Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Itty Bitty Steps and Giant Leaps

I want to be a superhero who leaps from building to building, my long legs powerful and strong enough to push me safely across the abyss, fast enough to pass through fire without being burned.  I dream big.

Sometimes, this is fantastic.  Sometimes, this way of living allows me to take the risk to gain the rewarding career, or to reshape my entire life by leaving an ugly marriage.  It is part of my optimism, and part of my joy.

But sometimes, what this world view does is traps me, and makes me feel incapable and small.  I look at my grand dreams and feel utterly frozen: I have no idea where to begin.  I stare at my life, wishing I could crawl back into my bed, unsure not only how to take a leap, but how to even move.  The grandness of my vision terrifies me, even though I am its creator, and I feel certain that I will fail, that I am incapable, that I am not enough.

(That "not enough" thing is getting really old, by the way.  It is annoying me.  I want to shed it for once and for all, but it slinks around and attaches itself to me every time I turn my back.  It has tentacles that wrap around me from the back, and I have to peel them off, one by one.  It is tedious, frightening, and disgusting, and I am over it.  I'm getting better at spinning around and yelling "Get the hell outta here!" to scare it away, but eventually I let my guard down and it pounces on me again.  It is a work in progress.)

At work, I feel completely overwhelmed.  There are so many moving parts to what I need to do, some of which are exciting and some of which are tedious; all of them are important.  I stare at my computer screen and telephone and calendar and wish I could disappear because I feel so overwhelmed.

Not a good feeling.

But I think I know how to get out of that feeling, out of that stuck place (which, let's be clear, is a career killer if I don't manage it!), and I got the idea watching The Good Wife.

(Avoidance of responsibilities by watching television.  Don't ask.)

In The Good Wife, the character of the husband is trying to get the nomination to be the Democratic presidential candidate, and they have showed him in all of his power as he aims for that lofty position.  But in the episode that struck me, they showed him touring the country, stopping in tiny towns and speaking to small crowds and shaking hands and repeating the same few ideas ad nauseum.  There was a funny bit in the show where he had to try the "local delicacies" at each stop, and the local news crew would come film him taking a bite and saying "oh wow this is good!", and in this way he was eating a dozen meals a day (or at least a dozen first bites of a meal), and because the towns were close together, he was often eating the exact same thing many times a day, with the same smile on his face, the same look of pleasant surprise as he declared its deliciousness, even as he fought his own feelings of revulsion for the "delicacies" and for the overeating.

Nobody is asking me to overeat meaty sandwiches (thank goodness), and I have no intention of running for office, but it struck me that there was truth in what I was seeing.  In order to hold the most powerful office in the land, the most powerful people in the land need to smile and bite into (sometimes disgusting) sandwiches.  They need to shake hands.  They need to sit on a bus for hours and hours.  They need to repeat the same canned lines over and over as if it's the first time they're saying them.  They need to treat little people like they matter, treat their special requests (for photos, for signatures, etc.) as if they're interesting.

To be the president, you have to do a lot of really small, meaningless things.  If you don't do them, you'll quickly find out that even the most trivial, meaningless things can hold great power.  ("For want of a nail the shoe was lost...")

This applies to all of us, and particularly to me in my current situation.  To make my organization larger, to help more women than ever before......I need to "eat sandwiches" over and over and over.

I have been so caught up in the big picture, in the importance of what I'm doing, that I have felt impossibly small under that task.  But really, if I break it down, now that I have a plan, all I need to do is eat one bite at a time.

It's funny how often I have to learn my life's lessons.

Getting divorced was an impossible leap from stay at home cancer patient mom to working independent mom.  Doing a half marathon was an impossible leap from the sofa to the finish line.  Both required a million tiny steps....taken one at a time.  Both required keeping my eye on where I wanted to go, but lifting one leg up, moving it forward, setting my food down....and repeating.  Both required falling down, getting up. (In running, this only happened once in the literal sense.  Bloody hands and knees and shoulder; it was ugly.  In divorce it happened metaphorically on a daily basis, I think.)

So, I'm going to tackle my job one step at a time, too.  Make a list of calls, and start at the top.  I don't need to wear a cape, I don't need an invisible jet, and I don't need to be superhuman.  All I need to do is pick up my right foot, move it forward, set it down, and I'm on my way.

