The Dangers of Politically Correct Culture

This post originally appeared on Inspirer.

We live in a time when everyone is afraid to say what they really think. There’s talk of ‘safe spaces,’ yet it has become unacceptable to bring up controversy. We have fallen into the trap of trying not to offend anyone, and as a result, we no longer say anything of meaning. In attempting to please everyone, our conversations lack substance and have become a parody of the real thing. Has being politically correct become too much of a worry?

As a society, we have become more and more polarized. Extreme in our points of view. The candidates in this past election are the epitome of this divide. It comes as no surprise that government struggles to work in a bipartisan fashion. Doing so would require opposing sides to work together instead of avoiding those of a different opinion.

Passionate people are full of fire and purpose. Sure, they might say something controversial, but at least they believe in something enough to stand up for it. It’s a quality that is becoming harder to find in our politically correct culture.

When I spent a few months in Spain, I was shocked by how direct the Spaniards were in their topics of conversation. Everything considered taboo in the states – religion, politics, money, sex – was fair game as far as they were concerned. As Americans, we often received very direct questions that made us uncomfortable. It wasn’t the intention of the Spanish to make us squirm, but rather a part of their culture. A passionate discussion that included raised voices was considered normal. Whether you agreed with the other person or not, it was expected that you be friendly and accepting of their right to have a different opinion.

That’s what we’re missing, the ability to have a tough yet respectful conversation with someone of a different opinion. It’s time to start having a real discussion with those around us. Instead of automatically assuming someone in opposition is unintelligent, talk to them. Ask questions. Explain your point of view and try to understand theirs. Neither of you may change what you think, but at least we can start to heal the divide in our nation. We’re all American.

4 Companies to Help Plan Your Next Adventure

This post originally appeared on Inspirer.

Traveling is an incredible way to broaden your horizons. Visiting new places and interacting with people different than yourself provides an opportunity to challenge preconceived notions and truly become a global citizen.

Ready for your next adventure but overwhelmed at the thought of planning everything? Check out these companies aimed at helping women see the world.

Adventures in Good Company

Perfect for those looking for an active and outdoor vacation, Adventures in Good Company offers well organized trips for women of all ages. Whether you want to try your first solo trip or are looking for a fun trip with your best friend, there is no shortage of options. Current adventures include kayaking and paddle boarding in Belize, hiking in Portugal, llama trekking in Utah, and many more.

Contiki

If you’re young and on a budget, a Contiki tour is for you. Specializing in travel around the world for 18-35 year-olds, Contiki offers last minute deals and early booking discounts to help make your adventure more affordable. Their Penny Pincher category even offers trips under $1,000! Some of the budget trips include Oktoberfest, London, and Amsterdam. The most popular tours seem to be Island Hopping in Greece and their Asian Adventure.

Wanderlust and Lipstick

With a tagline of “Ready to be bold?,” Wanderlust and Lipstick challenges women to get outside of their comfort zone. The site’s founder, Beth Whitman, has traveled for over 30 years and now uses her experience to help other women become empowered to do the same. Wander Tours are offered in exotic locations around the globe. With a choice between all female tours or small co-ed groups, your experience is up to you. Trips to Africa, Thailand and Laos, and North India are all scheduled for the coming months.

Intrepid

Years of experience leading small group tours have made Intrepid into a well run organization with great trip guides. They take safety very seriously which is important when traveling especially in less frequented areas. Recommended for inexpensive and small group travel, Intrepid offers adventures and experiences off the beaten path. Whether you want to check out Croatia from a cruise, visit Cuba, or even make the trek to Antartica, Intrepid has it all.

Feel Good Winter Reading

This post originally appeared on Inspirer.

The winter months are a perfect time to snuggle up with a good book and get your winter reading on. What better way to start your year than with some great reads by boss lady authors?  Check out these five books chock full of inspiration and feel good vibes.

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person

In this heartwarming memoir that will have you laughing out loud, Shonda Rhimes shares all about her journey from anxiety and unhealthy living to fully embracing life.  The incredible woman behind the creation of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away with Murder holds nothing back in this empowering call to arms.  She reveals how saying yes to yourself sometimes means saying no to other people and shows us in her characteristic sassy manner that if she can do it, you can too.

