Paradigm Shift

The last time I was verging on writing an entry, likely about two years ago, this is the intro that was penned out from an undated draft:

“Get a life. These three small words form a pretty basic statement, but its meaning can actually be quite impactful. And I’m not talking about its more common sassily-expressed equivalent that is used as a pre-teen taunt; removing all sarcasm out of it, to actually possess a rich, diverse, and fulfilling life is so important, yet it is also something that can be a struggle to obtain.”

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Ironic the timing of this third wave of realizing that I wanted to start writing here again — that is exactly what I have done. Two and a half years of living in a new city, a plane ride away from everything that I’ve ever known, I would have never guessed that I’d be standing – no, leaping – on my own two feet after enduring so many huge life changes in such a condensed stretch of time, and doing so with so much clarity, contentment, even elation, in a way that is so foreign, yet familiar to me all at the same time.

How is all of this possible? I like to look at it as a rebirth into the life that I knew I always wanted to live, but never gave myself the permission to. Though there is a time and a place for everything, and I know it’s simply because I wasn’t ready for it yet. And that’s why we endure, experience and explore, to get to where we are supposed to be.

I’ve been going and going and going nonstop, and after finally being forced to slow down and stop for a week, literally, after getting hit by some form of seasonal sickness, I’ve been given an opportunity to pause and reflect. In this time, there are two confluences of ideas that I found represent my specific transformation, and they fall somewhere on the spectrum of an identity shift and stretch all the way to being a full-fledged paradigm shift.

What do these mean to me?

Identity: Something used to define oneself by; the essence of who a person is, in one’s purest form. Society generally associates this with what you do, whether it’s work, or hobbies, or who and what you surround yourself by, but if you dig a little deeper, that’s where one’s true identity lives. It’s the qualities, beliefs, core of a person. When you walk into a room, it’s what people see, right off the bat; it’s what they feel emitting from every single pore of who you are.

Shift: A central adjustment. To move to a different place or position; to change an opinion or belief. An alteration like this is generally more subtle, that it can oftentimes go unnoticed upon first glance since it usually happens over an extended period of time, both internally and externally. Though, when comparing the full-circle former and current state, it is lucid, robust and undeniable.

I have always been someone who knows exactly what my essence is. I emit energy, and positivity, lightheartedness, laughter, sincerity and warmth. Joy, at the heart of it all. But what I did not see until recently was my sense of adventure, curiosity, and my willingness to take risks, be brave, even do things that terrified me at one point in time. Facing fears, feeling the anxiety, and doing it anyway. Soon enough, this unease becomes exhilaration, even comfort, to the point where any sense of regularity or stability feels abnormal, even bland.

How is this possible? Especially, coming from somebody who had always craved stability, comfort and consistency. Knowing.

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Therein comes the paradigm shift:

A radical change in thinking from an accepted point of view to a new belief. It’s a revolution, a transformation, a full-blown metamorphosis. It does not have the ability to be as subtle and internal as an identity shift, and it does not just happen, out of the blue without lots of rumblings to induce it to be. It is driven by agents of change, propelling particular view points or perspectives towards particular things to completely change in a flash of time.

It’s a funny thing that made me realize that this had happened to me; I mean, besides the fact that I essentially started living a new life, like literally, everything: new relationship status and knowledge of what I foresaw and knew my future to be, new roof over my head, new “work” reality and vision, and new everyday everything in a matter of a month. My mom said something that resonated with me after a night out, way past my former bedtime: “I don’t even know who you are anymore!” It was then when I thought: do I even know who I am anymore?

And then we go back to the concept of identity. Yes, I know who I am, 100%, I’ve actually never been so sure of that. It’s just my paradigm that has flip-flopped, like some sort of magician pulled a rabbit out of a hat and was like, “voila, there she is!” And there I was, a free bird, navigating my new wings with a sense of carefree wonder that I can’t remember the last time that I felt.

*Helen Ready is my personal rockstar. I have memories of my sister and I belting out “I Am Woman” on our in-home karaoke machine. That lady’s got the chops, and she knows what this is all about.

I was recently made aware of and instructed to reflect on my defenses (thanks Dan Lewis), which are essentially, those traits that block our essence from radiating into every room that we step into. For me, these blocks are made up of timidity, unassuredness, inflexibility, stubbornness, insecurity, internalization, overthinking, overanalyzing, – essentially, completely the opposite of just being present, and not getting stuck in a ball of words that were happening somewhere up in my non-stop, overzealous mind. We as humans are constantly evolving, and I will not at all claim to be an expert in, well anything really, but I will say that once I truly identified that the source of my being stuck was living somewhere up in my head, ultimately, I started getting a life. And then life actually happened.

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*Smile Tip #10:* When you have a fundamental change in thinking, leading to a whole new way of behaving, a smile feels like a brand new experience. Like the first time you learn to walk (if I even really remember what that would have felt like) it’s totally different. It’s amazing. Don’t believe me? You should try it. But you’ve got to dig deep, and be willing to do a lot of soul-searching. It won’t be easy – don’t say I didn’t warn you.

A Journey of Empowerment

My big sister is one of the most incredible people I know.  On top of being extremely down-to-earth, talented, and bright, she is also a real-life superwoman.  When we were younger, there were a number of tell-tale signs disclosing this destiny; some of which included playing “teacher” with me using the huge chalkboard in our basement (which, by the way, made it all the more legitimate), staying awake until ridiculous hours of the night/morning to relentlessly study for whatever class or AP exam was imminent, and juggling being Student Council Vice President while also dancing and teaching dance classes on nearly full-time hours, five days a week.  As she sunk her
feet into her adult years, this drive and energy for meaningful success did not cease, and what it sparked was her very own charitable organization: Storybuilding Foundation.

