"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

It was a couple of years ago and we were out of money. My husband, who had done really, really well financially had been let go a year and a half before from a 7 year consulting job. He'd then put all his time and efforts into a software deal that went south at the last minute. We'd gone through our savings, our retirement, we were in foreclosure and out of time.

I'd started a small inspirational card and gift company with a partner and my husband didn't want me to stop trying to make it work to help pay our bills. We had 2 kids in a great school and we didn't want to (nor could we afford to) leave the area we were living in and there were not a ton of jobs for 44 year-old internet business development consultants. He was very brave and said he'd figure it all out on his own.

After a year of anxiety, fear and the roller coaster ride of the software deal, we were in desperate need of money and stability. To me, stability looked like him putting on a button down shirt, a nice pair of slacks and going to work everyday at 8 or so and coming home around 6. I would meet him at the door with a drink and a hot meal. It looked like knowing what each day would bring.

To be honest, I'm not sure what it looked like for him. I know for sure it was killing him that he felt he wasn't providing for his family and he was willing to do anything it took to not feel that way.

Before I tell you the rest of this story I need you to know a few things about my husband. When he walks into a room, it's like the sun suddenly comes out…and not because I love him so much, it's because he has this larger than life presence. He is charismatic. He is loud. He is intense. He is a button pusher. He is also incredibly kind, generous, open and welcoming. He's handsome. He's deeply supportive and amazingly creative and I am lucky to have him.

He is the guy you go to when you have a huge, crazy dream. He makes huge, crazy dreams come true…for real. That's why he is such a great consultant. I've never met anyone like him and sometimes I look at all he's been able to do in this lifetime (he started with absolutely nothing) and I am blown away.

The other thing I need to say is that we live in a small, small town. We moved here from Los Angeles and what people expect from each other here is very, very different from what people expect from each other in Los Angeles. And not in a bad way, just different. Small is good here. Not rocking the boat is good here. People come here to get away from that sort of thing.

Anyway, my sweet husband put together his resume and found a job in sales for a fulfillment center…it's wasn't enough money and it was really challenging because the people who owned the place wanted him to be small. They wanted him to do sales the way they'd always done sales, like with lead tracking programs, and daily sales check ins, etc. He squirmed every time he walked into the office. It was a horrible fit.

And because the money was so bad, he took another job as a salesman for a web development firm. It was a bad fit too because they want him to be quiet and tell the short version of everything. And that's so not him. When he brought in huge leads, leads that meant the company would need to expand and hire more people to do the huge job, they neigh-sayed it, then sabotaged it.

He leaves the first job after only a couple weeks and takes another one with a water filtration company as their sales guy. This is a bad fit too because as my husband makes things move forward at an incredibly fast pace, he's met with absolute disbelief and the nagging feeling that the owner will blow the deal he's putting together because he's afraid of change. Then there was the bartending job and another web design firm…it was awful.

Throughout this time, this man who was used to taking companies who made $500k a year and growing them to 10 million a year, couldn't close a sale. He was baffled. And maybe it was them, maybe they weren't ready for the force of nature that was my husband, or maybe, just maybe, my husband was trying to be someone he wasn't. To fit into an idea that wasn't who he was at all.

My husband did his best to be optimistic. But as time went by, my husband went to work each day with absolute dread, with a brick in his heart. I watched as he grew smaller, as his pride sank and his confidence faltered. It was like he was grieving. It was beyond awful. I began to wonder how on earth he would survive. I wondered how he would ever get himself back. I began to question our future, our hopes and dreams, the ideals I had about "The American Dream." I felt like our reality, the reality we had created in the 10 years of our marriage was gone…and might never be recovered.

And then one night…in the midst of his struggle, my husband had a huge, crazy idea. The hugest, craziest idea he'd ever had. And even though he had absolutely no idea how to make this huge, crazy idea happen or where he would find the strength to get behind it, it was enough. It was food for his starving sense of self. The next day he made a call. Then a couple days later he made another call and another and soon, he was moving the huge, crazy idea foward and I could feel him coming back again.

