#10 – Socialize More

Part of a series of ten segments, checking the progress of my 2017 New Year Resolutions.

The last of my 2017 resolutions begs for a back story, and one that I may get to over time, because it runs as long, as wide, and as deep as the Mississippi. And no, the story I’m telling here is not that story. There’s a lot to today’s story but it is not the whole story.

To start with yet another confession, I’ve been excruciatingly lonely for the last 16 years. I have no idea if this fact surfaces as an underlying current in my Facebook posts or not. I can’t care about that anymore. Time to just spill the truth.

16 years happens to coincide with the year my husband and I met, married, and moved away from Pittsburgh, a city where I met the most wonderful group of people, a large group of friends I had made by choice and whose interests mirrored my own. They came from all sorts of different backgrounds which thrilled me to no end, and many of them rawpixel-com-250087had moved to Pittsburgh from elsewhere same as me…but we all fell in love with its charms. I had come into my own during those young, single adult years in the city of three rivers, and never felt as much at home, in every sense of the word, as I did there.

As newlyweds, we left the Burgh to start a new adventure: my husband’s new job in Omaha and my own business which I could operate from anywhere. We planned to  return, and I always assumed we would, to those friends and that rich, multi-faceted life. It never happened.

Now being married is wonderful and along with it came my precious family and a whole new dimension to my life that I cherish greatly. So every time I talk about my aching loneliness, it sounds like a criticism of my husband, marriage, and kids, and that’s not the case at all. It’s just that a HUGE number of things about my life changed simultaneously when we left Pittsburgh, and it was undeniably life-altering how unsettling it all proved to be.

But my husband? He’s been a rock in my life, and stood by my side no matter what. I’m not going to cheapen our marriage by talking about it and defending it on a blog. I don’t need to and he knows how much I love and value him. Plus he knows what’s in my heart and prompting me to write this. I’ve discussed every single bit of this with him over this year and over these many years.

levi-guzman-268866I just miss having girlfriends, a squad. And for that matter, I miss having guy friends. I had a lot of both at one time, and I treasured the sense of belonging, perspective, and pure fun those friendships gave me. Moving away loosens those bonds pretty significantly. Getting married loosens them some more. Doing both, you damn near destroy what friendships you had. I don’t even have someone who is “my person” in Grey’s Anatomy parlance.

I can’t tell you how many new years’ days in a row I have cried in my husband’s arms, reflecting on the year passed and the year ahead, about my loneliness. I swore this was the year I’d do something different about it. I swore I would really stick my neck out there and socialize. It’s so incredibly hard, discouraging, and downright intimidating, for a couple of reasons.

  1. It feels like every last minute of my day is caught up in laundry, making doctor appointments and other plans, helping with homework (ok, truth be told, that’s eased up a bit and my husband does most of it), chauffeuring for soccer or dance (and oh, let’s throw writing into the mix now!) and while I may get offers to social outings, I often need to shortchange the time I spend out or I’m just too tired to even go. However, it’s gotten better. When the kids were really young, it was far easier on everyone for all of us to stay home. Now that I can leave the house to run some errands and the oldest can watch the younger two, it’s amazing! I tell people I am emerging from an early childhood-raising coma. They understand what I’m saying…
  2. My energy levels are plummeting. Call it diet and lifestyle, call it age, call it making a living, call it overwork/over-scheduling…I don’t know what to call it but it is really difficult for me to summon the energy to socialize, relax, and do nothing because even if I’m physically doing nothing, mentally, I’m thinking about #1. I’m thinking about #1 because there is no backup. It’s me and my husband and that’s pretty much it. No extended family I can call upon for 100+ miles. Nobody to rely upon. No babysitters we can hire every single night of the week because that just feels wrong and I won’t throw money out the window like that or outsource raising our kids to a teenager. It’s just us, always. Nobody else. To rely on someone else, we’d have to know them well enough (which requires socialization) and trust them, not abuse the help (which is so easy to do), and be in a position to reciprocate. So we don’t have a backup. I can’t mentally handle the math of “who can I call on this time?” and everything else I juggle in #1.
  3. I’m a cross between an introvert and an ambivert. When I’m overwhelmed with #1 and #2, I’m definitely introverted…small talk (the weather, “how are you” exchanges) drains me. I’d rather talk about something unusual, funny, or substantive, however you just don’t make acquaintances and turn them quickly into friendships over a deep conversation. Now there are days when I can easily be the center of attention and “hold court” telling stories and yukking it up with those around me. I have a spunky, zany side, and I will bust a gut laughing every chance I can get…it doesn’t get to come out to play too often anymore. There’s just a heavy, wet blanket on that side of my personality most of the time. So crazy enough, there are people who are convinced I’m an extrovert and astonished to hear otherwise. They don’t see the downtime I need. Then there are others who only know me as an introvert and have zero interest getting to know me better because they think I’m boring, quiet, uptight, and maybe even aloof. It’s extremely hard to break out of that kind of first impression, but that’s what a lot of people see. Sometimes I just wish I could be a normal person but most of these days, I just use my energy to stay upright.
  4. It feels like I’ve spent the last 15 years introducing myself to people. No matter that I spent the 15 years before that doing the very same thing, going off to college and working as a consultant and it didn’t drain me. Now it does. And the amount of life change I’ve had in the last 15 years was enormous: I’ve moved three times to two different states, had four jobs, and birthed three kids. I know a huge number of samuel-zeller-362021people superficially. It’s exhausting to introverts like me. And I scare people away, over and over again with my intensity, my constant striving to grow and be better than I was yesterday, so I don’t really try to get to know people any deeper. Besides, many of the people I know in this town have been here a long time and have their long-term friends…they aren’t really looking to make new ones.
  5. Everyone told me that it would get much better: I’d make friends with the parents of my children’s friends once my kids started school. Yes and no. I’m a working mom with no time for school volunteering or the PTO so that avenue was kinda cut off. I mean, if you’re finding it difficult to read through your child’s papers every evening, do math facts and reading, then sign and return what is supposed to go back the next day, you don’t really have the bandwidth for volunteering and the PTO too. You just don’t. Which means, I don’t have the inside scoop on the teachers, administration, or other moms, so I didn’t have anything to contribute to the conversations anyway. I couldn’t even reciprocate on the play dates that other moms were able to do. During pickup and drop off they were always able to stay and chat for 10-20 minutes but I felt I always needed to go go go….run home for another load of laundry or to go get someone else from their activity, etc.
  6. And let me share this: some of the early moms I met were 10+ years younger than me with bodies and energy levels to boot. I’d see them wear tight mini-dresses and four inch heels to go clubbing once every week or two. Clubbing? Not that I was asked to go, but I hadn’t been clubbing in well over 10 years. Drinking all night? See #2 above. I can’t function properly as it is; I don’t want to revisit what a hangover would feel like under these circumstances. I just cannot do it. Besides, I just come across like a prude because I know I can’t drink like that. I love wine but two glasses tops, and Mama Louie’s gotta call it a night. And then there was the lovely family we met somewhat early on where the one parent became a felon, I believe. And I’m a working professional who adheres to a code of ethics… so…..it just makes it a bit awkward because you can’t just come out and say, “um…we understand you were arrested for theft, and well….we just….can’t be friends. We wish you well, we really do, but no. For our own peace of mind, and my professional reputation, we can’t invite that kind of drama into our lives, thank you very much.” So yeah, socializing in my town became this increasingly impossible, insurmountable obstacle. I can’t tell you how many nights I just slumped in a puddle and cried because I just didn’t have a wellspring of strength to draw from, to overcome the intense loneliness I felt.  How do you crawl out of that hole? One freaking day at a time, and I’m still crawling. And Facebook was a lifeline when I had no other.
  7. I had all three of my kids pretty late in life, and was bracing myself for the day we sent the youngest to kindergarten. I was waiting, just waiting, for the perky fellow kindergartener mom I could have given birth to. Thank God my youngest loves me, loves me, loves me, and doesn’t blink an eye at how much older I am than the other moms. And THANK GOD, these moms are mostly only 10-15 years younger than me, not 20, and they’re pretty awesome. Nevertheless, it’s really hard being the oldest one in the room at all times. Especially when I never used to be the oldest one. Honestly I was always the youngest one, so I truly don’t even know how to relate to everyone. I feel like the odd man out every where I go, in everything I say and do. It just pulls the introverted covers tighter over my whole being.
  8. For 10 of the 12 years we’ve lived in our town, I was convinced we would move back to Pittsburgh at any moment. Why make friends when the moment you move away you’ll never hear from them again? Been there, done that…don’t need to do it again. I had always been one of people who cherished friendships for life, and it crushes me when it isn’t reciprocated, especially if the friendship had been pretty strong at one time. But there came to a point, 10 years after moving into our house, when I had to give my family some sense of stability, and commit to staying put: agreeing I would permanently abandon a move back to Pittsburgh. My long-held dream was gone. I can’t just dangle that out there and disrupt my family’s sense of home and need to feel rooted themselves. So tell me, how do you make friends when your opening line is, “I’ve lived here for 10 years and I don’t know who I’d call at 3 am if I needed to. Other than our sitter, I don’t know whose ‘local contact’ name to put on the emergency papers at school.” I don’t who is close enough friends to call “family”. Because the truth is, I need friends to be my family because I just don’t have that here, and my sisters are over a hundred miles away and consumed with obligations toward their own children. My parents have been gone for 30 and 20 years respectively as are all of my aunts and uncles. My mother in law lives 2000 miles away and rarely visits. I need that “village”, but I am so afraid to ask for it, or open up and receive it. I’m so afraid to be rejected. I’m so afraid the people we’ll end up knowing are people we don’t want to know: addicts, liars, snobs, bigots….  Oy….  Believe me, we’ve encountered some characters over the years. I am not going to deliberately bring those kind of people into the orbit of our family.  I’d rather be alone, so I am, but I worry about the impact it has on our immediate family. The five of us spend a significant amount of time alone. Now don’t get me wrong, we have tons of acquaintances and dare I say it – friends – who are absolutely lovely, but I can’t and won’t demand the intimacy of deep friendship with them. It comes over time….over a long time…and it must be mutual. I’ve danced that tango and I’ve stepped on toes. I’ve been dipped and dropped.  So no, I no longer know how to broker those kinds of friendships…not when a husband and kids need to jive with the relationship too. I just don’t. I know I can’t force it. Suffice it to say, it’s incredibly hard to make new close friends at this point in my life. I wish I hadn’t moved away. I really wish I hadn’t. And frankly, I ought to just shut up about that because that’s old news. Really old news.

