photo by rubymontalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

The uncertainty of life and preparing for the inevitable

I’m trying something new and including an audio version of the post here:


Life is so uncertain. I know this, but don’t always remember.

When I heard the shocking news of the sudden passing of a healthy, well-loved man in the prime of his life, I immediately thought of his family and friends and the shock and grief they must be feeling at losing him so unexpectedly.

And it reminded me of an important truth:

There’s no guarantee of another day, of another year.

I, too, will die one day. Hopefully later than sooner, but who knows?

Preparing for the inevitable.

Years ago my dad was diagnosed with bone cancer. At the time, I was a single mom doing my best to manage a household and raise two young children while working full-time. Those days were physically and emotionally taxing.

I lived next door to The Murray’s, a retired couple and would chat with Mr. Murray about the weather, the kids, and the goings-on in the neighborhood.

One day I was in the front yard talking to Mr. Murray and somehow and for some reason I told him that my dad had just been diagnosed with bone cancer.

Mr. Murray listened and said, “Well, prepare yourself.”

His response surprised me and got my attention. My dad and I had issues (I’ve written about some of them here), but I always thought my dad was one of those people who would always survive. He’d survived seizures and comas and I thought he’d survive this too. I wasn’t ready.

I’d lost my 27 year-old sister two years before. Though she was ill, her death was sudden and unexpected. I had not been prepared to lose her, to live with the fact that when I said good-bye to her on a cold, clear Christmas night in 1994 that that would be the last time I saw her alive.

But this was different. My dad had bone cancer. This would inevitably kill him. And I was not prepared.

I took Mr. Murray’s advice to heart and mentally and emotionally prepared myself for my dad’s death. It made a big difference in our relationship.

Life and death.

None of this is meant to be morbid or depressing. Really!

I don’t obsess about death, but I am cognizant of the one thing I know for sure: I will die. Some day.

Hopefully not for a long time. If I live to life expectancy, I figure I have about 25 years left.

I consider that ample time to prepare myself. (As it gets closer I may change my mind about how prepared I can be for my own death.)

But for me all this talk about death is not really about death. It’s about life. Time in this life is a finite resource.

It makes me think of my life and what I’ve done and what I still want to do.

I don’t want to obsess about the ticking clock, but I do want to keep it in mind so I remember I’m on a deadline.

We all are, even if we don’t want to think about it.

“Someday” never comes

Read Waiting for “someday” puts dreams out of reach

So if there’s some idea burned in your soul or some passion you hope to pursue someday, there’s no time like the present to get on it.

Right now is all any of us have. Life is uncertain and nothing is guaranteed.

Get over yourself, your fear, your insecurities, your excuses. It can be scary to venture out and do something you’ve never done. But don’t wait for the perfect time when you’re 100% ready.

There’s no time like now to move in the direction of your dreams.


Photo by Mark Montalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

When the level of gratitude is over the top

There’s an old movie starring Joanne Woodward called “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds” based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Paul Zindel.

I watched the movie a long time ago, and don’t remember a lot about the plot, but one scene has always stood out in my memory.

It’s the scene where the mom, Joanne Woodward’s character, walks down the aisle of a near empty auditorium where her daughter’s just won the school science fair. (The daughter’s science project is where the name of the play comes from.)

And the mom calls out to her daughter, “My heart is full.” Her voice echoes and she repeats a couple of times, “My heart is full.” Then she turns and leaves.

Moments that stick

I might have been 10 years old when I saw that movie, but that scene has always stayed with me. In my mind it perfectly exemplifies that feeling of being overwhelmed with gratitude and love and absolute joy, when there are so many emotions all mixed up at once.

That’s how I felt last week at my Book Launch party for “A Song for Jessica”. My heart was full.

The party was a celebration of the official publication of my first novel and to have worked on it for more than a year and told people “I’m writing a book,” and then little by little to have it formed into something real and tangible that I can share.

And then for people to be interested in it and to have it all come together and my family and friends show up on a steamy, Thursday night to help me celebrate the actual publication of a book I wrote and published.

It was just a very humbling experience and to say I’m grateful doesn’t quite get it. Yes, I feel incredibly grateful, but it’s like uber-gratitude, which doesn’t even sound right.

No. My heart is full. 

Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

Gratitude’s a game-changer

I believe daily gratitude can change your life, but this mixture of love, gratitude, hope, and joy doesn’t feel like an everyday thing. It’s one of those moments I’ll always hold in my heart as an extraordinary gift.

