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Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2017 is feminism, which is fitting on a global level. As I reflect on my personal life, it’s pretty fitting on a smaller scale for me as well. I was driving back from lunch with one of my friends and could not help but reflect on the impact women have had in my life this year.

I have, admittedly, always been one of those girls who got along better with boys when I was growing up. A combination of my home life, my tomboy attitude, and being bullied from a young age, my aggressive behavior resonated better with boys.

I had trouble connecting with other girls and would always find myself drawn to only one other girl who I thought was on the same page. That person usually encouraged me to be a lesser version of myself to build herself up.

Female competition in the workplace

I’m a bit of an overachiever.

I work hard. I always have. If something isn’t getting done, I’ve always been the one to be the team player and take charge when necessary to make sure it wasn’t reflected on to the customer when I worked in retail. I started my first job as a cashier at 16. In 6 months, I was moved up to the customer service desk and getting recognition for my hard work – which didn’t sit well with the older cashiers who had been there longer, just cruising by doing the bare minimum.

This continued in my professional journey as I grew older.

Women being competitive with each other in the workplace is not a unique phenomenon in my life. There have been countless articles written on this topic over the years. It’s almost ingrained in us at a young age in fairy tales like Snow White and fueled by the competitive nature of male-dominated industries.

In a world where there is an incredible gap when it comes to women in leadership, where we’re still not getting equal pay, and we’re battling harassment left & right, it’s no real surprise that this kind of competition still exists.

For me, it was another common thread in my life where I felt disconnected from other females.

A positive shift in female relationships

In the past few years, there’s been a significant shift in my personal life. For years, female friends (not so) subtly reinforced my belief that there’s something wrong with me.

Today, I find myself surrounded by strong women supporting me.

In both a personal and professional sense, I have women I can count on not to tear me down when I’m feeling weak, or worse, when I’m successful.

I have forged these incredible friendships with strong females that I didn’t meet until my late 20s/early 30s.

My 2017 was defined by fellow women entrepreneurs giving me a safe space to grow, opportunities to collaborate, and an abundance of encouragement.

In my personal life, I have an incredible group of women who are there for me every single day.

For the first time, I don’t feel like the outsider who just doesn’t get along with other women.

I am accepted, wholly, by other women who do not see me as a stepping stone or competition.

As individuals, we are strong as hell, dealing with shit our lives throw at us from all directions.

As a collective, we’re unstoppable, helping each other fill the cracks with gold when the rest of the world just wants us to shatter into pieces.

We do not thrive off of each other’s vulnerabilities.

We create a safe space for each other to be vulnerable and then act as reminders of our strengths.

So, as we enter into the new year, I encourage you to evaluate the relationships in your life.

Take it from this tomboy: It is possible to forge friendships with other females that aren’t riddled with catty drama.

You just have to be willing to cut the bullshit from your life.

***

I also touch on this topic and my friendships in my conversation with Renee on her Wild Cozy Truth podcast. If you missed it, you can listen to it here.

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The Girl Who Thanks Too Much

Did you know you can now support me on Patreon? 

“You do say thank you an awful lot,” one of my best friends joked the other night. While I’ve been working on trying to stop being the one apologizing too much, I didn’t notice my transformation into the girl who thanks too much.

My initial reaction was to get defensive, but then I started thinking about it on my drive home. What’s wrong with thanking too much? We live in an age where we’re rushing through humanity, showing recognition only with a double-click, or on dedicated days to jump on the trending hashtags.

I know, I sound a little grouchy but I’m part of the problem.

I’m fully aware of my contribution to this culture of instant gratification, which is why I don’t mind being accused of thanking “too much.”

Is there such a thing? Does it take anything away from my day to show gratitude for the little actions of people around me?

During my first job as a cashier, I had to smile and say thank you to every customer. I would’ve done it anyway, but it was my obligation as part of our social contract at that moment. I had to say “thank you” to a customer who had just screamed at me while trying to return a stained shirt. I had to say “thank you” at the end of a transaction to a customer who had made low-key sexually inappropriate comments.

When I say “thank you” to the server refilling my water at the restaurant, it doesn’t take anything away from my experience. But it could make a small difference in his/her day.