So…….I had a new year’s resolution to socialize more. Was I successful? Eh…

I deliberately connected with more acquaintances in the neighborhood and such on Facebook. Believe it or not, that’s a struggle for me to do. Since I can’t get out much, so I thought maybe I’d get to know people and vice versa online. It has worked in some cases. In others, people didn’t accept my friend request. I know not to take that too personally.  For example, I don’t have 1000 “friends”. I have a few hundred…and that’s a lot for me. There are people from high school I refuse to connect with because my family is sacred, and my thoughts are deep and personal, I don’t just share them with anyone. [Ignore for a moment that I now have a blog that’s open for anyone to read. This is different, uncharted territory….]

One of my high school friends, Barb, reached out and wanted a girls’ weekend with me this year. I hadn’t seen her in 30 years but it was touching to be asked, and wonderful to plan it and go. It was balm for the soul to talk to someone who knew me back then, where I didn’t have to hold back on anything I said or try so incredibly hard to be likable. To Barb, I want to say: thank you from the bottom of my heart. You thought our weekend was healing for you. Little did you know what you did for me. And as icing on the cake, our weekend away allowed me to have breakfast with my childhood friend Stephanie, who I don’t get to see often. You have no idea how huge these gifts are to someone like me, because I know that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea.

Another friend also named Barb reached out to me out of the blue this year. She and I had both moved away from Pittsburgh and lost touch. I chalked it up to one of the many friendships that just died due to distance. She has no idea how heartwarming it was to be remembered and for her to resurrect the friendship. She said she missed me. She has no idea how much I have missed her over these many years…she was so much fun to hang out with. I am so grateful for the gift of hearing from her, even if it turns out to be just that one time.

Another friend Vonda made a point to come visit this year with her husband and daughter. We sat and talked and talked.  Sitting so much couldn’t have been that much fun for these incredibly active people but again: this was a friendship that I deeply cherished and had all but lost as we both moved from Pittsburgh and our lives took wildly different turns but turns toward motherhood nevertheless. She will never know what a positive influence she has been on my life, and how much I admire her drive, intelligence, humor, beauty, style, and initiative. She is a force for so much good.

I had the good fortune to travel to Arizona for work, and shortly before the trip, another dear friend from the past serendipitously reconnected with me. Madison happens to live in Scottsdale, and we got to see each other. We met up, hung by the pool, had dinner together another evening, and dear God, we picked up like we last saw one another yesterday, not 15 years later. I felt normal again, totally myself. She herself had been going through so much in her own life but she has no idea how comforting it was to snap me back into my old self, telling stories and jokes like I used to do, and feeling like I was on par, like an equal.

I had a couple of other weekend visits, one with two long-term Pittsburgh friends Stephanie and Angela (a few true friends who have stayed in an orbit of friendship no matter what time or distance passes between us), and two I met since I returned to Ohio, Carol and Kristin. These were so healing for me…and yet the people involved have no idea.

We hosted a single picnic and a brunch, which isn’t much but it’s more than we’ve done before. Baby steps… And I’m trying hard to be fully present when I’m around other hannah-rodrigo-320734people, and to engage in small talk just to make a connection of any kind.  I try to accept invitations out but if you see my struggle, you’ll know why.

Is there more I could do? Sure….there are a couple of people where we swore we’d go out for a glass of wine or coffee this year…and we never did. I have hope that one day I’ll have a squad where I laugh like crazy, talk deep, and feel like I fit in. It would include guy friends like I once had, and absolutely no one would feel weirded out by it because the guy friends would become good friends of my husband too.

So there you have it: #10 socialize more. It’s gotten a little bit better. And here, maybe you thought I wanted to hit up a few more happy hours this year. Baby steps, and more to come in the new year.

Photo credits in order of appearance: rawpixel.com, Levi Guzman, Samuel Zeller, and Hannah Rodrigo on unsplash.com

#9 – Plan Your Career

Part of a series of ten segments, checking the progress of my 2017 New Year Resolutions.

Two things should be apparent to you right away:

  1. I’m ambitious when it comes to personal growth (10 resolutions for 2017 that I’m still talking about in December? Who does that?), and
  2. I’m a big time planner. It gives me comfort to analyze situations, think through options and make an informed decision before acting, the difference being that I actually do take action, too.

