We’ve all had those moments where we just throw up our hands and say, I give up. I have a terrible (or wonderful?) habit of taking screenshots of texting conversations where that has been the case for me, and of course whenever I look back at them, I cannot help but laugh (mostly at myself). You’d think that a third of the way through my life I would be a well-functioning adult, but alas, we all have our moments. I recently stumbled upon several ridiculous conversations that I have had with various friends throughout the years and felt that they were too good not to share. More to come in future posts!
I realize that thirty is not that old. I honestly feel more energetic, full of life, and young-at-heart than ever, which I think is more of a testament of a state-of-mind rather than how many years I’ve been alive. Thirty is a great age, because you are old enough to have had hard experiences and learned enough difficult lessons to know that life is better on the other side. Life has likely been cruel in one way or another and you know that more hard things are coming, but you are better equipped after each one to handle the next. You are also old enough to be confident in your own skin and far more sure of yourself and your beliefs. There is less defensiveness and taking comments personally because you know who you are and hopefully have come to point of actually liking that person.
To put it simply, at some point during young adulthood, one begins to live life with less fight and more grace.
I do not claim to be profoundly wise, I have plenty of older and more enlightened people in my life to bestow that upon me, however, I do think that I’ve learned to be a better human in the three decades that I have been graced to wander this earth. People often ask what I wish I could have told my younger self, so in the spirit of self-reflection that so often comes with milestone birthdays, here are the pieces of advice that would have saved me a lot of struggle if I had known them more fully in my earlier years.
1. Nothing you do will change your value.
I cannot take credit for this idea, since it is something that my older brother Nate has instilled in me. He once said to me that as humans, what we are all striving for in life is to be seen by someone and know that they like what they see. It’s a part of our DNA to crave this sort of acceptance and we change all kinds of things about ourselves in efforts to accomplish this goal. In reality though, every human life has value. I have value. And it doesn’t matter what I do or do not do in my lifetime, I will still have value, simply by being human. Knowing that we each have value is a lifelong process and I am not convinced that any of us come to full enlightenment of the idea, but I do believe that if I had embraced this more as I embarked on the journey of adulthood, I would have saved myself a lot of pain. When you are first starting your career, getting involved in politics, caring about your community and meticulously carving out who you are, you can’t help but keep looking around and waiting for that pat on the back for each of your choices. Sometimes that pat will never come. Especially as someone who loves affirmation, this is a tough lesson. I do not claim to practice this virtue perfectly, however, it certainly has helped to repeat it to myself in times of self doubt.
2. People and relationships are a gift, not a right.
As many of you know, I grew up overseas in Beijing. Unknowingly, I picked up many cultural norms from Chinese society that I did not necessarily realize until I became closer friends with people in the United States. One highly Confucius ideology that permeated my subconscious is that every person has a responsibility to each type of relationship in their community. There are expected patterns for how each person should function towards another human depending on what that individual’s role is in your life. For example, there are social norms for how a child interacts with a parent, how an older sibling engages a younger sibling, authority towards subject, etc. Some of these assumptions were also because of how I was raised in a big family. Regardless of all the contributing factors, I falsely assumed that other people followed these same relationship structures. One of those assumptions was that just as I felt a responsibility to act a certain way towards the people in my life, I assumed that they would act a similar way in response to me.
The reality of life is that each person has their own choice as to how they want to relate to you. This can be a really beautiful thing because it can also bring about unexpected surprises. And if a person decides to care for you or be giving towards you, that is a gift and not an obligation. I think I almost believed that relationships were more transactional — I give you x and you give me y. Simple.
That philosophy was quickly shattered when I found myself in the middle of a divorce. As I’ve said before, it takes two people to contribute to those circumstances, so I am not placing blame with this statement, but when I was going through it, I could not help but question everything he had ever said to me. When someone promises to live their entire life with you and all of a sudden that promise is no longer true, it completely shakes up your world. You question everything that person said, but also everything that anyone has said to you. I put 100% of my faith into another person, yet at any point they have the right to change their mind. I am not using this example to shame people for changing their minds about a relationship. Quite the contrary, actually. I wish I could tell my younger self to treasure every moment with the people I interact with. There is no guarantee those moments will last forever. Love is a choice, no matter what kind of relationship, so be grateful for the precious experiences where you are blessed with that love.
