Safe Places & Sucking It Up

On November 28, 2016, in Monday Motivator, The Pass It On Podcast, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman

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“Face your unpleasant current realities head on, but never lose faith that you will prevail” ~Adm. James B. Stockdale

Learn how to be happy right now!The death of a loved one, an unexpected health diagnosis, losing a job, a breakup, moving to a new community, an election outcome; All of these things can kick us way outside of our comfort zones.

You may already know the feelings: fear, anger, uncertainty, betrayal, sadness, even shame. In these spaces, sleep can be elusive. We’re more easily drawn to tension relieving activities, alcohol and drugs, anything to distract us from the now. We can feel helpless, unsure of where to go, who to talk to, what to do.

What do you do when your world is turned upside down?

First and foremost, allow yourself to fully feel your emotions. Often, our situations or our perceived self image require us to force our emotions below the surface. We have to get through the day, past the funeral, on to the next opportunity. The “never let em see you sweat” advice often given to athletes and executives may help you survive a meeting or a sporting event, but it’s not healthy.

Change, loss and sadness follow similar trajectories, a rollercoaster ride through the denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler define as the five stages of grief. Just as there are required stepping stones to lasting success, you can’t skip over any of these stages. And there is no predictable timetable as to how long it will take to work things through.

This is where what have come to be called “Safe Spaces” have value. Everyone needs a safe space, a group, a therapist, a soul mate or a trusted friend where you can totally express your feelings without fear. At some point in your life, you will need a safe space. If you weren’t lucky enough to be born into one, seek one out. Like a career network, this is something that is best researched and cultivated before you need it.

My friends who work with people who have experienced loss tell me that you never fully recover. You eventually learn how to exist and even thrive in the new reality. And that’s a decision you have to make on your own. Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who found himself  immersed in the horror of the Holocaust during the Second World War. In his seminal work “Man’s Search For Meaning” he says, “Most men in a concentration camp believed that the real opportunities of life had passed. Yet, in reality, there was an opportunity and a challenge. One could make a victory of those experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge and simply vegetate, as did a majority of the prisoners.”

That’s where “sucking it up” comes into play. Sucking it up, does not mean ignoring reality or how you feel about it. It means working through the stages of grief and developing a new relationship with life, what former POW Jim Stockdale calls facing your unpleasant current reality head on and dealing with it, without losing faith that you will ultimately prevail.

That requires doing something. Whether you are unhappy with your current situation or the state of the world, you can make a difference. Finding a way to move forward, even if you still sting from the pain, is the essential therapy that ultimately contributes to healing.

Each of us was given the gift of existence to discover our purpose and to focus our energies toward leaving the world in a better place than we found it. That doesn’t change if a football season, an election, a job opportunity or a relationship doesn’t turn out the way you had hoped. indeed, challenging times don’t build character, they reveal it. They can also reveal vast reservoirs of courage, strength, and resiliency you never knew you had.

What the legendary motivational philosophers call “a positive mental attitude” is something we choose to manifest. It can be learned and applied even in times of trial and pain. Personal Coach, Cindy Boyd passed along a meme that has special meaning this week. “Don’t wait for things to get easier, simpler, better. Life will always be complicated. Learn to be happy right now. Otherwise, you’ll run out of time.”

A fundamental lesson that each of us must learn is that the world owes us nothing. It’s up to us to dream, create, add value, and persevere until we reach our goals. This isn’t supposed to be easy and no medals are handed out simply for participation. You must press beyond obstacles, failure and pain. When you look in the mirror, you may well find that it was the journey and not the destination that was liberating.

Our bodies need a certain level of resistance and stress to stay healthy. This is why cardiovascular activity and weight training are an essential part of every fitness regime. As Michigan State Strength Coach Ken Mannie likes to say, “A mountain is assigned to you to show others it can be moved. Your strength then strengthens them.”

