Everything is an Experiment

Action is crucial. You can dream about your future all you want, about the awesome person you’re going to become…you know, the one who does all the things you wish you would do…but how are you going to become that person if you don’t start…well, doing the things? What, really, are you waiting for?

Maybe you are waiting for Someday. Someday, yes, you will have more money, more time, more experience, more friends…and then you will write that book or volunteer for that organization or call up that person you’ve been meaning to get in touch with.

Question: When is this Someday you speak of? Is it actually any closer to you now than it was a month ago? A year ago? Two years ago?

If it is closer, that’s probably because you did something that helped you make some progress. If it’s not, then, well, it’s probably time to take action.

The catch? Taking action can be hard. Especially for recovering perfectionists, like myself. Witness the inner workings of my mind, when I am considering taking action: Maybe I will start an Etsy shop and sell greeting cards. But wait…what if nobody buys greeting cards? What if I don’t actually like selling greeting cards? EEK. Better research extensively and spend hours examining the pros and cons of every possible thing that I could sell. But maybe I don’t even like selling things. I’ll have to buy a lot of stamps, that might be annoying…also I don’t know how to do this! It seems hard!

Thoughts like this can go on and on until the thing I was considering doing eventually gets thrown into the Someday pile. If you started at the beginning of this post and are reading it in order, you already know this is not a very effective way to get things done. Once it’s in the Someday pile, it’s easy to dismiss, and sometimes it ends up sitting in there for years. Also, if you are reading this post in order, nicely done, that is probably a good choice in terms of reading comprehension.

So taking action. What to do, when you feel like you don’t know what to do? Recently, I’ve found a way of pretty effectively steering my brain away from all of its anxious thoughts about whether or not I’m taking the “right” action:

I remind myself that everything is an experiment.

Sure, things might not go the way I planned or expected, and maybe I will decide that selling greeting cards on Etsy is not the way to go. But hey, if it’s just an experiment, I can change my mind and do something else next month! Also, you do experiments so you can learn from them. I might learn that I like selling greeting cards, or I might learn that I really hate selling greeting cards—either way, I’ll have more information on the subject than I do right now—and how else would I have gotten that information?

Basically, this is about being willing to take risks. But to me, a person who is very risk-averse, “taking risks” sounds dangerous and irresponsible, and, well, risky. For whatever reason, framing it as an experiment makes it sound much more constructive. And that works for me.

I think the deal is this: actions and/or risks can be scary because they have lasting effects. Your decision today will absolutely shape the opportunities and decisions you have available to you in the future.

BUT. Having lasting effects is not the same as holding you hostage. You can always re-evaluate your current situation and change course if you decide it’s not working for you. Sure, those other options you were considering before may no longer be options…but that doesn’t mean there aren’t new opportunities in the present moment. And we can’t ever predict what those will be; maybe they’ll be better than the old ones anyway!

Let me know your thoughts on risks and experiments and actions—I’m curious whether the “everything is an experiment” mentality is helpful to anyone else, or if you have other ways of thinking that work for you!

Experimentally,
Maria

p.s. I am in fact starting that Etsy shop, hopefully quite soon! If you want to be the first to know when it launches, and hear exclusive details and updates on my journey, sign up for my mailing list here! Maybe I’ll even send you a coupon code 😉 You can also check out some of my art on Instagram.

p.p.s. If you liked this post, listen to this podcast episode. I’ve been using “everything is an experiment” as a sort of mantra for quite some time, but listening to this inspired me to include more of the taking action side of things in this post as well.

Choosing to Be Happy

“I think it’s brave to try to be happy. You’ve gotten so comfortable being unhappy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to wake up in the morning and choose to be happy?”

This is a quote from one of my all-time favorite TV shows, Pushing Daisies. (It’s a beautiful and inspiring and clever show and I highly recommend it; it’s also very weird and quirky, so be warned if you decide to check it out.)

I have a question for you all: How often do you think of happiness as a choice? Sure, you can let the circumstances of your life determine your feelings. And if your life turns out perfectly just how you planned it and everything’s just like you thought it would be, and it’s raining star fruits and unicorns all the time (and also if you like star fruits and unicorns), then congratulations—you’ll probably be feeling pretty good.