Thanks to everyone who came and special shout out to my team ; ) — my husband, Mark, who’s always right there beside me, my sister, Lynda, who always comes through for me, and for my niece, Juliana, who was a popcorn-popping trooper. And to my friend, Gigi, owner of WT Cafe who provided cookies and muffins. It was a warm evening and we were very fortunate to have a nice evening breeze and smooth sounds by Frank, Kelso, and Kelly Ann Morales. Thanks ya’ll!

Thanks also to Marisol at The Koffee Kup Co. for offering to host and stay open late. You rock!

To all my family and friends who couldn’t be there in person but were there in spirit, thank you for sending love and good thoughts. I felt those, too.

Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

What’s your definition of success?

Let’s say you’ve been working on a project. It’s been a long road, but you’ve kept your head down and kept gutting it out, moving forward. You’re primary goal is to make progress and you’re doing that, but…

Have you asked yourself this question: What does success look like?

What happens when the work is done? Maybe it’s a garden or a plan to be debt-free. How does that work into your plan for long-term success?

But wait…

I was talking to my son about the publication of my first novel on May 31. It’s a big win for me. I thought, “Yep. That’s success for me.” (See The finish line and other wondrous moments)

Then he asked, “What’s your goal? How many books do you want to sell?”

I was like a deer in headlights.

Hmm. I hadn’t actually thought about it.

Do X number of books sold equal success for me? I didn’t think so, but if that doesn’t what does?

It got me thinking: How do I measure success?

One story of success

You may have heard of Stephen King, author of horror/suspense books, many of which have been made into movies, like It and The Dark Tower. Well last week, he posted a short story on Instagram in advance of his new book, The Outsider. In 4 days he had 63,760 likes and 1,448 comments.

Whoa. I don’t know much about marketing and such, but I’d say he’s a successful guy and that was a successful post.

Even though I’m not a fan of his fiction, I love his book On Writing. It’s part memoir, part writing lesson and I recommend it even if you aren’t interested in writing.

A little bit of what he covers in the book: He’s

  • been writing since he was a kid
  • written and published dozens of books
  • been married since right out of college
  • a recovering alcoholic
  • was a high school English teacher when he sold his breakout novel, Carrie. He says of that time, “If I ever came close to despairing about my future as a writer, it was then.”

And here’s something else about Stephen King:

  • Legend has it that he writes every day. Still. Every day. His birthday. Christmas.
  • He’s a generous guy. The Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation helps writers and various organizations in their home state of Maine.
  • You’d never know he’s wealthy by looking at him. He looks like a regular guy, doing appearances in a t-shirt and jeans.

So, sure, his is the far-out, wildest dreams kind of vision of success even he couldn’t have dreamed of.

It doesn’t happen for everyone.

A different story

When I was in Italy, my daughter and I took a trip to Nove, a town known for ceramics and home of the famous La Ceramica VBC.

I was looking for pottery, the hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind stuff. We wandered into a dusty, unpolished ceramics shop that looked promising. The owner’s name was Giovanni and he spoke English. He had the kind of pottery I was looking for.

It turns out Giovanni is an artist. His work is beautiful, but it was hard to tell because it was lost in a mix of other styles he said most people looked for.

Ceramic bowl. Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

Unfortunately, health and money problems have made it difficult for him to stay in business. When I asked if he sold his work online, he waved off the idea and shook his head, like it was out of the question.

Giovanni’s work is extraordinary, but no one knows about it. He’s a gifted artist, but not a good businessman.

Ceramic bowl. Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

My takeaways from these contrasting stories of success:

Adapt, but don’t quit. Work through the rough periods.

Stephen King has had his struggles, including alcoholism and suffering life-threatening injuries when he was hit by a speeding van. He kept going.

Even if Giovanni closes his shop, I hope he figures out a way to keep going. There may be a better way.

Find your style, then focus on that.

Early on, Stephen King had to ignore people, including teachers, who told him he was wasting his talent writing his brand of horror/suspense.

Giovanni had what I was looking for and I thought the other more commercial stuff distracted from his amazing work.

Be authentic.

It’s exhausting trying to fit some one else’s mold of who you are and what you should be doing. No, there’s only one Stephen King and I’m not him. And there’s only one me and he’s not me, and there’s only one you and we’re not…. You get the idea.

But the question remains: How do you define success?

You may have heard the phrase: “Do what you love and the money will follow.”

As you can see from these contrasting stories of success, it’s not that simple.

We each have to decide for ourselves and it’s an important question, even though there’s no easy answer.

What’s my definition of success?

