Category Archives: Fulfillment

Why We Should Share Our Stories

Posted on August 26, 2014 in Adoption, Fulfillment, Happiness, Relationships by Sandra Bienkowski

“No matter what anyone tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”  – Robin Williams

Dead Poets Society is one of my favorite movies. I love all of its messages …

Seize the day.

Live deliberately.

Constantly look at things in a different way.

Find your own voice.

It’s not easy to find your own voice–especially on a stage. Now keeping journals? That’s easy. My thoughts flood out on paper and it’s how I think and process. (Ever since I got married I journal a lot less because my husband is now my journal–poor soul.) Keeping a journal is such freedom. Blank pages. Space to write and think. And no one judges what you have to say or how well you write it. Writing for a big audience is an entirely different story. People aren’t always kind in the comments section, and as much as I can pull up my big girl panties, I can’t always let go of what people think. Even though it can be difficult to write the truth and serve it up for public consumption, I feel compelled.

I know our stories can change the world.

Lately, I’ve received a lot of kind emails from strangers about my stories. Strangers thanking me for writing openly about finding my birth mom or overcoming my battle with my weight. Recently a woman said my story about seeking counseling in my twenties to overcome depression led her to seek professional help so can have a chance at a happy life. I felt so grateful to read that email. To know we can even help one person is the greatest gift. Helping just one person makes the vulnerability of writing and sharing our stories so worth it …

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”   Brene Brown

Here are some of  my latest stories . . .

5 Ways To Dig Yourself Out Of Depression





This Is The Biggest Relationship Mistake You Can Make





Why You Really, REALLY Shouldn’t Date Someone You Want to Fix





What Happened When I Tried To Find My Birth Mom





What I Wish Every Adopted Kid Knew







Make your life extraordinary.

Carpe Diem.



Confessions: Our First Year with Twins

Posted on January 13, 2014 in Fulfillment, Happiness, mom blog, Relationships, Self Improvement by Sandra Bienkowski

Our twin girls just turned one. I am not sure if we should jump for joy or collapse on the couch. We’ve become masters of “your turn” middle of the night baby handoffs. Tired is no longer a temporary condition, but something you live with like your right arm. I am not a whiner, but I wish I counted how many times I’ve picked up and redirected two babies speed crawling opposite directions toward outlets, cat food, and the fireplace. My lower back knows. And, BTW, two new tiny people live in our house. OMG. No pressure! We are only responsible for how they turn out.

Anywho, it was a magical year of twin baby firsts, emotional firsts for me, and some pretty hilarious moments. Here’s a look back …

My water broke at 6 a.m. January 11, 2013 and I said, “Uh, Reed, we have a problem.” He jumped out of bed thinking something happened to our old cat.

My baby shower was the next day. Oops.

I felt compelled to shower and put make up on after my water broke.

As we dashed around grabbing things for the hospital, I told Reed to grab the car seats. At 33 weeks to the day, he knew we wouldn’t need the car seats anytime soon. He also knew he didn’t want to have that conversation with his wife in labor.

Pre-epidural felt like some kind of hell. Post-epidural felt like a day at a very cold spa.

January 11, 2013, late Friday afternoon, we welcomed Sydney at 4:43 p.m. and Riley at 5:07 p.m. Each weighed four pounds.

Two days later, discharge day from the hospital for me, I returned home no longer pregnant and with empty arms. It felt like the worst kind of emptiness.

A NICU nurse said, “Think of it like this … you have a team of the most expensive babysitters.”

Sara, my sister, made the transition home easier by using her key to fill our house with baby shower gifts, cards, balloons, homemade veggie soup and bread, and champagne on ice.

Knowing the benefits of breast milk I started pumping because the girls were too premature to breastfeed. The breast pump is a ridiculous-looking contraption (like something Lady Gaga would wear) that’s been attached to me six to seven times a day, around the clock, for a year. As one mom put it, “Now I know what it feels like to be a human food truck.”

My mom planned to live with us for three months to help out with the girls. The pre-scheduled day of her flight? The day the girls were born! Thank you universe.

The first three weeks I learned terms and things I didn’t want to know … baby bilirubin levels, apnea episodes, feeding tubes, wires, beeping monitors, caffeine in IV and isolettes.

Every morning and evening, weaving our way through a large NICU, we saw couples huddled around teensy babies. Some were praying and hoping their babies make it. Doctors told us it was just about “feeding and growing” for Sydney and Riley. We never forgot to be grateful.

My appetite was so ravenous from being a human milk factory that I was disappointed when we no longer lived at the hospital with the daily access to a buffet of food–from pizza to sushi.

As preemies, the girls had to pass a car seat test in order to be discharged home. It was scary to see how tiny they were in their car seats.

On February 2, 2013 the girls came home, both on apnea monitors.

We all took turns doing middle of the night feedings, Reed, my mom, me. We all were so sleep deprived my mom put on her glasses in the middle of the night only to discover they were her sunglasses.

Another time, Reed told my mom to wake him up in ten minutes when the bottles were warm so he could help. Reed woke up three hours later and asked my mom if the bottles were ready.

