Every year at Thanksgiving, we ask each person at our table to share what they have been most grateful for in the past year. The exercise is helpful in calling to mind the many blessings in my own life, and hearing what others share gives me a greater appreciation for the opportunity to live in this time, in this place, and with one another.
Inevitably, I end the day with a mind full of people with whom I want to share my gratitude. But as the weekend comes to a close, my focus shifts to what is next on the calendar, and those good intentions too often slip silently out of mind.
This year I am committing to acting on my impulses before the warm thoughts fade. Perhaps more importantly, I am vowing to do the same throughout the coming year - letting people know in real time just how much I appreciate them and their influence in my life. I invite you to join me in this exercise. Let's start building a catalogue of gratitude to share at next year's Thanksgiving table and all year long.
Thanksgiving is by far and away my favorite holiday. It is an annual opportunity to spend an entire day with the people I love enjoying our favorite activities. From the hours in the kitchen to relaxing over an extravagant meal to watching football to playing games, it is a perfect setting in which to reflect on how much we have to be grateful for. Truly enjoying the day requires nothing short of complete mindfulness, but as the designated hostess and executive chef, a certain measure of planning and multitasking is necessary to ensure things run smoothly...
Enter the Thanksgiving "run sheet" - a staple in our Thanksgiving preparations. This single document brings together all the recipes, breaking down the various ingredients, steps, baking times and temps, and kitchen real estate - and pegging them to the time at which each step needs to come together to finish and present your meal at the designated moment.
The compilation requires a certain amount of tedious detailing, but it streamlines the process - eliminating duplicative ingredient chopping (why dice carrots three different times when you can tackle it all at once and portion them out for each dish in which they appear?) and ensuring the requisite bowls, measuring cups, pots, pans, burners, and oven space will all be available and clean at the moment you need them. It can also help you identify what small tasks can be completed in advance to minimize the amount of active work required on the big day. By investing time in planning and preparing before the celebration, you free up your mind to slow down and fully experience each moment as it unfolds.
The run sheet provides value far beyond one day per year - put it to work anytime you must balance the responsibility of hosting with your desire to be a guest at your own party. Important business dinner? Surprise birthday celebration? Romantic dinner for two? Map the steps out in advance and experience the celebration as it happens.
I am a creature of habit. I like routine. In the absence of an existing structure, I create one. This tendency is especially helpful on the many mornings when my work day begins at 6am. I have a carefully cultivated ritual of rising well before dawn, reading and praying while I drink my tea, and getting myself and the house in order before slipping silently out into the still dozing city.
In recent weeks, however, a few of my early morning clients have been on travel, leaving me with the freedom to choose when and how I wake. When this has happened in the past, I have chosen to get up at the same time and take advantage of the rare opportunity for a morning run or yoga practice - or savored the luxury of checking things off my to-do list while the rest of the household is still dreaming. But this week I chose instead to stay in bed until the babe woke up. I lingered until the luxurious hour of 6:30am, at which point she climbed into bed and launched into chatter about last night's dreams and the day to come. Moments later, my little go-getter announced it was time for breakfast, so we followed her lead and started our day.
I would like to tell you the extra sleep and precious moments with my family provided a delightful change of pace and improved my day. But while I enjoyed the extra time we shared together, I found myself off-balance and scrambling to get the babe - and myself - and the house ready on time. Instead of treasuring the sweet start to our day, I found myself resentful for not attending to my responsibilities first.
I was halfway to concluding that the few minutes of together time weren't worth the subsequent rush when it occurred to me: It isn't the end of the world if pajamas are left on the floor of my daughter's room for one morning. No one will know (or care) if the breakfast dishes linger in the sink for one day. And what is more important - a tidy house and on-time arrival or giving my family my undivided attention?
I know from the experience of fellow mamas - and the speed with which the past two and a half years have flown by - that opportunities to snuggle and surrender to the babe's timeline are fleeting. The days when I can again prioritize an orderly house and adhere to a strict schedule will come entirely too soon...
With the frenzy of the holiday season just ahead, I am turning off my morning autopilot and looking for opportunities to prioritize relationships over routine. I am committing to invest my energy and attention where it yields the more important reward. Will you join me?
