I’m in Nashville* this week, working on the Compelling Women podcast and attending the supposed-to-be amazing STORY Conference, so my post will brief, but I want to share something.
As always, I’m learning life lessons while schlepping from appointment to appointment. My first life lesson – that healing comes in waves – was learned while sitting in the dentist chair about five weeks ago. I shared the second solely in my newsletter. Here’s what I said:
“At physical therapy on Wednesday, my therapist spent quite a while teaching me how to sit. This sounds simple, but it isn’t, because in 35.5 years, I never really learned how to do it. My natural inclination is to slouch when seated, but when trying to correct this (often), I severely over-correct. Curling my spine inward is equally dangerous, as my therapist explained it, because in both positions my spine and its supportive framework are overtaxed and stressed. The goal of this exercise is to find the neutral position, where my spine is calm, but not relaxed; engaged, but not stressed. To prevent my spine from being continually over-exerted.”
As I explained to my subscribers then, the goal during my recent blog and social media hiatus was similar: “to find my own neutral – calm but not relaxed, engaged but not stressed, aware of the danger that is over-exertion.”
Last week at physical therapy, I learned a related lesson. I was explaining to D, one of my physical therapists, that I’d noticed the effect PT is having on me while sitting in our breakfast room at the kitchen table.
Me: “I feel like I’ve reached a point where my ‘neutral’ is the only time I don’t feel pain while sitting. That’s a good thing, right?”
Me: “Here’s the thing, though: when I’m sitting in neutral, my body feels so, so fatigued.”
D: “Right. Okay.”
Me: "So, I find myself alternating between exhaustion with no pain and pain with no exhaustion."
She wasn’t getting the significance of it, because this idea seemed intuitive to her – I’m learning new, corrective ways of being that are temporarily painful but, over the long haul, helpful. I understand. But that’s not the primary lesson. You know what is? That doing what comes naturally can be pain inducing in the end; that choosing to be pain-free is extraordinarily arduous work.
Let me say that again, using other words: We have choices. If you choose healing, you're going to feel fatigued as hell. If you choose not to heal but to do what's easiest in the moment, pain is all you'll feel in the end. You can either be free of exhaustion or free of pain. You can't have it both ways. Life takes work.
Here’s wishing us all a happy, healthy, exhausting week.
* Some day I will come to Nashville to see the sites and enjoy myself. To date, it's never happened. It's certainly not going to happen on this trip.
While my husband and I are three weeks away from our first wedding anniversary, today is the second anniversary of the day we met. It was a whirlwind romance in which we talked all day, every day until the moment we met, then knew within two days that this was something different. We said I Love You within the week and were married in just over a year. I wasn't sure I believed in soulmates until I met him, but now I do. He is the love of my life, my best friend and undoubtedly my better half.
Here, without further ado, is a toast I wrote about him in advance of our rehearsal lunch. I didn't give it, because no one wants to hear me talk for three hours (except Nick, and no one understands why this is), but I shared it on Facebook then. I share it here now, to commemorate two wonderful years with the most amazing man who ever existed.
Nothing in my life has been easy. None of it's been that hard, either, relative to what my friends and family and their friends and family have endured. I have parents who love me, a brother who's become a friend and another brother who has been the light of my life for 13 years. I have friends who've been friends forever and a little too much education for the jobs I've had. I somehow have always had just enough money to get by, and my health, which I try not to take for granted.
That's not to say life's been smooth sailing, though. I've always taken a little too long to get to my destination. I've lived independently and much too far from my family for over ten years, and never been on a career fast track, thanks to downsizing, distance and dysfunction. I languished in a dead-end relationship for a horrifying eleven years, and seriously struggled with school as well: first when deciding on a college major (there were 4), then when scoring poorly on the GRE (over and over again). And while it's true that the director of my Masters program once called me a rock star, it was only after he told me I was lucky to have been accepted and least likely to succeed. Plus, having just enough money to eat ramen doesn't mean having enough money to do something interesting, like travel outside the U.S. (which is relevant when you have an M.A. in Public and INTERNATIONAL affairs). The list of personal setbacks goes on and on.
