It's easy to get lost or turned around when you're navigating unfamiliar territory. It's also easy to lose steam or let a fire burn down even when you start out with immense passion. The great thing about fires? They are seldom ever really dead. It just takes a little breathe on one ember to ignite the blaze anew. This morning, I'm thinking about a question someone asked me (and a good one at that) - what do I hope to accomplish with my blog? With my Facebook group and social media accounts? What I am I here to do and how will I know when I have succeeded?
So, what do I hope to accomplish? Why do I keep writing week after week? Because I want to inspire people. I want to empower women to live a life filled with passion and purpose and hope. I want women to know that they are significant and worthy and capable - that there are no limits on what they can do and be and achieve. I want women to celebrate their diversity and love their bodies and be confident in who they are. I want to create a community of women empowering women. A place where we can ask the hard questions and find our own truths. I want us all to live proud and strong and never have to apologize for being exactly who we were born to be. So, what does this look like? How will I know when I have succeeded?
I'll know when we stop looking in the mirror and comparing ourselves to an impossible standard. When we love and celebrate our bodies for their amazing diversity and all the incredible ways they serve us.
When we're no longer judged by our reproductive choices. When being a mother is respected as a personal decision rather than a requisite to being a whole person. When we stop asking "when are you going to have kids?" or "Wow, how many kids do you have?" When we collectively stop and realize that family is defined by so much more than how many kids we do or don't have.
When taking care of our self first isn't considered selfish. When our needs, desires, and passions are met first and we no longer feel guilt about it. When we all start reaching out to support each other as instinct rather than bristling up and casting judgement.
When we stop treating sex and sexual health as something dirty and taboo. When we can talk about sex to our partners, doctors, therapists, kids as a natural and healthy part of who we are. When we can speak out against sexual assault without fear of retribution or judgement. When we stop hearing and using words like slut and whore to demean us and take away our power and autonomy.
When we stop assigning gender roles to jobs, hobbies, and activities. When we stop telling kids "that's a girl's toy" or "that sport is for boys". When we stop deciding what qualifies as masculine or feminine and using it to shove people in boxes.
When we have equal representation in the work force and in the government. When female presidents, politicians, CEOs, school board presidents, engineers, business leaders, and scientists are just as common and just as respected as their male counterparts.
When feelings are treated as a normal part of the human experience and expressing them is seen as part of our humanity rather than weakness. When boys can cry and girls can get angry and neither is judged but rather taught how to process those emotions and channel them constructively.
In the words of John Lennon, "You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. And I hope someday you'll join us..." Because we only lose if we stop fighting. Our collective voices can change the world and I will never stop believing that.
Want to be part of the change? Join my Facebook group Conk's Community: Women Empowering Women. All women 18 and over are welcome.
If you've been reading my blog for a while, you might know that I write poetry, or at least, I used too. I've never been one for rhyming couplets or following specific rules. Honestly, poetry has saved me more times than I can count in both a literal and a figurative sense. I've battled with anxiety and depression my whole life, and discovered the healing power of poetry as teenager in high school. Poetry is one of the more underappreciated forms of writing because it is so often misunderstood. To be truthful, I had no intention of writing a blog about poetry today. I've been struggling a lot with coming up with the right words to say about everything I've been feeling during this time of momentous change and unrest in our country. That's why I took a break from blogging last week. But here I am, at the keyboard today, and all I can think about is poetry. I'm not sure why I stopped writing, but today my heart and my soul are full and heavy and a poem is clawing it's way out.
The weight of the world crashing down like a tidal wave,
Have you ever done something for so long that you forget why you even started? Human beings are such creatures of habit. We like consistency and the safety and comfort of routine, of order. Knowing that the there are certain things that are simply so, like the sun rising and setting. But, sometimes we get too comfortable and stop asking questions, and the moment a "why" resurfaces, it opens a door in our minds that simply can't be closed again.
Last week, I was talking with a friend and she was lamenting the fact that she had gained weight. I kept trying to redirect the conversation, but it just kept wandering back to the glaring number on her scale and she said, "I feel like crap, that's why I need to lose weight." And I thought to myself why does a number have to define everything about us ? Bam! Door blown right open and now I can't get the damn thing closed again.
