Moving Beyond Perfection

Meet Sandi.

She discovered her first Determined to Shine class in August 2016 – and has taken every single one of them since then!

Before finding Determined to Shine, Sandi didn’t like to draw and would criticize herself relentlessly if she made a mistake while creating art.

Now, everything is different. Here’s her story:

“I have always enjoyed art, and was often told that I was a good artist, but I never really believed it. I had a LOT of trauma and abuse in my youth, which trashed my self esteem. My high school art teacher told me I was not a good artist. I became a person who would constantly criticize and doubt myself, making it so I did not enjoy drawing.

Determined to Shine has helped me use my art to process what I have experienced in my life, both the good and the bad.

It helped me separate what happened TO me from who I AM, and it has brought more joy into my life. Allyson provided some artistic strategies that help me work through those times where I get stuck in my head or get overly critical or negative about myself or my art. I always know that I have things in place to pick up and use or create to help bring me back to my authentic, happy self.

I’ve learned to stop drawing for the approval of others. I started enjoying the process as much as the final product. I realized that by relaxing and enjoying the process, I usually liked the final product much more. I also realized that when I relax and enjoy the journey, I often learn something about myself or find solutions to problems or issues in my life. The 30 Days of Journaling class was such a beautiful artistic process. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I have repeated the class three times! Each time, I have been able to process different issues in my life, diving deeper into the core of who I really am. I love the transition my art has made with this class – and for the first time, I am actually proud of it!

I learned that I don’t need to change who I am or what I enjoy to please those around me. All that I HAVE to do is be my most authentic self! What others think of me is none of my business – I DO NOT have to spend my life trying to please others. I am not in charge of their feelings. I also learned that it is worth investing in myself, because in doing so, the return on my investment is priceless!!

It’s really hard to choose, but I think my Vision Book from the Envision class is my favorite Determined to Shine class project so far. I have found that having my dreams and goals in a book right at my fingertips has been amazing! I can easily add steps or ideas that come up along the way, and it also gives me a place to document my successes as for positive reinforcement. It covers so many aspects of my life, from health to work to art. I love that you can set up your Envision book to have any sections that you wish, that are relevant to you and your own needs and wants.


Signing up for personalized coaching with Allyson was a big investment for me. It was the first time I invested this much in myself, but I am so glad I did! Before Determined to Shine, I never would have invested money on myself in this way. It’s amazing – I will pay to go to the doctor, I will pay for the vitamins and medicines that I “need,” but I would never before have put money into making me a happier, freer person!! And I am SO glad I did!!

I find I am truly happier and more relaxed within my own skin. I know that probably sounds cliché, but I have always spent too much time worrying about how others felt about me and trying to please them.

Life is all about mistakes – about accepting, moving on, and adjusting! Before Determined to Shine, if things weren’t perfect, or I made a small mistake, I would trash it and start over. Now, I move on and look forward to seeing what I create!

Ready for YOUR transformation?
One spot remains in the Soul Investment Program – your golden ticket to EVERYTHING Determined to Shine offers in 2018. A 20% savings offer is available today only, so don’t miss your only chance to work one-on-one with Allyson in the coming year. Learn more here. Questions about the program? Email to set up a quick call with Allyson to discuss if the program is right for you.

Sandi’s story and artwork are used with her permission. Each week, Determined to Shine will be featuring a new student story. Interested in being featured? Email with the subject line “Featured Student.”

Making the list.

It was a bad day in the middle of February. It was freezing outside and snow was everywhere. I was tired. I was grieving. All I could focus on was what a mess my world had become. I was not feeling very hopeful about my Brave New Life – in fact, I was just plain missing my Boring Old Life. I remember saying out loud that I just hated every single thing about my life and that I couldn’t think of one single good thing that had happened since I’d lost my husband. And almost as quickly as the words were out of my mouth, I realized what a huge, horrible lie that was.

Because there had been good things. And actually, plenty of them. When stuck in depressed-grief land, it’s sure hard to see them, but they’re there. As I’d already learned, life was going on – with or without me as a willing participant. And life, by nature, can bring thousands of wonderful moments, if only we stop to notice them.