The triumphant always complete each lap with battle scars. They surround themselves with people and practices that can help them recover, learn and adjust. But they are ultimately victorious because they choose to stay in the game, fight for what they believe in and keep fighting, even when it feels like the whole world is telling them not to.



On November 7, 2016, in The Spartan Life, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman

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“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.” ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

Every election day, I marvel at how many people don’t vote. In the last Presidential election something like 1 in 5 voters cast a ballot. Yet we all love to complain about the politicians we send to do our bidding. Washington’s gridlock, the size of government, our taxes and the entitlement programs we depend on are all the by products of election day. And every election is determined by the people who show up.

Nixon Administration Secretary of the Treasury, William E. Simon, pointed out that, “Bad politicians are sent to Washington by good people who don’t vote.”

I respect those who vote, even if I don’t agree with their politics. They are exercising the most basic, yet most powerful right that makes America the great nation we are.

This election, every election, each of us has a responsibility to exercise due diligence, to understand the issues and the people who want represent our interests in elected office. We may not agree with every position. Sometimes it’s an exercise in selecting the least objectionable alternative. “Democracy,” humorist Robert Byrne wryly observed, “is being allowed to vote for the candidate you dislike least.”

But choose we must. And a decision -not- to vote is also a choice that comes with consequences. Ask two questions of everyone who wants to argue politics with you: Did they vote? And what do they intend to do about it? How they answer those two questions determine whether or not you will continue the conversation.

And remember the wisdom of the Greek statesman and orator, Pericles, who said, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics, does not mean that politics won’t take an interest in you.”

Whatever your political persuasion, I hope you’ll make its ultimate statement, with your vote on November 8th. The future of your world depends on it.


You get what you accept

On November 5, 2016, in Monday Motivator, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman

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“There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.” ~ Denis Waitley

The quickest way to get blown out of my social media stream is to talk about politics or religion. Not because I’m not interested in other points of view. It’s because I know that people are quick to proffer their opinions, but won’t really do anything about them.

Social media has made it easy to incite anger, indignation, emotional empathy. But all that means nothing unless you are willing to take some action to affect change. And most of us won’t get off the couch.

Whatever you think about the the current state of the world, your career, your diet, your relationships, your life, the fact is this: It is the way it is because you accept it.

When was the last time you actively fought for a candidate or a cause you believed in?

When was the last time you did any serious thinking about the work situation you want, and took one step to prepare yourself to take it on?

Not happy with your weight? What did you eat for lunch? When did you last have a regular exercise program?

Woody Allen famously said, “80% of life is about showing.” Only about 3 in 10 voters determined the outcome of the last presidential election. Things change when people show up, stand up, speak up and step up.

Zig Ziglar’s maxim that, “we can get everything we want in life if we help others get everything they want,” has a corollary: “We affect change when we can convince enough other people that it’s in their best interest to support it.”

Nothing happens unless you make it happen. Standing on the sidelines complaining doesn’t get the job done. You must get in the game. As the Stephen Crane poem notes:

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

The world owes you nothing. If you don’t like your current situation. Only you can impact that situation. If you’re willing to enter the struggle it won’t be an easy road. But the road to our dreams is paved with potholes. Deal with them, keep moving and you will make progress towards the outcomes you seek.

We learn early in life that all actions have consequences. But what we often forget is this: Not taking action is also an action.. with consequences.

Have a great week!

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On October 23, 2016, in Monday Motivator, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
“True merit is like a river: The deeper it is, the less noise it makes.” – Edward Frederick Halifax

We are on the cusp of another renewal of the Michigan State / Michigan rivalry. I always use this event as a reminder to think about the importance of humility.

The thing I love about the fans of our two extraordinary schools is how so many of us share common roots. As I told my old friend, Congressman John Dingell at a pre-game gathering several years back, “The best thing about today’s game is that a team from Michigan will be the winner.”

And that’s what always happens.