Age 50 was an inflection point for me. Time to really take stock of my career: where I’ve been, what I’ve done, satisfaction level, growth potential, and for the first time: growth capacity and ultimately retirement.

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Funny thing is, this career of mine? I fell into it. I didn’t grow up wanting to be an auditor or a risk professional. Does anyone? I didn’t deliberately plan the steps along the way to the role I’m in right now. But three decades later, it just happened, kinda sorta…

As an adolescent, I felt called to do something bigger than myself, bigger than where I came from. I had encouragement from others that I had it in me. So yes, I wanted to do something of significance. Make a difference. I just didn’t know in what field or for whom. I never really had a “calling”, a thing I felt I had to do deep in my bones, like so many people who are compelled to be a doctor, artist, scientist, politician, teacher, whatever…. I always admired the people who knew their calling. I prayed that it would come to me one day, and that whatever I chose to do in the meantime would be good enough, a launching pad of sorts.

I even took one of those career assessments in high school, the kind where it gauges your interests and aptitude and reveals whether you lean more toward working with people, data, or things. Where did I score? Right smack in the middle, equally capable of anything. Talk about disappointment. I wanted a nudge, a clue….someone to grab me by the shoulders, spin me around and give me a gentle push in some direction, ANY direction, but I had nothing to go on. My high school guidance counselor was zero help: she simply told me, “You’ll figure it out, dear”. I didn’t have the courage or self-assertion to challenge her. I was a good girl who really needed help. Instead I was left to figure it out, on my own.

34 years later, I’m still trying to figure that out.

I had a sheltered, blue-collar upbringing with very little exposure to the many career possibilities. All these years later, part of me mourns my lost potential. The gift of time tells me that I could have had a much bigger impact than I have, an ability to really help others, make the world a better place. Having a legacy means a lot to me now, but as a teenager I didn’t realize just how much choice and control I had.

What I had always planned was to do, whatever I do, with excellence. That’s been my default modus operandi for as long as I can remember. I don’t know any other way to be. And by many objective measures, I can look back and say that I have been successful in my work, my career. That’s incredibly difficult for me to admit, but my rational brain says it’s true as does my husband.

Sure, I planned several tactical steps in my career, including many strategic ones, but it wasn’t like I set out in college with a goal to be a chief internal auditor or chief risk officer one day. Shoot, that latter wasn’t even an actual job until these last 10 years or so, so how could I have planned for it?

With all that context, what was my point in having a goal this year called “plan your career”? Let me go deeper. Way deeper.

Corporate America gets a bad rap for so many things: the way it treats employees like a number, stagnant wages, mindless work, cliques, harassment, glass ceilings, backstabbers, reorganizations, lack of communication, poor strategy, and workforce reductions. However, it can be an amazing place too, with personal recognition, skill-building opportunities, raises and bonuses for a job well done, stretch assignments that lead to professional growth, camaraderie and tight friendships, promotions, mentors, mergers between strong teams, transparency, competitive edge, and hiring sprees. I’ve experienced all of the above over the years, but far, far more of the positives. I am one of the fortunate ones.

By process of relatively simple elimination, Corporate America was the venue I chose in college to build my career, and it’s the landscape I periodically survey to drive my next move, figuratively and not.

Regardless of not having targeted my line of work early on, I have always thought of my work as a career, not a job. A job is where you collect a paycheck and watch the clock. You have no long-term interest in the skills you acquire or in the long-term success of your employer or company. Your coworkers are acquaintances you tolerate, not necessarily friends.

In contrast, a career is something longer term than any one employer, with skills you deliberately hone whether or not it takes you the mythical 10,000 hours to do so. You care about your work and about the company’s success. Your coworkers are colleagues you treat with respect, as you do your customers and suppliers, and if you’re lucky they become friends too. If you consider your work a profession as I do, you abide by a code of ethics that transcends your employer. You are trained in a specific field of study with certifications and continuing education. You are constantly building upon your knowledge and staying current if not cutting edge in your field. All good stuff. At least stuff that resonates with me.

Business sages and career counselors of the world often say that no one cares more about your career than you. I wholeheartedly agree which makes it even more important to assess your situation routinely. Is your work rewarding and challenging? Is your company’s strategy sound and is the organizational structure stable? Is your company and are your coworkers ethical? Do you trust and enjoy your colleagues? Do you feel like you belong? Do you have growth opportunities? Are you paid and treated fairly? Are other people recognized and rewarded fairly for their contributions? Do you believe in executive management ability to lead the organization in good times and bad? (Does this sound like you’re picking someone to marry?) Do your work demands jive with your personal and family needs? Are you pleased with the path you’re on and the progress you’ve made?

Now there have been moments over the years when I didn’t really have the luxury of asking questions like those above and taking action if I didn’t like the answers. I’ve survived five, maybe six, reductions in force over my career. All of them, in other words. Having been through so many doesn’t make it easier the next time around. It just gives you perspective.

The first few were unnerving because they happened relatively early on in my career when I was single. Naive me had no basis for understanding whether the economy was humming along when I joined the job market. The crash of 1987 was a couple of years earlier so I thought things were going well enough. It’s quite possible that my Big Eight accounting firm decided that their attrition rates were too low so they had to intervene and cut ranks. Still, I was disappointed yet relieved to make it through, as tough as it was to see some of my friends get laid off. I made the mental check of my performance which was excellent, and figured that’s what carried me through. “Keep doing what you’re doing” was my mantra.

Fast forward to the 2008 financial crisis. My employer was a 6-year-old company forced to lay off people for the first time the week I returned from maternity leave with my second child. Executive management made a big deal of explaining the significant analysis they went through to make the tough decision to cut deep.

We all were “shocked”, but not really since so many other companies were doing the same. The kicker was how my employer was forced to do it all again a mere two weeks later. Despite all of the initial analysis and transparency about the process, their estimates were wrong and first round of cuts were not deep enough.

Double sucker punch to the gut. Kinda ridiculous for me to say (or is that survivor’s guilt talking?) because I wasn’t terminated. But this time, I was the breadwinner for my young family. The pressure to keep my job no matter what was far greater than anything I experienced before. Nothing about my life to-date prepared me to be the breadwinner mom, the unprecedented responsibility that puts on your shoulders. So, so much of my self-worth was tied up in my ability to provide, to anticipate and be prepared for emergencies of any sort. I was way too smart to be caught off guard. It would humiliate me otherwise.

I couldn’t believe I survived both cuts. After all, I was at a level where I was responsible for sales, yet I knew I wasn’t the top sales person in my small office let alone the region. A few years after the fact, I asked my boss why they kept me on since it made no sense. He told me that 1) they could count on me to deliver on my projects as I was well skilled and ultra reliable, and 2) my ethics were impeccable. He didn’t realize it at the time but he gave me one of the best professional compliments I had ever received. I felt “seen”…understood. Executive management had no idea how important that was to me….

The threat of losing my job has always scared me. I lost both parents by the time I was 32 and was single until 34. We didn’t have much growing up, and I was taught repeatedly that I was to fend for myself. I was on my own. Emotionally too. My parents were overall good people, but I struggle to this day with that message, that commandment, “you are on your own”. I’ve subsequently learned that it really does takes a village to raise a child, but I still hear, “you are on your own”. If you screw up financially, “you are on your own”. If anything at all happens to you, YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN.

I guess it’s a good thing they taught me that because at 32, it was true. I mean, I had siblings 10+ years older than me, but they had their own lives, and their own young families. I had myself. For all intents and purposes, it was true. I was on my own.

