When I chose the theme of Facing Fear for 2016, I had no idea how scary this year would be. I didn't know I would take a solo journey halfway around the world. I wasn't prepared for the reality of my daughter starting preschool. I had no idea I would find myself sharing intensely personal information with thousands of people. And I certainly didn't anticipate another major life shift.
The past four years have been remarkable. I was blessed by the birth of an amazing tiny human. I left a job and an office I loved to venture into the unknown world of yogi-preneurship. I shared encouragement with an ever-increasing community of readers through the blog and these newsletters. I helped people find balance and flexibility - both on the yoga mat and in their day to day lives. These shifts have been incredibly rewarding, but as 2016 drew to a close, I found myself looking for something more...
With my daughter now in a morning preschool program, I reflected on how I could invest my newfound bandwidth. I considered expanding my roster of private clients. I thought about adding a few studio classes to my schedule. I researched freelance writing and editing opportunities. But before I could dive into any of these endeavors, a little voice inside whispered, "Wait. Be still." So I did.
And then in the course of connecting with an old friend and colleague, the next step became clear. Unexpected life events changed her career trajectory, and she has spent the past few years channeling her passions into a daunting but powerful effort to serve families who are hurting. She was making incredible progress and affecting meaningful change but overwhelmed by the amount of work required to move it forward.
I left our lunch inspired and excited. I thought back to my mother ushering me out the door each day as a child with a simple directive: Make a Difference. It seemed so simple, yet I was anxious about putting myself out there. Why did I think I had anything to add? Who was I to believe I had a talent or skillset that would prove valuable to the organization?
But the same small voice that encouraged me to be still whispered again, this time saying, "Try..." I called my friend back and said, "Put me to work." And she did.
Every new year brings changes - big and small - into our lives. Sometimes we find ourselves at a crossroads; at other times, we feel the desire to change course when it is least expected. Whether a new job, a new family member, a new city, a new hobby, or a new experience, in the coming year you will have an opportunity to change and grow - perhaps in ways you didn't anticipate. As we look ahead to 2017, I encourage you to embrace, rather than fear, those changes and continue to move down your own unique path.
I come from a family who holds things close to the vest. They are an amazing, supportive, generous, loving group of people - they just don't want to talk about it. Deep expressions of affection are conveyed by a hearty pat on the back - and no matter the storm brewing inside, if asked what is wrong, we will tell you we are, "Fine, just fine."
So when my husband and I were struggling to start a family, we didn't share many details - even with some of our closest friends and family. It wasn't that we were ashamed or afraid of how they would respond, we simply preferred to keep the experience - and its roller-coaster of emotions - to ourselves.
When I began working to help other women facing the challenges of infertility, I knew sharing was critical to the healing process, but I was far more comfortable facilitating the discussion than participating. I would provide a general outline of our journey - numbers, protocols, procedures, and results - but I kept my story brief and quickly pivoted to "listen and encourage" mode.
But last month, I learned the Huffington Post was seeking essays as part of its coverage of National Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month. At first it didn't seem a natural fit: if I couldn't share my feelings with those closest to me, why would I expose something so personal to a broader audience? But I couldn't get the idea out of my head.
So I sat down to write. And when I finished, I felt that a weight I didn't know existed had been lifted from my shoulders. If nothing else, the exercise was therapeutic, I thought.
I sent the piece to an editor the next day, and it was published. And read. By thousands of people. Our story was out there - not just for our closest friends - not just for my students, but for anyone curious enough to click on a headline link.
I was unprepared for what came next. I received responses from complete strangers in similar positions who were grateful to know they were not alone. Others thanked me for being honest about the ugly feelings that can accompany loss. Any fear I had about making our story public vanished. Knowing I had been helpful gave me peace.
There are many occasions when keeping our feelings to ourselves is perfectly acceptable - perhaps advisable. But there are other times when it is helpful, even healing, to open up and give voice to what we are experiencing and how it affects us.
Is there something you need to share - whether with a trusted confidant or a larger audience? If so, take a deep breath and put it out there. Your act may be just the medicine you need - and you might help someone else along the way...
Halloween. Ghouls and goblins. Haunted houses. October has become synonymous with fear. And as I looked ahead on the editorial calendar, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about this month: the fear of releasing my one and only baby girl into the unknown world of preschool. Watching my tearful daughter walk reluctantly through the gates (and away from me) on her first day would be terrifying for both of us. She would be left to fend for herself, and I would be paralyzed by the powerlessness of not being able to provide constant reassurance or help her navigate an unfamiliar environment and new relationships.
