Nothing But a Shell Game

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Nothing But a Shell Game

I’m not a big journal keeper, but over the years there have been times when I’ve taken a moment or two to jot some things down. I like the fancy spiral bound journals found in bookstores and have several lying around the house just in case a moment of inspiration strikes. One is covered in leopard print velveteen. On a lark, I started flipping through it. It was, in part, a gratitude journal. I also found a flower Mac gave me pressed between the pages and Andersen’s toddler scribbles. Sadly, there was a bit of bad poetry and some journaling. The journaling was long, lengthy, and heart felt.

As I read, I was struck by how closely my musing described how I currently feel. I looked at the dates: 1998, 1999, 2002: fourteen, thirteen, and ten years ago. In that moment, I felt the utter dismay of total and complete defeat. In all this time, I haven’t really changed. How can I work so hard only to remain in the same place for so long ago?

That’s when it hit me: I keep doing the same things over and over and over again expecting different results? Einstein defines this as insanity. And it is insane.

In my defense, I have made some changes in the past fourteen years. I’ve changed geographical locations three times and abodes five. I’ve switched careers, taken college classes, and volunteered. I eat healthier and work out more.  And even though my life is better, my life still isn’t significantly different. In 1998, I was searching for balance and striving to find that thing that would ignite my passion. In 1999, I talked about reducing the stuff in my life so I could focus on the experience of living. In 2002, I wanted to take better care of myself and my family. In 2012, I still want the exact same things.

If you asked, I’d say I’m all about big change. However, when push comes to shove, when do or die shows up, I am the absolute best at talking myself out of it. There’s always some excuse: the house, the kids, the dogs, the cats, the plants, the job, the money, etc. to prevent me from following the dream, living the passion, and just going for it. I can find one hundred and one things to do that get me no closer to the adventure I want my life to be.

And that’s when it hit me; I’m playing a shell game. I arrange and rearrange the external things hoping a different combination of circumstances will result in a different life. While these external changes make my life appear different, internally I’m still the same. What I know right now is this: if I want to be different, I have to think different. The changes I need to make are all internal.

This is not an option.

It would be too easy for me to make a visibly huge move. A move so big that not even I could doubt that it actually happened. But the big move is not going to be it for me. For me, my big move is going to be changing my mind one stinky, self-limiting thought at a time. The challenge for me is going to be to power through this thing as quickly as possible. Because the heartbreak for me would be to read this post fourteen years from now and realize that nothing in my life had really changed.


  1. Wow! What a great insight. Good luck working with your thoughts. It is painstaking, but it’s amazing how much things change that you never thought was possible while still so much stays the same. I know it will help you though!

    • My new mantra (via Tim Ferris) is “what things am I inventing to avoid the important.” When I start getting the urge to clean or redecorate, I know it’s gut check time.

  2. Denise, All said and done, I think you are an awesome and neat person just the way you are … Change if you feel you need to, but please retain the Denise Stewart I know!

  3. Amen to what Lynn said. I love the S. Denise Ellis Stewart of yesterday and today. I’m also marveling at the fact that you were in my head writing that. I could have said the exact same thing. Except for the leopard print velveteen.
    I write and have for years. I think it takes total bravery to read what you have written. For me, I don’t do that nearly enough.
    Kudos to you for realizing the shell game isn’t for you. Thanks for sharing your wonderful insight. I’m so thankful to have reconnected with you. {{hugs}}

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