Me Too - My Story + The Path to Healing 

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Recently, I went to dinner with three women - we dined at the same restaurant that my boyfriend and I went to on our first date. 

In conversation, I casually mentioned that I let Alex walk me home that first night because "I thought I could take him.”

Immediately, one of the women said, "I would never want to date a guy I thought I could beat up." 

That was not the first time I said I felt comfortable around a man because I thought I could protect myself... I always joke that, in spite of my small frame, I can physically "take" most men. 

And, I am sure that was not the first time a woman questioned my desire to overpower a romantic partner. Yet, that night, her statement hit me. Hard. 

Why did I want to date a guy I could ‘take’? That question swirled in my mind for days to come.  

Making the Connection - The Origin of the Story

I realized that I did that - told myself I could "take a man" - as a form of self-protection. 

I am confident that I finally made this connection because I’ve recently been “doing the work” to heal, again. 

Someone once brilliantly said, "healing is not linear.” That has been my experience. 

Last year, I realized I was not as “healed” as I thought - I still harbored a lot of visceral pain and post-traumatic stress from sexual traumas I experienced as a teenager.  As the pain from my past experiences began to permeate my life, I prayed for a healer.

Intuitively, I knew that whatever I did, I needed to process my pain on a physical level.

To provide some context - I stopped drinking alcohol and abusing prescription drugs when I was 19 years-old, on February 17th, 2007. The years leading up to that date were horrific. 

A few months after I stopped drinking, I started weekly counseling sessions with a woman who specialized in trauma and addiction. At that point, in 2007, there were a lot of things inside of me that needed to be healed: The issues that acted as the catalyst for my suicide attempt at age 15. The subsequent suicides of my father and step-mother when I was 16 and 17. The problems I had with my family. And, above all, my pain and my shame from physical violence and sexual assaults. 

It was healing for me to speak to my therapist. Yet, last year, I learned that working with my therapist many years ago was only the first layer of relief in my healing process. Therefore, it’s unsurprising that I created a narrative around being stronger-than to protect myself from men. 

Stepping into Honesty Through Conscious Work

In August, the Universe connected me with Blake. Blake is an incredible healer and breath-worker. Through her guidance, I am moving through a program she developed called Sacral Embodiment

A couple of weeks ago, I sat with Blake before our session and I sobbed.  As I sat in front of her - crying harder than I have in years - I shared with her and she listened.

I told her how I wanted my memories to go away. I shared my doubt that they ever will. 

I doubt that I will ever get to a place where I won’t have flashbacks of what he did to me many years ago. 

Not only what "he" did to me. 

But, also what "he" did to me. 

And, "him", too. 

There are more than one "he's" in my story...

Over the last few months, I have thought a lot about him. And him. And, him. 

In my daily meditations, I focus on forgiveness. Forgiving them. Most importantly, forgiving myself.

Given the fact I have been focusing on my personal experience with sexual traumas for the past couple of months, it was almost surreal to see the large volume of "me too’s" that flooded my social media feed on the morning of October 16, 2017.

Almost

Since I wrote the article "What's Stopping You?" in 2015, countless women have reached out to me to share their own personal stories of violence, rape, and sexual assault. I know more women who have been sexually assaulted - assaulted, not just harassed - than women who haven't been inappropriately touched by a man. 

As I said at the beginning, I wanted a boyfriend that I could "take" because he (and he and he) physically hurt me. 

And I don’t ever want to be hurt again.

More so because I don’t want to have another real-life nightmare to remember. 

It’s really uncomfortable for me to share my story. But, for me, I’ve learned that staying silent sucks more. 

Every time I share my story, I feel lighter. Its almost as if it has less power over me as the listener walks away, carrying with them some of my words. Brene Brown says it best, “vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to feeling worthiness”.

I wholeheartedly hope that the vulnerable act of sharing “me too” will prompt the connection that leads to worthiness in both women and men. How sad and powerful was it to see that many women speaking up? What can I do to ensure that young girls will not have to face what generations of women have endured? 

I know that the men who hurt me were hurt, too. That’s no excuse. But, it is a damn good reason for me to take the necessary steps to heal. If I am hurt, I am bound to hurt myself and others, too. 

Thank you for reading my words. For each set of eyes helps me to feel a little bit worthier. 

If you or someone you know suffer from any form of sexual harassment or assault, please seek support: https://www.rainn.org/get-help

 

 

 

Struggle, Perseverance, and Perspective

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While I was participating in Yoga Teacher Training in 2012, I was invited to be a volunteer/researcher on a trip to Kenya with a nonprofit organized of faculty and staff from DePaul University. At the time, I was wrapping up my first year of graduate school at DePaul and I was absolutely in love with yoga.

I became passionate about international, nonprofit organizations after studying abroad in Cape Town, South Africa in 2010. In Cape Town, I volunteered through a U.S. nonprofit at an orphanage in the township of Khayelitsha. My experience in Cape Town left me with many unanswered questions about U.S. nonprofits operating internationally and I was excited to have an opportunity to personally seek some answers in Kenya. 

Upon arrival to Kenya, the culture shock I experienced stunned me. In preparation for our trip, I focused all of my energy on my research instead of preparing for the journey itself, which was equally as important because of my dual role as a researcher and a volunteer in a third world country.

I naively thought I would be “okay” with volunteering in Kenya since I had spent time in South Africa, I did not consider how the people and the environment would impact me emotionally. Once we arrived, my overwhelming emotion turned to panic. At one of our sites, there was extreme, abject poverty. The community lacked all basic resources: food, water, sanitation, and proper education.

I will never forget that deep sensation of fear, how uncomfortable I felt the moment we arrived to Athi River. There was an animal carcass, dripping in blood, swarmed by flies, hanging in the front window of our hotel; they butchered the meat there. My room was tucked in the far back corner of the building. There were dried, dead mosquitos on my wall and a net covering my bed. As I stood mortified in my hotel-room, I was most pained by the fact that I knew my accommodations were significantly better than the majority of peoples’ living arrangements in the local community. 

I felt guilty for being so uncomfortable in our Kenyan home. At night, it got worse. My room was directly underneath the area the staff stayed. At all hours, indecipherable sounds flooded my room. While I was there, I was miserable. In addition to being scared, hungry, tired, and sick from my malaria medication, I experienced intense sadness and guilt. 

With that said, there were many moments of smiles and laughter, but I still cried every night.

The women and men I met were positive, hardworking, and happy. In spite of my perception of what I thought they “lacked”, they lived meaningful, purpose-filled lives. The gentleman responsible for our stay at the hotel was so kind and sincere, yet I still felt so vulnerable and afraid. It was hard for me to accept their reality, I couldn’t get over it — I could not get over how I “struggled” with things in my life back home, where I had absolutely everything I needed and more, while these people were happily living with next to nothing. 

To come full-circle, I am grateful I pressed pause on teaching yoga to instead volunteer and research in Kenya. Traveling to Kenya made me the teacher I am today. Through the process of experiencing fierce, visceral emotions, I learned how to truly sit with discomfort and fear. In the moment, I was petrified. In hindsight, it is one of my most powerful, cherished memories.

Through this experience, I learned the value of intense, personal struggle and of perseverance. When I arrived, I wanted to book an immediate ticket home, but instead I stayed. Staying gave me empathy for those who are scared and want to quit. Staying taught me that we are all more the same than we are different. It humbled me. And, it reminded to stay open and vulnerable because growth and evolution always happen outside of my comfort-zone. When I extend myself, I elevate to a higher perspective. 

This originally appeared on VuoriClothing.com. Vuori is an incredible performance apparel brand from my local community. 

The Evolution of JuliaSparkman.com

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Alas, JuliaSparkman.com version 3.0 is live — launched perfectly, imperfect. 

From 2013 to 2015,  JuliaSparkman.com was hosted on Wordpress. Last June, I transitioned to Wix.  

Approximately three weeks ago, I received a notice from Wix.com; my renewal payment had been denied. For months, I had wanted to transfer to Square Space and I did not know I was set for an automatic renewal on Wix. Thankfully, my credit card was compromised over the holidays — what seemed to be an inconvenience in November graciously forced me to update my website. 

In Wix’s honor, it’s an easy to use platform and their backend requires little to no effort to function and look clean. Nevertheless, I prefer the look and features of Square Space — the payment decline was just the nudge I needed. While I am confident there will be major changes in weeks to come, I am happy with the updates and the aesthetics of my present rendition. 

I decided to re-write all of the copy on my website before making the change — that included new personal and yoga biographies. 

As I reflected on what I wanted to say, it made me consider why I launched JuliaSparkman.com in the first place. Initially, JuliaSparkman.com was a platform for me to write outside of academia and for me to share my story. Since I was 19, I’ve known I’ve wanted to write a book about my life and I viewed JuliaSparkman.com as an opportunity to practice “speaking” from my authentic voice. 

Shortly after I bought the domain, I began writing two posts a week for an organic, fair-trade incense company and the need for my own site became obsolete — I was being paid to write about yoga and wellness! From 2013 to 2015, JuliaSparkman.com received very little attention from me. I loved writing for myInsens, yet it was not a platform for me to tell my story.