I’ll thank you for holding the door; I say “thank you” out loud when someone lets me merge in traffic, I signal “thank you” to the car coming the opposite direction on a narrow street. I’ll say “thank you” not because I feel like I have to but because I like showing appreciation in every way possible.

We live in a thankless society. Look at online reviews – most of them are complaints because we don’t instinctively think to leave a review after a positive experience.

We don’t think about showing gratitude as often as we should.

So, sure, I say “thank you” too often and maybe that even makes me a little annoying. Does that mean I’ll thank you out of obligation if you don’t deserve it? Probably not.

But it doesn’t hurt any of us to make more of a conscious effort to show gratitude in small ways throughout our days.

So, as you think about your 2017 and get ready for 2018, plan on sprinkling a few more “thank yous” to your daily interactions.

I promise it’ll make a difference.

And as always, thank you for reading.

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My bio says that I’ve been sharing my stories with the world since 2003 but it began way before then. Maybe it was with the first AOL trial CD and the first time I found myself in a chatroom. It could’ve been the first Tripod page (think Geocities) I built, trying to figure out how to code a page. I think 2003 refers to my first LiveJournal, but I can’t be too sure. Then came Myspace blogs and finally, my own website. BeingBerrak.com is the 3rd or 4th domain name I’ve used since leaving Myspace behind and ventured out to the internet.

All I know for sure is that I’ve processed everything life has thrown my way by writing it down, and throwing those words out to the world via the internet during my loneliest days.

I’ve received a lot of criticism about how much I share about my life. A lot of people have had opinions about how I should process my pain and how it’s improper that I share so much of my life with strangers.

If only those people know how much I haven’t shared.

Back when I was still writing under a pen name, I used to occasionally post password-protected blogs. They would be on my public blog but only accessible if you knew the password.

Even those were the tip of the iceberg.

I’m 32 years old and every year of my life as long as I could remember has felt like its own lifetime.

In the past few years, as I’ve found my footing as an individual, the urge to share has been fighting its way to the surface. My blog never really went anyway – it’s just been hard to find the words as I fought to keep my head above water.

What was I to do?

A book of essays? I mean, sure. That makes sense. After all, it’s the personal blogger way.

But that didn’t feel right.

One of the biggest rewards of sharing my life online has been the community I’ve been able to build. Even more importantly, it’s the stranger who’s stumbled upon my blog at the time they needed in his or her life and messaged me to say “Thank you for sharing. I needed to hear that.”

I write about the uncomfortable so the people who may stumble upon my words today or months from now can have that reminder when they need it – you’re not alone. There’s someone else who gets it. You will be OK.

But the thing is, the blogging landscape has changed. I didn’t want to worry about the SEO of my personal blog – I have to do that enough in my professional life.

I didn’t want sharing my stories to become a chore. It’s hard enough finding the strength to share. It feels cheap to pimp out personal blog posts.

Then came Patreon.

I’ve been playing around with the idea to start a Patreon for the good part of a year, but I felt like it was only for creatives. Why would anyone want to become a Patron to read my essays?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized I could tap into what I’ve loved the most about sharing my stories online: No filter, a community, and providing a safe space for others who are not ready to share their own stories.

That’s how Password Protected came to life.

My goals for the space as it evolves are:

  • Write & share my stories regularly with your feedback on the next steps
  • Create a safe space where you (the patrons) can engage
  • Give a behind-the-scenes look on how anxiety and depression impact my day-to-day creativity
  • Share your stories, anonymously if you choose, to get you feedback and support from our community.

This is where I invite you to join me in this journey. For just $1/month, you can show me the support you’ve shown me for as long as you’ve been part of my life. If you’ve known me for longer than a day, you know how much I struggle with asking for anything.

This isn’t me asking for a handout.

This is me inviting you to the next chapter of my writing career as I finally dive deep into my past.

 

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Small Business Saturday 2017: Etsy Edition

I’m a huge advocate of shopping small when possible, every day, but especially during Small Business Saturday. If you’re not familiar with it, Small Business Saturday is an initiative by American Express, which has taken on a life of its own.