This would be the montage part of this story: my husband talking on the phone, him pitching his idea at various coffee shops to anyone who would listen, marking possible connectors off his big hand written list, drawing diagrams on his white board, him turning in his bartender apron, him clearing all the papers off a desk at one of the many offices he worked at with his whole forearm, grabbing his family portrait out of the pile and walking out with his head held high, and finally a guy in a suit signing a contract and shaking his hand.

I can see the whole thing, a lot more clearly, as I look back on it. My husband had to do something and he did what he had to do to get us through the roughest time we'd ever had. I admire him tremendously for doing that. He is and will always be my hero because of the sacrifice he was willing to make to keep us afloat. However going so deeply against his nature nearly destroyed him.

I am not suggesting that any of these jobs aren't perfectly great jobs, they are. And I know lots of people that would be more than happy for the job opportunities that he had. These jobs just weren't him. He couldn't be who he was and do what they wanted/needed him to do. And the harder he tried to not be himself, the more he tried to fit into a box, the worse it got. The proof was in the pudding, he couldn't close a deal and now we can both see why.

What I want to offer, and what I know is hard to hear/accept (yet it should be really, really good news) is that it is only by being yourself and doing what is in your nature, what is pleasing to you, what is your truth, that you will wildly succeed.

What makes me sad is knowing that so many people out there are in a place of need, a place of financial desperation that makes them have to do the things they know they can't stand doing, and that tragically, at some point, the door of their dream closes down. They become so sucked into the minutia of "just getting by" that they forget how incredibly amazing they are. How the world is waiting on their gifts and talents. And that no one else can do it like they do.

The deepest truth of this piece is that there is room for everyone's success. There is room for everyone's dreams to come true. If we all did exactly what we wanted to do, what we were passionate about, we'd all fill different roles. Everyone doesn't want to be the same thing. We are each unique. We each have individual gifts that we have to offer. And I know, from this experience that by doing what makes your heart sing, by being true to yourself, being YOU, you will find fulfillment, happiness and success.

This story has a happy ending, or maybe a happy beginning. My husband is working away on his huge, crazy dream and he has people around him who believe in him, who are paying him to turn his dream into reality. He is back…fully back; lighting up rooms, being loud and offering support to anyone who needs a little boost towards making their huge, crazy dream come true.

He has grown immeasurably from this experience, as have I. Watching his light diminish and then come back made me know, deep within my soul that being anything other than who we are is senseless. It is actually the quickest way to failure and worse, it is a crime against yourself, against the very nature of the concept of YOU as a beautiful, unique, individual. Remember, not only is the universe counting on you, you should be counting on you too.

by Elisa Van Arnam

"…We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you…" ~ Marianne Williamson

Dear You,

I have never been afraid of the trappings of success. I'd like some fame, some money, someone to ask my opinion on world issues and value my feedback, someone to hand me a fancy coconut shell drink on my very own tropical island.

I have never been afraid of trying something new or different or seemingly impossible. I'm not afraid to fail…I've failed over and over in my life and stood up and brushed myself off and started again.

What I am afraid of, what keeps me from my ultimate greatness, is you. Yep…you. I want to make sure that I am not shining my light too brightly because I don't want to make you feel bad. I don't want you to think nasty things about me, like I'm a show off or I think I'm better than you in some way.

I don't want you to judge me. I want to come in under the radar, so that I can inspire you just enough so that you like me and are comfortable around me. I don't want to challenge you in any way. I want you to feel OK where ever you're at. I put your comfort, your needs above my own…and I don't even know you.

Now, of course this isn't your fault. It's mine. I brought into it. I followed the rules that our society tends to offer; please me and get a gold star, eat all the food on your plate and get desert, don't start nothin' and there won't be nothin'.