A year ago, I was ready to share “my truth” and I updated to Wix. In hindsight, I was not as ready as I thought — I held back most of my truth and refrained from sharing A LOT of important stories. 

My resistance to put it all out there came from overwhelming fear and shame. It also came from listening to naysayers. Fortunately, I am no longer held back by what anyone else has to say. As of late, I am wholly surrounded by people that ask “why aren’t you sharing your story?” versus “why would you share?” 

For the last six months, I’ve barely written at all. I got tired of writing shallow stories that barely scratched the surface. I also was uninspired by a lack of purpose for the site. While my website is a nice landing page to direct students to find my classes — I wanted to have a greater vision behind my energy investment. 

Even with the templates provided by each host, building a website takes a lot of time and effort. Through building websites, I’ve learned that all a goal takes is a VISION and hard WORK. 

I’m happy to launch this new version with a clear vision in mind: 

A space to share my public yoga classes, teacher trainings, events, and retreats.

AND

A platform to share MY story and the stories of other inspiring beings. 

My stories and the stories of others will be coming soon. I cannot wait to share my heart, soul, and experiences with you. 

 

Tails from Mowgli

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At the end of April, I moved from Mission Hills to Cardiff by the Sea, California. The move was highly intentional and desired. Yet, it happened quickly and it required me to step away from teaching 15+ yoga classes I loved and my grounding morning rituals.  On the morning of May 7th, I rushed out the door to teach two classes at CorePower Yoga Del Mar. There are few things I adore as much as my morning routine and I am still learning how to best incorporate them into my lifestyle in North County. 

After my classes, I arrived home incredibly hangry. Alex and I immediately journeyed to Claire’s on Cedros to eat — completely oblivious to where we would go when we were done eating. There were several dogs on the patio at Claire’s and that led me to asking Alex if we could adopt a kitty.

Unsurprisingly, the conversation shifted to adopting a dog — something I also wanted to do. After we wrapped up lunch, we headed straight to Helen Woodward to “look” at the puppies available for rescue. 

I had initially browsed the Helen Woodward website to coax Alex into adopting a feline friend. As I searched, I noticed one shepherd puppy listed on the page and was eager to meet her. Upon our arrival, that beautiful babe was on her way home with another family. 

I was a bit disappointed until we walked around and I laid eyes on a little black pup. 

When we first met him, Mowgli’s name was “Illinois”. It may have been his floppy ears or the fact that I was born and raised in that state, either way, I was immediately drawn to Mowgli’s cage. We asked to visit with three dogs — Mowgli was the first on the list and the only one we actually met.

From the get-go, it was evident, Mowgli had found a home. After playing with him for less than ten minutes, we were ready to initiate the adoption process. 

We arrived as two and left as three. 

Mowgli was a precious angel for the first twenty-four hours after we brought him home. Quickly, we learned that Mowgli is a lot like his mother — playful, energetic, and mischievous. 

Mowgli’s spirit has reminded me the importance of being curious. His actions encourage me to stop and wonder, “what’s that, why is it there, and what is its purpose?” His curiosity often gets the best of him and he finds himself in trouble. For instance, I see him questioning the taste of the carpet as he goes for the chew. It was cute the first time, I must admit. Now, it challenges my patience.  

Patience has been a lesson I’ve learned from Mowgli throughout the last couple of weeks. Mowgli sincerely does not know any better when he does naughty things. More than anything though, I’ve learned to be patient with life’s transitions and its’ “in-betweens”. Through his antics, Mowgli is teaching me to appreciate the moments that frustrate me. Even though I desperately want a well-trained dog, there is nothing cuter than a puppy and I must savor every [annoying] moment. 

As Mowgli learns the difference between “right” and “wrong”, it’s helped me reflect on the importance of seeking guidance from others. Alex and I have both had dogs in the past, but we’ve never been responsible for training a puppy of our own. Therefore, I find comfort in seeking guidance from trained professionals. In addition to Mowgli, I am finding it equally, if not more beneficial, to seek guidance for myself. It is powerful to admit you do not have all of the answers and to ask someone else for assistance. 

It’s funny, all of the advice I have received for Mowgli has paralleled to my life. Everyone suggests we create a routine and set boundaries. Similar to Mowgli, I am quite wild. Having a routine allows me to ground and strategically prioritize the things that create peace and purpose — like meditation, eating well, yoga, and journalling. 

For me, creating boundaries is challenging — thankfully, Mowgli has demonstrated how necessary they truly are. In the wise words of Brené Brown, “boundaries are a function of self-respect and self-love.”

As Mowgli may not initially understand the boundaries we set, I realize people in my life will also feel put-off by some of my decisions, as well. Nevertheless, as Brown says, “daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”

It’s extremely hard to disappoint a puppy. But, through the boundaries we create,  I’ve learned the power of unconditional love — it supersedes any test of patience, annoyance, or “misbehavior”.

Lastly, bringing Mowgli into my life has reminded me that life happens fast. The morning of May 7th, I had no idea I’d go to bed the owner of a dog. Mowgli has taught me to expect the best — anything and everything is possible. 

 

I Am A Disruptor

This morning, two of my favorite CorePower Yoga teachers separately asked me, “How is it going with The Julia Sparkman Agency?”. 

My response: “I fired myself.” 

It is indeed true, I figuratively fired myself from The Julia Sparkman Agency. Why, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you: 

Initially, I started The Julia Sparkman Agency because 1) I love challenging, creative projects that allow me to collaborate with other smart, talented individuals and 2) I wanted to “use” my degrees. In the beginning of October, I wrote the post, “What’s Worth Doing Even If I Fail", and while some may see The Julia Sparkman Agency as a failure, I view it as one of my greatest successes to date. 

Through launching The Julia Sparkman Agency, I pushed myself to be wildly uncomfortable. I manifested a vision. I broke that vision down into actionable items with deadlines. I learned the backend of SquareSpace and I independently made my fifth website. I collaborated with a handful of talented people; including the executive staff at ARTS, Jennie Groom, Maxine Chapman, Jack Ryan and Nick Isabella, just to name a few. 

I networked my ass off. I had countless meetings and coffee dates with CEOs, other entrepreneurs and a variety of professionals from all walks of life.

Throughout the last two months, it became clear -- I am simply not ready to launch The Julia Sparkman Agency into a full-fledged company. The work that it takes to be an entrepreneur and launch a business on your own is no joke. The next time you see one of your friends who is currently building a start-up, please, stop and give them a big hug. 

The Julia Sparkman Agency began to unravel on January 29th. My friend, Kim Bauman, creator of The One Love Movement, and I journeyed to Encinitas to relax at the Self Realization Meditation Gardens. Kim and I made our Friday plans the week earlier. The day of, she asked, “are you sure you have the space to take time off work?” 

“YES!”, I practically screamed. At this point, I was beating my head against a brick wall with The Julia Sparkman Agency. 

We planned to visit the gardens and then lunch at Lotus Cafe. The hour and a half we spent at the SRF was amazing. Perched on the Swamis’ cliffs, we fell asleep under a clear blue sky on a bench. It was the roaring El Niño waves that lulled us to sleep -- I can still remember the cheers of the surfers pulling me from my slumber, groggily.  

A short week after our visit, I experienced a wave of occurrences that I metaphorically refer to as my “Ghosts of Christmas’ Past”. First, I visited orphanages in Tijuana with the nonprofit, Corazon De Vida. As a teenager, I was a runaway — connecting with these children reminded me how fortunate I am to have bounced back from my time living so recklessly. Then, a few weeks later, I went to a bachelorette party in Palm Springs. The group and I landed ourselves at a strip club and the experience ROCKED me. When I came back from being a runaway, I was a cocktail waitress at a sport’s bar. The outfits we wore there were not much better than the strippers. Again, I felt so grateful that my path deviated. I could have gone down one road; yet, by the grace of God, I ended up here. Lastly, a couple of weeks ago, I spent four hours in the lobby of a public health facility. I witnessed handfuls of women unsure of their fate, terrified by their destiny. That experience stirred something in me. It made me realize it was time to own my story. 

As I sit here today, I have NO idea where I am going professionally or how I will move forward from this space. Yet, after this past month and a half, I have found myself mulling over the same thought and question:

“Given all that I have gone through and things I have overcome, it would be a tragedy if I did not use these lessons to elevate others…How can I best use my experiences, my story, to benefit myself and my communities?” 

Fortunately, on Friday, I get to sit down with my life coach and dear friend, Susannah Joy. Sus and I are going to create a vision that aligns with my passions versus my fears and my ego. I am going to articulate goals that include yoga, writing, community engagement and re-joining academia. And, I will include a few things that I have always been terrified to admit I wanted for myself, like having a BABY in the future (say what!!!). 

Sus and I initially met when she invited me to share my story at San Diego Speaks — the night included inspiration, community and stories from change-makers, innovators and disrupters who are elevating San Diego. Until I gain more clarity, I plan to move forward in the spirit of what initially brought Sus and I together, my power to be a DISRUPTOR. 

Disruption can often be viewed as a negative; however, it is defined as “to drastically alter or destroy the structure of something”.

That is exactly what I plan to do. I am going to disrupt the status quo — in life, with my words and with my teaching. My actions will inspire YOU to question your day-to-day. Why are you doing what you are doing? Are you living your life fully?

