Three Keys to Being Yourself Brought to You By Princess Zurg

Do you ever find yourself worried about what others may think of you? Do you ever let that worry stop you from really being yourself?

Princess Zurg


I know a little someone who doesn’t. She proved it the day she walked around Disney World with her face painted like Zurg from the movie Toy Story.

We went for a family vacation last year. At the time my daughter Ayla was really in to Toy Story. Buzz Lightyear was her hero.

When we entered the park, she noticed a station where she could get her favorite character painted on her face.  Greg and I thought for sure she would get Buzz Lightyear, but we were wrong.

She looked at the options and quickly decided Zurg was what she wanted. We pointed out the picture of Buzz and some princesses, but she was adamant about Zurg.

We stood in line waiting for almost an hour.  I watched the other little girls in front of us get their faces painted with fairies, butterflies, and princesses. I watched Ayla react to them and thought for sure she would change her mind.

When it was her turn, Ayla marched up to the chair, plopped down, and said “I want Zurg.”

The face painter looked up at Greg as if to say “Are you sure?” and he nodded with a smile. As soon as she was finished all the little girls around her stared in disbelief as Ayla walked by them with a huge smile on her monster Zurg face. She ran up to me and squealed in delight, ”Mom! I’m Princess Zurg! I’m sooo beautiful!”

The rest of the day she walked around with her head held high and quickly became the coolest girl around in the eyes of all the little boys we met.

That day Ayla demonstrated three key traits to Being Yourself:

  1. Have Confidence in Who You Are: We all have something unique about us that makes us special. Be confident in what you have to offer.
  2. Embrace What Makes You Happy: Joy is one of the most important things to have in your life. Find what brings it to you and spend a lot of time doing it.
  3. Focus Your Time and Energy on Those Who Love You: No matter how hard you try, there will always be someone out there who doesn’t like you. That’s ok. Focus on those that do. Fill your life with people who bring value to it. Find ways to bring value to them.

Thanks Princess Zurg for setting a great example for us all.

What’s the biggest obstacle that stands in the way of you being yourself?


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The Results Are In!

First off, I want to say a great big thank you to everyone who participated in the first Back to Center Reader Survey! Your answers provided a lot of insight into how I can continue to impact you in a positive way. So let’s get down to it!  Here are the results:

results are in

  • Most of my readers are over 30 years old.
  • The ladies outnumber the men by a slight margin.
  • While all survey participates have graduated high school, the levels of higher education varied. The majority of you have completed an Associate’s Degree.
  • Almost 40% of you are employed and love your jobs! I’m so happy to hear that! 25% are retired and another 25% are Active Duty Military or Veterans. As you all know, our military has a very special place in my heart. I’m happy to know I am reaching you guys!
  • Almost 80% of you have children.
  • I am happy to know that the majority of you are content with me posting the blog two times a week! Eventually I hope to increase the frequency. For now, I’m happy to keep it where it reaches you the most.
  • Most of you found the blog on Facebook! I hope you continue to share the posts that move you the most. There was also about 43% that found out about it from a friend. Thanks for spreading the word.
  • Almost every person who filled out the survey said they liked how the stories are relatable to life circumstances. You enjoy the humor but also appreciate some of the more serious topics.
  • Your answers to the question about the challenges you face was the one I took the most from. It reiterated the fact that we are all in different stages of life, but have a lot in common. Challenges ranged from careers, to retirement, fitness to raising a family. Some of you face some relationship struggles. These are all such relevant topics.  I will continue to write blogs to speak to each of you.

I know it took some time out of your day to respond, and I’m so glad you did. I welcome any and all feedback at any time. This blog is for YOU! I constantly want to know how I can reach you.


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I am honored to speak for this amazing event in Panama City.  The Global War on Terrorism Wall of Remembrance Honors all those lost on 9/11 and all the military conflicts (OEF/OIF/OND) since then.
Designed and built by Vision2Victory (A non-profit that grants wishes to combat injured vets), the Wall is 6′ tall and 94′ long. One side contains all the names of those that have been lost. The other side contains a visual timeline of the Global War on Terrorism.
For more info, see

Watch this incredible video

The Wall of Remembrance will be here April 24th-27th. Brought to us by the Veteran’s Task Force of Northwest Florida.