When you are successful, and you will be, always remember that the same combination of preparation and opportunity that brought you good fortune is how Abraham Lincoln defines “luck”.

When you fail, and you will fail, remember that humility has the power to quickly put you back on your feet.

So be humble.

William Temple writes, “Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all.”

A. Whitney Brown puts it in perspective when he says, “There are a billion people in China. It’s not easy to be an individual in a crowd of more than a billion people. Think of it. More than a BILLION people. That means even if you’re a one-in-a-million person, there are still a thousand people exactly like you.”

Humility means respecting the winners and showing compassion for the vanquished. Because over time, these role are easily reversed.

Humility means thinking twice before you speak ill of anyone. Sometimes that’s hard to do, because a badly behaving person clamours for it. Take the high road. Karma always prevails. Allow it to do its work.

Humility means recognizing and celebrating excellence wherever you may find it and accepting nothing less when it comes to your own endeavors.

There’s a funny thing about celebrating excellence. If you do, you’ll tend to attract it.

There’s also a danger associated with winning: it can be easy to fall into the same culture of arrogance that former Coca Cola president, Don Keough, warns of in his “Ten Commandments of Business Failure

He told Spartan Jana O’Brien, “When you are associated with.. a great brand, the people just automatically endow you with a little bit more wisdom than you are entitled to have, and they give a little more deference than you deserve.”

Until you lose a few games.

There was a moment, early in my MSU career where I had the opportunity of introducing our legendary basketball coach to a room crammed with screaming fans. “How do you stay centered when you’re showered with so much adoration?” I asked before I took the microphone to bring him on stage.

Tom Izzo and I locked eyes in one of those coach / player gazes he uses when he wants to make sure you understand what he’s about to say. “Your yesterdays mean nothing,” he told me. “Underperform for a season or two, and watch the love evaporate.”

So be humble.

And remember the final moments from Patton, the film about the legendary general. Great moments of victory, like painful moments of struggle are temporary. All things must pass so make the most of the gift of each moment you are given in the present.

These are his own words.

“For over a thousand years Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeteers, musicians and strange animals from conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children robed in white stood with him in the chariot or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”

May everyone who supports an athletic team learn the gift of humility. No matter what the final score of any game may be, humility is the most important definition of a true winner.

Feedback welcome to or @MSUScottW on Twitter.


By Scott Westerman
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“You are today where your thoughts brought you. You will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.” ~James Allen

“You’ll get there a lot faster if you recruit some accountability buddies!”~Yours Truly

Oh how hard it is to turn thoughts into actions. Earl Nightingale’s famous maxim, “We become what we think about,” is one of the great philosophical truths of the age. But in some cases, turning thoughts into actions can be a challenge, especially if those actions require us to step outside our comfort zone and expose ourselves to discomfort.

Maintaining a commitment to health and fitness is right up there on that list. I’m so proud of how my wife makes it out of bed every morning at 5AM to keep her appointments at the gym. As the mileage has piled on to my own body, it’s become harder and harder to answer that alarm, let alone lace up the running shoes.

How do you turn those productive thoughts into sustainable actions?

Get some help!

Our fitness journey began when we hired personal trainers. Knowing we would have to pay someone, whether or not we showed up was a pretty darn good motivator. And in every endeavor, having an accountability buddy can keep you on track.

This is why we have one-on-ones with our boss at work. It’s part of the reason we check in with our parents and children. Sure we love hearing their voices, but we also are excited to hear about their latest adventures; the thoughts they have turned into action.

Elite athletes retain a cadre of coaches, experts in the honing of mind, body and spirit in the direction of victory. And you’re no different. Don’t your dreams deserve the best possible support system to help them come true?

Here’s an exercise for the forthcoming week: Think of one of those goals you’ve had on your mind for some time. You may already be taking concrete steps in the direction of achieving it. Pull out that pen and legal pad I recommend keeping nearby at all times and write down the names of at least two people who can help you move more deliberately to take your actions to the next level.

