One of the benefits of aging is gaining a greater sense of who we are - and who we are not. Over time we are able to see more clearly our limitations and find increasing confidence to say no to those invitations we know will put us in uncomfortable positions.
At this stage in life I wear many hats. I have a wide variety of interests. I enjoy a broad range of activities. In none of these categories will you find the word "camper" or "outdoor enthusiast." Don't get me wrong: I love being outdoors (when the weather is favorable). I enjoy a good hike - a blazing campfire - talking with good friends late into the night under a blanket of stars. But when the evening draws to a close, I like to take a warm shower and sleep in a soft, bug-free bed.
So when we learned that my daughter's elementary class would be going on an overnight camping adventure in the middle of nowhere, we decided my husband would accompany her. Make no mistake - he is no better suited for such activities than I am, but as the default parent for 99.9 percent of my daughter's activities, I had the upper hand in the decision-making process this time around...
When the date for the trip was announced, however, we realized it stood in conflict with an important work commitment on my husband's calendar. I was faced with a choice: honor my limits (by denying my daughter an opportunity to learn and grow in a warm and loving environment) - or put on my "big girl pants" and march forward.
As we drew closer to the trip I was filled with dread. Any outdoor survival skills I learned as a Girl Scout have long since disappeared due to decades of disuse. I do not own a sleeping bag. I do not own a tent. And I do not have the first idea how to go about assembling one. I also learned from veterans of this trip that many of last year's campers unknowingly pitched their tents in a tick-infested enclave. And an unexpected tropical storm warning drove campers and their families to shelter in place for hours in a cramped, noxious pit toilet shelter. I was way out of my comfort zone and we hadn't even begun....
But each piece of discouraging information I received was countered by the enthusiasm my daughter exhibited each day she came home from school declaring, "I'm on the sports planning committee! Did you know we are going to make s'mores? I shouldn't tell you because it is supposed to be a surprise, but we're practicing songs to sing for the parents at the campfire!" And then there were the weekly updates by our class room parent - a saint of a man who accompanied every email with a detailed spreadsheet of supplies, activities, and schedules. It was enough to make my cold analytical heart melt.
The fact that you are receiving this newsletter is proof that we survived. And if I am being honest, I will confess I was glad to be there. I made connections with lovely and caring parents with whom I will be spending much time over the course of the next few years. I figured out how to put up a tent - and was able to help other camping-averse parents do the same (so empowering)! Most importantly, my daughter and I made memories hiking, combing the beach for shark teeth fossils, sharing s'mores, and sleeping under the stars. Together we explored the boundaries of our city-living comfort zones, and we are better for it.
I still do not consider myself a "camper." Sleeping on the ground remains something I would prefer to avoid. My daughter and I came away with plenty of scratches from hiking through brush, as well as our fair share of bug bites (but no ticks!). And I won't even get into the restroom facilities (or lack thereof...), but I have already decided to go again next year - and volunteered to lead a morning yoga practice for the parents...
It is important to know yourself. Establishing limits and boundaries is critical for self-preservation. But occasionally we benefit from putting ourselves in uncomfortable positions.
As we head into a new month, are there limits you can test? Is there an opportunity you are inclined to reject out of habit or long-held assumptions? Consider whether stepping out of your comfort zone might provide an opportunity to learn something new about yourself. Let's explore our limits together...
More than any other month, September, to me, has always promised the greatest potential for a fresh start. It doesn't carry the burden of January's bold insistence on NEW! IMPROVED! EVERYTHING! Nor is it weighted down by birthday-triggered analysis of the prior year. Instead, September softly beckons with cooler temperatures and crisp air, inviting us to re-establish the grounding rhythms and routines that so often fall by the wayside in the languid, lazy days of August.
This year was no different. As we wound our way home from our annual end-of-Summer escape to the mountains, we shifted our focus to the month and season ahead. We talked to our daughter about her excitement and apprehension surrounding starting the first (?!?) grade, and I pondered an intriguing opportunity to stretch myself in the year ahead - and potentially alter my career trajectory...