We are forever grateful to my mom for those first not-so-easy months. Who volunteers to wake up at all hours of the night to help with crying babies on a three-month leave of absence from work? My mom!

With my hormones pinging off the walls post-birth, and with little sleep, I had a few moments wondering if I ruined our fun lives.

Smiley Riley dances on her own, has radar for where her daddy is in the house and loves snuggles and cuddles. She is the messiest eater, putting baby food in her hair.

Sydney is so chill, except when she is shrieking because Riley took one of her toys. She loves to figure toys out and is so ticklish. She is so gentle petting the cat.

Everyone always told me you don’t know what it feels like to love like a mom until you are a mom. I finally get it. As they sleep, I stare into their cribs and feel immeasurable love. Author Elizabeth Stone said it best: Deciding to have a baby is “to forever have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

I love Reed’s face as the he holds or plays with the girls.

I love it when the girls make each other giggle.

Waking up in the morning to two girls who smile ear-to-ear and dance side-to-side in their cribs has to be one of the best ways to start the day ever.

Having the most kind and loving friend/nanny/neighbor to watch the girls at our home while we work is something we are thankful for daily.

Having the girls taught me so much:
Wake up every day happy.
It’s not about me.
Get ready for unsolicited input.
Read baby books before you give birth. You won’t have time after.
Take time to play.
Hugs are the best.
Love is limitless.
A nap can solve a lot.
Never again will you take silence for granted.
Strangers are friendlier when babies are present.
Trust your instincts.
I love sleep.
Never will you be more motivated to be your best self and live your best life so you can be the best example for your children.
Nothing matters as much as family.

And lastly, it isn’t double the trouble, it’s double the blessings.

How to Thrive, Not Just Survive

Posted on January 6, 2014 in Fulfillment, Happiness, Self Improvement by Sandra Bienkowski

There is a saying that people change for one of two reasons … they either learn enough that they want to, or they hurt enough so they have to. Many times I’ve made the decision to deliberately change—for both reasons. When life sucks, it’s a teacher and a motivator.

At the time, the guy I was dating was a dud. He had all the warning signs. He bragged about his bachelor status, he thought the ladies loved him, and he owned like two pieces of furniture. Oh, and my friends disliked him immensely.

Then there was my job. I was a health care editor with cool perks (like lots of travel—Vegas Baby!), but the company I worked for in Dallas was bought out by a company in California. Coworkers/friends walked by my office with their careers in a box. My job was safe (so they said), but I also was spending too much money. Job insecurity and over-spending? Not a brilliant combo for my future.

I was overweight. Self-medicating with Ben & Jerry’s and Lifetime movies in my solo apartment wasn’t doing a lot for my waistline. Eating to ease the 30-something, life-isn’t-going-as-I-thought-it-would blues, made me more blue.

In short, my life was kind of messy. So, I did what I always do in times of mini-crisis. I grabbed my journal. I jotted down the current state of things. I wasn’t wimpy about it. I gave my life a review like a movie critic. I didn’t gloss over the unattractive parts. I knew yours truly was responsible.

Then I sketched out my ideal life on a piece of paper. What would my life look like if I loved it? I was determined to shove my life from My Life Sucks to My Life Rocks … and fast. Soon I learned a lesson that stuck: We all have incredible influence over our lives with the decisions we make, and don’t make, each day.

Today, life is much different. I am married to the man of my dreams. We have beautiful twin daughters. I love being an entrepreneur with my own biz, and the freedom of working from home with a flexible schedule is divine. Oh, and we live in a town where people take vacations—so it’s no accident that sometimes our life feels like one.

Life changes when we change. There is power in knowing you can rewrite your life script. For me, I had to stop living for fun in the moment and map out my next steps. I had to wake myself up from the denial that happens when you choose the comfort of familiarity over what you really want. I got clear and brutally honest with myself on the life I desired. (I turned what I wanted into a list I read each morning over coffee.) It worked. Here are some more tips that worked …

Be willing to take a hard look. Be willing to step outside of your life and give it your best critique. Change won’t happen if you deny or ignore those little whispers that tell you something isn’t right. “Your willingness to look at your darkness is what empowers you to change,” as Iyanla Vanzant says. The uncomfortable part of change is short-lived—and the benefits are long-lasting.

Know everything can change. Don’t get so used to the way things currently are that you forget things can be completely different. Life doesn’t have to be about getting by, getting through or plodding along. It can be about thriving. Sketch out your ideal life. Is your current life close to your ideal vision? If not, what decisions do you have to make to get there? Formulate your action plan. Don’t choose familiarity over risk at the expense of your own happiness.

Forget the wait for the weekend mentality. If you are waiting for the weekend, something in your life needs to change. Why dread five days of the week and only look forward to two? Design your life so you don’t dread a day of the week. Life shouldn’t be spent waiting for the two days that begin with the letter S.

