One year, six months and four days ago, I submitted my letter of resignation. The job had been far from what I imagined it would be, but almost every job is. I left not because it was unfulfilling, but because it was a toxic environment. I no longer wanted the career, much less the paycheck.
I’d started at the job 20 months prior. Along the way, horrific things had happened: my boss had slept a lot, during the day and at his desk; the suborganization I worked for sank further into disrepair and debt, which made me scared they’d eliminate my position; the broader organization experienced firings left and right; a board member called his subordinate a vulgar name on a team strategy call; that subordinate yelled at and thoroughly embarrassed me in a meeting I coordinated; I got questions from multiple board members about my boss’ fundraising inaction; I reported some of these things to human resources, with the hope that systemic changes would be made; my boss’ boss learned of this report and threatened me in a meeting he’d never turn over notes about; I felt continually more hopeless. Three days before I left, my boss’ boss publicly humiliated me in an all staff meeting, giving all of my coworkers the impression that I’d been terminated. In reality, I’d given over seven weeks of notice, to give them time to figure out transition – especially with regard to the budget.
They never did. Two months after I left, my former boss sent me repeated emails asking for my help making sense of the budget. There was no indication that he recognized I had no obligation to them, or that I’d given more than 3x the customary amount of notice. There was no offer of payment. I knew I had no moral obligation to help them, and that doing so would be psychologically destructive. I asked my now husband if I had a legal obligation to save their asses, still scared of being retaliated against. He laughed. “No. You owe them nothing. You did too much. They didn’t take this seriously when you turned in your letter of resignation, or in the weeks that followed it. You don’t owe them shit.” So, I pretended I never got them. It wasn’t my problem they were desperate.
Less than five months after I left, both my former boss and his boss were fired. These were the same men who’d respectively left me to flounder and retaliated against me again and again. And as soon as they were fired, people asked me: “Aren’t you just thrilled that [boss] and [boss’ boss] got fired? Don’t you feel so good?” It was a deeply disturbing question. No, I wasn’t happy that men with families to feed suddenly had no income -- much less thrilled. What's more, the organization suffered. I suffered: I’d been damaged professionally, and lost both time and money as a result of it. Them getting fired was karma in action, sure, but it didn’t make me whole. In fact, no one cared if I was whole. No one sent me a thank you note that said, “We realize in hindsight that you were right. Can we pay you for it? Can we in some other way compensate for it? Can we meet you in person to tell you what a wonderful job you did trying to take care of a fledgling organization? It’s a shame we didn’t listen to you then. We were wrong. You leaving taught us how much you’d been doing, and we cleaned house. Will you please give us a chance to fix this?” So, no, I didn't feel vindicated, either.
You know why no one ever sent that letter and, more importantly, why no one ever will? Because, in general, people refuse to self-examine. Self-examining is hard, even painful. In this instance, self-examination at the highest levels of these organizations (big and small) would have required admitting that these men had no accountability for years. It would have required examining strategies and leadership that were ineffective at best, counterproductive at worst. It would have required a deep dive into stupid spending trends. It would have led to a cost-benefit analysis no one wanted. By firing these men, this painful undertaking was avoided. Which means these men were fired at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons.
I mention this because Matt Lauer was fired today. #SomewhereAnnCurry trended after that, essentially suggesting that Ann Curry was celebrating or feeling vindicated. But, if she’s anything like me, I’m guessing she isn’t. Matt Lauer was fired because he was a liability in this day and age, not because he was awful to her. The damage done to her can never be undone. The desperation she felt was disregarded. The devastation she felt was ignored. They chose him over her. She wasn’t the reason they got rid of him. Her career hasn’t been restored. If they’d attempted to see things from her perspective, things might have been different for her and the other women Matt Lauer worked with. But they didn’t. They chose the man and money over her. The short-term outcome was that Matt Lauer was emboldened; the long-term damage was to the women he worked with and, just as importantly, to the organization.