When I launched this venture more than six years ago, it seemed the natural extension of a desire for something different - a craving to carve out a more flexible way of being that would not only help others navigate their own path toward more mindful living, but also afford more time to be with my daughter. While I wasn't entirely sure how it would unfold, I had an abundance of time to (over)consider, (over)analyze, and ultimately grow comfortable with the shift.
This potential change afforded no such opportunity. I was being considered for a faculty position teaching yoga, mindfulness, and life skills to middle- and high-school students who have struggled in traditional academic settings. With the school year fast approaching, a decision needed to be made.
Rather than months to plan and prepare, the whole process unfolded in a matter of weeks: the informational phone interview took place while on vacation. An audition and discussion with the head of school squeezed into the brief interval between returning from our trip and leaving again to visit an ailing relative. Conversations continued by phone and email on the long drives to and from Connecticut.
Hungry for concrete data, I delved into list-drafting mode. But as is so often the case in matters of consequence, the simple "pro" and "con" designations didn't capture the immeasurable intangibles: the potential to make a meaningful difference in the lives of young adults who weren't being served in traditional school settings vs. the reality of relationships built over years spent working closely with clients and watching their practice progress.
The unknowns were daunting: Am I equipped to teach middle- and high-school students? Would I be able to hold the attention of a surly teenager who would prefer to be anywhere other than in the classroom? But at the same time, I was excited about the challenge of working with a new population - and heartened by the idea of sharing valuable skills with young people who could benefit. The prospect made my heart happy - and I allowed that to be enough.
Life will look a bit different for the next year - perhaps beyond. And I am exploring what it means to be comfortable with the unknown. Will you join me?
Whether you are experiencing a major life change or returning to a tried-and-true Fall rhythm that you know will serve you well, you will inevitably face decisions for which you don’t have every detail and data point. We will all, at some point, be asked to choose between options that seem equally wonderful (and equally imperfect). As you encounter these situations, I encourage you to listen to your heart and step forward - even when you aren’t fully certain where your foot will land.
Let’s explore uncertainty together...
A few weeks ago, I arrived for my bi-weekly volunteer shift at church to discover that some kind soul had already set up my station. I was grateful for the gesture - as well as the 30 minute window of "free" time before families would begin arriving. I reached into my bag to retrieve the work I had brought along just in case I found myself in such a situation only to discover I had left it at home on the kitchen counter...
With nothing requiring my immediate attention, I reflexively grabbed my phone and scanned my email. Not much comes in on Sunday mornings, but I did find a treasure from the lovey Kelly Newsome [link], in which she advocated for boredom. It was a timely reminder, and I did my best to embrace it.
Rather than strive to find a way to make the time "productive," I simply sat still. Observed the activity around me. Listened intently as another volunteer's child explained his elaborate game. Breathed deeply.
The time passed quickly, and when the families began to arrive I was able to welcome them with greater grace and intentionality than on more frazzled, harried mornings. Those moments of "boredom" set the tone for a more measured response to the inevitable [hiccups] throughout the day.
It can be hard to plan for boredom, but when the opportunity presents itself this month, I encourage you to take it. As the lazy days of Summer draw to a close, try to soak up stillness when and where you can find it. Leave your phone in your pocket. Keep the book closed. Unplug your ear buds. Tune in to your surroundings. Observe. Breathe.
The subject line popped up on an otherwise uneventful Monday: Team Happy Hour! I smiled at the familiarity of the sender and memory of frequent get togethers in what often feels like a past life.
In reality it has been fewer than six years since I left the comfort and certainty of a job I enjoyed to explore a less traveled path. And while my current venture provides a rhythm that is particularly well suited for this stage in my life, I felt a wave of nostalgia for the past and the people alongside whom I worked long days, experienced significant historical events, and shared major life changes.
Without hesitation I made arrangements to attend. I was eager to reconnect - to learn what others were doing professionally and what had changed in their personal lives. I wanted to hear their stories and marvel at their witty observations. I looked forward to seeing their faces and being, once again, in the presence of smart, driven people united in a common pursuit.