My life will serve to remind you that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what you presently know, you have absolutely everything you need inside of yourself and ANYTHING and everything is possible! 

Deconstructing Feminism: A Reawakening of My Divine Feminine Energy

On a brisk day in the Fall of 2010, fate struck — I arrived to work scheduled to serve a private party for Gloria Steinem. As a waitress at Fred’s at Barney’s New York, celebrity clientele was the norm. Nevertheless, that afternoon was my first encounter with a prominent women’s rights activist. At the time, I was a senior at DePaul University and heavily entrenched in the critical, intersectional analysis of cultural and gender disenfranchisement. Awestruck by her unexpected presence, I do not remember much about the experience given my overwhelming excitement. 

My undergraduate and graduate studies thoroughly uncovered various gender inequalities. From historical prejudices to problematics of socialization to disproportional access to opportunity, it became empirically evident that my identity as a women left me at a societal disadvantage. 

As the data I uncovered revealed these truths, I started to feel as if it was “wrong” for me embody feminine characteristics. 

My interpretation of feminism became suppressing my sexuality, building my career over starting a family, and fighting for my place at the “top” of the capitalistic hierarchy. In short, elevating gender “equality” meant embodying stereotypical masculine qualities: independent, aggressive, tough, competitive, and so on and so forth. With this understanding, I made it my personal responsibility to promote gender “equality” through my work. 

After graduate school, I spent two years working full-time in yoga — I stepped down because felt as if I should be doing “more” professionally. I transitioned to a short-stint working for a burgeoning company. Then, I independently launched a consulting agency. I started The Julia Sparkman Agency to prove something (to myself). 

After The Julia Sparkman Agency gained traction, I met Alex. Our relationship shifted all of my perspectives. For the first time, being a woman in the stereotypical sense feels good — to be soft, vulnerable, and supported — it is beautiful. For years, I thought I needed to be strong and do it all myself.  It is unbelievably nice to have a man that can care for me, while he simultaneously encourages me to follow whatever path feels intuitively best. 

With that said, today, being a feminist means making informed, authentic choices.

Cultivating my divine feminine energy means giving myself space to feel and to openly express myself. It means appreciating some of the stereotypical aspects of being a female and neglecting some of the others.

Feminism means embracing that my story will differ from other women’s stories. 

Constructing my own understanding of feminism, I personally reflect less on professional choices and more on lifestyle and self-fulfillment. For years, I thought it was crucial that I up-leveled women’s ability to earn and take on similar roles to our male counterparts.

Today, I am less concerned with my title and more concerned with the legacy of my work. As a feminist in 2016, it’s imperative I empower women to make decisions that align with their intuition and to worry less about what others’ think and to trust the outcome of their choices.

The more I can cultivate a space for others to create a life that works for them, I truly believe I am uplifting the lives of both women and men. 

To uplift — that’s feminism. 

Lessons I Learned From Deciding to Move While in Mexico

On the afternoon of Friday, April 1, Alex and I departed from San Diego, California to travel to West LA — we used LAX as our launch pad for our trip to Mexico City.  Prior to leaving, we stopped for two of North County’s prized gems: an iced Americano from Zumbar and a Mozy’s burrito. As we merged into the traffic of I-5, I experienced a twinge of sadness as I watched the surf minimize from the rearview mirror. Paradoxically, that emotion actually made me happy— until that moment, I had never been bummed to leave the place I lived in to travel somewhere else.  

For years, I longed to be aboard every plane I saw trail across the sky. When I began actively traveling six years ago, subconsciously, I traveled to escape. Now, I travel for enjoyment. 

Mexico City gives meaning to the word “sprawl”. By foot, metro, uber, and bike we trekked to a handful of its fabulous museums and sites. We went to the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Museo Frida Kahlo, Museo Soumaya, Palacio Bella Artes, and the Teotihuacan Pyramids. Each location was incredible and we especially loved all the unique, vibrant neighborhoods (Colonia Juárez, Roma Norte, La Condesa, and Centro Histórico… to name a few). We also ate well and drank A LOT of espresso. Nevertheless, this is not a post about Mexico D.F. — instead, it’s a summary of what I learned from deciding to move on my trip. 

When I left on Friday the 1st, I was confident I would eventually move to Cardiff. However, I had no idea I would call it “home” when I crossed back over the border. Over a late lunch, after our trip to the pyramids, I texted my landlord my thirty-day move out notice for my apartment. Month-to-month leases are amazing, aren’t they?  

Once the text was sent, I felt a rush of positive emotions. The only thing I really worried about was my yoga classes. Even though I did not realize it at the time, I set things in motion for this transition prior to departing. A week before I left, I made the challenging decision to give-up my permanent classes at studios outside of CorePower Yoga. I realized, if I wanted to teach full-time and give 100% to my clients, I needed to teach more classes at LESS studios. Some weeks, I would teach at up to eight different locations. Bouncing all over the city to teach a class or two at a time was NOT sustainable. When I made the decision, I knew I would miss the students and the energy of each space — I did not know I would be setting myself up for an easier transition once I made it back to the States. 

Secondly, I have been a part of CorePower Yoga’s teacher training program for a few years. In December, I decided to take “two” rounds of facilitation off. When the February session of teacher training began, I was sad that I was not slated to rejoin the teacher training staff until the Fall. For a moment, I considered asking to join a summer session — something inside told me not to act. Since I waited, I am now a coach of the Summer Power Yoga Teacher Training team at CorePower Yoga Del Mar. Had I emotionally reacted, I would have spent the summer commuting North to South. And, I would have missed the opportunity to coach with one of my best friends, Kim. 

Therefore, the first lesson I learned in Mexico City was the powerful, long-term impact of my decisions. Making the choice to step away from three wonderful yoga communities and to take time off from South County teacher training was really hard. At the time, it honestly seemed a bit illogical. Now, I understand that some of the decisions I make take time manifest into really beautiful things and I must have faith in their magic as I practice patience.

The aforementioned decisions were made because I trusted my instincts — the second lesson I learned while I was away in Mexico.

If you know me, you know, this is not the first time I’ve moved on short notice. Previously, my moves were motivated by the same thing that prompted me to travel: a desire to escape my present circumstances.

I was/am happy with my life in San Diego. Yes, I taught at a few too many studios, a problem I amended before I traveled. This move was/is powered by an instinctual feeling telling me this is what is best. At times, it can be easy to silence the true voice that lives inside of me, especially when it is telling me do to things that are "risky"  or things that may not settle well with other people. I am happy I listened to the loud whisper of my heart, things are transitioning quite effortlessly and I am blessed to move “home”.  

That leads me to the third lesson I learned from deciding to move while in Mexico City: haters gonna hate and it’s unimportant what anyone else thinks.

It is my goal to keep this paragraph as positive as possible, yet I feel it is important to highlight the naysayers and what they've taught me. First, a HUGE thank you to those who have wholeheartedly shared their love and support. And to those that have proverbially “shitted on” my move, I must also say, THANK YOU. Thank you for being my greatest teacher. Through you, I have learned to THINK before I speak and to try not to place my own doubts, fears, and judgements on others. 

This experience has taught me life moves really fast and it is my responsibility to make the best of it.

It's impossible to tell how the decisions I make today will impact tomorrow, so it is important I listen to my heart and silence the thoughts of others. I've learned, it’s ALWAYS the journey, not the destination. And more importantly, it’s who you are journeying with that makes the biggest difference. 

7 Things I Am Doing to Keep My Spirit Sparked

Pioneering as an entrepreneur has been the most exciting, torturous, confusing, certain, and fulfilling time of my life. Often, I am completely exhausted by day’s end, in a good way. It reminds me of the same exhilarating exhaustion I experience the first six months of living in a new city. That time when you have no idea where you are going or where anything is and something as simple as navigating home becomes a complexity. Nevertheless, in most instances, the magic, the spark, that drives entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs comes from the pursuit of their diverse passions.

The aforementioned sentence is something I remind myself of daily, it is what keeps me inspired to create time and space to pursue what I love. I understand entrepreneurialism is hard-work and being from the Midwest, hard-work is something I love. I’m sure I could “hustle harder” and “be further” than I am right now. Yet, as I venture down the road of pursuing new projects, I am committed to staying true to my heart and I have found it’s the following 7 things that most keep my entrepreneurial spirit sparked:

1. Acceptance of a Non-Normative Schedule

I weigh all seven days equally. For me, I have learned running errands is more efficient midday on a Tuesday and fortunately, I am in control of my schedule, so that’s when I go. Furthermore, I do a lot of my most creative work early in the morning and late in the evenings. And, I often connect with friends midday during the week because that is when it is convenient for me. For awhile, I mentally struggled when I rested on a weekday or worked on a weekend. And now, I am learning to do what supports my schedule best regardless of day or time. 

2. Putting on My Oxygen Mask First

As I write this post, I have other deadlines for The Julia Sparkman Agency and other clients I need to address. I am confident I will complete my tasks; however, I am committed to writing a post weekly for myself and it is Saturday and not finished, so I made this my first priority. 