I had brainstormed all manner of ways to help her process the transition. I was ready to lavish with love and compassion. I devised strategies to ease her anxiety and bolster confidence. But the day came and went with none of the expected fear (at least for her). And today - more than three weeks in - nothing has changed. She loves it.
I'm embarrassed to admit her enthusiasm and confidence has proven more unsettling than the drama I anticipated. I was ready to help! I had it all figured out. This was my moment to be "Supermama!" But that isn't how it unfolded. In true toddler fashion, she embraced the moment and found joy. While in true mama fashion, I overthought and over-prepared and ended up overwhelmed.
Much of our fear and anxiety stems from what we don't know. But even more of our pain and frustration comes from trying to control outcomes over which we have no power. When approaching new situations, we do everything we can to ready ourselves and create an action plan, but as often as not, our work amounts to wasted time and energy.
How many times have you diligently prepared for an expected outcome only to find yourself caught flat footed when things turned out differently? Perhaps it was the job interview for which you studied the company, its product, and its culture but became tongue tied when asked, "Why do you want to work here?" Or the challenging conversation you rehearsed over and over only to find the conflict easily resolved.
What if - instead of spending so much time and energy preparing for the worst - we focused on responding with grace to whatever comes our way? We will all eventually face the "unknown unknowns" of life, but they needn't be a source of fear. It is good to be prepared, but it is even more important to be present. Only when we are able to stand in the middle of the marketplace with all its sound and fury and be still can we summon the courage the situation requires.
Next time you find yourself growing anxious about an upcoming transition or unknown environment, can you pause in your preparations and power plays and simply be present? You just might find you have everything you need - and discover some joy along the way.
Imperfection is a familiar theme on these pages. We spent a year reflecting on the concept and learning how to embrace - or at least accept - it. I have been intentional about acknowledging its ubiquity in my own life. But in recent weeks it feels like I have been taking one step forward and two steps back...
For the past month I have been on a blogging sabbatical. I chose this timing intentionally to coincide with the leisurely last gasp of summer that is August in our nation's capital. I set aside time to evaluate whether the website and blog were meeting the needs of readers and staying true to the original vision. I had grand visions of investing hours, days, even weeks to make it all perfect. I wanted it to be beautiful! More user-friendly! More interactive! And I was excited about the prospect of unveiling the final product in all its glory on September 1.
As with any Angelyn venture, I laid out a carefully considered plan. I solicited feedback, investigated best practices, and reflected on what I find most valuable in the sites and offerings I enjoy. Then I sat down with my piles of information to get down to work. But I froze. Because the more excited I became about sharing the "perfect" product, the more daunting the idea became. What made me think I could do this on my own? I'm not remotely technical. I'm not even artistic. I have no idea what I'm doing. What if others don't like it? Or worse - what if they don't even care?
So I surrendered to the many opportunities for distraction that summer provides. I read books that had nothing to do with web design or consumer data. I watched movies with loved ones. I introduced the babe to the grand spectacle that is the Olympic games. I retreated with friends. I took up a new hobby (more on this to come!). And I soaked up as many precious moments as I could before my sweet girl begins her preschool program later this month (Aaack!).
As the date for the "unveiling" approached, I found myself paralyzed. I convinced myself that I just needed more time. If I held off one more month I could really focus. I could consult with a professional. I could hire a team to make it perfect.
But I could not ignore the small voice in the back of my mind who whispered it would never be perfect - and putting imperfections on display is an important part of the journey. My heart's desire in this endeavor is to provide resources, encouragement, and a connection point for real people - all of us living in our respective versions of imperfection. Pursuing our dreams. And sharing what we learn along the way.
So I am moving forward with the current version of my imperfect offering. I hope you like it. But more than that, I hope it offers encouragement, valuable tools, and an occasional smile. Where you see room for improvement, let me know! We're on this road together. Let's keep going...
Few things remind us more effectively of our lack of control than air travel. I was faced with this reality three times in as many weeks, but it was only when fear entered the equation that I lost perspective...
At the end of June I headed to Chicago to connect with family. I boarded the plane eager to commence the weekend's scheduled activities, but as minutes on the runway turned into hours, it became clear our carefully crafted plans were for naught. As passengers grumbled, our captain kept us apprised of our status, but it seemed there was nothing he could do to change the circumstances. So we sat. And waited. During that time I could hear the admonishment of my mother: Don't let your blessings be a curse, and I did my best to reframe the circumstances. By the time the plane landed I was able to let go of my expectations and enjoy the balance of the weekend.