3. You are not your job.
“Life is a long preparation for something that never happens.” ― W.B. Yeats
This relates to my first point, but is important to separate out as its own idea because of the intense pressure of overworking that our culture forces on all of us. Somehow in the US we have decided to create this sick competitive game where the more you work, the more bragging rights you have with your peers. It doesn’t take long in the workforce to recognize this tension. Especially as someone who graduated amidst the Great Recession, it was reinforced over and over again during the beginning of my career that I will work hard, I will work overtime, I will be paid nothing, and I will be grateful that I have a job. This was not the American dream I was promised in college, but I consciously decided in my 20s, that was the time where I was going to work hard, as hard as I had to, to get ahead.
I experienced some really crappy jobs in the beginning of my career, and even one incredibly boring one (which was way worse than working hard for very little pay, btw) and then eventually after getting my MBA, landed the job of my dreams. I had sacrificed every other part of my life and finally it was starting to pay off. I loved my job. I loved the work. I loved the people I worked with. And I continued to climb the ladder. I felt so satisfied and it was the one thing that I was sure that I was good at — my job.
Until I got laid off. Then all of a sudden, the thing that I had wrapped my entire identity into was ripped away from me. I had to completely reevaluate what was important in life. I just wish I could go back to the woman who was graduating college and tell her that her job is just one part of her personhood. That she can still be a feminist and also care about more than just work. That she shouldn’t give up her creativity and artistic outlets. That she should value relationships and her family just as much as her career. It’s so so hard to do that in your 20s because the pressure to succeed is overwhelming at best, crippling at worst. Yet, I was and am not my job. My job is a piece of who I am. I often stop and look at so many other cultures in the world, and realize again the ridiculousness of our career rat race.
4. There are so many advantages to being a woman.
When I first started getting into the workforce and especially when I started learning about business, the message that women are at a disadvantage was like a ton of bricks that hit me over the head day after day after day. Women are underpaid. Women don’t have a seat at the table. Women don’t negotiate hard enough. Women aren’t in enough leadership roles. Women are always the note-takers. Women aren’t learning STEM subjects. On and on and on. I am not arguing that these realities don’t exist, but I do feel like there was a bias in how the story was being told. The story was not that women are underrepresented in certain circles, and therefore, women have an opportunity to fill the gaping holes and provide incredible value. There is so much to being a woman that can be used to my advantage, but I had very little insight into this story early on in my career. Being a women with a career was about fighting and barking and being assertive in order to force yourself into where you want to be. Looking back, I just don’t believe that has to be our reality.
I am die hard optimist. I would much rather think about the positive aspects of a piece of myself, even if it’s minuscule compared to the disadvantages. But that has been a learned skill over years of practice. I wish I could have helped my younger self develop those skills earlier. I’ve learned that I become paralyzed if I focus too much of the negative and it sinks into my soul. If am I too aware of how the cards are stacked against me, I become discouraged. So in all honesty, I would rather live in ignorance to some degree and believe that I can change the world just as much as the next man, even if my chances are tiny.
This is something that I wish people would have told me more often as a young woman. I didn’t need to know that only 4% of fortune 500s have female CEOs, what I needed to know was that I have unique leadership traits that 96% of the fortune 500 CEOs do not have.
I don’t want to live in a world that is self-prophesying because we talk so much about the roadblocks for women. Is that how we want to raise this generation of girls? I wish I had changed my internal conversation to how being a woman equips me with an incredible advantage in so many ways because I bring a unique set of skills that is vastly under represented in the world of business. That sounds like a competitive advantage to me.
5. Love hard, even though you know it will hurt.
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” ― Winston S. Churchill
I’ve never regretted being generous. Or doing something kind for another person. Or acting in love towards someone else. Or being in love. I have endured incredible pain because of those choices, but I do not regret them. Yet as a young adult, I was so scared to get close to people and I honestly believed that my closest friendships were in time periods that were behind me. I didn’t think I would ever be as close to someone as I was my high school best friend. I felt so betrayed with how our friendship fizzled out that it was not dissimilar to a terrible break up. There is baggage that comes along with that. And I wasn’t willing to risk getting close to friends again for a long, long time. In fact, it wasn’t until grad school where I met some of the my best friends to this day, that I opened myself up again.
