living intuitively

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F I E S T A like there's NO MANAÑA
Images by Brooke Richardson Photography

Images by Brooke Richardson Photography

Life should not only be lived, it should be celebrated.
— Osho

I love celebrating. Celebrating people. Events. Ideas. Progress. Being alive. Tacos.

To me, life is meant to be celebrated.

And as you can see from my examples, I’m an equal opportunity celebrator. Life itself is a celebratable moment. Celebrate the small and big wins

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Celebrate getting out of bed in the morning. Celebrate choosing water over soda. Celebrate your decision to choose love over judgment (toward yourself/others). Celebrate overcoming fear. Celebrate your promotion, your new commitment to a life of health + purpose. Celebrate a perfect record of overcoming everything life has thrown at you. Celebrate being ALIVE.

I truly feel this is one of the keys to a truly happy life.


The more you celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.
— Oprah Winfrey

And I believe people are meant to be celebrated. That’s why I love birthdays so much. Birthdays are an opportunity to celebrate that person’s existence, and their latest trip around the sun.

Celebrating is a way to show our gratitude for what we have. A way to express our appreciation for our blessings in life. A way to say thank you to yourself, to others, to the universe/higher power. And gratitude is ESSENTIAL in life.

Sure, it’s important to exercise discipline, and work hard. As with everything else in life, it’s about balance. But to achieve true balance, we should regularly acknowledge our wins. Not be so consumed by our ambitions that we fail to recognize our accomplishments, and what has gone well in our lives. It’s easy to be consumed by the daily minutiae, or our major objectives. Celebrate the steps you’ve taken, the hills you’ve climbed, the obstacles you’ve overcome on your way to that peak. Don’t wait until you’ve summited to high five yourself/others.

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Small celebrations sustain us along the way. Because guess what’s happening along the way? Life. Life is happening as we’re working toward our goal(s). And life is meant to be celebrated.

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Celebrations can take many forms. They don’t have to come in the form of huge bash with confetti (though those are fun too!). Here are some others ways you can celebrate:

  • Send your friend a thoughtful, appreciative note/text

  • Take a luxurious bubble bath

  • Eat your favorite meal

  • Treat yourself to a massage

  • Buy someone a thoughtful gift

  • Allow yourself extra alone time

  • Booking a photo shoot to show your progress

The options are endless!

Celebrate others. Celebrate life. Celebrate YOU.

xx,

-w-

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Eating vs. Getting Bread
Images by Abbey Armstrong Photography  Color edited by me

Images by Abbey Armstrong Photography

Color edited by me


Success is not counted by how high you have climbed, but by how many people you have brought with you.
— Dr. Will Rose

You know how drive + hustle are glorified? We’re told to strive for more: more money, more recognition, more ______.

I personally take issue with that. Why?

Because we are all different, with different dreams, different definitions of success, different ideas of happiness.


Success. There is no one definition. Everyone’s success is different. You can’t compare your success to someone else’s.

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For some, happiness means a simple, stable, routine life: working, hanging with family/friends, etc. Who are we to say that’s unacceptable? Who are we to define happiness for others?

Sure, it’s important to ensure you’re not merely seduced into complacency by your fear/comfort zone. And I don’t think a non-hustling life releases anyone from striving to be the best person they can be - that’s a human responsibility, independent of lifestyle choice.

But let’s live and let live! Happiness is different for everybody. Values vary.


It is not success if you’re unhappy.

What a CEO considers a successful life may not match a schoolteacher’s idea of such. To some, success means total financial independence with a sizable savings account. To others, success may mean freedom to travel the world and try new endeavors. To still others, success may be leaving a profound legacy of improvement and change.

Cool, man! It takes all kinds to make (and balance!) a world. It would be too chaotic if we were all overachievers. Dare to live your truth, “motivational” quotes be damned. We all have roles to play, and contributions to make. We all have value to add.

So decide for YOU and ask yourself: What is my definition of success? What does happiness look like for me? By what standards will I measure myself?

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And don’t forget this important part: Be okay with and detached from others’ standards they may try to apply to you. Stand solid if they attempt to recruit you to their way of life. Smile if they try to nudge you in a certain direction. Realize we’re all on our own journey, trying to figure life out and orient ourselves in the world. Not everybody will accept you and get you, and THAT’S OK. It really is. It’s wildly liberating once you realize that.

People should determine their personal definition nof success and release others’ definitions of success.