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life

World traveling success coach and author Jen Sincero offers a powerful combination of sage wisdom, inspiring stories and hilarious anecdotes.  This is anything but your ordinary self-help book, and she doesn’t hesitate to share all parts of her own journey; some will have you rolling on the ground with laughter and others will touch your heart.  With the occasional swear word and a no-nonsense attitude, this is for you if you’re ready to cut the BS and start creating a life you love.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Elizabeth Gilbert, the woman who brought us Eat Pray Love, brings us behind the scenes of her creative process and explores what it means to live a life of creativity and fulfillment.  An instant New York Times best seller, Big Magic challenges readers to go after what they want out of life and to move beyond fear.  Gilbert offers practical tips for getting over whatever is holding you back and doesn’t hesitate to share funny stories, often at the expense of herself.  A heart-warming and inspiring how-to guide, this is a must read for anyone looking to experience more wonder and joy in the everyday.

How to Love Yourself (and Sometimes Other People): Spiritual Advice for Modern Relationships

While technically authored by the duo Meggan Watterson and Lodro Rinzler, this is a hilarious and accurate portrayal of love in the modern age.  Reading perspective offered by both a woman and a man make their revelations that much more compelling.  Meggan especially goes above and beyond sharing her personal journey towards self-love and feelings of worthiness especially in the wake of difficult relationships.  It’s a modern and hip guide to find love and stability in all your relationships – something we could all use more of in our lives.

The Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear Into Faith

Gabrielle Bernstein has inspired countless people to transform their lives and experience radical self-love and forgiveness.  In The Universe Has Your Back, she takes it a step further and offers teachings on how to move past fear and transform it into faith.  Bernstein offers a shift in perspective that empowers readers to get out of whatever makes them feel stuck or helpless and move on to a life of joy and strength.

Why Traveling Solo is Something All Women Should Do

This post originally appeared on Inspirer.

There comes a time when you can become so obsessed with an adventure or visiting a place that you’ll do anything to make it happen.  For me, that city was Paris.  When the opportunity arose to make this trip a reality, all my friends and potential travel companions had other plans.  With slight trepidation, I did the unthinkable: I took myself to Paris.

The more people questioned and expressed surprise at my travel plans, the more confident I became that it was an experience I wanted to have.  I would explore the most romantic city on earth, alone.  Who knew that I would fall in love with solo travel in the process?

It can be daunting at first, but traveling by yourself is an incredibly eye-opening opportunity that every woman should experience in her lifetime.  Here’s why:

It’s an opportunity for self-reflection.

Not having anyone traveling with you equals a lot of time to think.  This can be terrifying for some; research has shown that most people prefer to endure electric shocks rather than sit alone with their own thoughts.  Once you get over the initial shock of not being constantly engaged with another person, you have the opportunity to reflect.  You may be surprised by how much you can learn about yourself when you’re not trying to keep up with someone else.

You can do what you want.

When you travel solo, your day belongs to you and you alone.  Want to sleep in?  Awesome, no one’s waiting on you to get going.  I loved the freedom to stop when I felt like it or to enjoy the Eiffel Tower for a second or third time.  When I became tired halfway through the Musee d’Orsay, I stopped to recharge in the cafe for an hour before finishing the rest of the museum.  That kind of freedom and flexibility only comes when you’re by yourself.

You get a huge sense of accomplishment.

Traveling alone means you’re in charge of everything: planning, execution and problem-solving.  It’s true that this can be quite an undertaking, and I definitely felt a bit overwhelmed at times. However, the challenge breeds a massive sense of accomplishment as well as confidence in yourself and your abilities.  I never thought I could navigate a strange city where I didn’t speak the language, but here I am writing about it!

Connect more authentically with others.

When you’re alone, you become more open and aware of the people around you.  You may not understand the barista serving your coffee, but you can give them a big smile and do your best not to butcher “Thank you” in their language.  Chatting with the people at your lodging or going on a walking tour and meeting fellow adventurers from around the world suddenly become a priority because they offer the chance to connect with the humans around you.

It’s a chance to break stereotypes.

Whether it’s other people telling you that you can’t do it or the voice in the back of your head, there’s an idea that women shouldn’t and can’t travel alone.  The fact is that you can and you will!  Don’t miss out on amazing life experiences just because you don’t have someone to go with.  Don’t wait for the perfect time or the right guy to come along to take you to the city you’ve been dreaming of seeing.  Just go, enjoy and prove to yourself and others that you capable and proud to be independent.

For more female solo traveler inspiration, check out boss babes Alyssa Ramos at mylifesamovie.com and Alex Baackes of alexinwanderland.com.

How to Cultivate Happiness in 2017

This post originally appeared on Inspirer.

