Giving Up On A Storybook Life

“Lindsey, you know how you and I have often talked about the literary quality of life? Do you think we are in control of our stories or not?”

“I’m pretty sure we’re not.”

A friend of mine recently started off our phone conversation this way. It was a great hook. This is something that I’ve written about and thought about for years. Every time I feel that this subject is tired, that I’ve said all that I can say, I see an ad for Donald Miller’s organization Storyline and I know I have to write about it again. While Miller’s right that life is made up of the elements of a good story (setting, conflict, climax), the uncomfortable truth is that we aren’t the authors of our own stories. While mapping out your life plan like a story chart sounds wonderful, the frightening beauty of life is that it rarely cooperates with our plans.

Working in the business of in-store promotions, a majority of the staff members that I train and work with are retirees. I love that I so often get a chance to hear their stories. We have a woman who was a flight attendant. She’s traveled all over the world and lived in Italy for years. We have another woman (one of my absolute favorites) who owned and ran three different types of businesses and sold them all. She has tried almost every profession you can think of because she loves a new challenge. She did most of it while raising three children on her own. We have another woman who was a social worker who spent years living in New Orleans and California. And on and on the variety of stories go. What is common to most of them is that life took them in directions they never would have expected or planned.

Most of you know that my life hasn’t gone how I planned. The same friend who posed that question said to me, “I could tell when you were in grad school that you weren’t going to be happy in the life you imagined.” It’s so funny to me how some of the people in my life recognized that long before I did. Though not all of them were as insightful, which I’m glad about because it makes me feel better about being wrong (it’s so much easier to be wrong in good company).

The most valuable thing that I am learning is that you can live an intentional life without living a storybook life. Clarity of both purpose and pursuit isn’t always necessary.

This truth really freaks me out! I can have a laissez faire attitude sometimes but that’s usually when it comes to other people’s lives. Not mine. I remember telling a friend who graduated college before me not to worry too much about what profession he would have because “life has a way of figuring those things out for us.” Then I spent practically three years freaking out about the same question. While I was mentally exhausting myself asking big questions and trying to compose a beautiful outline of my life, I was completely oblivious to the fact that I am already living out a story. A story that I’m far more suited for.

Since my senior year of high school, I have been in the business of planning and orchestrating events, training, managing and leading people along with writing, public speaking and teaching. These are the things that I excel at and that I love doing. I almost can’t resist them. What frustrated me is that they don’t fit neatly under one job description (at least none that I’ve come across so far). Student Affairs seemed like a good fit but it wouldn’t have left enough time to write. Teaching seemed like a fit but it wouldn’t make use of my event planning or management skills. The politics of academia doesn’t suit me either. Being an Event Coordinator & Regional Trainer is great but it doesn’t make sense of the intellectual half of me. Et cetera ad nauseam. Not being able to settle on one job that brings together these two halves of myself—the  thinker/writer/teacher and the event planner/manager—frustrated me. I kept thinking that I’d be so much happier and more productive if only I could find one job with these facets.  But I’m starting to see that I like having separate spheres of my life. I like having one occupation that takes me out of my apartment, stretches me past my comfort zone and utilizes my extroverted side and I like having one occupation that lets me stay at home and feed my introverted side.  

My literary nature was also hungry for an obviously meaningful and impactful career. I’ve envied Christa who is a nurse that primarily serves the underprivileged and Nichelle who is a teacher in an underprivileged area. I wanted to be a part of saving people’s lives just as they are. What meaning is there in the promotions business? When I expressed a little of this to my mom, she said that she’s realized that my work will always be meaningful as long as I work with people. As I look back on the many wonderful conversations I’ve had with my coworkers and customers, I see what she means. Bringing simple joy to people’s lives and listening to their stories is meaningful. In a culture in which people are increasingly neglecting those in front of them (because we are staring at our smartphones instead of talking to each other) it is an even more valuable thing. Maybe I’m not saving lives but that doesn’t mean my work has no value or significance.