Get a job you don’t dread. Sure, you may have to drag your butt to a job you dread to pay the bills, but if that’s how you feel, devote some time to changing your job. I don’t care if the job market is tough, reinvention is possible. Don’t get stuck doing what you’ve always done if it wipes the smile off your face five days a week. Find something you are more passionate about. Consider entrepreneurship and positioning your strengths to work for yourself. Own your own time. No more depressing Monday Facebook posts for you!

Set your life up like a vacation. Oh, I’m big on this one. I love Seth Godin’s quote: “Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, you ought to set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” Okay, I may not be sitting around under a palm tree, sipping Pina Coladas, and flipping through a favorite magazine, but I do LOVE my life. I love our ordinary days. I deliberately do things to make life more like a vacation.

Purposefully choose where you live. I grew up in the snowbelt outside Syracuse and that’s why I moved South. Warm temps and sunshine make me happy. I like climates where people can dine outside almost year round.

Be in the right relationship. Finding the right person may not be easy, but knowing you have the right person is easy. Just ask yourself one question: Does your significant other make your life better?

Improve your ratio of excitement to dread. How can you get more exciting moments on your day and how can you reduce the dread? Make a dread list if you have to and make it your mission to make the list shorter. A great way to get more excitement is to fill your calendar with events and plans that make you excited with anticipation—a big contributor to happiness.

Connect to what you love doing. Don’t get so busy living life that you forget to do the things you love most. When is the last time you checked to see if the things you love doing the most are showing up on your monthly, weekly and daily calendar? Notice what resonates with you. On the days you are the happiest, what are you doing?

Don’t defer your happiness by waiting for vacation, waiting for the weekend or waiting for your life to change. You can change your life dramatically when you change the one thing you control—YOU.

48 Things I Know for Sure

Posted on August 2, 2013 in Fulfillment, Gratitude, Relationships, Self Improvement by Sandra Bienkowski

You can learn something from everyone who crosses your path. Some people provide those what-not-to do lessons, and others will offer you little gems of wisdom. I love soaking up thought-provoking insights and bits of wisdom from other people. Not too long ago, I was at the art studio of painter Jonas Gerard who told me you have to silence your inner critic to create. Too much thought will mess up what you are creating, he said. So true for artists and non-artists alike! Back in college, my favorite journalism professor and National Geographic photographer, Yva Momatiuk, taught me never to regret painful experiences because it means you are truly alive. She said it’s where I will find my best writing. She also believed travel is where your real education occurs. I couldn’t agree more.

I guess you could say I am a pearl of wisdom collector. There are some books that offer great life lessons in small bites: What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self and another book titled Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self, that has lots of letters from famous people … What a great concept to think of what we would tell our 16 year-old selves now … as adults. The late movie critic Gene Siskel used to ask celebrities: What do you know for sure? in interviews. Oprah loved the idea and started her own list of what she knows for sure.

I put together my list of 48 things. Some I learned from the school of hard knocks, some I collected from wise souls, others are quotes I memorized because they resonated with me. If we all shared our life lessons we could use wisdom to zoom through the tough parts of life a little easier and a little faster and arrive where all the joy happens sooner. Not everything has to be learned by getting beat up in the arena. If you are open to it, you can learn from others. Here’s my list of 48 things I know for sure . . .

1. Fix yourself first.

2. Wisely choose who you spend your time with because they will influence you.

3. When people show you who they are, believe them.

4. If the person you are in a relationship with is really into you, it won’t be a mystery.

5. There’s a difference between feeling better and getting better.

6. Always be reading a book you don’t want to put down.

7. Continually work to reduce the things that irritate you. Scale down that irritation list.

8. If you have a job you dread, find another job and quit the one you dread. You should wake up with joy, not a knot in your stomach.

9. Every decision you make shapes how you feel about yourself.

10. Don’t do tension. Just don’t do it.

11. Life only stays the same if you do.

12. Live with the awareness that a single decision can change everything.

13. Your strengths are your guideposts to your purpose.

14. If you were taught that life is difficult and has to be endured, reject the notion.

15. Don’t date someone you also want to fix.

16. Don’t get in a relationship with someone who doesn’t show signs of empathy.

17. Ask yourself if you are in denial about anything. Then do what most won’t do: Run toward it. Expose it to light. Fix it.

18. Decide what kind of life you want and then construct your life according to that vision.

19. Learn from the success of others so you don’t waste time.

20. If you are in the right relationship, life improves.

21. Be more interested in what other people have to say than what you have to say.

22. Marry your best friend.

23. Face the darkness, stare it down and own it.

24. You can learn something from everyone.

25. Don’t be a victim.

26. Design your own day and fill it with tiny things that make you happy.

27. Set boundaries with the people in your life.

28. Shatter your external mirrors. Don’t let other people determine how you should feel about you.

29. Don’t neglect your needs for the sake of other people.

30. Share your imperfections, it connects us to each other on a real level.

31. Don’t try and fix your parents for what they did or didn’t do. Just claim responsibility for fixing yourself.

32. You teach people how to treat you.

33. Do at least one thing every day you love.

34. Always be honest, it lightens your load.

35. If you are broken, you will choose someone who is broken.

36. Never emotionally react to something right after it happens. Think first.

37. Leave something unsaid every day.

38. What people say and do has a lot more to do with them than it does you.

39. If it has to be a secret, don’t do it.

40. You are stronger than you think you are.

41. Smile and say Hello to strangers.

42. Never hold your fork with a fist. Proper manners tell a lot about you.

43. Learn how to comfort yourself.

44. Lots of problems could be solved if people just talked openly about things.

45. Anticipation is a big part of happiness. Plan things you can look forward to that will make you happy.

46. Living with gratitude is the pathway to joy.

47. Nothing works until you do.

48. You already know the answer.

So … what would you tell your 16-year-old self? What gems of wisdom have you collected from others? And what do you know for sure?

