Selfish or Self-Care: Where Perfectionism Ends and Life Begins

"Perfectionism is a twenty ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it's really the thing preventing us from taking flight." –Brene Brown

If you're a perfectionist like me, you have this overactive shame button inside of you that, once triggered, sets off this nasty blaring judgey voice that berates you about all the things you should be and should be doing that you are constantly failing at miserably. Like not even getting close. Seriously, self...you suck. Look at all the people around you that have their sh*% together. What is wrong with you? Shame shame shame, guilt guilt guilt, suck suck suck.

In the past, I've tried to drown that voice with some distraction (tv, or internet, or junk food, or _______) just to shut that bugger up. It works...sort of. Until the food is gone or the tv is off and it's just me and my brain again.

This accusing voice keeps going until finally, I have no strength left, and I simply agree. It's true: I fail so much; I am never enough. Tomorrow, I will eat super healthy, work out, be nice to everyone, kill it at work, start to lose my expat weight, and finally be good enough that people will look at me and approve. Maybe, just maybe, I will approve too.

There are lots of things that trigger my shame button. Like saying "no" to an outing with good friends because my introvert gas tank is dangerously close to empty, and I know that I will crash and cocoon in my apartment for a couple days if I go.

Like requesting a "venting window" of twenty minutes when a loved one is struggling, so I don't end up sitting and absorbing complaints and pain for two hours, as my own power and energy slowly drain out of me, leaving me to crash and burn the rest of the day.

Like thinking about all the bajillion and one things I could be doing better in the classroom, but I'm not. (Thanks, master's program, internet, and incredible colleagues. Heh.)

For most of my life, I've tried to live perfectly—tried to tiptoe around that shame button. But, here's the thing: there's no such thing as living up to the impossible standards I have for myself. I cannot live perfectly. I am not perfect. I set that button off every day of my life.

On October 1st of this year, I decided to try something radical. I decided that each day, no matter what happened that day, it would be enough—I would be enough.

That verdict would remain the same on the days I feel awesome—like I can freakin' change the world—and would also apply on the days where I barely slogged through, complained, didn't work out, ate pizza AND ice cream, watched way too much reality TV, and could claim surviving as my only accomplishment. At the end of every day, I committed to hearing the shaming voice if it was there, acknowledging having those thoughts, then letting them go and deciding, despite everything, that exactly what I did and who I was today is enough.

To be honest, I don't always believe it, but I have committed to continue saying it until I do. I've started to reframe things that used to trigger my shame button: things I used to consider selfish in the past, I am often now reframing as self-care

I'm giving myself permission to do the things that help me thrive, not just survive.
That means learning how to take care of myself, so that I can give my best self to the people in my life. Here are some things I now know to be true: I know that exercise is paramount to my stress management and emotional stability; I know that food can make me feel amazing or totally horrible, depending on my choices; I know that spending time with others is incredible and important, but that my time alone and in nature is when I refuel; I know that I have to make time to read and write for myself (not for class) in order to stay inspired; I know that happiness will ebb and flow, and life will have its ups and downs, and now I'm starting to (finally) figure out how to feel grounded, grateful, and present throughout it all.

For me, it began with turning the love and compassion I have for others toward myself: realizing the choices I make aren't selfish, but self-care; accepting myself exactly where I'm at, knowing I will continue to strive for better, but allowing today to be enough; and finally, finding solace in the fact that it's all a journey, and we are simply practicing...perfection not required.


Limiting Thoughts: A Life Less Lived

"Change your thoughts and you change your world." –Norman Vincent Peal

The last few days I've been percolating on the idea of limiting thoughts, and how these little nagging buggers have such power to negatively impact our lives and our happiness when we let them have free reign in our minds.

On Friday night, I was getting ready for bed and mentally preparing for the big CrossFit Competition the next day. I had qualified as an individual, but opted to compete with my team to continue to build the friendships started with my teammates. About 8 pm, my coach (Teddy) messaged me asking if I'd like to compete both for the team and individual.

My first thought? My elbow. Is it healed enough? Can I handle five workouts in one day, even though they are short and pretty lightweight? What if I injure something else? What if I can't give my best to the team because too much energy goes to individual events? In other words, my first reaction—fear and worry.

My second thought? What if I make a fool of myself? I used to be great at competing, but that was before Korea wreaked havoc on my routines, diet, and exercise. What if I suck? What if I start but can't continue due to reinjury? Will everyone view me as weak? What if I don't live up to what they all think of me? My second reaction—fear of feeling vulnerable or not measuring up.