One week later, as my husband and I left for an Independence Day weekend getaway, we suffered the same fate. This time the plane took off without issue, but shortly thereafter we were placed in a holding pattern because of weather conditions at our destination. After an hour of circling, we were advised that if the situation did not clear in the next 10 minutes the pilot would have no choice but to reverse course and return us to our airport of origination - from which we would be unlikely to leave because of holiday weekend travel demand. So we sat. And waited. As the plane circled I did my best to stay positive, reassuring myself that irrespective of where we spent the next few days, we would enjoy our time together.
In both scenarios I was ultimately able to let go of expectations and surrender to my lack of control. But when confronted by a similar situation the following week, the stakes felt significantly higher.
After spending several days with my parents in the Midwest, my daughter was en route back to D.C. with her grandmother. This trip marked the longest we had been separated from the babe in her three and a half years of life, and my husband and I were eager to have her home.
I drove to the airport, parked, and walked inside to greet them upon arrival. The monitor indicated the flight was delayed by 10 minutes, so I took a seat in the waiting area. When the allotted time had passed, I checked the flight status online: Aircraft Diverted to Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh??! I felt my adrenaline kick in. This was not part of the plan. I NEED TO SEE MY BABY! NOW! I spoke with an airline attendant who confirmed the course change and said they had no additional information to offer.
Even in the moment I recognized my fear was irrational. My daughter was traveling with an experienced mother, grandmother, and entrepreneuer who would use her ingenuity and resources to get the babe home safely as quickly as humanly possible. But I felt helpless. So I sat. And waited. But this time I also stewed: Why did I think this was a good idea? I should have been the one to make this trip with my daughter. What if they get stuck in Pittsburgh? What if they have to spend the night? What a debacle!
Fortunately, my more level-headed husband and mother avoided the pit of despair about what we couldn't change and instead focused on what they could do. In less than an hour, they secured a car service to deliver the babe and her Grandmama safely to our door before the clock struck midnight.
Most of the frustrations we encounter are relatively minor and easily resolved. Occasionally we have to jump through a few extra hoops to reach our desired end, but we gain nothing by allowing our minds to be clouded by futile fretting.
When confronted by challenging situations, we benefit from pausing to consider whether we have the power to influence our circumstances. If so, we can - and should - take action. At other times we may be unable to effect change, but that doesn't mean we are powerless. We always have the ability to set aside irrational fear, assess our options, and proceed with clarity.
Next time you are confronted by your lack of control, I encourage you to set aside fear and move forward with your eyes wide open. Allow yourself to see things clearly.
When my daughter was born I took scores of pictures. Daily. I wanted to capture every expression, every movement, and every new development. In those early weeks I spent entire mornings creating a "photo of the day" to share with friends and family. Like most infants, our girl slept much and moved little, which made it easy to document every tiny shift.
As she began to move more and sleep less, my hands and mind became busier, and I allowed the pendulum to swing high in the opposite direction. The babe entered the world of music classes, park outings, and play dates around the same time that I transitioned out of my former job and into a new venture that didn't require 24/7 email monitoring and response. Feeling doubly liberated, we often ventured out of the house leaving my phone - and by extension the camera - at home.
I was excited about experiencing life alongside her and adamant about not wasting important moments trapped behind the viewfinder. Increasingly aware of how quickly time was passing, I was eager to focus both hands and my full attention on our adventures.
But as time passed and our days became more full, they began to run together. I caught myself making mental notes of funny observations to share with family and friends - only to forget the details before the day was through.
I was trapped in the tension between two fears: the fear of missing out and the fear of forgetting. I struggled with whether I should pause to memorialize a memory or focus on being fully present in the moment. Should I stop to take a picture, or race her across the field? Should I record a video of her impromptu ukelele concert or grab a microphone and sing along? Meanwhile, I was losing precious moments to unnecessary internal arguments that were preventing me from being the mindful mama I want to be.
We all find ourselves caught between competing fears from time to time. Perhaps you debate whether to (re)join the dating scene, thereby risking heartbreak - or embrace single life and possibly end up without a life partner. Maybe you are torn between remaining in a job that is secure but uninspiring or accepting the uncertain financial future that accompanies pursuing a passion.
Whatever inner battles you may face, one thing is certain: getting caught up in anxiety about what you should do isn't helpful. Often what we need most is to pause and take a deep breath. Only then can we clearly assess our options and make a bold choice based on facts not fears.
Are you trapped between fears (real or imagined)? Try setting aside judgment about what you should do, tune in to your heart, and move forward with confidence.