Making My Case: Why Personal Development is Cool

Posted on June 13, 2013 in Entrepreneurs, Fulfillment, Gratitude, Self Improvement by Sandra Bienkowski

“The aim of life is self-development. To realize one’s nature perfectly—that is what each of us is here for.” Oscar Wilde

My husband and I own lots of personal development books. If you scanned our bookshelves, you’d find lots of titles about goals, fulfilling your potential, happiness and success. We get teased for our collection. People call it “self-help” with disdain. Others joke that our books make them feel like underachievers.

I get it. People like to make fun of personal development (PD) or self-help. It conjures up images of gurus leading people to run across fire or chop wood blocks in half to achieve personal empowerment. Some picture PD as people repeating positive affirmations to mirrors or weeping in the self-help aisle of Barnes and Noble. There’s some woo woo in PD that can give it a bad rap.

It never surprises me when people say they don’t like self-help and they won’t be voraciously reading the books anytime soon. What kills me is that good PD (and there’s a ton of it!) covers fundamental principles that are life-changing. It kills me that people would rather proudly declare that they don’t need those books and wear that sentiment as a badge of honor, than be open to information that could take their lives to a whole new level of happiness and fulfillment. Information like …

Fix yourself first. If you don’t work, nothing else will. I venture to say that more people ignore their issues than tackle them head on. Many people get stuck in their lives at the same point with the same problem, instead of taking a hard look at the underlying internal issue causing the problems. The foundation of PD is to fix YOU first. Get unstuck. People think they have a food problem, a job problem, a relationship problem, but it’s really just a YOU problem—we are all at the source of our problems. We are the common denominator. When you change, everything externally about your life changes too.

Figure out the kind of life you want to have first, then build your life around it. Instead of searching for a job and letting it dictate where you live … Instead of starting life where you end up after high school or college … first decide what kind of life you want to live. What kind of lifestyle do you want? I love the sun and wanted to live in places where it’s sunny most of the time—that’s why I’ve spent most of my adult years in Texas and now North Carolina. Sun makes me happy. I also love to be around people and hustle and bustle, so I live in walking distance to restaurants, shops and a movie theater. I have a sister who is the opposite, the quieter and the more rural, the better for her. It sounds like such a basic tip, but I’ve met lots of people who complain about where they live and can easily list what they don’t like about it, but they act like they can’t move. Life can change with just one decision.

Learn from the success of others so you don’t waste time. I love this principle. Most likely, what you want to do with your life someone has already achieved. Find out how they did it so you can learn their tips and strategies. Learn where they made mistakes so you don’t waste time making the same ones. What sounds like copying is more about being smart with your time. You don’t have to stumble where others have stumbled if you take the time to study them. Personal development legend Jim Rohn once said it would be great if failures gave seminars because then you would know exactly what not to do. Same goes for people who are successful, you can figure out what to do by studying them. As Jim Rohn said, “If you want to make money, study the acquisition of wealth. If you want to be happy, study people who are happy. Only by continuous learning do you open the doors of success.”

Choose to live positively. I know people right now who hate their jobs. HATE. They’d quit if they could. They get out of bed with that sinking feeling in their stomachs. They say things like, “It’s a job, right? I’m not supposed to like it.” And I’ve met people who hate a different aspect of their lives and they live with it, justifying it with sentences like: “Life is supposed to be hard,” or “Life is to be endured” as if suffering is noble. You can sell yourself on negative beliefs, or you can wake up and ask yourself what your life would look like if it was amazing—and then get busy making it so.

PD can be gained from the real stories in your life, not from mirrors and mantras. You can get your PD in all sorts of ways. If you still can’t stomach the self-help aisle of the bookstore, read biographies or find mentors who are more successful than you. Take a course, interview a grandparent, start a deep conversation with a friend or write in a journal. Or when you encounter adversity, ask yourself what you can learn from it. When you are especially happy, notice it, and ask yourself how you can get more of those moments. When you actively work to increase your self-awareness, you will be flooded with moments of clarity and ideas. You just may start listening to that quiet voice inside your head that knows what you need to do.

Being against personal development is like being against growth. Having an interest in it doesn’t mean your life is in tatters. Applying personal development is about living fearlessly—facing problems internally so you can watch everything improve externally. Sometimes immersing yourself in PD just means you want to take your already kick-ass-self up a notch—and do it expediently—so you can get busy loving (your kick-ass) life.

