The Key to NOT Losing Your SH*T in a Crisis

So, here’s the thing.

I’ve ridden with rebels in the Congo with machine guns pointed at our heads (on bumpy roads to boot). I’ve worked handling critical traumas in refugee camps. I’ve delivered babies in emergent situations with only minutes to spare before a baby was at risk for brain damage or a mother bled to death.

I’ve been in a village where just over the hills was a disease called Marburg, that spread as easily as Ebola and was just as deadly. I’ve had gear fail on a climb and had to act quickly to keep me and my climbing partner safe. I’ve had a huge Himalayan-sized avalanche head our way and have to direct my clients on how to position themselves to stay safe.

In short: I do pretty well in crises.

But this is not because I am physically strong or confident.

It is because I have the ability to manage my mind.

To see what is really important.  

To stop the bullshit that goes through most of our brains when we are panicking and to decide myself what to focus on.

To remind myself that panicking never got anyone anywhere helpful.

To remember that I am Resilient. As. Fuck.

We need more people to be able to do that right now, more than ever.

I need YOU to do that. To show up for yourself and your community in a way that you help them stay focused on what is truly important. What we truly have control over.

As Thich Nhat Hanh, a well-known Buddhist and meditation teacher, said:

“When the crowded refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if every one panicked, all would be lost. But if even one person stayed calm, it was enough. It showed the way for everyone to survive.”

Wouldn’t it be amazing if you not only felt better, but could inspire others to take a different perspective as well?

To be the calm in the center of this storm?

I sure as hell think so.

Getting through this without breaking down is totally in your hands.

Let me show you how. List to a free call on this today!

Here’s to your calm + freedom.

Why I Stopped Overdrinking

Hey there!

In 2020 I decided that I wasn’t going to drink alcohol…except for my June retreat in Positano (hey…it’s all about balance;). There were a few reasons for this, and they weren’t because I think alcohol is evil or bad.

1) I’m in a mindfulness meditation teacher training with Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, and they had encouraged us to take the 5 lay precepts for the duration of the training:

:: no lying
:: no stealing
:: no sexual misconduct
:: no killing
:: no intoxicants

In general I’m pretty solid on everything but the last one 😝

I opted out of that for the first year. In Buddhism the precepts aren’t “commandments” per se – you can choose which ones you can commit to or not since it’s better to be realistic and stick to something if you can really make a commitment.

But this year I decided to go for it. I’d cut out alcohol in the past when I was pregnant and during my doctoral program, when I knew I had to get high quality sleep and be able to get up at 5am to accomplish everything I needed to do.

2020 is a year where I have some amazing things planned, and once again I find myself asking, “Why do anything that doesn’t serve my highest good?” So I took Jack and Tara up on their invitation.

2) Ever since I turned 40, sleep sucks when I have a drink, even just 1-2. Sleep is key. In my medical practice, I see so many people who are chronically sleep-deprived. It’s at the root of so many psychological and physical problems. This mama doesn’t have time to not get enough sleep.

3) There’s a difference between freedom TO and freedom FROM. We often focus on the freedom TO part: location independence, freedom to buy what we want, being our own boss…basically, freedom to control our time, money and energy.

But there is an equally valid part of freedom and that’s when we free ourselves from things that no longer serve us. Bad habits. Toxic relationships. Basically, those things that no longer serve us.

I decided that I had gotten into a habit with having a drink every night. It wasn’t serving a purpose except that I got used to it and found myself having a drink with dinner even if I actually didn’t want one. I didn’t want to model that kind of mindless consumption for my daughter either.

When I used to smoke, I remember my meditation teacher once telling me that after she quit smoking it felt soooooo good not needing something anymore – to have so much brain space to think about other things than the next cigarette. Once she said that I was like, right!? I quit within a week.

Freedom FROM.

I’m not writing this to tell you to stop drinking, smoking, overeating, over-Netflixing or watching porn.

Nothing is inherently negative or bad in a moral sense.

I’m writing this to simply say it’s time to make sure your habits serve you and help you evolve instead of holding you back.

What are you ready to let go of?

Now’s the time.

Worried you can’t do it? If you want to cut back on something, come join Freedom School this month because we’re learning why we buffer with things that don’t serve us – and why it’s not our fault.

You’ll learn skills you can apply to stop overdrinking, overeating and over-anything.

There’s a free Drink Less Feel Free class in Freedom School too – and Stop Overeating is being released this week!

Let’s make March one of #truefreedom where we don’t just have freedom TO do the things we love, but freedom FROM that which no longer serves us – which is waaaay better, right?

You can do it YOUR way. Without judgment from anyone in the tribe.

It’s a no-brainer. Freedom School has the best tribe of supportive women that help you through it all and it’s a super-sweet deal. Come join us already!

To Your Freedom!

The One Question You Need to Ask Yourself Today

When I first started as a coach, I was amazed at the results I got when I asked people, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” You may have even heard that before – because it’s a powerful question. But I found one that’s even better.

Waaaay better.

Before we go there, let’s start with asking why “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” is so powerful.

Fear of failure is often what keeps us from going for our dreams – and its accompanying fears of humiliation, going broke, being rejected… So when we realize this, and we embrace that fear is just a feeling and one that we can learn to work with, it can open up a whole world of possibilities.