But that’s pretty risky to leave your emotional wellbeing up to circumstance. What if your life doesn’t turn out the way you wanted? What if nobody is hiring you for your dream job? What if someone says something hurtful to you? What if your body is a different shape or size than you want it to be and the clothes you wish you could wear don’t fit?

Sure, if things go “wrong” it’s a whole lot easier to complain, to be frustrated, to feel hopeless, than to take action to make things better. But is taking the easy route really worth sacrificing your happiness? That’s up to you to decide.

Keyword: decide.

I’m not going to pretend I have this all figured out. I still get upset when things don’t go the way I was hoping they would. But more and more I am realizing that although outside circumstances definitely have an effect on how I’m feeling, it’s really my thoughts about the circumstance that’s creating the feeling.

I’m realizing that a trying situation is not determining my feelings but is instead challenging me to be a more grounded, peaceful, joyful, loving person, even when it is much harder to be one. And the more I realize this, the happier I am.

I promise you, friends, you have a choice. That choice gives you the power to feel the way you want to feel. So be aware of what you’re choosing.

Happily,
Maria

Making Decisions

I have always struggled with decisions. I think I always waffle because I’m afraid of making the “wrong” choice. I worry about the other possibilities, the other things I might miss out on when I decide to go down a certain path. I tend to overthink all of the pros and cons of all of the possibilities, which usually just fuels my anxiety and sometimes prevents me from taking any action at all.

Case in point: When I was in middle school, I had to decide whether I wanted to take French or Spanish. Apparently my parents had to call the school several times because I kept changing my mind—and then I got an extension so I could have even longer to decide.

Recently, I’ve been trying to listen to my intuition, my gut instinct, and trust that it will lead me where I need to go. For somebody who feels the need to thoroughly check out every single option in the store before buying the “best” lip balm, this is pretty challenging. But, I’m making progress! The other day, my mom told me that my decisions have seemed “less traumatic” lately. Hooray! (p.s. In case you’re wondering, I’ve determined that the best lip balm is Dr. Bronner’s peppermint.)

In a talk about making decisions, Alan Watts says that letting go is one of the scariest things we can do. I totally agree with this. Being out of control is terrifying. I guess one reason that decisions are so stressful is that we think going through all the possibilities thoroughly and making an “informed” decision, we are more in control of the outcome. But as much as we like to think we can control outcomes, we really can’t. Going with your gut instinct makes it more obvious that you’re entrusting the outcome to a force that we don’t really understand. Intuition is not something that can be measured or explained.

One of the scary things about this is that people still hold you accountable for things that resulted because of your decisions. And it’s easier to blame someone (including yourself) for a bad decision if you think they at least made their best effort to make a good one.

The thing is, I think entrusting your decision to our intuition, even though we don’t really understand it, is probably our best effort. At least it saves us a whole lot of time and tears during the deciding process.

One of the reasons I love making art is that artistic pursuits are probably the area of my life in which I feel most comfortable trusting my intuition. I don’t mean that I don’t make any “bad” decisions when I’m making art—I have definitely created some really bizarre drawings and poems—but I feel confident in most of my choices in the process. And often things do turn out well.

Mr. Watts also makes the point that even seemingly disastrous decisions turn out to be okay in the end. You never really know what’s going to happen in the future anyway, as he points out, because even if you try to make a really well-informed decision, you can’t take into account all of the infinite possible things that could happen. And who knows, maybe things will end up turning out even better than you could have imagined.

Now you may be wondering what became of my tortured Spanish vs. French decision; Spanish won out in the end. And it turned out to be my favorite academic subject in middle and high school. Was that what my gut was telling me to do? Who knows. I was so caught up in my thoughts that I don’t even think I could hear my gut. But I survived. Plus, I can sort of speak Spanish now. ¡Que éxito!

Decisively,
Maria

Alan Watts on Making Decisions

Pineapples, Portraits, and Laughing at Myself

Let’s talk about fruit. I did name this blog Starfruit Salad, did I not? [my first blog was called Starfruit Salad...you may notice I've changed the name!]