Call them and recruit them as your accountability buddies. Tell them what you expect to do and explore how they can help you stay focused. Some people I know write this down as an agreement. Do whatever works best for you. Create the plan. Your buddy’s role is to make sure you follow it.

Carefully monitor the inputs you allow into your brain. They become your thoughts.
Carefully consider each and every thought. They become actions.
Deliberately ponder what knowledge, resources and people you need to bring into your life. These are the things that can turn actions into the habits that ultimately morph into achievements.

With purpose and passion you will realize that you are destined to do great things. Recruit some accountability buddies to help you do them. They’ll end up being the first people you invite to your victory party.

Have a great week!

Feedback always welcome to


Building Mental Toughness

On October 2, 2016, in The Pass It On Podcast, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
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What is the single greatest factor that can help you face any challenge and take major steps in the direction of any goal? Mental toughness. But what is it? And how can we integrate it into our daily life?

Former Navy Seal, Mark Divine, writes that mental toughness is a skill set that can be learned. In his book Unbeatable Mind: Forge Resiliency and Mental Toughness to Succeed at an Elite Level, Mark breaks it down into four ideas, micro-goals, breathing, positivity, and visualization.[1] Let’s explore each in turn.

Micro-Goals involve compartmentalizing your goals into short time frames, “allowing you to create a series of short-term victories.[2]” This is a corollary to Davis Allen’s Two Minute Rule[3], the concept we introduced on June 8th.
• The simple art of mindful breathing is one of the most under rated tools available to build mental toughness. The practice of Box Breathing is a simple method to harness its power. And all you have to remember is the number “4”. Breathe in slowly through your nose for a count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 4. Breathe out through your mouth for a count of 4. Hold for a count of 4.
• The elements of positivity are: Courage, Trust, Acceptance and Forgiveness. It may feel like acceptance and forgiveness don’t fit into a definition of toughness, but they are essential to manifesting it.
• And finally, Visualization: Our brains are analogous to the flight simulators pilots use to practice for every possible situation. And visualization is how they are programmed. A.J. LeVan, writing in Psychology Today says, “Brain studies.. reveal that thoughts produce the same mental instructions as actions.[4]” It possible to program your conscious mind for an outcome, pre-playing future events.

Like every skill, mental toughness can be learned through regular repetition of the habits that manifest it. And it’s well worth the work. Creating a mental toughness mindset will give you the capacity to stay centered when the going gets rough, paraphrasing Kipling, “to keep your head when everybody else is losing theirs.”

This is the place where leaders emerge, breakthroughs occur and excellence lives.

[1] Divine, Mark (2014-01-02). Unbeatable Mind: Forge Resiliency and Mental Toughness to Succeed at an Elite Level (p. 139). Mark Divine. Kindle Edition.
[2] Divine, Mark (2014-01-02). Unbeatable Mind: Forge Resiliency and Mental Toughness to Succeed at an Elite Level (p. 101). Mark Divine. Kindle Edition.
[3] Clear, James, “How to Stop Procrastinating by Using the ‘Two-Minute Rule’, Posted 5/29/13 –
[4] LeVan, A.J. (2009-12–03) Seeing Is Believing: The Power of Visualization


The Unknown Zone

On October 2, 2016, in Monday Motivator, The Pass It On Podcast, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
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“Discovering the next chapters in our adventure stories are often hard because we only know what came before.”

The memories that Facebook serves up via their “On This Day” page can be at once both joyful and sobering. On any given date, I can look back over the last eight years and be reminded of the highs and lows.

A friend recently commented on this, noting that a few short years ago, she was struggling in a job she didn’t enjoy. Whereas today, she’s living the dream, feeling professionally fulfilled and happy within a corporate culture that is in sync with her values.

Back then she was living in “The Unknown Zone”. The current reality wasn’t working. And future prospects were far from clear.

How many of us are in The Unknown Zone right now?