  • Keep writing and publishing.
  • Find my audience.
  • Be authentic and honest.
  • Keep things in perspective. My work is important, but it’s meant to support life, not the other way around. (Insight by Stephen King)
Photo courtesy of pixnio accessed on Google.com commons published on strong-woman.com

Kick off 2018 with a goal and a plan

Happy New Year!

It’s time again for Mindset Monday (on a Tuesday this week in observance of New Year’s Day holiday) .

For a few years now I’ve practiced focused reflection on the past year and looked forward to the new year by laying out goals in all areas of life, like personal, fitness, professional, etc.

Sometimes I’m pretty ambitious without realizing it. Like a couple of years ago, I wrote down a fitness goal to get to 100 unbroken double-unders (turning a jump rope twice around with every jump). I think at the time my record was like 10 in a row. Well, at the end of the year when I looked over my goals that year I realized I hadn’t even come close to my “goal”. In fact, I’d forgotten all about it.

Does that tell you anything?

Either I didn’t have a plan, didn’t work the plan, or was so half-hearted about doing double-unders I’d forgotten about it by February.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay commons accessed via Google commons published on strong-woman.com

I didn’t care enough about it to work at it.

Whether you make New Year’s resolutions or not, the start of a new year is a good time to think about what you want to do over the next 12 months.

What do you want to do this year?

Scratch of one of your bucket list items perhaps?

Travel to another country? Read War and Peace? Join a hiking group? Skydive? Make volunteering your time part of your routine?

Maybe it’s something you’ve been putting off for someday.

Do it. 

First – Whatever you say you want to do has to matter enough to you. Make it something that gets you excited or sentimental (finishing a triathlon) instead of filled with a sense of dread (doing double-unders).

Then, make a plan. Write it down or put it on your calendar. Visualize when and how you’ll do it. Break down the steps to make it happen if necessary.

Next, get started and do a little at a time until it’s done.

Photo courtesy of Flickr commons accessed via Google commons published on strong-woman.com

Make someday happen in the next 364 days.

The thing about time is that it keeps going. Set yourself up now to look back on 2018 feeling accomplished, knowing that you set out to do something that mattered to you, you had a plan, and you stuck with it. That thing you meant for someday? Check.

You can do it.

I wish you a healthy and happy new year full of taking care of and doing things that matter to you.

Share what you’ll be doing this year. Post in the comments : )

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com published on strong-woman.com

Choose belief over doubt

“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Henry Ford.

Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on strong-woman.com

So often, we give up before we start. We list reasons why something won’t work. It saves us the trouble of trying and keeps us from risking failure.

But how can we get past that? How can we open our minds to the possibility of success?

It’s about belief. And then it’s about action.

Belief over doubt

Doubt stems from fear and it’s a powerful force. How do we get from “I don’t think I can” (doubt) to “I can” (belief).

Will saying, “I think I can. I think I can,” over and over, like The Little Engine That Could, work to help me believe and succeed?

It’s a great start. 

Think of it as chipping away at a pile of doubt, all the “reasons” you think you can’t.

Believe. Be open to the possibility of success. Even if you don’t know how you’ll reach your goals and they may seem so far away, believe you can do it. Work hard and don’t give up.

Be okay with failed attempts.

Of course, you’ll face setbacks. What successful person hasn’t?  Remember that the only way to guarantee you won’t fail is to never try.

Can or can’t? Each of us must decide for ourselves.

Let negativity roll off your back

Let negativity roll off your back

Negative and insensitive comments that can be hurtful and leave you doubting yourself and feeling stupid.

Little jabs like:

“Are you wearing that?”Photo courtesy of pixabay.com published on strong-woman.com

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“You can’t/won’t be able to do ________ .”

“Can you try to pay attention, for once?”

Off-handed remarks can float around in our heads for a long time. We analyze them to death and think, “What’s that supposed to mean?” If you’re already self-conscious or lacking confidence, negative comments can have an even bigger impact. 

Positive vs. Negative

Negativity stings. Psychologists say it takes at least 10 positive comments to cancel out 1 negative comment.

Downloaded from Pixabay published on strong-woman.com

How can we get past it and not let it shake our self-confidence?

Is the negative comment worth my time and consideration?

If not, consider the matter closed. Visualize yourself walking away from it. Don’t let it get to you. If it starts to re-surface, remind yourself that you’ve put it behind you.

Understand that often people are negative because it’s easier to knock things down than build them up.

Don’t worry about it. Let negativity roll off your back like water off a duck.