…although I’m actually going to talk about pineapples today, not star fruit. If you were expecting that post about a salad with star fruit in it, I’m sorry to have dashed your hopes. Maybe next time. No promises, though.

I actually don’t really like pineapples. I used to LOVE pineapple on my pizza, back in my gluten-eating days, but other than that I am not crazy about it. I’m weird, I know. Oh well. I hope you will keep reading my blog anyway.

It turns out that even though I don’t like eating pineapples, I do quite like drawing pineapples. This became very clear a few days ago when I was drawing a self-portrait of myself as a pineapple.

I usually don’t look very much like a pineapple. (I don’t think I do, anyway. Feel free to chime in if you disagree.) There was this one time, though, a few weeks ago, after I had gone swimming…I had wrapped my towel around my head in such a way that I had a little tuft of hair sticking straight up, and I had my big polka dotted sunglasses on, and I looked kind of like this:

It was really hilarious. I kept looking at my reflection in my mom’s sunglasses and it CRACKED me up, every time. I think if I were looking in somebody else’s sunglasses rather than my mom’s, they would have quickly come to the conclusion that I was out of my mind.

But maybe being out of our minds can be a good thing. We get stuck in there a lot—I know I do, anyway—tangled up in thoughts about how we’re expected to behave and what other people might think, worries about the past, plans for the future…

Have you ever noticed how all of those thoughts disappear when you’re laughing really hard? When you’re not taking everything so seriously and you’re just thoroughly enjoying the moment?

There’s no room for anxiety and second-guessing when you’re filled with joy. And if that joy comes from realizing your own ridiculousness, well, I think that may be the best kind. Self-sufficiency!

“A day without laughter is a day wasted.” – Charlie Chaplin

Wise words, Charlie.

May your day be full of laughter and juicy pineapples. Or star fruit. Or whatever your favorite fruit is. Obviously, mine is neither of those. My titles are very misleading.

Playfully,
Maria

p.s. you can now buy this drawing as a card here!

Signs from the Universe

I have always been a person who likes to be in control. When I say that, I don’t mean I love bossing people around or that it is my dream to work my way up to the top of some corporate or political hierarchy. What I mean is that I like to make plans and I like it when things go according to my plans. But—spoiler alert—it turns out life doesn’t usually work like that. And the more I think about it, the more I think the best plan of action is to accept the fact that there may be some other plan for me than the one I have for myself, rather than fighting against it.   After all:

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” –Joseph Campbell (or possibly E.M. Forster.)

Here are a few examples of when some outside force seems to have appeared to nudge me in the right direction:

1. Stop doing so many things!
Three times this year, I got knocked out by a nasty illness for about a week. I’m pretty sure this has to do with the fact that my job has me working with lots of kids (who are around lots of other kids and often lack personal hygiene skills). The thing about this that is rather curious, though, is that right before two of the times I got sick, I had been feeling really strongly like I needed a break from doing so much. But I didn’t take one. I kept going because there were always more things that needed to be done. So instead of listening to my body’s gentle nudgings to take it easy, I ignored it until it shouted “HEY YOU STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!” and then pretty much forced me to follow its instructions. The first time I got sick, I really couldn’t do anything at all except for lie in bed and lie on the couch and lie on the recliner. The second and third times were pretty bad too. And even though I felt terrible physically, it was so refreshing to just not do anything. So why do I have to wait for a virus to tell me to take a break? I don’t! And what I’ve learned from this scenario is that I shouldn’t.

2. Slow down and change your underwear. (Just so you’re aware, this story does not involve any bodily excretions.)
I recently had one of those mornings where it was really difficult to get myself out the door. I woke up later than I intended to, dealt with some wardrobe malfunctions, forgot to pack some important items, misplaced my keys. etc. These mornings generally set the day off on a less than ideal note, so I try to avoid them as much as possible—but they inevitably happen sometimes. This particular morning, as I was rushing out the door, thinking about how I was probably going to be late for work (and also trying to remind myself to choose love by not stressing about it), a postal worker drove up my driveway and handed me a package containing some underwear I had ordered a few days before. Later that day, the little hole in the pair I was wearing turned into a huge ferocious monster hole. I choose to interpret this chain of events as a sign that 1. it’s ok I didn’t get out the door as fast I thought I should have, because I would have not received the underwear in such a timely manner, and 2. it is officially time to throw out the old underwear with the holes.