The Julia Sparkman Agency is not Julia Sparkman. Any entrepreneur or any worker, for that matter, can take the underlined words from the previous sentence and first exchange their place of work/business/startup and then their name. 

To keep my spirit sparked, I must spend time working on my projects.  

3. My People 

My closest circle, the people I spend a majority of my time with, is relatively divergent. I teach private yoga to business executives, a logician, and an artist. My closets friends are wildly successful, pursuing their own things: one runs a nonprofit, another is the Founder/CEO of a yoga subscription box, there is a financial maverick, one dear friend owns a Pilates studio, the list goes on….. Also, teaching at a variety of yoga studios exposes me to a plethora of amazing people. 

Level water seeks level water. 

4. Repeating the Mantra: Discipline Creates Freedom

I am an avid listener of The Tim Ferriss Show. I strive for a utopian of efficiency and optimality, yet I am a free spirit and I love spontaneity. The foundation of all of my pursuits rests upon my disciplined practice of morning meditation, followed by hot water with lemon and eating breakfast. Keep in mind, I have to be at a yoga studio to teach two days a week at 5:30AM. So, to accomplish my routine, I must wake up no later than 4:40AM. 

At first, it was painful (and it still can be depending on what time I go to sleep). However, this simple act of discipline enables me to live the rest of my day more freely (every time). When I first started, I would skip my routine on the days I had early mornings. I did not notice a real shift in my life until I started meditating everyday. I’ve learned, I must start with something I can commitment to, then add on. What began as a five minute meditation is now the best twenty minutes of my being. 

5. Openness

At first, I took a myopic approach presenting my services and identifying my market. As a consultant and creative partner, it is essential I stay open to the needs’ of my clients. Initially, I tried to tightly package my offering and approach and that stifled my creativity. Now, I am finding greater success and personal enjoyment through simply listing my offerings and allowing conversations to natural evolve into a project. I look forward to rolling out TheJSAgency.com 2.0 soon! 

6. Historical Reading

It’s easy for me to get caught up on screens, communicating strictly with emojis and bitmojis, living my life from apps. So, for me, it’s healthy to remain grounded in history and continuously expose myself to literature with the proper English and grammar we lost to the twentieth century. Biographies are my favorite, I am currently reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley — I am finding many parallels and lessons relevant to my daily life. As I build for the future, I find it most helpful to understand and reflect upon history, from diverse contexts and perspectives.

7. Making Health a Balanced Priority

In some way, shape, or form, I move everyday. My diet is a balance of raw fruits and vegetables, burritos, and pizza. I’ve learned, all it takes is fifteen minutes of movement to make me feel good. An hour class is obviously preferred, but if fifteen minutes at home is all I have, it is better than no minutes and keeps me accountable and on track. For nutrition, I literally eat raw carrots and spinach everyday — I crave it. I do my best to eat seasonally, too. I also eat dessert everyday. And, there is not a week that goes by without a burrito and pizza. 

I schedule meditation/yoga/Pilates/running/hiking/time outdoors into my day. If I am not taking time to enjoy life, eat good foods, and move, my work does not manifest the same. Healthy balance is essential to my best performance. 

8. Overachieving

I say I am going to do seven things, then I do eight. Entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs because they want to go above and beyond. I keep my entrepreneurial spirit sparked by continually surpassing my own personal expectations with a full heart. 

Goals, Intentions, and Feelings -- Manifesting 2016

Manifesting 2016.jpg

Last Sunday, BuddhiBox Founder, Maxine, hosted a party inspired by Danielle Laporte’s, The Desire Map, for her local BuddhiBabes. Familiar with The Desire Map, I was eager to join. Since October, I have hosted an intention setting workshop called After the Mat. I designed After the Mat to transition the power of intention I found in my physical asana practice to daily living. Practicing yoga from a place of intention allows one to manifest the quality physically — as we invite that framework into our anatomy it is easier to find it within our thoughts and activities. 

To achieve goals, After the Mat focuses on intention — The Desire Map focuses on feelings. For instance, my goal to travel is produced by my desire to feel freedom, spontaneity, adventure, and presence. More than the travel itself, I want to feel those feelings — travel without the feelings of freedom, spontaneity, adventure, and presence would not satisfy me.

The Desire Map inspired me to examine the why behind my goals. What do I want to feel when my goal is accomplished? If the desired feelings are absent, the outcome will feel less meaningful. 

Yoga teaches me NOW is always the best time to start. Whether it is a New Year or a new day or a breath, we can begin to live the life our dreams at a moments notice. And, through my practice, I’ve learned, things are perpetually changing. I cannot expect static goals/feelings/intentions to serve my ever changing reality. Internal and external stimuli tirelessly shift my physiology and ideologies. It is essential I regularly examine and spend time with my goals, intentions, and desired feelings. 

Converging the wisdom I learned from After the Mat and The Desire Map, here is my process of intention setting: 

1. Clear Your Mind

Breathe. Flow through a few round of Sun A. Meditate.

Meet yourself where you are at — if you are tired, move; if you are anxious, move then sit still.  Do whatever you need to do to ground and relax. 

2. Visualize Your Ultimate Desires

What does your dream world, day, job, life…. look like? Imagine your highest vibrating self — what are you doing? What makes you feel most alive? 

Take a few moments to meditate and let your mind run free… Once you’ve explored your thoughts, journal. 

In an email I sent to the After the Mat participants recently, I said, “Journaling is about getting to know yourself and to me, that’s what yoga is, too. In the same way we explore and understand our physical bodies through asana practice, journaling connects us to our thoughts and emotions — it’s “exercise” for our mind and heart.” 

Tangibly explore the thoughts from your meditation on paper. How does it feel to write your ultimate desires? Will you be vulnerable enough to go after what you desire? Give yourself permission to manifest grandiosely. 

I’ll courageously share my part of my vision for 2016 to get you started:

In 2016, I cultivate the incredible relationships I developed in 2015 — while deeply cherishing long-distance relationships with my sisters and friends. I return to my dedicated personal practice. My practice is as important as my professional and personal responsibilities. I attend one spiritual gathering each week. I journal, read, and meditate every morning and evening. 

My yoga-teaching shifts. As I transition away from income-based teaching, I explore opportunities that allow me to teach to disadvantaged groups. At CorePower, The Little Yoga Studio, and Bird Rock Yoga, I share the many lessons I am learning in my life with my students and open myself to learn from them, too.  I write weekly for my personal website and contribute regularly to BuddhiBox, Fast Company, LinkedIn, and NPR. 

I prioritize playtime and constantly seek new adventures. Shelley, Tara, and Curtis come visit me in San Diego and Madeleine and I travel somewhere we’ve never been before (Macchu Picchu?!). I visit Jade in New York, Leeann in Hawaii, and Melody, Stefan, and Jade in Austin.  I take at least one trip alone and one trip with someone I have never traveled with before — and one of those trips will be abroad. I participate in a silent meditation retreat. 

I let go of my need for perfection (and accept that I may eat out more than I cook, and be okay with it). 

3. Identify the Feelings

Examining my vision, the feelings I identified were: 

Prosperous | Purposeful | Loved | Spontaneous

Prosperous: I want to thrive so I can help others to thrive, too.

Purposeful: Everything listed is purposeful. My work, yoga teaching, and writing are all rooted in my desire to inspire. 

Loved: It is my goal to deepen relationships with the people I’ve met in 2015 and visit my loved ones throughout the US and globally. 

Spontaneous: I am incredibly open to how these things manifest and I am excited to experience the journey organically. 

4. Set An Intention: 

Personally, it is helpful for me to have one word that guides my yoga practice. As I sat with the feelings that emerged from my vision, I felt most drawn to purpose. 

In 2016, I am make decisions based on the “Hell Yes” or “No” principle. For far too long, I would agree to things because I thought I “should” do them. This year, I make decisions that support my purpose — my desire to live prosperously with love and spontaneity. 

Take a moment to sit with your vision and your feelings. Decide what most calls to you and set an intention from that space. 

Once you’ve chosen your word, continuously reflect on how you can bring that quality into every aspect of your day-to-day routine. How can you approach the most mundane and complicated task from your intention? 

This post was originally share on The BuddhiBlog. Visit the BuddhiBox Store to find items to support you on your journey of living your intention fully. 

You Can't See What You Don't Know

As the sun was setting last Sunday, my friend Michelle and I stopped for tea at Cafe 976 before taking a casual stroll on the Pacific Beach Boardwalk. Inside the lushly covered cafe, the teas appropriately rested on shelves behind the u-shape counter, in the back corner of the old renovated-beach house, approximately ten-feet, at eye level, from where I stood.

Having trouble reading the small labels on the tea canisters, Michelle walked closer to the counter to read their selection on a different menu. I proudly stayed in the same spot and boasted over my love for carrots and my impressive eyesight, as I read the tiny labels from afar. 

“Earl Gray, Organic Rooibos”…. I got to a word I did not know, “Darjeeling Putabong” — those letters went fuzzy. 

Every other word on the shelf was legible.

It did take a small squint to make out, “New Zealand Sunnyslopes”. However, “Darjeeling Putabong” was practically impossible to read. I walked closer to the counter and phonetically sounded it out. Once I captured the word, I was able to return to my original spot and read it with greater ease.