How often in life do we let these sorts of limiting thoughts keep us from achieving, or beyond that, keep us from even trying something outside of our comfort zone? For me—many more times than I'd like to admit.

Here's the thing: having the courage to live more in our edges, to risk vulnerability, to occupy new space...that's where the vibrancy of this life resides.
One of my fails, captured for posterity.

No matter the outcome (win or lose or epic fail), when we push into new spaces of life and ourselves, we enrich our minds, increase our understanding of ourselves and the world, and begin to build up a resilient and courageous spirit. Not only will you grow, but those around you will too. Because you know what? Courage is contagious.

Friday night, I almost didn't do it; I almost chose to bypass the individual competition and stay safe, stay comfortable. But, a friend and a whisper in my head pushed me forward. Do it. Try. Why not? 

So I did. And it was the most energizing, scary, fun, triumphant day so far this fall. I felt so alive. I can't believe I almost missed this experience because of limiting thoughts—nasty little voices that are better ignored (or acknowledged and released for what they are—just thoughts) than heeded. As a friend said recently, "You can't have the win if you don't risk the loss."

What are you missing out on due to limiting thoughts? What can you say "yes" to this week to move into your edge, to practice courage, and to occupy a new space in this world or yourself?

Shocked and happy to be on the podium at the end of the day.


Moving Through Life

“Movement is a privelege, and one which we should honor daily.”    ― Neghar Fonooni

Movement is something I often take for granted. But then there are times like today, seeing a post from my friend (paralyzed by a freak accident a couple years ago, and continuing to thrive in life: coaching, opening a new gym, breaking new ground) slide into view on facebook, when I stop and acknowledge the true wonder of my body and all it's able to do. In those moments, I look up or close my eyes and look within and whisper, thanks.

These bodies of ours are pretty miraculous things. They serve us well. And the better we serve them, the better they will serve us. One way that we can treat our bodies with the respect and love they deserve is with movement.
Wallball love/hate. <3

Movement can come in all shapes and forms: walking (functional, meditative, restorative), running, stretching, swimming, lifting weights, playing sports, yoga, chores, gardening...the list goes on and on. I find that my 35 year old body thrives on a balance of intense and restorative movements. I like to do CrossFit or strength training 3-4 times a week, 1-2 of those being very high intensity. The other days, I've committed to moving my body in restorative ways, most often gentle yoga, long walks along the river or hiking. What I've found is that I recover more quickly from soreness and have far fewer tweaks and injuries when planning my movement this way.

Movement does more for me than just keep my body healthy; it keeps my tornado-brain at bay. Most of us spend our days in our heads—thinking, reflecting, planning, worrying, remembering, to-do lists, paperwork, what's for dinner...ahhhhh!!! What a relief to move out of your head and into your body—intentionally and daily—through movement.

CrossFit is meditative to me, because my energy is fully engaged in the task at hand. There is no room in my head for past or future or worry—only room for the present: the next rep, the next breath. It is a rock during tumultuous times that I know will ground me (even for an hour of my day) in the now. It will move me from the tangled mess of my mind to the purposeful movement of my body. 

Walking, swimming, and hiking are the times my mind gets to wander like clouds through the sky, hopping from one thought to the next. Or focus in on the wonder around me—the dust on the leaves on the trees or the feeling of rough bark under my fingertips.

Movement serves me if I make it a priority—it makes my life better; it makes my body stronger and healthier; it gives my mind a rest.

What purpose does movement fulfill for you? How does movement serve you in your journey? 


Dear Alcohol—

“Two words. Three vowels. Four consonants. Seven letters. It can either cut you open to the core and leave you in ungodly pain or it can free your soul and lift a tremendous weight off you shoulders. The phrase is: It's over.”    ― Maggi Richard

To My (ex)Love,

"Goodbye, my looooooooooove........"
How do I begin? I'm sure you've noticed I've been avoiding you for a few weeks. It's true, I ignore you in social settings. I haven't brought you home with me. I haven't even touched you in days. The air between us has been wrought with tension, unfulfilled longing, unearthed wrongs, and unspoken broken promises. I know you deserve an explanation, and so I will do my best here and now to give it to you.

The time has come. I'm making it official: we are over.

This may come as a shock since less than a month ago we were spending nearly every day together. We were side by side on top of mountains, in rivers and hot springs, at various restaurants and bars. You accompanied me to family gatherings, and you were definitely at my goodbye party before I flew back to Korea. You've been with me during the good times and the bad. If I was sad, angry, lonely, bored—you were there to put a bandaid on my discomfort. I understand you might be reeling from the news. So let me explain.