“When you are through learning, you are through.” Paul J. Meyer

What You Don’t Know About My Husband

Posted on March 16, 2013 in Fulfillment by Sandra Bienkowski

I always tell my husband I am lucky because most men aren’t like him. He laughs. I tell him he should hold seminars for other men on how to be better spouses, or just better men. He laughs more. He thinks I am just flattering him.

I base my (admittedly biased) opinion on some of my own dating history, and on those common complaints I hear from other women. Having dated a frog or two before dating my husband, I know what the other side looks like.

There was the boyfriend who lounges for hours in front of NASCAR in his tube socks. The same boyfriend who thinks Red Lobster and a movie is an exciting date night—every week. Then there’s the controlling boyfriend who didn’t want me to have any male friends. One time he sent me roses to work without a card to see if I thanked him, in some bizarre test to see if I was cheating on him. Or the guy who pretended I was about to fall when we went rappelling for the first time because he thought he was funny … you know, as I pushed off over a blind edge, 40 feet up.

Let’s just say I have some case studies in my dating file for comparison and my husband wins. Maybe my husband will believe his awesomeness if he reviews a common list of complaints from women about their spouses, and how none of these grievances apply to him.

unfair distribution of household duties
an imbalance in who cares for the kids
an inability to fix anything
a lack of romance
incurable cheapness
drinking to excess
disinterest in exercise
a preoccupation with sports to the exclusion of other fun things
a lack of sensitivity or selfishness
an inability to plan anything
a lack of desire to leave the house and do things
a temper

Maybe this blog will convince him that he’s a rare breed of husband. Or maybe it will let him know how much I value him.

Every day he does little things to make my day better. In numerous small ways, he silently shows me he is thinking about me. Sometimes I think he’s a magician. Wherever I show up, he’s already been there. I go to make coffee and he’s already made it for me. I go to shower and my bath towel is out. I run an errand and I notice my car is filled with gas. He never goes through a day only considering himself. Whether he is opening my car door or never forgetting to kiss me goodbye when he leaves the house—all of his small acts add up big in my book.

He loves his mother. Not only does he love his mother, but he does things for her without her needing to ask. She calls him her #1 son … jokingly as he’s her only son. I know many men love their mothers, but he respects her immensely, and always wants to hear more stories about her life.

He doesn’t talk badly about people. I aspire to be like my husband in this regard, but when someone really rubs me the wrong way, I gotta talk about it. I have to vent to process and let go. He just doesn’t go there. He rarely gets rattled. He always sees the best in people and instead of being reactive, he’s compassionate. I often wonder if people know that who he is in front of people, is exactly who he is when they aren’t around. He’s congruent to the core.

He loves to get on the board as we say. It’s like we both have a compulsion to see how much we can get accomplished in a day—every day. It enhances our relationship because we are constantly pushing forward together to rapidly fill our lives with experiences. It applies to work and household maintenance stuff, but a huge effort is put forth to add fun and fulfillment to our calendars. I love it because we always have so much to look forward to … trips, family gatherings, new restaurants, spa excursions, the symphony, concerts, festivals, 5k and half marathon races … I am filled with gratitude to be married to someone who wants to fill our lives with adventure and new experiences.

He talks to me. This one may sound funny, but when we took our marriage vows and he had to promise to listen to me, I think I heard laughter or some chuckles coming from our wedding guests. He’s the most frequent recipient of my chattiness, and I have empathy for him in this regard. Let’s just say I know my weaknesses. As dorky as it may sound, we probably have weekly discussions on how to make our already great relationship better. Even though he is more of a quiet mental processer, I love that he always keeps the communication door open for me.

The way I feel about my husband is like the moving scene in the movie As Good As it Gets where Jack Nicholson’s character is in love with Helen Hunt and finally tells her in an authentic way. Stealing his quote and making it apply to my husband:

”I might be the only person on the face of the earth who knows you’re the greatest man on earth. I might be the only one who appreciates how amazing you are in every single thing that you do, every thought that you have, and how you say what you mean, and how you almost always mean something that’s all about being straight and good. I think most people miss that about you, and I watch them, wondering how they can watch you and never get that they just met the greatest man alive. And the fact that I get it makes me feel good, about me.”

Put simply, I really love my husband. And he really should teach classes to other men.

A Month of Mini Miracles

Posted on February 12, 2013 in Adoption, Fulfillment, Gratitude, Happiness by Sandra Bienkowski

I’ve always thought there are no coincidences. And while my husband and I love to plan our days, it amazes me how life can toss your To Do list out the window and show you what’s truly important. Any day you wake up, everything can change.

When I woke up on January 11th at 6:30 a.m. my first thought was: I’m so tired. Waking up every 10 minutes isn’t an ideal way to sleep. Giving up, I got out of bed and decided to look for a maternity dress to wear to my baby shower the next day. After rummaging through my closet, I found one. I stepped into the bathroom to try it on and suddenly my water broke all over me and the bathroom floor. I stared down at my feet in disbelief.

So the day began as I called out to my husband Reed and said, “I think we have a problem,” and the day ended for us as a new family.

