Ups and downs, yin and yang, life stuff, hard stuff. I’m sharing my top 5 lessons learned in 2016. It was rough, but the lessons were beautiful. I wrote this as an essay before I recorded it for the podcast, so you can listen or read. Either way I hope you find something of value to you. xo
Lessons Learned in 2016
In 2016 I moved houses, moved offices, hired and trained new employees, threw 4 dance parties in 4 different venues all with different formats, launched an online shop, spoke to over 3000 people through live speaking events, did about a dozen blog or video campaigns, negotiated over 50 contracts, read about 20 books and lost over 30 lbs. I recorded my own “hit dance single!” haha, and helped Rad start Preschool, Ginger start Kindergarten and Fiona start to grow hair, kind of. All while trying to continuously convince Eric that being married to me is FUN!!! It was a BIG year with lots of beautiful awesome things.
But we also got some devastating life-altering news, and the year was fraught with lots and lots of conflict, both internal and external. I can easily say I had the most transformative year of my life, not because of the good things, but because of those challenges and the work I did to embrace them. I feel like I could share one million lessons I learned from 2016, but for now we can just start with these five.
1. You learn more from things that go wrong.
As a perfectionist, I want everything that I do to be perfect. And as someone who does a lot, this is fairly insane—because that’s a lot of things. One time Eric had to almost shout, “Every single thing you do cannot be mind blowing!” But that’s exactly what I expect. I expect everything I do to not only be perfect, but to exceed expectations. Well, I expect everything I do, that I care about and that I place importance or a sense of self on, to be more than perfect.
But last year I tried a lot of new things, and that meant that I did not do them all perfectly. UUUUGH I hate that. I do. I hate it. BUT, I learned a lot more from the things that went wrong, than the things that went right.
Now, when I’m trying something new, I try to remind myself that it’s completely unreasonable to expect myself to be perfect at something I’ve never done before. The only way to get better is to do the work, and there will be flaws, but I can and will be better next time.
Some of the most valuable relationships in my life are the ones that didn’t turn out. The relationships that in other words, went wrong. The guy I dated for 5 years, and did not marry, gave me a greater appreciation for the man I did marry.
I made some major improvements to my work and my life, by having a few things go very, very, wrong.
2. Conflict is OK.
I do not like conflict. Do not misunderstand, I do not mind confrontation, because that enables people to clear up misunderstandings, clarify expectations, and come together. I like to lay things out on the table. But I have a hard time with conflict. Conflict suggests that I have disappointed someone, and I don’t like that. I like to think that I can come to terms with any reasonable person, smooth everything over, and make everything ok.
This is just not the case. WHY? WHY ISN’T IT THE CASE?! Well 1. Because I am not perfect, and 2. Because I can’t control everything.
Most of the conflict I have had to face (until recently) has been internal. But as 2106 wrapped up I was faced with multiple cases of external conflict. I am very, very, proud to say that I WOMANED up and dealt with them. I didn’t run, I didn’t hide, I didn’t ask Eric or someone else to deal with it. I faced the conflict, and realized, it’s gross, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s an emotion I do not enjoy, but it is OK. I survived, I am alive, I have less fear.
I spent most of 2016 doing lots of reading, and overcoming obstacles through some tough circumstances (lots of them self-imposed mind you) and emotional work.
And by the end of the year, when this new form of conflict arose—external conflict—conflict I did not want, conflict I couldn’t blame myself for, I had enough tools and awareness to handle it.
I think the thing to remember with conflict is that good input is invaluable, but not all input is valuable. As I like to say, “invest in people who invest in you.” If the input is coming from someone who has invested in you, listen to what they have to say, even if it sucks to hear it. That’s what I had to do. But if they haven’t invested in anything other than having a negative opinion of you, or just passing judgement, DO NOT change your course of action based on their flippant remarks. You need to treat yourself better than that. I need to treat myself better than that.
Apologize, forgive, love, move on because without struggle there is no growth.
3. I have a lot in common with Drag Queens.
HAHAHAHA ok, ok, either I have a lot in common with Drag Queens or I just WANT to have a lot in common with Drag Queens. But 2016 marks my year of obsession with Ru Paul’s Drag Race and drag culture. I understand that watching a TV show does not make me an expert on a subculture, but can we pretend it does?
The reason I identify with drag queens SO MUCH is because they put themselves out there in one of the most vulnerable ways, and I feel like I do the same. It’s incredibly rewarding, but it can also be incredible taxing and lonely. The Alison Show is 100% me. When I get up on stage at one of my dance parties, I’m essentially in full drag. Custom costume, airbrushed makeup, it’s parts of my personality amplified to their extreme. But I’m also 100% just Alison. I drive a crappy van, have a messy bathroom, and want to talk about philosophy, meditation, and self-improvement all the time. The yin and the yang. Drag speaks to me because the gorgeous babes who do it have to face a lot of darkness. Darkness in the form of bigotry, darkness in their minds, darkness in knowing what it feels like to not quite fit. I get that one. I have a lot of light, but it comes with a lot of dark that I have battled. Drag queens conquer that darkness with beauty and grace, and a whole lot of not taking things too seriously. And that’s just what I want to do. Address the heavy, but keep it light.