So I decided to notice. And write them down. I was going to make a list of 100 of my favorite moments, people, and things that had come into my life since that day last June. And as I started paying attention, and began writing them down, I began to see the evidence I needed.

Now, I’m one of those people that believes in the gratitude journal. At the end of each day, I write down 3 of my happiest moments from the day. And that practice has helped me maintain a positive attitude for the past several years. But this list was different. It wasn’t just about day-to-day gratitude.

The list was about recognizing that since the day of his death, from the very first traumatic moment, there have been good things. I just had to be willing to see them.

So I started writing. Started listing. What’s on my list so far? Big things, small things, silly things. Things like this:

2. I rekindled a friendship with a college friend. We now talk all the time, and it’s meant a lot to me to have him in my life again.

13. I hung tacky ceramic vintage owls on my office wall. The husband never would have approved.

21. I bowled over 100.

29. I saw Rudy, my favorite movie of all time, on the big screen for the first time, thanks to Theatre Cedar Rapids’ vintage movie nights.

30. I went to Shrek: the Musical. And bought Shrek ears. Because really, who doesn’t need Shrek ears?

33. I got 5 high scores in a row while playing Just Dance 2.

37. Gracie (my Beagle) still knows when I need puppy kisses and cuddles.

45. I wore an ugly Christmas sweater.

49. I did the Cupid Shuffle while waiting to use a port-a-potty at an Iowa Football tailgate.

51. The best friend still listened to my heartache today. I’ve realized she isn’t going anywhere.


55. I bet this guy $5 that he wouldn’t eat a dead cricket. And lost.

60. I sang really badly at karaoke night – and had more fun on stage than I could have possibly imagined.

61. After my previously scheduled plans went awry, I did what any normal girl would do – I decided to go play Skee Ball.

And the list keeps going. I try to add to it every week, and while I haven’t quite hit 100 things yet, I don’t plan to stop there.

I love the idea that maybe five years from now, even ten years from now, I’m still adding to this one list. I can imagine opening it up and adding item number 2,714. I have no idea what my future holds for me. Right now, it’s hard to predict beyond the next two months, let alone the next two years.

But what I do know is that if I keep adding to this list, the goodness in my life can only grow. And knowing that all of that good started after my very worst day is the most important piece of all. Because nothing can ever change what happened that day. But it’s my hope that years from now, I can look back at it, at all of this, and know that it was that day that gave me strength. Courage. Eventually, even hope. And that while that day was most certainly horrific, my life is most certainly not. And my list is all the proof I need.

My inbox runneth over.

And over. And over.

Today is Day 5 in the life of this little blog, and I couldn’t be more overwhelmed by the response. Approaching 1,500 page views already, with many positive comments here, and tons over on Facebook. But what’s really blowing my mind is the state of my inbox. Dozens and dozens of messages – most of which I have yet to reply to – and over and over again, the message is the same.

“Me, too.”
“I’ve battled depression for the last 7 years.”
“I lost someone to suicide, too.”
“You never knew this about me, but I’ve been depressed my entire life.”
“Thank you for saying what I’ve never been able to say.”

These messages have me thinking. Why do we choose to stay silent? Is there still a stigma attached to depression? Are we afraid that we’ll be seen as weak or incompetent? Even after my husband died, it took me more than 9 months to speak up and admit the truth. Now, when I feel depression seeping back in, I smoke a little marijuana (Read more about how to access it here) and immediately feel relieved of the burden. It allows me to think clearly again so that I can pinpoint what has triggered those feelings, and come up with some solutions. It always helps to speak to others too; a problem shared is a problem halved, which is why I think it’s so terrible that there are people too scared to speak up.

So what’s the deal?

I spent some time thinking about my own journey with the stinky beast called depression. Back in high school and college, I really had the opposite problem. I’d tell ANYONE who would listen how depressed I was. I’d complain about how alone I was and how it felt like no one cared about me. I was really just spouting off to get a response. To have someone tell me they loved me – even though there was really no chance I’d believe them anyway. It wasn’t about getting help – it was manipulative, and it wasn’t okay. And to those of you who chose to weather the storm and stick by my side anyway, I thank you. Please accept this belated apology. I knew I needed help, but I just didn’t know how to get it.