I’ve determined, from these events and others, that signs from the universe can show up in any number of places. Sometimes they show up in our bodies, which are much wiser than we often give them credit for. Sometimes they literally show up in boxes at our doorsteps, and sometimes they show up in our underwear. Wherever they may appear, I’m trying to be more open to them. I’ll let you know how it goes.

With openness and flexibility,
Maria

Why choosing love is about more than eyelashes

Recently I’ve been seeing all these mascara ads with #chooselove, as if love is all about showing off your eyelashes by coating them in thick black goop. I have nothing against mascara (let’s be real though it is just thick black goop) but #chooselove? Really, Revlon?

The reason this got me all fired up is that several months ago I decided to make “Choose Love” sort of my personal motto, and it bugs me that these makeup ads are using what I think is potentially a really powerful statement to promote glamour and superficiality.

The idea to make “Choose Love” my personal motto came to me after the ever-inspirational Oprah introduced me to this idea from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross:

“There are only two emotions: love and fear. All positive emotions come from love, all negative emotions from fear. From love flows happiness, contentment, peace, and joy. From fear comes anger, hate, anxiety and guilt. It’s true that there are only two primary emotions, love and fear. But it’s more accurate to say that there is only love or fear, for we cannot feel these two emotions together, at exactly the same time. They’re opposites. If we’re in fear, we are not in a place of love. When we’re in a place of love, we cannot be in a place of fear.”

I know this isn’t a new idea and it’s already been explored by a lot of wise and thoughtful people. It’s also been used for purposes that I believe to be far nobler than selling eyelash goop. But I had never thought about my emotions in this way, so when Oprah so graciously shared this wisdom, it seriously felt like an epiphany. I thought about how so many times each day, I make decisions that shape the course my own life and the lives of others. I started to wonder: how many of those choices are motivated by fear and how many are motivated by love?

Take starting a blog, for instance. I’ve been thinking about starting one for years because I’ve always thought I’d really enjoy it. So why did I only just publish the first post last week? Because of the following sorts of concerns: If nobody reads it, what’s the point? What if people actually do read it and I run out of things to say? What if I upset people?

I realized, though, that all of the thoughts that were stopping me were based in fear. If I were to choose love, what choice would I make? To start the blog, for no real reason other than the fact that I truly believe I would love doing it.

I’ve also noticed the love vs. fear phenomenon in the ways I react to everyday situations. Say I got super lost on the way to a doctor’s appointment and was probably going to be late. One option would be to go into full-on panic mode, worrying about all the things that are probably definitely going to go wrong and what if I miss the whole appointment and have to come back next week or maybe she has no more appointments this spring so I’ll have to wait until August or what if I drive around for so long that I run out of gas without noticing and get stranded in the middle of nowhere and my cell phone dies and I get eaten by a saber tooth tiger?!?!?!

That would obviously be a fear-based reaction. But I don’t have to react like that. I have a choice. What if I reminded myself in that moment to choose love? I would think, “Well now Maria we might miss that appointment but we’re doing our darned best to find the place, and that’s all we can do right now!” I could choose even more love by taking a deep breath and reminding myself how beautiful the sunshine is today. I could even decide that if I do miss the appointment, I’ll use that time to go for a walk outside or play my mandolin or call somebody I’ve been missing.

Of course, I don’t always remember to choose love in time. I’ve had plenty of experiences like the above where I inadvertently choose fear, and I’m working on that. Training a brain to behave differently than it’s used to can take quite a while apparently. Who knew?

Being afraid doesn’t usually feel like a choice. In a scary situation, a scared response can feel logical, involuntary, and even necessary. But I think that’s just fear trying to convince us to follow it. If we listen carefully, we can hear love making its own argument too. And then we can choose which voice to follow. And because my goal is to squeeze as much star fruit juice out of life as I possibly can, I choose love. And not just on my eyelashes.

With love,
Maria