While I am learning that I can’t follow my intentionally plotted out course for my life, there are things that I can be intentional about: Actively looking for the good in people, even in the people who annoy me. Treating everyone with kindness and respect even when they smell awful or are physically disfigured or offend other cultural standards of beauty (these are the minorities that I think face some of the worst discrimination). Allowing people to take precedence over my plans and giving my attention to them in its entirety when we are talking–as much as possible, of course. Giving myself permission to relax and re-energize when I need it. Sparking deep conversations about life and God and relationships. Seeking to see God’s hand in my life and others. Seeking to see God’s face in my life and others. These are the things that are in my control. This is the type of intentionality that will matter when I’m laying on my deathbed.    

It’s pretty obvious to me that my life will never achieve the storybook standards that I have for it. But it will continue to surprise me in wonderful and meaningful ways like when Saundra reached out to me to join her on that first promotional tour or how I was recently surprised when Huffington Post Live reached out to me to be a part of a segment (I probably should’ve mentioned this before). While I’ve lost all surety that I know where my story is headed, I have a better sense of who I am in this story. That’s good enough.

My favorite pastor, Rick McKinley, often talks about how we are all characters in God’s story. God doesn’t write predictable stories. He likes to subvert our expectations and surprise us. He likes to challenge us far more than we would choose to challenge ourselves. But He also makes the ordinary extraordinary. He bringing meaning into the mundane. Though I can’t promise that I’ll stop wrestling for narrative control of my life, I’m gaining a far greater appreciation for its actual author.

 

Not About Love

I’ve been really obsessed lately with the website 40 Days of Dating. Two friends, Jessie and Tim, with  opposite relationship issues—who also happen to be graphic designers—decided to date for 40 days and write about it. Part of what draws me into their experiment is the graphic element (I’m a sucker for bright colors and delicious fonts) but I’m also fascinated by the project itself. I relate to both Jessie and Tim in different ways.

40DayofDating-Collage

Like Jessie, I grew up with parents who are deeply in love and have a strong marriage. Witnessing the beauty of the life they have made together and the bond they have with each other, it’s impossible not to want a relationship like that myself. Also, like her, I’m a romantic. I love the feeling of being in love (or being infatuated). And I’m equally uninterested, and frankly exhausted, by the idea of dating lots of men. But my reasons for being disinclined to date casually are very different from hers. This ties into how I’m like Tim.

Tim is a commitment-phobe because he loves his freedom.  He loves that he can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, with whoever he wants. I can relate to that. As I recently told you, freedom is a requirement in all of my relationships. Though I am energized by having an extroverted job and love investing deeply in people, I am an introvert at heart who is very project oriented. I need a lot of quality personal time to unwind, reflect, recharge and work. When I’m sunk into a project or taking personal time even my loved ones feel like a huge inconvenience when they make the smallest demand on my time or energy (especially energy).  I prefer having relationships on my terms, in my timing.

All of my friends have said to me at some point or other, “I love that we can go months or years without talking and I know it’s okay. You won’t get offended.” Of course, I don’t get offended. This is how I like my relationships. The beauty of only seeing each other every once in a while is that it pretty much guarantees that when we do see each other it’ll be great! No drama. No boredom. No opportunity to take each other for granted. Since I jump quickly into deep conversation, we both get intimacy on demand. While these marathon hangout sessions usually take up a large chunk of time, it isn’t a habitual commitment so it’s easier to fit into my haphazard schedule. I get intimacy and freedom. But I don’t get anyone to consistently lean on or talk to every day. That’s the trade off.

Tim and I are very different in that my need for freedom and control leads me more naturally into pseudo-relationships than casually dating. I did give casual dating a try but I found it entirely unsatisfying because it didn’t offer me the intense emotional connection I crave. I don’t care if a relationship ends in marriage or if it just ends but while it lasts I want it to be deep, beautiful and meaningful. If it isn’t, there is no way I will find time for it in my schedule. Flirting is fun but I get my fill of it at work.