Know you. Do you. Love you.

-w-

Try not to be a person of success, but a person of value.
— Albert Einstein















The O T H E R
Styling and Images by Whitney Richardson Photography  Model Lily Cuoio

Styling and Images by Whitney Richardson Photography

Model Lily Cuoio

“I’m here to challenge you.”

As soon as my warrior queen friend Julie told me this, I acknowledged its brilliance and added it to my phone’s Notes. We’re all here to learn from each other. The people in our lives are there for a reason, I truly believe this. Every interaction, no matter how seemingly minor, has a purpose. We’re all here to learn from each other, inspire each other, empower each other, LOVE each other.

Everyone you meet has something to teach you. EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. I’m willing to go out on a limb and posit you’re like me and haven’t mastered every single thing there is to master in the universe, and don’t know every thing there is to know. No matter how mature or advanced or enlightened or “woke” we are, there is ALWAYS something to learn. Maybe it’s a productivity hack. Maybe it’s a fitness pointer, or a financial tip, or a navigational shortcut. Maybe it’s a spiritual revelation. Maybe it’s even an example of what not to do.

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And technology has shrunk our world even more. More people from whom to learn and with whom to connect. So let’s all do each other a solid and keep (respectfully + lovingly) challenging each other.

And I challenge you to challenge yourself. Watch news from a different network, read a book outside your area of expertise/comfort, learn about a new religion, try something new - not to confirm pre-existing notions, but to question and expand your beliefs/outlook/assumptions/repertoire. Grow baby grow.

As Holocaust survivor/activist/author/professor Elie Wiesel advises, the more we are able to accept the many aspects of who we are, however contradictory those aspects are, the more easily we can accept others, with all their contradictions.

The extent to which we accept ourselves is the extent to which we accept others - ALL others, not just those aligned with our beliefs/lifestyle/etc.

So again, this requires:

  • Self awareness

  • Shadow work (face your demons, your repressed emotions, your fears, your S H A D O W S)

  • Self love


If you have issues with others, it’s a sure sign you have an issue with yourself. You’re projecting somehow. Our perceptions of others are reflections of ourselves. If we see a trait in others we don’t like, it’s because it’s triggering something within us, a shadow part of us. It’s triggering a fear/hurt/etc. It’s the ego at play, trying to protect us: protect our mental/physical/emotional health. Trying to preserve our dignity/sense of self. Our learned identity.

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It is the otherness of the other that fascinates me... What can I learn from him? What does he see that I do not, cannot?
— Elie Wiesel


We each have blind spots, just as every candle casts its own shadow. Only when you place a second candle next to the first do the shadows disappear, illuminated by the other’s light.

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A beautiful aspect of diversity is we EACH have our own way of perceiving the world, mixed with our unique set of background/chemical makeup/experience/etc. Even identical twins don’t share exactly the same outlook. We’re all like snowflakes, and we ALL have something distinctive and special to contribute.

That’s why:

  1. It doesn’t matter how saturated an industry is: We all have our individual eye/voice/view. So it doesn’t matter if you’re a photographer amid 25,000 other photographers in your city. No one has your same eye, your same touch.

  2. It’s crucial you nurture and celebrate and promote your individuality! Your quirks and eccentricities. They’re what SET YOU APART and make you SPECIAL. They constitute your superpower!


The distance between us is necessary, not something to turn away from.
— Elie Wiesel

When encountering someone with differing beliefs, listen to them. Listen to find their strength, not their weakness. Listen to enhance your own understanding, to enrich your own perspective; not to find holes on which to pounce, or incompetencies on which to judge.

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And respect the distinctions among us. If we believe we’re all the same, we might be tempted to prescribe identical solutions to all. In other words, we might think others are feeling the same feelings we are, and require the same remedy we do. Sure, it’s important to recognize our commonalities and collectiveness, but let’s not forget to acknowledge and celebrate our differences!

We need each other precisely for our differences and our diverse experiences. Those differences can cause conflict, and that conflict can be destructive or constructive, depending on our approach and mindset. Sometimes conflict can be good, to challenge the status quo, or our way of thinking/believing. If we never had challengers, we’d never have innovation. We wouldn’t have scientific breakthroughs, or technological advances, or humanitarian improvements.




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Entertaining different opinions and outlooks fortifies our understanding and stimulates our thinking. Even if we end up keeping our perspective, it can strengthen our grasp of the matter at hand. Staying in our echo chamber, shunning opposition and diversity, only weakens us, in ever way.

