Pocket Scrapbooking with Project Life

Cultivate a good life and record it.



good life – by jen lake


Part of cultivating a good life is taking care of yourself.

As a young woman working full time, attending graduate school, and serving several philanthropies, I found it hard to make time for myself and my needs. Instead, my priority list was arranged with my physical and emotional health at the bottom. That is, until I became sick.

A year ago, in October of 2013, I began having difficulty using my right arm. Still, I continued to work as a web developer. Then came the issues with my memory… word-finding issues that left me flustered and embarrassed as I presented final projects. My neurological health deteriorated and instead of stepping away from my commitments – to school, to work, to friends, and to family – I buried myself in them. The number of specialists I needed to see grew each week and in order to fit the countless visits I needed into my schedule, I gave up the only self-care rituals I had. I stopped reading, I stopped taking photos, I quit blogging… I gave up having breakfast with my significant other or having coffee with friends. My life quickly became about getting myself the medical help I needed but not truly taking care of myself.

In March, I learned that the mysterious symptoms I was experiencing stemmed from a congenital condition, Chiari Malformation, that was causing my brain stem to be compressed. In May, I learned that on top of this condition, I was suffering from cranio-cervical instability and that the only path to getting better was brain surgery and spinal fusion at the age of 22. In July, I underwent the ten hours of surgery required to release the compression in my skull.

I wish I could say that I took the time to care for myself before the surgery, but the truth is that in the weeks leading up to the procedure, all I could focus on was ensuring that I finished my semester with A’s, that my web development projects were finished, and that I had stock-piled enough financial resources to carry us through the surgery. Instead, I learned how to make myself a priority when I woke up from surgery and realized that I didn’t have any other option. For four weeks, I spent time with my family, I went for ice cream a lot, I had dinner with friends and ordered dessert, I read book after book, I spent a week at the beach, I created an entire mini album, I napped, and I loved myself back to health.

It is too easy to put ourselves aside and to let the needs of others come first, second, and third on our priority lists. Many of us will not dedicate our time to self-care until we have to. Life isn’t a zero sum game – taking the time to care for ourselves doesn’t have to mean less time for things we need to do like working a full-time job, or cleaning the house, or loving the other people in our lives.

Some of my favorite forms of self-care?

  • Turning chores – like grocery shopping – into treats by stopping at a coffee shop before hand or treating myself to a bouquet from the floral counter
  • Having meals with the people I love and making sure that I do, in fact, eat lunch
  • Listening to music while cleaning the house
  • Taking an afternoon nap or a walk around the neighborhood
  • Treating myself to a new shade of nail polish or lipstick and wearing it for no reason at all
  • Taking the bus to work so I can read another book from my list
  • Saying no to activities that don’t leave me feeling fulfilled
  • Setting aside time each week to work on a Project Life album
  • And, stopping for an ice cream cone, just because

You do not need an excuse to care for yourself. You don’t have to wait for illness to change your life. Instead, you can love others through first loving yourself.

Note from Becky

I love seeing what our customers are doing with Project Life on social media. I for sure can’t keep up with actually commenting on pages, but I am so inspired by what I see on a regular basis. Several months ago, Jen Lake was another customer who showed up on my radar via Instagram. She may have tagged me or something, I’m not sure. As I browsed through her sharing, I was totally intrigued and impressed and inspired. I could tell this girl had a unique and special story. And just like that, I was following that story, commenting on her pictures, and even sending a couple surprises in the mail to celebrate her successful surgery and what she calls “Life 2.0.”

We really do love connecting with our customers and I am honored to have Jen share a piece of her heart on the blog today. Jen has an incredible eye for documenting life with stories and words. The way she uses Project Life is so beautiful. And yes, of course she’s going to be a special part of our customer wall in the new office.  : )

Connect with Jen  ::  Blog  |  Instagram  |  Twitter


12 Responses

  1. You are an inspiration Jen. Surround yourself with lots of hugs and smiles & Keep living that good life. :)

    Mary from NH

  2. I love Jen Jen dearly. We became friends through our joined battle with chiari and craniocervical instability. Our surgeries were weeks apart, and we spend many nights sharing stories, symptoms, frustrations, triumphs, and tears. Although she lives in New Mexico now, I had the pleasure of meeting her in person, for…what else, ice cream. In her hometown, and my home away from home where I’ve spent every summer since birth. And, I might add lived for the past six months add I have undergone surgery after surgery. She’s a pretty cool chick, and she’s also cyber stalking my parents so she can hook me up with a necklace similar to hers. Cat 4.0, bc bionic woman won’t fit ;). Project life will definitely be on my Christmas list! It’s amazing how many commonalities we share, and enjoyed reading this!

  3. Donna M says:

    You are inspirational Jen. That is invaluable advice for everyone to take on board because none of us know what lies around the corner for us but having the right attitude goes a long way to dealing with things. I keep up with you on IG and have been moved and inspired by your courage and recovery. xx

    • Jen says:

      Donna, you are so sweet. I think you are right about having a positive attitude – it really makes all the difference!

  4. Lisa Abeyta says:

    Jen is an inspiration, and learning so early in her young adult life that one more project may not be as important as making time for some down time is one of the most important changes in living a good life instead of a busy life. Jen’s indefatigable spirit in the face of so much pain and illness is such an inspiration. Love this post!

    • Jen says:

      Funny you would say that Lisa, since you are such an inspiration to me! I love what you said about “living a good life instead of a busy life.”

  5. Desiree says:

    A great reminder, Jen! I’m a single mom of 2 kids, I’m over-weight, and tired all the time. But everyday, I give thanks that I’m “healthy” and I always make time for myself. Best of luck to you on your recovery!

    • Jen says:

      Thank you for the well wishes, Desiree! I’m so glad that you are making time for yourself as I know it is difficult for me, and can imagine that it is even more difficult as a mother.

  6. Kimberly S says:

    This could not come at a better time in my life. I know I need to take time for myself and step back from so many commitments, it’s just taking that step- doing it. It’s time for a life change! Thanks so much for your words of wisdom and encouragement. Good luck to you on your journey.

    • Jen says:

      One of my favorite pieces of wisdom, and something that I literally hang in my office both at home and at work, is “saying no to something is really saying yes to something else.” Saying no to taking on another commitment can be daunting but it really is the same as saying yes to time for yourself or time to spend with family/friends. Thank you for the well wishes!