So yes, the specter of losing my job has haunted me, always. I know no matter how financially prepared I am, losing my job, the only thing I had going for me when I was single, and the primary source of my family’s income and a significant component of my self-worth today, would push me mentally off the deep end.

The thing is, I can’t tell how much of my career is due to good planning versus good luck. amy-reed-408611I know both were involved. I don’t want to test the theory either…I’m just gonna keep doing what I do.

So I periodically assess my career, every 12-18 months. I’ve used it to plan physical moves to another city, ask for (and receive) increased responsibilities, and ask for (and receive) formal, significant, masters-level training a couple of times over. I’ve used it to change roles, change jobs, and negotiate a raise. I’ve used it to rework my resume and keep it current, enhance my LinkedIn profile, explore new jobs and benchmark my current position through interviewing, connect with old colleagues, develop new relationships, pursue certifications, and take steps again and again and yet again that push me outside my comfort zone. It has served me well.

Technically you can say I’ve spent the majority of my career as an auditor, even though I’ve always approached my work more like a business coach and consultant. My employer is required by law to have a chief auditor, so I felt more secure in my old role and felt I had reached maybe the zenith of my career. I didn’t deliberately pick auditing but somehow I did it for the better part of 25 years so why not go for 20 more? My boss even told me he couldn’t see anyone else running the department and he confirmed that he could see me as a vice president in that same role. He was a guy with enough trust, seniority, and credibility that I believed him, and felt comforted by the conversation.

Except four months later things changed. He was in a position to know they could. Org structures changed to accommodate a major acquisition. I ultimately landed into a brand new, but related role that had intrigued me for 15 years, a role I admitted I would enjoy, with no precedent, tons of creative freedom, no one reporting to me, and access to collaborate with senior executives. This job can be exhilarating, professionally challenging, and fascinating. Great for networking and relationship building.

But it cuts both ways. This new role comes with all sorts of insecurity. The worst kind of career insecurity. See, you can plan your career all you want but there are just some things outside of your control. As in, if we were to experience an economic downturn, I could easily be one of the first people they RIF. My role is strategic but an experiment that is still being tested. They wouldn’t fire an incumbent in another role and move me into it to keep me, no matter how good I am at what I do. They just won’t. And there are all kinds of companies going through significant business disruption (have you seen all of the businesses that have filed bankruptcy this year?) so this crazy “doomsday” scenario I’m dreaming up is within the realm of possibility here.

And it’s situations just like this where you hear advice about controlling how you respond to those sorts of events. I’m responding like a breadwinner with three young kids whose college education isn’t quite covered yet. I’m responding like someone successful enough to have totally secured that already but I haven’t. Not to mention the college planning I’ve done was for state university tuition yet I have a daughter who has set her sights on Harvard. I believe she can do it. And I’ll be damned 1000x over if I’m going to stop her from going to Harvard if that’s what she wants and earns, and especially if I should be financially savvy enough to get her there.

So definitely this past year’s assessment was a bit different than all of the others. 2017’s “plan my career” was two-fold:

  1. Continue to do what I’ve always done because it has worked, and
  2. Stick my neck out and try new things because maybe, just maybe, my next career move is totally uncharted territory.

Let me break it down by recounting my self-counsel which has always worked:

  1. Walk through whatever doors of opportunity open before you. Two years into my career I was given the opportunity to study information technology in a 16-week training class something akin to a masters program. Not to mention this class was held in Tampa, Florida, when I was 24 where they paid me to learn, put me up in an apartment complex with coworkers, gave me a per diem, and travel expenses to return home now and then, and then apply those learnings on the job which I did for the better part of my career. You bet I would take them up on that opportunity, and others like it, like a 5-week session in Center City Philadelphia a few years later.
  2. Don’t become complacent. Don’t assume your employer will always do the right thing, or always follow through with their promises. Gain every skill you can get your hands on. Pursue every certification that supports your interests and expertise. Ask for feedback frequently from anyone willing to offer it. Take criticisms gracefully and constructively to do better. Don’t slack off because you’re tired or bored or unhappy with your assignment. And if you just can’t stomach the work at your employer, quit and find a new place that jazzes you and appreciates you. Guard against complacency.
  3. Don’t let negativity consume you. I think it’s perfectly fine to find things that need to improve and to talk about it, to sort out the right course of action. Bad things happen, they do, and whether those bad things happen is often outside of your control. What’s in your control is your response. Don’t bash and complain non-stop and do nothing to fix it. Don’t wallow in contempt.
  4. Your integrity is everything. Don’t lie, don’t backstab. Don’t pussyfoot around bad news; deliver it by being direct but fair. Give your word and stick to it. Remain professional no matter what. You lose your integrity, people’s trust in you? It’s gone forever. You don’t get it back.
  5. Network. Man, I hate that word and all the connotations it conjures but no matter: the point is, stick your neck out and meet people. Networking, when done properly, is the mutual exchange of value. Don’t just take, take, take….and take only when you need it. Give in return, without thought to reciprocation to keep the mutual part ofnathan-dumlao-264380 networking fresh and genuine over the long run. Touch base with your current and former colleagues. Call or text but stay in touch. Have lunch. Keep it fresh. Use LinkedIn to stay in touch. I was an early adopter of that platform as I saw pretty big value in it, especially for an introvert like me.
  6. Strive for excellence not perfection. There is a time in your career when you can work long hours to build your skill to approach perfection but there also comes a time of diminishing return. Recognize the tipping point, which moves as your career changes and as your personal obligations change.
  7. Work at a place that is aligned with your values as closely as you can get. Get clear on what you value early on, but know that your values can change. Know that no organization is perfect. Know what you can and cannot tolerate, and be willing to leave if you can’t tolerate or change it. No organization with bad values should be rewarded with loyal employees.
  8. Keep your resume and your skill set current. Always. Pay to have your resume professionally written, especially if you have about 10 years of experience and a couple of different jobs under your belt so you know what accomplishments are worth highlighting and which should be left off entirely. Be ready at a moment’s notice should an opportunity arise. Look for a new role or even a new job when you don’t need to. Benchmark your skills and salary to know your worth. Warmly welcome every outreach from a recruiter, even though you will certainly be contacted by newbies in the industry who have no idea whether you’re well qualified for the role they’re pitching.
  9. Hold your head high. Don’t let insecurity, fear, anger, shame, or jealousy on the part of others or within you warp your sense of self. Being an auditor is an incredibly tough job. No matter how good or talented of a businessperson you are, you will be disliked, criticized, and even backstabbed while bystanders watch. I know that I spent a lifetime conducting myself in a fair and ethical manner when it comes to clients and colleagues. I have done the best I could on behalf of my clients, my employer, my coworkers, my team, my family, and myself. No matter how hard I worked to remain professional, fair, and respectful in my conduct, there will be people who will smear you and tear you down in front of your face and behind your back often and gleefully. It will sting. It will crush you. And their smears will work, for a while. But get up. Keep going. You can be human….you can cry and pine for someone to talk to in those dark hours, and you’ll find there is no one you can confide in, because you shoulder a unique burden that requires confidentiality on your part. Keep going. You’ve been through tough times, and your success rate in making it through to the other side, even better than before, is 100%. And those people who do the smearing? Karma is a bitch. You don’t ever really wish ill upon anyone but there is a certain level of schadenfreude when you see people reap what they sow. It will happen infrequently but enough to give you faith that doing the right thing will win in the end.
  10. Keep learning. See points 1 and 2 again. Don’t be the dinosaur. You may old enough to remember the executives who refused to use email because they were too stubborn to learn “new technology”. Don’t be that guy. Besides, your next career move might be something that hasn’t been created yet. Follow your curiosity as Big Magic author Elizabeth Gilbert tells people to do.
  11. Speak up. If you see something, say something. Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Ask for what you want or what you need, be it a raise you deserve or a new role so you aren’t bored. Be respectful but be assertive. Don’t assume people know what you want or need in your career. Don’t assume they understand your home situation. Talk about what you want, even if what you want is an unpopular idea, like traveling less on the job so you can get pregnant. (Yes, I did that.) Get the conversation out on the table so you know what neighborhood you’re “living” in, and if you don’t like it, move.
  12. Find a mentor. Find several of them, formal and informal. Shoot, create your own “board of directors” and consult with them often. Thank them. Be a mentor long before you think you’re ready. Give back, early and often.
  13. Mind your energy and stress levels. There will come a time, especially if you take on more responsibility or handle more difficult, intricate situations than you have in the past, and especially if you don’t have the proper support network at home or at work, where you will be in over your head. You’ll notice it because you’re physically sick all the time. It could be a lingering cough that stays too long. It could be the result of asking for repeated help and being shut down so you stop asking and simply take on more and more work like the good corporate citizen you are until you break. But you have to recognize that something will give. Something. Will. Give. It will be you, your work, your marriage, or your family, but something will. Know the early warning signs and act on them before the damage is done. Only you know which one of those things you can gamble.
  14. Delegate. This is a tough one to grasp, especially if you’re a voracious learner, avoid complacency, and/or are addicted to perfection. If you don’t want to fall victim to #6, you need to delegate early and often, to people who can handle it, welcome it, and grow through it. You really do need to learn to let go. Not be so prescriptive about how stuff gets done but THAT it gets done, relatively efficiently but definitely effectively.