So let’s do our part to open our hearts and our minds to the “other.”

xx,

w




Following T H E Leader
Images by Trey Staff/ @treyshotz

Images by Trey Staff/ @treyshotz

Like many people, I’ve read multiple books on leadership. I’ve held and hold leadership positions.

I’ve pondered what makes a truly great, effective leader. Why some are effective and others aren’t.

One of my earliest and lasting impressions has been that not all leaders and situations are the same. What works for one leader may not work for another. What yields success in one circumstance may cause catastrophe in another.

I seemed to be the only one thinking this, as book after book I read offered checklists/attributes/traits/steps/formulas/characteristics/formulas/steps exhibited/adopted by all “true” and “great” and “effective” leaders.

Until I found General Stanley McChrystal’s new book he wrote with Jeff Eggers and Jason Mangone titled, Leaders: Myth and Reality.

FINALLY.


Note: If you’re not familiar with Stan McChrystal and don’t know why the hell you should take advice from him, TRUST ME - bro knows his stuff. He served for 34 years in the US Army, rising through the ranks to ultimately command all American and coalition forces in Afghanistan as a four-star general. Those four stars aren’t the gold stars they give out for just participating. He’s a leader through and through, and I highly HIGHLY recommend the book. He profiles 13 famous leaders from a wide range of eras and fields (Walt Disney, Coco Chanel, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, etc) to explore how leadership actually works in practice, and to challenge the myths complicating and clouding our thinking on this key topic. It’s actually a fun, interesting, and engaging read and is brilliantly and clearly written.


First of all, let’s talk about timing.

It’s often overlooked. What we call “leadership“ is often some combination of the leader’s actions, along with serendipity or other contextual factors that make for a positive result.

Leaders are separated not only by time and place, but also by what kind of leadership style would make them effective in their specific roles and place in time, moment, and framework. Yet too often we revert to vague assessments of “strong“ or “moral“ leaders, as though those things consist of formulas to be replicated in diverse contexts.

Spoiler alert: THERE IS NO FORMULA, y’all. Context matters!

This totally echoes my thoughts and observations over the years that never seemed supported by literature and guidance on the topic.

Moreover…

Leadership is never about the capacity and impact of a single person. We typically attribute far too much to an individual, the figurehead, the one with visibility, whom we can see and idolize, and ignore/dismiss/overlook the system as a whole and its contributing parts. (And as Stan the Man acknowledges, there are multiple reasons for the idolizing.) Yes, there are some phenomenal people out there, but none so amazing they singlehandedly drive a movement/achieve results/make it all happen. Turns out Coach was right: teamwork makes the dream work. There are many contributing factors to any event/movement/force/etc.

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And to be judged fairly, leadership styles must be viewed not just at a specific time but also in a particular framework. The context of an enabling institution is often necessary to substantiate leadership.

The culture, the environment, the location, etc must all be examined. Consider the presence/degree of such factors as hostility, resistance, acceptance, apathy, sympathy, motivation, momentum, etc. The quality and quantity of resources.

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of hero worship. It’s fun and energizing and helpful to cheer for a hero. Having someone to look up to and aspire to emulate.

We intentionally live with the gap between myth and reality [in part] because we like to do so.

Really think about that. Think about why we do that, and how it could benefit us.

The truth is that when we look closely, we see leadership as much in what our leaders symbolize as in what they actually accomplish.

A hero’s particular actions take on broader significance because the results they achieve resonate with group values.

It’s less about the tangible results they achieve and more about the expectations they defy and symbolism they uphold.

It’s for what they stand for, not just for what they do. Some leaders ride waves more than they cause them.

It is simpler and more satisfying to see the power contained within a single person. Do you relate to this, that it’s easier and more satisfying to have just one person represent all you strive for and admire and respect?

Rather than ask “ How do/did they lead” ask: “Why did they emerge as a leader?” and more specifically, “What was it about the situation that made this style of leadership effective?” These are questions I constantly ponder when studying leaders and their impact.

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Beyond a taste for narrative and belief in our own causality (basically meaning we love a good story, and we love knowing we can have an effect on our lives), we also have a preference for simplicity. Boiling things down to distinct actions by a specific cast of prime actors is more relatable, and makes attributing success and blame easier. And most people prefer easier, right?