People begin to think OMG I’m not doing that just because I’m afraid I might fail! But I won’t fail! So…I’m going to go for it. And a dream is born. But now that I’ve been a coach for over a decade, I found that there is a more powerful question to ask:

What would you do even if you knew you WOULD fail?

You see, in this question, you are so deeply in touch with your longing, your passion, your desires, your purpose and what you want to create. When you are willing to do something and go for it even if you would fail, you know you’re all in.

And being all in is what a lot of the big things in life require of us. Because when you’re going for your BIG DREAM, you will fail. Lots of times. Sorry to break it to you, but I’d be lying if I said otherwise. Ask any successful person. They’ll say the difference between them and someone else is the other person wasn’t willing to fail enough times.

So sit with this today:

What are YOU willing to do, even if you knew you’d fail?

If you can answer this, congratulations – you just found something most people never will: something you want to do for the joy of pursuing it. I strongly recommend that whatever you choose to go all-in for in life have this element in it.

The joy of pursuit.

The Time I Confronted A Guy Wearing Full Body Studded Leather in Bangkok. With a Barstool.

I was making my annual Fall journey to Nepal to do some guiding, traveling with my once-ex, then giving-itanother-go boyfriend. There is usually an 18+ hour layover in Bangkok on most Thai Airways flights to KTM, so we headed into town for an all-nighter instead of trying to sleep in the stuffy airport.

For this particular layover, we chose to visit the Red Light district along Khao San Road. We heard the dance clubs there were awesome, and stories of the area always intrigued me. I was in my 20s, filled with curiosity and bit nervous (well, at least I was), while we visited a few places with exotic dancers that were initially pretty fun, with people seemingly happy and dancing and EXCELLENT music… but then things rapidly got sad for me. As we went to other clubs in the shadier parts of town, the vacant looks on many of the men and women’s faces depressed me, their oppression weighed heavy on me, and I soon declared I just wanted to spend the rest of the layover eating sticky rice and chicken while people watching at an outdoor cafe.

My boyfriend agreed and we picked our perch sitting on wooden barstools sipping on fruity drinks. It was going to be a LONG night. Things were already awkward between us. I knew things were not going to last forever, and in true pre-Freedom Junkie fashion, I wanted to beat the relationship to death lest I called it quits prematurely – or mistakenly.

We made small talk and commented on people’s outfits and went over our itineraries for our upcoming expeditions. We fought about him getting me the wrong drink “because he never listens.” Then I threw up because I must have eaten something funky earlier, but then I was fine;)

Then, right after that, I saw the Hairy Guy hit the Tiny Thai Woman.

He was HUGE. A big, hairy German guy wearing all black leather, with studs around his neck, wrists, waist, along his pant legs…he would have set off an airport metal detector from outside. And there he was, smacking around a little Thai woman. And she was a bulldog, fighting back, yelling at him, not taking any of his bullshit.

He hit her again. I was shocked. I looked around. People were just…watching. I looked at my boyfriend. He was just…watching.

I said to him, “Are you going to do anything?” And he looked back at me saying it was too dangerous. I was livid.

I stood up, grabbed the barstool I was sitting on, and went running towards the German guy like a Mama Moose. I read once that if someone tries to assault you, scream all crazy, like a banshee, and it will throw them off because you’re so whacked out.

Apparently this tactic worked.

I ran towards him screaming, pushing the legs of the stool towards his face – but intentionally not hitting him (I think if I had, he may have actually gotten more angry). I stood between him and the woman. I kept pushing the stool towards him asking him to go away, remembering what the circus guys did with the lions. The woman stood behind me yelling at him fiercely. He shouted at me, his face all red and sweaty and puffy. I yelled, “Get away from her! Go away! Back off!”.

Finally, his friends encouraged him to take a few steps back. He yelled a few more somethings in German towards the woman, and walked off with his posse of other hairy and balding dudes. The woman kept yelling in an ongoing rant, like a puppy still yelping after being stepped on. There was no thank you. No shared gaze of sisterhood. She just walked off, and I went the other way.

I carried the stool back to the cafe, plopped it down, looked at my boyfriend and said, “I want a beer. Buy. Me. A. Beer.”

I am very aware that I got lucky in this scenario. But I suppose everything happens for a reason. For some reason, Hairy Guy thought it was OK to hit a small Thai woman, and he turned away from the screaming banshee of an American.

I totally do NOT want men to get into fights, and in all honesty, if I wasn’t a woman, the Big Guy would have perhaps hit me, which means it would have indeed been dangerous for my boyfriend to have confronted him directly.

But still. My boyfriend just sat there, watching. And it was SO not sexy.

I mean, maybe he could have held my hand in concern, or expressed his horror, or stood up to let the guy know someone was at least watching…or have gone to try and find cops? And even if they wouldn’t do anything, he would have at least had the honor of having tried something.

I don’t know. Maybe it was too dangerous for him and maybe the only thing that could have helped the situation was some whacko American woman running at the Hairy Guy with a stool. Whatever it was, I did not like the fact that everyone was just watching.

It felt incredibly…disconnected. Like people didn’t realize we were a bunch of human beings witnessing something unacceptable.

Suffice it to say we broke up after that trip. We still climbed together, but then it was done. Not because of this scenario, but because I felt disrespected as a woman in the relationship, under-appreciated, and under-adored. I am a Leo. I crave adoration (pssst…so should you).

That episode kindled in me a burning conviction to spend less time watching and more time doing. It reminded me that activism wasn’t only for those passionate college years. Taking action is the way our beliefs and values manifest. Yet how many times do we just sit there, watching?