I have been “deep single” for the last year because I decided that my habit of pseudo-dating wasn’t healthy and that casually dating isn’t for me. I haven’t even allowed myself to hangout with guy friends outside of work because I didn’t want it to get complicated. While this time has given me a chance to clear my head and feel more centered, it has also left me craving intimacy. One thing I’ve realized about myself in the absence of close male relationships is that I don’t have the capacity to emotionally connect with women as deeply (I let my best female friend find out my grandpa died through facebook–you can bet I would’ve at least texted one of the leading men in my life right away had we still been on intimate terms at the time).

The 40 Days of Dating project speaks to where I’m at because I’m a crazy mix of both of these people: I don’t want to give up my freedom and I want a deep meaningful relationship. While they struggle to compromise with each other, I am struggling to compromise with myself.

Wednesday, I had what was supposed to be a networking meeting with life coach Jill Haas that practically turned into a therapy session. She observed that I’m a control freak which isn’t news to me but, somehow, I always seem to disconnect my desire for freedom from a need to have control (even though that is obviously what it is). She left me asking myself some good questions. I’m not going to pretend that I’ve come to a resolution. Instead, I’ll leave you with the main question I’m asking myself:

Is my need for a sense of freedom and control more important to me than my desire for intimacy and a healthy relationship?

Good question right? I wish I had an answer.

Life in the Promotional Marketing Biz

“What do you do?” We all face this question on a regular basis. Though I spend the majority of my week doing more typical marketing work (I was a freelance copywriter and now I am a Community Marketing Executive for Welcome Wagon), I have the most fun telling people about my work on the weekends. Friday through Sunday I work for a promotional marketing company as a trainer, an event coordinator and, when needed, a product demonstrator.

“You know those people who hand out samples in the grocery store? I train them.” That’s usually the answer that I give. It almost always sparks a conversation about the experience that person has had with a product demonstrator. For me, it’s a thrilling conversation because I love hearing these stories and I love educating people about the promotional marketing industry. Even though we live in a technologically rich world, nothing beats the experience of trying a new product with a friendly engaging brand ambassador there to answer your questions or banter with you. Let’s be honest, it is the surest way to convert a follower into a customer.

I was first introduced to promotional marketing by my friend Saundra who recruited me to join her on a Cholula hot sauce mobile tour around the east coast soon after I got out of grad school. She had been in the promotions industry for a couple of years by that time and already had a hefty number of mobile tours under her belt. Her partner Vito had been in the industry for even longer. I learned a lot from both of them as they told me about past tours and gave me tips on how to be an exceptional brand ambassador. They infected me with their enthusiasm for this industry and re-enforced that I have a natural ability to quickly connect with people (which is a prerequisite for excelling in promotions). It wasn’t a surprise to me when they told me this fall that they were founding their own promotional marketing company VIP Talent & Events. While I worked with them I saw that they have the vision to conceptualize a tour, a knack for choosing good people and a smart, efficient approach to event planning and management. Though I loved working with them, life on the road full-time is not for me. That is what led me to my current role for Elite Marketing Interactions as a Regional Trainer & Event Coordinator (to put a title to my description).

Working for a company that primarily does in-store promotions instead of mobile tours allows me to be more grounded than Saundra and Vito who live on the road for a majority of the year. While I do travel for my job, I am able to come home every night.

It might seem like a big leap that I went from studying philosophy and earning an entirely academic master’s degree to marketing –to those of you who know that part of my story. I should mention that I brought with me 4 ½ years of translatable experience. I planned and executed my first campus wide event during my first semester of college and by the end of that semester I founded a student organization.  That organization became one of the largest on campus by the time I graduated in part because I wasn’t afraid to shamelessly and constantly promote it for four years. My experience leading that organization and then overseeing all of the student organizations at my college led me to a graduate internship in Programming & Leadership at Fordham (which was more like a staff role as opposed to those internships where you’re mostly an errand runner). Since each of those positions involved print and online marketing, face-to-face promotion, managing and training staff/ leaders and event planning and execution it wasn’t that much of a leap to enter the marketing industry.