Date: April 26, 2014
Time: TBD
Event: GWOT Wall of Remembrance is Coming to Panama City!
Topic: Remembering Our Heros
Sponsor: The Veteran's Task Force of Northwest Florida
Venue: Oaks By The Bay Park, St. Andrews
Location: Panama City, FL 32401
More Info: Click here for more information.

Need a Speaker? Check my availability for your next event!

Please Take the Back to Center 2014 Reader Survey

Hey guys! I’m so humbled by the growing number of people that are reading my blog since I started it in October 2013. I want to continue to make it even better. My goal is to create content that is relevant and inspiring to you. In order to do this, I need to know more about YOU.

To help, I’ve created a reader survey.

Would you mind taking a few minutes to fill out this quick 10 question survey? By doing so, you will help me continue to create blogs that impact you. All of your answers are completely anonymous and will be used solely for the purposes I just mentioned.

Thank you in advance for your help!

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

How Bob the Turtle Taught Me 4 Important Lessons On Mistakes

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I feel my blog readers and I have reached a point in our relationship where certain stories are no longer taboo to tell.  That means it’s time to introduce you to Bob the turtle. Bob joined our family in July last year after some poor decision making on my part, and much to my husband’s discontent, he’s been thriving at the Clark residence ever since.

bob the turtle

You see, my sister Karri came to visit Florida for the first time over the 4th of July.  We had big plans to fill the week with fun activities to introduce her to our beautiful state. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out so well;  we ended up with torrential downpours throughout the week.  We decided to make the most of it. One day we loaded up and headed to some of the touristy shops on the beach…which was Mistake #1.

Mistake #2 was walking in to one of those shops with my sister and daughter (both suckers for animals), and seeing the cute baby turtles for sale at the front of the store. I don’t know who was worse; Ayla or my sister Karri…and I may have been a little excited too. We all couldn’t stop looking at how cute they were. We quickly decided we each had to have one; after all they were only $9.99! What a deal!

We eagerly picked out two turtles. As we got to the car with our new found friends, Ayla did the honors of selecting a well thought out name for both of the turtles…Bob. We giggled the whole way home with our Bobs, ignoring any glimmer of reason that may have tried to enter into our minds.

As soon as we got home I was greeted by loving husband who took one look at Bob and said, “Really Jenn? Who’s going to take care of that? Where on earth are you going to put the thing?” His annoying questions weren’t going to phase me…nope not one bit! He wasn’t going to ruin my enthusiasm for my totally awesome new pet.

“I will duh!” I replied, “We’re going to the store to get them a fabulous new habitat right now!” And off we went to the pet store. How hard could it be anyway? We got some little plastic cages, a little rock for him to sit on, and some food…done! $30 in supplies, no big deal. Do you sense my foreshadowing?

My sister and her Bob went home several days later, and Ayla and I continued to bask in our excitement over ours. Even my little guy Dylan couldn’t get enough of the turtle. What a win for me; I have a new pet, I’m teaching my kids about responsibility, and frankly feeling like a pretty awesome Mom! Then it happened. Greg did the unthinkable….he read the instructions on the bottle of the food.

“Hey sweetheart and love of my life?” he asked, “Have you read this?”

“Well obviously I have Greg!” I answered, “I’m supposed to feed him twice a day with just a little pinch.” I knew he was going somewhere with that comment, and I felt certain it was a place I’d prefer not to go to.

“Huh, that’s interesting. It says here turtle habitats require a filter, a heat light, and a UV light, I bet that’s cheap. Let’s look this up online shall we?”

Uh oh…Greg and a computer searching for facts not in my favor…not good. In his search he confirmed not only the habitat requirements, but also that you should avoid having a turtle for a pet all together. They are carriers of Salmonella, the same bacteria you find in raw chicken, a major oversight on my part.

“Don’t you know this? Aren’t you a PA or something?” he said, “Maybe we should just run out and get some raccoons and expose our kids to rabies while we’re at it!”

Ugh! I felt awful.  I talked to our vet, who reassured me that as long as we used proper hygiene we would be ok. I dragged myself back to the pet store and picked up the rest of the supplies for the appropriate habitat. $150 later, Bob was all set up. My $9.99 turtle all of a sudden wasn’t looking so awesome.

