2018 is already shaping up to be a year full of reflection and contemplation, and we are only a few days in!

I noticed it this week as I was taking down Christmas decorations. I still don’t think I have quite wrapped my head around the idea of scorching heat in the middle of January, but that doesn’t seem to be the only circumstance of our new reality that I am having a hard time wrapping my head around.

With each ornament I packed away or piece of tinsel that fell to the floor as I unwrapped it from the staircase, I found myself wondering how many other things we ‘dress up’ in our lives only to ‘strip down’ when the time comes.

We spend weeks, sometimes months, preparing for the holidays. Decorating, baking, shopping – all under the umbrella of celebration and being with loved ones. Once the last gift is unwrapped and the food is digested, as quickly as we worked to get everything ready, we work just as hurried to get everything back to ‘normal.’

The holiday, while only once a year, got me thinking more about where in life we might all dress things up, creating our story lines as opposed to owning our truth.

One of my girlfriends and I were talking about this very thing just last week. As we returned from our travels and I found myself back ‘online,’ I spent several days returning phone calls to family and friends who I missed immensely over the holidays.

As she and I were catching up, we were discussing what a monumental year of change it has been for both of us. For her, it was taking on a new professional endeavour and how that experience was framing the conversations she was having in her life. For me, as we all know, it was giving up a well-established career, moving abroad, and attempting to redefine the course of my life. But, as our conversations usually go, we didn’t limit ourselves to just that.

We started talking about our friendship and the entirety that we have known one another and all the changes that have taken place in both of our respective lives over the course of the years. Several years ago, she took a step down from a major corporate position to spend more time at home with her family and now this year, she finds herself back in the workforce. She was by my side as I was making my corporate climb and right there with me when I decided to leap off the ladder into the unknown.

One of the things I have always cherished about our friendship is the honesty at the center of every dialogue and conversation we have. We have stripped down all walls and are completely vulnerable in those moments – discussing our hopes, our fears, our deepest wishes for life.

Now, those discussions are simply reserved for weekly Skype calls from across the globe, but at the forefront of every chat is still raw and real honesty.

When she made that decision years ago to step away from her position, it didn’t come as a shock to me as we had spent months talking about it. I heard her fears and what her hopes and expectations were in those moments and in that decision. The same can be said for the choices I have made in my own life.

In both our cases, the choices we made were surprising to people not within our inner circle. The perception of what our lives looked like from the outside looking in, but not necessarily reality based on truth. So, while our decisions didn’t come as a shock to those who truly know us, the perception of what others thought our lives looked like was a completely different story.

Perception versus Reality.

After I hung up the phone, I sat there wondering about this very thing. The struggles of life and the conversations we shape while going through them. Much like we ‘dress up’ a tree for the holidays, are we making our lives simply look shiny and beautiful or are we seeing the tree before all the décor? Are we inadvertently shaping other’s perceptions of our circumstances as opposed to living in the authenticity of our struggles?

It takes deep reflection and personal awareness to be able to openly talk about the ugly side of life, the struggle and the tension. But how many of us are actually allowing ourselves to do that?

In an age where everything in our life is easily accessible to others, information overload by way of social media, how many of us are talking about our struggles? Or are we more comfortable shaping our stories to only include the highlight reel?

We allow those closest to us to walk through struggle with us, to know our truth. But why is that so hard to do on a greater scale? Are we afraid that as a collective whole we have lost our ability to empathize with one another? Are we concerned with being judged by others?

I find myself wondering what shift might take place if we all allowed ourselves to be more open, to find peace in vulnerability and connection in realizing we are all going through something. Every single one of us – nobody’s life is immune to struggle.

I will be the first person to throw my hand in the air, admitting to this very thing. Several years ago, as my marriage was in shambles, only a few select people knew the extent of what I was going through and what life looked like for me each day I left the office. Looking back now, I realize I was scared. I was comfortable with my inner circle and sharing my pain with those I knew and trusted, but I held it very close to my heart with everyone else, not knowing if they could handle the truth or what judgment might be directed at me because of it.

Looking back now, having challenged myself to be open about those struggles, I wonder if it was others who couldn’t handle the truth, or was it me?

It wasn’t an easy process to let go of that but part of the challenge I presented to myself at the onset of all this change, was to be open and honest about the good, the bad, and the ugly of life.

By allowing myself to sit in the tension of the truth, I gained the ability to embrace the stripped-down version of myself. Unapologetically authentic.

When we are stripped down to the truest version of ourselves and understand the beauty that lies within those moments, as ugly and painful as they can be at times, that is when we finally start to walk towards our true destiny and are able to do so without fear or hesitation,

This week, let’s all challenge ourselves to embrace the tension in our lives. Whether it is a relationship ending, a career change, the fading health of a loved one – allow yourself to be open with your struggle and to be vulnerable with others. You never know who may come into your life and love you through it.

Cheers to a new week, letting go, and stripping down!

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