First off, you drain my bank account like a booby-licious gold-digger. Money I need for other things somehow gets spent on you. I'm the sailor and you're the Siren—I am defenseless against your call. It stops now. I am not your sugar momma, and I refuse to keep spending money on you. Because you make me poor, we are over.

Something you may not realize is that no matter how good you make me feel when you're around, as soon as you leave, I feel like crap. You take my energy and good moods with you like some sort of a good-vibes-debt-collector. Sure, we have fantastic times, occasionally. But the bottom line is — it's not worth the price I pay. Because you make me lazy and "bleh", we are over.

I know it's common in relationships for habits to shift. You're comfortable together; you enjoy eating delicious meals and yummy desserts; you watch a few more movies and exercise a bit less. However, your influence on my habits is over the line. Somehow you convince me to skip the gym, to watch a bit more tv, to order a pizza or buy another ice cream. Your presence is laced with salt/fat/sugar cravings. Around you, my self-discipline is depleted. More junk food and less lifting-heavy-stuff makes me bummed out, broken out, and chubbed out. Because you mess up my healthy routines, we are over.

We are over, but that doesn't mean I don't miss you. I think about you a lot. Sometimes daily. When I'm out with friends, I'm longing to feel you in my hand, to taste you on my lips. If we weren't broken up, I could almost guarantee you'd be getting drunk texts from me, asking you if you want to come over and "talk".

But, here's the thing. As time goes on, I'm thinking of you less and less. I'm realizing that life isn't as hard without you as it seemed a few weeks ago. I'm sure I'll still think about you and the good times we had. Even so, I know I'm better off without you, at least for now. Maybe in the future, if I've grown a little and you can be less needy, we could try this thing again. Until then, my boozy babe, be well.

Love From,


Dry Korea: The Clean Year Part II

"That's the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen." —Charles Bukowski, Women

It's been a quick minute, my friends. Three years, in fact! I've spent them in South Korea, working at a job I love dearly, befriending incredible people, and traveling all over Asia experiencing the most amazing sh%* a gal could dream up. I owe all that to this blog and the journey that started it. I believe, without a doubt, that had I not done The Clean Year Part I in 2011-12 (no alcohol, sugar, caffeine for a year), I would not have had the clarity of mind, healthy habits, and energy to have attained an international teaching position and moved half way around the world.

My friend, Meredith, and I in MONGOLIA!
Many people have asked if I kept my clean habits after the year was up. I guess my best answer is this—sort of. It changed me mentally; it showed me what I was capable of; and it proved that I didn't need all those substances to manage stress. However, moving to South Korea meant a experiencing crap-ton of different stress, entirely changing my life, and meeting all new people in a land where the trifecta (alcohol/sugar/caffeine) appeared at every social event. So yeah, I didn't maintain as well as I'd expected. Here's a little excerpt of my journal from November 2012 (my first year in Korea) that speaks to my life-transition in relation to my substance trifecta:

 Life here is not all bubbles and sunshine.  Changing your life completely is very stressful.  I did not weather it well.  But, I weathered it.  The Clean Year prepared me/showed me that I am most whole/content/healthy, living clean.  But, when stress and loneliness and what-have-you get me down, old, bad habits arise.  And so they have.  The vices came back into play.  Luckily, a friend-pact minimized my consumption of alcohol in these first few months, but sugar and caffeine quickly became my best frenemies again.  Oh, and did I mention that people party harder here than we did in college?  So, yeah...there's that.
This may or may not have happened in the back
of a Korean bus en route to Seoraksan National
Park for a weekend of hiking.

I definitely have had my ups and downs here, struggling primarily with putting healthy routines into place when I'm all over the place. Heh. (That works literally and figuratively.) Which brings me to the purpose of this post.

This year is (probably-definitely) my final one in Korea before a new chapter begins. During the summer months in Colorado, I felt the familiar inner nudging towards some "clean-up on aisle three". I'm heading into another massive year of transition. And we all know, transition is EFFING HARD. Even positive, happy changes can be taxing. Transition takes so much energy. It is stressful and emotional. The complexity of choosing a new path can be extremely challenging.

This year, I need a clear head and heart, healthy stress-management, and a ton of energy as I—once again—leap into the great abyss. For this reason, I've made the decision to spend this school year in Korea: dry. As in alcohol-free. As in sans brew/bubbly/vino. (Is it a bad sign that my innards just did a backflip as I wrote that?)