Despite these setbacks, I’m happy to report Bob is doing very well. What I took from this whole experience are four important lessons:

  1. Avoid letting your emotions drive your decision-making process: This story is a great example of how I let my excitement get in the way of my common sense. Had I taken a step back  and did some research on what I was getting myself into, I’m quite certain Bob wouldn’t have been purchased that day.
  2. If you make a mistake make the most of your situation: Buying Bob that day was clearly not the smart thing to do, but I owned it. I chose to make the most of it and move on.
  3. Learn from your mistake: Every mistake holds a valuable lesson. The key is recognizing it and applying it to your life.
  4. Never lose your sense of humor: Being able to laugh at yourself is an incredible gift. I’m quite sure Greg will never let me forget the “Bob incident.”  It’s a story we’ll likely tell for years to come. Life’s too precious to take it so seriously.


What valuable lessons have you learned from your mistakes?

Run Life at Your Pace and In Your Own Shoes

It’s been weeks since I’ve been able to bike and run on the weekend. The weather, my husband’s work schedule, other plans, or whatever other excuses I can come up with, have prevented me from doing something I truly love. It’s something Greg and I do together (which makes it that much more important to me) so when we don’t go I feel it. Yesterday we finally got back out there. I was so excited, I had it all planned out. I knew it wouldn’t be my best workout, but I still set some reasonable goals going into it. The night before I set out all of my gear to ensure I wouldn’t forget anything. It was going to be awesome!

Well, right from the get-go the day started with unexpected challenges. I woke up later than I anticipated, which got us off to a late start. Once we finally got out there, I was so eager to start I forgot my heart rate monitor in the car. My entire workout plan is based off of that thing, so it was a big setback. Eventually I got over it and was well on my way into what I hoped to be 20 mile bike ride.

About 20 minutes into it  I arrived at a turnaround point. Once I made that turn I encountered a crazy headwind. I felt like my legs couldn’t work hard enough as I struggled with the unanticipated challenge.  Greg and I have different routines so I started about 15 minutes ahead of him. As I continued to fight through the wind, I saw in the very near distance my husband heading my way at a much quicker pace than me. He made the turn around and before I knew it, he and his annoyingly fluorescent yellow windbreaker left me in their dust. As I watched him pedal by me, I found myself feeling disappointed in my own abilities. I wasn’t in nearly the shape he was, and he seemed to push through that headwind with such ease while I continued to struggle through it.

I finally made it back to the car, but not before passing Greg and his triathlete legs running with such ease I couldn’t help but stare at him in admiration. His fluorescent yellow running shoes quickly caught my eye. I mean seriously! What is it with this guy and his yellow?

I got my bike loaded up, found my heart rate monitor, threw my running shoes on, and headed out on my run. I hoped to run with as much grace as my husband, but about five minutes into it my poor legs felt like bricks and I had to walk. My fatigue forced me to walk/run the rest of the distance.

When it was all said and done, I completed 16.5 miles on the bike and a 5K run/walk. Initially I was upset with myself as I compared my workout to my husband’s. That quickly passed as I realized we are in totally different places in our training. He devotes most days of the week to his training, while I am lucky to get a weekend in. I do it because I find joy in it, and he does it because he’s training for a 1/2 Iron Man.

Author and speaker Jon Acuff says in his book Start, “Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” Such words of truth. As I thought of this message, I moved past my own frustration, and focused on what I did accomplish instead of what I didn’t.

Life is filled with moments like I faced yesterday. We set out to do something, we don’t do it as well as we intend, and then beat ourselves up because of it. In the midst of that disappointment, we seem to forget the fact that we actually tried, and did. Here’s the key thing to remember: we all run through life at our own pace and in our own shoes. shoes

Have you ever short changed yourself the credit you truly deserve?

Do You Have Purple Dancing Shoes?

Our four year old daughter Ayla is in a unique time of her life where she’s finding her own individuality. Greg and I often struggle to channel this in a healthy way; we want to instill discipline and structure, yet appreciate the free spirit she is. Our most recent challenges seem to occur after the lights go out. Every night the kids go to bed at 8pm, and every night we can expect an evening full of surprises from Ms. Ayla.

She’s developed the habit of changing out of her pajamas and into new ones, her princess dresses, or even clothes out of her closet. We always give the kids a final kiss goodnight before we turn in ourselves, and Greg and I have learned to brace ourselves for what Ayla may be wearing when we go to her room. Often she’ll do this multiple times throughout the night,  so the clothes she wakes up in are often different again from what she’s already changed into. Each morning we see a pile of clothes in her laundry basket she has tried on and discarded. We’ve tried to detour her from this by moving her princess dresses to another room, having her put the clothes away in the morning, closing the closet-but nothing seems to stop her from her nightly fashion show.