A large part of what I love about promotions is its diversity. Every tour that Vito and Saundra tell me about is incredibly different just as each week for Elite is different for me. Some weekends I train new staff. Some weekends I set-up and run a booth at community events and tradeshows. Some weekends I organize and orchestrate high-profile in-store events. Some weekends I perform product demonstrations (often wine/beer – which are my favorite) at understaffed stores. What is always consistent in this business is that you are challenged to make a positive first impression on hundreds of people in just 5 – 20 seconds with them. Yes, there are people who will hang out with you for much longer than 20 seconds. You can have some incredible conversations but these people are the exceptions. Most people will only give you just a few seconds of their time. The challenging of figuring out just the right hook to bring people in and make them feel at ease and engaged is part of what makes every day in the promotions industry exciting.

I want to share this passion with you because I love this industry and because I want you to understand that I’m not exaggerating when I bring up how I can to anybody.

Netflix Pick: I Give It a Year

Since avoiding the wrong relationship is one of this week’s topics, I can’t resist sharing one of my recent Netflix picks: “I Give It a Year.” It’s a British romantic comedy about two people who rushed into a miserable marriage. As they go through counseling in an attempt to resolve their irreconcilable difference, they meet the person they are actually meant to be with.

It’s undeniably campy with classic British humor (comic nudity and excessive swearing included-so be warned). A lot of it’s charm (besides what Simon Baker lends it) is in how it playful mocks the rom-com genre while still following the basic formula. I enjoyed it, hopefully some of you will too.

IGiveItaYear

Maybe We Shouldn’t Be So Scared of the Scale

My favorite way to win a prize at a state fair or amusement park when I was a kid was by challenging the person who guessed weights. They rarely ever got mine right so it was an easy victory. If I ever have to choose a carnie job that would be the one I’d want. I think I’d have a better success rate than most of the ones I met because I’ve developed a knack for accurately guessing people’s weight. It helps that I have a lot of data to draw from (since I am comfortable telling anyone and practically everyone how much I weigh at any given time, people are pretty comfortable sharing their weight with me). What also helps is that I understand the subjectivity of weight.

It seems to me that most people have preconceived notions about weight. Like, if someone weights less than 100 pounds it is assumed they are probably anorexic and if a woman weighs more than 150 pounds or a man exceeds 200 they must be overweight. These ideas are absolutely ridiculous! I have friends who are healthy at a mere 90 something pounds and others who are trim and thin at 210 pounds. There are men in my life who would be overweight at 180 pounds and women I know who could be underweight at 180. Outside of the unique context of each individual person, these numbers have no real meaning.

Bone density, height, muscle mass and, of course, fat all play a large part in determining what someone weighs. It is by looking at each person as an individual, seeing their unique attributes, that I’m able to guess pretty well what weight range they fall into. But this guess isn’t ever a judgement because that number alone doesn’t determine if they are healthy or not.

Age, physical activity, and overall physical well-being in combination with those other factor all play a role in what weight is ideal for each individual person. This complexity of weight is part of what makes it so interesting to me. It is also what makes it so hard to determine what a “healthy” weight is for another person or even yourself. For all of us, these factors change throughout our lives. There may be a time when [insert number] is the best weight for you and a time when it isn’t.

I like being open about what I weigh because it creates the opportunity to talk about the assumptions and misconceptions that we have about weight. One of the first things that I discovered is that many thin people feel as scrutinized and sensitive about their weight as heavy people do. My best friend Nichelle and sister Christa are great examples. Nichelle is 5’ 10” with a medium to large frame and enjoys lifting weights so she never weighs less than 160 lbs. Whenever she admits her weight, people often feel a need to “comfort” her that she only weighs “that much” because she has so much muscle. What they are implying is that they think she weighs more than they expected, so they have to rationalize it to themselves. My sister Christa is on the other end of that spectrum. She’s 5’ 10” with a very small frame and hasn’t ever seriously worked out. She rarely weighs much more than 125 pounds. She grew up with doctors suspecting she had an eating disorder because she didn’t fall into the “healthy” weight zone on their BMI chart. For her, that weight is normal.