Our twins are here. We had our minds set on February 1st. That was our plan, make it to February 1st. It was the magical safe zone in our heads … 36 weeks pregnant with twins. But there we were, on a rainy January 11th morning, making our way to the hospital at 33 weeks pregnant. Less than 12 hours later, our girls entered the world, their tiny bodies lifted into the air, born 20 minutes apart—our two mini miracles.

Call it intuition. My mom was going to fly or drive to stay with us and help for three months starting on February 1st. She really didn’t want to miss the birth of our girls, so I called her up one day and asked if she’d come earlier, just in case. The date she chose to fly out? January 11th—the day we welcomed our girls into the world. As we made our way to the hospital, she was making her way to the airport. She had no idea I was in labor until my husband called her at the airport. What makes the story more special is that it’s my birth mom, who I searched and found when I was 26. She never thought she’d recover from having to give me up for adoption when she was a teenager, and here she was arriving just in time to meet her new granddaughters and be a part of their lives from the beginning.

The little things. Going home from the hospital without your babies is awful. Chalk it up to one of my least favorite emotions experienced ever. I knew our girls received stellar care in the NICU (or as one nurse told me: “Think of it as the most expensive babysitters you will ever have.”) and it was just a matter of time before they’d be discharged, but our painfully quiet house filled with all things baby, was difficult to endure. It gave me a brief insight into the pain of what my birth mom must have experienced, going home without a baby, but her pain wasn’t temporary.

My sister made our homecoming better. With her extra set of keys to our house, she decorated our house for a celebration. Pink girl balloons tied to our mailbox, yummy groceries, flower arrangements, homemade soup, and champagne chilled on ice awaited our return. The love from my sister made the first night tolerable. Her touches made me feel hopeful.

While NICU nurses might have a serious job to do, the small touches meant so much as our girls spent three weeks in the NICU before coming home. I was given little bits of cloth to put my scent on as I slept, to place next to the girls tiny faces in their isolettes the next day. The NICU nurses took time to do baby footprints and a volunteer dropped by with homemade guardian angels to hang above their isolettes. Strangers made us blankets for the girls.

Grandparents were already spoiling our new girls. Other family and friends flooded us with baby gifts. Friends stopped by our house with cookies. Love kept showing up in tiny ways to carry us through.

My friend went into labor too. My husband and I went to a Marvelous Multiples class where we met another couple, Alicia and Mike. We both were carrying twins due the same week. Two boys on the way for them, two girls for us. We both went into early labor just days apart and ended up next to them in the NICU. While lots of moms carrying multiples experience preterm labor, there were so many similarities in our stories and we were able to talk, share and support each other through the process. Now they are new and lasting friends and we can’t wait to get together with them for some twin outings.

The name Marie. To pay tribute to my birth mom and explain my adoption story to our girls someday, we used the middle name my birth mom gave me at birth, Marie, as the middle name for our new daughter Riley … Riley Marie.

Two birthdays and two birthday gifts. On my Birthday, Jan. 21, 10 days after the girls entered the world, they were removed from enclosed separate isolettes and moved into one open crib—together. Ever since they were reunited, they turn toward one another. They may start out on their backs, but they always turn to face each other and reach out to touch each other’s hands. And on my husband’s Birthday, coming up March 1, our girls will officially be full-term … a day I consider to be their second Birthday. A day we can all celebrate life’s mini-miracles.

What was originally on my To Do list for January 11th? Writing work for clients, get groceries, get my nails done, call the vet, write a blog … but a different plan was in store for us. A plan of welcoming two new precious lives into the world—surrounded with the love from family, friends, new friends and strangers. In 24 hours, everything can change.

Cool as a Cucumber: How to Develop Coping Skills

Posted on December 20, 2012 in Fulfillment, Gratitude, Happiness, Self Improvement by Sandra Bienkowski

“Sometimes life knocks you on your ass—get up, get up, get up! Happiness is not the absence of problems; it’s the ability to deal with them.” – Steve Maraboli

I was reading an article in a parenting magazine that said there are two types of parents—frenzied/stressed or calm. I immediately thought, “That can’t be true. People are complex and don’t fall into such concrete categories.” (I also thought that statement might infuriate a lot of moms … particularly of the stressed out variety.) So I quickly thought about a handful of moms I know, and was surprised to discover I could immediately categorize them into one of the two camps—frazzled or serene. And then it made sense to me, whether you are a stress monster or the queen of tranquility is really a matter of choice. It’s a choice for everyone—regardless of whether you have kids.

When I was in my early twenties, I was in the stressed category, but I wanted out. I was an expert at creating drama in my life. I was depressed. If you named an aspect of my life—money, love, work, health, family, friendships—I could tell you what was wrong with it. When you are in depression’s grip, each aspect of your life has a tendency to spiral downward. Toss in a little denial and you don’t connect the dots that you are the common denominator of your problems. Fortunately, I knew I needed help. Talk therapy with a blunt (and funny) psychologist helped me transition to a more peaceful state of existence. He said I needed to learn some coping skills. (I didn’t even know the term … coping skills.) Some of the fundamentals he taught me, I still rely on today. Here are a few …

Set boundaries. This was a big one. Setting boundaries is about curing the disease to please. It’s about standing up for yourself, letting people know your limits and teaching people how to treat you. It’s about saying No or telling people when they have crossed a line.

