Finding Authentic Joy

Finding Authentic Joy

In closing out my last series about struggle, grief, and, and strength I intentionally wanted to write about authentic joy. I wanted to experience and provide an example about how joy can be found anywhere and anytime. Even through hard times. I know that joy is our birthright, I tell this to my sons through my journals all the time. Yet, when it comes to myself, I struggle to honor that truth.

Planning for Authentic Joy

This weekend I did what any recovering over functioning person would do; I crafted the perfect “joy!” day followed by my plans crashing and burning. Over the weekend I kept thinking, “I can make this so much better, I can do joy.” I did everything I could. I invited my sister and her girls over to make homemade pizzas in the middle of the farm yard then did clean up on the first warm day. Warm weather, sweet cousins, boys running, my dad… Perfect right? So much joy to tell you about! But did I mention that between my sister and I we have four children 3 and under? They are very cute but have minds all their own and fast little feet.

Henry wanted to be outside badly with Grandpa and Dametrius but Grandpa was working and couldn’t watch the kids. Declan has figured out his legs are long enough to drive the dinosaur jeep but hasn’t figured out how to steer the dinosaur jeep. My sister brought the girls in their glitter shoes. Gracie was wearing a white shirt. Mud was everywhere. My sister and I tried to get the kids to play inside, which totally didn’t happen. First warm day, remember? So we ended up chasing four children through the mud until I broke down and said, “who wants to watch TV while Aunt Jessie makes pizza?” We sat their little butts down, I still made pizza (perfect day remember?) and then my sister and I crashed. The kids might have had a joyful day, the grownups did not. This is not authentic joy, it’s the Kool Aid we’ve all been drinking.

I was upset with myself for a bit because I know better. I know not to get into perfect planning, I know I can’t juggle a ton right now, and I know how the day looks isn’t as important as how it feels. Yet I’m a woman who was recovering from human-giver syndrome (read Burnout to learn more) and went into default mode. I could have beat myself up, but instead gave myself grace. I took some deep breaths, started a new show on Netflix, and decided to have a reset Sunday. That’s when I got back to real joy.

What is Authentic Joy?

So what is authentic joy and why is it so hard to come by?  Authentic joy lives inside of us, it’s what makes us all uniquely happy. Just like the worth we are all born with, joy is inside each of us, not where society tells us. My children show me authentic joy every single day. They find what brings them laughter and go after it with no regard for ‘what people think of them.’  I want this for them. Always. No matter how weird it is (Declan….). But now, at 34 years old, I want this for me too. I wish I had always wanted it but there is no use going back. Moving forward into joy is the only way.

Every year at New Years I write myself a letter with my dreams for the new year and gratitude for the past year. I then leave the letter under a jar for and don’t touch it for the next 12 months. This year I decided my dream for myself was to be selfish. I haven’t been selfish, not ever. I have always been willing to give up what I want and have for someone else. While there is an absolute time for selflessness, that time can’t be all the time. For me for it was. I know a lot of women and some men who struggle with the same. So my question to myself were along the lines of “will I be less selfless if I’m selfish?” I was curious but also in deep need of self-love and care.

I want to pause for a minute and speak to my readers. If you are a person who has deep wants but believes it’s OK to take from others or hurt others this message is not for you. You are being selfish to gain for yourself at the cost of someone else, something that is never OK. For everyone else, we need you to be selfish because through your reclaiming of joy those hurting you or others will be held accountable.

Selfishness, Selflessness, & Authentic Joy

OK, so back to authentic joy and being selfish. What does that look like for me? For you? A hell of a lot of deconditioning that’s what.

We are all inundated from a young age about who we are supposed to be, what we are supposed to look like, and what things make us “perfect.” That’s the Kool Aid we are all forced to drink. Then, when we aren’t able to live up to these impossibly high standards, we experience shame telling us we’re not good enough. It’s a vicious cycle. It’s also a lie. This is hard to process. I know because I’m basically asking you to question everything. But that is the point! I want you to be the one who makes the calls on your own life and joy. Not the world. Not society. I want you to look inside yourself and fall in love. To breathe deeply into your own lungs and exhale joy. To live unapologetically.

So, how do you do this? How do I? We need look no further than our own hearts and listen. That’s it. On any given day we have the chance to choose. To close our eyes, breathe in, and ask ourselves if we’re happy. If the answer is yes, rock on! If the answer is no, question it. If the answer is yes but it’s because I bought these super cool leggings for the gym to fit in with everyone, question that too. If the answer is yes because I bought these super cool leggings and omg they are so comfy, rock on!