And why should we even care about this?

We need to care – and we need to act – because it is our actions that develop our self-respect. Our ziji – inner radiant confidence. Our integrity.

We need to care because if you want to be happy – really happy, like having long deep sleeps and gazing up at the stars feeling so damn blessed that you don’t even want to sleep because life is so good – you need to be in alignment.

You absolutely need your life to be in alignment with you values if you want to be truly content in life. And while we can fool ourselves that being in alignment means believing nice things and having good values, it is our ACTIONS that really show what we believe in. Words convey what you think. ACTIONS demonstrate what you BELIEVE. We need to be in alignment and act with integrity because crappy stuff happens in life – things will be hard sometimes and you will not like what is going on.

And in those times, it is your integrity and living in alignment that helps you feel…good about yourself. Even if not necessarily “happy.”

It helps you feel good about yourself and your connection to humanity when you are not necessarily feelinggood about life at the time. And in case you’re not up to date on the Positive Psychology literature, the quality ofour social connection is the single largest predictor of happiness. So if you’re feeling in a funk or a little down on yourself, check in with what one small action can you take to bring your life a little more into alignment with you values.

This will not only help you feel less anxious and more content, but you’ll also have more self-respect and confidence. And guess what? That helps you also be more productive and successful and fun to be around. So it’s a win-win when we strive to live authentically and in alignment.

Maybe you ride your bike to work today. Or finally write that blogpost you’ve been putting off – again. Maybe you call up a friend you’ve been meaning to get in touch with. Or stop and chat with a homeless person and give them some nourishing food. Or finally bring that box in the basement filled with clothes you don’t need to the local women’s shelter.

Wanting isn’t enough. Time to take action!

If you need some help with this, keep an eye out for my new idea baby

My Favorite Poem About Relationships

Since we’ve been jamming on how to take the different relationships in our lives to the next level, I thought I’d share with you one of my fave poems about them, The Invitation, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. This poem changed so much for me when it came to what I look for in people that I let into my life. I got so clear because it seemed to articulate what I couldn’t.

As you read it, think about the types of boundaries someone would need to set in order to honor these values:

The Invitation, Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me

what you do for a living.

I want to know

what you ache for

and if you dare to dream

of meeting your heart’s longing.

how old you are.

It doesn’t interest me

I want to know

if you will risk

looking like a fool

for love

for your dream

for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me

what planets are

squaring your moon…

I want to know

if you have touched

the centre of your own sorrow

if you have been opened

by life’s betrayals

or have become shriveled and closed

from fear of further pain.

I want to know

if you can sit with pain

mine or your own

without moving to hide it

or fade it

or fix it.

I want to know

if you can be with joy

mine or your own

if you can dance with wildness

and let the ecstasy fill you

to the tips of your fingers and toes

without cautioning us

to be careful

to be realistic

to remember the limitations

of being human.

It doesn’t interest me

if the story you are telling me

is true.

I want to know if you can

disappoint another

to be true to yourself.

If you can bear

the accusation of betrayal

and not betray your own soul.

If you can be faithless

and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty

even when it is not pretty

every day.

And if you can source your own life

from its presence.

I want to know

if you can live with failure

yours and mine

and still stand at the edge of the lake

and shout to the silver of the full moon,


It doesn’t interest me

to know where you live

or how much money you have.

I want to know if you can get up

after the night of grief and despair

weary and bruised to the bone

and do what needs to be done

to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me

who you know

or how you came to be here.

I want to know if you will stand

in the centre of the fire

with me

and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me

where or what or with whom

you have studied.

I want to know

what sustains you

from the inside

when all else falls away.

I want to know

if you can be alone

with yourself

and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

Two of these areas really stand out for me when it comes to the topic of boundaries:

I want to know if you can sit with pain mine or your own without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.

This is about the skill I taught you in the last email – how to be with difficult emotions. It is so important to know how to be with them, allow them, and not just push them away. Otherwise that sh*t just blows up eventually. Ask me how I know…

And this:

I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself.

If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul.

When you set boundaries, you are bound to disappoint someone. AND you will be staying true to yourself in the process. If you let people be wrong about you and accuse you without letting it bring

you down, you will be so much more free and authentic. When you say, “No, thanks” when you’re not feeling it and, “Hellz yes!” when you are psyched about something, people will know they can trust you. That you won’t be harboring resentment.

More importantly, you’ll know you can trust yourself.

I invite you to step into your authenticity. To expect more from others – and yourself. Sometimes, all it takes for someone to step up and show up as a human with integrity is an invitation, someone saying, “I see that you are capable of this and expect you to show up this way.” This applies to ourselves as well.

Sometimes people don’t care to accept the invitation. Often it’s because they don’t see the possibility themselves. But that’s not about you.

That, my friend, is all about them.

Why You Need to Set Boundaries Even When You’re Scared

I wanted to fill you in on something about fear, because managing fear has a lot to do with setting boundaries and staying true to yourself: Most day-to-day fear is not useful.

It only pretends to be useful.

Most often, this fear is not there to save our lives or protect us from imminent danger. Which is what its original purpose was. When it comes to setting boundaries, we feel fear around people not liking us anymore. Or being alone. Or disappointing someone. Or looking like a bitch. Or people talking sh*t about us.

