Love

Valentine's Day Is Over: How To Start Planning For Next Year

love-heart-hand-romantic.jpg

If you somehow did not hear, yesterday was Valentine's Day (If you are in a relationship and did not know that, let this be your harsh reminder). I am an old-fashioned romantic who put so much more emphasis on Valentine's Day back in high school and college. I loved making the valentines, adding a note, and attaching a sweet treat for the apple of my eye to savor. During a relationship in college, though, I learned that the day itself does not need to be a monumental event like some couples build it up to be, but at its core instead an opportunity to remind someone you care about why you appreciate them. Sure, little gifts can be given, but ones that relate to your connection in some way or inside jokes are best, and simplicity is key. 

Valentine's Day is treated so differently couple to couple. I know many women (sorry ladies) who anticipate it all year and many men (sorry ladies again) who abhor the holiday and dread the moment when they have to remember which colored roses are her favorite (white, obviously). I also know couples who do not put any emphasis on it and maybe borderline resent the holiday for the over-commercialized onus that it prophesies. Netflix & Chill becomes a weapon of their rebellion instead of the activity that concludes the holiday celebration. And then I know couples who are downright realistic about it...and damned adorable as a result. Take my sister and brother-in-law, for example. She is working, is soon to have a baby, had to take their dog to the vet for goopy eye problems, and was overall aware of their energy because yesterday was Wednesday, so they treated themselves to Chipotle and will have a more special night of appreciation tomorrow when the week is officially done (Ummm Chipotle on a holiday, though? Yes, please...). Though it sounds sort of common sense, what sets them apart is the fact that they already express their appreciation for each other every single day and cherish spending time together. Tomorrow will simply be the opportunity to slow down, go silent, and remember even more so why it is nice to be in each other's company. 

As I said in the beginning, simplicity is key. If you are in tune on a daily basis with what you appreciate about another person (or in tune with what you appreciate about being single, if you are not otherwise spoken for) and make an effort to show it, then every day will be Valentine's Day. American society loves holidays and Valentine's Day is just another victim of consumerism. Let us be real, I do not think St. Valentine sat in his prison cell thinking "I'm so excited that my legacy is to inspire millions of men in a couple thousand years to realize it's Valentine's Day day-of and panic-run to CVS to find the best card and heart-shaped box of chocolates."

On the contrary, St. Valentine was sending secret notes to his beloved from a prison cell awaiting his EXECUTION so it is a bit of a conflicting narrative when we ask our elementary school-aged youth to make mailboxes and fold a little Spiderman card that says "Slinging Love Your Way!" to give to their crushes. In my mind, it is instead a bit of an omen. Sure, forbidden love and absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder are phrases in our modern vocab, but he had a MUCH more significant need to say the words in his cards than a guy does today who has only been dating someone he met on Tinder for three weeks and who is panicking because he does not know what she expects from him on the 14th.

Despite the holiday's intense origin and the way America wants us to rejoice as if "it's all good!", one thing we can learn from St. Valentine is his simplicity. I have not read any of the letters he wrote, but I will bet a lot of rose pedals that he did not waste words. They were secret letters that were only for his woman to see. I am sure they were not just 140 characters, but I bet they were more succinct than a marketing E-book too.

Just be specific. Take John Mayer's advice and say what you need to say.  A while back I wrote a post about how saying more  actually ultimately says less and being straightforward and concise with your words more clearly gets your point across as well as boosts your confidence in advocating for yourself. And when do you have a ton of pressure to be vulnerable and say what is on your mind? When you have feelings for someone and the thought of them disrupts your daily functioning...in a good way. 

Then last week we discussed how verbal language is still so limited in its ability to convey what you see in your mind and feel in your body, which is why even those with a broad vocabulary still cannot fully describe an experience with words. Enter the Love Languages: 

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Acts of Service
  3. Receiving gifts
  4. Quality time
  5. Physical touch

No pun intended, but I love these because it gives us options. All of our personalities present differently so we all express appreciation and love differently. Animals do not have the same verbal language as us but they still have multiple love languages. When a horse drapes its head over an other's, when tigers rub their foreheads together, and - my favorite - when elephants wrap their trunks together like we hold hands. The beautiful thing about the love languages is that we do not have to choose just one.  We choose and use what is natural and authentic to us based on the love story that we want to express.

The whole goal of my business is to promote people's authenticity in their professional endeavors but also in their relationships and communication. I talk about authenticity a lot because I see it as the ultimate goal. If you are not advocating for yourself the way that you want to, you feel the disparity. If you are telling yourself that you are horrible at a certain skill but your numbers look great and you get a promotion, you feel the disconnect. If you perceive an expectation to express your feelings to someone in a way that is uncomfortable, you feel scared instead of exhilarated. For me, I know that my love languages are in the order of:

  1. Quality time
  2. Physical touch
  3. Words of Affirmation
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Receiving gifts

Quality time with my significant other where there is physical touch and unwasted words is my authenticity. That is not to say that Service and Gifts are not important in my relationship, but they are not a priority for appreciation to be expressed and they are not the most aligned modes of expression. Think about what your order might be. Then think about whether it has changed over the years, maybe even within one relationship. Remember, my authentic place in high school and college was focused on gifts and words of affirmation. 