Ann Curry and I don’t celebrate. We still grieve. Okay? The men who wronged us getting fired makes very little difference. The problems are much more systemic.
Last year I decided to embark on a new holiday tradition. If you are friends with me on Facebook or follow me on Instagram, you already know that this is Stratejoy's annual Holiday Council. In its own words, Stratejoy (pronounced as if the word 'strategy' ended in -joy) is "a positive corner of the internet – with real conversations about dreams, struggles, celebrations and transitions – that is both powerful and useful." It's based on the goal of "practicing joy in a messy world." The Holiday Council is a 3-week long program that makes New Year's Resolutions seem like the temporary and empty gesture that they are. It's a wonderful way to close out the year: releasing last year's slime, embracing the possibility of the year ahead.
During HoCo 2016 I believe I declared my word for the year either WONDER or REJUVENATE. I honestly can't remember. Last year was a time of serious transition in my personal and professional life (i.e., I got married and quit my decade-long career), and I struggled with setting intentions for the year ahead. That's probably part of the reason that I don't remember the word I chose. But the real reason I don't remember is because so much heavy shit* has happened this year. The Hubs spent January - May focusing on finishing his LL.M., and January - August on his post-active duty job search (which is far from standard). I dealt with my back injury from March - October, with the abscess in July, with the car accident injury in October & November, with thyroid issues for the entire year and with relatively minor afflictions (allergies to muscle relaxers and beta blockers + their nasty effects) here and there. There were also awful things that I can't mention, for legal or professional reasons. (Yes. Ugh.)
I mention all of this because, if you asked me to describe my year as it was vs. how I intended it to be, I'd laugh hysterically. In reality, my year was HEAVY. Even dark. I've felt exhausted and bombarded and burdened and spent. Without joy, without respite, without hope. Feeling as if this barrage of struggle would.not.end. Today I woke up and said, "No more! I am setting my intention for the year ahead, and it is LIGHT. That thing that is luminous in the face of darkness. That thing that is airy and spacious, not suffocating and small."
Today I'm addressing Christmas cards and thumbing through catalogs in search of gifts. I'm drinking coffee and reading my new favorite book, Vacationland by John Hodgman. I'm checking in with friends, and doing laundry in anticipation of hosting both company and a holiday party next week. I'm snuggling with my furry snuggle bear, and watching The Good Place. I'll probably take a nap. I may take a class about learning to draw. All of this = heaven.
But tonight is when the real light begins. Tonight is when the Hubs and I decorate for Christmas. We'll eat yummy Thanksgiving leftovers, drink spiked hot chocolate, put up the decorations we brought to this marriage separately, and put up the ones we purchased together. Then we'll watch Elf.
My new year starts now. I'm not waiting for January 1st. January is cold and dull and dreary. Christmastime is magic: literally luminous, and so spacious it feels okay to pray for Peace on Earth.
* Just a reminder that this blog uses curse words sparingly but without hesitation.
Below is the text of the newsletter I sent to my subscribers on Friday. Read it! Then go subscribe, because sometimes they get things you don't! :)
Dear, sweet readers --
Spoiler alert: 2017 has been my worst year of record. I've suffered from more illnesses, injuries and other infirmities than I care to relive or catalog here, and they have left me physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. They've taken their toll in other ways, as well: on a marriage that's dealt with physical trauma for 8+ months of the 13+ months it's existed; on our finances, despite incredible health insurance; on my career, since traveling with a messed up back and what might be a fractured pelvis has been all but out of the question. Further, unless something dramatically changes (i.e., my body miraculously heals), I will spend the rest of this year canceling the hopeful plans I made on rare good days, and starting what is yet undefined medical treatment.
To focus exclusively on the negative, though, would be fruitless and disingenuous. Sure, 2017 has had its share of lows, but it's also had highs -- moments of pure peace, love and joy -- that I doubt I will soon forget.
That's what this week of Thanksgiving is about: putting aside daily groans and gripes, and celebrating the many wonderful aspects of our existence. Some things we're thankful for are big, while others are comparatively small, but all of them are worth mention.