Besides, it was easier that way…you didn't expect all that much from me and so…I didn't expect all that much from me either. Everyone is happy, right?

Except…not really. I'm actually not that happy. I don't like the world I see around me. I worry that my children won't have a future. I worry that no one is teaching our children peace. I worry that our children's world is so polluted with chemicals and guns and rhetoric that they don't stand a chance of making something of their lives. I worry that we're screwing up our environment so badly that life as we know it today will not exist in the next 20 years. I could go on…

But what can I do?!…You know how much I care about you and what you think about me so if I take a stand, I'm sure to offend at least a few of you out there. If I jump up and say, "Hey, this is wrong! We have to do something to change this world!" I'm sure to ruffle a few feathers and you know how I hate ruffling feathers.

However, I have a confession to make…there's a secret I've been keeping from you. A couple years ago…I started seeing someone. Someone who told me that I was strong. Someone who told me that I was powerful. Someone who told me that I could change the world, if I really wanted to.

And I wanted to believe them. I did, but, it just didn't seem true. And not only that, it didn't seem to fit into the nice little life I'd built for myself. If I stood up and screamed "STOP!" at the top of my lungs you would look at me different. You might not buy the picket fence and the 2.5 kids and the dog in the yard. If I embraced this supposed power I had…what would you think? So I made myself quiet and still and didn't rock the boat.

And yet, the pain continued to push until the vision began to pull.

I was then given the opportunity to really spend some quality time with myself and this other person…not only that but this other person introduced me to still more people who told me the same thing the first person did…that I was strong, that I was powerful, that I could change the world.

Not only that…these people told me that it was my mandate, that it was my truth, it was my purpose, my duty to shine my light and shine it as brightly as I could. They handed me the keys to my own kingdom and said,

"You can do this. We believe in you."

So here's the hard part about this letter. It's not you…it's me. See I am actually beginning to believe them, for real. For real. And I just don't see how I can care about what you think anymore. It's taking away from my ability to follow my path, to discover my true purpose, to live my destiny, to shine as brightly as I need to shine to change the world. And I know that's not what you want..is it?

And I really feel I need some time. I need time to explore this amazingly powerful person that I am. I need time to examine my own light, to see what I have to offer. I need to plant some roots and make space for my light in my heart and mind, to learn how to live with it, grow it, nurture it, protect it and watch it blossom. Then I will figure out how I can best use my light to be in service to humanity.

So instead of saying you won't hear much from me, I'm gonna say, you will. You. Will. Hear. From. Me. And when you do, know that I am light, I am love and I am embracing myself so that I can be fully in my power.

"As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." ~ Marianne Williamson

We can still be friends. Who knows, someday you might look at me and think, "Boy, I wish I had what she has." And maybe you'll ask me how I got it. And then maybe I can help you realize that you are strong, you are powerful and that you can change the world too, that shining your light is your mandate too…and maybe at that point-we can head off into the sunset and do it together.

by Elisa Van Arnam

"When our eyes see our hands doing the work of our hearts, the circle of creation is completed inside us, the doors of our souls fly open and love steps forth to heal everything in sight." -Michael Bridge

I love this quote. I love the simplicity of it. I love how it boils down the nuances, subtle or not. Live your heart's desire it says, and all will be well.

Only, you and I both know; there's a lot more to it than that.

I co-founded a business with a friend 2 years ago. It's an inspirational, conceptual card and gift company. It was birthed from a vision my partner saw in her mind; a sad person standing alone in the middle of nowhere and someone on the back of a cart handing them a small piece of paper with a note on it. The note is read, the strangers connect with their eyes and they smile and something shifts ever so slightly in the universe.

My business partner and I are both mothers. Both concerned about the future of our world for our children's sake. We wanted to create something that would make a difference. We decided that the vision was about connecting people. It was about banishing loneliness and creating a deeper space for kindness among friends and strangers.