I think as my brand was growing, and I had babies, and I tried this and that, trying to decide what I wanted to do and what I was supposed to do, I just wanted to please, please myself, please others, and I started to feel lost. And all at the same time, I was preaching be yourself! And it wasn’t that I wasn’t being myself, I just had lost a lot of myself. So it felt extra hard.
2016 was all about reclaiming who I am, finding my inner light again, and letting go of every stupid thing that was holding me back. Bad habits, unhealthy thought cycles, and fear.
What I’ve learned from all those drag queens, but mostly what I’ve learned from Ru Paul, is that YOU HAVE TO COMMIT. In life we tend not to commit because of fear. If you don’t commit you cannot fail. But you have to commit to what you want, commit to your life, commit to it all. Cause as Mama Ru says at the end of each and every episode, “If you can’t love yourself HOW IN THE HELL YOU GONNA’ LOVE SOMEBODY ELSE?!
4. Joy and sadness can coexist.
In early December, we learned that my dad has incurable cancer. It has been hard and my heart is broken. I don’t want to open the dialogue very much on this. But I have an amazing support system in place, and all prayers on his behalf and on behalf of my mom and family are greatly appreciated. I feel that sharing details past that point have no place right now. And I thank you for respecting that.
But I did decide share this, with his permission of course, because I was faced with the problem of, how do I live my life now? My whole world is changed, crushed, turned upside down. What do I do?
And then, on like a very real day to day level, how do I do my job? How do I post about cookies, and dance, and tell people they can make their life whatever they want it to be, while my heart is shattered? Am I being insincere? Am I in denial of my heartache and suffering if ignore mine to help others through theirs?
But then I realized that everything I’ve learned, this past year and in my life, has prepared me for this. And this is when all that crap I’ve been telling myself and others counts. Love is all that matters. Sharing love in the presence of pain is one of the greatest things we can do. I’m not ignoring it, I’m not in denial. Trust me, I feel it all. But I’m alive, I’m feeling it, and that’s what life is.
And as I shared in my Year of Awesome video for January, I came to the conclusion that joy and sadness can coexist. And that the only way through the pain, is THROUGH it. So you might as well grab as much light, love, joy, or happiness that you can when you find it, and share it. Share it share it share it so we’re not all so alone. You never know when you’re talking to someone who has just had their world turned upside down. We can treat each other with so much more care and kindness.
“There are places in the heart that do not yet exist. Suffering must enter in for them to come to be.” Leon Bloy.
I have learned so much in this past month about how to mourn with those who mourn. I’ve reached out to people who I feel like I failed when they received similar news. I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know what to say.
So if you’re wondering here’s what to say. “I’m so, so, sorry.” That’s it. Don’t share stories, just share love. And now I know that. I know what to say. I mean I wish I didn’t. But I’m glad I do, if that makes sense. I also try to make sure that every question I ask someone, especially someone going through something tough is coming from a place of care, not a place of curiosity. Curiosity makes the situation about us, and not about the person who needs love. I of course am so far from perfect at this, but it’s one of my new goals.
Joy exists because there is sorrow. I cannot be grateful for one without the other.
5. I can do hard things.
Look at me! Things went wrong, I disappointed people, I faced conflict, and I was thrown a really big life curveball. Shall we call it that? I didn’t choose it, I didn’t want it, but it’s here. And look who’s still standing. Better than that? Look who’s still shimmying. THIS GIRL. This freaking girl right here. 2016 had so much joy, so many triumphs, so many good things. It really did. But it wasn’t easy, and as I said it was easily the most transformative year of my life.
I feel like a new person. The funniest part about that is that I feel like more of my same old self than I have in years, but a completely new, empowered, enlightened, and freer version of myself.
I’m holding on to the things that have always brought me joy, and letting go of the things that do not. If something I’m doing or engaging in is not contributing to the highest good, I’m letting it go. I have three kids that need tickles and love doing craft projects with a mom who makes eye contact and isn’t distracted, a husband who needs my sweet sweet loving, and a whole world of friends I can try to share light with. I just don’t have time for fear or self-doubt. I’m not saying they won’t pop up, I’m just saying I’m refusing to give them any more energy.
I can do hard things. And I’m already doing them. They’re basically done, so I’m gonna go ahead and just go get myself a drink. And you know for me that means a tall, ice filled Diet Coke.
Peace, light and love friends.
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