Comparison: The Joy Killer

Few things kill joy, rob us of peace, and promote self-centered-ness like comparing ourselves with others. What they have, what they look like, how they act…there are many areas in which we put others on a pedestal, wishing we “had it that good.”

At the heart of comparison are insecurity and an incorrect focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do have.

The funny thing about comparison is that it’s entirely possible for us to banish it in one area of our lives, but allow it to fester, unrealized, in another. Sometimes, comparison becomes so natural that we’ve sized someone up, decided what that says about us, and either felt better or worse because of it – all before we even notice what we’re doing.

I used to struggle with discontent from comparing my “stuff” and possessions to others’ – wishing I had more, bigger or better. But now, I’m learning to hold things loosely and finding great freedom in wanting less rather than more. I’m still tempted to think I need more than I have sometimes. But I’m so grateful that possessions no longer have the power over me they once did.

The one area in which I cannot seem to stop comparing myself to others is my weight and

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Photo Taken: Gibbs Gardens, Ball Ground, GA

how I look. I think most women struggle with this at different times and in different ways. I’ve got a lot of scars from past experiences and my struggle is pretty constant in this area.

But let me drop some perspective on myself. (And maybe someone out there needs to do the same!) I am not sick, and I do not have injuries that render me unable to move or live life freely. I am not the weight or size I wish I was, but I work out 5-6 days a week and I do my best to eat well. I have made and met fitness goals. I continue to try new things (like scary road bike rides in the mountains!) and face fears because I can. What I need to train myself to do is focus on what my body can do rather than compare myself to skinnier people and wish I was different. If I must compare, let me compare myself to someone cannot do all the things I can do.

When I think about my body in this way, it makes all my complaining seem utterly ridiculous. Nevermind the fact that pretty much no one cares what I look like as much as I seem to! If there is someone out there who is critical of how I look, who really cares? Why do I care? God loves me and approves of me and He knows my heart; He knows that I want to take care of the body He’s given me. I have a fantastic husband who loves and respects me and tells me I’m beautiful every day. It’s only my own stubborn inability to give myself grace that pulls me downward into despair about my body.

What are the ways in which you’re most likely to compare yourself to others? Is it your weight? Is it how much money you have? Is it the kind of car you drive? Your job? Your abilities as a parent?

Let me just tell you: you are enough. As you are, right now, today. God loves you; your family and friends love you. Maybe it’s time for you to give you a little love, too.

If you’re overweight and wish you looked different, do what you can. Move, eat foods that will optimally fuel your body and celebrate what you are able to do. If you wish you had a nicer car, start focusing on the fact that you have a car that is getting you around. If you aren’t happy in your job, look for a new one, or think of ways to make the job you’re doing more meaningful and fulfilling to you. Mamas, don’t worry about being perfect or being anyone other than you: you’re doing great!

Comparison is the great joy-killer. Make an effort NOT to engage those comparative thoughts when they come; make a habit of turning them into something uplifting and positive. And whenever possible, turn your mind from your dark thoughts about yourself and reach out to help someone around you who is in need or just say some kind words to a friend. I guarantee you anyone you choose to show kindness to will appreciate it. Just don’t forget to be kind to yourself, too!

A Beautiful Glimpse of the Past

Four years ago, my grandfather passed away. Friday, a big group of us convened at his favorite place, Lake Wallenpaupack PA, and set his ashes free in the waters he loved.

I don’t see my extended family as much as I’d like. And ever since grandpa passed, it always feels a little weird to be around all of them without him. It’s been easier to feel a bit removed from the sadness of missing him since we don’t live close. (Though if I let myself, I’d probably still cry every time I thought about him!) Being in “his” place made that sadness come to the surface; bigger and more raw.

My grandfather was a BIG man. Not necessarily big in size, though he was tall, but big in personality. His booming laugh and bear hugs instantly made a room feel warm and full of life.  He was one of my absolute favorite people.

And my favorite childhood memories live at their lake house. For whatever reason, I felt the urge to write them all down – perhaps while I still remember them!

I don’t think I’ve ever lived closer than a 2 hour plane ride from my grandparents, but as a kid, I saw them at least once a year, usually around the 4th of July. We would all pile on my grandfathers boat with blankets and snacks, anchor in the middle of the lake and watch fireworks shot off a tiny island nearby.