Our hands began to do the work of our hearts. We translated that vision into a product line and at first we felt the "circle of creation" was complete. We'd had the vision, we'd used our powers of imagination and all kinds of skill sets we never knew we had and created an actual physical manifestation of the vision.

We felt at that point that something magical would take place. That the doors of our souls would open and love would heal all, meaning we'd be validated, we'd be happy, we'd be fulfilled…but then we had to concretize our product in the marketplace. We had to have a Facebook account, we had to learn to use Twitter and Hootsuite and find a web designer. We needed to find legions of people to sell it for us all over the country. We needed to go to gift shows and write business plans and learn to create articles for ourselves for PR purposes.

Someone told us that if we created a couple of new products they'd sell even better then the first one. So we created them. We put our hearts and souls into that and found printers and eco-friendly packaging and designers and thought, OK when we get these to market, the circle will be complete and our souls will fly open and love will step forth and heal everything in sight. WooHooo!

But then there was the blog and the sales reps and the needing to get a national magazine and the new idea that would change the world…

And we realized, along the way, in fits and starts…that there wasn't anything outside ourselves that was going to suddenly show us that we'd made it or that we'd reached some great plateau of service where there was a band playing and a ribbon to be run through. It would never be that way. We would never be "at the end." It's a journey, (thank goodness) not a destination.

Just about that time, I went back and looked at that quote again…and I saw something I hadn't before;

"When our eyes see our hands doing the work of our hearts, the circle of creation is completed inside us, the doors of our souls fly open and love steps forth to heal everything in sight."

And it hit me, like a ton of bricks; it's in the doing that the circle is complete-not in the completion. Just in the doing. Think of that! It's the heartfelt intention and the doing that closes the circle. There is no race, there is no finality, there is no "winning." The doing is all that needs to be done for the reward of healing…just the doing.

And the healing isn't like a firework display, it's bits and pieces here and there that add up to a life well lived. It's an e-mail that says, "Keep up the good work," or a sales rep that tells us "I wish I had more clients who stood for something like you all." It's the willingness of others to step up and help make our dreams come true. It's the smile you see on someone face when you hand then one of your very own products and you know deep down inside, you made their day. The healing comes from the inside out.

"Doing," at first, requires only vision and hope. But "doing" continually, regardless of the level of encouragement or gratification, requires faith and a solidity of purpose and mission. It requires being present to the moment you are in and a knowing that you are enough.

If someone had told me only 2 short years ago the kinds of spiritual lessons I'd be learning as a business owner, I'd have laughed and said they were crazy. But I have found that if I can be present, truly present, in the "doing" that my heart is happy, that my soul sings, the circle of creation is already complete and my healing is inevitable.

by Elisa Van Arnam

Life’s Difficulties

by Elisa Van Arnam on December 22, 2012 · 7 comments

"When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves." ~ Viktor Frankl

It seems sort of irreverent to write on the topic of "life's difficulties," given the horrible tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school last week. There isn't a single difficulty that I have experienced in my lifetime that couldn't, at its' root, be fixed. I am obviously grief stricken for all of those involved in the shooting and I, like you, have felt, at times, pretty darn helpless.

So I wanted to try and tackle what we can do to help others and ourselves with "life's major difficulties." Over the past few days, I have read many articles on this subject and have taken bits and pieces I found to be particularly helpful and created an action plan below.

*For the sake of this article, I have focused my ideas around the death of a loved one, but these suggestions can be molded and applied to any of life's major difficulties.

What I know for sure is that our helplessness doesn't serve us , it doesn't serve our families or our communities and it really doesn't serve those who need our help the most. We need to be strong and active in our compassion, care and comfort, and by doing so we can be of service to those in need. In turn, by working with these ideas, you make actually find your own road to self-healing.

For Ourselves:

To be of service, we must come from a place of strength. It's easy to get captivated by the drama of whatever has unfolded, but, again, that does no good. We need to be vigilant about cultivating and sharing our own light. As they say in the safety instructions on a plane, put on your own air mask first and then you can help others.