There is an odd comfort in realizing that most of us—overweight or not— feel like our weight doesn’t measure up to our culture’s expectations. It bridges the gap that we can feel exists between us and it creates the opportunity for us to realize that we can’t judge ourselves based off of these inaccurate notions of what is and isn’t healthy. In my opinion, we shouldn’t judge ourselves off of these numbers at all.

I don’t need a scale to tell me when I could use to change my habits and burn some fat. It certainly can’t tell me when I could use to gain some more muscle (moving into a new apartment, struggling to lift half of my furniture and boxes, made me realize that). I think most of us know our bodies well enough to know when change is needed. The number I see blinking back at me on my scale may confirm what I already know but it always has to be interpreted though my knowledge of what is healthy for me as an individual, not what is perceived to be healthy for me by others.

Even though this number is subjective, it can be a powerful act to stand up and publicly state what your weight is. At least, that is how I feel about it. I feel like it is a way of saying, “Whether you approve of my weight or not, this is what it is. And I am okay with it.” Even when I know that my habits could use some improvement and I could use to get my body into better shape, I still find it important to own the weight I am at and accept that, ideal or not, this is me.

Sometimes Singleness Isn’t All That Bad

At the end of May my last remaining grandparent passed away. Though distance had grown between my Grandpa Jacobs and me, he meant a lot to me. He was my first intellectual sparring partner and… so much more. His memorial service—which had an incredible number of planned and unplanned speakers—was breathtakingly beautiful. Looking back at a picture of my brother-in-law standing beside by father as he spoke during the service I felt a pang of envy.

Christa’s husband has shared in most of the notable events in her adult life and vice versa. Whereas my future husband (if I have one) has missed out on so much. There is so much of his life that I must be missing too.  It’s impossible not to feel a little regretful. Yet, I wonder if I would have been able to have such long and meaningful conversations that day with my grandfather’s pastor or two of my cousins that I rarely see or the pastor’s wife if I had a spouse of my own. Those conversations were as important to me as the ceremony. With the wrong man at my side, they definitely wouldn’t have achieved the same depth—if they happened at all.

In the past, I shared this quote from the movie “Shall We Dance” that I felt captures part of the beauty of marriage:

“We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet… I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.”

Over the last year I’ve realized that having a spouse as a witness to my life doesn’t mean as much to me as I thought it did. In fact, this sort of thing is exactly what I’m bad at.

Anyone who is friends with me knows that I’m great at being there during terrible things and wonderful things. It’s the mundane things you can’t count on me for. Forget about seeing me every day or even once a week! All of my relationships are defined by the quality of time spent together or in conversation, not by the quantity. Even when I’m living with people I can withdraw into myself like Sherlock when he’s deeply thinking or recovering from a particularly hard case. There have been people in my life who are exceptions to this rule but they are few and far between.

You could say that mundanity bores me. To some extent that’s accurate but that wouldn’t entirely explain why I’m disinclined to allow my friends or family to consistently participate in my daily life. The truth is that I guard my days like other people guard their secrets.  There is no more intrusive question to me than “What did you do today?”

I have often said that the quality of my life is defined by the quality of my conversations. That is what my life is made up of: anticipated and unanticipated conversations. What I truly excel at is developing deep connections with people quickly. Whether you need a shoulder to cry on or someone to debate with or are just looking for some entertaining banter, I’m your girl. I’m something of a chameleon in this way though I’m always distinctly myself. This is something that I treasure about my life, which is why I’m so protective of it. Bringing an extra person into the equation always changes the dynamic. Usually, the quality of a conversation (at least in terms of depth and sincerity) decreases with every additional person added. I can’t stand that.

Just as I cherish my time with people, I cherish my alone time. Anyone who has lived with me can attest that I think it is perfectly acceptable to be brusque when someone decides to talk to me when I’m not in the mood. It can make me a real pain to live with.

It’s really no wonder that I’m habitually single.