The lake house itself felt magical as a kid. The round table off the living room was surrounded by windows overlooking the lake and usually had an unfinished puzzle or game on it. The skinny, steep, windy iron & wood stairs down to the basement revealed a wall of more games, water guns and lake toys galore. And I can still remember the smell of cinnamon raisin bagels and Dunkin Donuts coffee in the mornings.

My brother and I had special rituals with my grandpa whenever we were there. One of our favorites was to go on long walks with him down the gravel road past the house. There, we’d pick raspberries off the endless bushes that lined the road. We’d walk over to the silent, mossy old graveyard and search for the oldest tombstones. And no walk was complete without a sturdy walking stick. My brother and I would find big sticks and hand them over to my grandpa for inspection. If it was a good stick, we’d bring it back and he’d sand down a smooth handle and chop it to “kid-sized”.

If you were awake early enough, you might get to go with Grandpa to the general store for the newspaper or Dunkin Donuts for coffee. If you were really lucky, you’d get to pick out candy sticks or get a roll of necco wafers from the general store, too. Sometimes, we’d take after-dinner boat rides and my brother and I would perch in the very front of the boat, searching for huge wake waves from other boats and begging grandpa to fly over them. Other early mornings or evenings, you’d find grandpa down on the dock fishing – and always excited if we wanted to join him.

My grandma would make giant sandwich platters for lunch and delicious home cooked meals each night. She and my mom would run off and play at antique shops while the rest of us spent our days jumping off the dock and floating around in inter tubes, or tubing and water-skiing on the lake.

When we were kids, we made what we called “treasure chests” in the rocks along the shoreline; moving rocks around to create little spaces and capping them tightly with large, flat rocks. We’d run along the slate gravel paths around the house and have water gun fights with our cousins. And when we got older, we’d take out the Sea-doos and search for big wakes to crash over on our own.

This weekend, we convened at my cousin Brian’s house on the lake. I didn’t realize it until we were out on the water, but grandma and grandpas old place was almost directly across the lake from Brian’s.

fullsizerender_1
A poor shot of the old house through the trees, but the best one I could get! I think I accidentally had a weird filter on my phone camera.

When it was time, we all piled in two boats (there were over 20 of us, including my sweet Grandma) and headed towards the old house. When I finally saw it, I just ached inside. What I wouldn’t give to be in that place one more time! To walk down to the cemetery eating fresh berries…smell the smells…hear Grandpa laughing. It’s funny how unfamiliar the lake looked as we left Brian’s, but how utterly familiar it felt as we got closer to that lifetime of precious memories. And turning around to leave from the old house was familiar, too – that view we’d seen a million times as kids – from the house, the deck, the dock.

Someone still lives there, making their own memories. It’s bittersweet. (But don’t think I didn’t stalk VRBO already on the off-chance that the new owners rent it out. It’s possible that I found the house next door, or one very close. Will update when my stalking is complete.)

My dad got this urn for grandpas ashes that would float a bit, then eventually sink and dissolve in the water. As one of us pointed out, it looked just like a buoy – how fitting. So as we turned away from the old place, my Dad and several others said some words, and then he released the “buoy” into the water. All of us hovered around it in our boats and watched grandpa bob and drift, until he found the perfect spot to rest.

It was a special day.

 

Give A Little Grace

I’m sitting here today, a few hours from boarding a flight to Pennsylvania to visit family. I’m excited to see everyone, but my peace has been missing for most of the day.

My travel phobias strike again!

This is frustrating. The flight to PA is less than 2 hours, and I did just fine a couple months ago on a 5 hour flight to OR.

My immediate reaction is to be really irritated with myself, and berate myself for not feeling peaceful and letting these dumb fears affect me in the slightest.

But today, I’m choosing to take a step back and let mindfulness lead. Step 1: WRITE. Step 2: When I can feel I’m starting to be too tough on myself I ask this question: if my best friend were describing my own feelings to me as hers, what would I say?

The short answer is: nothing close to what I am tempted to say to myself.

My usual inner dialogue snarls things like: “I can’t believe you’re letting this affect you AGAIN.” Or, “You are such a failure! I thought we conquered this fear already. You’re such a baby.” And my favorite, “You haven’t changed at all!”