It is not bad to want for yourself, to be thirsty, to have desires. It is human. Yet from our spirits we must navigate our desires and ask ourselves if our desires fill our own heart or if they hurt others and/or ourselves. I don’t know about you but I am parched. The Kool-Aid we’ve all been drinking for years isn’t the hydration any of us need. I have a deep thirst for my life and am ready to quench it. Not on the backs of anyone, and straight from my own heart.



Too Strong for Who?

Too Strong for Who?

I don’t know if this is true for anyone else who has a sister but my sister is part of me and I’m part of her. I can’t explain it but we know each other in our bones. I could spend literal days with her and still get annoyed she hasn’t texted me back within five minutes of leaving. She’s my person and I’m hers.

Last night, I was struggling to see myself. To be honest I feel like I always struggle to see myself, but last night everything kind of hit me at once. I literally have no idea how I come across to anyone in conversations or interactions. I never have. Soon I found myself picking up the phone to call my sister. I knew she would be honest with me, brutally if needed.

At first she was surprised to hear I don’t know how people see me. I was surprised she didn’t know this because she knows what I eat for breakfast every day, how much sleep I get–pretty much everything. I asked her why I felt like others met me with resistance and judgement when I shared my voice with them. Her response was everything I needed to hear. She told me, “you are a strong woman and that scares people. You won’t conform and that makes people uncomfortable.” Holy shit. That’s it.

Finding Your Strength

I often explain to family and friends that I have always felt I’m outside of the world looking in. Honestly, a big part of this is being a researcher, introvert, and visionary. If I only ever talked to the people I loved and never met a new human being I would be a very happy woman. I had a million fears when we went into lockdown last spring during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic but staying home was not one of them. 

I’m often deep in thought of what brings me joy and what I think the world needs. At the same time, however, I don’t give a lot of thought to how I come across. But I’m also human and when I’m in social situations, work relationships, and non-intimate personal relationships I’m quite aware I’m on the outside. Take a hometown football game, for example. If I’m at a game and a circle of other moms my age are sitting as far away as possible, I’m not bothered at all. This is nothing against anyone. I’m happy by myself and would feel exhausted having to make small talk. But if I think bigger, like when I need to advocate for myself or my beliefs and am met with resistance or judgement, this is what bothers me. I thought there was no clue why this is. Hence the phone call to my sister.

After the call I took her answer and mulled it over deep within my core and knew it was true. I am a woman who won’t bend. I stand on my own and refuse to make myself small for anyone. This makes the world uncomfortable because I am a woman not bending. My small, sacred circle of friends and family? They give zero shits that I am true to myself and respect me for honoring myself and my worth.

My sister and I spent hours talking about my dilemma. I was stuck. I am a good woman who wakes up daily wanting a better world for others. I want it for myself, my sons, my sacred circle and every human being. I spend time each day in gratitude seeking authentic joy. My happiest place in the world is my basement couch across from the playroom. In the mornings, when I have the boys, I sip my coffee with a book for me and a stack for them. They buzz around me, flittering between reading with me and playing. At night, after dinner, Dametrius joins us in the basement and my boys snuggle, wrestle, and Declan brings us all “tea.” It’s bliss and nothing in the world brings me closer to God. She’s right there.

Perceiving the Good in Ourselves

So how then, when I perceive myself to be a generally good person soaking in the tiny joys of the world to build a better one, do I get painted as someone to fear? The belief system of the patriarchy we live in. That’s why. I am a woman with a strong voice in a world where women are supposed to be quiet. This past fall, when my divorce situation was still new, I was walking the pasture wailing to the sky, screaming “why me? Because I’m a woman with a voice?” Among other things, yes. The path for women with visions is hard and It’s fucking bullshit.

My friend Dana has a daughter named Kahlan. Kahlan is incredibly bright and bold. She’s unapologetic about her worth and comfortable with it. During the pandemic, Kahlan became so frustrated with the disorganization of online learning that she began providing feedback to her teachers at their request to streamline the programs. When a mistake is made Kahlan shoots off an email, “I should not have to be writing this email but…”  She’s 13. Kahlan reminds me of myself before the world told me to be small.  

Dana often doesn’t know what to do with her fierce daughter and rightfully so. Ask my parents if they knew (or even know) what to do with me. Nope! But here is my wish for Kahlan, my nieces, my darling Olga, every woman alive, and myself. Do not make yourself small. Take up space and use it. Shout to the world, show your worth, and if you’re too strong for someone that’s their problem not yours.