Reductionist explanations are somehow more satisfying than the complex, estranging, but usually more accurate accounts. Reality is complicated and even boring, and the mundane messiness can be unsatisfying. It can leave us craving the feel-good feeling. Life is more interesting and pleasing either when it is simplified or, in the other direction, sensational. And we’ll sooner accept the simple or sensational explanation over the accurate one.


Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.
— Seth Godin


Leaders are made powerful not so much by what they do, or even by, what they say, but by what their followers perceive they have to gain either individually or collectively by buying into what their leader is asking.



Great leaders believe they work for their team. Average leaders believe their team works for them.
— Alexander den Heijer

Those who emerge as successful leaders are not necessarily those with the best values, or the most comprehensive record of results, but those who align with sources of human motivation (political leaders are great examples of this!). If a leader can tap into fear or any of its derivatives, GAME OVER. Just add a “villian” and it’s a done deal. That leader instantly has devotees.


A boss has the title. A leader has the people.
— Simon Sinek

Fear is powerful and overrides reason/values/empathy/etc and activates people’s primal survival instincts. Just ask Hitler. He targeted people’s fear of marginalization/poverty/survival and vilified Jews, offering a group to blame. So just as the first line of the previous paragraph asserts, it’s all about connecting with human motivation. Did Hitler have the best values? I’mma go with NO. But he undoubtedly aligned with human motivation: Germans’ desire to survive and prosper.

Same with Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Even upon losing battles, his homies still rolled with him. Not because he had the best values (slavery is NOT COOL) or the best record (he lost key battles and eventually the war) but because he was tapped into the southerners’ motivation to maintain their way of live, human slaves and all.

This explains why followers might turn their attention to the hollow optimistic leader, or people dig the leader who talks a big game but who holds a weak record. Just as we look to heroes as a symbol of what could be, we look to leaders more generally because we hold out hope for an alternative future, or because we fear a coming threat, and the leader becomes the repository of that hope or the guardian against that fear. This is compelling, and even necessary, since hope and fear are both essential to pulling human society forward.

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Leaders should understand leadership as a system, see themselves as the enablers of that system, and learn how to adjust their approach based on the needs of that system. It is the function of leadership to improve the overall progress of humanity. We should see our leaders as part of us, and ourselves as part of the solution. As I’ve said many times before, we’re all in this together.

xx,

-w-

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L A B E L S
Model: Byron Hunt; Photography by me

Model: Byron Hunt; Photography by me


When you call yourself an Indian or a Muslim or a Christian or a European, or anything else, you are being violent. Do you see why it is violent? Because you are separating yourself from the rest of mankind. When you separate yourself by belief or nationality, by tradition, it breeds violence. So a man who is seeking to understand violence does not belong to any country, to any religion, to any political party or partial system; he is concerned with the total understanding of mankind.
— Jiddu Krishnamurti

Would you agree with me that we typically feel compelled to label: people, items, emotions, experiences, ideas…pretty much everything!

Sure, there’s value in labeling. That’s how we’re able to know what the hell we’re referencing. Otherwise, our convos would take twice as long trying to describe what we’re referring to, and it’d all be one continuous scene of The Little Mermaid (“Whozits and whatzits galore. You want thingamabobs? I’ve got 20!”). Obnoxious and frustrating to the max.

Labels are part of our culture - in every sense of the word (personal, professional, legislative, judicial, pop culture, music, etc). They contribute to the infrastructure upon which society is built, upon which laws are passed, upon which food is sorted and Netflix is categorized. When I’m browsing for new jams, I don’t want to have to scroll through a shi* ton of random opera ballads to get to my preferred music.

Labels make our lives easier and more efficient. They allow our brains and bodies to navigate through life more effectively amid the onslaught of information we’re blasted with every second of every day. They help us make sense of the world, with all of its complexities.

They also can bestow us with a common purpose. It can offer a sense of belonging/pride/commonality/community, particularly in the case of nationality/cultural identity/etc. It can provide a cause/entity to cheer for, a common point to rally around. They give us traditions, and opportunities to connect with other similar people.

However…

These benefits (efficiency, simplicity, community, pride, etc), can come at a price.

It can become problematic/limiting/divisive/misleading/self-defeating when we apply this labeling compulsion with no consciousness, awareness, flexibility, or fluidity. When we tattoo those labels, so to speak, making them costly, painful, and time-intensive to remove (I really took that tattoo metaphor and ran with it, didn’t I?). Labels can also mask our universal commonalities and pit us against the “outsiders.”

