We all have dreams, but how many of us are actually living them? As a child we had dreams about what we want to be when we grow up, but many of us end up working jobs we hate. Those people say thing's to me like, “You're so lucky you get to work as an artist! I wish I could have done that.” There are two things that are wrong with these statements. First, it has nothing to do with luck. I am where I am today as a result of every small decision I made. Second, it is never too late to start! Lots of people start a new career in their older age. That being said, these are the steps that I used to create a life I love.
1. Define life by YOUR standards
This one has to be first, because without this step this entire article is useless. If you are constantly judging your life by other people's standards, you will never truly be happy even if your life is everything you dreamed for. Society tells us that we should: Go to college, graduate and get hired at a 9-5 job, get married, have kids, then retire till you die. If you want that life, all the power to you! But that formula doesn't fit everyone. I went to college because I thought I was supposed to. There is no “supposed to” in life. Your life is yours, and there is no timeline. You can go to college at 81 instead of 18 if you wanted to! Ask yourself what kind of life you want, and don't pay attention to what others think you should do. It's not their life to live.
2. Make each day your dream day
Sometimes it's hard to imagine what you want your whole life to look like. A good place to start is to ask yourself: “what would my dream day consist of?” Get a piece of paper and write down all the activities you would want to do on a perfect day. Mine looks something like this: Wake up to a beautiful sunrise, draw or paint before having a delicious breakfast then going for a run or bike ride. Then meeting with some clients for custom outfits (that look fabulous on them!), going to the beach to watch the sunset, then having dinner with friends. It doesn't have to be complicated or fancy. Your dream day will evolve with your goals. Just start with a simple day plan, and write down how much time would be spent on each activity. Once you write down everything you want to fit into a day, it will be much easier to identify your priorities in life. If you can't fit something into your day, its hard to fit it into your life. Focus your energy on these priorities and your days will be amazing!
3. Create your own opportunities
Some are born with all the resources in the world, but never amount to anything, while others are born with very little and achieve greatness. How can that be? It's because even though we may not start on the same level, the universe is full to the brim with opportunities. All it takes is the right amount of ingenuity and resourcefulness. Success comes to those who can see things others do not. The entire world is connected, like a giant machine. There are always gaps in the system that you can slip into. A great example is the recycled products industry- like shoes made from old tires. The rest of the world saw the tires and dismissed it as trash, but the founder saw an opportunity to use the tires as soles for shoes. Train yourself to see things others don't, and then build something from it.
4. Treasure your energy...like gold!
You never have the time you need to take action on your goals- or so you thought! You would be surprised how much energy you have when you start being mindful of how you spend it. It's kind of like budgeting money. Once you list all your expenses, its easy to see where all your money is going. There are countless ways to waste your energy. Digital sources take up the most time- like T.V, Internet and social media. Mundane or repetitive tasks that could be done in a smarter way also drain energy. However, people are the biggest drainers of energy. Try to monitor your energy when you are around others- who makes you feel drained? Avoid them as much as possible. Your energy is precious, there is only so much of it in a day. The priorities you listed in step #2 should be what you spend the most energy on.
5. Find your tribe
Remember the energy suckers from step four? Your goal is to find their exact opposite. Find people who fill you with energy rather than drain it. Surround yourself with friends who share a dream similar to yours, so you can fuel each others passion. When you are living an alternative lifestyle, it helps to be around others who think like you, so you are a part of a community. These people should celebrate your success and shower you with positive vibes, but also be able to give you constructive criticism. A true friend will be honest with you about things you need to change, without being judgmental or harsh. Friends like this come few and far between, so hold on to them!
6. Load up on good Karma
A great way to make friends and rack up good karma is to give without expecting anything in return. Be generous just for the sake of being kind. Be generous with your time, resources, and knowledge. If someone is upset, be someone who listens and empathizes. If someone is in need and you are able to help them, do it. If someone comes to you for advice, don't withhold knowledge because you are afraid of what they might do with it. This is a common pitfall for entrepreneurs, we are afraid of competition. Don't give away company secrets- but some free advice can mean the world to that person. You will find that once you are a generous person, the good karma will rack up and the universe will be generous right back. There are countless scenarios where I was in a desperate situation and compete strangers helped me out. I would like to think it's because of my good karma.
