Sunday, May 25, 2014

Book Spotlight: Smile At Your Challenges by Danielle Pashko

Smile At Your Challenges: 
It takes more than just going gluten-free, drinking green juice, and practicing yoga to solve your problems
by Danielle Pashko

Genre: Inspirational/Self Help/Wellness
ISBN: 978-1-4949-4904-4
Publisher: Create Space
Release Date: February 27, 2014
Pages: 120
Amazon Link 

Danielle Pashko began her Wellness career over fifteen years ago in New York City. After losing her mother to breast cancer as a little girl, optimizing her own health became an obsession. Ironically, after years of living as a “Picture of Health” and becoming the go-to practitioner for everyone else’s physical problems, Danielle was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Her strongly ingrained philosophy of restrictive eating and physical discipline had to be questioned. “Was drinking green juice, going gluten free, veganism and a daily yoga practice a cure all?” While still continuing healthy dietary and lifestyle habits, her personal experience with illness opened a window of exploration to the relationship between emotions and the body’s wellbeing. Her conclusion was that the past chapters of our life are often a reflection of our present health.

Danielle believes that we can take all the external measures in the world to achieve health and happiness, but there are never any guarantees. Smile At Your Challenges is her personal story of overcoming unexpected obstacles (in all areas of life) and even having humor about it. We plan and God laughs, but there's always a reason behind our circumstance. Replete with anecdotes and observations about the human condition, this is a book that invites thoughtful consideration of our relationships with others, our relationship with a higher power and, most importantly, the ongoing relationship we nurture – or should be nurturing - with our own selves.



            Why do some people have all the luck and you have it so hard? I guess it all depends on what you consider to be “lucky.”

            No one has everything and we’re all constantly tested with challenges - some much more difficult than others. It’s hard to perceive coping with things that are extremely difficult until we are actually faced with them. Just because the pain of a situation may bring on fear, anxiety, depression or uncertainty, it doesn’t mean that you’re weak. What’s important is to acknowledge those uncomfortable feelings rather than dismissing them and denying their existence. Nor should you have to feel ashamed that your situation seems insignificant compared to people who are starving in Africa or your grandparents who are Holocaust survivors. Everything is relative to what is familiar to you. Once you sit for a while with that pain from your disappointment, you then need to learn to tap into your own unique strengths that can pull you out. While some of these strengths are more obvious, others must be uncovered.

            As I have shared throughout this book, my childhood and teenage years were full of pain. Losing my mother, having an abusive stepfather, an absent biological father, not fitting in after going to four different high schools, exposure to drugs all around, and having to support myself at 16 when I was basically poor – no, this was not a charmed life by any stretch of the imagination! If I was another child and you told me that all of these things were going to happen, I’d say, “There’s no way I can possibly handle it.”

            It’s amazing, though, how we’re wired to tap into survival mode when we need to. It’s like the story of the mother who lifted up a car to rescue her baby. The fight or flight response kicks in and we do what we need to do if our life or the life of someone we love is at stake. Throughout my adolescence and into young adulthood I had to think fast on my feet and say, “Okay, how can I get out of this situation and have some stability going forward? How can I make a living with no one helping me?” I wasn’t a great student. I was a terrible test-taker and scored horribly on my S.A.T.’s. I also knew the schools that would accept me weren’t the top-tier universities. I remember thinking, “I’m never going to be a doctor, lawyer, or high powered businesswoman. I need to find a way to hustle.”

            What I did have going for me was that even though I wasn’t “book smart” per se, I had more emotional intelligence than anyone else my age - and years beyond - because of all my hardships. I was a good communicator, very presentable, and always articulate. I absorbed much more in the school of life than in a classroom. Given the opportunity to meet them in person, people always liked me. It, therefore, became clear that doing something related to building relationships would become my greatest strength. Instead of dwelling on all of the things I felt I was lacking, I embraced my ability to read people and to be sensitive to their personal and/or health related struggles. Little did I know at the time that the groundwork was being laid for my becoming a wellness consultant.

            It’s interesting to witness how the scales are always balanced. You could be fabulously rich and yet somehow feel lonely and unfulfilled. You may have so much love and a wonderful family but money may not come easy to you. You might have everything going for you but get sick or lose a loved one. You could even be drop-dead gorgeous but find that you’re the last single one out of all your friends who are now happily married. It’s a lesson to not be jealous - because no one has everything.