My first international adventure took place during college, when I spent a Summer studying in Greece. This was in the days before the proliferation of smartphones and the ability to capture, edit, and transmit every observation, thought, and experience in real-time. I took photos on film, not knowing for days - or even weeks - how they would turn out, but fully aware that among the gems would be a healthy dose of poor angles, closed eyes, and bad lighting. I also journaled extensively - noting the highs, lows, and everything in between.
As I departed for my recent South African expedition, I determined to be equally diligent in capturing the experience. Thanks to modern technology, however, this time I was able to see the photos and videos immediately and choose which to keep and which to delete. And instead of recording the events of each day in a journal, I sent sporadic updates to the babe and her father - focusing on the highlights and best experiences.
My return home coincided with a burst of work travel for the babe's father, and I found myself continuing to play the role of archivist. I sent him pictures of her playground antics and videos of clever remarks. As the days went on, I found myself editing - not merely photos, but also my daughter. "That was so funny! Can you say it again so I can send a video to Papa?" "Wow - look at you up there! Hold on so I can get a picture."
When I realized what I was doing, I recalled a Ted Talk in which the presenter suggested the current generation is experiencing the present as an anticipated memory. At the time I thought his was a sad, but accurate, observation, and here I was doing the very same thing.
We are all at risk of falling into this pattern. It seems more natural to carefully cultivate our desired image than to acknowledge - let alone embrace - our flaws. Rather than allowing each moment to unfold, we seek to memorialize events as we wish they had happened: My child wasn't a terror at this age - look at his angelic smile in this picture. The party wasn't a failure - you can see how much fun we were having!
If we are being honest with ourselves (and others), we must admit our lives are a blend of brilliant and banal, equal parts beautiful and beastly. And this is how it should be. We need contrast to appreciate the full spectrum of our experiences. By editing every flaw out of our reality, we rob ourselves of the richness of life.
As we enter Summer, I am committing to living unedited. To allow experiences to unfold in all their glorious disarray. To capture pictures that reflect life as it happens - the good, the bad, and the ugly. Won't you join me? Let's be real.
When this newsletter reaches your inbox, I will be halfway around the world. Literally. I am holding out hope that at the moment you are reading this I will be having a wonderful time connecting with a dear friend, exploring a new (to me) part of the world, and gratefully soaking up a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But today, on the eve of departure, I am terrified...
Shortly after the birth of my daughter, a dear friend from high school shared she had been offered a job in South Africa. For many of us, the distant location would be a deal-breaker, but for this intrepid soul and world traveler, it was a selling point. I knew immediately I wanted to visit. After all, what better opportunity to cross a South African adventure off my bucket list than with a good friend playing tour guide?! But my brand-new-mama brain couldn't process the logistics involved - let alone imagine leaving the babe and her father to fend for themselves for such a long trip - so I filed it away to revisit at some undetermined point in the future.
In the interim, every time my friend would post another amazing photo captured on safari or write another restaurant review for her travel blog, the thought would resurface: It would be wonderful to visit... And last fall, when she was in town for a friend's wedding, we had the opportunity to catch up in person. As she recounted her latest travel adventure over a glass of wine, I knew the time had come. I told her I was in!
At first I was positively giddy: Travel! Adventure! Safari! Bucket list! I picked up a floppy hat and the requisite khaki and olive wardrobe items. I downloaded enough books to get me through the nearly 40 hours of flight. I dusted off my "good" camera. I was - and am - all set, but at this moment, I'm a wreck.
Rationally, I recognize there is not one legitimate reason for anxiety. I know enough about the professionalism and safety of the reserve to know I will not be eaten by a lion or caught in an elephant stampede. I am well aware that my husband and daughter will get along just fine without me - and create some special memories together during my absence. I know my dear friend (and fellow introvert) well enough to be confident we will have plenty to discuss during our time together and be equally comfortable in moments of silent companionship.
But I remain inexplicably uneasy. Maybe I am hesitant to experience a once-in-a-lifetime adventure without my spouse. Perhaps I have some lingering insecurity about the people in my life realizing they can survive perfectly well without me. It's possible some small part of me actually fears an elephant stampede.
At the end of the day it doesn't matter. We have all found ourselves shying away from opportunities because of an irrational anxiety. Have you ever hesitated to extend - or accept - an invitation to get to know a charming stranger better? Have you skipped your regular yoga class when a sub was teaching because you didn't know what to expect? Have you opted not to join friends at a new restaurant because the cuisine was unfamiliar?
Just because an anxiety is irrational doesn't mean we don't feel it acutely, but we do ourselves a disservice if we allow it to curtail opportunities to learn and grow. We owe it to ourselves to face such fears head on. So I am. And I encourage you to do the same.