In that moment, I realized: I could not see what I did not know without shifting my perspective. 

It seems so simple; yet, the phenomena made me question what else I was missing? My faculties did not fail me, it was my ignorance — I could decipher the word once I got close enough to see it. The experience reminded me to continuously pursue new understanding.

Without a change in perspective, it is quite possible I may miss something. It’s my responsibility to seek clarity. 

My reflection inspired the work I do with The Julia Sparkman Agency — anonymous organization-wide assessments of executives and staff for a comprehensive analysis and strategy. As a consultant, I metaphorically walk leaders closer to the counter — I provide a clear, non-biased perspective and actionable recommendations for optimizing. 

By function, leaders’ perspectives are different than their subordinates. In some instances, a leader may “rise the ranks” and have a familiarity with the positions they oversee. More so, leaders are disconnected from their subordinates daily responsibilities — unable to fully comprehend their staffs’ organizational experiences and present needs for obtaining optimality.  

As my aforementioned experience shows, it’s simple, once you know it, you can see it.

Yet, even the most approachable leaders are often shielded from organizational realities — inhibiting their ability to efficiently guide their teams and execute initiatives properly.  For leaders to see clearly, it requires a new perspective and a willingness to pivot and try things differently. 

Visit TheJSAgency.com and contact me at Julia@JuliaSparkman.com to discuss ways to improve clarity within your organization to up-level employee experience and profitability. 

Going for Greatness

There are a select few individuals born exceptional— for most, greatness is a practice, an attribute to work towards daily.

For me, “greatness” requires a copious sum of sweat equity and a refusal to accept “good” as satisfactory.  Over the course of my life, I’ve walked away from a lot of really good things — knowing, that if I held on to that goodness, it would inhibit me from experiencing greatness.

For some, good is enough, for me, it’s not.

The Apple dictionary defines greatness as, “the quality of being great, distinguished, or eminent” and great as, “of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above the normal or average”. In the dictionary, greatness and great are nouns and adjectives, descriptors.

To me, greatness is a verb, an action word… it’s a tireless passion and the pursuit of leaving a positive mark. 

Aspiring to be great is hard.

It’s painful to step outside of the norm and strive for something better than average and it often begins incredibly uncomfortably and messy. Greatness comes from a willingness to let go of perceived limitations and a commitment to do work. To be great, one must accept that greatness takes constant hard work.

I’ve learned, it’s impossible to experience true greatness without embodying the qualities of greatness wholeheartedly — seeking greatness in relationships, friendships, career, health, and spirituality. It’s important to note that greatness is not derived from the immediate outcomes of ones’ efforts; yet instead, it’s measured by the attitude and approach in which ones’ endeavors are pursued.

Great people realize failures can manifest marvelously and continue to live greatly in spite of difficulty.  

Sir Issac Newton said “if I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” His sentiment is the foundation of my greatness: my community. When you are continuously surrounded by great people, it requires far less effort to be great — this realization was a catalyst for The Julia Sparkman Agency.

It takes an enormous effort to be truly great, I founded The Julia Sparkman Agency to support organizational leaders and their team members on their paths to greatness. True greatness requires an outside perspective, an actionable plan, and accountability. 

The Julia Sparkman Agency is shifting the paradigm of our current work/life experiences — elevating greatness as an organizational norm instead of an elite exception. It takes courage to be great…Are you living greatly or are you just good at what you do? What will it take for you to infuse greatness in all your pursuits?

Pursuing greatness is neither egotistical nor self-serving. As the individual becomes great, so will their community. 

Greatness is finding your spark so others’ can light theirs, too. 

The Julia Sparkman Agency logo was proudly made by Humble Goods

 

Come Alive - The Olivia Wong Story

For the last few months, I’ve been writing for BuddhiBox, my dear friend Maxine’s company. I am grateful to have Maxine in my circle — as she finds her own success, she is focused on elevating the strengths of others.  Each month, BuddhiBox donates a portion of their proceeds to a nonprofit — and it is my job to write an article about that organization and its’ founder(s).

A story I recently wrote really affected me. Through that experience, I was inspired to take some of that work to my own platform to share other women’s inspiring stories. I truly believe I find success because the people around me are finding success, too. Even though those in my circle have different end goals, we are all sharing the same resources and supporting one another as we find our growth. 

The first person I thought to reach out to was Olivia Wong. I met Olivia this past March at the 6th Annual Live Well Project. I was introduced to the Live Well Project by Neeta Bhushan, Neeta is the Founder and CEO of Independent Awakening (IA) — Olivia is the President. Olivia and Neeta co-hosted the Live Well Project and I was asked to teach a short yoga class for the girls.

My interactions with Olivia the day-of the event were brief. I simply remember an aura of professionalism and positivity. What impressed me most about Olivia was her follow-up. A few days after the event, she requested a short phone call to seek feedback on my experience as a volunteer. I am always most impressed by those driven to grow and I have gravitated towards her ever since. 

Last week, Olivia shared a powerful message with me, “come alive”

She described how a simple phone call sparked a desire to live more fully. “I was on the phone with Neeta and she was pushing me -- she was like, ‘hey, I want you to be more edgy this year. You know, more matter of fact.” says Olivia.

Olivia was ready for the challenge. By day, she is the Program Officer at the Tarsadia Foundation and at work, Olivia is required to change her password every thirty days. “I began to set these intentions”, she said by using “sayYES2life” and “Lifelive2theFULLEST” as her secret code for day-to-day operations. 

A few days after her conversation with Neeta, Olivia was invited to go skydiving. Despite having previously gone cliff jumping in Vietnam, she classifies herself as “deathly afraid of heights.”

Nevertheless, she said yes to skydiving because she knew it would push her limits to be more edgy, “Surprisingly, I wasn’t afraid and didn’t think twice. I looked out the tiny window and saw the sun setting on the horizon. Suddenly it clicked, I was about to jump out of a plane. And right as the hutch opened, I said ‘leap!’”

The experience of jumping out of the plane was exactly what Olivia needed to take the leap and “come alive.” 

“It shattered any fear I held on to and reminded me that fear originates from our mind and the quality of our thoughts. Skydiving pushed me out of my comfort zone; it pushed me to be more edgy. I leaned into the fear so much that I actually passed through it. At first, everything seems so far removed from what we are capable of. But our limits are not created by reality. They are created by our own beliefs. Once your shatter your own limiting beliefs, there’s nothing that can stop you.”

In a few days, Olivia will be boarding a plane again. But this time, she won’t be jumping off. 

Olivia will be traveling to India and Southeast Asia, where she will visit projects that the Tarsadia Foundation supports. “When I was young, my grandfather taught me to travel with purpose. He’d often say, ‘travel to see faces, not places’. I am not going for site seeing; every leg of my itinerary is centered around a purpose or a cause.”

Sprinkled through her travel plans is a visit to Shanti Bhavan, a school for slum children and a stop in Malaysia to meet with philanthropists over IA’s newest ventures. In between for leisure, Olivia is excited to enjoy herself at Sunburn, a large music festival in Goa.

When I last spoke with Olivia, she announced that both her and Neeta were “evolving IA” to scale their impact. “With our old model, we’re only able to reach women in the thousands. We need to drastically recalculate our approach if we want to affect change on a global scale within our lifetime,” says Olivia. 

To come alive then, seems to be rooted in the idea that time is a scarce resource.

To best utilize their resources and scale their impact, Olivia and Neeta have decided to pivot IA from a nonprofit organization to a purpose-driven foundation, “the IA Foundation is investing in women to solve complex problems in the world. We’re looking for female entrepreneurs who can design innovative solutions to solve humanity’s greatest challenges.” 

Just as we are about to hang up the phone, she concludes, “No one needs to wait until the end of their life or the end of their career to come alive.” 

Indeed. Through her work, Olivia is encouraging others to “come alive” every day and she’s doing it at 24.

In the spirit of not waiting a moment longer, I leave you with her request, “Ask yourself, what does it mean for you to ‘come alive?’” 

Olivia can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Thoughts on "Doing" and "Being"

I’ll be honest, I’ve felt twinges of angst all week at the delay of sharing this post. Posting weekly on my personal website is something I do for myself — additional viewership is simply an added bonus. (Nonetheless, thank you for the bottom of my heart for reading!)

When I recommitted to sharing weekly, my schedule was different. Initially, posting on Monday was effortlessly attainable. Now, I teach four yoga classes on Monday — the window of opportunity to post has narrowed.

Writing for my website is important to me because sharing is a vital component of my personal wellness. Expressing myself in an open forum is liberating. It makes me feel alive and brings me great joy and happiness.

The dark moments I have shared on my site has diminished the power those instances have over my thoughts and identity. All-in-all, sharing on JuliaSparkman.com is one of my favorite activities. 

I am writer — I journal, I write for my personal website, and I am paid to write for other websites, as well.  I am also a yoga teacher, the Founder and Chief Consultant at The Julia Sparkman Agency, and I volunteer in my local communities. For years, I suppressed the desire to write for my own website to instead use that time and energy for projects that fiscally benefited me.

Now, the compensation I receive from the personal commitment to myself and the dedication of time to cultivate my passion is far more valuable than money. 