Maybe you have something you're working on, too.  Maybe your life seems overwhelming, too.  Maybe it's because you need to get divorced, or because you need to have the difficult conversations, or because you need to reignite your career, or take on a creative project, or lose the extra weight, or clean your basement.  Maybe your life doesn't yet look like your visions, and you're scared that you can't reach your goals.

Me too.  I have a lot of work to do.

Let's start today with little, tiny steps towards our visions.  Let's put the cape down, ignore the cellulite on our non-superhero-y legs, and take those first toddling steps.  I promise not to laugh at you when you fall down, knowing that I will fall, too.  Let's take those steps anyway, and see how many feet we can travel today.

Let's do it!  One bite at a time, let's become Presidents.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Being a grownup is hard.


My life is easier than it has ever been.  I have all of the basics in my life: health insurance, a comfortable home, clothes that keep me warm in winter and clothes that keep me cool in summer.  I drive a reliable car (yay!).  I live in a safe neighborhood in a country where there is no war.  My refrigerator and cupboards are full.  I have a great job.  I have friends and family.  I have my health (thank you thank you thank you).  My daughter is healthy and happy.  I have a great education, and my daughter is being educated, too.

So, anything that I say now might come off as whining, and I know it.  Maybe all that I have is a case of first world problems and I ought to be quiet and just sit here counting my blessings.  Please know that I know how lucky I am, and that everything I say is within that context.

(Reminder: I had cancer, and then I got divorced, and a couple of years ago I spent a few months being unemployed.  I know what real problems look like, because I've experienced them.  I also work in an industry where I see people who are truly, deeply suffering in their lives, so I have that context.  Even at my lowest, I have been lucky.  I know.)

(end disclaimer)

Here's the thing: I keep being surprised at how hard it is to be a grownup.

Now that my life is more together than it has ever been, and now that I'm happier than I've ever been, I find myself startled that it's not always rainbows and unicorns.  I've been feeling guilty about it (see above), but I think that guilt is highly overrated so I'm trying to get past the guilt into something more.

I think that I'm hitting on a universal truth: that being a grownup is just really hard.  Really, really hard, actually.  Impossibly difficult.  And maybe it's that impossibility that I forgot about: perhaps it really is impossible to reach the GrownUpNess that I strive for, and that only in letting go of my vision of what it means to be a grownup can I be truly happy.

I want to live my life fully, deeply, to the utmost.  I want to squeeze every last drop from my life, feeling all of the joy, the hope, and the possibility of my life.  I want to learn all that I can from life.  I want to leave the world a better place than when I found it.  I want to parent my daughter in such a way that what I teach her will be a beautiful foundation upon which she can build her life (instead of finding out down the road that she needs to unlearn the harmful lessons of childhood).  I want to face my career with positive intention, rather than waking up every day dreading the drudgery.

And I want my laundry room to look like this, and my abs to look like that:
Image result for beautiful laundry roomImage result for flat abs women

My laundry room is in an unfinished part of the basement of my 1923 house, and also hosts the furnace, hot water heater, kitty litter, and stuff that has nowhere else to go.  It will never, ever, ever look like a Pinterest post.  My abs are not my best feature, and will never look like the "after" picture.  More like this:

Image result for basement laundry room before and afterImage result for woman's stomach

And of course, it's about much more important things than laundry rooms.  I want my finances to reflect 20% savings and 10% charity; I want my parenting to be yell-free (including this morning's "YOU ARE GOING TO BE LATE AND WHY AREN'T YOU MOVING FASTER AND I'M TIRED OF GOING THROUGH THIS EVERY SINGLE MORNING!"); I want my career to be brilliant and consistent.  I want to eat healthy, home made food every single day.  I want to have enough, but not too much.  I want to be the kind of person who writes thank you cards every single time (because I believe in gratitude more than because it's good manners).  I want to read intellectually stimulating books every single evening.

I'm trying.  Really, I am.  I think, in the big picture, I'm actually doing a decent job.  I have a good life that I'm (mostly) proud of.

But dear readers, I struggle!  I mean, I really do.

My new job is wearing me out, and I find myself taking on the role of the rabbit from "The Tortoise and the Hare."  Some days I am all out, and putting in hours and making things happen and basically feeling brilliant, and then there are days like yesterday when it was all I could do to get back to people on email and I took an extra long lunch because I couldn't face my lack of strategy for the day.  Thinking about work all the time is overflowing into my personal life, too, and at the end of the day I've been watching Gilmore Girls reruns while Katherine plays on her iPad, and I find myself waking up on the sofa and shrieking "oh no I fell asleep!  you're supposed to have read for a half hour and be in bed with the lights out!" and scrambling to get us both to bed.