Why do we automatically assume that weight is what is wrong with our body? We've been conditioned to believe that a particular weight or BMI is the key to everlasting success and happiness. But why? There are a million other indicators of health and well being. Why do we not say, I feel like crap, I need to drink more water? Or I need to eat more fruits and vegetables, or I need to talk to a therapist, or I need to go for a swim? But we rarely say those things on their own, they are always in the context of losing weight. I need to drink more waters so I can lose weight. I need to eat more fruits and vegetables so I can lose weight. The obsession is maddening.
And I think what's almost worse is that it is culturally acceptable to lash out at people who ask why. How dare you challenge the system! Don't you know that the obesity epidemic is what's ruining our country? Is it? I mean really stop and think about it. We've created a cult of obsession around a number on a scale. We've taught people to fear having normal bodies with creases and lumps and wrinkles. We've taught people that food is dangerous and that everything about our worthiness boils down to a smooth stomach and a low BMI. We have created a cultural norm that tells us that it is ok to ridicule and judge others in the name of preserving the health and longevity of our people, but are we going about this all wrong?
What if we taught people to enjoy food? To have culinary adventures with vegetables and fruits and to savor the plethora of world cuisine. What if instead of exercising to punish or bodies for non compliance, we moved for the sheer joy of it? Doing yoga, playing outside, going for a swim, playing soccer with our friends. What if we stopped putting all of our self worth into the number on a scale?
There are so many other measures of health and well being. We have to normalize normal bodies. We have to de-stigmatize mental health. We have to stop lashing out and judging others when we don't know the first thing about their personal journey.
Make a conscious effort to stop talking about weight. It's just a number. If you feel like crap, drink some water, move in a way that makes you feel good, hash it out with a therapist, talk to a doctor (preferably one who isn't solely focused on weight). Nourish your mind, love and accept yourself, respect your uniqueness, and listen to your body. It takes practice, but it will tell you what it needs. And most importantly, be kind - to yourself and to others. The next time someone tells you how it should be, don't be afraid to ask why . Sometimes you will agree with the answer, and sometimes you won't, but that's what makes us all so amazing and diverse. We only stop growing when we stop asking questions.
Have you ever been mindlessly surfing through Facebook and saw a post that just made you stop and rub your face and audibly guffaw in irritation? I am so very over seeing the women in my feed post things like, "I know I'm not pretty, and I've accepted that" or "I'm just a mess and no one will ever love me" or "I'm a waste of space and my life will always be trash". The first response of many is to attack these posts as attention seeking or fishing for compliments and while, in some cases this may ring true, for the vast majority, we are just seeing their internal voices blasted on social media. And, the more important thing we should be asking ourselves is why are our inner voices so damn mean?
Trust me, I've been there. I still struggle on the daily to shut down those negative, criticizing voices in my head, but it takes practice and vigilance and can absolutely change your life. Growth Mindset will set you free if you let it.
Growth Mindset is a buzz word I picked up from my last years as a high school English teacher. It's the idea that instead of investing in the notion that learning and growth are fixed, unchangeable, and often negative that learning and growth are positive and fluid experiences that we have the power to shape.
So, for example, the next time you try something new and it is an epic disaster, instead of thinking "I'm a failure" replace the thought with "I'm learning". When you feel like you don't have it all together, instead of saying "I'm a mess" say "I'm human". You are absolutely worthy of good things. Yes, you. And the universe isn't punishing you for being worthless or bad or stupid. Trust me on this. My name actually means bad luck, and I've spent the better part of 30 years arguing with myself on this, so I can confidently tell you that no matter what your internal voices are telling you - you are amazing and worthy and capable.
If there is someone in your life who makes you feel that you are less than, someone who tears you down or makes you question your worth or your sanity, cut them out. You do not need fuel on a toxic fire (if you feel trapped or threatened and need help, call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233).
Retraining your inner voice is work. And some days will absolutely be harder than others. Surround yourself with people who lift you up - in your life, in your social media feeds, in the music that rolls out of your phone. Find positive and inspiring groups like Conk's Community: Women Empowering Women. Go out of your way to make room for what makes you feel good and worthy. Stop putting yourself down, and second guessing yourself. When your head tells you, "You can't do this" answer back with, "I can, because I can do hard things".