With that said, I will be the first one to admit that I am always overcommitted. This week, my other time-sensitive obligations prevented me from taking the time I needed to complete this article early. Yet, the anxiety I experienced not dedicating the space to complete these thoughts made me terribly uneasy. It was a great reminder to focus more clearly on my priorities.  

I am driven to be an active participant in life — experiencing as many things as I can with cognizance and conscientiousness. In addition to my external pursuits, since the age of nineteen, I have explored a connection to myself and spirituality. In undergrad, I took every philosophy and religion class I could squeeze into my Communication major.

Independently, I read spiritual literature and religious books and I visit churches and temples.  I pray. I practice yoga.  I meditate. I practice compassion and kindness. I volunteer. I teach yoga. And today, for me, these practices are as essential to daily living as eating and sleeping. 

Given the high degree and importance I have placed upon the aforementioned practices, I was recently scrutinized for my desire to “do” versus “be” — for identifying with so many identities. 

Paraphrasing, I was questioned, "if you are seeking to become one with yourself and all things through meditation, why are you so loudly going after your outside pursuits and so many external activities (aka actively posting on social media and chasing my day dreams)? Why can’t you be happy just being? When will ‘I am’ suffice as your identity? If all things are one — why do you shield yourself from the darkness and only seek the light?”

After wrestling with the thought of “doing” versus “being” — deconstructing “I am” — and, pondering my quest for lightness —  I arrived at a conclusion that satisfied me… 

In this lifetime, it is my dharma to initiate enlightened engagement in people and places — that requires me to act, outside of myself. 

Fortunately though, through my practices of yoga and meditation, all of my “identities” originate from our common source of oneness and all of my work seeks to uplift others to their highest capacity.

I am still uncertain as to why I shield myself from “darkness” — as many of my darkest moments have led me into the proverbial light. However, I do know, that whatever I do, I am going to do it loudly, because Malcolm X shared it best in his autobiography

 “I learned early that crying out in protest could accomplish things. My older brothers and sister had started school when, sometimes, they would come in and ask for a butter biscuit or something and my mother, impatiently, would tell them no. But I would cry to and make a fuss until I got what I wanted. I remember well how my mother asked me why I couldn’t be a nice boy like Wilfred; but I would think to myself that Wilfred, for being nice and quiet, often stayed hungry. So early in life, I learned, if you want something, you had better make some noise.” 

 I truly believe everything you need is inside of yourself but if you want to go beyond your needs to help others’ achieve their own, sometimes it requires stepping outside of oneself and speaking loudly. 

 

26 Things I am Grateful For in 2015

  1. My meditation practice — 15 minutes every morning. 

  2. Beacon’s Beach — An oasis and beautiful manifestation of infinity. 

  3. Iced Americanos — Especially from Cafe Gelato VeroCaffe Calabria, and Copa Vida.

  4. My Home Yoga Practice — Self discovery through organic movement. 

  5. Christina Lynch, Dani Anderson, Jenna Huffine, Jennie Groom, Leeann Hepler, Libby Goral, and Maxine Chapman — Women that get after it and inspire me to do the same!  

  6. Go Light Our World and Kayla Nielsen — A nonprofit and its’ founder and their mission to bring light to the World transparently and authentically. Fall 2016!!! 

  7. The quote: "You accept the love you think you deserve."- Perks of Being a Wallflower

  8. My Yoga Students — For they teach me far more than I could ever teach them. 

  9. Baked Bear — M&M and Funfetti Cookie with Cookies & Cream Ice Cream. 

  10. My Mentors (Past & Present) —  Sue McShane, Professor Dave Ross, Dr. Barb Willard, Dr. Michela Winchatz, Dr. Suchitra Shenoy Packer, Dr. Alexa Murphy, Elizabeth Hinker, Jordan Newmark, Samantha Galvin, Diane Miller, Kaivan Dave,  Melissa Hernandez, Kat Sand, Sheri Colismo… to name a few. 

  11. The Feral Cats in My Neighborhood — A playful reminder to stay curious and ready to pounce. 

  12. The Autobiography of a Yogi — A transformative book that redirected me spiritually. 

  13. Boundaries — Understanding who I am and what my limits are… 

  14. Punjabi Tandoor — The most delicious Indian restaurant in San Diego. 

  15. Tuesday 6AM C2 @ North Park CorePower Yoga — Committed students with wonderful energy and passion. 

  16. Bean and Cheese Burritos from Bahia Don Bravo — Must pour green salsa into wrap before every bite!

  17. The San Diego Yoga Community  — Especially CorePowerBird RockThe House of Yogi East Village, and The Little Yoga Studio. 

  18. The Tim Ferris Show Podcast — A productive, self-building gem in every show. 

  19. Yoga Playlists — Matching my sequences to the musical flow. 

  20. The Anza Borrego Desert — Sunrise meditations and Palm Oasis hikes. 

  21. Gerolsteiner Mineral Sparkling Water — The little things that make the biggest differences. 

  22. The Julia Sparkman Agency — Believing in myself and riding the waves. 

  23. San Diego Weather — The ability to walk barefoot outdoors and feel sunshine on my skin everyday. 

  24. Nighttime Runs through Balboa Park — The European vibe and romantic lighting. 

  25. JuliaSparkman.com — For giving me a space to reflect and share. 

  26. My Family — For shaping me into who I am today.

East Village - I Am Listening

The first time I went to East Village, I was completely dumbfounded. Tents, people of all ages laying in tattered sleeping-bags and rags in the middle of the side-walk, with provisional carts full of belongings at the foot of uber-tall modern condos and apartment buildings. I remember thinking to myself “this is what it will look like everywhere when the World is ending.”  

Coming from Chicago, I knew danger, but I did not know the depths of homelessness, as it is present in San Diego. I always feel safe amid the homeless here, but over the course of one month’s time, I saw four penises while walking to and from Hale Holistic — a yoga studio. I believe the exposures were largely due to the mens’ lack of access to privacy. 

Seeing male genitals and feces is disgusting, but witnessing countless homeless children is purely devastating. And when seeing random penises and homeless children and hundreds of people living on the street became an everyday part of my life, it became impossible for me to sit back and not do anything. 

Studying non-profits in graduate school left me skeptical towards privileged-outsiders effectuating real changes in communities like East Village — I wholeheartedly believe that the solution is found at the roots and is supported, not implemented, by community outsiders. So, I decided to ask East Village community members two questions: What would you say to someone who could make a difference in your life? How can we help you? 

The idea stemmed from ethnographic research I conducted in Kenya for my graduate thesis. Even though my apartment is less than two miles away from East Village, I feel as far removed from the issues in East Village as I did from the lives of my Kenyan friends.

So, I decided to take what I had learned from Kenya and implore a similar project in East Village — with a few upgrades to provide a louder voice to the community. 

Ever since I started talking about the project, one of the first questions I am typically asked is, “have you heard of such and such organization?” I did do some research before I set out… But, I am largely underwhelmed with the support the East Village community is receiving. I am confident the organizations and the field workers are going above and beyond to provide what they can; yet, it is quite evident the needs of the East Village community far surpass the organizations’ present capacities.

Something is missing. 

Several times, I have asked myself, “Who am I to document these people? Who am I to share their stories? I am an outsider — I pass by them on my way to teach and practice yoga. What if I give these people a voice and no one helps them and nothing changes?”  

While I may not have definitive answers to these questions, I am 100% certain I cannot continue to pass by masses of people living on the streets, next to my yoga studio (my place of peace), and not do anything. 

In the movie, Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore asked Marilyn Manson, “If you were to talk directly to the kids at Columbine or the people in that community, who would you say to them if they were here right not?” and Marilyn said, “I wouldn’t say a single word to them I would listen to what they have to say, and that’s what no one did.”

And that’s how I plan to start supporting my East Village Community, listening.  

What Kind of Person Are You?

On Saturday evening,  I took the long, neighborly stroll from my apartment in Mission Hills to Old Town. We set out with the intention of dinning at Sushi Tadokoro — upon arrival we were told they were booked through the evening. Teetering on the verge of hanger,  we went straight to Indian Grill.

If you're a San Diegan, I know what you are thinking: who goes to Old Town for sushi or Indian food? We do! 

Having finished the Autobiography of a Yogi on Saturday afternoon, the thought of Indian food saturated my thoughts all day. After reading Paramahansa Yogananda’s description of their feasts, I craved Punjabi Tandoor — my absolute favorite place to eat Indian food in San Diego. Since I was unfamiliar with Indian Grill’s menu, I asked my server to select me the “best vegetarian entree”. When it arrived, it could not have been further from what I envisioned myself eating — she brought me the biryani.

I often ask my servers to surprise me and nine times out of ten, it works in my favor — I typically receive something incredible, a dish I may not have personally selected.

On Saturday, it backfired.

In my head, I saw myself eating a creamy curry concoction, full of spice, rice or lentils, and steamed vegetables. I imagined myself dipping our garlicky naan into the overflow of sauce on my plate. Instead, before me was a large heaping of Indian fried rice, no sauce for the naan in sight. The dish was spicy and dry; far from the decadent, juicy meal I had fantasized.

