Updated: May 18, 2022
At lunch with my Oma in 2019, I asked how she made it through so many of the challenges she has overcome in her life. She shared a simple and powerful sentence, "You have to lift yourself up."
In her 87 years, my Oma has seen some very difficult times. She was born in Bochum, Germany during World War II. As a child, during the war she was relocated hundreds of miles from her home with her mom and one of her sisters because of the intensity of the bombings her hometown was suffering. At the time, she wasn't sure when or if she'd see her dad or oldest sister again. She immigrated to the US at 25 not knowing English. She lost her youngest son in car accident when he was 18 and her husband to a stroke after more than 50 years being married.
Yet, for as long as I have known her, Oma is always quick to smile, to celebrate and to share joy. I like to think I may have inherited some of her positive spirit through spending so much time together when I was little. Since grade school, I've had report cards praising my positive attitude and enthusiasm. And working 15 years in fundraising, colleagues have often appreciated my ability to find the sunny side in a trade that regularly requires resilience through rejection.
Oma's advice got my thinking about what has helped power my optimism. And so, in February 2020 (oddly perfect timing in retrospect), I made a zine summarizing seven strategies I find myself using: Hope, Gratitude, Perspective, Focus, Empathy, Choice and Imagination. I smile seeing even more familial influence here -- from my Mom who always encouraged me to send thank you notes & to this day still gifts me sweet handmade cards I can send, to my Dad who has a tendency to think about time in more of a geological scale.
To me, positivity and "lifting yourself up" doesn't mean shielding yourself from what is hard, sad and painful. Rather, a positive mindset is a tool that can help you with context as you are navigating through a difficult situation and/or sitting with uncomfortable emotions. The context reminds you that time will pass and you have untapped strengths and agency that can help you keep going.
Since the pandemic, I've sent out out hundreds of copies of my handmade zine-- sharing with friends, colleagues and lots of little libraries. Earlier this year, my brother-in-law Clayton Haggarty helped me create a much improved 2.0 version with his beautiful illustrations.
And so today, I'm excited that Microcosm Publishing will be able to help spread these simple ideas even further to reach a bigger audience by publishing it and making it available through their online store and other bookstores they distribute to. If you're in Milwaukee, you'll also be able to find it at Lion's Tooth! I hope this wisdom from my Oma might inspire you or someone you know through any obstacle you are facing and as always, you can find the 1.0 handmade version on my Zines page if ever you need a reminder!