7. Choose happiness
Another way to load up on good karma is to respect and appreciate life. Happiness is a choice, so when we choose anything else we are not appreciating the gift we have been given. Follow these steps to get happy now! The way we feel every day comes down to our mood, and our mood is created by our thoughts, and our thoughts are created by our perceptions. It is a difficult process to change your perception of the world, because it is developed during childhood and heavily influenced by our experiences. For example, when a child is attacked by a dog, often times they grow up to be adults who fear dogs. Changing your perception starts with challenging the beliefs you learned in childhood. For example, if you make a mistake your conditioned response may be to feel like a failure or beat yourself up about it. A happy person would acknowledge their mistake, and even celebrate it, because they believe that everything is a learning experience. Every negative situation has a silver lining if we look for it. Choosing happiness means conditioning yourself to find the silver lining around every rain cloud.
8. Don't wait for the right time
When something is important to us, we have a tendency to want to wait for the “right time”. We don't want to mess things up by starting before we are ready or have all the knowledge. Everything has to be perfect for us to take that first step. Guess what? That time will never come! You will always be busy. Life does not stop. If you want to live your dream life, you have to be okay with not knowing all the answers. Experience is the best way to learn. You have to get comfortable making mistakes- don't let the fear of failure stop you from moving forward. One step- even if its in the wrong direction- is still better than not progressing at all. Every so-called failure teaches you more than any class or book could teach you. Do like Nike says, Just Do It!
9. Make a commitment to growth and learning
While it is okay to make mistakes, it would be wrong to keep doing it and never learn. It is equally wrong to assume that you can get ahead in life without working on yourself and your skills. There is a direct correlation- improving yourself leads to an improved life. When you are healthier, can think clearer, and spend your energy wisely, it's only natural that your life will change to reflect that. It is the same with your career. When you invest into refining your skills and developing new ones you will reap the rewards. Try to identify your strengths and weaknesses, then make a plan to be the very best you can be.
What is YOUR dream day?
How are YOU living the life of your dreams, today?
Some of my favorite moments are when I'm hunting for a spot for a photo shoot. I come across the most amazing art! Here are a few of my favorites from this week...
Classic advice that will serve to improve the overall quality of your life.
1. Know thyself
In order to know which way to walk, you have to know what you're looking for. The same goes for life. You can't have a direction if you don't know what kind of person you want to be. If you want to be a wise person, then your natural direction would be to read more books and get more life experience. To know your direction you must know what it is that makes your heart truly happy. Think of what you liked to do when you were a child. What made you jump for joy? What made your heart race? Those are the experiences you need to be chasing. Know what gets you excited, and know what is crossing a red line for you. Learn to say no to people. Not everyone has your best interest at heart, not every experience is the right one for you. It is okay to walk away to protect yourself. Knowing your boundaries and respecting them will instantly boost your esteem and happiness.
2. Listen to your inner guiding voice
Everyone has had a gut feeling before. An event that you thought would happen actually did happen, and you realize that you should have trusted yourself when you had the initial thought. As we are living life, our body sends signals to us telling us if we have strayed off course. You were forced to make a decision that went against your moral code, you feel tight in your stomach. Something about someone made you think you shouldn't trust them but you gave them the benefit of the doubt then got burned. These feelings we have throughout life should be paid attention to. They are important and valid. If you are on a course of action and you start noticing this feeling, stop and change your direction. Head in the direction that feels right to you. You could save your life, make an amazing personal discovery, and enhance your quality of life.