As the day approached, I had flashes of uncertainty: So many of my former colleagues are doing "great things"! Many are still working in the same arena, shaping policies that directly affect the daily lives of millions of Americans. Others had traded their government IDs for business cards bearing the names of well-known companies, industries, and consultancies. Would I even be able to keep up with their conversations?! But I reminded myself of a lesson learned almost exactly one year ago and showed up. And I was so glad I did!!
Upon arrival, I was immediately spotted and welcomed into the fold by a dear friend. I caught up with a former colleague who, since we last spoke, had begun a new job, bought a new home, and become a father. I checked in with my former boss about his life since leaving office. In brief but enjoyable exchanges I learned about new jobs, relationships, and travels.
As the gathering grew, I stood aside and watched: transported back to a time in which this was my "normal." A time when I was constantly surrounded by these personalities and fueled by their energy.
But at the same time, I was also aware of a palpable disconnect. There was still sincere affection in the interactions, but there was a lost intimacy.
I realized that my memories of these people - this team - were rooted in the past. Preserved in amber exactly as they had been six years ago. Seeing them gathered together again - altered by time - disturbed the static image that endured in my mind. I had always imagined being able to slide seamlessly back into the scene, but instead, I realized for the first time that my place in their world had long since ceased to exist.
Change is, of course, inevitable. And in the abstract, it is easy to wax poetic about needing to clear out the old to make room for the new - the importance of turning our focus to where we are going rather than dwelling on where we have been. But in the moment we experience it, change is often unsettling - even painful.
It is tempting to move quickly through such discomfort, but we are better served by instead being still: letting our thoughts and emotions flow and acknowledging them without judgment.
As we continue to grow and change, our path will necessarily take us away from the familiar - whether a job, a community, relationships, or some combination thereof. Even when we leave on the best of terms and believe sincerely that we are exactly where we should be, it is natural to mourn. And I would like to suggest it is also beneficial.
Next time you are confronted with a change - or realize a momentous shift has happened while your focus was elsewhere - give yourself permission to sit with it, perhaps even wrestle a bit. What did you learn from the experience - and its conclusion? What relationships will you carry forward? How have you grown? Explore change and the lessons it brings...
I love to be helpful. But I HATE asking for help. Sound familiar?
No one wants to admit they don't have it all together. We prefer to think (and behave as if) we have everything under control. All is as it should be. Smooth sailing. Easy peasy.
And often this IS the case.
But sometimes it isn't...
A few weeks ago I organized a field trip for my daughter's kindergarten class. The kiddos were excited to learn about seeds and how they travel, take a nature walk to see the process in action, and bring home a plant to observe the cycle coming full circle. I had made arrangements with the nature center, recruited a handful of parents to drive the children, and checked the various administrative boxes.
When the day arrived, the weather was perfect, and I was feeling pleased with how perfectly everything had come together. But as my daughter bounded out of the car to begin her school day, I realized a critical oversight: I had failed to ask the parents of her classmates to leave their children's carseats for the volunteer drivers...
I immediately began berating myself. What was I thinking? And WHAT am I going to do? Parents are already at work and can't be expected to drive back to the school to remedy MY ineptitude. If I don't figure something out - and SOON - it will be up to me to explain to a classroom of sweet faces why they can't go on an adventure they have been looking forward to for weeks!
My mind raced through a litany of possibilities - all of which were dismissed just as quickly as they emerged: I can call a car service with seats! But that would require additional permission slips from parents... I can run to a store and buy extra car seats! But you'll never get to the 'burbs and back in time for the field trip. And do you have any idea how much that would cost?! I had failed - and was failing to fix the problem alone.
Reluctantly, I began to think through people who might be able to help. I started with the easy asks. I reached out to a neighbor friend with whom I regularly trade favors - only to be reminded that she was at the hospital with her son who was having his tonsils removed. I checked with Addie’s godparents - amazingly generous people who have flexible work schedules many days. But their car - and seats - were across town for an important meeting.
I had no choice but to cast a wider net. Feeling wholly inadequate and utterly sheepish, I put out a plea to neighbors I barely knew and parents of classmates I had met only once or twice.