Looking back, there were a lot of wasted years where I could have been growing friendships and giving more love. If I had done that, I likely would have been hurt again. I likely would have had added frustration. People are frustrating. People can be the worst. But people are also the best. The best, most joyful parts of our lives emerge because of people. I wish I could tell my younger self that was a risk I should have been willing to take. Because the rewards are indescribable.
Today I learned a really tough lesson.
Last night Simone and I went on a walk. I wasn’t feeling well, but forced myself to get out because I thought it would help. We were about 30 minutes into our walk when this little brindle pitbull with a partially white face and paws started following us. She had seen us from a distance and froze until we got closer and when I greeted her, she hung her head low, wagged her little tail and had a big smile on her face. She had a pretty oval face with floppy ears. Probably about 30 pounds. She didn’t look scrawny, so I figured she belonged to the house we were passing. But she kept following us. For another 15 minutes until we were back at our spot. She kept running into the road at points and even forced a truck to stop for her and she refused to get out of the way. She didn’t seem to have the street smarts that I would expect of a stray. So I tried walking her back to the house were we found her and shoed her into the yard, telling her to go home. It looked like she had turned a corner out of sight, so we went on our way.
Sure enough, a few moments later, the little pup was right by my side again, happily trotting along next to us. So I began asking some of the other people walking their dogs if they knew who she belonged to. I talked to the neighbors. No one recognized her. Since she did not have a lot of awareness of the busy road, I decided to keep her with us for her own safety. We were staying at an Air BnB in a town in Arizona and it had a fenced in yard, so I brought her in, gave her a bath and played with her and Simone in the yard. It was so cute how she licked Simone’s face and every time I sat down, she wanted to cuddle up with me and be pet. She was such a sweetheart.
I called around to try and figure out what to do with her and there wasn’t a great option for turning in stray dogs. Besides that, she looked like a pit and I knew how that would probably end even if I did turn her in. So I started toying with the idea of keeping her. I let her into the house and she and Amelie seemed to be ok with each other. There was the initial spiked-up hair greeting, but she didn’t seem that interested in him and he just rolls with things, so it felt like everyone adjusted quickly.
I made her a little bed, which she quickly stuck her nose up to and stole Simone’s bed instead, and we all went to sleep.
The next day, after everyone was fed, I was working from home and the kids were sleeping in various spots around the kitchen. It was very peaceful. The reception wasn’t great at the place I was staying, so I decided to leave and drive to the next town over to find a better signal for a client call. It was mid-morning and I figured the pups would be tired from playing last night.
Mid-way through my call I started getting text messages from the woman who owns the property saying there were complaints of barking from my place. She said she was worried but couldn’t get home to check on them. She asked if her boyfriend could stop by and look in and I said sure. He went over to the house and claimed that Simone wouldn’t let him in. He also said that he couldn’t deal with this right now because he also works from home. The text exchange was stressing me out, because I was on a call and there was nothing I could do other than rush home when I was done. Which is what I did.
It took me ten minutes to drive back, but it felt like hours. The whole time I kept telling myself that Amelie is a tough kid, he has his claws and he knows how to hide and get away if he needs to. He’s bullied Simone before and can hold his own. More than anything, I was worried about the house. What if they knocked over all the beautiful lamps? Or what if Amelie had climbed the drapes? My mind was racing and my heart was pounding. There are not a lot of things that make me anxious, but this was definitely one of them.
When I opened the door, there was cat fur everywhere. The dogs immediately greeted me and I shoved them outside to assess the situation. Big clumps of hair covered the floor. One of the yellow kitchen chairs was turned over. Some of the food from the counter was on the ground. I walked over to the sink and there were kitty prints all over the counter and the ledge behind the sink.
I started calling Amelie’s name, but knew he must be hiding somewhere and was not likely to come when called. I looked into the bedroom. I was worried that furniture broken and that I would be in big trouble with the property owner. Everything looked disheveled, but intact. There was no question that there had been a battle in here. When I turned the corner into the bedroom, I saw Amelie. He was laying in Simone’s bed on his right side. As I moved closer I realized he wasn’t moving. His side was completely slashed open.
I ran out of the room as fast as I could and collapsed on my knees into the dirt driveway. I wept.