But it’s just the perception of fear that we are experiencing, and it needs a gentle reminder to move along. We can allow fear to stop us in our tracks, or we can remind ourselves, “Oh, yeah, this isn’t going to physically hurt me. I’m not going to die. No one’s going to die here.”

In many ways, fear serves us. It keeps us from doing things that could legitimately hurt us. It can help us make better decisions when it comes to our safety. However, the thing to realize is that our brains are super-programmed for fear and for survival, but we’ve evolved, and nowadays, a lot of our fear is irrational and even unnecessary.

Simply recognizing that fear and irrational fear are going to be a part of our lives will help immensely with moving forward. Don’t obsess about “getting rid” of it. Focus on embracing it and having it be a part of our evolutionary brain.

Also, fear does not mean stop. You don’t have to be fearless to take action. Really consider this. Taking action while acknowledging fear can be one of the most powerful things that we do. Most of the fear that we have comes from a thought in our minds, a thought that is irrational.

Let that sink in! We let this thought have sooooo much power over us. We let being afraid of feeling an emotion keep us from setting boundaries and taking care of ourselves. Irrational fear that stops us in our tracks is often the result of a mismanaged mind.

We can overcome fear by deciding not to believe the thoughts causing it. Instead, we can understand it, find its cause, find the thought patterns that are causing it, and then change them. If the fear is deep-seated and hard to change, I want you to take action anyway.

When you take action, all of those fears get proven wrong. You’ll be fine.

Why I know You’re Not as Fragile as You Think

I was recently scuba diving in the Philippines and while 60 ft deep my BDC (vest that can inflate/deflate with air) started to self-inflate and I was shooting up to the surface way more quickly than was safe. I employed all the safety measures I knew but my vest kept inflating and I had no idea why. I looked at my air supply and it had dropped to half in under 5 minutes from when I last checked. I searched for the dive master and he saw me signaling to him that I had a problem.

He came over and discovered the self-inflation issue and rapidly deflated by BCD as we slowly went up to the surface. Then my regulator was being weird and I couldn’t draw a smooth breath of air. To boot, I have a history of exercise-induced asthma and my lungs did not like this feeling.

I could have easily panicked. In fact, I visualized the drama that would ensue if I freaked out and ended up going unconscious or something.

Not an option.

So I told myself, “Ana, get your shit together. Now is not the time to freak the fuck out. You need to stay calm so you don’t have a panic attack down here.” Oh and did I have sooooo many reasons to panic. Real reasons. Not like a bullshit email from a boss or a voicemail I’m nervous to listen to. I was literally running out of air and my gear was all messed up.

I slowed my breath. Made sure my BCD was constantly being deflated. I reassumed myself that while my air supply had dropped, I had backups – I could draw on my dive master’s tank or my husband’s if I had to. I heard a hissing sound behind me which signaled another leak which I could have spiraled on about but I knew I was already heading up and would be OK.

I reminded myself that freaking out would help no one, and certainly NOT the current situation. I reminded myself I had a choice. That despite feeing dizzy and short of breath, I did not have to freak out. I needed to stay calm, and if I did pass out, at least I did everything I could to not contribute to it.

It all turned out fine

Aside from being reminded why it’s always a good idea to bring your own BCD to dive (especially in in developing countries), I learned a few things about my character. I often reframe super challenging situations as “final exams” for the work I do with managing my mind and emotions. This was no exception. My husband is really really good at this too, and it helps when I start to spiral.

Once in the boat, I whined to him how it was super annoying because I couldn’t relax and this was supposed to be our “date” for this vacation since my cousin was watching our kiddo, Maia. He says, “Yeah, I’m sorry that happened. But any experience – even one like this – is good to have, because you know more now.”

“Well shit,” I thought, “I guess that is why I married you! You remind me of my best self!” You see, he was filling in for a voice that I have heard before from within me – my voice of resilience and antifragility.

I learned about the concept of antifragility recently and it resonated with me so much that I had to share it with you since it’s totally related to resilience. Something – or someone – that’s antifragile increases its capability to thrive as a result of stressors, shocks, setbacks, mistakes, attacks, or failures.

It increases in capability the more it fails.

Sort of like learning to walk. The more you fall, the stronger you get. You HAVE to fall to get good at walking. It’s part of the deal. The more you fall, the better you get at it. When it comes to this, we are antifragile. We don’t say “Oh no! Don’t fall! That’s not supposed to happen!” We know that’s part of the learning. Same with riding a bike. At first, you fall more than you ride the bike. While related, this concept is different from being resilient or robust. Not only can you stand up to things, but they make you stronger.

A great example of this is something I learned while geeking out on my first Master’s degree at UC San Francisco. I was on my ortho rotation and learned that bones heal stronger after a fracture than they were prior to the injury.

Another analogy is going to the gym. Your muscles are antifragile. The more stress you build up on them, the stronger they get. Instead of viewing challenges or failures as something to protect ourselves from, the anti-fragile see these “problems” as opportunities for growth. A chance to test themselves and push themselves to new heights.

When we label ourselves as being “sensitive,” we can indeed do that in a way that’s compassionate, especially when you go through something that seems vulnerable to your mind. But when you use it in a way that leads us to be overly hurt/offended in the world, we don’t take risks since we are always trying to protect ourselves. This makes us weaker because we avoid the failure, the embarrassment, the mistakes. We don’t expose ourselves to challenges. So we don’t grow. Many of us stop at “robust.” At “strong enough.” We are happy just surviving it.

