgiveness, self-confidence, others willing & able to give freely. If I could, I’d spend quite a lot of time here. Heck, I might just stay on forever. I mean, who wouldn’t, right?

Unfortunately, there’s only ever limited time in the first retreat.

The Dark Side of Retreat

Another place, similar – yet very different to the first – exists in me too. This is a place where I need to steel myself upon entering.  Instead of feeling welcomed or relaxed, I tense up as I open the door to step across a shadowy threshold. The silence, darkness, & stillness work to haunt instead of welcome me. My feelings of inadequacy chase me here, running circles around my most tempered thoughts. The end goal of the ghosts that live here? To exhaust me – or even break me – completely. Sometimes, I think they might.

The calming relaxation of my first retreat shifts into a literal low-gear here. Gears grinding, hearts breaking, time standing still. In this place, I cannot focus. I’m unable to see or feel anything other than fear, brokenness, & hopelessness. My vulnerabilities become Kryptonite injected directly into my bloodstream. I am lost, confused, & frightened here.

All of the strength I’ve built up over a lifetime of wins & losses & learning disappears, dissipates in every waking moment. Who needs contentment built through adversity & joy when there’s a place inside of yourself that works quickly & without warning to undo all of the good stuff?

How is it that these two places offer such similar experiences – yet cause such disparate emotions in me? One is my place of healing. The other silently tears me to shreds one negative thought at a time.

Depression is a real shitter.

Call it what you will, the darkness of depression is a real shitter. It’s hard to put into words how one moment you feel fine – good even – & the next you’re not sure you feel anything at all. You teleport without reason or warning from your first retreat to the second. You’re off balance & off course. And, you know it, too. You just don’t know how to fix it.

It’s hard. It’s so, so hard to explain what’s happening inside yourself when you don’t understand it. Speaking to loved ones can be frustrating & feel counterintuitive. I get embarrassed when I can’t find words with ample enough impact to explain the inexplicable emotions that sometimes render me powerless. I feel even dumber not being able to simply share the numbness, the powerlessness, the empty spaces.

So, when we step it up a notch & try to talk to strangers about what we’re feeling (when we still can’t find words good enough to say to those we love most), it’s no wonder so many mental health issues go unspoken about or illnesses left untreated a lot of the time.

There’s this kind of a tug-o-war that happens in my mind sometimes where I know for a fact that I’m not in a space that will allow me to be my best self. Most of the time, I can even say to myself “Self, you’re down & you’re anxious. Don’t make decisions now. Be present. Be kind.” My inner-dialogue whispers “Cass, ride this wave out.”

Unfortunately, these kind internal whispers are quite often drowned out by the din of my even louder inner voice that shouts things like “You’re useless!” over  & over until I start to believe it. And thus, the struggle goes on.

Finding Peace & Riding Waves

I used to think I could weather every storm alone. Blame it on ego, on self-reliance kicked into over-drive, or on a simple overshooting of my own abilities – but what I know beyond the shadow of a doubt now is this: we all need other people at some point to help us get better.

Most of the time, our loved ones will stand steadfast in our corners – ready to fight our demons for us. But they can’t fight our demons for us, can they? That’s not how it works. We all have to suit up, hop in the water, & learn to ride the waves that break near shore. For me, hopping in the water meant seeing my GP & talking to a therapist regularly. Learning how to manage my own negative self-talk & building foundations on which to move forward have been instrumental in me kicking depression.

What I have found helpful over time too is recognising that some of the people we love most jump right in next to us – paddling in tandem to ride the wave together, differently. At the same time, others will stand on the pier next to you cheering you on & pointing out the best waves to ride. Others still will realize that they don’t know much about the surfing you’re doing, so they wait on shore with a warm, dry towel to comfort you once your back on terra firma.

These people are legends. And, they’re doing their best to help.

In opening up & being as genuinely truthful as we can be, our beloveds are armed with the knowledge of how to best coax us out of stormy seas & into calmer waters. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking them to listen to us as we fumble to find ways to explain how we feel. Other times, it’s just sitting with us while we whimper in a corner. 

Ask & You Shall Receive

As I get older, I find that the easiest way to make peace with darkness has always been to light a fire of honesty. To speak simply & to be heard without needing to be fixed. Opening up is scary. Admitting you need help but that you’re not sure exactly why is scary, too. But, it’s necessary.

If you or someone you know is struggling with getting lost in the vortex that is the second retreat, please ask for help. Asking is scary, but necessary to build your crew around you to see you through the rougher seas that we’ll all be faced with in life. Finding beauty in silence & darkness is like retraining your brain to love what you’re supposed to shun.

Depression? It sucks.
But, there’s more to life than the darkness.

Hold on & hold out.
And, bring your surf board along with you.
You’ll catch that next wave to shore.

Where to get help 

The below resources are some that I found on an article from The Spinoff looking to #endthestigma around talking about depression & suicide here in Aotearoa. Please, if you need help, reach out. It’s scary & brave at the same time – facing the unknown. But there are so many people who are here to help. 24/7/365.

As with many folks, I am here to talk should you ever need to reach out. It is okay to not be okay. Each day is a new start, & I’m positive we can get through it together.

Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor.

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland.

Outline –  0800 688 5463 (10am – 9pm weekdays, 6pm – 9pm weekends)

Samaritans – 0800 726 666.

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). Open 24/7

Depression Helpline  – 0800 111 757 or free text 4202. This service is staffed 24/7 by trained counsellors

Healthline – 0800 611 116

Counselling for children and young people

Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat. Open 24/7.

thelowdown.co.nz – or email team@thelowdown.co.nz or free text 5626

What’s Up – 0800 942 8787 (for 5–18 year olds). Phone counselling is available Monday to Friday, midday–11pm and weekends, 3pm–11pm. Online chat is available 7pm–10pm daily.