What bold action can you take to overcome an irrational fear? Don't just think about it - do it! Ready or not, South Africa, here I come...
This month marks the 10 year anniversary of the first yoga class I taught. I was fresh from my teacher training program and eager to share what I had learned. I would spend hours mapping out class plans, preparing for every possibility, double- and triple-checking that I had remembered to bring my music (on a CD!), my lavender oil, and the quote or reading I wanted to share to set the theme for the class. Every time I stepped through the door of the classroom I had to remind myself to breathe. I repeated over and over to myself that I was qualified to be here, I had knowledge to share, and this is something I wanted to do (even if I couldn't remember exactly why in the moment...).
At different points during those early classes I would nervously scan the faces of students to see how it was being received. This wasn't necessarily helpful. If I glimpsed a grimace, I would wonder whether the student was exploring his edge or passing judgment on a poor playlist selection. An audible sigh from the back of the room would cause me to question whether someone was enjoying a deep stretch or exasperated by the very idea of the pose. It wouldn't be until the end of a class, when someone would come tell me how much better they felt or thank me for helping them work through a challenge that I could breathe a sigh of relief.
But somehow, despite the early anxiety, I kept teaching - and learning. Over time, my perspective shifted: I stopped being worried about how my teaching was being perceived and started focusing on what I was offering. I discovered how to read the energy of the room - whether students were exhausted and in need of support and encouragement, or whether they were eager for a challenge that could help them channel their restlessness. I gained the confidence to set aside my carefully crafted class plan and instead respond to the individuals I saw in front of me. I became comfortable creating a signature style and voice rather than simply echo my own mentors. And when I finally learned how to trust myself, teaching became not just rewarding, but also fun!
No matter your profession or relationship it is important to observe and listen to your students/clients/friends/colleagues. It is wise to be well researched and prepared and follow the guidance of your mentors but there comes a point at which you also need to recognize what you bring to the table and trust that you know what you are doing. After a decade of teaching, I still create a plan for my classes. I still double-check my bag of teaching materials. But I have stopped holding my breath. And as a result, I am having a lot more fun.
Whether you are a brand new yoga teacher or veteran Hill staffer - first time parent or wise Great Aunt, you have a unique perspective, a valid voice, and something to contribute. Someone needs to hear what you have to say. Take a deep breath, step forward, and let your light shine!
I saw a fellow yoga teacher in class recently, and she relayed she was there because a client cancelled their regular session. She was excited to have some free time in her day and joked that while she could see the shift as an opportunity to practice self care, not so long ago it would have sent her into a downward spiral of self doubt.
I laughed at the familiarity of both sentiments. I also am grateful for "found" moments - unexpected windows of time that allow me to tackle a project - or simply sit still and breathe. But I am not immune to the waves of insecurity they can trigger: He cancelled our session because he is bored with my teaching. I really should work harder on my sequencing. Who am I kidding - I'm just not that good of a teacher. Why did I ever think I could make this yoga thing work?!
We have all been there. The Impostor Syndrome is very real. No matter how hard working, well qualified, and skilled we may be - no matter how many accolades we have received from family, friends, and colleagues - we feel we are in some way undeserving. We think we have arrived in our position because we were in the right place at the right time - or because someone did us a favor. And we fear we are one small misstep away from being discovered, and dismissed.
These fears go deeper than just our professional identities. How many times have you tried to explain away a compliment with a self-deprecating response? I'm not a particularly good parent I was just blessed with an amazing child. I'm not very smart, I just read a lot. I'm not a great cook, I just follow recipes.
These patterns are harmful - and often deeply ingrained, but that doesn't mean we need to be defined by them. We all have within us the power to rewrite our narrative. Sometimes a simple shift of perspective is all we need. Rather than focusing on our perceived flaws, we can choose to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. We can call upon our inner Stuart Smalley and remind ourselves that, "We are good enough. We are smart enough. And doggone it, people like us!"
It also can be helpful to acknowledge objective facts. It may be true that your uncle made a phone call that got you a job interview, but you have thrived in your subsequent career because of your hard work and determination. You may have convinced yourself you are a horrible hostess, but people continue to come to your home because you make them feel welcome and cared for.
In trying moments, it can be reassuring to take a cue from the people in your life who love and support you and hold tight to the encouragement they offer. Next time you receive a compliment or accolade, sit with it. Allow the sentiment to become familiar. And if all else fails, allow yourself to be "fooled" along with the rest of the world - and enjoy the ride...