We all want to be happier, but too often the feelings of bliss and contentment seem to be sensations that come and go as they please.  Thankfully, science has shown that happiness can be increased through a few simple activities and mindset shifts.  To make 2017 your happiest year yet, choose to cultivate joy in your everyday life.

Take Care of Yourself

As women, we often feel the need to put others before our own needs.  It can be difficult to prioritize ourselves, but it’s time to make self-care a non-negotiable.  We deserve it!  Exercising isn’t a chore, it’s a way to release endorphins.  Choose real foods to show yourself that you deserve to be nourished.  Whatever taking care of yourself means to you – a soothing bath, a manicure, or staying in on a Friday night – make time for it.

Be Present

Meditation and mindfulness are all the rage, and for good reason.  You can literally rewire your brain just by sitting comfortably, focusing on your breath, and doing your best to tame the thoughts in your head.  It’s no easy task, but the benefits are well worth the struggle.  This can transfer over to being present in your everyday life and finding joy in something as simple as the smell of your morning coffee.  10% Happier by Dan Harris is a great read about the benefits of mindfulness and the author’s personal journey with meditation.

Invest in Relationships that Matter

Call your mom just to chat. Make the effort to meet up with your friend that makes you laugh until your stomach hurts.  Strong relationships and a commitment to spending time with loved ones have been linked to increased levels of happiness and decreased feelings of depression.  Evaluate who makes you feel good and prioritize them on your social agenda.

Practice Forgiveness

The new year is a wonderful opportunity to have a clean slate by letting go of old frustrations.  Forgiving people is a powerful tool for creating the life you want and choosing your own path to happiness.  Besides, in the words of Jen Sincero, “Holding onto resentment is like taking poison and waiting for your enemies to die.”  It’s futile and hurts no one but yourself.

Donate Your Time

Volunteering and getting involved in your own community offer an opportunity to make a difference.  You can feel good about having a positive impact while putting your own life and problems into perspective.  The act of kindness also results in higher self-esteem and improved health for the person volunteering.  Interested?  Check out volunteermatch.org to connect with nonprofits in your area.

Take a Digital Detox

We live in a world of distractions made up of buzzing smartphones and a thousand emails a day.  Unplug for a few hours or even an entire Saturday to be present in the moment.  We all know comparison is the death of happiness, so appreciate the bliss of not seeing someone else’s perfect life on social media.  Turning off my phone notifications for Instagram and Facebook was one of the most freeing things I’ve done because it allows me to be in control of when I log on.

Practice Gratitude

Grateful people appreciate what they have and experience greater levels of contentment and satisfaction.  Practicing gratitude can be as easy as listing five things you’re grateful for before falling asleep.  Starting a gratitude journal is another simple practice to cultivate appreciation.  According to the Law of Attraction, what you focus on you attract.  Sending out positive vibes of appreciation can only bring more good into your life!

Babysitting: The Glory Days

       My younger sister is at the age where she’s beginning to build her babysitting career.  In helping her form a marketing strategy – hey, gotta put those business classes to good use – I began to reminisce on my own golden age of babysitting.

       Those were the days.  A few hours playing hide and seek with more or less well-behaved children, and you would walk away with cold, hard cash.  No taxes, no strings attached, it was all. yours.  Not to mention the perks of the job after the kids went to sleep: endless channels on the television and good snacks.

       Does anyone else miss those days?  As a senior soon to graduate into the real world, I  find myself mourning those times even more.  I didn’t even fully appreciate how good I had it!  Uncle Sam didn’t take half my pay and living at home meant I had no expenses.  I could spend my earnings on whatever my heart desired with nary a care in the world.  Besides, I knew I’d just make another $100 cash the next weekend.  What did it matter if I blew it all shopping with friends?

       Sure, changing dirty diapers wasn’t the most glamorous job and explaining to a worried mother that her son fell at the park was a situation to be handled with the utmost care.  It’s true that in high school I spent many a Saturday night cleaning up toys and doing a mountain of someone else’s dishes after putting the kids to sleep.  There is little more exacerbating than having a child patter down the stairs after you’ve tucked them in three times already and you’re finally sitting down to relax and watch a good movie.

       I liked it though.  To this day, kids seem to enjoy me and I always have a good time with them.  The great thing about babysitting is that you get to have fun with your charges and then you get to give them back.  No matter how poorly they behave, there is an end in sight, because they’re not your children!  Besides that comforting thought, you know there will be a glorious check with your name on it in just a few hours.  These two truths can get you through even the most challenging of tantrums.