Kidsline – 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline) for young people up to 18 years of age. Open 24/7.

For more information about support and services available to you, contact the Mental Health Foundation’s free Resource and Information Service on 09 623 4812 during office hours or email info@mentalhealth.org.nz

10 Things I Know For Sure At 37 (Well, Kinda)

Cassie Roma Wordpress

I turned 37 this week. Holy moly, THIRTY SEVEN!

This means that I’ve now outlived Hank, Jesus, & Marilyn in terms of years spent on this spinning rock we call home.

I won’t lie to you, 36 was an interesting trip around the sun for me. I had some amazingly high highs, & some killer lows. My family grew closer, my friendships grew stronger. I married my best friend & soulmate! I traveled home to California three times, spoke at some of the world’s most prestigious industry events, & was elected Chair to an amazing Pride organization. I still have to pinch myself when it comes to how lucky I’ve been.

That said, it’d be remiss of me not to take a moment to nod to the lows that happened, too. You know those moments in life when you think “I couldn’t possibly handle another kick to the guts.” & then another one happens? And another. And another… ad infinitum.

Yeah, I got kicked a lot. Right in my soft bits. I also had some unsteadiness in my own identity. I guess you could say that I fell upon some rough times. Author & researcher Brené Brown called her own ‘rough time’ (AKA an early-midlife crisis) an unraveling.

So, I’ll say it: Last year, I unraveled.

In fact, if my journey through this world is seen in the light of being a knitted sweater of sorts – yes, an awkwardly ugly-yet-amazing Christmas sweater is just fine with me – last year was the year in which I tugged a loose string far too firmly & everything came undone. I’ve always had a knack for keeping myself on my toes!

And, as a true adult does when struggling, I found myself the most kick-ass of professionals (yassssss, counselling FTW) to help me learn to re-knit myself together. I’m no sweater, yet. But at least all of the necessary parts are right here in my lap waiting to be spun together in time.

So, without further ado, below are 10 things I know for certain heading into my 37thyear that I’d like to share. Hopefully these lessons are familiar to you, & maybe a little bit helpful, too.

  1. Grey hair, it’s there – embrace it (or colour over it)
    I’ll level with you here, there’s no EASY WAY to find your first grey hair (or have your spouse/child/BFF find it.) There just isn’t. I can deal with smile lines, laugh wrinkles, & diminishing eyesight… but the hair change? Wow. It’s a beautiful reminder of how lucky we are to age. But, it’s also a bit of a wake-up call. Time to really buckle down & enjoy the journey, kid. Now’s YOUR time.
  2. Glasses are cool
    Hair changes. Eyesight changes. Waistline changes. And, the older we are, the cooler we look in glasses. Seriously, this is a proven, data-driven fact. Once you’re in your 30’s, you go from a nerd-bird to a cool-cat overnight simply by wearing corrective lenses. I have embraced the four-eyed-factor of my life & have many a pair of tortoise shell glasses filling my days & bringing me literal clarity. Win-win!
  3. Self-care (book in time for this)
    If you’re not prioritizing your own health (physical, mental, spiritual), you’re not doing time management right. Have too many meetings to meditate? Too many errands to be able to exercise? Nah. Recalibrate. You are your most important person (if you’re not, you should be), & you deserve time to take care of you in the ways you want/need. If you’re super busy at work/home like I am, book in time for you. Early in the morning, late at night, or sometime during the day – you’re worth 30 minutes of you, daily.
  4. Exercise more (seriously, book in time for this)
    Get up & move. Seriously, move your body as much as you can. Remember that feeling of being a kid & running, sprinting, jumping, playing, & sleeping like a rock? Yeah, it was the best! As adults, lots of us have forgotten how to move our bodies. How to spend time on doing things we’re built to do – like walking, jumping, lifting things (no, you don’t have to become an Olympic weight lifter…but it is a fun sport!) etc. Moving your body helps to temper your mind. Make time to move. I promise it’ll be the best time you spend all day!
  5. Who are you? Who, who? Who, who?
    Someone recently asked me “How much of you are you filling your days with?” when I did the math the answer was shocking. None, really. I had forgotten who I was, & how to tease out small selfish pleasures from moments in the day. Now? I take time daily to walk & think. To listen to music. To write poetry. And, simply, to re-discover the beauty of childhood imagination & play that has been dulled down with the marching on of time.

  6. Family matters
    More than anything, family matters. I know most people think this is a big “No duh!” statement – but you’d be surprised at how many folks I know that are pulling long hours, emailing whilst at home, spending time on stuff that seems important…that really isn’t. Our modern culture tells us stories about success that include forsaking everything in the pursuit of money, title, & status. I’m here to call bullshit on all of it. The only thing that’ll matter when you’re being buried is how much you loved the people who loved you back. Spend time on family – chosen or given – & you’ll find that success is in the eyes of the people who need you most looking back at you smiling.