I realized through counseling, that every time you cross a boundary, blur a boundary or fail to set any, life goes downhill—fast. I entered therapy not even being able to recognize boundaries, and came out seeing where they were needed left and right. Setting boundaries is about expressing your needs, preventing others from exploiting you, protecting your time and energy, and honoring how you really feel by being genuine.

Recognizing boundaries is about paying attention to those times and events that give you a sinking feeling because it’s a sign that your self-respect or personal power is being compromised. Your boundaries define and draw an invisible line around what’s acceptable to you and what’s not.

Best-selling author and personal development expert Cheryl Richardson has a great quote on boundaries … “Too often women neglect to stand up for themselves by avoiding confrontation and end up weakening their internal shield, making it harder to set boundaries at all. So, if someone offends you, it may be necessary to let them know in order to protect and strengthen your internal boundaries.”

Shatter your mirrors. Stop looking to other people to determine how you should feel about yourself. Shattering your mirrors means you go internal to determine your self-worth instead of letting it be determined or shaped by other people and experiences. Other ways to shatter your mirrors …

See yourself through your own eyes, not someone else’s.

Own your own thoughts and trust your perceptions.

Make decisions for yourself and not to simply please others so they will like you.

Realize you have as many answers as anyone else.

Know you are resilient. Effectively coping with life’s ups and downs is at the heart of resilience. Living with gratitude fosters resilience because you stay focused on the positives even through adversity. Resilience is about how you respond to situations. You don’t define your existence by fleeting experiences or temporary emotions. Resilience begins by telling yourself you are strong and reminding yourself of it when you need to hear it.

Resilience is so important because it builds a barrier from anxiety and depression because you have built up your internal and external resources to cope and you walk around with that strength.

Internally resilience is built by taking care of your needs and not neglecting them for the sake of others. It’s about facing experiences head on instead of burying your head in the sand. When you choose hope over helplessness or have faith in yourself to handle all situations you are being resilient.

Externally, being able to reach out to others for support or help when you need it is actually a form of resilience.

Discover the art of comforting yourself. When it comes to managing stress, being able to comfort yourself is crucial. Comforting yourself is actually a skill you can practice. Be on your own side. Show compassion to yourself when you make mistakes. Realize no one is perfect. Build up your internal support system with a stream of positive internal thoughts. Sounds cliché, but comforting yourself is really about treating yourself just as you would treat a best friend.

I share some of these coping essentials because they changed my life. Implementing them can slowly shift your life from chaos to fulfillment. While a certain amount of stress is a normal occurrence in life and can’t be avoided, being a living embodiment of stress is not healthy. With the right coping skills, you can choose to live in a state of calmness, instead of in a state of continual stress.

Speak Up

Posted on December 7, 2012 in Fulfillment, Self Improvement by Sandra Bienkowski

“Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.” –Sigmund Freud

I was about 20 when the movie Pump Up the Volume came out. I loved it. At the time, the hotness factor of Christian Slater was a big draw … but it was really the message of the movie I loved the most—talk hard, steal the air.

If you haven’t watched the movie, Christian Slater plays a loner high school student by day who starts an FM pirate radio station to broadcast his anger/ angst at night, from the basement of his parents’ house.

The movie was about teenage rebellion, but the bigger, underlying message was about speaking out. And I love that! I think people, many people, would have far fewer problems, and vastly better lives, if they just decided to give voice to what’s going on with them internally. Yet so many people don’t.

I don’t mean walking up to a random stranger on the street and dishing about your personal problems. When you are on the receiving end of that, it’s just plain weird. I am talking about taking the courageous step to talk to someone—a friend, a family member, a professional, a spouse—about whatever issue is weighing you down.

People appear to have an easier time medicating, drinking, eating or stuffing their problems instead of giving their problems voice. If I could start a crusade, I think making people talk would be my mission. Since I try my best to keep appropriate boundaries and not meddle in other people’s lives uninvited, I obviously can’t make people talk. I can, however, write this blog encouraging people to do so, even if it helps just one person.

I realize not everyone is a talker like I am. Growing up I talked to journals. I have more journals than years I’ve been alive. In my early twenties I talked to a psychologist weekly to overcome depression from a less than functional growing up experience. I credit the time spent in talk therapy for changing my life.

I get disheartened to hear about how many people are on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications because I believe so strongly that so many problems can be solved with talking. I understand some people desperately need these medications or their lives might be in jeopardy, but I am always perplexed when I hear of people only taking medicine—and they aren’t talking to someone professionally. Medications alone act as Band-Aids covering up underlying issues that need to be resolved.

Things get better when you talk about them. It’s not a sign of mental health to pretend you have it all together or to make it look like you do. It’s not a sign of mental health to let medications do all the work for you.