       Perhaps that’s why I’m still hesitant at the thought of having my own children: I’d get frustrated with them and think,

Well at least their parents will be home by 11pm and then I’ll be free!

or Where’s my cash for the day?

Except not.  Ah well, maybe I’ll mature one day.  If I do, let’s pray my future children never read this.

 

If anyone would like to hire me to hang out with their children and eat their snacks, my services are available immediately.

 

How just 5 minutes of journaling a day helps me make sense of myself

The only time I ever made sense to myself was when I was journaling twice a day.

I’d wake up and immediately seat myself at my desk, bathed in morning light. In the evening, before drifting off to sleep, I’d write at least a few sentences, no matter how heavy my eyelids were.

I’m a person who lives in my own head. Putting a pen to paper gives me an outlet for my thoughts that no amount of discussion or meditation can. It takes time, and my handwriting can be atrocious, but the act itself serves to calm and center me.

These past few years have been hectic and stressful. They’ve been punctuated by anxiety and a lack of self-care.

I’ve felt adrift, as though I’ve lost sight of who I really am and can’t seem to find my way back.

When I think back to a time when I felt truly comfortable in my own skin, the period when I committed to journaling is at the forefront of my mind. Why did I ever stop?

Writing things down doesn’t change the situation or make it go away. However, it does grant an opportunity to see things in a different light. It offers acceptance of what is and the mindfulness that comes from being present.

So here I am, starting to write again. It’s mostly for myself, but the truth is that when I write, I’m more pleasant to be around as well. Being present and content in the moment translates to being a better daughter, sister, friend and human being. No longer at war with myself, I’m happy with who I am. That’s a goal we can all get behind.

For those new to journaling or easing back into it, I recommend writing for five minutes upon waking up—that means before looking at your phone! The moments just after we awake from sleep are when we are most attuned to our higher selves without the influence of worldly distractions. Writing our thoughts during this time can help us connect to who we really are and offer a glimpse at our innermost aspirations.

Journaling immediately before going to sleep can also be helpful to share positive messages with our subconscious.  Processing the events of the day on paper allows us to fall asleep with ease since our mind is no longer cluttered with unfinished business. The most important thing is to pick a time that works for us and consistently write in order to create a habit.

We don’t have to write for an hour—and honestly, depending on the day—we might not feel like it at all. If we commit to jotting down even one sentence, we’ll be surprised by the positive effects. Soon enough, we’ll find ourselves filling pages.

If we aren’t sure what to write, we can start off with “I don’t know what I’m writing, and….” Breathe—it really doesn’t matter what we put down on the page. Besides, who’s going to read it? The act itself is cathartic and is an opportunity to clear the cobwebs of the mind.

Affirmations are another wonderful way to start the day on a positive note and can help at times when we feel at a loss for words. Journaling can serve as a type of visualization by imagining events going our way and people being kind.

For example, when I’m feeling nervous before a presentation, I’ll write down positive thoughts about how I see it going. It may be something like, “My presentation is incredible and every single person in the room is completely engaged with what I’m saying. They laugh at my jokes and ask great questions that I respond to with competence and grace. I am a naturally talented speaker and my confidence radiates through in every word I speak.”

Alternatively, we can focus on self-love and acceptance by writing affirmations such as, “I love and accept myself in this moment,” or “My life is incredible and I am happy to be me.” It may seem cheesy or silly, but it works.

Write what you most desire into existence. Process your day to sleep better. Connect with the person you truly are and who you want to become.  

This post originally appeared on Elephant Journal.

This is what really happens when you share your story

A few months ago, I wrote a piece in which I opened up about my struggles with body image and ultimately how I found peace through my yoga practice.  It’s an issue many seem to grapple with, yet we don’t talk about it.  I definitely felt embarrassed and ashamed about my messed up self image and food issues.

Talking about it was out of the question especially since the women around me seemed normal and sane.  That’s the true result of not talking about our personal struggles: everyone else seems to be fine – at least on the outside.

When I opened up about my own journey toward body peace, I knew that at least a few people would read it.  I just didn’t realize how many!  It ended up garnering quite a bit of attention both on the web and among people in my life.  I’ll admit that I panicked a bit when I realized the sheer volume of readers that were privy to intimate details about my inner struggles.

I questioned whether I should have put my story out into the world at all.  As I thought about it more and had time to process, I started to realize it was the best action I could have taken for myself and other people.

In putting my own narrative into words and including raw honesty about how I’d never felt good enough, I was able to process emotions I had long ignored.  There was a lightness in my chest when I realized that the emotion surrounding my body was no longer negative or a secret.  It just was.  