The woman who owns the house came out from next door to see what was going on. While I was in a pile of tears on the ground, she asked me what happened and then went into the house and took Amelie and the bed out and put him in her car. She came over to me and talked to me very calmly and told me what we were going to do. She was going to take Amelie to a nearby vet where they could freeze him until I decide what to do with him and the other neighbor was going to take the dog that I found to an animal shelter. I asked if they were going to kill her and she said it was a no-kill facility.
All I could do was sit in the dirt and cry.
Right before she left, she looked me right in the eyes and said, “I know this is so hard. You haven’t had two dogs before and didn’t know what pack mentality is like. You’ve learned an important lesson.”
I sure have. A lesson that cost my baby his life.
The next 24 hours were dark. I tortured myself with guilt. I should have known better. I should have locked Amelie in the bedroom and left the dogs in the other room. Or I should have left the stray in the yard. I should have known not to trust a dog where I knew nothing about her history. How could I put my baby in danger like that? What kind of mother puts her child in harm’s way? Not just harm, but a violent and gruesome situation.
Then I would take a step back and try to retrace my steps. The dog seemed to not even care about Amelie. She was quiet. She didn’t bark a lot. She didn’t go over to him many times. How could I have known she would be a threat? Of course if I had sensed something in her, I would have been more cautious. But I trusted my gut. I always go with my gut and now my gut has steered me wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong. Can I even trust myself anymore?
Of course, I also blamed the dogs. How could you do this? How could you be so evil to kill another creature? Simone, why didn’t you protect your brother? You’ve lived happily together for your entire life, six years, and you just let this happen? What kind of soulless being does that? Why are you such a monster? How can I ever love you again?
I didn’t stop crying for twelve hours. I sat outside the house for hours and couldn’t bring myself to go back in. When I finally did, I noticed the blood all over the bathroom. All over the floor and toilet. He must have jumped up on the back of the toilet to try to get away. But that wouldn’t have been high enough. Why didn’t he stay in the kitchen in the windowsill above the sink? I saw his paw prints there. If he had just stayed there, they wouldn’t have been able to get him. He probably thought they were playing and wanted to be cashed. He always pretended to hate when Simone played with him, but I knew he secretly loved it.
He didn’t know he was prey.
I still don’t know everything that went down. Part of me is grateful that he passed quickly and I didn’t have to find him yowling in pain. He could have grown old and gotten a disease or cancer or gone blind. He could have lost his mobility. He lived a happy, rich and healthy life and got to experience a lot of different things. That’s not always the life that cats prefer, but I think Amelie enjoyed the adventure. Anytime we stayed in a new place, he wound wander around curiously and even when he met new animals, he didn’t show an ounce of fear. He was a little punk. He knew how to hold his own. Until he didn’t…
That night I wanted something to drown my sorrows, so I drove into town to find a restaurant where I could eat a big burger and a milkshake. I kept driving from place to place, but every time I thought I was done crying and could get out to go in, I would burst into tears again. I was a mess. So I decided to go into a little diner and order food to go. A diner where I could keep my sunglasses on and my food would be ready quickly so that I could get out of there. As soon as I got back into the car, I was back to sobbing.
I started researching pack mentality in dogs and got a better picture of how it really can change a normally docile dog into something brutal. It was eye-opening to say the least. If you don’t understand pack mentality, please, go look it up.
The next day I felt more at peace. I had my day of deep heart-wrenching mourning and now I was quiet sad. I was glad to have work to distract me and I actually felt ok most of the day because of that. But nights are always the hardest. Every shadow or any patch of black, I thought it was him. All night long, I heard a noise outside that I thought was him scratching in the litter box. I often still think I hear his faint meow. Remnants of his hair would show up. I still periodically find a nail of his here or there. I tried to clean up as best I could, but couldn’t bring myself to get rid of his things, like his litter box and food bowl.
This precious little creature meant the world to me. I know that anyone could say he was just a cat, but he wasn’t just a cat to me. He has been my companion for eight years. Some of the most formative years of my life. I got him when I was in college. He went through my tumultuous twenties with me. He went through my divorce with me. He’s been there for all of the other men I’ve dated. I cannot tell you how many people who didn’t like cats told me that they loved him. He was a spit fire. He had personality and spunk. But he was also sweet. And he and I had a special bond. Unlike any bond I’ve had with any other animal. You cannot brush off that kind of intimacy and loyalty. He was my world.