  7. Being a good spouse means being 100% you
    I’m not gonna beat around the bush on this one. I’ve been a spouse to two people now. The first person I was married to taught me a lot about love, giving, & being selfless. He is kind, he is worthy, & he is a big part of who I am still. Marrying so young, I know now that I didn’t really know who I was or what I wanted to become. For a decade I floated through life seemingly at the whimsy of the tides. As I came into maturity, I started to uncover who I was becoming. When confronted with the truth, I realized that I wasn’t meant to be married anymore. I wasn’t fully me – which meant I’d never fully be the spouse I could be if I were 100% myself. Fast forward to marriage number two, I am now fully aware of who I am. And, I am a much better spouse & partner for it. I don’t get caught up in my own head anymore or stay quiet when I want to speak. Being a good spouse, it seems, means knowing who you are & accepting yourself enough to accept another. Ah, love!
  1. Know when to listen & when to speak up
    We have two ears & one mouth – use them in proportion. This little bit of advice was handed to me as a small child & I have tried to live my life by this mantra. Sometimes it works, sometimes my mouth outruns my brain. But, after 37 years of learning how to interact with others, I know how important it is to listen…and I mean really listen to others. Listening without the intent to reply is a skill that takes time to build. As does having the courage to speak your truth when it feels scary to do so. The precarious balance of knowing when to speak/send that email/reply to that text vs simply listen & take in another’s opinion is an interesting one indeed. 
  1. Read Maya Angelou
    Every morning I find a passage, poem, or quote by Maya Angelou to help ground me for the day. Her strength, passion for kindness, drive to be courageous, & ability to weave words together fills my soul. Having someone to look to as a human North Star is so important for me when it comes to staying balanced & in the moment. More than reading her words & hearing her voice inside of my own head, hearing her speak her words & taste them before she speaks them is magical. Her kind of magic, even just a moment of it, is what the world needs more of.

  2. Practice thankfulness by the minute
    Not by the hour, the day, the week, or the year… practice thankfulness by the minute. Spread kindness around like it’s the air that you breathe. Share both as far & wide as you can. And, even when you’re at your lowest point – remember that the simplest of actions (a smile, compliment, or kind email) can make someone’s entire world a brighter shade of happy. Saying ‘Thank you.” & writing down the things that you’re thankful for daily also help you remember just how many silver linings there are – even in the angriest, darkest of rainclouds.

Living Your Life On Purpose: A Busy Person’s Guide To Ultimate Fulfilment

It’s 11am on a Tuesday in Auckland, New Zealand & I’ve just flown in from Los Angeles. Before you ask, no, I didn’t do the literal flying. The pilots did, obvs (*insert Dad Joke about tired wings from all that flying here*)

Right now my mind, body, & soul are balanced. Why? Well, for almost every second of the twelve hours I spent winging my way back to reality, I thought about freedom.

All kinds of freedom.

Freedom of choice is huge for me – when I feel super fenced in, I usually feel that way because I don’t feel in control of my time, my decisions, or my future. Having freedom of choice is integral to me being able to live my life purposefully.

Freedom be myself – it goes without saying that there’s a difference between acceptance & inclusion. So often we have to hide parts of ourselves to fit into a certain culture. From where I stand right now, being me is more important than the alternative.

Freedom to accept my present situation – we’re all right where we’re meant to be, even if we don’t like everything about it. I’m one of those super annoying rose-coloured-glasses people who can find good in 99.9% of situations I’m in. Being able to accept the good & the bad means I’m free. Worst case scenario, you change & struggle & grow. Right?

And by rights, the freedom to change who I am & what I believe in.

So I took the time, Team.
The time to ponder, question, struggle, grow & change.
Time is such a precious gift – how lucky I was to have had some to be able to dig deep.

On this trip, I had many a plane, train & Uber ride in which to embrace my wandering mind. I don’t know about you, but it’s been a REALLY LONG TIME since I allowed my mind to wander beyond the realm of doing. I’m consistently pushing myself to do more, create more, be more… but I never allow myself the time to wander without reason.

Last week, wander I did.

Four of the five days I was on the ground in California, I walked half marathons. Not purposefully mind you (which is ironic considering the title of this article, but roll with me). I never set out thinking I’d walk a crazy distance each day – I only set out thinking that, no matter how uncomfortable it was, I would allow my mind to wander. I’d allow myself the gift of discovery. I’d be kind to my body with nourishing food.

Walking near the Pacific Ocean, I dove deep into my own mind. One major blessing I had was that I had no data on my phone & there was little access to WiFi. So, after habitually taking my phone out of my pocket about 20 times to aimlessly look through it – I trained my mind to stop. I put my phone in my backpack (NERD ALERT! At least it wasn’t a fanny-pack/bum-bag) & took out a pen & paper.

As I walked, if an idea hit me, I wrote it down. Scribbled remnants of clear-minded creativity. For the first time in 15 years I wrote poetry. A tickle in my soul said write. So I did. And, while my first poem was rusty, the 15th was/is pretty damn good.

I watched people a lot. Observed families on vacations. Saw Germans jump into the sea for the first time – flailing arms overwhelmed with excitement & adventure. I watched young people busy falling in love watching sunsets (totally not in a creepy way, sheesh). And, I looked on as sporty joggers made their way from Manhattan Beach Pier to Hermosa Beach & back (still not creepy).

The output of a few days of not being on a deadline to create, shift gears, & strategise? A whole lot of beautiful, jumbled, actionable clarity around where I am, who I am, & where I’d like to go in life in the next few years.

The reality of being back on home soil though, is that I’m absolutely frightened about losing this newfound momentum. I’m nervous I’ll forget who I am at my core. But, let’s be honest… that ain’t gonna happen on my clock.

Whilst walking, scribbling, & not being a creepy watcher-of-all-the-people, I wrote down some thoughts on living life purposefully. On finding fulfilment everyday. And, in building in time for creative & deep thinking.

These next tips & tricks are absolutely do-able.

They’re free for us all, too! And, if you’re like me & find yourself at a bit of a cross-roads (oh no, does this mean I’m getting old?) you might just feel better about the cross-road itself after reading through.