My finances are improving, but have a long way to go (I'm basically an American statistic about savings rates; it's pretty dismal).  I'm skiing on weekends, but my weekday lifestyle is sedentary.  I cook healthy meals when I cook, but all too often I rely upon Trader Joe's processed dinners, or we go out to grab a bite (good bye, budget).  Katherine got in her well child check up, but is overdue on the orthodontist.  My friendships are in great shape, but I'm not spending much time with extended family.

The list goes on, and on, and on.  My house is pretty tidy and uncluttered most of the time, but my yard is a wreck.  My bills are paid, but my savings rate is terrible.  I managed to have a decent divorce, but my ex hardly spends any time with our daughter (one night at his house since September or early October).

Needless to say, I haven't figured out romance AT ALL.

When I look at my life, I'm trying to see where I'm getting it right, just as much as where I have room to improve.  I'm trying to be gentle with myself, at the same time that I try to make progress in the right direction.

I think that maybe the key is to just acknowledge that this stuff is really, really, really hard.  That while I may be capable of running a marathon, being a fantastic Executive Director, volunteering in my community, aiming at Mother of the Year, sending hand written notes daily, keeping my house clean, growing my own vegetables, and writing a novel, thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, and much, much, much more, I just can't do it all at once.  I want to do all of those things, and I can....I just can't do them all right now.

I'm kind of resentful about the Pinterest/Real Simple/Shape Magazine pictures that imply that we're all aiming at perfection.  I know people with nice laundry rooms, but I do not know one single person who keeps a vase of flowers in their laundry room and keeps that room clutter free.  I see pictures of beautiful abs every day of my life, but I know very few women who would ever consent to show me their abs (let alone flaunt them in public) because even among the thin and fit, my 40-something year old friends aren't aiming at the perfection of a 20 year old's fitness.  I'm proud of my career growth and the work that I do, but I just have to accept that this means I don't get to go on all of the middle school field trips.  Perfection isn't the goal.  I will never have that laundry room, or those abs, and saying so isn't giving up or letting my life fall apart.  

Maybe acknowledging that I will never reach perfection is one more step on the way to a perfect life, the way I define it.  Because in my perfect life vision, I fall asleep each night knowing that I've done what I can, that I've helped more than harmed, that I'm still growing and learning.

I need to make the orthodontist appointment.  I need to watch less Gilmore Girls and read more.  I can do those things...I think.  At nine in the morning, they seem doable, but when 8pm rolls around and I'm tired, I feel much less certain.  So, every day, I try again.  I keep hoping for that day when I have exercised (with the dog), prepared healthy breakfast/lunch/dinner and refrained from snacking, my house is clean with the laundry put away, my thank you notes are caught up, the yard is tidy, I've spent an hour writing and an hour volunteering, I landed the new sponsor and moved the strategy forward with key volunteers, I played a board game with my daughter, I stopped to enjoy the sunset, I called my mom, and I did it all under budget, and got to bed on time (with a kiss on Katherine's cheek before we each go to our rooms to read, knowing that we'll talk about what we read at the breakfast table).

I don't think that day is coming.  I get pieces of that day every day, but I don't get it all....ever.

Maybe the hardest part is pushing forward to be my best self at the same time that I relax about ever getting to that mythical place where it's all in order.  Perhaps we're already doing a good job, and we need to smile at our efforts more often, instead of berating ourselves for our flaws.

Maybe it's okay to vege with Gilmore Girls, to have the messy laundry room, to have abs that aren't airbrushed.  Maybe it's about the big picture - a happy child, a life that strives for overall balance, purpose and intention - more than the little bits and pieces that aren't quite right.

Being a grownup is really hard, and I know I'm not doing it all "right."  But maybe one step towards getting it right is letting go of some of the smaller details, and looking at the big picture.  Maybe it's okay to aim at an A without getting 100%.

I'm heading out into my day, and that's what I'm going to do.  I'm going to try to get an A as a grownup, but if I miss a few points I'm going to try to let it go.  I'm not sure who's grading me, anyway (and I'm certainly not inviting anyone in to my laundry room to evaluate me).  Maybe accepting that is one step closer to actually feeling like a grownup.