I’m still processing the whole scenario. I’ve wondered why the property owner’s boyfriend didn’t just suck it up and charge into the house. He could have saved Amelie’s life. I’ve kicked myself saying that no client call or anything work related is as important as my pets and I should have left immediately when I got those texts. I’ve wondered how it all went down. Did she bite his throat? Did she claw him to death? But it’s only torture for me to think about it.
I clearly don’t know what happened. I never will. I have decided to believe that Simone had nothing to do with it, because that’s the only way I know to move on. It’s still hard interacting with her. She, of course, knows that I’m upset and for the rest of the day after it happened, she slept in the corner in the kitchen, rather than the bedroom where I was. That was the first time in her life that she chose to be away from me. I still don’t feel very affectionate towards her. I talk to her and try to explain why I am sad. I hope we can get back to a better place. But I also know it will never be the same.
This is a dark post. But I believe it’s important to share the hard things in life just as much as we share the positive experiences. I believe in vulnerability and truth. If nothing else, hopefully this post helps someone out there learn this lesson from me before it’s too late for them.
You may have seen my post about things that are hard about van life. Admittedly, that was written during a time where I was still getting used to this lifestyle and was annoyed more often than not with the challenges. There was a day where I was texting a friend about how hard things were and thinking that I couldn’t do this and I remember saying to her, “I just need to climb a god damn mountain.” I was suffering through all of the planning and process of getting to where I wanted to be and hadn’t yet seen many of the rewards. The benefits were not outweighing the tribulations and I was questioning my decision to live a mobile life. But sure enough, as always, time always helps and slowly but surely, I began to feel comfortable living in a van. The benefits have been shining their little rays of sunshine in the most unexpected places. So in efforts to bring some more positivity to what I am doing, here are some of the best things about living on the road:
I really enjoy the silence
I have never gone such extended periods of time with such unpredictable cell service or WiFi. Of course I need to be around civilization for work, but on the nights and weekends, I never really know if I’ll have service where I am going, which limits communication, social media and even listening to music at times. This has proven to be a lovely surprise in many ways and I have grown to really enjoy the quietness of nature. Peace. Nothingness. If I close my eyes, all I can hear is the soft crunch of Simone’s paws on the gravel pathway and the gentle whistle of the wind behind me. As I walk, I begin to hear the buzz of a stream and as I move closer, the chorus turns into a roaring river, beating against the rocks without remorse. There is such power and force in nature and I truly appreciate being able to tap into the depth of it on my hikes. The sternness of the mountains speak to me. The squeak of the chipmunk delights me. I notice details that I wouldn’t otherwise because all of my senses are alert and ready for whatever beautiful surprise lies around the corner.
It is never boring
Whether that means I am getting kicked out of a parking lot in the middle of the night by the cops or because I stumble upon the most adorable little sustainable cabin along a river at the edge of the mountains, there is nothing boring about this lifestyle. Every moment is full of surprises and adventure and newness. Change is the norm. New experiences emerge every hour. As someone who thrives on adventure, this is a dream come true. I soak up the stories of the people I meet like a sponge, it’s like going to the cinema and watching a documentary about your favorite hero, except that every person you talk to is a brand new script. I glow at the sight of their weathered skin and bask in their kind and gentle hearts. I love watching people’s eyes as they tell a story, you can see so much about what they are feeling by looking at the expression in their smile lines. I can’t help but want to consume every single one of their words and memorize what they are telling me. It truly is a gift.
Every morning is different
If you know me at all, you know that I love mornings. I love the lighting. I love how refreshed I am at the beginning of the day. I love that when I jump out of bed, anything is possible. Anything my heart desires can be reality. There is nothing so pure and fresh and abundant and full of hope than the morning light. It breathes life into everything it touches. It inspires. It refreshes. I want the morning light to possess my entire body, run through my veins, light up my skin and warm into the depths of my soul with its goodness. I cannot accurately express what it does to me, it’s one of the most magical things I have ever experienced, and lucky me, it happens every day. Part of what I love about mornings is that each one is different. It doesn’t matter where you are, each one is unique, but the differences are even more exaggerated when you are in new places as well. To sit and sip my coffee on a deck with the Rockies hovering authoritatively over me or to open my eyes and see a bumbling stream joyously singing to me good morning… there are no words to express that satisfaction.