When I thought more about the issue of being small I felt grace for others. Forgiveness, if you will. You see, for thousands of years strength was the masculine feature valued above all others. When a man flexes his muscles it is to show others he can dominate them. I have no time, nor interest in this. To my knowledge no woman or girl I know does either. We’re not showing our strength to put you in your place. We’re showing our strength because it’s who we are and through it we can honor ourselves and the world.

Moving Forward with Value and Compassion

I’ve spent my whole life feeling this way. Strong and judged for being strong.  My strength? It is mine to hone and through it my life is full and the world served. There’s nothing scary here, unless a woman with a voice scares you. So I ask you this: Too strong for who?

My answer? Too strong for no one, my strength is not harmful but it is powerful. So is the strength of your daughters and your strength to teach your sons to value power with, not power over. To build a world where strength is used is to build a society where we all thrive and power is no longer misused. 

I challenge you this; Ladies, look at all your strength and ways you have held it in. Ask yourself, “too strong for who?” hashtag it. Blow me up. Start a storm. Stand up. We don’t have time to just sit still and look pretty.



Ink-Black Skies

Ink-Black Skies

Last week I wrote to you all about staying true to myself through my divorce and the importance of staying true to yourself. I have to be honest, this has been the struggle of my life and it’s a struggle I no longer accept.

This past summer I picked up a book, “Untamed,” by Glennon Doyle, that changed everything. If you haven’t read it stop reading now, find the book at your favorite online bookshop, order, then come back. Glennon starts her book by talking about a cheetah named Tabitha who is at a zoo and was taught to chase a stuffed rabbit behind a car. The cheetah comes out for the crowds, does the trick, and is then rewarded with a piece of meat tossed in the dust.

Tabitha is fast and beautiful but dull as she completes the trick. When the cheetah moves back to her enclosure she paces, looks fierce, and feels raw. Glennon writes that the cheetah must hunger for the kill, for ink-black skies, and to be free. Tabitha must think she is crazy wishing for a life she’s never seen but knows she was born for. Glennon ends her chapter by saying “you’re not crazy, you are a goddamn cheetah.”  

Embracing Your Inner Cheetah

That’s it, you guys. Seeing yourself as the cheetah, for what you were born for, is everything I’ve been trying to say to you. It’s everything I’ve been trying to believe for my entire life. I’m not crazy, I’m a goddamn cheetah. And so are you.

I can’t explain it, why I’ve struggled so much throughout my lifetime feeling caged. I have always had this gut feeling about how beautiful the world is, what it can be, and how pain and injustice can be eradicated. I’m not joking, this has been my beat since I was like five years old. I literally wake up every morning thirsty to build the world I see in my mind, a vision that used to become lost and exhausted in the day. I was chasing that stupid stuffed bunny.

Up until this fall, even as I built a beautiful life and business, I struggled. I felt a strong presence of wild passion inside me but allowed the noise of the world around me to muffle the roar. At work, my roar was louder because, as I’ve said before, it’s easier to fight for the injustice of others. I’ve used a fraction of my skills and talents to build the only Applied Behavior Analysis company that never turns a client away based on funding. Never. If I were Tabitha I imagine my time at my company would be like her first run in the wild. Muscles gleaming, breathless, beautiful. My company is beautiful but you know what? So am I.

Running for Yourself

Deep inside, I know the world could be a place where all of our needs are met. That was the reason for my first run–I ran for the disabled. I’ve run for many other things over the course of my life, but right now I’m running for me. If I believe that every single person deserves a beautiful life, free of oppression, hate, and suffering I have to start with myself. My entire being wants to run the Sahara, not just take a lap around my metaphorical cage.

I believe that every single human life counts. I also believe that there are humans that will never turn away from hate, hate directed towards themselves or others. It’s hard not to believe that greed, selfishness, and the like keep billions of people oppressed, unable to pursue their dreams. And that people who are oppressed (caged) themselves facilitate caging others around them. This is not the way; it’s the lie that too many of us blindly follow.

You see we are each given only one wild and precious life. Each morning the sun rises and falls, the world spins, and life goes on. There is beauty around us every day, but there is also destruction. Our choice? Follow the life that destruction has told us is real or get out of the goddamn cage and run.  

You must be strong to run. Strength does not come from hiding away and accepting that this is simply how life is. It’s looking eye to eye with the stuffed rabbit and telling it, “you are not real,” 

Do you want to know who is real? Me. You. My children. Your children. We are all fierce, beautiful, divine creatures ready for the hunt. We are ready to sleep under the ink-black sky of night, breathe the cool fresh air, and live. Live with me. Be free.