Not talking can lead to isolation and depression. It can cause you to expend a great deal of energy pretending you feel one way when you really feel a different way. It’s exhausting. Suppressing your emotions isn’t being real. Not giving voice to whatever is dragging you down negatively impacts the relationships you have with others, but ends up hurting you the most. Unresolved issues can negatively impact the relationship you have with yourself, and can compromise your health and quality of life. As the saying goes, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.”

Talking is powerful and it can be life-changing. Healing your past emotional experience creates a joyful present experience. Talk instead. I think the world is filled with empathic ears. I always connect easier with friends and family who can authentically talk about it all—the good, the bad, the ugly. Talking brings people together. It connects us. We all relate.

To send it back to Christian Slater from the movie:

“No more hiding. Listen, we’re all worried, we’re all in pain. That just comes with having eyes and with having ears … I gotta believe, with everything in me, the whole world is longing for healing. Even the trees, the Earth itself are crying out for it. You can hear it everywhere. Same kinda healing I desperately needed, and I finally feel has begun, with you.”

There’s nothing in your way but you. Just start talking.

Put Worry Less on Your To Do List

Posted on August 6, 2012 in Fulfillment, Happiness, Self Improvement by Sandra Bienkowski

I interviewed Wayne Dyer a few years ago and he said something that stuck with me. “Worry is the most useless of emotions.” I jotted it down in my notebook and made a mental note to think about it later. Worry? Useless? So we should aspire to get rid of worry?

Worry was one of those things I just thought we do as humans, kind of like breathing. We worry about the majors—when the life of anyone we love is at stake, but there are 1,000 minor ways we all drum up worry too. What if I get sick on vacation? Do I have enough time to meet my deadline? What if I eat this bowl of ice cream and gain weight? What if my Facebook post isn’t as funny as I think it is and I am defriended in droves? You know … regular every day worry!

Then I realized Dr. Dyer was right. Worry is useless. It only makes you feel negative emotions—fear, anxiety, brooding, panic or stress. Worry never gets you to a better place. Worry doesn’t change outcomes.

I think many of us may mistakenly believe worry is a prayer in reverse. If we brood and worry and put ourselves in a negative space, maybe those bad outcomes won’t happen. The reality is, whether we worry or not, the outcome will be the same. Worry only lengthens the time we spend simmering in negative soup.

So, I made up my mind. I’d start worrying less. Fast forward to today, and I think everyone should put Worry Less on their To Do lists because there are so many benefits.

Worry takes over your mind. I heard once that worrisome thoughts produce faster than rabbits. You get a headache and you think it is brain cancer. Bored one day you read the little packet of info that comes with your box of tampons, and immediately you think you have toxic shock syndrome. Worry can multiply in your mind. But you can stop it. Just say, “That’s ridiculous” and move your mind along to a positive place.

Worry can make little things seem big. Take this very moment as an example. As I write this, I’m stuck in the Boston airport with a flight delay that will make me miss my connection home. I made a decision not to worry about it. I can’t change it. I can, however, decide not to let it impact me negatively. I say, “Oh well” and I tell my brain something positive like: Now you have more time to write your blog. It’s so much more relaxing than having an emotional reaction to something I have zero control over.

Worry keeps you stuck. You can worry that you won’t meet Mr. Right, like I used to, but that can keep you with Mr. Wrong too long. You can worry about making the wrong decision and that can prevent you from making any decisions at all. Worry can keep you stuck, but it won’t keep you safe.

Worry doesn’t change anything. Do you ever notice that when you worry about certain things or situations, you later realize the worrying part was worse than the actual thing you were worried about? It’s easy to let worry spiral until it gets you into a state of angst. That’s why it’s important to remember it’s a useless emotion. It doesn’t improve your life.

Worry gets you tangled up in what people think of you. I used to be afflicted with the disease to please. I came out of my childhood naively thinking I could have a life where everyone would like me. Soon I cared more about what other people thought of me than my own opinion of myself. It was like I was an empty bucket and I kept approaching everyone for a cup of water. When I stopped worrying about what other people thought of me, I became more likeable … to others and to me. It’s also empowering because you no longer need anyone’s approval. How liberating is that? Worrying about what other people think is living an imprisoned life. Decide your opinion about your life is the only one that matters.

Reducing worry in your life is a work in process. I keep my own version of the serenity prayer in my head to tackle worry. First, I ask myself if I can do anything about it. If I can do something, then I take action. Action always helps mitigate worry. If I can’t do anything about a potential source of worry, I accept it and let go.

Ironically, it’s calming to let go of outcomes you can’t do anything about. Using your energy to try and control things you can’t control is exhausting—and futile. Plus, you free up your energy to focus on all of those things you can control.

Don’t make the mistake of believing your worrying state is helping you direct your life. It isn’t. If you make a resolution to give up on worry you will actually have more control of your life than you have ever had before. No longer will you be devoting your mental space to negative emotions and energy of what might happen. Instead, you will be busy making your life happen.

There are so many better places to let your mind live than in the land of worry. As author Dan Zadra says, “Worry is a misuse of imagination.”