3. Challenge yourself
You will never grow if you do the same things over and over again. Imagine a weight lifter who used ten pound dumbbells for their whole career. They may be fit, but they might not ever overcome a plateau. It is the same for your personal skills. Whether it be calculating engineering problems or painting, you must try new things in order to become truly great at what you do. I live with this constant feeling that there is so much I don't know, it drives me to always seek new knowledge. Read books about the subject you are interested in, or even books on something you thought was completely unrelated. You could be surprised how innovation in one field can influence a new idea in your field. If you don't have the discipline to teach yourself, take some classes either online in person. Never settle for the knowledge that you already have, always seek more.
4. Appreciate the small things
What is the beauty of life if not the small things? Life will feel much fuller and more joyous when you start appreciating the simple things. The sense of satisfaction you get after completing a work of art, cooking a delicious meal from scratch, or writing an insightful article. The clean water flowing from your faucet. The electricity that brings you the internet that connects you to people all over the world. Knowing that everyday is a chance to exercise your free will as a human being. Making a stranger smile. Seeing transformation in a child that once didn't believe in themselves and now does. Waking up next to someone you love. Sharing warm hugs with those you care about. Being able to make sounds in your throat that is known as language, that allows you to express yourself and be understood. The fact that YOU EXIST in this time, in this dimension, is a blessing in of itself.
5. Feed yourself only good, real food
Looking back at my diet a few years ago when I was in the deepest part of my depression, its no wonder I felt so physically fatigued. Sure, depression causes fatigue as well, but it becomes a vicious cycle when you don't feed yourself well because you aren't feeling well. I used to rely on the vending machines at my high school for lunch sometimes, wash it down with a diet soda. I would crash diet, focusing on what I couldn't eat as opposed to what I should be eating more of. Now, I try to eat two servings of fruits and vegetables everyday. Each meal needs to be balanced with protein, fruits/veggies, and a wholesome grain. Try to drink half your weight in ounces of water every day, its better than coffee at waking you up. Cut back on the salt, sugar, and fat, eat only real wholesome foods. It's what your body deserves.
6. Make your body a strong machine
Our bodies are meant to move. If we sit still for too long our bodies send us a signal by being achy, cramped, or tight. Commit to moving your body in some way each and every day. That may not mean hitting the gym. It could mean dancing in your living room in your PJ's all alone for a good hour. Speaking from experience, getting a little booty shaking in your day is always a good thing. Or some stretching- some calming yoga poses that really make your muscles thank you with that good feeling ache. A proven tool against depression is weight lifting. There are numerous studies that support this, and in a short time since weight lifting on and off I have experienced enormous physical benefits. I have better posture and my body feels more energetic. Do any physical activity that makes you happy and break a sweat at the same time! In no time your mood will follow the improvements in your body.
7. Calm your mind
Our minds have minds of their own, believe it or not! That's that inner voice, perhaps the criticizer who says “Don't do that, you'll look stupid!” or, “Don't go for that opportunity, you're not qualified!” We all have a voice inside our head that makes unwarranted comments to us throughout the day. The key here is realizing that the voice is not you. The voice is rather your Ego or False Self, spurred on by fear and reactive tendencies. There's no reason to be resentful of this voice, it is only trying to protect you from harm, as it sees fit according to past encounters. It is how human beings are wired. We need to simply dismiss the hurried anxious voice and say 'thank you for the suggestion, but I've got it from here', and tune back into the present moment. Feel inside that you are okay, as you are, this very moment. Clear your mind of all clutter, and be present where you are.
8. Tame your thoughts
Thoughts zip into the front of our consciousness seemingly from out of no where. You may be having a perfectly pleasant day when all of the sudden a disruptive thought comes into your head that makes you feel upset, uncomfortable, or angry. I honestly believe in the power of telepathy, that thoughts can travel around all vibrations and enter some other persons brain. Often times when a thought seems like it isn't coming from you, it really isn't. It's someone else's projection or influence on you. Learn to let certain thoughts just float by. Tell yourself “I'm not thinking about that right now. I'm thinking about---” Insert what you are doing in the present moment. As I'm writing this, I'm telling myself “I'm not thinking about that bill I have to pay, right now I'm thinking about writing this article.” The most important thing you can do in life is be in the present moment. That is honoring the moment, making the most of life, and unlocking the potential of the now.