Every time I see a woman tearing herself down, I want to grab her and hold her so tight. I want to climb on top of the tallest building I can find and yell at the top of my lungs, this is why I fight for women - for women's empowerment. I have been where you are. I still wrestle these demons, and I am here to tell you once and for all that you are enough.
Chase your dreams, find what makes you come alive, because you deserve to feel whole and fulfilled. You deserve to love yourself and your life. So, grab a pen and paper, and write down every negative thing that your internal voice tells you and then shut it down, weed it out, and plant something beautiful in it's place. "I'm ugly", no "I'm beautiful and I deserve to be around people who see that in me." Or, "I'm just a mess and no one will ever love me", no "I'm a work in progress and I deserve someone who loves me through all the stages of my journey." Or, "I'm a waste of space and my life will always be trash", no, "I'm a worthy person and I can build and shape the life that I deserve."
Teach your inner voice to be kind, to be supportive, to help you grow. One step at a time. Think of all those negative thoughts as weeds. Root them out and plant flowers, and eventually, the weeds will be less and your garden will thrive. Go out there and grow, now that you know anything is possible and you deserve everything you dare to dream.
I know what some of you are thinking. Wait, what? Are you some kind of monster? Of course it's a bad thing to be selfish. But, hear me out and you just might gain some valuable insight into the inner workings of you. (Or you might still think I'm a monster and go eat a sandwich while you further contemplate the universe, but hey, a sandwich sounds like a win to me 🙂)
Let's start this healthy introspection off with a few observations about societal expectations placed on women, shall we. First, I'll start with the immortal vocal stylings of Chaka Khan, "I'm every woman, it's all in me, anything you want done baby, I'll do it naturally." Don't get me wrong, I love this song and I totally get why it shows up on so many lists of female empowerment songs, but it points to a less healthy cultural trend that has been picking up steam since the 1970's - women can do it all, at once, without batting an eyelash. Nicole Lapin points out this issue in her amazing book Becoming Super Woman: A Simple 12 Step Plan to Go from Burnout to Balance (more on this book in an upcoming blog post).
I must admit that I found myself in deep agreement with Lapin and started really thinking about the things I've been taught about what it means to be a girl/woman in our culture. Women are caregivers and often times sole caregivers. I know that we are making progress as a society, but as with so many things, we've still got a long way to go. We are taught from day one to take care of everyone else's needs before our own. Cook, clean, raise children, run the carpool, go to college, have a fulfilling career, go to the gym, look flawless, remember birthdays, send cards and never complain about being tired or you're selfish. There it is - the s word.
Growing up, I internalized the belief that being selfish was a cardinal sin. Absolutely, above everything else, you must not be selfish. Give to others to the point of complete self-sacrifice in order to prove that you have not failed, that you are not a bad person, that you don't lack moral character. And it's just a terrible model to follow.
You can't fill from an empty cup. One more time, louder for those in the back: YOU CAN NOT FILL FROM AN EMPTY CUP. Sorry for yelling, but it's just so frustrating, and irritating this cross we are taught to bear. When you try to do everything and be everything for everyone, you are spread too thin. As human beings, we all have a breaking point. Giving to everyone and never taking for yourself means that you are an empty vessel with no fuel, and, instead of giving 100%, you are giving 1% to a hundred different things. It's exhausting and unhealthy.
Your needs matter. Not after you have met everyone else's first - now. Being selfish gets a bad rap because it has the connotation that taking for yourself means disregarding everyone else. That you would deliberately harm another person physically, emotionally, or spiritually, to get what you want. I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt here and say that this is not you. You are a good person, and meeting your needs first is about finding balance, and being happy so that everything you do going forward will be met with all the energy and passion you have.
So, what do you want? Now that you have permission to take care of yourself, what do you need? This question is often deeply unsettling. It's like walking into the world's largest all you can eat buffet on an empty stomach. There are just so many choices, so many things you haven't tried before or thought to try. So much all at once. Take a deep breath ( I know, I give that advice a lot 🙂). This isn't a mountain you have to conquer in one day. This is a process and for most of us, it takes time. And giving yourself permission to explore and grow and change your mind - a hundred times if that's what it takes.