            Even when I felt like I was doing a good job of coping with my past- experiencing divorce, followed by a string of crappy relationships, getting cancer and going broke made me feel like the ground under me was so unstable that I could sink at any minute. After hitting rock bottom, the revelation I had was that I had to change my thinking.

            I literally began to look at every challenge as a pass/fail test. Each time something really bad happened, it became a game to me. Now let me make clear that I definitely slipped - that’s part of being human - but quickly I had to work on removing myself from the situation as if I were observing as an outsider. I wouldn’t allow myself to fall into a depression. Sometimes I’d try to become a problem-solver but other times I had to give up my fears and have some faith. We all know the expression, “We plan and God laughs.” It’s easy to think an aspect of strength is to always be in control, but strength actually comes from allowing the right outcome to occur. I began to realize that when things didn’t go my way - when the relationship didn’t work out, when the job that seemed like a dream was lost - it was all part of a bigger picture leading me to where I needed to be. There were so many times that these so called catastrophes even saved my life.

            None of that was apparent, of course, while I was actually enduring the experience. Only when the reasons for the hardship were revealed to me much later did I finally learn I could take each situation and understand why it had to go down exactly the way it did. Although things seemed bad, the pain was only temporary and I was always okay in the end. I just had a choice whether to suffer or ride the situation and expect to move through it. When you stop to think about it, it’s not much different than rough air or turbulence on a plane.
            For many people, it’s a lot easier to assume a victim mentality. That approach, however, typically leads them down a road of unhappiness, potential substance abuse, and always placing blame on others. When I was told I had thyroid cancer, for instance, I thought, “More shit? Really?” As much as I had been terrified of this moment ever manifesting, I strangely felt a sense of calm when it actually hit. I had two choices: I could feel defeated or I could use all the tools that I had been armed with from all my studying. After all, I was a yoga teacher, I counseled clients nutritionally, and I had tremendous faith in God. Was I going to suddenly be a little mouse and forget everything I based my existence on?!

            I decided I was going to handle this like a champion. Not that I’m at all in the same category, but how would Buddha, Jesus or Moses face this situation? When I was at the hospital the day of my surgery, I remember joking around with my anesthesiologist and the surgeon before I went under. I also forced myself to smile and visualize coming out healthy when the procedure was over. Although I was wobbly and not feeling so hot when I woke up, I kept my mind strong. From then on after, that’s what I did.

            Whether you feel weak physically or emotionally, a strong mind is what will give you the drive to get through your challenge. When I had crappy days, I refused to give energy to my weakness. It didn’t stop me from gently exercising, doing restorative yoga, or anything physical that gave my body confidence. I had to work my way back up to where I used to be but it all started with small steps. At this moment I’m totally better and my body is stronger than ever. In many ways, I feel like it was a blessing. I don’t take things for granted, and it was a great lesson on how to look fear in the face and work through it.

            Some of our greatest accomplishments are during the scariest times. In many ways it’s like training to prepare you for the next challenge. Whether you’re a parent, spouse, business owner, or in a position that you are relied upon by others, having experienced tough challenges will help you to stay composed and reinforce a sense of calm and stability to everyone around you. There’s always one person that is the glue holding the whole family or the business together. Is that person you?

            Train yourself not to fall apart. Instead of watching too much Reality TV, rent a martial arts movie (or one of my favorites such as Rocky on Netflix) and tap into your inner warrior. Life has great moments but it’s definitely a series of ups and downs. If everything is easy and you don’t have challenges, there’s not much incentive to grow and become a better person. Without pain, we are blind to blessings.

            The next time you think you can’t get through your dilemma, remove yourself from your situation for a minute. Try to be objective as an observer and give yourself the advice you’d dispense if you were mentoring a good friend. Have trust that your circumstance is only temporary and you will move through this. It’s your choice to handle it with pain or be at peace with the outcome, even if it’s not the one you want.

            When you handle things in a high light - meaning from a place of faith and conviction - you will see later why everything had to unfold the way it did. Remember we all have the ability to cope within us. We are never faced with challenges we cannot handle.

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