For anyone who has been here, "Dry Korea" may sound like an oxymoron. Soju, Cass, Hite, and an ever-growing selection of wine and craft beers permeate the streets and social events like one-word emails do your online dating inbox. It is everywhere. All the time. So how's this dry year going to go? Probably a bit rocky. Luckily, I learned a lot the first time around about how to get through the tough few weeks/months till my social, mental, and emotional reliance on it fades away. And even more importantly, I have some amazing friends here who are sure to support me on my quest.

It boils down to this: clean living brings out the best version of me. I am committing to a year of self-improvement and discovery by leaving out something that clouds my vision, depletes my energy, and clutters my path with very little in return.

So, here we go—another clean year is underway (as of August 1st). I'm excited to undergo another challenge and record my experiences blog-style. Here's to another year of "life without crutches".



The Year of Answers

"When we are no longer able to change a situation - we are challenged to change ourselves."         -Viktor E. Frankl

Someone once told me, "Tiff, there are years of questions and there are years of answers."  At that difficult moment in my life, that concept provided me with some comfort.  As the years have passed, I've found it to be true.  There are years during which I am so damn unhappy with where I'm at, with no idea of which direction to turn. There are years that I feel little to no connection to myself and feel as though I'm going through the motions behind this Tiffany mask I think people want to see.  These are years of questions.  Uncertainty and discomfort abound and things fall to pieces.

But here's the deal: discomfort leads to action.  And action is often followed by years of answers.  Years that frolic, instead of plod, when I feel comfycozy in my "Tiffany-ity" and from that, am able to connect and be and act on a level distinctly more solid and sure than during question years.  The Clean Year has most definitely been a year of answers.

I've reconnected to who I am on a level that hasn't been possible in the past few years.  I've discovered new parts of myself and developed different skills.  I've learned a little bit more about what makes me, not happy, but deeply content and satisfied.  Flow, some people call it.  This is a year that has been rife with new doors opening...far too many to go through in fact.

At the close of The Clean Year, I can truly say that I, and my life path, have been forever changed. Now that, my friends, is what I will deem...a success.

Here's to the knowledge that there are endless paths before us, and an infinite amount of opportunities to make the world a better place. Keep adventuring, keep working hard, keep loving deep.


Announcement: A Big One

"Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius and power and magic in it."  -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Remember that Top Secret #3 from my last post?  Well, I'm ready to reveal it to the world.  I'm fulfilling one of my long-time "life goals" of living and working abroad.  I am moving to Seoul, South Korea at the end of next July to spend two years teaching at an international school!  AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!  So crazy, and weird, and awesome, and amazing, and scary, and YAY!

I found it fitting to use the same quote on this post as I did my very first one last August.  I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that without The Clean Year, I wouldn't be moving overseas and accomplishing something I've always wanted but never been quite "ready" to pursue.

I began this journey in pursuit of better physical health and with the desire to deal with stress in less destructive ways.  What has come about in my imperfect, but impactful Clean Journey is a subtle but powerful shift in how I process things and how I react to both negative and positive stimuli.  In the past few years (really, my teaching years), levels of stress reached so high that I would use anything to escape and avoid it.  In other words, I got really great at sticking my head in the sand and simply surviving until things felt easier.  This year has been much more uncomfortable for me...but as time goes on, I'm discovering that I see and feel everything much more clearly, I'm braver, I face what's coming head on instead of avoiding it.  I'm no longer content to simply survive, I want to thrive!  All these small shifts, I'm certain, contributed to my being courageous enough to say "why not now?", spend lots of money I didn't have, fly to San Francisco and go all out for the job of my dreams...which I'm pretty sure I got.

After I signed my two year contract in a Marriott suite with my new bosses, they asked me to join them in the lobby for a drink to cheers the upcoming school year and living overseas.  To that point, no drop of alcohol had touched my lips for six months.  And I thought to myself, if ever there was a time to sit down and toast with a dirty vodka martini, this is the time!  So, I sipped the celebratory cocktail until I realized I was about to be drunk in front of my new bosses and left the second half in the glass.  (For the record, this is the first delicious martini to ever have been left unfinished by me.)  I was floating on air as I got on my plane back to Denver.  Other than the massive stomachache and headache the vodka gave me, I was the surest type of jubilant a gal could be.

So that's it, Top Secret #3 revealed.  My yoga teacher said yesterday, "Most anything we want to create is outside of our comfort zone."  With that in mind, I encourage you to immediately and boldly begin whatever it is you dare to dream.   Till next time, be well.