After years of brainstorming while working in the non-profit world and also dancing for a well-known sports team, the timing, impetus, and intention finally felt right.  Since the arts had always been significant part of her life (at one point during her teenage years she even pondered pursuing dance therapy as a career path), the idea for StoryBuilding Foundation took flight naturally.  Essentially, the charity facilitates a personal journey through the arts, empowering young individuals in underserved areas of each city, state, or country by fusing together community, spirit, and life.

Through conducting workshops that explore tools and techniques around action planning, creative thinking, and journaling, participants are provided with an outlet to begin taking control of their unwritten future.  As people learn more about themselves, build confidence to express who they are, conquer fear, challenge the norm – and do it in their own way – they are better positioned to help others do the same.  The goal of the organization is to help individuals discover the voice of their character, the setting of their plot, and that our beliefs, choices, and actions lead to experiences that fill a new page in our storybook.

Right now, my sister is in Haiti marking the launch of StoryBuilding Foundation’s oversees program, bringing it to orphanages and tent cities greatly impacted by the earthquake.  I have yet to get a full report, but the following is a taste of the experience thus far:

“There are no words to describe what has happened on this trip. The pictures will provide a glimpse of a moment, our blogs will recount a memory, our hearts will hold the experiences – to allow our future words and actions to carry the energy and love of our individual and collective story.”

*Smile Tip #5:* Pictures are worth a thousand words…

Visit Storybuilding Foundation’s Facebook and Twitter pages to learn more about how you can help, or feel free to make a direct donation – any little bit helps keep those smiles alive!

Breaking the Bubble

I am generally the type who prefers to keep to myself.  Although I am palpably outgoing and bubbly, deep down inside, the introverted self that hovers always feels most comfortable in its own company.  Even as a child, I remember being painfully shy.  Throughout my youth and into adulthood, I pretty much kept enough close friends to count on one hand, though I usually entertained about two handfuls of noteworthy acquaintances.  A lot of these characteristics are innate – my mom’s side of the genes – though I also believe that a measurable amount of it is simply habit-forming.  If you start doing/knowing one way of experiencing life, these ingrained notions form a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The more you get stuck in the box, the more it’s hard to break free.

(I’m the lucky lil’ rascal holding the sign)

Life in-the-bubble really isn’t that bad since, overall, I am pretty content with myself and the close few that fill my pint-sized world.  I tend to be a particular person when it comes to finding and embracing those I care about; it’s truly about quality over quantity.  Nevertheless, with this whole starting anew sentiment that the lively Chicago air has sprung upon me, it turns out that I’ve really been making strides to disentangle myself from this typical staying-in-the bubble cycle.  And oddly enough, it’s kind of come naturally.

I guess that’s a funny thing about getting older—your personality and priorities are constantly shifting, developing a new and improved you in a gradual and comfortable way, every single day.  I am so grateful to have opened up my barriers enough to begin forming some amazing friendships out here, bonds that I can envision growing to be invaluable and everlasting.  And for a self-proclaimed hermit, that certainly speaks volumes.

*Smile Tip #4:* When meeting someone for the very first time, it is really incredible how a warm smile goes a long way.  Upon initial encounter with some of the girls I make reference to above, their approachable nature is very much what drew me to them—the first trait that stood out was an authentically earnest smile, and from there, I knew we’d become fast friends 🙂

Embrace change

Change can be scary.  Yes, I know, I am stating the obvious, but for someone who thrives off of order and stability, this scariness is maximized to the nth degree (depending on my frame of mind on the chosen day and what subcategory the particular change falls under).

I will consciously admit that sometimes (okay, often times) my meticulousness can be overkill, but it provides a certain comfort, a safety, that nothing else can guarantee.  Any sort of diversion from the confines of the “known” creeps into the realm of the “unknown,” and that is where things begin to get nebulous.  If I had to choose between the clearest of clear-blue skies and a hazy, mysterious twilight, I’d pick the former any day.

Now don’t get me wrong, a little mystery can be fun, even exciting; though I prefer my fun and excitement in small quantities (boring much?).  Despite this obsession with certainty, I have recently been guilty of overdosing on the not-so-certain—but only because it just happens to be unavoidable.

I’m a graduate.  I have officially moved onto the next stage in life.  My life; my choice…but how do I choose?

On 43 Things a community-based site dedicated to making lists of goals and getting inspiration from others to find the best way to achieve them, 225 people want to “change” and only 2 people want to “stay the same.”  I know that going through change is very different than changing who we are, but the question is: doesn’t being in a state of flux eventually lead to this anyway?

That proposition is probably the scariest part of all.  I know myself to be who I am right now, this second.  Of course, over the years the Jen in me has gradually metamorphosed into more of a Jenny, and the girl behind the name will always continue to do so.  But being at this current juncture on the journey in this thing called life, I feel like I’m at my last bout of the cocoon stage, and soon enough, I’m going to be this colorful creature with wings, except I have nowhere in particular to fly.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
      
Then I think to myself: embrace it—no expectations necessary, and suddenly, all (alright, maybe 75%) of the worries melt away.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          *Smile Tip #2:* “Change is the elixir of life.  Stating a simple truth, happiness is ours when we respond and adapt with enthusiasm to change when they appear.”