Here's my list:
I'm thankful for breathtaking and romantic getaways to places like Bermuda and the Poconos with Nick.
I'm thankful for fun family trips with Rusty to South Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Virginia Beach and Charlottesville.
I've always hated my birthday, but 35 was my best birthday yet. I'm thankful for that day of quiet, peace and celebration.
I'm thankful for competent doctors and other caring healthcare professionals.
I'm thankful for a husband who likes to cook, creative inspiration, heating pads, ice packs, dessert wine and The Golden Age of Television.
I've never been more thankful to be alive than in the wake of our car accident.
2017 was the year I started my blog, and I am both humbled by and thankful for its modest readership.
I'm thankful, too, for the ever increasing number of women who see me as a matriarch they can come to for advice, support or encouragement.
I'm thankful for the satisfying work of interviewing amazing women.
In general, I'm thankful for the professional clarity I've found, and for the spiritual peace I've located alongside it.
I am thankful for a family that loves and checks on me from afar, and a family-in-law that gives without question or hesitation.
I am thankful for a dog who snuggles me during the day, kisses away my tears on bad nights and approaches each activity with reckless abandon.
I'm thankful for a gorgeous house that I love, and a new yard and fence to go along with it.
I am thankful for friends who: put up with my nonsense, are patient with the aforementioned canceled plans and send flowers or wine or jokes or cards just when I need them.
Most of all, I am thankful for a husband who has loved and cared for me throughout this painful year. He's shuttled me to doctors appointments, picked up countless prescriptions, watched more television than even a man who likes television can stand, mastered the art of meeting my needs in the middle of the night without really waking up (which is hilarious) and done truly unrewarding things like help me go to the bathroom on more than one occasion. He does it all with joy in his heart, too, and never once complained about it.
But he's done so much more than that: he's been my biggest benefactor and career champion, reading my writing in garbage draft stages and pointing out passages he loves; he's gotten me flowers, baked me pies and planned little surprises to lift my spirits; he's tolerated the days I don't feel like I can shower, and told me I'm beautiful at times when I know these were lies; but, most importantly, he's made me laugh, over and over and over again. Laughter during a hard year is inconceivably important and yet underrated, and my husband is the funniest.
I don't deserve him, I don't think, which is what I'm trying to stay. But I'm thankful for him nonetheless. That’s why the thing I'm most thankful for this year is the day-in, day-out joy of being his wife.
Here's wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving that, upon reflection, turns out to the happiest Thanksgiving you ever had.
Love, love, love --
This is a picture of me. I hate pictures of me, so it’s hard to believe I’m sharing one willingly, but there it is, right at the top of the page here. It’s a close-up, too: a perhaps misguided selfie taken in the bathroom of a brewery / restaurant that we visited ten days ago, while on our one day of ‘vacation’. I took it because I’ve been waging internal war with myself for the past two weeks, and I knew if I didn’t take it right then, the casualties of that war would stay hidden.
If you’re a woman, you probably know this war all too well: it’s between the forces within you that say you should take your time making yourself look as good as you want to feel, and the opposing forces, which say you don’t need to look perfect and should practice self-acceptance. Both sides make valid points. Each side wins battles, and each side loses.
In some ways, this picture is nothing short of an embarrassment. I’m ashamed of the unkempt hair and the barely visible but frumpy sweater paired with even frumpier jeans and cheap shoes. I’m horrified by the forehead expression lines, too. But framing this picture in that way is a deliberate distortion. That barely visible sweater was purchased from Anthropologie – is that a frumpy brand now? I bought those shoes on sale, sure, but they’re shoes other people have said they ‘absolutely love’ on more than one occasion. I’m wearing Old Navy Rockstar jeans, yes, but who cares? Blake Lively wears them. And this is my natural hair.