Now that the holiday passed and Target stores can put all Valentine's Day related paraphernalia on 75% super sale, reflect on how you faced the day yesterday. Did you communicate with a loved one in a way that was reassuring and kind? Did you feel pressure to buy things or do things that did not feel authentic to you? Or did you let the day pass knowing that you and your beau will celebrate it when you can in the best, most aligned way that you can? 

No matter how you answered those questions, for future reference and your future narrative satisfaction:

  1. Be true to yourself
  2. Do not overcomplicate your gestures
  3. Say what you need to say

Thanks, John Mayer.

The Two Most Important Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Life

I majored in Neuroscience in college. Remember how I said I am a nerd? If you need more confirmation, just keep reading. 

But seriously, I majored in Neuroscience (and now own two businesses? How does that work??). I went to a liberal arts college and went in with the most common liberal arts course of study: UNDECLARED. I thought I wanted to study history, so Freshman fall, right off the bat, I took an Ancient Greek History course. Greek and Roman histories are my favorite so I thought this would be a great place to start exploring. So many names and dates, thought papers, and discussion classes later, I realized that the bleak career prospects were not enough to appeal my interests in the subject.

My second choice was psychology because I had enjoyed it in high school. Freshman spring I took intro psych with a visiting professor who spoke to a lecture hall full of forty students as though they were teeny tiny toddlers learning how to keep drool in their mouths for the first time (I think she was a child psychologist by trade). Beyond her tone, cadence, and overall way of interacting with us, her lectures were slow and her tests were hard. HOWEVER, a neuroscientist from Indiana University who somehow happened to be in Middlebury, VT, exactly when we needed to learn the anatomy of the brain and nervous system (?), presented the neuroscience lecture and holy smokeshow I fell in love.

No, not with him. With his sweet, beautiful, nerdy words about the brain and nerve cells and autonomic responses. Speaking of autonomic responses: I was autonomically reacting to the subject matter in the same manner I did when I first fell in love with a human female.

Flashback to exactly a year before that: In high school AP Biology senior year, I did not hesitate to dissect the brain of a fetal pig even though the internal body systems were all that were required for the lab report grade. I painstakingly chipped away at the skull and gently shaved it away so as not to damage the brain tissue underneath. I peeled off the coating of the brain and slowly wiggled the brain out of the spinal column.

I had no idea why I so comfortably volunteered to do it and immediately went after it in my free periods or why I took suchpride in holding the brain of another animal in the palm of my hand, but it happened all the same. I was in flow.

Fast forward a year and even though a brain was not in my hand, the love was back in my heart. I immediately declared neuroscience, found my advisor, and signed up for all the classes in the major I could. I even finished my general ed requirements by the end of Sophomore fall so that I could literally spend two and a half full years nerding out on the best subject matter of all time. 

I will never forget sophomore spring when I took four science classes in my major, two of which had labs, and people began to ask me: "so what are you going to do with neuroscience?"

Good question, though it is beyond me why I was being asked that mere months after I declared and before I was even halfway done my college tenure. Despite that, this is what it came down to: it did not matter. Who cared what I did with it? I did not care. I had no interest in going into the field of neuroscience at the time but I simply loved the subject so damn much. 

On a particularly stressful night before I probably had two exams, a paper, and a lot of reading assigned, my dad asked me on the phone: "why are you studying it then if it is causing you that much stress?" I know he cared about my health and was genuinely concerned, and I was equally genuine when I shrugged to myself and answered: "because I love it."

I still do not know why I fell so hard in love with neuroscience, but there also does not need to be an explanation. It simply clicked.

We all have unique interests and we are all presented with choices.

What to study, where to live, where to move, where to travel, how to get there, what job to get, what career to create.

No matter your interests, there is something in a choice that connects to who you uniquely are as a person that pulls you toward an option or away from one. Either way, the choice you make says more about you than the choices on their own. Something inside me guided me to work on that pig's brain and that says a lot more about my personality than it does about the fact that a fetal pig was lying on the lab counter in front of me with an untouched head. 

What is it about you that guides your decisions? Why are you where you are? It is okay if the answer is: I made a mistake. That is fine because it is accountability for a choice you made. Even if it turned out to be a mistake, you still made a choice and that act says a lot about who you are and where you are in your life. 

So question number one is: no matter what choices you made to be in the spot you are right now, what do you love about what you are doing? Think about it. Is it something about the work itself? Do you just enjoy the commute? Are you thankful that your job sucks and it gives you something to complain about? What is it for you? Why do you get up and do it all the time?

I have discovered - only recently, mind you - that the unique love I have for neuroscience is about the exploration. I will get into more of that at a later time, but it suffices to say that the architecture of the brain and its organization and functions present the opportunity to explain everything about who we all are. I think the brain is cool as a physical object, sure, but that is not why I took so much time and care to breach the pig's skull. It is because the experience offered an opportunity for exploration. 

So question number two is: now that you know what you love, what do you want to do about it?

Where do you want to take it? Is there a change you want to make, or a next step within your role that you want to take? What are you going to do with your love?

A lot of people I work with hit this point where they realize there is something in what they do that they love that keeps them going every day and that they want to do something about...but they are terrified of taking a next step because they cannot articulate answers to these two questions.

I have answered them for myself, and the second answer continues to evolve, but that is okay. That is the process. When you are in love, the feelings evolve. The nature of the connection evolves. 

What evolution are you hoping for?