There is no pressure
One of the best things about being mobile is that there is no pressure to find the “best” place to visit. I have hardly researched anything at all on this trip because I would rather go where feels right and discover whatever that place has to offer. I have even stopped searching for coffee shops or stops along the road, because I would rather pull off and wander around a little town to see what I find. This has proven to be a good strategy because I have an aversion to touristy areas, so I often discover simple hidden treasures that are off the beaten path instead. I have still experienced some of the great beauty of the more populated places, but the ones that really dig deep and touch my heart are usually the quieter spots. I have no regrets about anywhere I have gone or not gone, because you know what? I can always go back. Time is on my side.
My free time is always spent outside
I have always loved nature. I grew up camping, playing sports, walking in the city, canoeing, hiking, traveling, etc. My parents took us all over the world as kids and we got to discover everything from the rain forests of Australia to the ski slopes of Korea to the cobble stone streets of London. Thinking back, the things that I remember the most are the outdoor activities. I am not sure if that is just because that was what we mostly did as a family or if I have a selective memory, but either way, nature has always been a force that has an incredible power to move me. Even to the point of tears. I remember when I was twelve years old, we were in Australia as a family, it was the middle of the night and we had gone out to watch the turtles hatch on the beach and run towards the ocean. To this day, I couldn’t tell you a thing about the turtles. But I do remember staring into the sky for what felt like an eternity and getting lost and even dizzy by the beauty of the stars. I had never before in my life seen such a thick layer of stars, sparking, dazzling, mesmerizing. I remember being so in awe that it brought tears to my eyes. I will never forget that moment. That moment solidified that I wanted to be an astronomer when I grew up. (which obviously turned out… lol). I couldn’t imagine a better life than to stare in the stars, study them, learn from them, analyze them, and maybe even go to space one day. There is no doubt in my mind that I am at my best when I am outdoors and I am so grateful that this lifestyle allows for me to do that.
I forget to look in a mirror
It has been incredibly liberating to not give two shits about what I look like for the last three months. I put on whatever outfit is at the top of my drawer. I don’t wear makeup. I’ll wash my face if I’m feeling fancy, but hey now… let’s not get too crazy. It’s amazing that I am still able to brush my teeth twice a day. I have embraced the fact that on most days I look like a homeless hippy who doesn’t own a hairbrush and you know what? I am totally ok with that. I am MORE than ok with that. It is freeing and beautiful and has opened up a whole new way of thinking for me. I used to always say that if someone didn’t find me beautiful, it didn’t matter because there were plenty of other people who did. But I was also so careful about my appearance before. I did dozens of different things to make myself look a little bit “better” than what I looked like naturally. But this new life is a whole new level of that mentality. Sometimes I don’t shower for a week. Sometimes I have broccoli stuck in my teeth and don’t realize it for 48 hours. Sometimes I forget to shave. Most days my hair is tangled and I struggle just to put it in a ponytail. I am not polished. I am not pulled together. I am disheveled, but I am so happy. I find it so beautiful. And I love this new me. It takes away the vanity and creates an environment where I can truly focus on what brings me joy instead.
This is sort of a no-brainer, but the freedom has been incredible. I get to wake up every morning and not know where I will go next. Every weekend is like opening the greatest present of your life and it never disappoints. I have no events that I need to attend. No activities. No appointments. Outside of work responsibilities and making sure my pets are alive, I can literally go anywhere or do anything. This could mean staying in bed for a week because I have a fever. But it could also mean waking up one morning and deciding to drive 6 hours to another state. It is such a thrill. There is so much to be seen and I love the feeling of being called in a giving direction and just being able to go. I love that I am on this adventures. Challenges and all, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I made it to a perfect little cabin at the edge of the foothills in Colorado. I unpacked my things from the car, got the kids into the room and started to run the water into the Jacuzzi tub that welcomed me. Once the water was a few inches up, I climbed in and hugged my knees, feeling the warmth rise around me.
As I turned my head, I noticed a tiny little spider trying to climb up the side of the tub. I watched it. Its tiny legs struggled to grasp the ceramic walls. It didn’t take long before another spider climbed out of the jet, a larger one, and began accompanying the smaller spider up the side of the tub. I imagined that it was a mother and a child. The mother trying to encourage the child to carry on, don’t get discouraged, we can make it to the top. As I watched the two spiders, I found myself rooting for them. I wanted them to get out, feel the accomplishment of their feat, and live a long and prosperous life.