Put yourself first. Not because you are greedy and irreverent of others feeling, but because you care about being the best version of yourself and sharing that with the world. Start making time, even if you have to fight for it, to ask yourself what you want. What do you dream of for yourself? What kind of life do you want to have? What legacy do you want to leave behind? It doesn't have to be grandiose - you don't have to change the world (unless you want to). Maybe you want to run a successful business, maybe you want to share your passion through art, maybe you want to teach others how to love themselves too.
Take a small step today. Get out a pen and a piece of paper. Write at the top, What do I want? You can start making a list, or doodle, or just free write. No one else will see this but you, so don't worry about how it looks or if it's organized the "right" way. There is no right way. Maybe, all you can think of is a sandwich. Write that down. Describe it. Think about what will be on it, what kind of bread, how it will taste. No limits. Just start writing, and do this every single day. What do I want? You'll be surprised how your thinking starts to shift. When you give yourself permission to dream, to contemplate, to imagine without limits - that still small voice inside you will start to speak again. Just listen.
Put yourself first. Be a little selfish. Figure out what you want for your life. This is the first step on the road to building true fulfillment. And when you allow yourself to have what you need, to be happy, and to grow, that light will shine so brightly that it warms everyone else in your path. Your personal fulfillment will give you strength and direction and purpose. There will be no more 1% to 100 things, there will be 100% to the most important things. So, really, there's only one question left today, what do you want? You owe it to yourself to find out.
May is Mental Health Month and the perfect time to address a topic that is very near to my heart. Mental health is no different than physical health and just as important. For a very long time, our culture has been dismissive of psychology and therapy favoring a let's sweep in under the rug attitude toward mental illness and I couldn't be happier that's finally starting to change. At the very least, we are seeing positive movement in the right direction.
I don't know about you, but this idea that it's all "in your head" is immensely frustrating. Telling someone that it's all in their head implies weakness or that they can somehow mind over matter the whole situation and everything will be fine. I'm going to get real with you for a moment here.
When I was in high school, I suffered from bouts of very severe, clinical depression. I practiced self harm and also struggled with disordered eating, but my dad didn't believe in therapy. He was absolutely convinced that I was acting out, or needed attention and that if I could just "snap out of it" and "put my mind to it", I would be cured. But that's the thing. Mental illness isn't a weakness or personal failing. It doesn't indicate that you lack character. Often, it is the result of trauma or a chemical imbalance or biology, NOT a lack of tenacity.
Luckily for me,my mother did believe in therapy and, although I never got support from my dad, I got treatment and medication which helped me immensely. To this day, I struggle with sometimes debilitating anxiety, but I continue to learn new ways of coping and have built an amazing support system. Not every day is a good day, and that's ok.
If you are struggling or suspect you might be struggling with mental illness, please visit Mental Health America for a free mental health screening. You can also visit Better Help, an online counseling service that offers unlimited 24/7 communication with a licensed health care professional. They offer financial assistance services for those who need it and you can get a free week when you sign up using my link.
If someone you care about is struggling with mental illness, here are a few helpful do's and don'ts. First, don't tell them to "calm down" or "chill out". Chances are they can't simply control what they are feeling and maybe even how they are responding. As I said before, this isn't about weakness or personal failing. Second, don't imply that they are "crazy" or "over reacting". Don't make them feel inadequate or less than, because chances are, they already feel that way or have felt that way and what they really need is your support.
So, what should you do? First, listen. Brene Brown has an excellent video on empathy that poignantly illustrates the power of listening and offering support. Second, ask them how you can help. Sometimes we just need to know that someone has our back. Lastly, encourage them to talk to a professional. Let them know that there is absolutely no shame in talking to a doctor, counselor, or therapist about what they are feeling and how they are struggling.
The very best thing we can do is destigmatize mental health. Start the conversation, share the resources, be the support, and reach out if you or a loved one is struggling. Mental health is every bit as important as physical health. Depression and anxiety are every bit as real as asthma and the flu. Remember, May in Mental Health month and it's up to us to spread the word.