And I waited...
But not for long. Mere moments later, I was the recipient of an outpouring of generosity. Within 30 minutes I had (more than) what I needed. It was a huge relief - and hugely humbling.
While carseats for a kindergarten field trip may seem of little consequence, the experience is representative of our general reluctance to ask for help. As a result, we miss countless opportunities to flex a muscle that serves us well in more important areas of our lives.
Personally, I know that if I had not asked for - and accepted - help from a caring and wise therapist in my early 20s, I might not have overcome a destructive relationship with food and distorted body image. If I had not asked for - and accepted - help from talented doctors and specialists a decade later, I would not be a mother today.
As we enter a new month, I encourage you to think through the areas - large and small - in which you could benefit from seeking assistance. Even the most capable among us can benefit from a helping hand - and in doing so we invite others to play an important supporting role in our journey.
In the coming weeks I am committing to being honest with myself - and others - when things are not going according to plan. I am exploring opportunities to admit when I need help and gracefully accept the assistance that comes my way. Let's explore humility - and discover the freedom it brings.
When my husband announced he wanted to take our daughter on their first father-daughter trip, I was excited for them. It would be a time of special memories for them both, and I looked forward to some quiet moments at home.
I imagined settling in with a few good books, perhaps indulging in a yoga workshop, or enjoying a quiet meal with friends. But as the date approached, I hesitated. I realized that despite good intentions of a relaxing staycation, I was more likely to use the time to be "productive" - cleaning out closets, planting Spring flowers, and mapping out meals for the week ahead. I knew that before I completed my to-do list, the weekend would be over and an opportunity lost...
So I instead booked a train ticket to my happy place. And I found myself in New York City. Alone.
Despite traveling there a few times each year, stepping off the train solo seemed novel. The familiar energy felt somehow different. It was no less the loud, chaotic, and frenetic city I know and love, but I quickly became aware of a steady, almost soothing, undercurrent. The constant commotion coalesced into the perfect backdrop for a moving meditation.
Navigating the city without a companion rendered me more attentive to small details. Rather than sharing and comparing observations, I tuned into the sounds and sights that surrounded me: Snippets of conversation from passersby. Music drifting from the open window of an idling taxi. Banter among street vendors.
Rather than compiling a photographic catalogue of an epic dinner for my food-loving family, I marveled at the choreography of the dining service. The composition of each plate. The texture and taste of each bite.
The weekend became an exercise in mindfulness: stilling the perpetual motion of my inner monologue, breathing fully, and observing with all my senses.
I boarded the train back to Washington feeling refreshed - and inspired. The weekend's itinerary was nearly identical to prior visits, but moving through the days in silence yielded an entirely different experience. As I watched the miles pass by through the window of the train, I wondered: how can I continue to savor this sense of stillness?
The answer is simple - if not easy. It IS possible to experience silence - no matter how raucous our surroundings - but we have to be intentional about it.
As you enter a new month, consider the possibilities of incorporating silence into your daily routine: Can you savor a cup of tea in the midst of a clamoring coffee shop? Or open a book on a park bench (or your couch) surrounded by the cacophony of children at play? Is it possible to "disconnect" from devices on your commute and instead tune in to the stillness that lies beneath the chaos?
I am committed to finding (and creating) opportunities in the month ahead - and I invite you to join me. Let's explore silence - and experience the serenity it brings.
Can I ask you a question? Is reading this newsletter just one more thing on your to-do list? Is it adding to your already unmanageable inbox overflow? Are you just plain over it? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, I encourage you to unsubscribe. Truly. It won’t hurt my feelings. I promise.
But that hasn’t always been the case...
When I launched this newsletter nearly five and a half years ago (?!) I sent it to an assortment of family, friends, colleagues, and students. The response was warm and supportive (as one might expect from a hand selected audience) - and I was encouraged.
Over time, the audience grew as members of that initial group recommended the writings to people in their network. Others stumbled onto my website and found the content a good match. Members of the infertility community, new students, and complete strangers reached out to say they found value in the offerings, and it warmed my heart.