What would I tell my best friend were she having the same feelings as me? I’d say things like: “Don’t be so hard on yourself! You may always have this fear, but remember how many strategies you’ve learned to get through it.” And “It’s OK to feel the fear; you’re going to get on that plane anyway and conquer it.” And “Just think how good it will feel once you’ve got another travel experience under your belt.” And “You’ve done this a bunch of times before, you got this!”

Have you ever noticed how much harder we are on ourselves than we would be on our friends? I’m actually kind of shocked at how stark a difference there is between the two for

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Photo Taken: La Jolla, CA

me. But self-hatred and perfectionism have an insidious way of creeping in until you barely even notice them. I had these negative thoughts about myself in a split second. They felt so familiar and it would have been easy to just accept them rather than grab them and throw them out.

It takes mindfulness and sometimes, retreating to a quiet place, to recognize harmful self-talk and decide to talk to yourself in a different way. Now, I have the option to re-write my bad thoughts and focus on good thoughts instead. I don’t have to accept whatever happens to pop into my head first.

We could all stand to give a little more grace. Both to others and for many of us, to ourselves. (By the way, I think this works just as well if you catch yourself having less-than-kind thoughts about others!)

Put this little exercise on the long list of reasons I love writing and learning to be mindful! I hope that someday, my immediate reaction to my own struggling or being less than perfect is more likely to be kind than cruel.

After all, I’d never dream of saying the things I tell myself to anyone else. I’m feeling calmer and more centered at that thought alone.

 

3 Ways to Live in the Moment

At one time or another, we’ve probably all heard the adages: “Just take it a day at a time!” and “Life is a journey, not a destination!” Both these quips are fantastic advice. But all too often, I live my life thinking too far ahead, berating myself for not reaching my goals yet or focusing on everything that’s wrong in my life.

But when I am able to slow down…both in thought and action, I am able to truly see the value and peace found in living in the moment. While it is good to have goals and have a destination in mind, it is easy for the race to the destination to dull the joy of the journey.

So what steps can we take to enjoy the benefits of taking life a day at a time, enjoying our unique journeys and living in the moment?

Put off distractions. What things in life tend to distract you and disturb your peace the most? For me, it’s often comparing myself with others, or spending too much time playing on my phone. These things are an enormous waste of time. When I’m comparing myself with others, I’m allowing my insecurity to dominate my life and thoughts. And when I’m spending too much time on Facebook or Pinterest or lost in a game on a screen, I not only foster discontent in my life, but I’m also completely distracted from what is going on right in front of me in the real world. If I’m distracted all the time, it’s very hard to appreciate the current moment and it also encourages me not to deal with difficult things. If you find yourself constantly seeking distraction during calm moments, it’s time to turn off the phone/tv/internet browser. I am striving to minimize these distractions in my life.

Notice the good. When you identify distractions and begin to eliminate them, you’re free to notice the wonderful things that surround you. Just stop and look around. What do you see and feel? Is it a beautiful day outside? Is your office chair super comfy? Is your dog sleeping in a position that makes you laugh? Are your kids giggling and playing with each other? Are you working on a really exciting project at your job? Is it crisp and cool enough outside that you can wear your favorite sweater? You can’t live in the moment if you can’t see the moment.

Give thanks. I believe this is the most important step because it changes your perspective. If I’m unhappy or discontent, I’m usually doing one of two things: over-thinking and living in the future, or trying to distract myself from something. But if I just turn off the distractions for a moment, notice the good around me, and give thanks for it, my perspective shifts. When I practice giving thanks, I find there is ALWAYS something to be thankful for. We can grumble, and not want the circumstances in which we find ourselves, but it is our choice whether we focus on what we don’t have or on what we do have.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to waste the journey of life by focusing solely on the destination or on everything that’s going wrong in my life. It’s important to remember there’s always something I’m striving for, that I’d like to change about myself, or some way in which I would like to grow. And I don’t think this will end in my time on earth – it’s human nature. I think I will always have some destination to arrive at.

If we live our lives as if we cannot be satisfied until we reach our destinations, but there’s ALWAYS a destination, how will we ever enjoy peace? The answer is to revel in the moment by removing distractions, noticing the good all around us, and giving thanks for each day, each hour, each moment in our respective journeys.