This is why its basically a prerequisite that I be wild about someone if I’m going to date them. Otherwise, their presence in my life-outside of work or an occasional get together-will feel like an intrusion. I didn’t choose to be this way. I didn’t wake up one day and decided that I wanted to have ridiculously high standards. It’s simply how I am. Just as you might find it impossible to strike up a conversation with a stranger, I find it almost impossible to be open to going on a date with someone unless we’ve already connected in a way that I don’t connect with most people or he’s won over my affection through a steady and charming pursuit.

I have tried to change this. Remember when I had that short lived relationship with a younger man? Or when I joined two online dating sites and went on a painful dud of a date? I was trying to play the role of another kind of woman. A woman who needs at least two dates to tell if a guy is a dud instead of one conversation. A woman who can take an online dating profile at face value instead of seeing the subtext. Someone who enjoys the experience of dating, even if it doesn’t lead anywhere. I love the idea of being like that but I’m not.

After failed attempts at changing (followed by a long season of beating myself up for being a boring loser), I’ve decided to embrace the way I am.

While I may envy Christa’s marriage a little, I’m also grateful for the life I’m able to live because I’m single. I do know what it’s like to share my life with the wrong kind of man. Once I had someone who mixed with my loved ones like oil and water. Had he been beside me at my Grandpa’s memorial I would have been torn between meeting his need for us to create a world-onto-ourselves in which he could feel comfortable amidst that sea of strangers and my desire to connect with my Grandpa’s friends and my extended family. I’m glad I didn’t have to make that compromise.

It Wasn’t You, It Was Me

You might remember a melodramatic break up letter that I posted in March which coincided with the launch of a new blog. Well…if you don’t already know, I quit that blog too soon after.

Tom Petty said in a recent CBC Radio interview that the doldrums is the worst time to produce anything worthwhile (my wording but his sentiment). That was my problem, not my blogs. Especially not this one.

After completing the most painful job hunt (that thankfully resulted in a job I am enjoying) and an apartment hunt (I promise I’ll post some pictures soon), I’ve finally gotten out of the doldrums. Focusing on changing my life instead of trying (and failing) to make sense of it through writing was what I needed during those months of silence. Finally, I’m more content and have some fresh insights worth sharing.

All of this to say, I haven’t entirely given up on this blog. You can expect more from me soon!

The Perks of Being a Fat Girl

Or: 6 Reasons to be Glad You Grew Up Overweight

While I’d love to erase the stretchmarks left over from growing up overweight, I wouldn’t want to erase anything else. In my opinion, the perks of growing up a fat girl outweigh the detractions. Many of the challenges you’ll face in our culture as a result of being a heavy kid turn into benefits in the long run. These are the top six advantages of growing up as a fat chick.

1. You cultivate a wonderful, self-depreciating sense of humor. I’ve rarely met a large woman who can’t laugh at herself and set a whole room at ease with her humor. I think it’s because learning to laugh at yourself is one of the greatest ways to cope with being persecuted and belittled. It’s a way to regain your narrative power and, of course, shame your bullies by being way funnier about your foibles than they are.

2. You develop thick skin (and I don’t just mean literally). Another silver lining to growing up getting disapproving looks and being called fat is that you develop more grit. Sure, it still hurts—you are human after all—BUT your body’s natural self-defense mechanisms help you to become more immune to bullying and trash talk. (If you are anything at all like me, you also learn how to put bullies in their place.)

3. You take more pride in who you are than how you look. The ironic benefits of being excluded from our culture’s definition of beauty is that you can feel freer to rebel against the notion that your beauty defines your value. Instead of using your looks to win friends and influence people, you rely on your personality.

4. You learn to appreciate your beautiful features. One of the pluses to maybe not loving your full naked body so much is that you spend more time in front of the mirror clothed. It gives you more of an opportunity to focus on the small things to love about yourself like your flowing locks, your expressive eyes, your great legs that almost compensate for your small breasts…alright that’s my list but you get my point.

5. You’re less competitive with other women. Knowing that the odds are stacked against you in a competition of beauty makes you more inclined not to compete. Making that decision can completely alter your relationship with other women for the better. Instead of seeing them as your rivals or the measure of your worth, you’re more inclined to view them as comrades and sisters. This seriously helps to eliminate cattiness from your relationships (for the most part).