Right, here we go…

  • Smile More
    This is a seemingly (ahem, misleadingly) simple ‘hack’ when it comes to living life more purposefully & feeling fulfilled on the regular. Smiling is, in all actuality, a self-fulfilling prophecy for happiness in both the psychological & physiological sense. When you smile, even if you really don’t feel like it, your body sends all kinds of happy juju-vibes into your bloodstream & you end up happier. Weird, right? But, science makes this so (& maybe a bit of magic, too). Smiling more isn’t just about you either. It’s about the happy juju-vibes you’re able to spread to others. And, if the world needs more of anything, it’s happy juju-vibes. Plus, selfishly, making others feel better about themselves is my ultimate fuel. Having the tank consistently filled through kindness rocks. So, while it may seem super simple, just do it. Smile more. Smile often. Smile until your cheeks need a rest.

 

  • Do Unto Others
    If you haven’t heard this saying before… where the heck have you been? I absolutely live my life by this motto & always have. Oftentimes overused & underdelivered upon, these words have had a profound effect on me at many junctures throughout my life. Like a nagging voice in the back of my own head, these words act as tenets to my existence & consistently force me to think beyond my own self, beyond my own frame of reference, beyond even my own narrative around a journey. By purposefully acting on a kindness first viewpoint on life, I find my sense of fulfilment is topped up daily. If you live with a viewpoint that your actions & words do matter to others, then you live more completely. When you do unto others you get back what you give. Even when there’s nothing in it for you in the moment other than even a quiet moment to skite around being the better person, good begets good. Do more good to others & more will come to you. Ah yes, a prefer recipe for fulfilment.

 

  • Get Used To Being Disconnected (observe people)
    We’re always on. Always connected. Always buzzing, pinging, & beeping. And, we’re addicted (for the most part) to our mobile devices. That little red notification button is more addicting that crack – seriously it is! So it’s no surprise that droves of uber-and-over-connected people are learning to turn off. There are retreats in all corners of the world literally dedicated to turning off your phone & learning how to work through the silence that settles in your mind & soul when you don’t have something in your hand shouting out to you constantly to consume. I for one can tell you I am a fully-fledged member of the majority of people who’re too connected. I’m shit at just being in the moment. And, my goal in life is to become less shit at being present. Yesterday, walking on the beach without anything in my hands, I realised that my little baby is now a 12yr old independent (& beautifully stroppy) young woman. I blinked & she grew up. Sure I have 300,000 photos of her on Facebook, but looking back, I have only a few dozen deep memories of her childhood that happened without a camera in hand. Since returning home, I’ve put some tactics into play around disconnecting. At work I leave my phone on my desk & take my apple watch off in meetings. At home I leave my phone & computer in different rooms to where the family is. I’m not going to lie, it’s a struggle to not have my technological safety blanket with me at all times… but good god, it’s freeing to be always in the moment. Looking into the eyes of people you care for is magic. What you see reflected back might just get you through the toughest days you’ll ever face.

 

  • Listen More (to yourself, to others, & to the universe)
    This tip dives deeper than simply turning your listening ears on. While most of us are always in a hyped-up state of working through answers to pauses in conversations instead of listening to hear – we are all facing a crisis of understanding why it is we do what we do. Listening is multi-faceted & especially feels foreign if you’ve been sipping the Kool Aid of oneupmanship for years & years. Listening to yourself is extremely important to living more purposefully. What is your gut telling you about a situation, a project, or an opportunity? Tune in to your intuition & you’ll grow & change faster than you could ever imagine. Also, listen to others. What are the people who love you telling you? What’s not actually getting through? For me, it’s that I am worthy. I am good enough to follow my dreams. Sure it’s scary, but my beloveds have my back. Why not take a risk. Why not just jump? Beyond humans, listening to the universe (yeah, yeah, I know it sounds super hippy-esque, but roll with me here) is one of the best things you’ll ever do when working towards more fulfilment. Stop, observe, try new things. What’s coming your way? What’s not? And, what can you do to help shape fate? When you take the time to listen more, you get back more. And, you’re able to be more to others. Listening ears/soul, ON!

 

  • Try, Fail, Learn, Grow, Repeat ad infinitum
    At what age or juncture in life do we go from being invincible (remember being 5yrs old, dressing as Super Woman, & flying out of windows?) to being afraid to try at all for fear of failing? Why does growing up usually mean praying at the pew of comfort when it comes at expense of adventure? Personally, I’ve always fought against getting comfortable. For me, comfortable usually delivers a hearty dose of boredom. And believe you me, when my inspiration tank is empty, my wheels turn towards other avenues & ventures. As far as living a truly purposeful & remarkable life goes, the best & worst times usually blend into one & the same because it is in those moments of discomfort than we learn the most. It is in these moments that we grow. My life mantra is that we must all at least try. If you want to play tambourine on stage with Elton John, you’ve gotta at least buy a ticket to the concert, right? And, even if you get on stage & don’t happen to have a tambourine handy (damn it, Cass!) … at least you’ve tried & know better for next time. From a professional sense, I’ve always pushed myself into roles that scare me a little bit. Selfishly, I want to grow. I want to stretch. I want to help others. To do this I need to stay in motion. Standing still is safe, sure. But it’s also boring. If you’re looking for purpose, if you know what drives you, get out & try. Learn to be okay with failure. Learn, grow, & get back on that horse. I promise you, you’ll look back on this very moment in a year or 10 years & be so damn proud of yourself for moving forward.