This is related to the concept of post-traumatic growth. Many people survive a trauma and become stronger not in spite of it but because of it.

Take resilience to the next level. Consider adding this to your collection of characteristics. That you are anti-fragile. You can use challenges, failures, mistake and stressors to make yourself stronger. You will use the things in life that challenge you as free weights.

You’ll say “bring it on!” Bring on the weights. The exercise. Remember how I teach that life is 50/50? You can use the other half – the half that is more challenging – to buff out emotionally;)

In Buddhism there is the concept of the “god realm” where people live eons in perfect bliss. Excellent food, beautiful surroundings, perfect bodies and great sex. The monk that taught me the concept of the god realm followed this description with, “Kind of like California!”

It all sounds great until the goddesses and gods notice the first petal of a rose starting to wilt. The they notice the foul smell of stagnant water. And because they have lived life without any suffering, when they realize it won’t last forever – that everything is impermanent – their suffering is more extreme because of it.

My Most Embarrassing Rage Moment

Ever show up in a way that you’re soooooo not proud of? We often don’t talk about it because we’re ashamed. But we’ve all been there. It’s true. I wanted to share with you one of my most embarrassing moments of being bitchy, because the turnaround is amazing.

We’d finally returned from a long trip from Nepal (rickshaw pic to the right), and I finished up my Soulcrafting retreat in Colorado with el maestro, Bill Plotkin. I returned to Alaska refreshed, renewed, tapped in and turned on…and somehow still managed to rip some unsuspecting nurses a new one when I went to pick my mom up from dialysis that Monday.

It was ugly. I was shaking from fury. I could feel my head pounding and my vision narrowing. All I could think of was, “If my mom dies because of some dumbass, I’ll never forgive myself.”

But perhaps we should back up a little.

I was feeling quite raw after my retreat. It had been almost 2 years since I took any time for myself alone in the wilderness. And that’s even with me including a solo trip to Hawai’i when I was 7 months pregnant…and not exactly in wilderness. Let’s just say it was high time for my retreat to be happening.

I had some amazing numinous experiences with nature in the desert of Colorado. We’re talking communicating-with-trees-and-plants-and-other non-humans kind of numinous. Completely sober. Yes, it’s much easier to have a chat with a Mormon Tea plant in the desert with the aid of certain psychedelics, but after my years of experimenting with such things, I now get off on being able to get there on my own devices.

I had moments of collapsing to my knees, sobbing with deep gratitude, deep love, and profoundly deep grief at all the suffering going on today. I cried so hard, at times no sounds came out of my mouth (you now that one, right?). And other times it was so loud it echoed back at me from the canyon walls. I committed to a long journey in those sacred canyons – one I am deeply immersed in to this day. I returned with the most overwhelming appreciation for my loved ones, and I was particularly excited because my mom was visiting us in Alaska after just starting on dialysis after her heart attack earlier that fall.

Then, one Monday morning, she woke up with a fever and chills. She had a temperature of 100.4 degrees F, and was fatigued with a headache. Important note: one of the more common complications of dialysis and causes of death is sepsis – systemic infection. Dialysis patients are much more prone to serious infections for myriad reasons. And older people sometimes don’t even get a fever with infection (or a very high one).

I called the dialysis center and said that my mom’s kidney doctor in the SF Bay Area wanted blood cultures to check for systemic infection, and that if they wouldn’t do them there, I would have to bring her to the ER. They agreed to do them there when we dropped her off that day. I asked if I could give Tylenol for her headaches, because then she would not have a fever as high when she showed up and they said it was OK.

My husband told me to not rush home and that he could bring her. He promised to make sure she got blood cultures. He dropped her off, asked the nurse if she would draw blood cultures, and she said yes. I go 5 hours later to pick up my mom, right before they close, and there are no blood cultures.

No. Fucking. Blood Cultures.

No blood cultures that would help us feel confident that at least whatever was going on was not a potentially life-threatening infection. I asked what happened since I had called three times to confirm they’d be done AND my hubby made sure too. The nurse said she evaluated my mom upon arrival and my mom didn’t have a fever high enough to warrant blood cultures.

I was livid. My mom was tired. Had a raging headache. Was weak. She had lost so much weight since I saw her last. And now they were about to close.

I. Went. Off. I am pretty sure I turned red. I threatened to call the better Business Bureau, to speak to the supervisor the next day, to get them all written up for this clear act of negligence. They called the nurse I spoke to earlier and she said she forgot to pass on the message to the new nurse that she had agreed to draw blood cultures.

I felt so…powerless. I had done everything short of dropping everything and walking in there and making them draw the blood cultures in front of me. I called THREE times after we had made the plan to make sure. My husband verified. I. did. so. much. And still, I had no control over what people would end up doing. Now, if my mom was indeed septic, we had lost precious treatment time. And they didn’t even draw a CBC, but I won’t go there.

All I could see was my mom going into full blown sepsis in her frail state. Me wishing I had not been so lazy and letting my husband take her in. Her dying because of one thing I could have easily done to ensure she received quality care – watch them do it.

It has taken me a long time to learn to trust and delegate. And this shit wasn’t helping.

After enough of my ranting, they agreed to draw the blood cultures. I quietly, and in complete contrast to my earlier tirade, said, “I wish I didn’t have to get so pissed for the right thing to get done.” My mom got up, I walked her outside, helped her over the cold snow and ice, and into the car. I couldn’t speak a word. I was so scared (and fear is often where anger stems from, BTW). I am sure my mom thought my silence was because I was so pissed.