  • Cultivate joy in everyday moments. Find small things to be happy about. Make a list, read the list, add to the list, refer to the list when feeling of helplessness, hopelessness, sadness or grief seem to over take you.
  • Express gratitude for everything you have. Don't take what you have for granted. Even if it's the health and well being of your child. Don't apologize for the love you have, celebrate it. A quote by several survivors of tragedies similar to Newtown said, "As you honor what you have, you honor what I've lost."
  • Do not feel guilty about or be afraid to express your joy. Do not think, "If I let my guard down, something bad is bound to happen." Returning to joy after a tragedy can be very scary and make you feel incredibly vulnerable. But every time you allow yourself joy, you build that muscle of hope. And if that joy becomes more a part of who you are, when bad things happen, and they will happen, you are stronger.
  • Meditate and Pray. Find time each day to do both. There is such comfort and healing in the silence of meditation and such power in affirmative prayer.

For Others:

When someone you love is faced with one of life's major difficulties, one of the best things you can do for them is to help build a mental, emotional and physical cocoon of sorts; a place where they know they can go to seek comfort, love, peace and refuge. The cocoon should be "built" by you and should look something like this:

  • Unconditional, non-judgmental love and support as long as they need it, even years later.
  • Availability: to listen, to run errands, to babysit, to deliver meals, whatever is needed.
  • Acceptance: of their moods, their tears, their anger, their vulnerability. You cannot take away their pain, but you can share it and make them feel less alone.
  • Allowance: of talking about their difficulty, as much or as little as they like.
  • Attention: to everyone effected; husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters.
  • Ask: How are you really doing? Be vulnerable enough to let your genuine care and concern show. Cry with them, hold them, give them permission to let it out.
  • Say that you are sorry.
  • Extend invitations: (and continue to do so) but be wholly understanding if they don't accept, or cancel at the last minute or don't respond at all.
  • Take the time: send personal notes or make a donation to a charity. Write the dates of the birth and the death on your calendar and be a vigilant friend on those days.
  • Offer prayer.

One of the most loving (if not the most loving thing) we can do for someone in need, is to simply be present with them in their mourning. This can be very, very difficult to do, and it can be healing beyond your ability to comprehend it. It is the truest gift you can give someone.

One last piece of advice that I was gifted this morning that I really wanted to include in this piece is about how we can work to prevent tragedies like this in the future. Information is empowerment and I want to share all I have.

Beyond school safety, gun control and dealing better with mental health issues in our youth, a friend pointed out to me that parents always seem to be the very last to suspect anything off about their children.

She suggested, and I fully agree, that something missing in our society at large is the idea that we need to cultivate relationships with other adults for our children. I need to seek out other adults that I know, love and trust and I need to foster relationships with them and my children, so that my children have an adult to talk with who is not me.

As they grow older, no matter how beautiful and perfect I imagine my relationship with them to be, I am most likely one of the very last people they will come to if they are having major problems. If we have chosen adults that they know, love and trust, who can be there for them, no questions asked, we stand a better chance of stopping a tragedy before it happens.

My heart, my prayers, my love and light travel with you as you read these words. I extend it out to all those directly effected by the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings. I hope that in my words, you have found some comfort, some direction, some hope. We are all in this together.

by Elisa Van Arnam

The Many Gifts of Vertigo

by Elisa Van Arnam

“I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.” ~ Joseph Campbell It was the 9th time that I had shuffled into the healing circle. I’d come to “heal” the horrible anxiety that I’d been experiencing – although “experiencing” sounds like […]

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The Great Flesh Poem

by Elisa Van Arnam

“Art is when you hear a knocking from your soul – and you answer.” ~ Terri Guillemets There is a famous quote from Walt Whitman’s Leave of Grass that says; “This is what you shall do…” he goes on to list all the lovely, Atticus Finch type things you could think of a human being […]

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