And there you have it. Tried & true ways to dive deep into what drives you & to put them into action.

If you’ve got your own methods for not only finding your purpose, but ensuring you stick to the things that matter to you most, please comment below or shoot me an email.

I’m always happy to learn from others!

As always, thank you for reading.

#KindnessRocks #KindnessRevolution

Forever Friday, How To Keep Those Pre-Weekend Vibes Alive All Week

Friday. FriYAY. Saturday Jr.

Whatever you call it, Friday is our collective Bae Day. Hard not to love even the thought of it rolling around again (especially if you’re sitting on Sunday night or Monday morning), right?

With a typical work week, we give different meanings & values to each day. C’mon, we all do it. We have to, simply to survive!

Monday’s can seem overwhelming, but they’re a turn of the ignition on a new week. Tuesdays are scientifically (supposedly) our most productive days. Wednesdays are “hump days” because, whew, we’ve hit the middle of the week & are gunning for weekend vibes. Thursdays… well, they’re pretty cool. They’re like Tuesday with a taste of Friday.

And then there’s beautiful, beautiful, Friday.

A day whose most popular associated acronym literally thanks a higher power for another pre-Saturday rolling around again. TGIF, indeedy!

And, try as you might to escape it, almost all of us who work a typical 40 hour week for a living, live for Friday night & that roll-on-weekend-Momma-needs-a-break-and-most-likely-a-strong-margarita feeling

So here, in no particular order, I’m serving you up some ways to keep a little taste of Friday alive all week long (through the lens of each week day.)

MONDAY:
The first thing we could all do to bring a Friday Feeling to each day would be to maximise our efficiency at work.

SNOOZE! What a boring thing to suggest, right?
Nah. Wrong.

Think about it. How long do we spend mucking about with emails first thing on a Monday? How long do we spend in meetings about meetings that eventuate in more meetings about meetings we have repeating at the beginning of each week. Meetings where we achieve very little actual actual output?

Too long, I reckon.

I can’t stand busy-work. It bores me & is a super-highway with cars screaming down it at breakneck speed with the end destination being Disengagement City. I thrive on having clear direction, scoped projects, & knowing where to best spend my energy & time.

So, for Monday here’s my tip:
Make Monday YOUR DAY & use it to set the week up for success. Prioritize your work & your calendar. Set yourself some tasks. Stick to a plan.

Then… have a margarita. Monday Margaritas are the best!

TUESDAY
Ah Tuesday, our little steam engine of the week. You’re not Monday, which is a blessing for most, & you’re also the day we really get stuck into the doing part of the hard work – well most of us.

I reckon Tuesdays are ready-made for injecting a bit of Friday Feelz into from the outset. If you’ve got your week sussed on Monday, then you’re clear on where you’re going & how you’ll get there by the time the weekend rolls around.

So on Tuesday, the tip is simple:
Go hard. And, if you can, tell at least one joke to an unsuspecting colleague. The more cringeworthy & gfaw-inducing your punchline, the better.

Everyone will be busy, busy, busy doing worker bee things. A well placed Dad Joke brings a bit of Friday & a bit of snort-worthy giggles to the office.

WEDNESDAY
Ah there you are, middle ‘o the week! Over the hump, we’re headed blissfully downhill. Deep breath, we can all see, taste, & feel Friday growing closer & closer. Wednesday is a great day – really, it is.

I like to start adding Friday Feels into the middle of the week. Wistfully glancing forward towards a brighter, weekend vibe. Wednesdays usually fly by for me. It’s like I blink & they’re over.

Most likely because this is the day where the most meetings happen. Wednesday is right smack-dab in the middle of our own self-imposed time limits to finish projects or move them forward. So it’s about this time we get quite the wiggle on in the productivity stakes.

Injecting Friday into Hump Day? Here’s my tip:
It’s easy, you’re headed downhill, baby! Turn on some music, do a little dance, & keep that head up.

Thursday’s only a day away now.

THURSDAY
Yassssss, we’re almost there team. Seriously. The prize is waiting to be grabbed with both hands… and it’s only one more day of hard yakka away.

I actually adore Thursdays. Thor’s Day, as it were. I always feel a bit pumped, like the people on Venice Beach with arms the size of tree-trunks, getting this close to the end of the week has this little gym-junkie raring to get a few more sets (AKA ‘meetings & projects’) in before mañana rolls around.

Thursdays are full of pizzaz, productivity, & peace of mind in knowing that Bae Day is close enough to touch.

And, so we rock it, don’t we team? Injecting Friday into a Thursday… easy as:
Just roll with it. Take the knocks with a smile. Sprint until your legs give out. You’re almost there.

FRIYAY!
We made it.

Yasssssss! How do we then go about Injecting more Friday into Friday?

That sounds crazy. Absurd. Ridiculous even… but I reckon we should. Enjoy a day of casual dress. Take even a small lunch break & really make it ‘your time’ to start winding down – or up. Because if you’re like me, you don’t take lunch breaks every other day – even though you should – so TGIF is the day to do it.

Why celebrate a day just because it’s nearer the weekend than other days? Because, life is short & the weeks fly by. Don your sexy-as rose coloured glasses & pay the Pied Piper of Happiness. You deserve it!

Bring on the freakin’ weekend, or summat.

There you have it, Team. A few tips to inject Friday Feelings into the rest of the week. Whether you take these to heart – or simply just remember to slow down every now & again throughout the work week to re-set, re-energize, & re-organize.

We all work so hard & live busy lives. Perhaps the best way to live at all times is to take time to simply reflect & be thankful.

Friday, I know one thing’s for certain, I’m thankful for YOU!