Every year, I try to highlight a few of my favorite Etsy shops and the women behind them.  One of my favorite parts about Small Business Saturday is reminding everyone that shopping small can mean online, supporting Etsy shop owners who work hard at creating high quality, handcrafted goods with love. (If you’re a frugal shopper like me, I’d like to point out that Ebates now provides cashback for Etsy purchases as well. Right now, you can get 6% cashback on your Etsy purchases)

On to the shops: [click to continue…]

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Breaking the Habit

I’m sick of the tension, sick of the hunger
Sick of you acting like I owe you this
Find another place to feed your greed
While I find a place to rest

I’m about to board a plane to Spain and this trip could not have come at a more pivotal point in my life.

I’m tired of being tired.

I say this to my friends – a lot.

Life has always been overwhelming but it feels like the past 6 months, the Universe keeps giving me the middle finger.

At least it feels like that.

The truth is, I want to get on this plane and as I cross the ocean, I want to start letting go.

I want to let go:

The constant disappointment I feel in people after giving them a second, third, eighth chance to let me down.

The grief.

The “what ifs” that have been holding me back for years.

The resentment.

The anger.

The doubt.

I want to let go so that I can finally start healing.

I’ve been looking forward to this trip for weeks but I also almost cancelled it the other day when all I wanted to do was scream. When all I could do was cry.

I’m going to let the Spanish air envelop me and I’m going to start to heal.

I’ll be surrounded by loved ones, friends I trust with my life, and opportunities to make new friends.

My support system here at home has been helping me keep my head (barely) above water and I am forever grateful to them.

I’m going to write. A lot.

I’m going to drink wine and eat cheese and watch sunsets (and probably sunrises).

I’ll be back with a lighter heart.

If I come back. (I kid. Kind of.)

I’ll probably be posting on SnapChat (BerrakDC) and Instagram (BerrakBiz) the most. 

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The Snort Heard Around the World

You know the drill.

You’re standing in front of your classroom/office and you’re buck naked.

I never had that anxiety dream.

I also never pictured that I would stand on a stage in front of 3500 of my peers, mentors, and strangers at my favorite conference in the world.

I certainly didn’t picture myself SNORTING INTO THE MICROPHONE.

But alas.

It happened. [click to continue…]

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Between panic attacks, hiding in my apartment, obsessively reading the news, and working, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the people in my life.

There have been a few great heart-wrenching conversations over the past few weeks.

I visited North Carolina to spend time with my best friend of 18 years.

One of my closest friends visited me in Seattle this past week, and even though we’ve only been friends for 3 years, I consider her family.

Another one of my best friends is someone who’s only been in my life for a little over a year.

18 years. 3 years. 1 year.

I’ve been a friend of convenience to many people in my life. The person they needed to boost themselves up before moving on to the next chapter. I’m fairly certain I’ve done that to others throughout life as well.

It’s just how we operate. Sometimes on purpose. Most of the time, subconsciously as we try to navigate this emotional maze of life.

I’ve let a lot of people down. And in some instances, I’m still making amends. I mean, I really am a bad friend.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about people is that we’re all fighting our demons, and we all make assumptions.

I certainly do.

A lot of tears have been shed over the past couple of weeks as I’ve finally broken down and said “I know I disappointed you. I know we’ve drifted, but this is a friendship I want to fight for. How can I make amends?”

It’s hard to quiet the noise in my head yelling at me about being unworthy, telling me that every single person in my life will leave eventually. It’s hard to think over the screams of doubt, to find the strength to sit down and write the words.

It’s hard, but it’s worth it.

Because people will come and go during my life. I firmly believe there are seasons of friendships, but when the dust settles, who do I want by my side?

Those are the connections I’m fighting for. Those are the connections I want to mend. Those are the threads that I’m holding on to for dear life.

I want those 18 years of memories to turn into 36. I want every moment I spend with my friends to count, even if all we’re doing is sitting on the couch and watching Will & Grace.

So, I’m fighting.

I’ll keep fighting but there are days when battles are lost, or cancelled because I can’t find the strength after fighting my own demons.

There are days I won’t make sense. Days I’ll be extra needy. Hours of crying. Moments of doubt where I’ll ask “No, but seriously, why are you friends with me?”

And sometimes, there will be those times when I am so worn out, so defeated, so scared, that I’ll get on the defensive.

The walls will come up and I’ll push the world away.

Real talk: That’s where I am now. I can feel the defenses going up. I can hear the walls being built. I can feel my fragile heart retreating to recover.

I honestly don’t know what it will take for me to feel secure again. I’ll keep fighting those battles when it’s necessary but right now?