But some early members decided the content wasn't relevant to them. Others determined after joining that the material wasn't what they needed or wanted. They unsubscribed. And my little heart hurt. EVERY ONE one of those rejections felt personal and consequential.
I began to fixate on the attrition. What did I do wrong? Was the most recent posting too personal? Not personal enough? Did it fail to connect? Was I merely spouting derivative drivel? Even when the losses were more than offset by new subscribers I was convinced my efforts were futile. Who was I to think I had anything to say?! I should really just stop wasting everyone's time...
But little by little, I found myself less distressed. When I let go of my fear of rejection, I became better able to enjoy the process. I decided to reduce the frequency of my output to a level that felt sustainable and allowed ideas to steep a little longer. I gained greater confidence in discerning what I wanted to say and knowing the message would reach the audience who needed/wanted to hear it. It took time, but the transition was immensely freeing. And I think it has applications far beyond newsletter readership.
Rejection is part of the journey for us all. People enter and leave our lives for reasons as diverse and varied as the individuals themselves. And while these transitions can at first feel uncomfortable, we have a choice: we can allow rejection to send us into spirals of self-doubt, or we can try to learn from it.
Consider your current relationships. Is fear of rejection causing you to second-guess yourself or try to be someone you are not? Try letting go of your need for approval and instead invest that time and energy in relationships and endeavors that encourage you to be YOUR best self. Or maybe you are reluctant to part ways with someone because you fear the effect of your rejection on them. Consider whether you can do them - and yourself - a favor by flexing your rejection muscle (gently), thereby enabling them to grow on their own terms.
Every rejection we experience creates space for growth and a fresh perspective. It also frees up time and energy to invest in those few, rare, enduring relationships and endeavors that ground us and provide true value. As we enter a new month, I encourage you to explore the idea of rejection and consider what lessons it may hold for you...
It has been an emotional week in the New Beginnings household. I celebrated a milestone birthday over the weekend, and I felt all. the. things.
I fully recognize I am neither the first nor the only human to enter a new decade. This is not uncharted territory. I have been privileged to witness firsthand as family members and friends navigated this shift - setting beautiful examples of graceful transition. Some were intentional and proactive: declaring bold goals and embarking on new adventures. Others took it in stride: acknowledging the day as nothing more than another step on their journey.
Until last week I was in the latter camp. Life is moving forward - and it’s good! I have an incredible kiddo and a wonderful husband. I enjoy what I am doing and have bandwidth to explore my interests and invest in my community. Another decade of the same seemed like a perfectly lovely continuation...
But as we bid farewell to the latest of our series of houseguests - sandwiched between a flurry of fun weekend jaunts both near and far - I took a deep breath. And as my body and mind truly settled for the first time this quarter, I was seized by panic: I’ve done no planning! I’m not prepared! I’m missing a huge opportunity for intentional living here!
How can I achieve goals I haven't even set?! How can I fix everything that is wrong if I don't identify it? I've read the books and listened to the podcasts: If we want to be successful, we MUST be prepared! We MUST retreat, reflect, envision, and execute! And we MUST document the process and pristine outcome with an effortlessly flawless photo on social media!
As strongly as I felt the pull to wallow in regret for this missed opportunity, life's rhythms didn't accommodate a distraction-free retreat to figure it all out. Instead, the routine events of the week propelled me forward. I found joy in helping a friend with a project, gained confidence by pushing myself out of my comfort zone professionally, and reveled in the presence of a not-so-tiny-anymore miracle who will be celebrating a birthday of her own next week.
I also folded laundry, washed the car, paid bills, and stocked the refrigerator. And I was reminded that as much as we may crave some externally defined ideal, we live in a real world where sometimes the steps come out of order - or late - or not at all. The earth continues to rotate and revolve, kiddos continue to grow, lists and to-dos continue to accumulate - and this cycle is its own version of perfection.
Every one of our inconveniences, unremarkable experiences, and complicated relationships are part of life. And all carry within them the potential to help us grow in wisdom and grace - expanding our perspective beyond ourselves and the microscopic corner of the universe we inhabit.