6. Your laissez faire attitude will be your ticket to coolitude. You know that moment in Eat, Pray, Love when Elizabeth Gilbert decides to throw vanity to the wind and inhale the pleasures of Italy by eating her way through the country with abandon? You have been embracing that unfettered hunger for life since childhood. It’s your ticket to cool. Once you realize how powerful it is that you have less vanity and a greater sense of abandon, you’ll be the life of every party.

How Did You Do It?

When I casually mention that I grew up overweight to new acquaintances or run into old friends from high school or college, 9 times out of 10, I’m asked the question “How did you do it?!” What they want to know is my secret to my success. You know, what weight loss supplement or diet or surgery cured me. I’m sure they expect to hear the usual story: an epiphany about how I couldn’t live with my excess weight anymore, a diet/supplement/workout that changed my life, and my sprint toward my weight loss goal. But it’s impossible for me to comply with this expectation. That’s not my story.

Watching my mom’s weight yo-yo up and down for years during my childhood as she tried out every fad diet that swept the country taught me two things: 1) Fads don’t produce lasting results. 2) Diets and supplements suck!

I learned another valuable lesson growing up with a naturally skinny sister who suffered with extremely low self-esteem: Being thin doesn’t guarantee good self-esteem.  So, I decided at a young age to love myself at any size and never be conned into a fad diet or anything that promised accelerated weight loss.

Truth be told, I’m not really the type of person who should have a weight loss success story. I was loud and proud of my plus-sized self. I was comfortable in my own skin (even if I didn’t particularly love my rolls or the limits imposed on my style by plus-size clothes). I took pleasure in defying fat girl stereotypes.

For starters, I wasn’t a junk food junky. Don’t get me wrong, I love my baked goods, chocolate and cheese but I didn’t grow up eating Snickers bars for breakfast or binging on fast food. I don’t even like pop or soda. My diet was the same diet as most Midwesterners: cereal every day (maybe twice), typical American snack foods, Hamburger Helpers, homemade casseroles with frozen vegetables, Americanized Chinese food, tacos, lasagna and pizza. Unlike many Midwestern’s, our family made sure to at least have two vegetables every night with dinner (though usually they were frozen or from a can). Admittedly, it wasn’t an awesome diet but I wasn’t starting my day with ice cream or cake either.

I was also an avid fan of walking and weight training. During middle school when the weather was nice and I wasn’t in school, I’d put my Walkman on and stroll down our country road in Indiana. When we moved to Michigan, I got in the habit of going on midnight walks through our subdivision so I wouldn’t have to run into the other high schoolers in our neighborhood. In college, I walked everywhere. I joked that I practically walked miles out of my way every day to finish conversations. Throughout all of that time, I periodically did light weight training and some aerobic exercises. While I wasn’t exactly “active,” I liked to feel relatively fit.

I was good at choosing clothes that flattered my body. The limited selection of plus size clothes available put a damper on my style but no one could say I wasn’t well dressed by the time I entered high school.

To me, my weight was an outward expression of my hunger for a rich life full of good relationships and good food.

What changed? Why did I decide to lose weight then? 

Honestly, it sort of happened on accident at first.

I was over in England for a summer abroad program at Oxford when my weight loss journey started. To save money, I split groceries with a housemate who ate pretty healthy. I got used to eating a lighter diet. Plus, since I have an extreme aversion to buses and we lived in a house in walking distance to about everywhere you’d want to go, I walked a lot almost every day. Between those two things, I lost 15-20 pounds during the two months I was overseas without setting out to.

Back home, I realized how much I prefer the lifestyle that I had unintentionally picked up overseas. I’d learned that portion control is not only easier but equally satisfying when my taste buds are happy. I’d also discovered how much I prefer a Mediterranean-ish diet. It felt pretty great to be wearing a smaller size too. So, I kept up my new habits stateside.