Even in the most ideal of circumstances, there can be a daily second-guessing exercise. There’s a dark voice in every subconscious that may be wondering if the good things in the now are too good to last. If you are wrestling with a change in direction, that voice may question whether you have the ability to do it. Add in some outside stimuli, negative feedback, unexpected events, debt, kids, parents, health issues, even success, and it can feel like you’re being pulled into a rip current, toward a sea full of sharks. The vortex of The Unknown Zone.

In these moments of uncertainty it can be hard to trust that things will work out. The reality is that they will, if you can focus your energy in the right directions. Here is a prescription for navigating The Unknown Zone:

  • You will get what you expect. So expect the best.
  • You will become what you think about. So keep an eye on what you allow into your mind.
  • Your life has a purpose. You were put here to do good things. Figuring out what and how is an ever evolving, lifelong game. Endeavor to play it well.
  • You are not alone. You deserve to be surrounded by good people who will build you up when you need it and recenter you when you deserve it. Some not-so-good people will also cross your path. Embrace and nurture mutually beneficial relationships. Gently let go of everything else.
  • You will experience both highs and lows. Both are temporary and will pass. How you handle them will determine the extent of your joy and pain.
  • Attachment is the root of all suffering. If you’re not feeling good about something, ask yourself what attachments may be connected to it.
  • Everything that happens to you is a teachable moment. Learn from these moments and never stop learning.
  • As the great sales trainer, Tom Hopkins, once wrote, “We are not judged by the number of times we fail, but by the number of times we succeed. And the number of times we succeed is directly proportional to the number of times we can fail… and keep trying.” See your failures as the golden gifts of enlightenment they can be. Learn from them and get back in the game.
  • Have faith in the universal law of cause and effect. Make your causes the best they can be and equally beneficial effects are inevitable.

Discovering the next chapters in our adventure stories are often hard because we only know what came before. Painful past experience, fear and resistance can keep us inside the Unknown Zone. These things keep many of us from writing new chapters that can turn the plot of our lives toward a thrilling tale of courage and accomplishment.

You may not always be able to control the events that make up your past. But you and only you will always be the author of your future.

Make it a good one!

Feedback always welcome to



On September 25, 2016, in Monday Motivator, The Pass It On Podcast, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
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“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstance permit. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.” Unknown

One of my favorite success quotes is attributed to the actress Mae West. “An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.”

We live in a world where people are increasingly choosing careers that suit a 9 to 5 schedule. Gen Y kids are said to switch jobs in a heartbeat, if it doesn’t fit their lifestyle. And everybody knows about the uncomfortably high divorce rate.

In the elite world of high performance you always need to be on your A-game. The difference between leading the field and getting stuck in the pack is the work you’re willing to do on the extra mile.

It’s easily forgotten that the single most important behavior that leads to achievement is commitment.

“Unless commitment is made,” said management guru Peter F. Drucker, “there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.”

My mentor, Jim Collins of Good to Great fame, writes, “The kind of commitment I find among the best performers across virtually every field is a single-minded passion for what they do, an unwavering desire for excellence in the way they think and the way they work. Genuine confidence is what launches you out of bed in the morning, and through your day with a spring in your step.”

Jim’s words remind us that the habit of excellence is based on the foundation of commitment.

Commitment is taking the time to figure out what happiness really means.
Commitment is due diligence before decision.
Commitment is an inoculation against distraction.
Commitment on both sides is the steel that forges a lasting relationship.
Commitment refines and transforms dreams as they come closer to reality.
Commitment is malleable but unbreakable.
Commitment overcomes fear.
Commitment repels negativity.
Commitment is the fuel that recharges energy.

How many of these definitions fit your outlook, your goals, your behavior?

When NBA hall-of-famer Earvin Johnson used to come by WVIC in the days when we were both in East Lansing, it was clear, even then, that Magic was focused. “I was able to see what I wanted to do,” he wrote later. “I could see the opportunity, even when others could not. I stay committed to doing it and doing it well, no matter what.”