Expert Tips For Surviving a Crisis Of Confidence

I have something to tell you.

Sit down, grab a cuppa, & buckle up.

This morning I woke up & wanted nothing more than to go back to sleep. To simply find a dark place to hide away in.

Away from the world.
Away from pressures nipping at my heels & responsibilities I’ve signed up for.
Away from my own internal narrative of self-doubt.

But I couldn’t hide. Or rather, I refused to.

Because while getting out of bed was tough, I knew that I needed to move – my mind, my body, my goal-posts. I couldn’t stagnate. I couldn’t let self-limiting chatter in my mind make limitations a theme for the day.

We’re all our own worst critics.

We’re all so hard on ourselves. Why is that? Where does that little voice inside our heads that tells us we’re not good enough come from? When are we taught to second-guess our motives?

I don’t have all of the answers, but I do know that it’s important to acknowledge that we all have bad days. Some are worse than others. And, although they might not happen often, when they do, they can be all consuming.

It would be remiss of me (or any of us) to pretend that life is all about riding the highs. That each day is greeted by rainbows & butterflies with nary a dark rain cloud looming on the horizon.

But that’s what we do online, through social media, & through facades we don in professional settings isn’t it? We pretend everything’s okay, when it’s not. We wear masks & paint on smiles hoping no one else realises that our walls are cracking.

Ready to crumble.

When it comes to confidence & women, research has shown that there’s a big ‘ol gap that separates the sexes. While dudes surely have moments of insecurity & low self-esteem, the weight of these two emotional loads pull women back at much more alarming rates.

I digress though. Moving on, to why I’m writing this.

Climbing without falling isn’t a true representation of reality.

We’d all like to be happy all of the time right? Ride a dopamine wave around loop-de-loops & throw our hands in the air without a worry in the world.

But the roller coaster ride isn’t all fun & rush-inducing. Nope, life is fast, slow, up, down & everything in between. It’s a wild ride. A broken, yet beautiful, journey that we all travel.

So, here I am. Tippity-typing my innermost thoughts. Before you ask, yes, I’m slightly afraid to share them. Shedding light on anything other than a perfectly crafted veneer is uncomfortable for most of us.

But, fear not, I have great news!

Moments of darkness, confusion, & sagging self-belief aren’t all bad. In fact, it’s taken many a crisis of confidence, in my life to build me into the *mostly* consistently confident person that I am today.

Keep on truckin’, Team!

All of those quotes about ‘fall down seven times, stand up eight…’ resonate with us because they are rooted deeply in the fallible nature of humanity.

And, seeing that we’re all humans, understanding that we’re inherently flawed is a good thing to learn ear.y.

Like all of us, crisis moments are all unique. No two moments of self-doubt or crisis are the same. They can be as quick as a flash-in-the pan or last days (or weeks or longer) depending on the situation.

And as cliche as it is to say this, the deeper the impact, the higher I’ve risen afterwards.

By using lows as starting points for growth, I’ve learned to ride the rough waves towards a sunny shoreline. And, I’ve taken time out over the course of my professional career & in my personal life to hone skills in utilising techniques around positive self-talk.

No more limitations. No more negative trolls between my ears.

Over the years, the following four tips are the ones I come back to time & time again to get me out of bed, out of a rut, & back into a positive frame of self-reference.

I hope they help you as much as they’ve helped me. Sometimes the simplest things (perspective, conversation & context) are the most helpful weapons we have to fight self-doubt.

1. Take a deep breath
Breathing is what keeps us here. It’s what grounds us. It’s what moves us forward. Being able to control your breathing means you control your body. When your body is settled – then you can take care of your mind. Taking a deep breath also means pausing & evaluating your current situation. You’re allowed to cry. And I big, ugly, feel-it-in-your-soul crying. But once you’ve done that, take a deep breath. Then another. And then, find a way to be calm. Sit with yourself & allow yourself the time & space you need to move onto tip number two.

Which is…

2. Talk to someone you trust
Oftentimes I try to solve my problems without letting anyone else in on them. Why? I’m not really sure. But, I think it’s probably got something to do with appearing weak, imperfect, & not enough for others to want to be around me. My goal in life is to spread goodness, not to be a drag on others. So, for a long time, I’ve hidden away things that bother me or that cause me to doubt myself. Talking to someone, be it a friend, family member, or therapist is a good thing. Most of the time other people want to be there for you. If someone reacts badly to your truth, find someone else to talk to. Find someone who wants to help. I promise, you’ll be amazed at the level of love & support you’ll get by opening up in your own, genuine way.

That then leads us to…

3. Make a plan
Making a plan doesn’t have to be onerous & time consuming. It also doesn’t have to be a forever-plan. Making a plan can be as simple as getting up & getting dressed – & from there, going for a walk or writing down your thoughts. The important aspect of planning is that you’re focussing on moving forward, not looking back. You don’t have to solve your problems all in one foul-swoop. But you can start to tackle little pieces of problems in a way that gives you hope, belief, & purpose. Not all big moments stem from big plans. Start small. Do what you can with what you’ve got – & move forward at the pace you can move at in the moment.

From there, it’s time to….

4. Celebrate the small stuff
This is something I try to do as often as I can. Taking notice of, & then celebrating small milestones gives us a realistic way of approaching our days. Be it at work, at play, or in our pursuit of joy – practicing appreciation for moments that become building blocks is super important to creating a habit of positive self-belief in all of us. I don’t mean for this to sound trite, but I reckon if we all really celebrated each other & our little moments of victory more often, that our workplaces & homes would be filled with so much more love & our crisis of confidence days would be less and less. So remember, Team, celebrate yourself. Celebrate others. Celebrate more & more to be more & more!