Well, you’ll have to bring those battles to me.

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Over the past few years, I’ve been getting the same questions about Ramadan.

You can’t drink water?

Wait, how long do you have to fast?

Why is it during the summer?

I don’t talk about my faith often, but those around me know that this is my favorite time of the year. It’s been a long time since I’ve addressed questions about my personal observance of my religion. As you can imagine, these days, I’m mostly in defense mode when talking about anything related to Islam.

I’m not the perfect person, nor am I the perfect Muslim. Most days, I don’t feel enough. I hold my faith close to my heart because I truly believe it’s a personal connection that I shouldn’t have to justify to anyone.

But you guys, Ramadan is beautiful. Its observance is something that’s been a cornerstone of my life since I was ten years old.

Full disclosure: I’m not a religious scholar. I don’t have all of the answers. I can only talk about my personal experience and observance. 

First things first: What is Ramadan? [click to continue…]

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The Memory Keeper Learns to Let Go

It just began raining here. I know, in Washington, in the middle of May, that’s not breaking news. (How is it the middle of May?!)

I’m actually sitting in a little cottage on a bluff overlooking the Puget Sound. A writer’s dream, right? I’ve got my wine, my “Mellow Pop” station on Napster, and no deadlines looming over my head – except my own. Hence the getaway in the middle of the week. I’m trying to find my voice again by removing the familiar from the equation.

The familiar isn’t always such a good thing. Right now, my apartment doesn’t always feel like a refuge. Sometimes, it feels like a prison and my anxiety and depression control the locks. Despite being surrounded by love and family, I’ve been in solitary confinement for the past few months. It’s been so difficult to explain.

I’ve spent the past decade expressing my feeling with the written word but it’s been getting more difficult lately.

I’m blocked, stuck, stunned, aghast, overcome.

What? I’m a writer after all. I couldn’t pick just one word.

I’ve already talked about why I’m a bad friend. That’s been just part of the equation.

Don’t even get me started on the current state of affairs in the U.S. and the world. No, really, don’t. I will go on all night, and my AirBnB hosts will find me curled up in the fetal position Thursday morning.

Sigh.

I’m not sure where exactly this post will go. Let’s read and see. [click to continue…]

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What’s My Age Again?

I ask myself that question more often than I’d like to admit lately. Maybe it’s a thing that happens after you turn 30.  It may have to do with no longer having life milestones tied to age.

Honestly, it’s probably because days have started blurring into one another.

I’ve been doing a birthday blog post since my early 20s. It’s a way for me to think about my year and highlight the major milestones I accomplished.

I turned 32 this past Saturday.

Honestly, 31 was an exhausting age. It’s been a hell of a year, with lots of ups and downs.

When I turned 30, I wrote about how I chose me, and living with intention.

Choosing to live with intention comes with the consequence of being scary as fuck. The risks are higher but so are the rewards. Every decision I make is because I’m stubbornly creating a life of purpose.

I wouldn’t call it an unconventional life. We get so caught up with labels and telling everyone how they should or shouldn’t be living their life. I am so over that.

My life doesn’t have to live up to anyone else’s standards for it. Every single day, I wake up and fight through the weight of depression. Every decision I make, every misstep, every little bit of success is mine and mine alone. I have a lot of wonderful people in my life who give me their unwavering support and love, but at the end of the day, they aren’t the ones making the decisions for me.

Most of the time, decisions I make may not make sense to other people. That’s because you’re not in my skin or my mind.

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about how it feels like my life goes through radical changes. In reality, the changes aren’t so radical if you look at my life as a whole.

When I look back at my life 5, 10, 20 years from now, I want to be proud of my journey. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ll probably make a lot more.

Speaking of mistakes, one of these birthdays, I’ll turn down the shots my friends buy me. As we learned this weekend, 32 was not the year for that.

I declared 2017 my year of Gumption.

I guess setting fire to my safety net, getting my first tattoo, and having my first professional speaking gig would contribute to that goal.

To be perfectly honest, I have no grand declaration about being 32. It’s another year, another number.

I’m grateful for the love in my life, the losses that remind me of my strength, and every day that brings new opportunities for a worthy life.

I guess I’ll keep having to think about how old I am whenever I fill out a form.

No but seriously, what’s my age again?

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