But then, suddenly, the larger spider crawled back into the Jacuzzi jet, and sure enough, brought another tiny spider out to climb up the giant wall. As she was trying to get herself out of the jet, the water had rose higher than she anticipated and her back legs got stuck in the water. I froze. I didn’t know what to do. She was struggling to climb with only her front legs and it wasn’t going well. The water continued to rise. I almost started to tear up watching her. She fought hard and eventually her back legs started to gain traction again. The three spiders continued up the side of the tub.
Then, completely out of nowhere, the larger spider fell straight into the tub. All hope was lost. I cringed at the site of the two little ones climbing alone. And then the two smaller spiders fell also. I was shocked and appalled. Then, suddenly, an even larger spider, double the size of any of the others, floated out of a jet from the opposite side of the tub. With a moment’s notice, my introspective and pensive moment turned into a scream and before I knew it, I was standing on the edge of the tub, covered in soap, staring into a tub full of dead spiders.
Needless to say, I finished washing my hair in the sink.
For those of you who know me, I am sure that it will not come as a surprise to you that I welcome chaos. I like a challenge. I like to fix things. Being bored is my worst nightmare. I have not had many boring jobs in my life, but the ones that I have were the worst. The constant watching of the clock. Trying to make up things to do. Organizing folders for the 12th time that week. Just shoot me now…
Like many of you, I also take a lot of ownership over my projects. I feel as though the things I accomplish are a direct reflection of me, so I want them to meet the high standards that I have put in place for myself. That also means that by nature I have a terrible work-life balance and I am constantly struggling with how to monitor it. [insert Millennial stereotype here].
Early on in my career, I let my work take over. Granted, I was working a (more) than full-time job plus going to grad school in the evenings, which made it extra challenging to make time for myself. I felt as though I lost three years of investing into people, which is ultimately what makes life rewarding. When I wasn’t working or in class, I was at a networking event or meeting with the right people to help teach me how to be a better business woman. When I graduated, I was incredibly proud of my hard work, dedication and accomplishments, but I also had an epiphany that I needed to shift my priorities. I had not let myself enjoy the things that were really important to me. Ever since, I have been working to create the life that I want and have learned a lot in the process. There are a few things that have really stuck with me over the years…
Never Respond With “I’m busy, but good.”
My least favorite response to “how are you?” is “I’m busy, but good!” Everyone is busy. No one has enough time. Everyone is stressed. In America, we are expect to work hard, not to settle, and to sweat, bleed and kill for what we want. When you think about it, it’s actually more difficult to respond to that question with something meaningful. But what would happen if everyone actually thought and answered with something that inspired the person that they were talking to?
Although I do not always have the perfect response to that infamous “how are you?” question, I have challenged myself to choose a different answer other than “busy” to remind myself that being busy is not what I want my life goal to be. If I cannot respond to that question with something meaningful, then I should probably reevaluate what I am spending my time doing. I want to be able to tell the person that I am interacting with that I actually heard the question and am going to respond in a thoughtful way.
I’m going to pull out the nerdy marketer in me here, but it’s kind of like when you create a super generic tagline that says, “We are changing the world, one life at a time.” That tagline could be for any organization in the world. It says nothing about what you are actually doing. I don’t wan to be a generic tagline. I want to actually connect with people.
What I have found from this practice is that it brings life into perspective and helps remind me to be proud and celebrate my accomplishments. A wise person once told me, celebrate everything, often. This is one way to do that.
If there is anything that I have learned that has transcended all areas of my life, it is breathing exercises. I first started learning about breathing when I began taking Pilates classes 3 or 4 years ago. If you are not familiar with Pilates, it is similar to yoga, but focuses on core strength and building muscle. For those of us who want to feel sore after a work out, it’s a great alternative to yoga. Similar to yoga, each movement in the class is associated with an inhale or exhale. You begin building a habit of breathing deeply, especially when you are experiencing something challenging, which increase oxygen intake to your body and brain.
After developing that habit in Pilates, I subconsciously began applying it to running. When I would get to that point in a run where I did not want to go on any further and all I wanted to do was quit, I would find myself taking really deep breaths, which inevitably calmed me down and gave me the strength to push through. Then, I started working with an amazing career coach and she suggested the same thing for the work place. So when I am about to go into a meeting that I know will be stressful or at times of the day where I can feel myself getting overwhelmed, I make time to pause and take a few deep breaths. It sounds so simple, but if you start doing it regularly, you will be amazed by the power of it.