Back to good.

Right, so those are the top four ways that I personally employ to get my head back in the right place – a place of positive self-talk, confidence boosting thoughts, & of forward movement.

Here’s hoping you’re having an amazing day. If not, take a deep breath… & then rock into a future of motion begetting motion. Success begetting success. And, a life of mostly confident self-love!

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your time & any feedback you may have.

Also, because I’m sucker for a good, pithy quote I’ve added some below. Enjoy!

Cassie Roma

Walking A Tightrope: Braving The Unknown

Here’s the thing about young, handsome Argentinian lifeguards on beaches… they’re very convincing.

VERY.
CONVINCING.

Maybe it’s was his accent, my broken Español, or the casual way in which his eyes lit up when I said “Is that hard to do?” that I decided to go out on a limb yesterday. Literally.

(NOTE: my decision may have been swayed simply by the fact that I am competitive as f*ck, & a cute kid decided to go before me – I couldn’t wimp out & still be a semi-cool-Mom after that!)

Tightrope walking, I can assure you, is not for people afraid of falling. It’s also usually not something 36yr old mother’s who have never tightrope-walked before do at a public beach on a super windy day.

But, what the hey. My inner voice whispered seductively to me “New year, same me… let’s do this, Cass. You wanted to adventure more. You wanted to make memories & try new things. Here’s your first shot at it. And, you’re only three feet above the ground.”

Damn you, seductive inner voice. As awkward as you are, you sure are convincing. Potentially just as convincing as our new, tanned friend from Argentina. So, with a little gust of wind catching me up the backside & along the path towards the tightrope (as well as a healthy cheering on from my beloved & my bestest pal) – I kicked off my jandals & climbed a tree trunk (not very high) to the springy, stringy thing I would soon be walking – or falling – across.

Lucky for me, mi amigo nuevo, saw I was nervous & gave me his hand. Though he was there to steady me as I took my first VERY uncertain first step, he also talked me through where my line of site should be, how to relax & unravel the tension in the rope through my balance, & showed me how to have fun while completely terrified.

Anyone who knows me well, knows I used to be terrified of heights. Strangely, over the years, I’ve gotten much better with heights – but walking that uneven & unsteady rubber-band was pretty nerve wracking for me.

I may have only been three feet above Terra Firma, but it just as easily could’ve been 30 or 300 feet as far as I was concerned in the moment!

Making it all the way across, I learned a few things in the minute I spent without my feet firmly planted on the ground.

Mostly, I learned these key lessons:

  1. Be courageous
    This is seriously not as easy as it sounds. Most of us like to think that we’re daring… at least a little bit. But, in practice, I personally end up turning down opportunities to try new things for fear of what others – and even my own inner-voice – might think. I consistently tell my daughter that she can’t be good at everything. You have to start somewhere, and somewhere is usually right at the beginning. No one starts off as a master. Masters were always once beginners. So, while I might end up sounding like a $.50 fortune cookie, I reckon we should all start at the beginning. Without fear. Without judgement. But, more so, with hope, joy & a sense of adventure. Courage is contagious – pass it on.
  2. Don’t Look Down
    As my Argentinean friend told me as I started walking from one tree to another “Look only ahead, not down, not to the side.” This really resonated with me in the moment – and resonates even more now thinking back on his words. We oftentimes spend so much time looking in a direction other than that in which we’re heading that we lose sight of our end destination. Even with strong winds whipping at your back, or with wobbly footing, if you look ahead & focus on what you’re hoping to achieve – your chance of getting there inherently grows by leaps & bounds. I always tell my teams at work that, as a manager, it’s my job to provide a ‘North Star’ for them to steer towards. It’s their job to get there – whether it be swinging across Orion’s Belt or sliding through the big dipper. Keep your eyes up. Move with intent.
  3. Have fun falling
    This is something I’ve grown to embrace & love over the past few years. Falling, itself, is fun. It’s the landing, if you’re not prepared for it, or it comes too soon, that hurts the most. It’s taken time, but I’ve started to not just face my fear of falling (and, failing) but to embrace it with my eyes wide open. Most probably squealing all the way to the bottom where a soft landing (or slight thunk) awaits. Falling, like flying is all part of the journey. If you embrace each moment, you’ll find fun just around every corner.

 

So, there you have it. A small moment. But, big lessons. Here’s to more travelling South Americans on Auckland beaches this summer, helping us all face our fears – while reminding us, there’s no shame in having a helping hand to steady us while we learn.

Gracias, amigo mio. Que te vayas bien.

 

Tightrope walking!
Tightrope walking!

Why It’s Important To Be A ‘Challenger’ At Work

I’m stuck.

And I’m hoping you can help me out with a little modern-day conundrum.

Here’s the deal:
I don’t get the narrative we’re sold about how we should all live our lives.

Wait, let me rephrase, I do get it. I probably understand it far too well – and it’s messing with my head a bit recently.

You know the narrative I’m referring to. It’s the one that’s been built upon thousands of years of tradition, religion, and accepted inequality.

We’re told what we should do. We’re told what right and wrong are. And, for the most part, the great majority of people in our beautiful world buy into the whole shebang.

We’re not born sheep. But we’re taught to act like them more and more as we grow older.

What’s the deal with Keeping Up With the Joneses? Why are so many people obsessed with ‘stuff’ – so much so that they spend the majority of their lives in traffic or in offices to obtain the stuff they rarely use because they’re so time poor?