The most wonderful result of taking my own leap was the outpouring of support from people around me.  Everyone has a story to share.  In publishing mine, others felt compelled to tell me theirs.

A girl from my high school who I hadn’t seen in years texted me out of the blue telling me how much the article had resonated with her.  We were able to reconnect over vegan tomato soup and had the best time chatting and laughing.

My aunt who lives across the country wanted to chat on the phone after reading my piece.  It turned out she has always wanted to write and loved that I had simply made it happen.  I felt humbled indeed to have a relative find me a source of inspiration.

A guy from my university that I didn’t know well at all messaged me on Facebook about his own challenges.  We had a powerful dialogue about cultural expectations surrounding appearances both for men and women.

When we give ourselves permission to open up despite being scared, amazing things happen.

Yes, it can be terrifying to allow yourself to be raw and vulnerable.  It totally was!  It helps to realize that this fear keeps us from sharing our stories and connecting authentically with those around us.  We limit ourselves from finding others like us or being a source of empowerment to someone else because we’re paralyzed by the idea that someone will laugh at us.  Maybe they will, but there will be many more who are inspired and supportive.

My short piece sparked a larger conversation around me and among people who I may never meet.  People want to discuss body image and their struggles but are often too afraid to do so.

When you share your own journey, you empower others to do the same.  They continue talking about it with their own circle of humans and the cycle of authentic conversations and growth continues.  It’s scary to take the leap, but you have the ability to make an impact that resonates far beyond just you.  That’s true strength!

I shared my story and it resulted in a positive chain reaction I never could have imagined.  I challenge you to share yours.  What kind of impact will you have?

This post originally appeared on Thought Catalog.

It’s okay to not know what you want

An object in motion stays in motion.  That’s one of the few things I retained from my high school physics class.  I’m fairly certain I was too busy flirting with the guy next to me to learn the rest of Newton’s laws, but at least I learned something.

Newton’s first law can be stated as:

An object in at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

Couch potatoes tend to stay couch potatoes unless an unbalanced force comes around and shakes things up.  We’re creatures of habit and we like to coast, but it’s when we stretch ourselves that we start creating a life we enjoy.

You don’t have to know exactly where you’re going or what you want to do with the rest of your life.  With the exception of my cousin who has wanted to be a pediatric doctor since she was at least 9, very few of us have that kind of clarity.  (She recently graduated medical school and is absolutely incredible!)

For the rest of us lay people, it’s totally okay and normal to feel a little unsure about our general life path.  Just start moving in a certain direction, it doesn’t matter which one!  The important thing is to begin something, anything.  Put one metaphorical foot in front of the other and get going.

At the very least you’ll learn what you don’t want – a valuable lesson in itself.  Alternatively, you may stumble upon something wonderful you never knew existed, but only if you get off your couch and put yourself out there.

In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about being devoted to inquisitiveness.

“Curiosity is accessible to everyone.  Passion can seem intimidatingly out of reach at times – a distant tower of flame, accessible only to geniuses and to those who are specially touched by God.  But curiosity is a milder, quieter, more welcoming, and more democratic entity.”

So ask yourself: What am I interested in?  It doesn’t have to be profound or the solution to world hunger, it just has to peak your interest.  

Go on a scavenger hunt and follow what makes you curious.  Take that dance class, plant a garden, start learning another language.  You do you.

What makes you curious?

2 steps to the life you want

We like to complicate everything, overthink situations and generally make matters more difficult for ourselves.  Clarity of vision can go a long way towards streamlining your success.

1. Decide what kind of person you want to be & the type of life you aspire to lead.

It’s easy to see glamorous photos of famous people or read success stories of the uber wealthy and think “If only my life were like that…”  It’s another matter entirely to visualize and decide who you want to be.  Get out a pen and paper and describe your ideal life in excruciatingly minute details.

What do you look like?  Are you happy?  Who do you spend your time with?  Where do you live?  How do you feel?  What does your day-to-day look like?  

Get clear, get focused, figure it out.

2. Live as though you already are that person.

What does an extremely successful business person do?  They’re up by 5am to get a few hours of work in before anyone else is awake.

Want to be fit and healthy with boundless energy?  Make exercise and eating well non-negotiable.

Want to be a writer?  You have to actually write. 

Whatever you chose in the first step as your ideal life, start living it.  Determine how those who already have what you seek behave and adopt their mindset.

Become who you want to be by acting as if you already are.  You won’t be pretending for long.