Later that night, I felt deep shame. Yes, people had made a mistake. A mistake I tried to prevent by calling and double checking and checking again…but not again. Yes, my mom could indeed have a bad outcome because of this.

But that was no reason to be a bitch. To be mean to another human being.

I then went to a place of self-compassion. I acknowledged that I was afraid my mom would die and that I could be partly to blame by my lack of vigilance. My fierce and rageful ranting was because of my love for her, and my wish that is wasn’t so easy for a loved one to leave forever.

I vowed to call the nurses in the morning and apologize. The next day, when I finally had a calm moment, I called the center and the same exact nurse answered.

“Hi there – it’s Ana Verzone.” “Yes?” I could tell she was not excited it was me.

“I wanted to apologize for the way I got so mad at you yesterday. You absolutely didn’t deserve that. I thought I had done everything to prevent that mistake from happening, and it was so scary to see that even then, it didn’t matter. Things hadn’t been done, and then I was afraid my mom would die from an infection. I am really sorry that I treated you that way.” She replied, “OK. Thank you. You know, I told everyone, ‘This is all because she loves her mother so much.'”

I couldn’t believe it. I thought for sure that she went around saying I was the biggest bitch ever and that they should try to get my mom transferred or something. But she…forgave me. What if I hadn’t called back? I would have forever thought I was hated by her.

I broke down crying. I breathed out, “Thank you for understanding. Thank you for managing to be compassionate and to try to see where I was coming from. You have no idea how much that means to me. Thank you.” She saw through it and saw that I was scared.

We hung up.

I felt human again. I am grateful for so many things. But right now, one of the things I’m going to hold particularly dear is the near-magical capacity we have to empathize with another.

And to forgive.

I can’t help but invite you to consider this gratitude as we come upon Valentine’s Day – that others have had empathy for you, understood you, and forgiven you when you were being human in the messiest of ways. And even if not everyone did, there can be gratitude that you can offer the same gift to others.

Today, I dare you to either ask for forgiveness, or to forgive someone. We are all human, in this together. Which is it going to be for you? Forgive? Or ask for forgiveness? And yes, you can forgive yourself.

Often, that’s where this all starts.

The Fear of Being Average

You know that thing we do when we compare ourselves to others until it hurts? It’s totally normal. In fact, one of the most common causes of suffering in us humans is the desire to see ourselves as “above average” (a different way of saying we want to see ourselves as better than others) – and the vast majority of us suffer from this…which is why we compare so much. To see where we stand. When I first read that factoid as I was researching info for my next course (one on self-compassion!), I really really really wanted to feel that I was not victim to this desire (because that would be kind of average, right?).

But I so. totally. am. I have an overwhelming fear of being…average. I don’t want an average income. Or an average marriage. Or an average car, travel schedule, house, wardrobe, or stack of graduate degrees. I don’t want average grades, careers, weekend trips, or stories to tell by the so-not-average campfire.

I want a fucking extraordinary life. Waaaaay above average.

I have had a fear of being average since I learned what was possible if you proved you were above average in this world (aka school). Being above average got me out of the ghetto and into my Freedom Junkie way of living. It got me amazing opportunities: scholarships, grants, adventures, jobs…lots of good things. I was terrified of what would happen if I ever lost my ability to rank as above average. Indeed, the idea of losing my mind like my father did (he had schizoaffective disorder) was the scariest thing I could imagine. It was my above-average mind that…kept me safe. The fear of being average was such a big part of my life that it even drove me to hound my urooncologist when I was first diagnosed with kidney cancer to find an alternative to removing my kidney and chucking it.

I was sitting in a meeting with him at the uro-oncology unit of UC San Francisco (he happened to look like the Dalai Lama in a lab coat, which helped with our negotiations;). He told me that my tumor was in a part of the kidney where all the blood vessels come together, and that to remove the tumor while my kidney was still attached to me – and have a good chance of complete tumor removal without causing other severe complications – was very, very small. So they would have to just remove my kidney altogether.

Then he said the thing that got me researching my ass off: “Don’t worry. You’ll be fine with having one kidney. In fact, studies have shown that people who donate a kidney have the same level of happiness as the average American.”

Oh heeeelllllz no, Dr. Man.

“Ummm. No offense…but I am way happier than the average American – and I plan to keep it that way,” I replied. What I I didn’t say out loud was that the idea of being an average American was freaking me out. I just saw myself watching TV on a couch and having the big adventures of my life be camping out for Black Friday sales. I got on the internet that night, and while I was watching multiple YouTube videos of the surgery I was about to undergo, I saw an interesting blip on my Google search page: “UCSF: #2 renal transplant facility in the country”

Hmmm. So if the issue is they can’t cut the tumor out safely while it is attached to me, why not remove my kidney, cut the tumor out, confirm the margins are clear, then put it back in me?”


I called my surgeon the next morning. “Interesting. I’ll see what the tumor board has to say,” he said in response to my suggestion. (Since this was such an involved surgery, you have to get the OK from everyone on the team – in this case, uro-oncology, the transplant team, and other hospital folk.)