That's right, I said it - sex. It never ceases to amaze me how many people cringe when you say it out loud. As a former Pure Romance consultant, I am all to familiar with the side eye. Because, let's face it, good girls don't talk about sex, right? Wrong.
Our culture is steeped with taboos and myths surrounding sex and sexuality, and one of the most prevalent is that good girls and boys don't talk about sex (and if you're a woman, don't think about it either). My experience growing up is somewhat regionally colored growing up smack in the middle of the Kansas Bible Belt, but I've heard this misguided ideology spouted by women from coast to coast.
Look no further than the age old wedding night adage attributed to Queen Victoria, "Lie still and think of England." This idea has permeated our culture for decades and caused untold damage to the psyche of women everywhere. From schools who teach abstinence only to religious institutions that advocate puritanical chastity, there is a tangible current of anti-sex rhetoric. You can practice whatever fulfills you spiritually, but hindering open communication about sex and sexuality isn't doing anyone any favors.
Talking about sex doesn't cause people to have intercourse with reckless abandon. It doesn't cause un-planned pregnancy, or STIs, or assault. Talking about sex encourages people to open the lines of communication with their doctors, therapists, partners, and families. Being sex positive means accepting sex and sexuality as a normal, healthy, and good part of life and it is something we should all embrace.
I once had a very angry woman practically spit at me (while giving side eye), "I suppose you just think that we should just start showing kids adult movies and let everyone have sex with everyone all willy, nilly like a bunch of heathens." First of all, kudos on the use of the word "heathens", and second of all having open communication about sex and sexuality doesn't mean that the world devolves into chaos (see previous paragraph) - quite the opposite actually.
Open questions have opportunity for informed answers. I don't know about you, but when I was a kid, my parents didn't talk to me about sex, at all, because good girls don't talk about sex and so, I got my answers wherever I could find them - mostly other kids my age. When we give people permission to talk about and explore sex and sexuality, we open the door for healthy discussion. We can talk about it holistically as a natural part of overall health and well being and share answers for not only the "mechanical" questions but also the emotional, social, and spiritual ones as well.
Let's teach our children that sex and sexual health aren't dirty words. That they can come to us with their questions. That they shouldn't be ashamed to talk to their doctors about sexual health issues. That they should feel comfortable talking to their future partners. Informed consent is huge.
What if, instead of perpetuating the stereotype that good girls are timid and demure and boys are aggressive and hyper-sexual, we just normalized enthusiastic consent and open communication? Sex is supposed to be fun. If both partners are anything less than enthusiastic, then it's time to stop. If both partners aren't ready to discuss safety and preferences and individual needs, then it's time to stop. Our kids need to know that being heard, understood, and respected also extends to sex and sexuality.
When we normalize sex and sexuality, we remove the shame and stigma. Imagine if gonorrhea or syphilis were treated with the same regard as strep throat or pink eye - so many more would come forward for treatment sooner. Imagine if sexual assault survivors could come forward without fear of judgement or persecution - so many more voices would be rightfully acknowledged and vindicated. Imagine if people were free to explore gender identity without fear of discrimination - so many more would fine their personal truth and feel whole.
We're making so much progress as society, but we still have a long way to go. Embrace being sex positive by opening the lines of communication with your doctors, with your therapists, with your partners, and with your families because, good girls do talk about sex.
Time got away from me this past month as I know it has for so many of us, but I'm caught up now and ready to tell you all about the newest recommended reading - Chasing the Bright Side by Jessica Ekstrom. Normally, Conk's Community covers one book per month, but this gem will serve for April and May (to play catch up for lost time and because I think we can all use an extra dose of positivity about now).
Let me start by saying that I had never heard of Headbands of Hope before I read this book, and I'm so glad we'll all learn about it now. Jessica Ekstrom started the company in college and operates on a 1:1 model - for every headband sold, one is donated to a child with cancer. Right now, during the Covid-19 situation, they are donating one mask to a health care professional for every headband purchased (I totally bought two. Stalk my Instagram for pictures when they arrive).