But last September, something finally clicked for me. I met Nick. And I knew soon after that I'd spend the rest of my life loving and taking care of him, because loving and taking care of him comes as naturally to me as breathing. Surely you understand by now that breathing is one of the only things that's ever come naturally to me. I mean, have you seen me run or do anything athletic? Have you seen me cook? Or speak in public? Have you seen me try to pretend to be a nice person without enough sleep? These are not things that I am good at. These are things that come embarrassingly easy to others but that have never quite materialized for me. And the few things I AM good at, like cleaning and ironing (my mom often brags about my ironing skills, so I guess that's not nothing) have required my utmost effort and near constant practice.
Loving Nick, on the other hand, comes so naturally to me. It's so...easy. He's kind, smart, thoughtful, handsome, considerate, funny, loyal and loving. He gives freely, laughs loudly, speaks softly, hugs tightly, calms instantly, spreads cheer broadly and thinks about craft beer constantly. What is hard to love about this? He's the closest thing to perfect I've ever met, and absolutely perfect for me. In fact, he's the best thing about me, and always will be. He makes me the best me. And somehow he thinks loving ME is easy. (I promise you: he is wrong about this.)
Last week he sent me this beautiful, expertly written article, wherein a wife said of her husband, "Loving him has been easy, like it was the one thing I was meant to do." Her words rocked me to my core, and I sobbed hysterically. Because it rang so true for me. And I have no doubt that that woman loves her husband fiercely.
But I also have no doubt about this: loving Nick is easier. And after 34 years of awkwardness and a year of total personal and professional upheaval, loving him is the only thing that makes sense to me. It's the one thing I'm good at. That's why I made him marry me.
Thank you, everyone, for being here to celebrate with us this weekend. We love you, we're grateful for you and couldn't have done this without you. And thank you, sweetheart, for every single little thing. You're my whole world.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of enjoying afternoon tea with two dear friends at Historic Rosemont Manor in Berryville, VA. There is no shortage of good things to say about the venue, the company or the tea itself. Berryville is a gorgeous area, and the 350 acres owned by Rosemont are some of its finest. The company was the best there is, outside my husband.
Afternoon tea at Rosemont includes a history lesson over raspberry tea spritzer and a decadent and delicious three-course tea service, followed by an opportunity to view the rooms and roam the grounds that make Rosemont the destination that it is.
My favorite tea? The Rosemont Blend, which we purchased at the end of tea service. My favorite suite? The one that includes a sleeping porch! (The absolute height of luxury = a bedroom suite with a sleeping porch.) My favorite food items? The raspberry scone and the traditional cucumber sandwich. (It's important to note here that Rosemont seamlessly blended the service of my gluten-free items with those of the rest of the table.)
Everything was impeccable, and I highly recommend that DMV residents make the weekend drive out to Berryville on a Sunday that Rosemont is serving tea. You won't be disappointed.
Since I’ve been on hiatus much of the last two weeks, I’ve done enough reading to give you three pages of recommendations. That’s far, far too many (!), so I’m forcing myself to give you only three.
It may sound weird to recommend Oprah’s letter in the September issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, but I’m going to do it anyway. Here’s what she says:
"It’s easy to go around cluck-clucking about everything that’s wrong in the world. But you know what else is easy? Doing a little bit here and there to make things righter. It just takes a willingness to step up, use your voice, lend a hand and effect real change.
“I’m not talking about starting a foundation or organizing a nationwide movement (though if you have the ambition to do either of those things, more power to you!). What we’re focusing on this month is the impact of small but significant acts: patronizing woman- or minority-owned businesses, for example, or donating to a food bank during the summer, when many hungry kids can’t get free breakfast and lunch at school. The point is that anyone can make a genuinely valuable difference, so long as they’re willing to try.”
I concur. The understanding that problems are too big for one person can paralyze us. What we fail to realize is that one person can create momentum; that we can make a world of difference in the lives of individuals; that doing something is always better than doing nothing. Need proof? Look no further than the solo lives and world-altering ambitions of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa.
My favorite article of the last two weeks discusses similar themes. It’s a piece entitled, “You’ll Never Be Famous – and That’s O.K.”, by Emily Esfahani Smith. She examines idealistic aspirations to change the world through the lens of George Eliot’s Middlemarch.
“Most young adults won’t achieve the idealistic goals they’ve set for themselves. They won’t become the next Mark Zuckerberg. They won’t have obituaries that run in newspapers like [the New York Times]. But that doesn’t mean their lives will lack significance and worth. We all have a circle of people whose lives we can touch and improve – and we can find our meaning in that.
“A new and growing body of research within psychology about meaningfulness confirms the wisdom of Eliot’s novel – that meaning is found not in success and glamour but in the mundane.”