Roots in the Grass, Wings in the Sky

Roots in the Grass, Wings in the Sky

Over the past few months, I’ve been alluding to my own personal struggles as well as our collective trauma as a nation. This week I publicly announced that I’m getting a divorce. One thing that I’ve committed myself to is never abandoning myself again. This means that as easy as it would be to get ugly, to lash out, and place blame throughout my divorce I cannot do it. It is not within me to directly harm another person with my actions. Hold accountable? Yes. Harm? No. How is this possible during a divorce or any other trauma? I don’t have all the answers but I’ll tell you what I’ve learned.

Learning from Struggle

For anyone who has gone through a divorce and thus googled, “divorce,” late at night you know what I found. That divorce is listed as the second hardest thing humans go through next to the death of a family member. I can attest that it is hard but I haven’t lived long enough to confirm what Google has to say. What I do know is that when the divorce came to me in the early days my emotions were overwhelming. There are many reasons for that but I’ll share those later on. In the middle of those emotions, I of course found rage and fear. When these emotions came to me I had to decide what to do with them.

Knowing that I have committed to never lose myself again, not to anyone or anything, I knew that while I could listen to my emotions I was not willing to use them against my ex-husband or others surrounding him that were causing me to hurt. I was full of hurt but if I channeled my hurt into anger to lash at them all I was doing was perpetuating the cycle. I would lose myself and someday regret it. So, instead of choosing to lash out, I chose to take the high road by taking really good care of myself.

Focusing on Yourself

The first thing I did was to make sure that I allowed myself space to feel every single feeling. That if I was having a hard time I honored it, then provided the care my mind and body needed. Just today, for example, I had a stressful call, and to process my stress I put everything down to walk and clear my head. The next thing I did was let people help me and reached out to my tribe. In doing these two things I was able to hold space for myself to reclaim who I am and not at the expense of harming others or myself. I’ve found that this short process can help on any given day.

In walking through this process and thinking about collective trauma and stress I’ve begun to wonder how many of us are doing this and how many of us are choosing to suffer instead? I am a lucky woman, surrounded by some of the most caring, beautiful people you’ll ever meet. On some level, I see each of them struggling with this. It’s not in a large, overt way but more from a willingness to either give when they do not want to, making concessions for others, or creating problems/solutions outside of themselves. Guilty as charged, we all can do this but we can also all be aware of it.

One of the things I’ve struggled with for a very long time is just fully standing in my own being, doing exactly what I was created to without feeling shame. I’m a talented clinician and businesswoman yet I feel stigma each day for this. A stigma for being strong. Fear is the keeper of this shame and no longer welcome in my life. I cannot be afraid of who I am or what I want. Remember, we’re all divinely born with gifts to give. If I’m scared of who I am, what I want, or what others think of me I’m risking giving my life away. Again, remember; I’m also not willing to be someone else ever again.

Moving on as the Real You

So where do I, do we go from here? We make choices that feel at home with ourselves and honor the talents within us, taking one thing at a time. We really feel our feelings and tend to them the way we do for our children. A common phrase in my head starts with, “Jessie my love…,” when I am hurting. We can also bear witness to harmful behaviors of others, hold them accountable, and refuse to lose ourselves by meeting fear with fear.

It is entirely possible to live a beautiful life, full of hardship and joy at the same time. This is the way; walk through pain, hold it close, honor your worth, and rise above. When you have risen you have the talent and strength to ask those harming others to stop and leave. This creates a more beautiful world for you, your children, and everyone around you.

I believe each of us has a chance to do this every single day on both a large and small scale. Can you be brave enough to walk with me? Can you imagine a world without hate and harm? Where those oppressing us are held accountable and gifted teachers guide us? I dream of it every day.  

Walk with me. Lay down what doesn’t serve you. Roots in the grass, wings in the sky. Fly away with me.



Photo credit: Jennifer O’Leary

Finding Our Roots

Finding Our Roots

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been writing to you about looking underneath the leaves of our psyche and how to slowly start overturning each leaf. As I lift my own leaves I’m reminded of my own worth and humanity. If you’ve been following me you may be thinking, “wait a second, I thought the leaves were our dark parts, how did you find self-worth under them?” I’ll tell you.