I nonetheless take full responsibility for my dissatisfaction, the waitress adhered to my guidance — it was vegetarian and to her, the biryani may have been the best vegetarian item. 

At dinner, I knew what I didn’t want — I did not want a dish with meat. However, I did not take the time to specifically address and/or seek out my desire and I left feeling discontented.  

While writing in my journal later that evening, I reflected on the experience and it brought me back to a question that had plagued my week… “What kind of person are you?”

The question was initially asked spitefully a week ago on Wednesday — after I made a decision that misaligned with someone else’s life views.

Then, Jacki Carr more delicately re-presented the same question with different verbiage on a short phone call on Thursday afternoon. Jacki asked me to consider what my values are and what my legacy will be… Questions that required me to not only be cognizant of what I didn’t want but intimately familiar with what I do. 

With great clarity, I am now able to answer the question, What kind of person are you?:

I am passionate. Passionate about love, life, and inspired, hard work. I am thinker, a learner — constantly on a quest for new knowledge and insights. I am emotionally, physically, and mentally open and strong. I am a whole person — I refuse to compromise any part of myself for anything or anyone. I am reader, a writer, an adventurer, a yogi, a runner, a teacher, a student, a volunteer, a sister, a daughter, a girlfriend, a friend, a best-friend, a consultant, a coach, a strategist, an artist, a dreamer, a traveler, an eater — I am a believer.  I believe the good for me and you is better than the good for just me in each and every single situation and I choose to only surround myself and have relationships with people who believe that, too.

I am Julia Jane Sparkman and I am sure that the person I am today will continue to grow, evolve, and change, so I’m certain you’ll meet a newly developed version of me soon.

 

Missteps Happen, So Do Miracles

As I waited outside the agency’s parking lot, I knew something was off when Ken did not answer my text right away. Ken was a mentor at my first collegiate internship — we bonded over walks through the West Loop, before it was hip.

As an intern, I was new to and struggling with the prolonged durations of sitting indoors that are inherent to office life. Through my short experience at the agency, I learned that Ken is very dutiful. Therefore, I knew something was wrong and it was my fault; he would have let me know if something changed. 

My life is dictated by my Moleskin planner. In my planner, I wrote his visit to San Diego on 10/30. I checked my phone, message from Ken, lunch on 11/6.  Throughout history, I have only made this mistake once before — thankfully, both times have caused zero negative repercussions. I was still perturbed by my mistake — my week was jammed pack and I could have used the extra space. Extremely hangry, I debated heading home to use the free-time to catch up and pack for the weekend. Instead, I went to Trilogy Cafe.  

At Trilogy, I immediately ran into one of my best-friends, on her birthday! She had been on my mind all day, as I was disappointed to be missing her party due to my trip to the desert. As I ate my favorite tacos and coconut ice cream and brownie, I literally beamed with gratitude over my scheduling mistake — it led me to CiCi!!! Then, on my way out, I had a meaningful conversation with a friend — a conversation that set some positive things in motion. 

That evening, I drove to Borrego Springs, California. As told in A Trip to the Stars, I chickened out on my first nighttime trip to the desert a couple of weeks back— a creepy encounter with a car on the side of the road kept me in the car versus under the star light, where I wanted to be. Had I stayed outside of the car on that first excursion, I probably would have not scheduled another trip back out. 

After a stop for sushi dinner in the small town of Alpine, California,  I arrived to La Casa del Zorro shortly after 10PM on Friday. Even after viewing the photos online, I was so surprised by the expansiveness and luxury of our room— truly first class glamping. We set our alarm for 2AM, I wanted to lay in the middle of the desert under the stars late at night (then crawl back into a comfortable king size bed). 

By the time the alarm went off, I was dead asleep on my plush pillow. We groggily layered up and headed to what appeared to be a makeshift gauntlet for star-viewing. The resort constructed a large, walled, roofless structure for stargazing on the border of the premise. While Borrego Springs is in the absolute middle of no-where, the few homes and businesses within the 10 mile radius do give off some light — the archaically designed structure helped provide maximum darkness. With nothing but our hoodies on, we laid right in the middle and watched as three shooting stars streamed by. 

As we crawled back into bed shortly after 3AM, I set the next alarm for 6:30AM. 6:30AM was a little harder to get out of bed for and thankfully, it was more fulfilling. 

Moments before sunrise, the sky transformed to a deep, light blue. I felt as if I was walking to the place were the sun started. I swear, if we walked a mile closer , we could have practically touched it as it creeped onto the horizon.

Blazing over the edge, the mountains glowed with a purplish-pink-red hue; the sky, a greenish blue. It was surreal — astral.  As the sun smoldered into the sky, round with a, gaseous haze, we sat down and meditated. 

The energy I experienced in those moments is indescribable. Kind of like a, “yup, you’re on to something” feeling. Later that morning, after breakfast, I journaled over my gratitude over wimping out on the first trip — initially, I viewed my behavior during my first stargazing journey to Anza Borrego as “bad”. 

Had I had a “good” trip, I probably wouldn’t have come back to the desert for awhile. 

Had I not come back, I would have missed out on an incredible sunrise, followed by an overpriced hotel breakfast, a dip in the hot tub, journaling by the pool, a major defeat during a game of ping-pong, lunch at a restaurant straight out of the 1970s, a visit to their local Art Gallery, a trip to the metal sculptures, a hike through Palm Canyon Trail, apple pie, ice cream, and cider in Julian, Whole Foods macaroni and cheese, AND an 8:30PM bedtime, followed by 10 hours of sleep. 

Missteps happen, so do miracles.  

 

A Trip to the Stars

(Photo from 2014 trip to Palm Canyon in Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

(Photo from 2014 trip to Palm Canyon in Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

Shortly after I began reading Nicholas Christopher’s, A Trip to the Stars, I moved to Encinitas, California — a sleepy beach town known for its surf and abundance of yoga. Having moved from Chicago, I was mesmerized by the countless bright spots in the Encinitas’ night sky.

Encinitas is the perfect backdrop for reading Christopher’s intricate tale of Enzo and Mala’s connection to the stars. Completely engrossed in the novel, I found myself constantly talking about the hours right after twilight. On one occasion, my friend CiCi told me Encinitas seemed dim in comparison to the desert and a trip to the desert stars immediately made my bucket list.

A year later, the thought of desert stars continued to float into my stream of consciousness and at the beginning of October, I put a Trip to the Stars on my calendar. The moment I wrote it down, I knew I would drive to Borrego Springs, California. I had hiked the Palm Desert Trail in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park several times and I feel a connection to that area. 

On the evening of October 17, small butterflies floated into my tummy an hour or so before we were set to leave. My thoughts have not been the same since I marathon-watched Criminal Minds on Netflix a few months ago. Visions of a roadside attack flooded my mind — images of myself running breathlessly through the dark night. Mark Twain was so right when he said, “some of the worst things in my life never even happened.” 

The drive East of San Diego was more challenging than I had expected. Having previously struggled with the drive during the daylight, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I did not anticipate the struggle I experienced though— the psychedelic, tunnel-vision effect of the lane markers streaming alongside my peripheral vision. The prominence of the lane makers became staggeringly apparent when I attempted to turn my fog lights on and accidentally turned off my headlights —the depth of the darkness literally made my stomach drop.

With my bare-toes on the gas pedal, the thoughts in my head sounded like The Little Engine That Could… “it will be worth it”… they said. At the perfect moment, a turn in the road slowed me down enough to catch a glimpse of the stars. A rush of fulfillment and excitement flooded my body and it gave me energy to make it to the pull-off overlooking the Anza Borrego State Park from above. 

Slowly rolling into the valley, my ears crackled and the temperature steadily rose. Reaching the pull-off was exhilarating,  partially because I was so proud of myself for finding it. I turned off my car headlights and the night sky popped — my eyes widened in an attempt to take it all in. Viewing the Milky Way for the first time was breathtaking; a gaseous-swirl encompassed in darkness with millions of tiny lights shining.

It’s moments like those that keep me searching for more. 

The etherial vibes I experienced quickly diminished as a car approached and pulled-off. My heart raced as I watched the two men in the back seat duck down and cover their heads. Then, just as quickly as they pulled-in, they immediately circled around and continued in the direction they came from, I was bewildered and terrified. 

I raced to get back in the car. I’m brave, but the darkness was suffocating and I felt vulnerable. Flooded with feelings of defeat, I was eager to drive down into Borrego Springs — the tiny town situated at the foothills of the valley. It was shortly after 9PM and we found an open restaurant, Big Horn Bar and Grill, that served Julian apple pie, a major win — the warm apple pie and ice cream slowly made up for what I thought to be the start of my life manifesting into a Criminal Minds episode.

After pie, we walked down the small main street until it ended at the modernly misplaced Borrego Springs Library. It almost felt as if we were invisible as we watched several people walk into the only two places open — a lively bar and taco shop — I wondered if they were locals or visitors, like us. 

As planned, we walked back to our car to return to San Diego. Once we made it out of the valley,  we pulled over again. This time, since we could see the stars from inside the car, we did not have the courage to get out.

The darkness was indescribably frightening, it probably had something to do with the mountains lurking over us on both sides of the road. And, while I know the adage “better safe than sorry” easily applies to pulling over on a dark, abandoned highway in the desert mountains in the middle of the night, I regret not getting out of the car. 