In other words, you’ll find more fulfillment helping your clients, teaching your students or doing chores for your wife than winning the lottery and becoming a philanthropist. (This is good news, because we still have not won Powerball or Mega Millions.)
Lastly, I can’t think of a better way to end than to make you read this Glamour magazine piece by Reese Witherspoon, on women and ambition. I think more and more about writing a movie script or creating a local female film festival to highlight the works of amazing artists. Until I pull the trigger, I’ll keep finding inspiration in places like this. Every single word of it is worth highlighting, but I’ll share just one excerpt that I love, since I also love golf:
“Anytime I feel defeated, my husband says, ‘Come over here, you’re the best! You’re going to do this movie, and you’re going to be great!’ He gives me pep talks with a lot of sports metaphors that I don’t always understand. He says, ‘Did Jordan Spieth quit after he imploded on the final round at Augusta?’ I’m like, ‘Ummm…I don’t know, did he?’ And then he says, ‘No. When you’re great, you don’t give up. And he went on to win the British Open this year.’ Then I understand! He took that experience and turned it into success. You gotta love my sports-loving husband.”
She talks a lot about women in film, yes, but mostly about ambitious women, period. Her primary recommendations: work hard; do that work in a supportive environment; and, when your ambition pays off, give opportunities to the women who seek to follow in your footsteps.
For those of you who live in the path of the destructive force that is Hurricane Irma (including my immediate family members), my thoughts and prayers are with you.
The last time I had lunch with my old boss, who I try to see on the regular, was on the afternoon of Wednesday, March 8th. I remember the date because it was unseasonably warm, but also because I injured my back two days earlier and, through our conversation, was convinced to seek medical attention. Tomorrow, when we get together again, it’ll be literally 6 months since our last visit.
Where has the last 6 months gone? I ask myself. How is it already September?
I spent the last two weeks on ‘hiatus’. A friend recently asked whether this meant a social media hiatus and the answer is, no, it didn’t. I steered clear of social media, yes, but apart from discussing Hurricane Harvey, I didn’t blog, either. I stopped reading political news. I spent less time talking and texting as well. I spent even less time on my laptop.
Here’s what I did instead: I allowed myself to be physically and emotionally present with other people. I recorded a podcast interview. I made the decision to hire an editor. I worked on a long-term book project, because I finally had the intellectual and emotional bandwidth. I read a new book, Andrea Petersen’s On Edge, and started another, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. I visited the place we got married with the Hubs, then ate dinner where we held our rehearsal lunch. I visited his aunts and grandmother. I played ball with our dog. I made it through my last wedding planning gig ever. I rested. I took a Stratejoy MasterClass on important life skills. I struggled through physical therapy on numerous occasions. I went to the grocery store. I cleaned our house.
In other words, I lived.
At the end of this two-week period, I stopped and asked the Hubs some questions. Had this really been a ‘hiatus’? Did it need to be? What had worked? What hadn’t? Could it teach me broader lessons about equilibrium and abstention? Had this inadvertently been a life-changing two-week period?
For almost a year, I searched high and low for a new way to live – one that fosters creativity and spiritual fulfillment. I looked outward. I looked inward. I did a hundred new things, thinking this was the way to make peace with a non-traditional career. But searching for a new way to live always involved striving, because doing more is all I’ve ever done. This two-week hiatus taught me two new lessons: striving may fuel a traditional career, but it can quickly kill a creative one; and the type of nonstop work required to start a new entrepreneurial endeavor is counterproductive to an artistic one, like writing a book. Striving less made me less anxious and more productive. On top of that, I feel happier, healthier, more whole.
Why would I ever go back to the way things were?
Wonderful things have happened during this time period: The Hubs was officially offered a new job, then approached about an ownership stake in a side project, too. I got a package from my mom, and another from a dear friend. Flowers bloomed. My father-in-law agreed to help us build a fence. And as each thing occurred, I learned that I benefit when I go with the flow. That I need to rest. That the universe doesn’t always need my help. That there’s so much beauty in riding the wave of what is.
As we embark upon my favorite time of year, and feel the nostalgic feelings embedded in football, warm fires and cold air, I’ve recognized what I can do to fully appreciate it: less. Less striving, less demanding, less doing at all. More resting, more listening, more absorbing, for sure.
Here’s wishing y’all a beautiful fall,