Yes, those are guidelines that have served me well over the years, guidelines that I believe full-heartedly and know to work. But something told me this year that I needed to challenge the status quo. It was time to consider and do things I hadn’t done before, daniel-hjalmarsson-269425like this:

  1. Start planting the seeds for the “repurpose” period of my life that is retirement. Granted, it’s still 10-15 years away for me…or so I anticipate right now. When I was younger, I wondered whether I’d be the kind of person who would quit my professional job cold turkey and only then have the time to pursue my passion or just a plain old hobby. This year, I decided that I would not wait. Too many people wait until retirement to start living the life they love….only to die shortly before or after. I’m not willing to risk that. It’s time I channel my energy, and sense of self-worth beyond my family and existing job to other areas. There is so much more to me than my family and my job. For one, I decided I would start this blog. I have no idea at the moment where it may take me. Right now, I’m just enjoying the creative outlet of writing and sharing with an audience in a way that I’ve never done before. And frankly, no one other than my husband ever hears the stories I tell on here. I have a lot to share, if only people would ask. No one ever asks.
  2. Ramp up my presence on LinkedIn. People you trust and admire can and will let you down despite their best intentions, and it will mess with your head forever if you let it. So don’t count on them. I decided that I have several hundred contacts over my career and thoughtful, intelligent opinions. I’ve decided that I would read, share, and comment on articles that I like about professional development, personal growth, stress management, leadership, etc. Starting in 2018, I will seriously consider penning some articles myself to share on LinkedIn. After all, the one and only time I didn’t work in a formal audit or risk role was when I quit public accounting to start my own business as a personal and small business coach. I ached to make a positive impact on people who really wanted help to improve themselves or their business, and I felt ready to give it a try. Unfortunately I hung my shingle two months before 9/11, not anticipating how terrorism would derail so many small businesses including my own! So, maybe LinkedIn can be an outlet for the very best kind of networking, helping others, and holding stimulating, productive business and ethical conversations. Because you just never really know what will happen in today’s job market and I don’t want to be caught flat-footed.
  3. Pinpoint my personal mission statement. I don’t recall where I got this exercise, maybe it was Simon Sinek, but it went something like this:
    • Who are you?
    • What do you do?
    • Why do you do it?
    • Introduce yourself by starting with the why. People don’t “buy” what you do, they buy WHY you do it.

My goal as a professional businesswoman and fellow human is to help those around me – family, friends, coworkers, employer, and third parties – be the best version of themselves. I do that by listening, showcasing opportunities, connecting people to one another, researching, planning, removing obstacles, creating energy around what’s possible, acting, and inspiring others. Very Oprah, I know. But that’s what I do. It was disguised as auditing for most of my career. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be an auditor in the long run, after all.

rita-morais-217555So that’s what I’ve done this year. This was a long, roundabout way to say I will stay true to what has served me well, but I will also take risks “marketing” myself better than I have in the past. Draw people to me.  I honestly want to see everyone thrive in their lives, relationships, and livelihood. If all this ambiguity about my own personal career led me to this point, to this realization, then so be it. Let me somehow be that channel of good and hope for others. That’s the “loving UP” part of Live Laugh Love Louie.

Until next time…

Photo credits in order of appearance, all from Unsplash.com: John Baker, Amy Reed, Nathan Dumlao, Daniel Hjalmarsson,  and Rita Morais

#8 – Home Improvement Heaven

Part of a series of ten segments, checking the progress of my 2017 New Year Resolutions.

Of all the resolutions I set for 2017, I’ve made the least progress on this one. To understand why, you need to read post #7 in my series. But that’s ok, as it simply means this one will carry over into 2018 and I look forward to what we are able to do in a year’s time.

We bought this house knowing that there was a separate structure on the property that could be my husband’s music studio. We set all kinds of financial goals for ourself before we invested the money to renovate the space for this purpose. But a couple of years ago we took the plunge, and along with it built a patio, fire pit, and sidewalk that connected the house to the studio. It was downright magical to see this space come alive. Students are blown away when they see the studio. Even fellow musicians are in a bit of awe with what they see. We’ve spent way more time outdoors in our own yard having bonfires and dining al fresco since all of it was built.

The inside, however….has stalled.

I have a philosophy about personal space, and I recognize full well that I’m one of those people who has the good fortune to make this philosophy a way of life. I haven’t really written my “home sweet home” philosophy as a sort of manifesto. Maybe this is the beginnings of it. It boils down to these things:

  1. Sprawl no more than is necessary. No “McMansion”. Actually I’m fascinated by those tiny homes, I just don’t think I can pull that off just yet with the five of us and a baby grand piano.
  2. Own no less than what gives community and privacy to the people living in the home. Give each person in the home a space to call their own, and a living space where they can commune if they wish but also have a little privacy.
  3. Make home your sanctuary. Have it be beautiful, comfortable, and functional. Colors and furniture that support the purpose of the room and that work together from room to room.  In particular, preserve the master bedroom as a sanctuary. No desks, no mental work, no TVs. The master bedroom is a spiritual place above all. ember-ivory-431240
  4. Keep it clean and orderly. I fail so often on this but essentially have a place to store all of your things and return them to that space when you’re done using them. Cleanliness is self-explanatory.
  5. Maintain your possessions in good working order. Fix, replace, or do without what is broken. There is beauty in some worn items, but sometimes wear and tear reveals an ugliness and lack of quality. I think it’s perfectly ok to update and renovate what is revealed to be junk.
  6. Simplify or even downsize your stuff. Do you really need to keep everything that comes into your home? Do you need the break maker, the blender, and two waffle irons because you got them as a wedding gift? Can someone else use what you have? Can you donate or regift it?
  7. Mind the “flow” of the space. Is is cramped? Is it sparse? Is it inviting?
  8. Purify the air. Let fresh air into the space or use essential oils to drive a mood.
  9. Let the light shine. This is one part of my manifesto I can’t retrofit into my current home so easily. I so wish the natural light was abundant. If there was one thing I’d change, that would be it.
  10. Make the space what you need it to be. If you use your formal dining room only once a year, change it to something you will use, like a piano room or library. If you gravitate toward meals and communion with other people, make your kitchen the focal point of the home. If a closet has shelving that defies logic, change it. Why tolerate bad design?