I saw a great quote somewhere a couple weeks ago by Aristotle Onassis that illustrates this

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Photo Taken: Amicalola Falls, GA

beautifully: “We must free ourselves of the hope that the sea will ever rest. We must learn to sail in the high winds.”

This is freeing to me. When I put so much pressure on myself to arrive at my destination, I cannot enjoy the path God takes me on to get there. When I accept that I will forever be growing, changing and learning, life seems more exciting than monotonous or slow-moving. When I see and am thankful for everything I have right now, I move away from discontent and into the present moment.

To me, this is the most simple way to live. It doesn’t mean things are always peachy keen and it certainly doesn’t mean that we’re happy all the time. But true growth and change often occur when we are able to lift our eyes during even our hardest moments and say, “I see all that I am blessed with, and I am thankful.”

 

5 Steps to Becoming a Writer

It’s been a little over a year since I left my job and “gave a year to God.”

A lot has changed and a lot has stayed the same during that time, but in some ways, clarity has certainly come. Now that I believe I’m meant to write, I’m trying to figure out what my days should look like as a writer. What exactly do I need to do before I can confidently say, “I’m a writer” when people ask what I do?

I’ve been reading and writing and thinking and journaling and watching videos from those who have gone before me. And the time has come to “set up shop” so to speak.

I’ve identified (and am working on!) 5 things that need to happen for me to get comfortable calling myself a writer. In other words, a road map to being a productive writer

1. Set Goals. As I learned working as a consultant, step 1 of just about anything is to establish goals. Why I am doing this? What do I hope to accomplish? What do I need to get started? Do I need to raise money and/or start making money right away?  Once these questions are answered, I can begin to flesh out an action plan.

Ultimately, I want to impact people’s lives in a positive way with my writing. I think that’s the goal of all writers, although it may take different forms. Deep down, we all want to leave our mark on the world somehow, don’t we? Make even the smallest difference for the better? I’d love to be a published novelist at some point, but I also don’t think that needs to happen for me to be a successful writer.

I have everything I need to get started…a computer, notebooks and pens, books, the treasure trove of expertise offered for free on the internet, this blog, and of course, the ability to think and come up with ideas. And while it would be amazing to make money doing this someday, I am very thankful that isn’t an immediate need for me. (Husband is my hero…swoon!)

2. Develop Habits. I have goals and a purpose in mind, but now I actually need to start writing, and writing consistently. I’ve been watching Jeff Goins and Tim Grahl’s free “Productive Writer” video series and their tips for developing habits are fantastic. They talk a lot about starting tiny – however small the habit needs to be to ensure it gets done – and watch it grow over time. They also suggest attaching your new tiny habit to something that you already do automatically each day. For example, I might set a goal to write 50 words per day, or write for 10 minutes each day, and (like Tim) I could attach that to drinking coffee in the morning. Right after I make my coffee, I sit down and do my writing for the day.

I think this is a brilliant idea to get started in a way that’s not threatening – especially if you are pressed for time and trying to find a way to build something new for yourself.

Jeff had the goal of writing 500 words per day for an entire year, and that turned into hundreds and hundreds of blog posts, a whole host of followers and ultimately, multiple books, more blogs, speaking engagements and more.

In some ways, it’s scary to get started. But I know rewards come when we face our fears. So I’m ready to dive in, start building new habits of my own, and see what happens.

3. Make Deadlines. “Real” writers (and all professionals, for that matter) have deadlines. In fact, I’d venture to say that if you’ve chosen the right habits to develop, you’ve already built deadlines in. I like the idea of writing 500 words daily, or at least Monday through Friday each week, and scheduling at least 1-2 blog posts each week. If I can give myself deadlines and get in the habit of hitting them, it won’t feel quite as scary if I am ever trying to meet a deadline given to me by someone else.

4. Create a Schedule/System. I love the idea of attaching your habits to daily tasks that you’re already doing. But it’s also helpful to come up with a schedule and system that works for you. I’m no pro at this, but it’s something I’m working on. I have created a rough weekly schedule in which I have two writing sessions scheduled most days – what I do in those sessions will likely look very different on different days.

I am hopeful that as I begin building my new habits and sticking to my deadlines and schedule, a system will emerge. Jeff Goins shared that he is more productive when he doesn’t try to come up with an idea, write it out, and edit it all at once.