This next picture is so much easier to bear. This one is of me and my sweet husband, taken while walking the grounds of the place we got married. The backdrop is better, for starters. So is the angle, since he’s 6’4”. I’m wearing all black, chic snakeskin gladiator sandals and a coordinating crossbody bag. I just came from the salon, so my hair is blown-out perfection. We plan to use this picture in our Christmas card collage this year.
There are objective, aesthetic differences to these pictures, but they boil down to this: I appear more put together in the latter.
I can look beyond the surface, though. I know what was happening on the day each picture was taken. In the first picture, I was in an extraordinary amount of pain. I hadn’t left the (rental) house in almost a week. I had a serious, undiagnosed injury, and wasn’t getting any sleep. Taking a shower was a victory, so I wasn’t going to spend hours standing in front of the mirror. The second was taken on the first day I felt good in months, and over halfway through my ten weeks in physical therapy. I was visiting the place where my husband and I got married, too, less than two weeks before our first anniversary. Most importantly, I didn’t do my own hair that day – my awesome and sassy hairstylist did.
All of this might sound intuitive. And maybe to you it is. But examining these two pictures taken six weeks apart has given me a feeling of peace. I don’t have to wage this war. Both sides are right, both sides are wrong – it just depends what day it is. I don’t have to shame myself for being superficial on days when I have the time, energy and desire to look my best. I don’t have to shame myself for looking frumpy on days when getting out of the house for a few hours is a gift.
I used to spend hours every single day trying to look my best. I wore all black, suffered in 5” heels and never had imperfect hair. But then I met my husband. He loves when I get all dolled up now and then, but also loves me when I haven’t showered or gotten out of my pajamas, which is far more often. My natural hair was something I never embraced until I felt external love and acceptance, which prompted me to do the hard work of loving and accepting myself. In other words, the fact that I’m waging this internal war is itself a sign of progress – a few years ago, the superficial side dominated.
Nowadays all I want is to feel comfortable in my own skin. Some days that means primping, getting dressed up and putting on red lipstick. More often that means letting my hair dry naturally and wearing a comfortable sweater and flats. Comfortable means different things on different occasions. You’d never wear pajamas to the symphony, now, would you?
Women with a greater sense of self-worth already know this. Me? I’m still a work in progress.
Let’s talk about October, shall we? It’s not sufficient to say that it was a month of highs and lows. To start with, the Hubs started his new job at the beginning of the month, which involved a fair amount of excitement. Then we celebrated our first anniversary, which thrilled us even more. We spent the day at the winery where we got engaged, made filets that night, replicated our first dance, read our first anniversary messages, toasted our marriage with bridal shower champagne and enjoyed the top-tier replica of our wedding cake. Our friends got married at a beautiful location in the Poconos later that week, and I thought to myself: “October couldn’t get any better! Gorgeous weather! Hopeful circumstances! We’re digging our way out of the mess we were in!”
But life intervenes in moments like these: just when we think we’ve gotten a break – a reprieve from pain and stress and difficulty – we're reminded not to get too comfortable. For a while, things were so bad that I thought I was / we were cursed, and I told the Hubs as much earlier this year. I’d injured my back, then immediately broken out in a full-body drug eruption rash. As soon as that cleared up, I reinjured my back. And when I finally stopped feeling intense pain related to that, I developed the abscess and related complications for a month. Then I found out the hard way that I am allergic to beta blockers. All of this exacerbated my back pain. It went on and on and on. Being cursed felt like the only rational explanation.
It’s painful to feel hope like this and have it dashed. But I was hopeful in October, nonetheless. This feeling of hope culminated in my physical therapy graduation on Monday, October 23rd. It wasn’t a big to do or anything, but they looked at a bunch of criteria, decided I’d healed 80 – 85%, and presumed this trend would continue if I kept doing the exercises. I was so hopeful the next day that I spent hours painting our new fence. I made so much progress.