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Society values clarity and decisiveness. We’re prompted to label people as good or bad, right or wrong, successful or non; same goes for ideas, etc.

This dichotomous and limited way of thinking doesn’t account for complexities: within individuals, within groups, within the world in general. People do good things. People do bad things. Life isn’t always black and white.

And I want to live in a world where people’s gender/race/skin color are irrelevant. Just because I may be regarded as a privileged white woman doesn’t mean I’m not allowed an opinion or a say or a hope for a more inclusive world.

Furthermore, it limits our growth and happiness, and clouds our view, when we apply labels to ourselves! Particularly regarding our identities. We’re conditioned to establish our identities on factors such as our skin color, our profession, our IQ level, our prevailing temperament, our body type, our gender, our music taste, our religion, our political affiliation. Lawd help us if we step outside our established identity: a straight male shaking it at Zumba, a Republican voting for a Democrat, a bodybuilder loving the ballet, a grandma digging Metallica.

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It’s easy to feel locked into a label and feel pressured to maintain that image. For example, men in certain cultures (looking at you, ‘Murica) are typically discouraged from expressing emotion - especially in the military. To cry is considered weak and “sissy la la.” What kind of bullshit is that?! Think about it: They are discouraged from expressing HUMAN EMOTION.

I’ve previously discussed the dangers of emotion repression, and the takeaway is: it ain’t good. Those emotions don’t just disappear into the ether - they fester and make their way out eventually and demand to be addressed.

Former Army Special Forces Green Beret Greg Stube acknowledges this in his stellar book, Conquer Anything: A Green Beret’s Guide to Building Your A-Team. He was fully indoctrinated in the masculine military, “rub some dirt on it” (he actually uses those words) mentality…until he almost died in Operation Medusa in Afghanistan in 2006. He was finally forced to grapple with what it means to be human, to be complete, and to be truly strong: mentally, physically, and emotionally. Having repressed that facet of being human for so long, he was knocked for a total loop when he was blown to smithereens by an IED (improvised explosive device) and forced to accept a very different reality, one in which he couldn’t just rub some dirt on it and soldier on. Through soul searching, reflection, and personal “come to Jesus” talks, he came out on top - and acknowledged the importance of transcending certain labels to embrace and cultivate what it means to be human, and what it means to be truly strong.

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So what happens when something happens and the label no longer fits?

We get fired. We go bankrupt. We get voted out. We get sick. We flunk a test. We gain/lose weight. We experience an existential criss that triggers re-evaluation of our priorities/affiliations/beliefs.

Like Greg Stube experienced, it can be devastating, if your identity is tethered to that label. Suddenly you start wondering who you really are, if not your label(s). If I’m not a high-powered lawyer/straight-A brainiac/size 0/Christian/president/husband/etc, who am I? What’s my place in the world? What do I have to offer? Am I still worth loving? So many of us feel conditionally loved, whether we realize it or not. We’re led to think (sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally) that we are accepted/loved because of those labels: doctor/Mormon/star athlete/parent/do-it-yourselfer/subject matte expert.

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This also applies to emotions. Let’s say you’re known as the carefree, happy, optimistic one. The one who sprinkles sunshine wherever you go and elevates the mood in any situation. You’ve learned to effectively play this role. But what happens when you have a bad day? Or even a bad year? Are you supposed to deny yourself feeling those “negative” emotions?


When you welcome your emotions as teachers, every emotion brings good news, even the ones that are painful.
— Gary Zukav

What you resist, persists.


Feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.
— Pema Chodron

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Which leads us to emotion labeling. Emotions aren’t positive or negative; emotions are emotions. Emotions are natural and wide-ranging, and most importantly: emotions are messengers. They come and they go, so we should let them move through us, view them with curiosity and no attachment, and discern their message. By denying/ignoring/repressing them, you are stunting your growth, preventing your freedom, and blocking true happiness.


Feel the feeling but don’t become the emotion. Witness it. Allow it. Release it.
— Crystal Andrus

Ultimately, as the opening quote indicates, labels separate: us from each other, us from ourselves (our true essences). While they do serve a purpose, it is crucial for us to be aware of them and fluid in our allegiance to them. As long as we interpret them loosely and keep an open mind, we’ll all be better off.

xx,

-w-


Once you label me, you negate me.
— Soren Kierkegaard