Do Something for Myself Every Day
Most of you know that running is my thing. It’s my favorite addiction. Running gives me time to be alone, think about whatever I want to, process the day, get the endorphins going and keep me in shape. It could be running, reading a book, sitting silently by the fireplace, taking a walk, cooking a meal or whatever helps me relax, but at the very least, I try to do something for myself every single day. There is enough weighing me down and causing me stress, so remembering to squeeze in those things that are light and carefree help bring balance to the other more intense parts of my life. These moments can be life changing.
Remind Myself that It’s Just a Job
Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I find an incredible amount of satisfaction in knowing what we accomplish day in and day out. I love that I work for a company that is focused on social good, which couldn’t be more perfectly aligned with my values.
With that said, knowing my personality, I tend to internalize every project and make it a part of me. Which means that if the project fails, then I fail. And therefore, I tend to pour my heart and soul into everything I do, because I want it to be the best. This inevitable creates a stressful dynamic where I put an incredible amount of pressure on myself to do things perfectly. And inevitably, I do not do everything perfectly… Then, when I take a step back and think about how I would talk to myself if I were a friend of mine, I would say, “How the hell could you possibly expect to be perfect all of the time? That’s not fair to you.”
Life is a constant growth path, I will always be learning and improving. But a part of that process is to give myself grace. And as a part of how I do that, I remind myself that it’s just a job. As much as I love what I do, at the end of the day, it is my work. There will always be work. It’s a liberating exercise and helps me enjoy my time outside of work more as well.
If I do not feel organized in my job, I am a disaster. For example, Achieve recently switched email providers and it took me a solid two months to get used to the new system and to this day, I am sure that I lost track of things during that process. It is a daily challenge to monitor my organization structure, analyze, revisit and revise the process to make sure I am being as efficient and detailed as possible. With that said, there are so many great tricks that I have learned to stay organized in my job, which also happen to reduce my stress level. I will be writing a full blog post on this soon, but in the mean time, here are a two of my favorite tips.
This concept was introduced to me by my friend and former co-worker Katie Pellerin and it has literally changed my life. It’s simply a way to organize your emails, but here is how it works:
- Create four folders: Reply, Action, Waiting for, and Someday
- A few times a day go into your inbox and filter your emails into those folders. For example, if you get an email asking you a question that you only need to respond to, that will go into the “Reply” folder. Then, when you actually have a moment to sit down and go through them all, go through your reply folder and reply to all of the questions. Same thing for the “Action” folder. If it requires you to go and do something, like collect a file and send it back to the person, the email would go into the “Action” folder.
- The “Waiting For” folder is what changes everything. Every time you send an email to someone asking them for something, you BCC yourself and stick that email into the “Waiting For” folder. Then you can easily keep track of all of the things that people owe you and send follow up emails as necessary to collect what you need.
- The “Someday” folder is for things that are not urgent that you want to look at eventually, such as an article.
This structure has helped me from losing emails, forgetting what I am waiting for from someone else and has reduced the amount of time that I spend on email in any given day. It’s a game changer.
Ever since I was a kid, my family would make fun of me for making lists. I would create packing lists, lists of toys that I wanted, list of what I needed to do that day, lists of homework assignments, and the list goes on (pun intended). Well guess what, now it’s part of my job to create lists so it paid off! Take that family!
With Evernote, you can structure it however you want, but I will show you how I do it so that you can visualize how it works. You can create Notebooks that have a collection of notes within it, so there structure of larger notebooks that I have is this:
Within each notebook, I have a note for the specific project. So in the “Business Development” notebook I have a note for each potential client that I have been talking to so that I can keep track of what happened in past conversations. I keep all client notes in one note so that I never wonder what happened to that piece of paper that I had from a meeting six months ago.
A few other great things about Evernote:
- It syncs with all of your devices, so I can access my notes on my phone, iMac or laptop.
- You can create check lists within your note.
- You can share your note with other people (even if they are not on Evernote).
- You can use Evernote when you are offline and it will sync once you are online again.
I would love to hear your thoughts and tips on how you reduce stress, handle chaos and manage unrealistic life expectations. Give me your thoughts!