As I got older, I realized what I’d been doing. I healed. And depression became a thing of my past. As long as I stuck to my 3 rules, I pretty much stayed on top of the game. A co-worker (who later became one of my best friends) told me I was the “happiest person she’d ever met.” I was
floored. It seemed I’d really beaten this thing.

But battling depression is a life-long process, and for those who’ve dealt with it in any significant capacity, I think it lurks in the shadows, ready to emerge again when life throws you a curveball. That’s why you have to be ready for it. It’s always good to know which coping method works for you, especially when you start feeling depressed. I know some people who use cannabis as their main source of relief from depression. Some of them enjoy the traditional way of smoking it, whilst others prefer to use a gravity bong to smoke their cannabis. I’ve heard that cannabis can be effective to help people cope with depression, at least my friends seem to think so.

For me, that curveball was my husband’s suicide. And even though the entire world knew I couldn’t possibly be doing okay, I was determined to hide it. Because I didn’t want to be “that girl” again. But in reality, I hadn’t been that girl in years. I just had to trust the woman I’d become.

I would argue that speaking up when we are hurting, when we truly want help, when we really do need to know that we are not alone shouldn’t just be encouraged, it should be mandatory. Why do we decide to hide? I’ve explained that I didn’t want you to worry. That I didn’t want my friends and family to have to carry the burden of my pain. But really, isn’t that what love is all about? Aren’t we all really here, on this great big planet of ours, to take care of each other?

In the 5 days since I spoke out, so many of you have reached out with your stories. And this outpouring of the truth has filled me with joy. Not because you are hurting, but because maybe we can help carry each other along this path through life.

What if we all decided to stop pretending? What if we all took a moment to examine our deepest, darkest places and figure out why we’re keeping them from the people we love? Wouldn’t the world be a better, bolder, more beautiful place if we chose to be our most authentic selves?

In the words of the immortal Dr. Seuss, “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.” Maybe it really is just that simple.

I am so very thankful that the truth is coming out – for me, and for so many others. I’ve spent the last 5 days feeling lighter and freer than I’ve ever felt before. In some ways, it feels like I’m just one week old. As it turns out, there was really nothing to be afraid of after all. As it turns out, admitting I wasn’t as strong as I wanted you to believe might just be my greatest act of strength to date.

The view from here.

Yesterday was a big day. Launching the blog. Lifting a weight off my shoulders that I’d been carrying for months. When I hit “publish” on that first post, I really only knew one thing. That I had to do this. I couldn’t be silent anymore. I couldn’t pretend anymore. What I didn’t know is what reaction I would receive – or honestly, if there’d be much of a reaction at all.

Tonight, I find myself overwhelmed by the response – an outpouring of love I couldn’t have possibly imagined. Yesterday’s post was viewed more than 600 times. I received countless messages of support, many from friends I hadn’t heard from in more than 10 years. (I suppose that is, indeed, the power of Facebook.) As a widow, I spend a great deal of time feeling alone. My house is often quiet, and I haven’t quite adjusted. But yesterday, with each
message, email, Facebook comment, and phone call, I realized that I’m not really alone at all. And for that, I thank you.

But what was most meaningful of all was something I hadn’t yet expected. Several of you shared the blog with people I’ve never met. And some of those people subscribed. They liked the blog link on YOUR Facebook pages, not mine. They said it was a message they’d been needing to hear – which is exactly why I decided to start writing this in the first place.

Next week, I’ll begin posting here regularly. Some posts, much like yesterday’s, will share parts of my personal story. Others will feature practical advice and techniques for getting – and staying – out of bed on those awful, life-is-out-to-get-me sort of days. I’ll also be sharing additional resources that have helped me, along with inspiring affirmations, messages, and videos for days when you just need a little motivation.

Again, to those of you who reached out in support, please know that your words meant more to me than I can say. And to those of you who are hurting, I promise you that it is indeed possible to find your way out of bed and into the light. Let’s do this together.

I’ll see you Monday.