So, to really dig into the meat of what this book is about and who it's for, let's take a look at the full title Chasing the Bright Side: Embrace Optimism, Activate Your Purpose, and Write Your Own Story. Ekstrom proposes that success in life relies an awful lot on practicing reckless optimism. Each chapter starts with an inspiring quote and ends with a reflection which could easily be a writing prompt if you are so inclined.
Entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and pretty much anyone looking to pursue a passionate and purposeful life can certainly benefit from this book. Ekstrom leads you through the hits and misses of finding her path and building her business. She doesn't shy away from painful set backs or hard lessons learned because optimism isn't about never feeling the sting of failure - it's about growing through what you go through.
This book aims to help you dig deep and ask yourself important questions about fulfillment, purpose, and what sets your soul on fire. Ekstrom uses her own story to illustrate with fiery clarity how to say yes, be open, and tackle life with kind of enthusiasm in a rousing movie montage (complete with badass music).
In a nutshell, Chasing the Bright Side achieves exactly what it sets out to do - guiding you to embracing optimism, activating your purpose, and writing your own story.
If you'd like to get in on the book discussion, check out my Facebook group page for ladies 18 and over - Conk's Community: Women Empowering Women.
It's Easter today and I'm filled with conflicting emotions. The Covid-19 situation has many states, like Kansas, under stay at home orders and we're all advised to limit the size of group gatherings and maintain a safe social distance of at least 6 feet. This means that so many people's Easter traditions are put on hold this year as we all scramble to acclimate to a new normal. But, I'm filled with a reckless sense of optimism this morning even as the skies are dark and the wind is howling outside my window. We're gonna be ok.
You have restored my faith in humanity. For all the dark, foreboding news clouding my news feed these days, there are just as many amazing people determined to find joy. My mother in law Facetimed us on her ipad yesterday and my father in law was wearing the silliest (and most terrifying) Easter Bunny mask. They took us on an Easter egg hunt through the house using clues she had made for the boys back in 2001. I must also add here that I do not have children, so it was just my in-laws, my husband, and I going on a virtual egg hunt. You are never too old to find joy in the little things.
Right now, I am most thankful for you, my audience, who give me so much love and support and a renewed sense of purpose. The world can be a scary, chaotic place, but sometimes all you need is someone to reach out and say, hey take my hand, let's go on an Easter Egg hunt, and it's exactly what you needed to catch your second wind.
"Lest we forget" is a line taken from the famous poem Recessional by Rudyard Kipling. It has come to be used in remembrance of war and veterans, and carries with it the admonishment to never forget the soldiers lost and the grave lessons learned. As I watched Iron Jawed Angels for the first time yesterday, the powerful story of suffragettes in America struck a chord with me and those words, lest we forget, have been echoing in my brain.
In moments like this, I truly understand why history is a required course in high school and in many colleges - to pass on the stories of hard fought battles and everyday heroes, lest we forget. But I think that we all have a responsibility to carry on stories. It is up to all of us to choose which stories we will help carry, and help keep the memories and lessons alive.
Today, I feel that the term "feminist" carries a largely negative connotation. To say you are a feminist or that you support feminist causes is tantamount to throwing the first punch in a fist fight. Actress Emma Watson said, "I have realized that fighting for women's rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop." And, I couldn't agree more.
There are always radicals and militants in every cause ( I have to give them the benefit of the doubt and hope that their hearts are in the right place at least), but those are rarely representative of the cause as a whole. Feminism is really about equality. To quote Watson again, "Feminism is equality: politically, culturally, socially, and economically. That's it, that simple".
So many female pioneers have dedicated their lives to the cause of equality: Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Emmeline Pankhurst, Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinman, and countless others. It is up to us to share their stories, to remember their fight, lest we forget.
There is no doubt that equality for women has come so very far, but the fight is not over. Until women are represented equally in positions of power, until men are not stigmatized for expressing feelings or taking on traditionally feminine roles, until we have stopped assigning value and ability for a given task on gender - the fight is not over.
Let's put our differences aside and raise our collective voices in remembrance of all those who have fought the good fight. Let's pick up their banner and be good and honorable human beings pushing forward to a new day. The future is up to us, and the lessons of the past are our burden to carry - lest we forget.
I'm a blogger and educator breaking through stigmas and helping women find their voice.