The other day we took the kids to buy some new clothes. As we were going through the aisles, Ayla saw a pair of purple shoes with sequins that she absolutely couldn’t live without. “Mama! Look at them! They’re so beautiful! Do you like ‘em? Do ya? Do you like my new dancing shoes?” she squealed as she slipped them on her feet in the store. She stood and twirled around like a ballerina with a smile that turned her parents to butter, so we agreed to let her take home her new “dancing shoes.”

As soon as we got home, she raced to her room to put them on and kept them on the remainder of the day. Getting her to take them off for bath time consisted of a heated debate, but eventually the parents won. As we finished with the kids’ bath, got them in jammies, and ready for bed, I felt I was pretty awesome in my strategery used to distract her from her new shoes….or so I thought. After we put them to bed, we went to kiss them goodnight as always, and here is what we walked in to:

ayla shoes I don’t know why I was surprised to see this, but I was. Greg and I couldn’t help but giggle as we looked at our sweet Ayla sleeping in her dancing shoes.

The thing I love about this little girl is that she has such determination for what she wants. She knows what she wants, and she takes action to make it so, regardless of what obstacles are in her way.

As adults this determination to take action on what makes us happy dampens. All of a sudden we develop inhibitions and concerns for what others may think or say. We tend to fill our hearts and heads with the reasons why we can’t do something instead of why we can.

Sure, these inhibitions have value, and are often  necessary, yet I think we can hide behind them at times.  We get used to “no” and grow to expect it and often stop trying. What if we could find that perfect place in the middle of a child’s determination and the reasoning we learn as adults. A place where we could take action on what makes us truly happy. Can you imagine the possibilities?

Do you have purple dancing shoes in your life?



Repost: Breaking Down FEAR

Have you ever had something you really wanted to, or even needed to do but  felt paralyzed in moving forward with it? I can look at my own life and see a common trend in what has stopped me personally. The culprit? Something we all know far too well…FEAR. How can a little four letter word have so much power? Enough power to stop some of the greatest minds from thinking, the bravest people from taking a chance, and the most driven people from moving forward? Let’s take a different approach to answering these questions; let’s look at the word itself and break down what actually makes up fear.

  • Failure: Who wants to? I sure as heck don’t. We all want to soar with the eagles, and success is what we yearn for. Failure is not only something we don’t want to do, it’s something we’re absolutely terrified of. It leaves us with an emptiness; questioning ourselves and our intentions. It makes us ask things like: Why did I think I could do that? How come I tried? What was I thinking?  These and the many others questions failure creates shoot down our motivation and self esteem. As I’ve written previously in a blog specifically about failure, failure has many benefits and is a necessary part of growth. Without it, we don’t have the perspective or tools to be better.
  • Extraordinary things: We are creatures of habit. We like being snuggled up in the warm and cozy place called the “comfort zone.” We feel safe there. We like the ordinary. We know as long as we stay within it’s walls the chances of something painful or scary  happening are very small. The problem with this is that while the chances of something bad happening are small, the changes of anything at all happening are even smaller. The extraordinary; the forward thinking, creativity, action, momentum that drives us to greatness is not something that we should avoid; rather it’s something we should embrace.
  • Accountability: When we do big things we take on big responsibility. That means we’re the ones holding the weight of the success or failure. A lot of the time that accountability is too much to handle and becomes the excuse to do nothing. If you think about it though; you are just as accountable for inaction as you are for action. Huh…that puts a different spin on it doesn’t it? I’d much rather take a chance making a difference than sitting on something I know needs to change.
  • Risk: Pretty simple, we don’t like it. Putting ourselves in a vulnerable position is not something that feels good. It’s stressful. It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary. It’s also inevitable. In order to move, you have to get up. In order to see you have to open your eyes. In order to do you have to try.

leadership2So, how do we get past fear? I think the first step is being aware that it’s there, and what it means. We should look at each of these things: Failure, the Extraordinary, Accountability, and Risk and ask ourselves what we really want or need to do to move forward. Life happens on purpose. Our thoughts and actions should be too.

What else defines the word FEAR?