It’s so easy to talk about all of these things and take action on them like money is no object. But I think it’s important to feel warm, safe, and inspired by your home. And now I’ve cleared the hurdle that was the laundry room, I’m ready to tackle some bigger projects, like redoing the bathrooms, replacing the woodwork throughout the house so it isn’t so dark, fixing some storage space in the closets and garage, and fixing up the basement so it’s a bright, inviting space for the kids in our home and their friends. Some of these plans may seem frivolous but they align with my “Home Sweet Sanctuary Manifesto” and I can’t wait to make progress on them.

What do you think? What are your thoughts on how to turn your living space into a home improvement heaven? Do any of the points in my manifesto resonate with you? Do you have any good ideas to share with me? I’m all ears.

 

Photo by Ember + Ivory on Unsplash

 

#7 – Finish What You Start

Part of a series of ten segments, checking the progress of my 2017 New Year Resolutions.

We moved into our early 1980s house 12 years ago and immediately began dismantling the saccharine pink and baby blue color scheme throughout the house, a room or two at a time. The last evidence of the prior owners was in a big laundry room off the kitchen, a room with plaid wallpaper that also had a touch of green to the color scheme, allowing me to stomach it longer than any other room. Plus I’ve removed wallpaper a time or two before, and you never know what you might get into it. It isn’t always easy. I swear some people used superglue once. I had to chip away at the plaster to get a guernsey cow border off the kitchen walls at our home in Omaha, and I swore up a storm the entire time because my patience was GONE.

One new year’s eve, I hit the wall literally and began ripping the wallpaper down. There was NO WAY I was heading into a new year staring at that plaid any longer. As it turns out, that first layer came off easily and I figured I would get around to scraping off the residue shortly afterward, patch a little, then paint. And then paint the cupboards too because….well because. They were too dark. Why work with dark brown wood in a laundry? Why not brighten the whole space?

An entire year flew by and I didn’t do another thing.

Now I feel like I had a good excuse, being the working mom of three young kids. And if there’s a room in the house I use all the time, it’s this one. I climb the summit of Mt. Laundry every week and just when I think I’ve reached the top, I do it all over again. Not to mention this room is relatively huge so it serves as the pantry and a catch-all for sports equipment, blankets, and all kinds of stuff we technically didn’t have a “home” for.

So yeah….I have a tendency to get excited about starting and planning projects, as do a lot of people. I have all kinds of energy for that. I think through what materials I need, buy and stage them… and then they sit. Or I have a mad rush of energy to start day one of the job, and then life gets in the way.

Like this laundry room. After a year, I finally started painting and got maybe 80% of the way through the job and had to stop. And while I stopped, I thought long and hard whether I liked the look, and I didn’t! I changed my mind!

I can’t tell you how many people told me to just hire someone, but I had so many excuses, the primary one being that I felt no one would do it better than me. I am meticulous about patching, sanding, painting, avoiding drips, cleanup…  I love the learning and meditative aspects of painting. I do so much thinking and it feels so productive to do it not to mention the obvious visibility to your progress. Plus who has all day to spell out every assumption and expectation or to take the time to monitor whether a third party will do it the “right” way? And who has money to pay someone to be that meticulous? Just…no.

And I even set another strategy for myself, an incentive of sorts, which was that I wasn’t allowed to start any other house projects until the laundry room was DONE. Needless to say, a lot of projects have piled up while that room sat unfinished.

And it still didn’t work. The fact of the matter is, it wasn’t getting done. I had to get realistic about what I was able to accomplish, no matter how much I wanted to be done.

Somewhere among the 100 or so podcasts I listened to and who knows how many hundreds of articles I’ve read this past year, I heard about a strategy for how you spend your time. The point was to spend your money on services or gadgets that save you time so you can spend YOUR time on those things that only you can do: things that feed your body, mind, and soul like chill with your family, travel, exercise, hone your professional skills, pray, whatever. Relentlessly outsource everything else.

hello-i-m-nik-281498So I did it. I broke down and outsourced the laundry room painting. It wasn’t perfect. The cabinets came out an ice blue instead of pure white so I insisted on having them redone, at extra cost, delay, and disappointment. The hardware ended up with some paint on it, which DRIVES ME CRAZY. There are a couple of drips and a couple of patchy spots…but in all its imperfection, I can deal with it. My laundry room is now beautiful, functional, organized, clean, efficient, effective, bright, and happy.

And this whole lesson, the lesson that took me over three years, maybe four, to learn, is to GET IT DONE, so I can release my energy to work on the next big thing. Do what you’ve got to do to finish what you start so you don’t lose your energy, your momentum. It works, baby. Trust the process.

 

Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

The Gratitude Visit

I am hooked listening to the Good Life Project podcast by Jonathan Fields. He gets into deep conversations with some really interesting souls, asks the best questions, and just has this overall soothing manner about him. Yesterday he published a riff called the Gratitude Visit. In it, he talks a little bit about the art of cultivating gratitude in life, and how some people keep a gratitude journal, which I’ve heard over and over and we cultivate here at home when we get together as a family. But then he offered one better: the gratitude visit, which I had never heard of. This really got me thinking today.

The gist of it is to look back on your life and choose someone you need to thank but never have. Write a short letter to this individual outlining what they meant to you and why you need to give thanks to them, like 300 words tops. Then the hook: contact this person, tell them you want to visit but don’t say why, and then read the letter aloud to matthew-henry-86779them when you meet face-to-face. He talked about the profound impact it has on both the person on the receiving end as well as the one expressing gratitude, and how this exercise has positive reverberations for some time to come.

Man, was that a compelling challenge to throw out there. I can easily think of three people, actually more, who I owe a debt of gratitude. The kind of people where, when you look back on your life, you realize the impact they had and how you may not have realized it at the time, because they were just a steady presence, or a consistently positive, guiding light, or just someone who accepted you as-is with warm, welcoming arms. These aren’t individual acts of kindness as much as maybe these people are simply good souls who shepherded you along in life.

I’ve had one person on my list to thank for a few years now. I act like I don’t know how to get in touch with her but I do. Jonathan challenged his listeners to consider taking the month of December to act on the Gratitude Visit and I want to do it. Whether I can get a meeting scheduled, I don’t know, but I will make contact.

What about you? Is there anyone in your life you need to thank? Does this sound like a good idea or a scary one or both? Will you do it? If not, what holds you back?

Plus I kinda miss focusing on the good things in life instead of the negative. I need to act on the things that bring me peace and joy, not just keep to myself about it. I don’t know man…just several things hit me today where I am reflecting a lot on life, and this is one thing that feels like a step in the right direction. I don’t want to live life wishing I had told people what a difference they made for me along the way.

What say you?