Finding Self-Worth

You see, as humans, we are all torn between two realities. In the spiritual world, this is often called the light and dark, good and evil, and so on. Whether you are spiritual or not I believe you can break this down by choosing to show up as you were created to show. You can also respond to the pain of the world and hold it as truth. The way we find ourselves is by really taking a good hard look and accepting what is there. If you know there is worth at your core, worth that could bring you endless joy, wouldn’t you want to look? 

That is where bravery comes in and if we are operating from a place that does not feel like ourselves it’s time to make a change. The scary part is that when we are willing to look at any single thing keeping us from our true selves we know we are facing loss. There’s this piece of the bible (not to get all spiritual twice now…) about not serving more than one God. I wrote last week about the different things that can keep me from me, so not serving more than one God rang close to home. But to me, God isn’t high in the sky. She is deep in my core. She is me.  When I do things in the world as though they have a higher value than me I’m lost. Knowing that my one truth is to never abandon myself again I have to be willing to lose things of the earth if the cost of keeping them is me.

So, how do we know if what we’re serving is working towards our highest good? We need to ask the questions “are we making the best choices for ourselves?” and “are those choices bringing us closer to or farther away from ourselves?”

Working Towards Our Best Selves

For me, it’s twofold. I believe that in our truest form we cannot inflict pain on ourselves or another. That we are all innately good. This is the first piece and hard as hell to learn.  Because if we are all innately good, then we need to practice the principles of, “do no harm,”  or “not to me, not to you, not to anyone”? This is how I navigate all of my decisions and I believe if we all did this the world would radically change overnight. I know it. In being committed to doing no harm to myself it means I have to honor myself and am unwilling to attack my sisters and brothers who walk this world with me.  

Now, please don’t get me wrong. There is absolute evil in this world and not one of us would survive running around with free hugs and forgiveness all of the time. That shit does not work. Holding people accountable for their damaging behaviors and refusing to damage them in return; that shit does work. My sister made a cross-stitch for me for my birthday this past weekend that reads “do no harm, take no shit.” Yep, that’s it. That sums it up. We can absolutely stand up for ourselves and our desires without hurting anyone.  

If saying your own truth creates a loss of a relationship, job, opportunity, or the like you aren’t hurting anyone. You are setting a boundary to say what you need and want. If who you are setting the boundary with accepts you they are part of your tribe. If they don’t, they’re not. Plain and simple. This is where loss comes in. In this part of knowing our true form, we have to believe our wants and desires are worth losing almost everything for, so we may then gain everything.

Weighing Our Beliefs and Desires

The second part is incredibly important here; all of our wants and desires need to be measured against, “does this cause pain, anywhere?” This is how we can come to know if our choices are in line with that deep knowing within ourselves because deep inside of us is a God. She would not cause harm (think back to the last section). So, as we’re navigating through coming home to ourselves and examining what really sets us on fire and makes us uniquely joyful we can know if we’ve chosen based on what’s within us versus what we’re being told.

Let me give some examples of this because it’s pretty hard to grasp. For example, say I tell you what makes me wildly happy is fur. I think fur is fabulous or I love the Kardashians, I’m in it to win it with fur! I put myself out there and say, “world this is me! Love me as I am!” You have an absolute right to call my bullshit and I should call my own too because wearing fur literally hurts (or kills) the creature it came from! This is a dramatic example of choosing wisely about what we think makes us uniquely happy. 

On a simpler note, I could say drinking wine is totally me but when I drink I feel fuzzy and like I’m doing it to just fit in. I could say I’m wearing a certain outfit to make more friends. I could give an example of restricting calories to hit a goal weight when I’m really fucking hungry most of the time. All of these are the false idols, the many Gods if you will.  

If we expand this thought of worshipping false idols further we become tainted and begin attacking ourselves or each other. The attacks on ourselves may be subtle, or you may have an inner monologue that is so nasty you would have no friends if you spoke your thoughts out loud. The attacks on our bodies and minds come from filling them with content and people that keep us from being home to ourselves. In frustration and out of alignment, we then attack the world by lashing out at others to let them know they are separate from us and therefore less than us. It’s vicious, it’s awful, and it’s everywhere.  It also couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Following the Real You

Following these two guiding principles to take us home and “do no harm,” enables us to truly know if the choices we are making are for our true selves and if we are choosing them, are real. Because what is real will cause no harm. You can show up gloriously and easily ask for all you desire for your life and hurt no one, starting with yourself.

In Untamed, Glennon writes about a warm golden feeling she has when she accesses her knowing. Glennon talks about the quiet space beneath the noise of the world that is her holy space. I know this space too. It is inside of me and I know it’s inside of you. To find it you must be willing to go there, find yourself, and pull her back to life.