The view from the car was incredible, but it was nothing like the experience of being outdoors. I swear, you can feel the light from the stars, just like the sun. Fear robbed me from experiencing that sensation again and that’s something I’ve journaled about throughout the week.

How often do I let fear hold me back from fully experiencing life?

What other cars am I metaphorically sitting in right now? I was there and I worked hard to get there, but I stayed in the car... Why? 

I’m obviously going back to the desert and next time, I will frolic — if anything, 10/17/15 reiterated the importance of the Japanese proverb: fall seven times, stand up eight. 

What's Worth Doing Even if I Fail?

Before jetting off to Chicago on Friday afternoon, I downloaded a few Podcasts for the flight. The first show I added to my archive was Episode #12 from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lesson— her guest was Brene Brown, I was eager to listen to two of my greatest inspirations converse about “Big Strong Magic.” 

The dialogue did not disappoint. The two demystified the notion of collective creativity and they advocated for a painless, joy-filled creative process. Brene shared her experience being a “creative martyr” and Elizabeth soothingly said, “As long as we stay locked in this idea that creativity can only be born through suffering, sacrifice, pain, and torment, it will always be born through suffering, sacrifice, pain, and torment.”

History is wrought with stories of artists’ suffering; it was comforting to consider creativity evolving from joy and love — instead of the agony that has propelled artistic works for centuries. 

My biggest take away from the thirty-five minute segment was a question proposed by Brene — “What’s worth doing even if I fail?”  I paused the podcast as they began to unpack the paradigm shift from the mindset of “What would I do if I knew I wouldn’t fail?” to deciding what’s worth doing in spite of success or failure.

Shortly after I finished the podcast, I was off the plane and reuniting with my sister, Tara — I was in Chicago to support her at the Chicago Marathon.

On Sunday, I woke up with Tara and walked her as close as I was allowed to the starting line. After we parted ways, I returned to her apartment and headed to Mile 3 with my older sister, Shelley, and Tara’s boyfriend, Curtis. Cowbell and rainbow flag in hand, we enthusiastically cheered for everybody until she passed. Once Tara breezed through Mile 3, Curtis and Shelley went to Mile 13.1 and I went the Mile 14.5, in front of the United Center.

The night before, Tara and I had planned for me to run from the United Center to Chinatown with her on the course, Miles 14.5 to 21. Tara saw me before I saw her (my strategy was to look right in front of me to avoid missing her in the crowd). It was hard for me to contain my excitement as we ran; she was doing amazing and I was SO proud. Shelley and Curtis waited for us at the Chinatown Red Line stop. At that point, Tara set off solo for her final push and Shelley, Curtis, and I raced downtown to be there for her finish.

That was Tara’s first marathon and her attitude towards the event was moving.

She inspired me with her focus and lack of egotism — Tara had never ran 26.2 miles before, she did not know if she could, but she did it anyways. 

On our way to the Jackson Red Line stop after Tara’s successful race, I was reminded of one of my failures, as we walked passed DePaul University. I went straight from undergrad to graduate school at DePaul. At the end of my senior year, I applied for a tuition-free, monetarily-stipend teaching assistantship.

I did not receive the position; initially, the failure crushed me. 

When I applied to graduate school, I envisioned myself as a full-time TA, completely immersed in academia. It took me a few months to let go of the sting, but by the start of the school year, I was excited to take on my hourly-paid research assistantships, investigating urban agriculture and community gardens.

The experience led me to Chicago’s notorious Fuller Park neighborhood, where I dug in the dirt and supported a community nutrition fair. After the research assistantship wrapped up, I received a teaching assistantship grading papers and I substitute taught various 100-level lectures. 

Since my academic obligations did not take up the space I had anticipated, I diligently focused on my yoga practice and enrolled in and completed my 200 HR RYT. Shortly after I completed my teacher training, I worked closely with a professor to develop an ethnographic field study in Kenya, for my thesis research.

Reflecting on that specific “failure” makes me think of a quote from Ghandi, “remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.”

Tara’s uninhibited approach to her race and my positive experience with a past failure reignited a spark within me — I need to put more effort and energy into a project I am balking at. I’ve never done what I want to do before — launch an organizational communication and holistic wellness consulting business.

Thankfully, Tara inspired me to try anyways. And, I know it’s worth doing even if I DO fail — because as experience shows, failing isn’t the worst thing that can happen, anyways. 

Discipline Creates Freedom

In the yoga community, it’s not uncommon to gift a rock with an adjective describing the recipient written on it. In my collection, I have “lighthearted” and “alive”. I am known for my carefree, energetic disposition. Even my name, Julia, means “the youthful one”. 

Having the energy and the curiosity of a five year old has many advantages; however, it can often lead to a lack of productivity. In my experience, being everywhere, doing everything at one time is not productive. When I am overcommitted, I am disconnected from my work and my experiences and I feel guilty for not showing up 100% for myself and others. 

Learning to say “no” and focus my energy and attention on fewer projects has been my biggest asset recently. If it’s not fuck yes, it’s no. Over the weekend, I purged my apartment again and I outlined clear list of actionable tasks for October that align with the Q4 goals I set for myself at Goal Play (an incredible event my beautiful friend Sheri Matthews hosted with the wonderful women and men of Wildfire at Trilogy Sanctuary). Goal setting alongside my inspirational peers is something I hope to do again soon! Thank you, Sheri!!!

As an independent contractor, my schedule is sporadic and significantly different week to week. Approximately 24 hours of my week are accounted for, I teach 14 regular classes and volunteer on Wednesday afternoon. Weekly, my teacher training coaching dates and other private commitments change. I thrive with the dynamics of an evolving schedule, but it makes working towards larger goals challenging. 

In my opinion, clear goals and discipline are equally if not more important to highly-motivated people than they are to under-motivated individuals. I find my energy, fear, and curiosity often lead me down paths that may be interesting but not supportive of my vision and goals.

When I am clear about how I want to feel and where I want my life to go, I make better decisions that support whatever it is I’m working towards.

When I am unsure of where I am going and without a plan, I am simply spinning in space with no direction. Don’t get me wrong, spinning in space has landed me in some incredible spots. Yet, I know how good it feels to have a vision and create it (<—- I want more of that). 

At first, goal setting felt unnatural to me, I love adventure and spontaneity. Overtime, it’s grown on me and I’m hungry for it now. My goals are firm, yet flexible.

For instance, I have set a date to drive to the desert to see the stars at night time. Obviously, Julian apple pie will somehow be involved, but knowing me, no real plans will be made until moments before we leave. Goal setting is all about taking those things “you’ve always wanted to do” and actually doing them.

Listening to podcasts like, The Tim Ferriss Show, and participating on Zen Girl Mandy’s, Zen Girl Power Hour, call motivates me and provides me tools to stay on track. Last week, both the podcast episode and Mandy’s monthly call had the theme of “discipline”: discipline creates freedom. Upon reflection, I realized I had my most creative,  “best work days” when I stayed on task, when I was disciplined.

As a freelancer, it’s easy to get distracted by competing requests, so I am learning to schedule my “working” chunks of the day to ensure I am maximizing my priorities and not getting lost down the bunny hole known as gmail.com. 

Last week, per my goal, I scheduled myself to take Sarah Clark’s 12PM class on Friday. It is my goal to take at least one class a week with an inspiring, knowledgable instructor. It was my first time at Hale Holistic and I was not surprised to see “discipline creates freedom” etched within their manifesto on the wall. 

Lately, my freedom has come from shifting my morning routine to seven days a week; I've adjusted my schedule to allow enough time for the three mornings I wake up early. Everyday, I meditate, give thanks, and nourish myself before I leave the house. 

That brings me to sharing five solid disciplines that have worked well for me: 

 1) Establish a reasonable morning routine. Start simple, make your bed, hot water with lemon, sit with your eyes closed for 5 minutes, and/or move through a few rounds of Sun A. Starting small is better than doing nothing. Once it feels normal, add something new. 

 2) If I have 3-5 hours to get work done, I prioritize my time. I take a post-it note and write a list that resembles this:

 -Eat

-Clean Up Lunch

-Write Blog Post

-Post Blog Post

-Post on Social Media

-Email

-Sequence/ Playlist

-Eat

-Clean Up

Seeing the big picture of what I need to accomplish and physically writing it down prevents me from checking my emails while I eat and posting on social media while I make my playlist. Prioritizing what needs to be done first and giving everything a clear order helps me to stay on track and inspired and it typically leaves me with extra time. Discipline creates freedom :) 

 3) Seek guidance and inspiration. Whether it’s in the form of a mentor, life coach, or self-study, keep being the beginner and seek wisdom from those who know more. When you know the most, teach others. 

 4) Journal. Even if it’s five sentences, get your thoughts outside of yourself. Make a gratitude list. Write your dream average day. Write your dream above average day. At the end of the day, describe your day: give yourself credit for something you did well and something you’d like to do better next time. 

5) Go offline more often. Leave your phone at home, turn your phone/computer on airplane mode as often as possible. Give your brain the freedom to think about what it wants to think about instead of being influenced by the thoughts of others.