What are the essential rituals you practice to get in the now? What can't you live without when it comes to keeping happy?
Photos are by the talented Thomas Scotch
It was like a light switch went off in my head. What used to seem horrible, unthinkable, and incomprehensible was suddenly easy and natural. Leaving Islam. And joining the rest of humanity. Yes. Being a Muslim did mean separating yourself from other people. They will tell you that's a lie. That Islam respects other religions, etc, and don't misunderstand me- they do – but from a distance. Don't be friends with quote “Non-Muslims”. You can smile and talk about basic things like school or work but you can never form close friendship. This type of self isolation causes fear to arise of the “Other”.
Growing up in a religiously split family, my mom's side was Catholic or non-religious, and my father's side was conservative Muslim. My mother converted after marrying my father and that meant that all of us had to be Muslim too. When I was younger, it gave me a sense of community and belonging. The people around me were almost always either Muslim or Middle Eastern or both. Some bragged about how long they spent at the Mosque. Like that did anything to better the world. In their mind they had racked up virtual “Good Deed” points that an angel on the right shoulder writes down. An angel on the left shoulder writes down all the "bad" things you did.
As a young teen growing up in the Islamic community, a lot of things I did were considered “bad”. Thinking about boys. Talking to a boy. Any type of physical contact with a boy before being married to him, for that matter. Drawing nude bodies in art school. Going out at night to dance. Showing skin besides my face and hands.
That one got me the most. When I was younger I pictured myself being an adult wearing the Hijab*. Then I grew up and realized I never wanted to wear it. I got some pressure from my dad growing up to put it on, but not as bad as some girls get. He never forced me to explicitly cover my hair, but he maintained steady control over what I wore. I had to be surveyed before leaving the house. If he disliked something- my skirt was two inches too short- he would ask me to change. Why? Because he didn't want boys to be tempted to do something to me because of my clothes. That's the bottom line of modesty in Islam. The responsibility of men's behavior falls onto women. And even then women in Burkas** get raped. They show a flash of ankle and it turns some sicko on. It takes a rapist to rape. And covering up the women will not stop them.
When will it end? Will women have to wear armor from now on? I'm a designer- yeah, I should think for the future and make fashionable armor because that's what women will need continue in this direction. Armor for our bodies, To protect ourselves from men who were raised in the mentality that “boys will be boys”.
Why are women in Islam taught not to make eye contact with a man? Is it that our eye contact will entice them sexually or because it is too defiant? So instead we look down. And the men talk down at us. The eyes are the windows to the soul. Having to look down puts out some of the fire in you. It makes you feel less human, and you connect to less people.
My dad's side of the family covers their faces with black veils when they go outside. I respect their choice to do so, and I don't think they are ignorant for doing what everyone in their culture does. However, for me personally, I find the Burkah highly offensive and would be devastated if I was forced to wear it somehow. It dehumanized the woman. She's just a faceless shadow walking around the city. Why can the men show their faces and hair? Why can they have all the power, and all the sexuality? It is widely accepted that men get turned on, why is it a "taboo" that women do, too? Women get just as horny as men do. Hormones be crazy, and sometimes, ladies just wanna jump on some dick. This is biological stuff, people. So wouldn't it make sense- religiously speaking- to encourage celibacy by having men cover themselves up except for their faces and hands? Better yet, have the Saudi men start covering their faces with a black veil, like they force their women to, and have them tell me how much that helps their eyesight.
* The Hijab is an Islamic covering that requires everything but the hands and face to show. Some women also show their feet up to the ankle.
**Burkah is a covering that goes over the entire woman covering her face, hair, and body in fabric. She sees through sheer black fabric over her eyes.
***Niquab is like the Burkah but there is a cut out for the eyes so the woman can see better.
Photography by Thomas Scotch
Fashion design and modeling by Lena Harbali.