When did we all forget to just take in a sunset, or to find joy in time spent with family? When did the ideal of ‘busyness’ creep into our lives as a marker of success?  When will we, as a collective, go back to a pursuit of happiness and kindness over cold, hard cashola?

I’m not sure how to answer the questions above.

We all go about our days, weeks, months and years fairly similarly. All the while, we duck and weave that little tug inside of our heads and hearts, all to keep enlightenment and deep thought at bay.

It’s as if we live so fast and hard that we fear slowing down. We’d rather keep up the pace of facade than face our most genuine selves – just in case we realize we’re not sheep.

In most western societies, we start our journey to ‘success’ by going to school. At school we’re taught that we must sit still when we’re told to, run and play on a schedule, obey, learn by rote, and ‘repeat after me.’

We do what we’re told and get a lovely little pat on the head.

For following the rules, we’re given gold stars. Sticky sweet-fixes that hard wire our baby brains to tell our adult brains that we should conform to imposed standards instead of adapt while we learn.

We (especially us girls) aren’t supposed to ask questions, be curious, or speak out (especially not out of turn.) Lord forbid any of us ever questioned why we did what we did, or why we learned what we learned.

We just went with the norm. Didn’t make waves. We have always been told not to make waves, haven’t we? We’re just here to play the game by the rules someone else wrote. We’re not to change the rules (or even attempt to re-write them completely).

Nope. We’re here to just accept the world as it is. Inequalities dripping from the underbelly of unbreakable glass ceilings.

We’re told to repeat the mantras and learn the jargon.

Success is not measured by kindness or joy brought to others, but rather in quantifiable numbers on bank ledgers and the logo we wear on our clothing.

After school we’re supposed to find a ‘nice boy’, settle down, buy a house, have some babies to raise, and quietly delight in cooking meals for our brood.

Afterwards, doing the laundry, juggling a corporate career, and trying to find time for inner-peace as well. All the while striving to make it to the pinnacle of our human existence: retirement.

Grey haired. Porch sitting. Rocking chair knitting. A grandchild bouncing on each knee. Yep… those are supposed to be our best years.

While this scenario might be a dream for many, it’s a nightmare for me.

At this precise moment in time, as I sit here tippity-typing away on my MacBook (such a cliche) raging against the rules by which I’ve been told to live.

Before you ask, yes, I’m acutely aware of the ultimate irony of my life to date.

That irony being that I’ve followed the Path-of-Good-Educated-Girl-Who-Does-What-She-Should to a T. I’d get an A++ in the school of life for following the rules.

Yep, the path I’ve walked down has always been that of least resistance. Which isn’t a bad thing. I’ve just always been one to choose my battles while weighing all of the odds and thinking of the longterm.

Why choose the road to Normalville?

I did it because I thought that path was supposed to be my ticket to happiness. And, it was for a good long time. I also didn’t want to let my family and friends down.

In trying to live up to the ideals of others, I took a while to find myself.

For a long time, I was right on track to live the same, cookie-cutter life as most of us who were raised in the pre-Facebook, Zack Morris, Xennial times of rainbows and butterflies and sun-drenched sappy love songs.

Gag. Someone change the channel, will ya?

Every day I’m rufflin’ (feathers, that is)

How have I ruffled feathers? Simple. I’ve asked questions. Lots of them. Of myself and of others. Mostly to learn, to evolve, to innovate – and ultimately to grow as a person.

What I’ve found super intriguing is that asking questions causes people to stop and think. Sometimes abruptly. And, most people don’t like doing that. It’s uncomfortable.

Stopping to really evaluate a situation or choice makes most people feel uncertain – in themselves and in the world around them.

It makes them think about their own life choices. And, makes them remember that they have the ability to chose. Nothing is pre-determined.

Basically, asking questions causes most people to step outside of the comfortable narrative they’re buying into.

Me? I’m getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

I’m recently divorced and am onto my second marriage. I don’t fit any stereotypes anymore – though I used to fit them all. That spectrum people talk about? I skate up and down it on the daily.

I’m simply, unapologetically me. And, I’m happy in my skin for the first time in a very long time.

I’m also a better parent, partner, colleague, and friend for it.

Sitting here on the cusp of what I hope will be an epiphany (and not a pre-midlife crisis), I’m questioning everything.

My home, my car, my bank account, my hair colour, my clothes, my plan, my purpose.

Why question everything? Because I’ve seen the Challengers. They’re brazen and brave. I’ve even toyed around with the notion of being one without committing to it whole-heartedly.

It’s that one-toe-in, one-toe-out approach that’s the worse! You’ve tasted true freedom of choice, but then teeter back to normalcy.

I’ve seen the spark in their eyes, these Challengers. I’ve breathed in the passion in their souls, and felt the burning heat from the fire in their smiles.

I’ve pontificated late into the evenings and gone of on otherworldly tangents – learning all the while – with these oddballs who poo-poo societal norms.

I’m ready to be a Challenger.

I’m ready to commit to Otherness. Outsiderhood.

I want to be someone who exudes individuality. Someone who lives for the pleasure of living. And, someone who works and toils endlessly the betterment of others.

I want to spend time with people I love. Earn money to live, not live to earn money (this is an old hippy chestnut of a saying, but is a goodie I cling to.)

And, most importantly, I want to be genuinely passionate about asking questions. I want to hear other peoples’ stories and forge my own path. Write my own narrative. Be happy without the confines of normality.

What are your thoughts on bucking the trends?

Why must we all follow similar, already forged paths when there are potentially better/different/alternative ways to get from one place to another?

Here’s to questioning, challenging…

…and to being The Challengers.