 

 

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

#6: Write for Real

Part of a series of ten segments, checking the progress of my 2017 New Year Resolutions.

I joined Facebook back in August 2008. Talk about a face-palm first post, so telling of great things to come! haha I was the mother of a new baby, and these were the days when Facebook seeded the start of your post with “I am…” and you fill in the blank which for me was, “still trying to get caught up on sleep.” Where’s Captain Obvious when you need him? Oh, such insight and wisdom! Duh.

As Facebook evolved, my friends list grew, and I found my footing on what to post, I ended up posting a lot and I got a whole lot better than that first anti-climatic entry. I posted about every day kind of stuff, kid stuff, parent stuff, working woman stuff, and lately politics (don’t hate me)… Short posts and some long ones, too, and I found that I loved it.

Writing was a creative outlet I desperately needed while I held down a demanding, highly logical and analytical job. I craved connection with family and the friends I met from all around the country during my relocations and frequent travels. For as much heat as the social network gets, Facebook was a critical lifeline for me at a time when I was stuck for years at home caring for our young kids without family nearby or any good friends to rely on as a support network. I mean, there is only so much money and time you can use for a babysitter before you are a neglectful parent, and I had waited too long to have kids to make that foolish mistake.

Now over these same years, a family member of mine frequently dismissed any discussion I started about Facebook as a total waste of time, despite how much I personally enjoyed connecting and communicating on it. These comments were hurtful, because it felt like they were deliberately dismissing me and what brings me joy. I don’t bring it up anymore. I don’t bring up my writing or really much of anything that is going on with me, because this particular audience turns a deaf ear.

It’s been almost a decade now. That dismissal still stings, and that family member and I have grown increasingly distant. But as an artist, you need to ignore what your critics say and push through, creating from the heart. Artists deal with this rejection quite a bit from their own families. Thank God my husband is supportive. He’s an artist too, a musician, and he tells me, “You don’t choose your art: it chooses you.”

What surprised me was what happened with my writing on Facebook. It was the number of people who stopped and told me in person how much they liked what I wrote, people who I never realized even read my stuff. Is this what my husband means about my art choosing me? I am genuinely flabbergasted every time it happens but it happens too often to be pure coincidence.

I also noticed I got a lot of positive reaction online whenever I wrote something long…and always when I thought maybe I shared a little too much or got a little too jan-kahanek-184676verbose. Every single time, those are the posts that seem to resonate with people the most. Go figure. I’m a slow learner and a late bloomer but I’m catching on!

I wasn’t always a writer. My favorite aunt, Nancy, gave me a diary when I was 9 years old, a tiny little 4″ x 6″ version with a light blue cover, a page for every day of the year, each page trimmed in gold, and the whole thing protected by a little lock. I wrote in it every day. Some days there was more story to tell so I’d continue on scrap paper and tuck the folded postscript in between the pages.

9-year-old me thought a diary was a brilliant idea because I knew my memory and recall of specific details wasn’t very strong. I’d look back at what happened over the prior week and be stunned to discover how much of it rolled off my back or disappeared from memory altogether. I have the entry for the day Aunt Nancy died when I was 10. I have journals all the way through public school and college, and a few years after that while I was still single and traveling for work. I no longer wrote daily entries but I wrote whenever I needed to sort things out, which meant I wrote a lot.

Oh, it’s painful to read those diaries now! Yes, I still have all of them. What a jumbled collection of thoughts. I had zero ability to express myself. My ability was so poor, I never considered writing as a career. What surprised me in retrospect is how my penmanship, introspection, and expression improved over nearly two decades. And if I told you that my honors accounting professor had the single biggest influence over my ability to write, you wouldn’t believe me. I’ll tell his story one day too, I promise. Dr. Thomas J Burns of Ohio State was a doozy of a man.

As a teen I was an avid pen pal with several friends I met at church camp and all-Ohio school activities. These letters switched to email at some point but life kinda got in the way and eventually I fell away from sending long emails.

So Facebook was the first time I had written any personal commentary of any length in years, and it was out there for my “friends” to see. What should I post about? What’s in my heart, or what would resonate in “conversation” with friends, or should any given post be a little of both?

I never ever once thought of myself as a writer. Not once in all these years of journaling, then pen-pal writing, then Facebooking. I just felt compelled to write. I just had to do it.

It got to where a couple of friends urged me to write a book or at least start a blog, which I tried a few years ago. “Denise’s Daily Delights and Dilemmas” was up and running for a few months but I got scared. I became afraid that I would be judged for telling my truth, and it became pretty apparent that I wasn’t quite ready to share my art with anyone.

Then I developed writer’s block: all this pent-up stuff to say but I had no idea what to write about. I wasn’t sure what perspective I was writing from: professional working woman, older mom to young kids, traveler, mentor, friend, artist…what? So I shut down the blog and abandoned the effort for a few years.

I quietly started a second one called “Teeny Tiny Thinker Thoughts” but posted once and never touched it again. Never told anyone about it either.

All the while I kept posting on Facebook and this time, the comments were more frequent and bold, and sometimes sent via private message, imploring me to write more. Write formally. Write anything.

“When you gonna write that book?”

“You have a knack for words. I love what you have to say, your little insights…”

“I want a signed copy of that book you’re gonna write,” and

“You need to write about this in your first book.”

And so the inner doubt wore off after many years. I knew I had turned a corner when I ran into my old boss at a conference two years ago and we caught up over dinner. He’s a traditional CPA type, the managing director for the local office of a global audit and consulting firm. I hadn’t seen him but a handful of times since I left the firm and it was delightful catching up. He asked what I had been doing with myself and I blurted it out as naturally as anything I had ever said: “I write.” He did the classic double-take and I realized what I had just admitted out loud for the first time.

The final straw was this summer talking to my cousin Steve who pulled me aside at an all-too-soon funeral for another cousin. Oh Lord, I’m probably hosing the quote big time but I’m pretty sure he asked me, “Cousin, for the love of God, when are you gonna start writing for real?”

Steve didn’t know I had “writing more” on my 2017 resolutions and that I was penning some essays on the side, starting what may be a book one day. But it was his words that pushed me to launch this blog a few weeks ago on the last day of September, the month I turned 50.

I am writing “for real”, whatever comes in my heart… and I’m not going to question whether it’s worthy or too wordy or too nerdy, or whether I have an audience for it. Of course, I want to hone my craft. I want my tone to be hopeful and positive, like I try to live my life, and like my husband and I try to guide our kids and how we purposefully choose the people around us.

I feel like a Flying Wallenda navigating the inner critic tightrope, carefully balancing informative and constructive thoughts that push my art forward all the while doubts and insults hit me like a wind shear from any given direction, not to mention the very real outer critics who exist.

The difference this time? There is no net and no end in sight. I love it and I’m doing it, for real.

 

Photo by Jan Kahánek on Unsplash

#5: Move That Body!

Part of a series of ten segments, checking the progress of my 2017 New Year Resolutions.

You could say I’m more of an indoorsy person. Growing up, you’d find me curled up with a book – like any given volume of an encyclopedia – instead of running or climbing trees outside.

I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was 12 when a new friend taught me in a neighborhood that wasn’t my own, where no one could see me finally learning a skill many kids pick up at a fraction of that age. You see, throughout grade school, all the other kids had age-appropriate bikes with banana seats, streamers on the handlebars, and training wheels to help them learn. We had an early 1960s, turquoise green, adult-size bike with no training wheels. I couldn’t even lift the thing, let alone have the strength to pedal it and stay upright, but that didn’t matter because no one really took the time to teach me. It just wasn’t important in our family. Besides, I wouldn’t be caught dead riding something that you could have seen on an episode of Happy Days.