Blow it off like bubbles in the wind.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay published on strong-woman.com
Words have power.

Do you trust the person who said it?

People speak without thinking. Feelings get hurt.

Consider giving people the benefit of the doubt instead of thinking they intend to shake your confidence.

I’d want that consideration. As much as I try to be encouraging, sometimes I speak before I think and wind up sounding negative or insensitive.

Words have power. We must choose wisely. And this applies to how we speak to ourselves too. Encourage yourself with positivity instead of speaking negativity towards yourself.

Stay focused on your goals. Be patient. Ignore negative comments. Don’t let them shake your confidence. Let them roll off your back like so you can’t remember them even if you tried.

Strive for progress, not perfection

journal posted on strong-woman.comIs it really okay to be less than perfect when you’re working toward a goal? Like when you’re ready to take better care of yourself and improve your confidence and overall happiness. You may commit to eating more nutritious food, exercising more consistently, practicing daily gratitude, journaling, or any number of other healthy activities.

They’re simple, but not easy.

So many distractions, it’s hard to stay committed. Why bother trying?

This is when it’s most important to strive for progress, not perfection. When you feel like giving up, remind yourself that:

You must act. You can’t make progress without taking action. Even if you’re not sure you can reach your goal, do what you can and start small if you have to.  It’s harder to get started when you expect yourself to be perfect.

No one’s perfect. What you don’t want to do is say, “Well, I already blew it today because I was ‘bad’ this morning, so what the heck? I might as well eat this pint of ice cream.” Moderation is the key. Every moment’s a chance to re-commit to make healthy choices. 

Take care of yourself posted on strong-woman.com

Keep moving forward. No one’s perfect. Small changes made consistently add up to results. Even the most disciplined people skip a workout sometimes. Don’t beat yourself up. Get back on track and keep at it.

Be okay with good enough. Aspiring for perfection has a way of keeping us from taking action, of getting started. If your goal is to work out 4 times this week and you only get in 2 workouts because “life got in the way”, it’s okay. 2 workouts is better than 0 workouts. Tomorrow’s another day to get back at it!

Be patient. Progress will come as long as you’re taking steps in the direction of what you desire. Focus on progress and it’ll be easier to keep moving forward.

Laughing baby.

Remember why you started. When you’re striving for progress, the end goal can get buried under disappointing setbacks. Keep your goal in mind and do it for yourself and your own health and happiness. Re-commit and repeat as needed.

Lighten up. Have fun along the way. Don’t be so serious. (Ahem.) When nothing short of perfection is acceptable, it’s hard to have fun.

Whatever you do, don’t give up. Do what you can every day, even if it’s something very small, to improve your health and happiness.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com published on strong-woman.com

Run your own race

I’d never been a runner, even though I’d always wanted to run. I thought running was not something I was able to do because every time I tried I gasped for air and felt like I’d pass out. photo courtesy of pixabay.com published on strong-woman.com

But I decided to give running another try. Nothing about it was easy for me. I was slow and struggled through every mile.

While out running, I’d often see other runners who made it look simple. They seemed to run effortlessly, with perfect strides, breathing easily, even smiling.

Inevitably, I’d compare body shape, size, and age. I’d think, “Oh, my goodness! I’ll never be able to run like that.”Photo by Mark Montalvo published on strong-woman.com

I’d feel so discouraged. But then I thought,

What does that have to do with me?

I was running 7 miles when only a few months before I couldn’t run 2 minutes without stopping. It didn’t matter what anyone else was doing. I had stay focused on what I was doing.

That experience taught me some important lessons, not just about running, but about life.

Run your own race.

When faced with a challenge and you’re tempted to compare yourself to some one else, focus on your goals and don’t worry about anyone else’s progress.

Keep working on yourself and strive to develop your abilities. Make your only challenge to be better than you were yesterday. Do your best. Give it your all. And keep moving forward.

Self-image run your own race published on strong-woman.com
Run your own race.

Strive for progress, not perfection. Even if you have to start very small. A little progress every day adds up to big results.

It’s tempting to compare yourself to others, to want to give up when it seems like everyone’s making great progress except for you.
Better to run your own race.

Understand that your struggles are a chance for you to learn and grow. In the end, it’s your determination to continue that’s going to benefit you the most.

Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on strong-woman.com

Mindset Monday – Attitude is everything

Years ago I had a well-paying but unfulfilling job. Every day, every hour of every day was difficult. I felt like I belonged someplace else, doing something other than what I was doing. The daily grind and long hours made me feel I had very little control over my day to day experience.

