I have experienced a year of transformation.
I found myself in my mid-30s, divorced and a single mother. I relocated, made a career change and began the challenge of becoming a more authentic, mindful person. During this year, I came up with what I began to call “my chicken challenge.”
During my decade-long marriage, I felt myself slowly slipping away. My ex-husband despised all of the strong parts of my personality; my passion, my intensity, and even my creative impulses. Everything that makes me who I really am seemed to get lost in a relationship where who I am wasn’t valued.
I began suppressing so much of myself, and as the marriage began to fall apart, as it would have given the lack of understanding of who I was, I began internalizing my thoughts and feelings. I felt that I could not communicate about my marriage without compromising it further, so I isolated myself more. In the end, I allowed the relationship to break me down, until I found myself with two beautiful children who depended upon me absolutely. At that point, I knew I could not be the mother I needed to be inside of my marriage.
It’s been almost a year since I filed for divorce and only a few short months since the divorce was granted. In that time, I have been challenging myself to make changes so that I am the strongest woman and mother that I can be. This is what I jokingly refer to this as “my chicken challenge.”
When I am feeling fearful about something, I challenge myself to embrace the fear and act despite it. Instead of “being a chicken,” I do the thing that scares me. So if I’m in a relationship and something is bothering me, I talk about it instead of ignoring it. If I notice inconsistent behavior, I ask about it. I ask uncomfortable questions, and I am honest about my feelings even when it’s embarrassing or revealing. Sometimes that means saying “I love you,” knowing that I won’t hear it back. Sometimes it means discussing a behavior that makes me uncomfortable and asking about it. I am never cruel; that’s not the type of honesty for which I advocate.
Instead, I speak my truth in kindness, and I refuse to allow myself to back down from it.
I’ve even taken to carrying a Little People plastic chicken that I abducted from my children’s room. I keep it with me as a visual reminder that I need to be brave, especially when it’s the difficult choice. It also makes me laugh and brings lightness to what is a tough challenge to tackle.
I think self-growth is valuable, but I also think that it’s important to find a way to make it less of a concept and more a part of our daily lives. For me, having a symbol has been helpful. Having a symbol that makes light of a difficult process of change has been essential. It reminds me that I need to confront what I’m feeling head on, rather than trying to make excuses or deny how I feel.
While I’m not saying that everyone should go around with tiny plastic chickens in their handbags, I do feel like we can all benefit from a visual reminder. I have friends who use vision boards as a way of focusing on the life they want to live. It’s a practice that I plan to implement as well. I know others who wear religious symbols in jewelry as a reminder of the lifestyle they have chosen and the faith that fuels it. Still others choose the route of body art to engrave symbols or words on their person that provide a visual reminder of a challenge, lifestyle choice or commitment.
Despite the way that we choose to address our struggles, I feel that it is important to remind ourselves each day to continue to make our lives better. When I brush across the tiny chicken when I’m reaching into my handbag, it makes me smile, and it also makes me remember that when I am brave and communicate honestly and openly with the people in my life, I am often rewarded for it. I find that the dialogue is more open, and I also find that my relationships are stronger. Even something as simple as telling my friends that I love them has been a part of that challenge. I speak up because it is important to me, and I know that “my chicken challenge” will continue long after I no longer require the symbol.
Underneath all of my goals and all of the changes I’m making, the need to be brave is paramount.
When I want to communicate better with others, I need courage to speak up and to do so with kindness. When I want to improve my relationships, I ask the tough questions rather than making assumptions and draw on my reservoir of bravery to accomplish this. When I have a goal that I want to achieve, I have to rely on my inner strength and courage to make the lifestyle changes that will help me toward my goal.
At each point, courage is essential for me to take the small steps that will lead me to my main goals. At the heart of it all, I simply want to lead a happy, authentic life in close relationship with those I love. I want to have a healthy body and mind, and I want to focus on taking care of myself so that I can be the best mother and woman that I am capable of being. These sound like simple goals, but it has taken endless difficult self-discovery and courage for me to begin living the life I need.
With “my chicken challenge” firmly in mind, I have signed up for a mud run and a 10k and joined a gym to actively cross-train for them both. I feel stronger every day. With my challenge in mind, I have spoken out about my thoughts and feelings with the relationships in my life. I have told the people in my support system how much I love and appreciate them. I was even able to reach out and reconnect with friends from the past because I was able to speak from a place of courage.
I work hard to be a mindful mother, and I try to speak my truth and show my children every day that I am proud of them. When uncomfortable feelings come to the surface, I sit with them and try to understand their source. It takes courage to delve deep, but I find that it keeps me moving forward. It’s painful, and it’s often tough, but “my chicken challenge” reminds me not to back down.
I have learned during this last year to be grateful for my struggles. By challenging myself to bravely address the issues in my life, I have become a stronger, more connected person. I will continue this chicken challenge, and I will encourage others to reach out and find the symbols that are significant to their own growth. If it reminds us to go forward, it’s a help. If it encourages us in our pursuits, it’s a comfort. And if it makes us laugh despite the difficulty, it’s a blessing.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Photo: Kate Brady/Flickr
Editor: Jean Weiss