The (ongoing) road to becoming a yogini mama has been full of twists and turns. Throughout the past two and half years, I have shifted and reorganized my schedule and commitments over and over. After the birth of my daughter, I returned to work full time. A few months later, I recognized I needed to scale back, and a few months after that, I realized it was time to step away from the familiar and carve out a new beginning that would provide the balance I sought.
With each step, I was confident I had discovered exactly what I needed. But while I am certain I made the right choice for myself and my family, I am continuing to learn that "balance" is not a static state. Changing seasons, unexpected professional opportunities, and the needs and desires of my sweet girl at each new age and stage are all in constant flux. As a result, I must tweak and refine accordingly. And as much as I love to say yes, I am realizing I need to say "no" if I want to preserve enough margin to accommodate these shifts and ensure I have the energy I need to devote to what is truly important.
Entrepreneurs can find countless opportunities to say yes to new business and additional projects. Parents can find innumerable classes, enrichment activities, and play dates to enjoy with their kiddos. Friends can schedule, host, and attend wonderful gatherings, dinner parties, and book clubs. Do-gooders can volunteer at all hours of the day seven days a week. These are all wonderful things that can contribute to a full and fulfilling life, but if you discover they are draining your energy rather than recharging you, it is time to say no.
With the holiday season fast approaching, take a look at your commitments and opportunities and evaluate whether you have the energy you need for the things that matter most. If not, consider when and where you can say no. Create the margin you need to nurture yourself and your loved ones this holiday season.
Whenever I catch up with friends or family I have not seen in some time, one of the first things they ask is how my daughter has changed since we last spoke. And at two and half years old, there is always something new to report: she has inevitably recently demonstrated a new ability or interest or said something surprising. Rarely, however, do we ask the same about one another. Personal growth can seem such an abstract concept in the midst of the many demands of our day to day lives. So rather than inquiring about our respective developments, we instead default to updates on work, travel, or family.
But when we stop to consider our thoughts, feelings, and experiences at any given moment, we are likely to recognize a number of changes - small and large. Perhaps you heard a story on the radio that changed your perspective - or saw a piece of art that altered your perception - or tried a new dish that enhanced your appreciation of a certain cuisine. Perhaps instead you woke up with a new ache or pain and recognize you need to be kinder to and less demanding of your body. We are constantly evolving - and we have countless opportunities to grow into our best selves.
No matter how busy and harried your life may feel in this moment, I encourage you to stop, take a breath, and reflect on how you are changing. Honor your progress and celebrate who you are becoming.
In the past 12 years I have been blessed with many opportunities to travel. I have explored destinations from coast to coast and visited five continents. The locations and types of travel varied widely, but one thing has remained constant. On every one of these trips, I enjoyed the company of one of my two favorite travel companions: my husband and/or my mother. During this time I have been invited to join friends and other family members on various jaunts. I have considered venturing solo to any number of trainings and workshops. I have even mapped out trips to share specific experiences with certain individuals, but for one reason or another, none of these plans has come together.
So when a dear friend recently asked me to join her for a weekend getaway, I almost reflexively responded with a gracious decline. More than a decade of traveling with the same companions - whose rhythms I can anticipate and whose interests mirror my own - has created a certain, comfortable expectation of what travel "should" look like, and a part of me was reluctant to upset that carefully crafted balance.
But for some reason, this time I instead said yes. And no sooner had my friend and I settled ourselves onto the train did I know my decision had been the right one. We experienced many of the familiar joys I always seek out in New York: incredible dining destinations, amazing theater performances, a picture perfect morning run in Central Park, and strolling for miles and miles along the city streets just taking it all in. We also stumbled upon new delights - a hidden gem of a food market on an unexpected street, a pop up boutique, and a delightful cafe that served as a perfect bookend to our adventure.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying the easy delights within our comfort zones, but it can be invigorating to see old favorites in a new way - and sometimes we need a nudge to move us forward. Do you need some encouragement to step out of your familiar routine? What can you say "yes" to today?
Over the weekend, the babe and I joined friends for a pottery painting outing. When we were invited, I thought it would be a fun way to spend a morning and had visions of the girls creating charming holiday gifts while we all talked and laughed. Upon arriving at the studio, we chose a few pieces, a palate of colors, and set to work. While the girls eagerly dove in, throwing paint onto their pieces (and themselves) with wild abandon, I became laser-focused on staying exactly within the lines of the snowflake pattern on my ornament. Within minutes, I found myself frowning and grinding my teeth each time my colors escaped their boundaries.