That was a huge eye opener for me because even though I WANT to write, I sometimes sit down and have no ideas or inspiration. Now, I have a separate list of ideas that I can refer to when I’m ready to write, and I’m also just letting my writing flow and coming back to edit it on a different day. I have only been doing this for few days, but I’ve written more in those few days than I did the past two weeks combined. A game-changer, and so simple.

5. Get Organized with the Right Tools. There are a dizzying array of tools available to help you stay organized and productive. From idea dump tools to programs that help writers organize books, it makes my head spin.

But now that I’ve identified goals and habits and deadlines and schedules, I need to look for tools that enhance what I’m working towards. Again, looking to those who have gone before me is super helpful as I navigate this.

Now, I’m using Evernote to keep track of thoughts and pictures and websites that I come across on the go. I jot down notes from books I’m reading. And I also have running lists of blog post ideas and and plot twists for the novel I’m working on.

I have organized all my book projects (there are 3 now!) into some fantastic writing software called Scrivener.

These are just some of the ideas I’m using to add structure to my days and get serious productivityabout turning this into a career and my life’s work. I’m sure these things will morph and grow as I learn what works best for my own individual working style. But somehow, getting organized makes all of this feel real.

And these 5 steps can certainly be applied to more than just writing! If you don’t have goals that declare why you’re doing what you’re doing, it’s hard to figure out what habits you need to develop. It will be tough to work with/for others if you aren’t able to meet deadlines and stick to a schedule using a system that works for you. And using tools that complement your systems to organize your work is the icing on the cake.

Cheers to being productive at whatever you do!

 

How to Simplify Fear

If you’ve ever struggled with fear and anxiety, you know how crippling it can be. Fear can hold us back from so much – from doing small things like jumping in a pool to bigger things like making a career change or traveling the world. Fear makes us believe we can’t live the lives we might be destined for.

One of the most helpful things I’ve learned about fighting fear and anxiety is to accept both feelings as they come. Weirdly, the less you fight against anxiety, the less threatening it becomes. When you name your fears, they have less power and you begin to see them for what they are. Learning how to call your anxieties and fears by name and analyzing how they make you feel can curb the scary emotions that accompany each.

Oftentimes, anxious and fearful people are faced with a decision: put forth the effort to power through the feelings, or just skip it and “stay safe”. While I’ve certainly had moments where I decide it’s not worth dealing with my fears and just stay home, it’s far more valuable to go with it.

When you accept fears by deciding to face them anyway, you’re setting yourself up for little wins that will add up in a big way over time.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of traveling and airplanes. I deliberately confronted this fear during a year where Husband was traveling a lot for work, and we had

mt hood and fear
Photo Taken: Landing in Portland, OR – view of Mt. Hood

several out of town weddings to attend. Each individual flight wasn’t always easy (and some were worse than others!) but the end result of that year was a very obvious decrease in fear of traveling. In fact, this summer’s trip out to Oregon was the first time I can remember being more or less completely calm for the whole plane ride.

There have been several times where friends have asked me to help them or do them a favor that immediately stirs up fear, anxiety and dread. These times are often stressful and heart-breaking for me because if I’m available, I always want to help a friend in need. But the pull of fear sometimes feels much stronger than my desire to help. Fear makes me focus too much on me and not enough on those in need.

Yet, when I agree to help despite my fears, it’s always, always been a character-builder. There have been times where I said yes, was deathly afraid, but did it anyway and felt the accomplishment of facing fear and the satisfaction of doing the right thing. There have been other times when I agree to help with something, but the plan changes, or someone else has agreed to help and I’m “off the hook.”

For me personally, both scenarios remind me to put myself aside, trust in God and remember that He gives us strength for the moment. If I confront a fear, He’s right there beside me through it. Sometimes, though, I think He just wants to know that I’m willing to confront it; willing to walk through it in trust with Him – and that’s enough.

The way to simplify something you’re afraid to do is to recognize it, name it, and do it anyway. If you make a point to consistently face a specific fear, I promise that fear will dissipate. Even if you don’t have a chance to confront one thing over and over, whenever you decide to accept your fears and proceed anyway, you’ll find dealing with future fears becomes a lot simpler.