The next day he called: “OK. We decided that we can try the autotransplant – but one of the main reasons is because you are a rock climber and have a higher risk for trauma than the average person, and thus may have a higher need for 2 kidneys.” Woohoo! Being above average saves my scared ass again! (But that is soooo not the point I am trying to make here;)

What’s poignant here isn’t the fact that I got the team to try a new surgery. What alarmed me was that the fear I felt when thinking I might end up average was all-consuming. Yes, the outcome was great for me in this scenario – but it always haunted me that it was my fear of being average that was the driving force. That it had been the driving force behind so many of my actions in the past.

So what’s wrong with striving to be above average when so many cool things can come of it? Like awesome adventure travel, getting to keep your organs, and free tuition, to name a few? When you have a “fear of being average” as your main motivation, you are also susceptible to a deep, wounding type of suffering, because your happiness is based on something outside of you: how you compare to others.

And as long as your happiness depends on where you stand in relation to others on the scale – even for something as noble as adventure or compassion or generosity – you will never have the kind of deep, radiant confidence (aka ziji!) that comes from knowing your own inherent self worth. So you know those days when you internet troll or just perseverate endlessly while comparing your life to others on Facebook or in “real life” – someone in a similar field as you or in your social circle or tribe – and you wonder why they seem happier or more loved or more famous or more exciting or more wealthy or more adventurous or more kind and compassionate or more relaxed … or more anything than you?

Yeah that. That’s from our fear of being average. The Comparison Carousel. Round and round. “Where do I stand now?” we wonder. All. freakin’. day. It’s exhausting.

I used to think only my friends and others with FOMO (fear of missing out) had this type of fear, and that it was this fear that helped them have such amazing lives of adventure. But then I started to realize that we all have the fear of being average. It’s why scapegoating is so common when times get tough – when there is an economic depression or scarcity of jobs, racism and discrimination increase as people strive to prove in a scarcity environment that they still have the one-up on others.

Don’t take this lightly, folks. This tendency to want to be above average creates more suffering in us as individuals, as well as worldwide in small communities, large countries, and in international relations. You may not realize the degree of suffering this causes if you manage to stay “above average” in the categories important to you or your culture for a long time…until you start to get exhausted running the race; start to fall behind; or finally find that person who is smarter than you, prettier than you, sexier than you, more adventurous than you…just better than you all around (all else created equal). And you will find that person. There is always – always – going to be someone “better” than you are at something (except, of course, at your own unique purpose;).

When that happens, you feel crushed. Or suddenly depressed, even though you have achieved some amazing shizzle in your life. Or you feel devastatingly not enough. I know some of you may be wondering if this means we should all strive to be “average.”

Absolutely not.

This life is precious, a gift like no other; to be born in your body on this planet with the ability to create life experiences and a mind to dream…its all a miracle and you would be a fool to not take full advantage of it and make the most of this life. I want you to live an extraordinary life.

Because of that, what I do want to encourage is this:

Do not let your motivation be to feel like you are better than others, or “above average.” Let your motivation in life be to live your best life. To live your gifts into this world. Screw what anyone else is doing. Only you know if you are living life full-on. And that is all that matters.

After all, in reality, we are all average. As Dr. Kristin Neff, a Developmental Psychologist from the University of Texas at Austin (and self-compassion geek!), points out, “To be human is to be average.” It’s true. We all have our strengths (the things we do really really well), and the things we do just so-so (sort of average)… and we also have our weaknesses – those things that we just suck at, or have a lot of room for improvement.

The key to sustainable happiness – and indeed the true inner confidence that follows – is to accept that we are all beautifully average. The world needs us all to be average at most things! Then, we can focus on our gifts – those things we do really really well – and leave the rest to the other average humans that rock the things we suck at. We don’t have to do it all or know it all (ahhhh…isn’t that relaxing!?). While the reality is that we may need to stand out from the crowd to get certain jobs or attain certain accomplishments, we don’t have to be better than someone else to be happy.

Indeed, the opposite is true. Embrace your averageness;) Live an extraordinary life on your terms. When you release the desire to be above average and embrace your true gifts and the preciousness of this life…ahhhhh – that is when the fun begins. The freedom. The adventure. That no one can take away from you.

Since this tendency to have a fear of being average exists in almost all of us, don’t beat yourself up about it when it arises. Just notice it. Notice it as part of the average human experience. Then do things differently. Choose to be motivated from your own heart’s desires…what makes you happy, no matter what else others are doing.

Stop comparing.

When you see yourself comparing, ask yourself what you really want in this life, and what is one action you can take right now to move you closer to it. Embrace your “average,” and focus on extraordinary living from your heart Recognize the common humanity in all of this – that you are not alone in your fear of being average.

That we all fear it. And that is it precisely our averageness that beings us closer as humans….And it is precisely the unique gifts that every single one of us has that, when expressed fully, make this life extraordinary. It is savoring each moment, staying present, being kind to ourselves and each other, manifesting your gifts and living this life as the greatest adventure of all time that will give you the radiant inner confidence to know you are crushing this whole carpe-the-dang-diem thing.

Only you know when that happens. And that’s all that matters.

Try this:

(adapted from Kristin Neff’s book, “Self Compassion”)

1. make a list of 5 culturally-valued qualities you have

2. make a list of 5 culturally valued qualities you have in which you are average

3. make a list of 5 culturally valued qualities you have in which you are below average

Now, can you look at this list and embrace it fully? Can you accept the fact that we ALL have traits in which we kick ass, fall within the bell curve, or need to leave to someone else – which ultimately makes us all…average? And can you feel in your bones that just because you – and everyone else – is actually quite average does NOT mean you cannot live an extraordinary life?