To get any of these pieces made-to-order email Lenaartinfo@gmail.com
How has religion influenced your life? In what ways has it been positive, negative?
Islam has not all been negative to me, and that is important to remember. I will be following up this post with ones in the future about the good things that religion has taught me.
Anxiety feels like...
That initial feeling of dread when you realize you lost your wallet or keys, but that feeling drags on for hours.
Forgetting to breathe, realizing that you aren't breathing, then panicking and breathing deeply only to cause yourself to get dizzy.
Hearing the voices of people you know saying negative things about you that they have never said, and you can picture them saying it in your head.
A hazy mist of tense and stressful thoughts swirling around the brain causing problems with attention and memory.
Migraines that feel like all the muscles in your head are doing somersaults under your scalp.
The constant expectation of something horrible happening in your life, causing it to turn completely upside down.
Feeling like no thing is stable or trustworthy.
Fighting daily not to surrender to helplessness, despite feeling completely powerless and out of control.
Thinking that death sounds blissfully peaceful compared to the storm inside your brain.
Replaying all the mistakes you've ever made in your head over and over again and analyzing every move and how it should have happened.
Reliving every uncomfortable moment until your present gets ruined by negative emotions from the past.
Wanting to quit everyday because everything is so hard but expecting too much of yourself to ever quit.
Always having the feeling like you are missing some big, critical idea or task.
This is my own experience with anxiety, each person with anxiety feels it in a different way.
Having anxiety is like fighting a constant battle in your head. The problem is, if people don't talk about their anxiety then no one will be able to understand. Having a mental illness is supposed to be something you are ashamed of and don't publicize. I'm tired of feeling shame and trying to hide what I deal with every day. By sharing my struggles with the world, I hope that someone out there will be able to relate and find comfort in the fact that they are not alone. Not only that, but I believe that by talking about insecurities and imperfections openly, I can balance out the perfect image of myself that has been manufactured on the Internet. Online, it is way too easy to make it seem like your life is perfect. We all need to start portraying an image that is a little more flawed, and maybe in that way we can rediscover our humanity.
“The way we spend our days is how we spend our lives” It makes perfect sense, but sometimes it is so hard to just be one with the present day. If we spend our days being consumed by worries about the future that means that's how we are spending our lives- in a constant state of discontent. The fact of the matter is, there is no “future”. There is only this day, and yesterday can never be changed no matter how bad we want it to. Anxiety comes from a disconnect between the past, future and present.
An anxious person will come up with a thousand mini movies in their head on a daily basis. These could consist of anything ranging from the engine on your car falling out, to getting physically assaulted, to you or your loved ones developing strange illnesses. Most of these stories lead to absolute horror and devastation As you can tell none of these future predictions are ever positive. While watching these 'films' in their head through out the day, their mood naturally dips down, causing even more negative thinking. If left unchecked, this cycle can continue all day until all their energy is depleted and they feel absolutely miserable. Some people live every day like this. I am fighting everyday not to live like this. That is where Presence plays a key role.
It comes first with accepting the fact that no one can never predict the future. And I mean never. I used to have ideas about my life when I was a child, and a teenager, but very few predictions actually came true. I remember saying in 3rd grade that when I grew up I was going to be an artist, a writer, and a teacher. All of those things are true this day, which still amazes me. But other than that, I could never have predicted all the details- every tiny beautiful (and ugly) moment that came together to form this life I am living.
Every day, I remind myself to stop picturing what I think the future should look like. I have hopes, sure, but I am no longer set on a specific ideal, an unreachable goal that will supposedly finally bring me a sense of peace and satisfaction. You must ask yourself, if you never reach that dreamy future ideal, will you live in a state of dissatisfaction your whole life? Or even more importantly, if you did reach that goal, do you think you would truly be satisfied, or is the discontent coming from something other than your circumstances, somewhere deep inside you? The key to true success is to feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in the small things you do and experience in every present moment.