Stairway photo courtesy of pixabay.com published on strong-woman.com

I wanted to leave that job. I wanted to quit. Check out. Explore other opportunities. There must be something better for me out there, but where?

The job wore me down. I felt desperate for change.

And then one day I realized I had a choice.

I asked myself Why do I continue when I feel so unhappy?

At the time, my kids were elementary school age. I was a single mother and I felt to my core that my most important job was to be their mother, that God had given me the responsibility to care for them. At that time in my life, that was my purpose.

The job helped provide: food on the table, a comfortable home, vacations, and clothes and shoes for them. It provided stability and continuity for us.

Photo published on strong-woman.com
My kids and me years ago.

The job wasn’t fulfilling or satisfying, but it afforded me what I needed. It was like a safety net when life felt a little shaky. Maybe I could’ve have found something better suited to my strengths, but I had two good reasons for staying.

Coming to this realization helped shift my attitude and the job became so much more bearable. I showed up every day knowing why I was there and it helped. A lot. I still had my struggles, of course, but at the end of the day, I was grateful for the luxury of choice.

Whenever I feel stuck, I remember that experience. What are my choices and why am I doing what I’m doing? What’s the underlying purpose of my actions?

Do you feel stuck sometimes? Is what you’re doing driving you crazy with frustration?

Here’s what I learned:

1. It’s a choice.

You may feel like you don’t have a choice because the choices don’t seem very good. In that case, make the best choice available at that time. And keep moving forward.

Crossroads photo courtesy of pixabay published on strong-woman.com

2. Be grateful for every day.

Just a little bit of gratitude spills over into all things. In my case, it calmed me down and helped me be a better mom and a happier person.

3. Take a big-picture view.

Your options may not be great. You may have to make the best choice depending on your long-term goals or immediate necessities. Take a step back and get perspective on the big picture.

The only thing that changed was my attitude.Courtesy of pixabay published on strong-woman.com

These 3 things – knowing I had a choice, being grateful, and taking a big picture view – helped me change my attitude and my outlook even though my circumstances were the same.

Same job, same schedule, same juggling of work, kids, and home – everything.

When I realized I had good reasons for choosing to show up to the job every day, my whole disposition changed. I was happier, more calm and relaxed, more grateful.

Sometimes you have to make the best “bad” (not-ideal) choice. That’s life. That’s the human experience. And you don’t know where your choices will lead or what awaits you on your path.

Choose love and it’s easier to keep a positive attitude. And attitude is everything.

Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on strong-woman.com

Don’t Let Self-Doubt Kill Your Dream. Keep At It!

Starting a new venture can be overwhelming. When you set out to do something new, you make yourself vulnerable. You put yourself out there. Your confidence ebbs and flows and you start asking yourself, “Can I really do this?”Photo from Flickr.com the commons project published on strong-woman.com

Maybe it’s something you’ve put off doing for a while because you know it’s going to be tough, like finding a new job, quitting smoking, starting a business, losing weight, training for a sporting event, or learning to play an instrument.

You decide to go for it. You’re committed.

Things move slowly at first. Maybe so slowly it feels like you’re not moving at all. Doubt sets in:  “What was I thinking? Why did I ever commit to this? I don’t know what the heck I’m doing. Is this even worth it? Why am I putting myself through this?”

Shake off the doubt. Remember why you started, why you wanted it. Re-commit.

And then keep at it. Keep moving forward, little by little.

One step at a time

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com published on strong-woman.comIt takes a while to gain momentum.

There’s so much to learn, so many setbacks, and things rarely go as smoothly as you’d like. Just when you’ve leaped one hurdle you find another one waiting for you.

“Why bother?” your inner voice says. “There’s no way I can do this!”

You’re not alone

Everyone battles doubt, even people who seem to get everything so easily.Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on strong-woman.com

When you’re attempting to do something different that gets you out of your regular routine and puts you at risk of failure, it’s normal to doubt yourself.

Steven Pressfield calls it “Resistance” in his book The War of Art.

He writes, “Any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long term growth, health, or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any of these will elicit Resistance.”

Doubt is Resistance

Resistance is anything that makes you want to quit in the face of challenge. Doubt is resistance. Most resistance falls under the umbrella of fear.

Take care of yourself with a quiet commute published on strong-woman.com

Fear of failure, alienation, change, pain, the unknown.

When it’s tempting to quit, remember why you started. Look at how far you’ve come instead of how far you have to go.

Whatever the challenge, whatever the obstacle, keep at it. Keep moving forward, little by little.