Fears of the unknown

April 13th, 2015

fears of the unknown

The first time I moved to Germany, my fears involved things like finding friends, knowing where to get a gallon of milk (there’s no such thing), and learning vocabulary for things like contact lens solution at the drug store. I clung to Martin, my German husband, using him as my crutch. I was afraid of answering the intercom or the telephone in our apartment. (You never realize how much body language matters until you only have spoken words to communicate.) Sometimes if Martin was gone, I wouldn’t even answer. I’d crouch down and get very quiet, nervous that someone would catch me as a fraud, ignoring phone calls and intercom buzzes.

The Unknown. Why do we always make it out to be a dark and scary place?

As Miss Introvert herself, moments abroad made me feel like surely, I must have been the world’s biggest chicken. Of course, the little cricket on my right shoulder was always quick to agree. He whispered in a condescending voice, “You couldn’t answer the telephone? Oh brother.”

I was just hesitant–I didn’t know what people wanted, but I knew it always involved a lot of fast-paced words from strangers, me saying “please speak slower,” and them getting annoyed. Or at least I envisioned them getting annoyed. They probably rarely did. German’s one of those languages that’s so formal and rigid, you’re bound to think you’ve messed it up. But who is that cricket we let sit on our shoulder to tell us our fears are unjustified or petty? Don’t let your beauty be lost in unnecessary guilt. It’s hard enough to row.

Eventually, if we want to live the richest life possible, sometimes we have to face the unknown. It’s usually disguised as the littlest things–saying “I’m sorry,” giving something away, standing up for yourself, or letting go. You have to force yourself to recognize that the unknown exists. Then the next time you’re in that situation, you rip off the bandaid and go for it; it shakes you up. Yet you do it again. You keep facing that obstacle until you don’t panic when it approaches.

I stumbled through a lot of German conversations on that intercom. Sometimes people hung up before I could answer. Once, the person on the other end was so relieved to hear me struggle. He was a man from Romania, striving to speak his best, too. You never know when the person beside you is on the same journey. Sometimes, their unknown is much scarier. He didn’t have fluent English skills to fall back on like I did; he needed that German communication ability to earn money and put food on his table.

Here’s what I’ve been learning about facing seemingly tiny obstacles that actually feel really heavy and overwhelming:

  1. Never measure your fear/anger/pain.
  2. Admit it.
  3. Take teeny steps toward bettering it.

A lot of these thoughts are reflected in Become, the writing prompt journal for finding your direction at Gadanke. Of course, that journal is hardly about being brave enough to answer an intercom. Or is it? Once you face an unknown, you become stronger. You become more confident. You start really, truly knowing that you are capable of becoming whatever you take the steps toward being. That’s the mission behind all the journals at Gadanke. Celebrate you!

The ultimate test came to me one afternoon when the telephone rang. I took a deep breath and answered the phone. “Guten Tag,” I said. The woman asked me (in German, of course) why I had just called her number. “I’m so sorry,” I said in German. “I didn’t call. I’m not sure what you mean.” She was quite positive: I had just called. I was equally sure that I was not touching that phone unless it was to call 911. We hung up, and then I thought about it a moment. Wait a second … that woman was my mother-in-law.

What I’ve learned about joy

April 6th, 2015

what ive learned about joy

Joy doesn’t come from the number of people you’re friends with on Facebook or who attended your wedding. We can spend our entire lives creating metrics and monitoring who and how many.

The greatest joy in life has to begin somewhere else.

I am finding that it all starts with story. Story connects us and empowers us. It helps us learn about ourselves, and when we do that, we can better understand each other. Strangers become friends. Enemies become allies. Little odds and ends become keepsakes. Dishes of food become family tradition. Ordinary days and inanimate objects find a new life … a transformation that I can only define as joy.

Offline, I’ve been writing a lot about joy. I’m taking on a new challenge, as I try to connect the pieces between journal keeping, gratitude, and a richer sense of life. (Remember this gratitude journal?) Some days, I think I have it nailed. But most days, I begin seeing how complex and rich the idea of joy really is.

Tell me your thoughts. What have you learned about joy? Or what brings you joy in this moment?

How to keep a GREAT journal

April 1st, 2015

how to keep a great journal

Earlier this week when dinner was finished, we pulled out the iPad to video chat with my parents. The biggest thing we all wanted to talk about, of course, was the toddler beside me. What mischief was he causing? What words was he saying? What foods was he gobbling up?

“Oh!” my mom said, as I finished describing the latest antics. “You have to write that story in your journal, Katie!”

We told them another story. “Write that one down, too,” my mom said.

She was getting pretty excited about this whole journaling idea. She is not a journaler. She always had great intentions, as I think we all do. The challenge is to take those intentions and turn them into actions. It sounds easy enough, but life shows us that what appears easy is seldom so. It’s like theres this indescribable pressure, because we think we should have zero problems. Just pick up your pen and go, right?

There are two reasons we can’t grab our pens and keep great journals:

  1. We don’t know how to make time to journal.
  2. We don’t know what to write in a journal.

The key to keeping a great journal? It’s finding your balance between those two challenges. Every night, I pull out my journal. It’s become a very distinct part of the nighttime routine. (Having a toddler means our evening routine gets pretty specific, starting around 5:00 when I get dinner going.) My whole day revolves around being a mom and work. But when I tell my son goodnight and close the bedroom door, my own evening ritual begins. I take out my contact lenses. I make some tea or pour some wine. Then I go to the couch to write. I read online articles. I read novels and non-fiction. Then I find myself reaching for my favorite pen, to just write a little more.

But first, no matter what, I write. I use a writing prompt journal from Gadanke, of course. That immediately gives me the solution to the second greatest problem we all have with journaling: what do I write about?

I like sitting down with no specific writing plans until I open that journal. In my head, I only tell myself that the requirement for my journal is quite simple: I want to document something happy. There are so many sad things in our world and in our lives. Right now, I want a journal that celebrates the good. I suspect you feel the same way. Truthfully, it makes going to bed so much easier. We often dream about whatever was on our minds right before bed. This is why I don’t do bookkeeping, business brainstorming, or any work at night. I just can’t shut my brain down, and I will toss and turn all night. The same goes for journaling about sad or frustrating things.

I write about happy moments I want to remember. I let the writing prompts guide me into memories of favorite childhood foods, what made my day awesome, what passport stamps I dream of …

Ultimately, the key to keeping a great journal is not setting up the expectation that it has to become a great journal. If you do that, your mind goes blank. I promise. I used to keep pages and pages of “I don’t know what to write” journal entries. Now, I want to embrace joy. Sometimes, it can help you carve out more joy. It can help you discover a better sense of your direction or your value to our world.

Journaling isn’t just about celebrating your story. It’s celebrating you.

P.S. There’s becoming quite the archives of journal page tutorials here, so you can really sink into some good thoughts.