How to Approach Life’s Flat Tires

Yesterday on my way out the door from work I gave my husband Greg a quick call letting him know I was on my way home. His voice sounded frustrated, and as he spoke I quickly learned why. He’d been out training for an upcoming triathlon and was stuck on the side of the road with his bike changing a flat tire. I instantly offered to come and pick him up but he declined the offer stating “Nope, I’ve almost got it.”

About an hour went by and I finally got a call from him letting me know he was on his way home. I was relieved to know he was safe, but at the same time I wondered which version of my husband would be walking through that door. Greg is an amazing guy who openly admits sometimes his Irish temper can get the best of him. I braced myself for an earful of his frustrations as I heard the car pull into the garage. He walked into the house a few minutes later covered in sweat and dirt.  He looked exhausted and I chose my words carefully.

“Hi honey, how are you?”

He looked up and said simply “I’m better now, thanks.” He washed up and sat down at the table with the rest of the family and ate dinner, his mood was surprisingly pleasant. He laughed as he told me of his two hour struggle with learning how not to change a bike tire. He had been riding for just over 30 miles when his rear tire went out. He’d never had to change the rear tire before and couldn’t for the life of him figure out how to detach the wheel from the chains. He struggled for over an hour before he finally resorted to YouTube.

“Thank God for iPhones!” he joked, “The lady on the video made it so easy! The bright side is,  I know now I won’t be joining any Nascar pit crews anytime soon.” He went on to tell me of his frustrations at the time, but how he was able to move past them. He reminded himself throughout the situation to focus on the positive.  “It could’ve always been worse. I was only three miles from the car, it could’ve been farther. I wasn’t hurt, and while I didn’t ride as much as I intended, I was still productive with my workout. And hey! Now I know how to change a rear tire!”

greg bike

I was so proud as I listened to his insights. He reminded me of how life constantly throws unexpected challenges at us, often leaving us feeling frustrated and disheartened. So much of what happens in life is out of our control; but how we choose to handle those challenges is an incredible gift. We get to decide how we move forward and grow from it. There’s always a reason, a lesson, an opportunity for growth. If we are intentional about finding it, life becomes filled with purpose.

How can you make lemonade out of lemons?

My Irish Luck

It’s time to confess.  Yep, time to reveal what it is about me that makes me love to use words as much as I do. I feel in only fitting to share the truth with you on this St. Patrick’s Day, since I quite possibly have been struck with the luck of the Irish. In April 2008, just weeks before I deployed to Afghanistan, my husband Greg and I took a trip to Ireland. We’d been married almost two years and were finally able to take a honeymoon. We traveled through Southern Ireland, hopping between Bed and Breakfasts and seeing the sights. The trip was filled with amazing memories and moments we still laugh about to this day.

One of my favorites was when we visited the Blarney Castle and we kissed the famous Blarney Stone. The stone was placed in the castle in 1446 and has become a must-do for anyone visiting the area. Kissing this thing was not exactly an easy feat; it requires one to lean backwards off the parapet and kiss the stone upside down. Legend has it that all who kiss the stone leave with the “gift of gab.”

Blarney-Kiss the stone-Nej

In exchange for a kiss you leave with eloquence….is it true? Since kissing said stone, I’ve written a book, become a public speaker, and started a blog…coincidence? Hmmm…tis interesting isn’t it? Well, here’s the truth. Since my experience in Afghanistan, and coming through my PTSD, I’ve been able to reflect a lot on who I really am in my core. I’ve looked back at my life and have been able to identify key traits that reveal who I really am; who I’ve always been. The truth is, words have always been a love of mine. Since I was a young child I would write stories and poems and give them to my family as gifts. As much as I would love to blame the Blarney Stone for my love of words, I can’t. It’s always been there. One of the greatest things I’ve learned is the importance of knowing who you are inside and living a life that allows you to be that person.

I’ve been incredibly blessed to have a life filled with people who have encouraged me to pursue what makes me whole. There are two individuals that have encouraged me the most. Greg has been my biggest support throughout the years, never letting me settle for less than my highest potential. One of the main reasons we traveled to Ireland was because it was important to him. He is of strong Irish descent and he wanted to visit the country where his heritage began. The other person in my life that has inspired me from the very beginning is my mother. Today, March 17th is her birthday. She taught me to love completely, live fully, and never forget who I am.

My first words of this post were that I’ve quite possibly been blessed by the luck of the Irish. I think without a doubt I have, thanks to Greg and my beautiful mom for encouraging me to reach for the stars with everything I do.

 Are you filling your life with what makes you happy?