It just means you are finally…free.

You Need This Skill for ANY Relationship

Do you remember how proud you were when you set your first “healthy boundary?” I do.

I remember finally planting my metaphorical foot down after months of frustration. I told someone I was dating that I wasn’t going to tolerate anymore flaking or not showing up when he said he would. I deserved my time to be respected. I set my boundary and … he listened!

Well done! I thought to myself. Should have done that months ago!

But…he didn’t listen for long. In the end it was a battle of me re-setting boundaries, trying to control his behavior, then him complying…and eventually breaking them again. Then I’d withdraw to “enforce” the boundary…rinse, repeat.

When I was first taught about boundaries, it was in the context of women who do too much forother people, and not enough for themselves. It came across to me that I had to be firm and defend myself against others asking me to do things I didn’t want to do, or allowing them to act in ways that were not healthy for me. Sounds like a good idea right?

While that sounds like a really good idea on the surface, the way I was doing it ended up leading to not-so-good things for everyone involved. Things like Anger. Frustration. Control. That last one is the biggest thing – it turns out unbeknownst to me, I was using boundaries to control other people’s behavior. I was giving ultimatums like “you do/don’t do this…or else!” This is not a healthy way to set boundaries – yet it is the way most of us were taught to set them.

Most of us set boundaries based on how we can change how someone else behaves, and not on our power of choice and agency to do what is best for us. The healthy way to create boundaries necessitates remembering a very important thing: that boundaries are all about YOUR behavior.

Whaaaaat?! That’s right. The focus of a healthy boundary is actually not about the other persondoing or not doing what you want at all. They are all grown up, and whether you like it or not,they “get” to do whatever they want.

I know. It sounds crazy. But stick with me for a long minute;)

A healthy boundary is all about what you are going to do. It is a consequence you set that is completely based on an action you will take.

For example, if your mother is constantly belittling you when she calls, you can create a boundary. You can say, “Mom, it is not OK for you to belittle me when we talk. I love you, but if you start to do that, I will let you know I am going to hang up, and we can talk again when belittling isn’t part of the conversation.”

Then, if she does it again, you say, “OK mom, I love you, and I’m going to hang up now. When you’re ready to talk without doing that, we can chat again.”

You don’t continue to try to change her or “make her stop.” You just take care of yourself.

You may have noticed a few other things in this example:

1) The boundary isn’t about something petty.

Some people want to set boundaries around things like getting people to stop giving them unsolicited advice, or doing something annoying like talking too loudly. That is actually attempting to control someone and not letting them be themselves – which is not OK.

Boundaries are set for big-deal items: emotional or physical boundaries. People do not get to hit you. People do not get to emotionally abuse you (like the belittling in the example above). People do not get to break your trust.

You may wonder – Hold on, girl! What’s the difference between setting a boundary and making a request for my preferences, then? Can’t I ask someone to stop something that annoys me?

YES! Make all the requests you want!

If someone is not crossing a physical or emotional boundary but is simply annoying you, choose to either share your time and energy with them, or not. Make a request, or not. Requests don’t have “consequences.” The person either does it or not, and you do the work to learn how to be happy either way.

If you choose to still be around them, let go of trying to change who they are. Don’t forget to not let whether they comply or not affect your happiness or your sense of empowerment. It really isn’t appropriate to create boundary around something you’re simply being annoyed by. That’s usually solvable by you changing your thoughts about what’s going on and not taking them personally.

That can be a big-girl-panties concept, but I know you’ve got this;)

2) Boundaries (unlike simple requests) have a consequence that is about an action you will take, and you need to follow through on this.

Using the example above, if your mom/partner/friend belittles you and you don’t hang up like you said you would, that removes the strength and purpose form the boundary. It also tends to eat away at your self-respect and selfesteem.

You end up not trusting yourself, which is usually worse that the original breach of the boundary anyway.

3) The boundary does not come from a place of anger.

Your happiness should not rely on this person’s actions. Therefore, the boundary is simply to honor yourself, and you can choose to not take it personally and step away from the unhealthy situation. No drama. Just, “No, thank you.”

Let’s see more examples of what this all looks like:

If you have a friend who is constantly late and this wears on your time and energy, you can choose to stay friends with her and say, “I get you’re often late, it’s what you do. But it’s hard for me when I waste my time when I’d rather spend time with you. So, if you are more than 15 minutes late, I’m going to leave.” Shazam! You honor who she is, and you honor your needs.

In this example, you are choosing to stay friends with this person, and creating a boundary that respects both your needs. You can also choose not to remain friends with this person if they don’t follow through. In either case, you can walk away – without drama.

In my relationship example in the beginning, choosing to leave when it was clear my emotional boundaries and trust were not being honored would have been better than trying to control someone else’s behavior. I could have said, “If x, y, z behavior continues, that doesn’t work for me.” Then I would have left – which ended up happening anyway – but it would have happened with me being in a much more empowered place – and much sooner. That would have saved both of us a lot of time and energy and suffering. And way less drama.

I know some of these concepts can be a bit WTF for you right now, but let it simmer awhile. Check it out and observe the difference between people setting healthy boundaries vs. trying to control someone else’s behavior.

As one of my favorite spiritual teachers would tell me, “Check your mind. Check it for yourself.”