It is rare, I think, to meet someone in the world who radiates positivity and optimism in a real way. In my conversation with Karen, I was able to feel her warmth right away and it struck me. I realized that we all have the capabilities to live with our hearts first, full of joy, and completely sure of who we are. Even if who we are is fluid and always changing. If you ask me, the true gifts in life are the moments of connection we get to share with one another. I was reminded that we have a certain level of agency over how we show up for the world. There is room for all of the humanness, for every emotion, for every part of conversation, and we can show up. We can show up with love, kindness, and compassion for the stories of others and for the stories we're writing for ourselves. I'm so honored to have learned more about Karen and her perspective and left with a desire to show up with reckless optimism. And now, my new friend Karen.
I am Karen. I am an optimist. And I am… a believer, a mother, a weirdo, a survivor, a playful soul, a lifelong learner, a dance in the rain to find the rainbow curious adventurer, a dirty mouthed sweetheart, an empath, an artist, an embodiment of dualities, and a lover of life.
Tell me more about the identifier you’ve chosen.
My entire life, I’ve been faced with really difficult things. I’ve always had to see the bright side of things because you can really get pulled down to the negative and I’ve never wanted to. I learned to find the lesson and silver lining whenever possible. It’s impacted my life in that it can get really hard. Staying positive isn’t easy when your heart is breaking or parts of your life don’t look how you always thought they would. Life always has challenges that we have to figure out. It’s just a matter of reflection and reevaluation.
Of course I have bad days and moments when I wish that I could just be “normal,” whatever that means. I try really hard, though, to look for the light even when I’m moving through the darkness. When we are in those dark spaces, having the mindset that says, ‘yes, this really sucks right now, but I know that I’m going to learn something from it,’ helps you not get stuck there. Something I’ve started saying and embodying is ‘let yourself feel it.’ If there is negativity, or pain, give yourself permission to be in that moment. Being an optimist doesn’t mean always being happy or denying that something is negative. It just means that the perspective is that it’s all going to get better, that the hard feelings aren’t going to last forever. We have to feel pain to know what love is. It’s that yin and yang. Optimism is not allowing yourself to get stuck there. Give yourself the time you need, feel it, work through it, listen and feel the lesson, and give yourself permission to let it go and move on.
Do you find that you’ve made assumptions about who are based who you’ve been told you’re supposed to be?
Absolutely. I’m 34 and still growing. I’m still learning and figuring out who I am. Who’s really to say who we’re “supposed” to be? We are fluid. Who we are now, who we were yesterday, and who we’re going to be tomorrow may very well be different people. I’m evolving from minute to minute. There are challenges, yes, when it feels like I don’t fit into what is expected of me. I’m a white woman with a successful career, a happy marriage, two amazing children, and people might not see the parts of me that struggle.
A lot of it comes down to acceptance. I have to learn how to accept me before I expect anyone else to accept me. If I’m in any way ashamed of who I am, I won’t be willing to put myself out into the world and expect to be totally seen and accepted. I grew up in a religious household and was made to go to church every Sunday and developed a real fear of never being good enough. There are definitely days when I wonder if life would be easier being exactly what the world tells me I should be, but I know that I wouldn’t be happy then.
When you do feel the alignment of being who you’ve always been meant to be, what does that feel like for you?
You know when you’re at the top of a roller coaster and you’re just starting to go over? Your heart and your guts are up in your throat and everything is exhilarating and exciting and terrifying all at the same time? That’s the feeling. It’s like, ‘holy shit! This is amazing! This is me and I love me!’
Do you find that people around you have learned how to accept and love themselves because of your infectious optimism?
I do. I feel like my purpose is outside of me. It isn’t about me at all. My purpose is for me to help other people. Being empathic in the way that I am is a really wonderful and exhausting gift. I can always so easily pick up on how other people are feeling. I make it one of my priorities to embody joy as much as I can. When I encounter someone else, I’m aware that this might be the only interaction I have with them that day. I will be damned if that one chance to connect is negative.
What is it like to be you?
I mean, day to day it’s different! It’s breathing in and feeling it and letting go. Being me really sounds like, ‘What can I do today? What can I offer the world today?’ Every day, I just want to find that little piece of light. I don’t want to paint a picture of my life that by simply believing everything is good, then everything is good. It’s harder than that, but I really do try to achieve that feeling of lightness and joy every day.
What pressures from the world have you encountered that asked you to question your values or your identity?
There are so many aspects in our hearts and souls that shape what make us happy and feel fulfilled. I think society has projected its ideals on who I am as a mother and a wife that can carry a lot of shame with it. I work through that all the time. I’ve been blessed with a child who is so open about who she is and being able to be part of her story of radical self acceptance, helps me with it, too. Allowing other people to find the light within themselves, I get to find and cultivate it within myself.
What would you say to someone who is in the middle of struggling with not being “normal” right now?
First, what is normal anyway? Just because it’s the standard set by society, doesn’t mean it isn’t bullshit. It totally is. When you think of your perfect day? Who is there? What are you doing? What are you feeling? Those are the things we should chase after and resist getting stuck in the boxes of what everyone else is telling us to do or say or feel. We’re all so different. Our happiness is so different.
What does love and connection mean to you?
It’s everything. Connection is like breathing. Human beings need to feel connected. If someone is feeling depressed, likely they’re feeling disconnected from the rest of the world. We so need it. My own anxiety is an over-connection with myself and a message that I need to get out of my head and connect with someone else. Love is just everything. It’s so important.
What would you tell your younger self?
Just be present for this journey. Let yourself feel it, take the lessons, and learn to be less hard on yourself. This life is what it is. You’re on this ride and whether you like it or not, you’re here. Take from it what you can, learn, love, and accept yourself. You’re okay.