At some point, I will take time to consider whether I could benefit from simple changes to my rhythm in this new chapter. But in these opening days of a new decade, I am resolving to conclude that life - with all its imperfections - is exactly as it should be. Whether you are in the midst of transition or a period of stability, I encourage you to explore the idea that your life - just as it is in this very moment - IS perfect. Won't you join me?
Those of you who know me can attest to my love for planning, order, and organization. The same is true for my husband. And - for better or worse - we have passed these traits down to our daughter. After returning from the second of two back-to-back weekend vacations, our daughter announced at the dinner table, "Isn't it so nice to get back into routine?!"
As much as her father and I love travel, we couldn't disagree. Reliable rhythms are important to us. Weekends, in particular, follow a schedule that bring us great joy: Poetry Saturdays, Dance Party Sundays, and relaxing afternoons with neighbors in the courtyard are something to which we all look forward.
On a recent weekend, the weather prevented a courtyard outing, so we brought the playdate into our home. While my daughter and her friend invented their own imaginary worlds, I started preparing dinner. An hour later, the friend's father arrived, with his son in tow, to pick her up. The girls pleaded for "five more minutes" to finish up their latest adventure, and we offered our neighbor a glass of wine. Not much time had passed when his wife arrived, wearing their third child, to check on the status. As I poured her a glass I heard myself say, "Would you all like to stay for dinner?"
I didn't know whether to be delighted or terrified when they accepted. What followed was utter chaos as we attempted to stretch our three-person menu to accommodate our new party of eight. Mixing bowls and cutting boards cluttered the countertops. Dishes piled precariously high in the sink. Energetic kiddos ran rampant at volumes rarely heard in our home...
But the spontaneous nature of the gathering overrode the pressures of perfectionism. We hastily threw together a snack plate to keep everyone sated while we worked. Our neighbor disappeared and returned with cheese and wine to share. Laughter filled the air.
When everything was ready, we sat down to a table set with mismatched plates and napkins. By the end of the evening, the floor was littered with crumbs. But a lovely evening was enjoyed by all. One spontaneous invitation yielded a wonderful opportunity to connect with people whose company we enjoy and offered a glimpse into a different way of being that felt at once both exhilaratingly novel and surprisingly comfortable.
At the forefront of a new year, I am aiming to experience more of this. To be more spontaneous. To extend - and accept - more invitations for impromptu connections. To leave more uncommitted windows in our family calendar and let go - if only occasionally - of the plans and routines that ground us.
How about you? What would it look - and feel - like to let go of the tight grip you wield over your schedule? To extend an invitation before mapping out a menu? To accept a last-minute offer of a glass of wine or cup of coffee? Can you allow yourself to explore spontaneity?
A new year. A blank slate. A fresh start. Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Something embedded deep within us craves the chance to brush ourselves off and start over. And at the outset of a new year, the possibilities seem endless.
In the New Beginnings household, the year ahead is brimming with potential. We will celebrate a milestone birthday and a significant anniversary. We will help the babe navigate a major transition. We will attend more (?!?) weddings and embark on an epic family adventure. In between, we’ll pause to acknowledge some quarter birthdays and (hopefully) settle into a life rhythm that serves us well. Along the way there will undoubtedly be unexpected delights. There will be moments of monotony. There will be disappointments. We will rejoice, we will rest, and we will grieve.
And as these experiences arise - from the marvelous to the mundane - I am embracing a spirit of exploration. Welcoming the opportunity to fully experience each development - whether good, bad, or indifferent. To relish the thrill of soaring, learn the lessons that come from falling down, and absorb the replenishment of the quiet interregnums. To enter situations both new and familiar with curiosity.
How about you? What do you want to explore in the year to come? Is there a destination you want to visit - or revisit? Is there a skill you want to learn - or refine? Is there a person you want to meet - or get to know better? What is holding you back?
Whether a new activity, new relationship, or new continent - I invite you to join me in a year of exploration. Let's see what we can discover...