A poem on that subject that has spoken to me for years, but which I clearly haven't fully absorbed, is The Ponds by Mary Oliver.  I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing.


The Ponds
Every year
the lilies
are so perfect
I can hardly believe
their lapped light crowding
the black,
mid-summer ponds.
Nobody could count all of them —
the muskrats swimming
among the pads and the grasses
can reach out
their muscular arms and touch
only so many, they are that
rife and wild.
But what in this world
is perfect?
I bend closer and see
how this one is clearly lopsided —
and that one wears an orange blight —
and this one is a glossy cheek
half nibbled away —
and that one is a slumped purse
full of its own
unstoppable decay.
Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled —
to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing —
that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year!

'Tis New Year's Day, and the sun is shining and the mountains are sparkling, almost glaring in their white brightness against the incredibly blue sky.  2016 is here, and I couldn't be happier about it.

2015 was a year of personal and professional growth for me.  It had some serious challenges (professionally and financially) but it also had some new joys.  I skied.  I backpacked.  I grew professionally.  My relationship with my daughter grew stronger (at exactly the time everyone told me it would grow weaker).  I came to some realizations about myself and who I am and why I am the way that I am, and I felt so incredibly liberated by it.

I am in the new job, and I am determined to make it INCREDIBLE.  This small organization is poised for growth, and I'm going to make it happen.

My home feels almost like someone else's home it has changed so much (in my eyes), and I love it.  I have swept through every room, removing what I do not want or need, and what is left are items that make me happy through their usefulness or beauty.  My basement is light, bright, and clean, and walking into it I feel my spirits lift.  The walls are a shade of blue called Waterfall, a fresh, clean tone that reminds me of summer skies and snowy hills and swimming in alpine lakes and yes, waterfalls; the floors are a clean, light bamboo; the trim is crisp and white.  The whole effect is airy and light.  If my basement represents my foundation, then my foundation is utterly altered, almost unrecognizable, and improved in every way.

I even got rid of eleven - ELEVEN! - boxes of books.  The two large bookcases have room to add a few more things, and I have enough credit at the local used bookstore to buy books for years.

Yes, I am ready for 2016.

16 is my favorite number, and I do think that this year will be sweet 16.  I am looking forward to a joyful year, where the wonderful surprises far outweigh the sorrows.  I am looking forward to professional success, bonding with Katherine, and even more skiing and hiking and backpacking.  I'm looking forward to a return to running.

My new year's resolution is to OWN IT WITHOUT APOLOGY.  I will not apologize for my desires or for my needs.  I will not apologize for others' behaviors.  I will own my strength, my capability, my desires, and I will forge forward with joy as I pursue my dreams.

But this year, even as I pursue my dreams, I do feel like I'm already living them.  How did I ever get this happy?  How did I ever feel this whole?  The shape of my life is so much closer to the way I've always wished, and I feel that wrapping around me like a soft blanket, or like the sun on my skin.

And love?  Oh, I still believe in love, and believe it's there for all of us, and that I am worthy and lovable.  I am also not sure if I will ever find love, and I know that the search for it doesn't bring me a lot of joy.  This year I'm focusing on my life, but not on romantic partnership.  If someone fabulous crosses my path, I'll smile and say hello and let nature take its course, but I am not scanning the crowd for fabulous strangers, and I'm not online dating.  This year, I'm setting all that aside, removing all pressure from myself.  My life is good and whole, surprisingly wonderful, and doesn't need a partner.  Sure, it would be nice, but maybe I'm just not ready.  I don't know if I want to share my beautiful relationship with Katherine, or take time away from work, or manage someone else's needs.  I'm learning how to manage my own desires without compromising them into nothingness, and it feels so good that I'm not in a hurry to alter that process.

This will be a year of owning who I am, living my life, and reveling in the idea that I am living my dreams.  You will find me on a ski hill, at a table surrounded by friends, diving into an alpine lake, running a 5k, snuggled up with a book, speaking to a group.  I'm going to whip my board into shape, and I'm going to spend a lot of time laughing and being open to surprises and to joy and wonder.

Thank you, 2015, for all that you gave me.  It was a wonderful year, perhaps the best of my life so far.  I treasure that!  And I feel that 2016 will be more of the same, but building on last year's joys, this year's will be even deeper.  What an amazing feeling.

Happy new year!