That night the Hubs and I celebrated my progress by running errands, because this is what married couples do. We went first to the butcher, partly because we had a coupon and partly because their meat is delicious. Then we went to Wegman’s for supplemental groceries, because Wegman’s is equally delicious. We took the Jeff-Todd-Way-to-Mount-Vernon-Memorial-Highway route home, as we’ve done 1,000 times before. The time was just before 7:30PM. Seconds later, when we got across from George Washington’s Grist Mill – a mere 2.4 miles from our house, a deer plowed into us on the driver’s side. Then, the driver behind us – who was watching not us, but the deer – plowed into us from behind.
I’d never been in a serious car accident before this. I didn’t know that in a split-second your life turns upside down. At the most superficial level, the cheapest, most comfortable and reliable car you have is totaled. Beyond that, you’re both injured, though in different ways. The groceries you just bought are ruined, leaking out of the car into a giant dairy mess. Your phone that you were just typing on vanishes, even though the window wasn’t open, and when a firefighter finds it, he will find it crushed into a million pieces. Worse yet, your psyche is wounded. What once felt like a safe road no longer does. What once felt like a peaceful night out no longer does. What once felt like a safe mode of transportation no longer does. And while some repercussions are obvious in an instant, others will take days to come to grips with.
We sat on the side of that road for 2 hours. We lost 13 cups of yogurt and 2 gallons of milk, but salvaged the meat from the butcher. (Miraculously, it had been in the back seat, not the trunk.) Likewise, we lost ice cream and noodles and drink mix, but salvaged the toilet paper we’d bought at the commissary the week prior. We got a ride home from a policeman, carrying meat and toilet paper in broken and bursting plastic bags. We thanked God that the kids in the van behind us were well enough to go home and get in bed. We thanked God that our dog doesn’t know what happened, and greeted us at the door as if we’d been away from the house for the reasons we frequently are.
And then we went to the ER. This ER is affiliated with my physical therapy office, and when I was wheeled into the x-ray room, I said, “I graduated from Inova physical therapy yesterday, which is why I got into a car accident today! I missed you guys too much!” I was full of jokes and laughter, just grateful to be alive. The Hubs was the opposite: truly shaken, exhausted, scared. Days later, my gratitude for being alive would be overshadowed by sadness and fear. By then, he’d recovered, and we’d changed roles. I was in pain again, scared the accident had undone all of the healing work I did. He was crammed in a rental car that simply does not fit him.
Things could be worse: a dear friend of ours lost her mother the week prior; a friend of a friend just lost her newborn child; my younger cousin died in a car accident, but his wife survived. Tragedy strikes. Life happens. And we’re all just a split-second away from a life-changing event, be it the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, the loss of a job or the loss of our innocence in a car accident. We’d do well to remember that more often.
We’re trying our best to cope with what happened, but we’re still sore 9 days later. Doctor’s visits will continue. We are nowhere near finished with the insurance adjusters. And at some point we have to buy a new car, since ours was totaled, even though the thought of that makes me a little sick. We’re comforted by the support of our family and friends – like DJ, whose take on the subject provided a much-needed laugh. We’re leaning on each other, because we celebrated our first anniversary and, for a nanosecond, thought we might lose each other 15 days later. We’re doing what humans do when they’ve experienced trauma of any kind: sleeping, talking, talking in our sleep, crying, singing, loving as hard as we can.
I don’t have all the answers. I wish I did. Having even a handful of readers and the platform that comes with it feels daunting sometimes. But I do know this: we’re not cursed. On Tuesday night the Hubs and I watched Patton Oswalt’s most recent comedy special. He lost his wife unexpectedly last year. She was 46. With tears in his eyes while onstage, he told the audience his wife’s motto about life: “It’s all chaos. Be kind.” I’m not sure I agree with that 100% - sometimes life seems like a beautifully woven tapestry. That’s how it seemed the day I met the love of my life. But 768 days later, the night he got hit on one side and then from behind, wasn’t a beautifully woven tapestry; it was pure chaos. And in the 9 days that have followed, as we’ve pondered questions of life and death, we’ve realized the importance of living each day as if it’s our last. We’ve realized the importance of being kind – to each other, to our family and friends, to strangers.
And I think that’s what I’ll leave you with.