As I looked over at the girls, I marveled at their sheer joy. It occurred to me our experiences were more informed by our intention than the outcome. Their imaginations were enabling them to create beauty, while my rigid adherence to how I thought my piece "should" look led only to frustration.
Whether or not you have a gift for the visual arts, we all have the capacity to enjoy the creative process. Can you set aside your expectations and tap into your inner artist?
I like to think of myself as a "behind the scenes" kind of girl. I have no desire to deliver a speech, but I love writing a script and standing back to watch the magic unfold. When taking a yoga class, I always put my mat in the back corner of the room, and when teaching, I often position myself so I can observe without being noticed. I could chalk it up to shyness or insecurity, but I prefer to see it as a preference for the periphery.
Traveling provides an irresistible opportunity for anonymity. In a new city, I can be anyone or anything - or nothing at all. I especially enjoy taking yoga classes at local studios. In addition to experiencing new teachers and styles, it is refreshing to take off my "teacher" hat and be just another student in the room - with no expectations about how well (or not) I execute a pose, how long (or not) I choose to sit in meditation, and how often I drop into child's pose.
While in a class on a recent visit to New York, I was excited when the instructor cued us into handstand in the middle of the room. I was eager for the chance to experiment without the subconscious concern of what my students or fellow teachers might think. As I played, however, I recognized I was timing my efforts based on when the teacher was nearby or looking in my direction. When I realized what I was doing, I almost laughed out loud. Isn't this precisely what I tell my students not to do?
How often have I explained to a yogi that yoga is a practice, not perfection? How many times have I emphasized that we come to the mat not to demonstrate our fancy physical tricks but instead to explore what our efforts and reactions reveal about us off the mat? How frequently do I remind students that our true measure as yogis is not the length of our hamstrings but rather our flexibility in dealing with the challenges we face in the course of our daily lives? Yet there I was, wanting to be seen.
When I returned home the next week, I noticed the pattern repeating itself. When leaving a tip at a coffee shop, I caught myself waiting until the cashier was looking forward before dropping the money into the jar. And when presented with the opportunity to make an anonymous donation in response to a friend's charitable solicitation, I instead gave my name. I told myself I was doing so to ensure he knew I supported him and his cause, but was it really about him or me???
The reward of our good deeds should be in the doing - not the recognition. And our self worth shouldn't be dependent on the acknowledgements of others. So this month, I am working to embrace my "behind the scenes" persona. I am looking for opportunities to be generous without seeking gratitude and achieve personal goals without applause. I am aiming to be invisible, and I invite you to do the same. Will you join me?
Once upon a time, I paid a lot of attention to how far and fast I ran. And in the context of my goals, the details mattered. I was training for marathons and other races, and the work I put in was directly reflected in my event-day performance. I kept precise records of my mileage and pace. I endured weekly speed workouts at the track, long runs, tempo runs, and hill repeats. I arranged my life based on the rhythms of the training cycle, and I enjoyed it.
As my life has changed (and my body has aged), my relationship with running has evolved. What was once an opportunity to test and challenge myself has evolved into a chance to move and breathe. But while I have long since hung up my racing shoes, I have yet to part with my running watch. This colossally out of date monstrosity tracks speed, pace, and elevation. And for better or worse, It also invites comparison - yielding pride and disappointment depending on the day's conditions and my energy level. But on a recent trip, I neglected to pack this constant companion. At first I panicked - how would I know how far and fast I had gone? How would I qualify whether it was a good or bad run?
I set out feeling unsettled by the lack of a destination and plan, but as I continued, the tension began to melt away. And suddenly, the lack of certainty became freeing. With no mileage goal to hit and no pace to maintain, I felt free to slow down to read a poster about a current exhibit at the art museum, stop and snap pictures of the sun rising over the water, and follow a detour through a charming historic street.
Measurements and targets are helpful when aiming for a specific goal, but setting them aside can help us slow down - literally and figuratively. How can you stop analyzing and simply enjoy your surroundings today?
Thank you for visiting the Starting Over blog. Stop by anytime for a dose of inspiration, tools to help you achieve your goals, and a community of fellow travelers. I hope to see you often!