How about you? How do you feel today about that central dream that drives you?

If we expect excellence, we tend find it. But, like all things in life, it has a way of being attracted to people who are committed to it.

Have a great week!

Feedback welcome to or @MSUScottW on Twitter.


The Ever Present Past

On September 18, 2016, in The Pass It On Podcast, The WestermaNation, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman

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Scott’s Maxim: “Most of our bad juju is self created and a result of continuing to think about what we might have done, instead of what we still can do.”

Class reunions are a time for reconnection and reflection. As the years pass, people grow and change. Many of the people we knew during high school and college end up leading very different lives than we expected. Your popularity then doesn’t guarantee your happiness now. Outcasts and introverts can blossom. The “most likely to succeed” sometimes don’t.

Memories inevitably flood back as you recognize now unfamiliar faces you used to know. And if they open up to you about their adventures, regret may creep into the conversation.

What’s keeping you up at night? That’s on the short list of questions I ask alumni whenever we are one on one. Almost always the answers end up being about things that might happen and things that have already happened.

Worrying about the future is useful only to the extent that we channel that energy into productive activities that influence positive outcomes.

Worrying about the past is a total waste of time.

Wise sentiments. Now, if we could just convince ourselves to believe them.

The “ever present past” keeps us from living in the now. We relive past mistakes, things we wish we had not said or done, missed opportunities, hearts we have broken, people we offended, anger felt toward those who have hurt us. And not just what happened yesterday. Many of us are still paying penance for things we did years ago.

This is wasted energy.

Life eventually marks us all as damaged goods. Since we become what we think about, focusing on what might have been, or worrying about what might be can cement self fulfilling prophecies. The most productive thoughts are centered in the now. What will you do today to take one step in the direction of being the person you hope to become?

The happiest people is see at class reunions are those who have come to terms with their past, accept the realities of their current situation and are executing a plan to get happier.

If you have lost something important, find something else that fills the void in a healthy way. If you screwed up, learn from it. If you hurt someone, apologize. Then, let it go.

Easier said than done. But we only have so much time and our energy reserves are finite. Every moment you spend thinking about the past, or worrying about what might be, is a present moment lost.

And life happens in the present.

Have a great week!

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Keep Breathing

On September 11, 2016, in The WestermaNation, by Scott Westerman

By Scott Westerman
Do you know someone who seems to love to wallow in self pity? There are people out there who thrive on unhappiness. Most of them don’t do it intentionally, but they like nothing better than a good audience to listen to them tell you how horrible their life is. And boy, can they tell the story. They weave a tale of woe that could depress the most positive thinking motivational speaker.

Here’s a fact of life: Sometimes life will suck. Bad things happen to good people and good things sometimes happen to bad people. Just don’t get attached to the “suckyness”. At times like these I often think of the parable about the student and the master.

“I’m having a terrible day,” said the student.

“Keep breathing. It will pass,” said the master.

The student did as he was taught and within a few days he found himself enveloped in warm feelings of happiness and fulfillment.

“I did what you said, and today I feel wonderful,” said the student.

“Keep breathing. It will pass,” said the master.

“Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be,” writes Cheryl Strayed in her book book, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. “Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.”

I would add this: Acceptance may sometimes feel like an empty room. But If we keep our hearts open, something magical ultimately walks into that room to fill the void.

“In the end,” writes Jack Kornfield, “just three things matter: How well we have lived, how well we have loved, and how well we have learned to let go”

When you must do things you don’t enjoy, do them to the best of your ability, have faith that with determination and practice you will discover a path that suits you, and understand that all things.. both good and bad.. are temporary.

Happiness is nothing more than a state of mind you choose to manifest. So is suffering.

Do your best to manifest good things. Be prepared to ride out the inevitable storms with courage and grace.

And whatever your current situation, always remember that nothing ever stays the same for very long.

Keep breathing, it will pass.