It helped that my first semester back, I made friends with a hot guy (imagine a cross between Brad Pitt and Josh Hutchinson) who followed me around the lunch line as I put food on my plate. While I ate lunch, he’d chat my ear off without eating himself. Having his crystal blue eyes locked on me made it that much easier to make healthy choices.

The rest of my weight loss journey has involved a lot of ups and downs. I’ve used a lot of tools along the way (first the Food Pyramid was my guide, then I utilized Weight Watchers, after that I graduated to counting calories, now I do a combination of counting calories and keeping in mind the Food Pyramid) and I’ve tried out tons of different workout routines (though nothing beats dancing around in my underwear). What has worked for me, might not work for anybody else. You might want something I never have. I don’t care about having a bikini body. I just want to stay out of plus size clothes and have a normal relationship with food.

The thing I’ve struggled with most—more than cravings for sumptuous baked goods or longings for rich Italian dishes—is the feeling that I’m betraying the bold, beautiful fat girl that I grew up as. Over and over again, I have to remind myself to stay true to the first of my two tenets: Love yourself at every size.

The Good, The Bad & The Awkward #1 : Say Goodbye to Idle Flirting

A couple of months ago my sister said, “You know, Lindsey, people always say that I’m flirtatious because I’m nice to everyone. You legitimately are a flirt.” Until she said it, I’d never thought about myself that way but I couldn’t deny it either. Enough friends have pointed out to me that I can get carried away around men.

If I’m a flirt, I’m one in the true sense of the word. The playful banter that I slip into with many men is entirely for amusement (most of the time at least). And I can’t help it that I find it deeply humorous to brazenly come onto my guy friends on occasion for sport.

Back in my younger, heavier days, the men I flirted with weren’t inclined to take it seriously. I could be brazen without creating confusion about my intentions. At the time, I didn’t contribute this freedom to my weight. I also didn’t think of it as flirting. To me, it was just a natural way to interact with men in certain environments. Those blissfully naïve days are over. I can’t idly flirt without consequence anymore.

Take for example my first day working my day-job handing out samples in a grocery store. It was a painfully slow day. I was stuck back in a corner on a week day. Hardly any of the few customers in the store crossed my path. All I could do to pass the time was cut up scones. My only relief from the sheer tedium was an awkward grocery worker who kept passing by my station.

He was extremely awkward but I was equally bored. So, I began exchanging banter with him as he passed through to help the day go by more bearably.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a talent for sucking people into conversation. I’m so good at it because I instinctively know when to turn up the charm to get someone to abandon what they should be doing, at least for a while, to chat with me. Using any amount of charm on this guy turned out to be a bad move. By the end of my shift, he asked my manager for my number. He uncomfortably pursued me for quite a while afterward.

This has become the story of my life.

I even had a guy friend—who I thought knew me well enough to get my humor—become awkward with me for two months because he thought I had a crush on him. All because I showed up to our non-romantic date dressed up and then teasingly came on to him. I had even explained that my fanciness was purely the result of my own vanity and desire to wear new accessories.

You might sympathize with him but, let me tell you, he wouldn’t have misread the situation if I still weighed 240 pounds. Back then, I had a guy friend tell me that I had the rare ability to say a come on without it coming off that way. All the other guys in the car with us agreed. I act the same way now as I did then. That is the crux of my problem: while I still feel and act like the same person, I’m treated like a different one.

There is a plus side to how seriously my flirting is taken now. It’s easier to date. It definitely makes me feel more feminine, more desirable. But it also means that I’ve gone from being the frequently rejected to the frequent rejecter (like I said, my flirting isn’t an actual indicator of attraction). I thought that would make me feel like hot shit. Mostly, it just makes me feel like shit.

Those douche-y men you daydream about turning down are rarely the ones you get to reject. It’s the weird guys, needy guys, old guys and married guys you get the uncomfortable privilege of turning down most often. What is even worse is when you have to let down those sweet guys you wish you liked but the chemistry and attraction just isn’t there for you.

I’m trying to tone down my flirtatiousness but it’s hard to break a decade long habit of being a flirt. I wasn’t prepared to say goodbye to idle flirting when I began losing weight.