 

 

The Pride of Insecurity

I just finished reading a seriously incredible book. It’s probably in my personal top 5 now: Allison Vesterfelt’s “Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage.”

It’s the story of how Allison (Ally) and her friend Sharaya decided to quit their jobs and go on a 6 month road trip, visiting each of the 50 states. Ally writes that the trip was part of a dream for each of them (writing for her, singing/performing for Sharaya), how they got by, people they met, people they reconnected with, people and things they lost and lessons learned.

As if that wasn’t enough to intrigue me, (hello, blog post of a few weeks ago where I swoon about the idea of prancing on the west coast for 6 months) once I started reading this book, it was almost like I was reading words I could have written. It was as though I’d gone on the wild adventure I always convince myself wouldn’t be possible for someone like me, and I was reading the lessons I’d learn if I ever found the courage to do it.

So many things jumped off these pages and into my soul that I could probably blog for days on end about this book. But one of the most glaring was a particularly relatable diatribe of how Ally dreads the question: “What do you do?” She’s a twenty-something who has a dream of being a writer; who quit her job to travel the country with a plan to blog about it and write a book. Not sure any of this will pan out, she finds herself bogged down in insecurity about how to answer the question.

I get it. I quit my job, I’ve started a blog and I’m working on writing a book, too. No one is paying me. I have to set my own deadlines and goals. I worry about how others perceive what I’m doing. Do they think I’m just goofing off, wasting my life? Do they think I have nothing important to do because I’m not getting paid when I work at my craft? What do I even say when people ask me what I do? My answer to that question is usually plagued with insecurity, as I mumble something about reading, working out, cooking, cleaning and I’m actually, er, kind of, um, working on writing a book. (I’m silently lamenting how awkward I am in these conversations.)

Ally writes this about insecurity: “I wish I could pass off insecurity as a burden to bear and everyone would feel really sorry for me, but the more I think about it the more I see that my insecurity is really pride. My insecurity makes everything all about me.”

It hit me like a ton of bricks. Honestly, I’ve never really thought pride is something I struggle with.  And on the surface, many of us would think insecurity relates more closely to humility than pride. In fact, one of the easiest ways insecure people disguise their insecurity is in a fog of “humility.” For an insecure person, it’s easy not to take credit for something; not to call attention to yourself. It’s easy to brush off accomplishments by attributing them to someone other than yourself. Because we’re never quite sure we can hack it.

Perhaps the temptation to be an insecure person masquerading as a humble person is extra-easy to fall into for Christians. Because that “someone” we attribute everything to is God.

By no means am I saying that God isn’t involved in our accomplishments, nor am I saying He shouldn’t get any credit for them. Of course He should! I’m merely pointing out that TRUE HUMILITY is what God wants from us, and true humility is not insecurity. It’s not through self-hatred or self-deprecation that we ought to hoist our God onto His throne.

True humility says, “I don’t deserve anything God has blessed me with, but I’m so thankful for the life He’s given me that I want the decisions I make to reflect intense gratitude. I want to live life confidently in His love; sharing my blessings freely with others, in His name, to the best of my ability.”

So when I thought about insecurity as it relates to pride, I began to see it in a new light. I’m insecure at least twice a day – at least once about my physical appearance, and at least one more time about the question: “What do you do?”  When I am insecure, I am making everything about me. I’m comparing myself to others and either finding reasons why I’m not what I wish I was, or trying to make myself feel better. When I’m insecure, I’m elevating myself to a place of importance that I don’t even have! Do most people even care what I weigh or what I’m wearing or what I do with my life? Not nearly as much as I act like they do. Pride screams that it’s all about ME.

Ally writes, “There comes a point where we don’t need anyone to tell us who we are anymore, we just need to take the information we have and run with it.”

I think what she’s saying is…let the insecurity fall away. Trust that God made you who you

passion
Photo Taken: Cannon Beach, OR

are and put your passions in your heart. Recognize what makes you feel alive; look for the place where your passion and the world’s needs meet and go towards it. “Take the information you have and run with it.” Trust God for the rest.

It’s a freeing way to live, and one I know I need to reach for daily. And somehow, identifying the pride inherent in insecurity helps me put insecurity aside. It reminds me, “Hey, lighten up! Things aren’t all about you and you don’t need anyone to tell you who you are. God made you, loves you, and is in your corner. Run with it.”