One way I like to cultivate Presence is to meditate on my breathing. Wherever I am, and whatever I am doing, I will zone in on the breath coming in and out of my lungs. When my anxiety is flaring up, and I am stuck in some nightmare inside of my mind, my breathing can become short and shallow. Just being able to remember to breathe can sometimes bring me out of my head and back to reality. I tell myself take a deep breath. Look around you. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? I take time to check all my senses and mentally log what I see, smell, and hear. Sometimes it takes a few seconds, sometimes longer, but I eventually come back to the present moment. I realize that there is only ever this moment in time. That I will never get to repeat it. I continue to breathe deeply.
The next thing I do is attempt to be content with the present moment. I look around and find the smallest thing to be happy or grateful about. This might sound simple, but during an anxiety attack it can be difficult, everything you see is through negativity-tainted glasses. Once I find that one positive thing, I focus on it and consciously try to shift my emotions away from the negative downward spiral.
Once I have recovered slightly, I have to make sure to monitor my thoughts to make sure they don't start back on the downward trend. I do this by routinely asking myself What are you thinking? What are you telling yourself? One would think that we are always aware and in control of our thoughts, when in fact our thoughts are a voice playing in our heads, but it is not us. That is why, without paying attention to what we are thinking, we can have negative thoughts running through our head all day and poisoning our lives. Imagine having a sidekick that followed you around and constantly critiqued everything and made horrible comments. You would definitely not be a happy camper. That is what anxiety is like, and being present in the moment can help stem the flow of thoughts that can ruin your day.
Remember: Breathe, check your senses, find something positive, then monitor your thoughts.
Being an artist with anxiety and depression is hard, and even more difficult to explain. But writing this article is important to me. Our image on social media needs to be more transparent, more human, and I want to set a good example. Too many of us scroll through IG looking at images of seemingly happy people and start to feel bad about our own lives. That is because what we see online is only a slice of reality. I can be so focused on getting out the next post that I don't see the illusion of perfection I am creating for my viewers. That changes from here on out, starting with this post.
It's time to get real. I am an artist who lives with mental illness. My two companions are anxiety and depression. They are hereditary and I've experienced symptoms most of my young adult life.
The anxiety comes at me from one side in a voice that sounds like my own but with an edge to it that cuts like a sword- it says your art isn't good enough. Why can't you do anything right? They probably are laughing at you. If this inner voice was a person I would call her a bitch, and would avoid her like the plague. Because man, is she mean. That is anxiety, a constant inner dialogue that makes you feel tense and uncomfortable, in a constant state between fight and flight. Worry furrows my brow at even the simplest of things because the anxiety will amplify the problem into something bigger. It will dig through my brain and find every possible scenario and outcome and throw it into my field of vision. I have to consciously tell myself to shut it off, like changing the channel on the TV. Switch it to something more peaceful and positive.
On the other side is my depression. It brings fatigue and an inner numbness. My body aches for no reason at all. The sadness seems to seep out of my bones and infect my muscles. Migraines are a weekly occurrence. All this, seemingly for nothing. Because depression doesn't need a reason to stop by. Depression exists within me and I battle it every day. Most days are good, sometimes years go by before my companion stirs. Sometimes it pops up for no reason, other times it is triggered by stress, but when it is here, depression can tear me down like nothing else. Motivation is hard to find, my bed is my safe haven from the world I start to see in increasingly shit-colored glasses. The future seems absolutely bleak. My mind naively sighs it will be this horrible forever. I can't see myself being happy again. This is absolute nonsense, of course. Every storm will pass but the depressed mind only sees doom and gloom.
My biggest enemy has always been my own mind. As an artist my mind is my biggest tool. As someone who lives with mental illness, it can also be my biggest weakness. Accepting these truths and simply allowing myself to feel whole despite them is what brings me comfort day by day.
Phew. I did it. Everything in me is screaming not to publish this article, but I am going to anyway. I am going to put myself out there and be vulnerable. I invite everyone reading this to be brave and comment some of their vulnerabilities. Take one step towards finding peace by admitting it to yourself and to the world.
Until next time, keep pushing forward.