I didn’t learn to swim until 13, and I purposefully braved the water in a place far from home for the same reason. This was after a year of laying backwards in the bathtub, nose poking out enough to breathe, just to get used to the feel and muffled sound of water in my ears. Of course, this assumes you can call it swimming, what I do in the water. I can’t really submerge my head without water shooting up my nose no matter how much they tell me to “blow out”. Even if I take a big gulp of air and blow out as instructed, I feel like I’ve exhausted what’s in my lungs, and there’s nothing left to sustain me while I’m submerged. I panic and feel my heart beating outside of my chest. Water and swimming are so unnerving, even to this day.

Growing up, I could not name a single person in my immediate or huge extended family who pursued athletics of any kind, except my brother. It was not our thing as a family. Today I have nieces and nephews and cousins 13+ years younger than me who provide a far better example by running 5ks and half marathons, but as a child, there were virtually no role models for me to turn to. Frankly, my parents scoffed at people who used their leisure time for “play” versus working for real, working at home, or spending time with family.

You can imagine, then, that Phys Ed was not my favorite class in school. Not by a long shot. I was often the slowest kid, severely winded when I ran, a bit uncoordinated when it came to team sports, and not very strong. Now for whatever reason, I was great on a trampoline and with any activity that resembled yoga, but I never connected those to anything I could or should do as an adult. No, I couldn’t wait for public school education to end because in my mind that meant I’d never have to take a gym class again! Woo hoo.

Nobody told me then that life IS gym class. Gosh darn it!

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We humans are body, mind, and soul yet I’ve been perfectly content focusing on the latter two for most of my life.

It isn’t like I haven’t tried as an adult. I’ve had countless gym memberships. I’ve tried running, power walking, weight lifting, Jazzercise, ballet, biking, yoga, dancing, hiking, swimming, basketball, volleyball, and even rowing where I was on a team that actually won a medal. Downright amazing if you ask me!

Of all those activities, only four really stick with me: dancing, hiking, biking, and yoga. Three of those I did as a kid, and one I tried as an adult. Ok, maybe you can count power walking, but I do that just so I’m doing something. I can’t say I love it. I feel great when I’m done, but I don’t love it.

I have loved dancing since I was a little girl. We attended countless weddings while I was growing up, many held at the former St. Joseph’s Elementary School gymnasium in Wolfhurst, Ohio, and I wouldn’t leave the dance floor. I’d be a sweaty mess by night’s end but I loved every second of it. If there was a couples type of dancing, I was game: didn’t matter if it was disco, polka, jitterbug, or whatever. I invited a dancer friend of mine to a Polish wedding in Pittsburgh, and he whipped me around the dance floor in several polkas. It was such a thrill. And I can go to my grave satisfied for having danced a tango once with another semi-professional dancer who had his choice of a roomful of women to ask, but he asked me. It was pretty freaking awesome, let me tell you.

My best friend growing up took all the dance lessons, every kind that was offered. I wanted to badly to do the same but never had the chance. Now I’m a little too self-conscious to hit the dance floor. It’s not like I don’t. I do…there just aren’t many opportunities anymore and I’m well aware of how I look, and I look like crazy middle-aged white lady ought to sit her butt down. Lol

Hiking was another love that I didn’t even realize I had. Again, my best friend growing up lived almost at the top of a big hill, and when the winter weather broke, we’d go for a hike up into the woods and this would go on in the spring, summer, and fall. I had no idea how far we traveled, or whose property we were on. The mere thought of two 10 year old girls hiking alone in the woods today is insanity but it seems you could pull those things off in the 1970s…. Anyway, I never realized how much I enjoyed the sun shining through the trees; the fresh, wet smell of spring; navigating over logs and streams; and just enjoying nature as-is. I enjoy hiking in the woods today even though I don’t have quite the stamina to pull it off.

Biking at 12 was my first real taste of freedom. Once I learned to ride a bike, I could roam all around our neighborhood and I did as often as I could. It seems that every February the weather would break just warm enough where we could whip out our bikes and ride. My friend Stephanie and I would race home after school, and spend what felt like two hours cleaning off the grime of storage and the prior year, inspecting and pumping some air in the tires, and off we went until sunset or dinner time. It was glorious. And I continued to love bike riding until I dated a fearless mountain biker who wanted me to race up and downhill in the woods, even though I didn’t have the strength, confidence, or desire he had. He just made me feel ashamed for being unable to keep up, as if my athletic ability was my most important trait as a human. That guy never appreciated all that I am, which is why he isn’t my husband today.

Which leaves me to yoga. Little did I realize that the hours I spent as a child on my living room floor in various positions was actually yoga but I did it and I loved it. I was getting to where I could do a headstand, and I probably did but I didn’t keep it up the practice much longer after this achievement. This may not sound like much to you, but this is coming from a kid with zero athletic ability. This is a big deal.

Somehow I got reintroduced to yoga as an adult, and loved the slow, quiet, calm, meditative environment that came along with it. There was a time I lived in Omaha, Nebraska, and attended Bikram Yoga classes for a few months until I became too pregnant to continue comfortably.  I could tell I was getting better – stronger and more flexible – with each successive session. Yoga gave me a sense of balance, figuratively and literally, and I surprise people today with the poses I can do.

Now you’d think after all of this self-searching I would have zoomed in on the few activities I actually enjoy and get to where I am strong, and fit, and excel in any of them, but no!  I have never been physically strong. Couple that with my relatively sedentary lifestyle, pseudo-chef husband, and nutrition ignorance, it unsurprisingly gets harder with each passing year.

I mentally know the importance of moving my body. Just move. We’ve heard how sitting is the new smoking, so I even asked for one of those standing desks at work and I’m building up the stamina to stand for a few hours each day. I even got rid of my wastebasket so I’d have to walk to the coffee station to throw away trash…every little bit to get more steps in. I have a hand-me-down Apple watch, and it tracks my steps and nudges me to move and breathe.

All of these little things help – they are me moving in the right direction but not enough and not fast enough. I can’t say that I’m biking, hiking, walking, or dancing more than I have before, and that disappoints me. I don’t want to look back wistfully on my life at all of the things this body was given the health and ability to do AND NOT DO IT.  From a spiritual perspective, that’s not using one of the gifts we’ve been given: a healthy body so our spirit knows what it feels like to USE it.

Now I did attend a couple of yoga sessions this year for the first time in more than a decade and it was amazing to get back into it but something always gets in the way. When I look back on 2017, I’ve got more work to do on this “move more” goal, and make it a priority.

One of my dear friends is a doctor and author who writes books and produces webcasts on being a master’s (over 40) athlete and how important and possible it is to stay active, healthy, and vital well into our senior years. She writes these books and I swear it’s like she’s writing them for ME. She doesn’t of course, but it feels that way. I am often ashamed and embarrassed at how little I follow her advice, and I feel like she knows it, so I’ve kinda sorta avoided her because I’m insecure that way! lol I want her to be proud of me for turning my physical health around, but more than that, I want to be proud of me. I want my husband and kids to be proud. I want to be around for them in 20-30-40 years and do stuff with them. All the stuff. I want to be strong, flexible, and more lean, with energy levels to the sky.

Look for more on this in 2018.