A few days ago, I wrote a post about all the things I did in 2014 that I’m proud of. There are many more things that didn’t go as planned that deserve high-fives, too. What didn’t go so right for you in 2014? Here’s my list:
– My housing situation was a mess thanks to the outrageous New York City real estate market. My apartment building went condo and there was no option for me to stay. I wasn’t willing to spend a lot of money on a lease that would lock me into a mediocre place, and all I could find in the rental market in my price range was mediocre at best. (Broker fees, the cost of moving, and the extensive money I would have had to put down just to get in the door would have cost me at least ~$10,000.) So, I left the best apartment I’ve ever had to move to a temporary sublet to then make the decision to leave New York altogether. Not having a home of my own for most of the year was very scary, but it’s turned out to be a blessing. I love being (very) near my family for the first time in a long time. And thought I didn’t know it at the tie, the Universe knew I was ready for a new adventure in a new place. Still, I do look forward to having a home that I own. No more renting for me.
– I faced rejection every single day. I constantly pitched my writing and voice over work so for every win, there were literally dozens of losses that added up to hundreds of rejections in 2014. That’s the name of the game as a writer, and though each rejection stings, I’ve learned to move on quickly. Each one makes me stronger and brings me closer to that big hit that I know will eventually come my way.
– I dealt with a number of challenging consulting clients. I did far too much work for not nearly enough money. I decided it was time to close down the independent consulting side of my business and focus on my writing. I knew that day would come, but I thought it would be years down the line. The Universe had other plans.
– After four years, Compass Yoga closed its doors. That was a very painful decision, but I know it was the right one for me from both a personal and professional perspective.
– On the dating front, I had a few promising starts but I am ending the year single. I’m also wiser and more confident as a result. I’m hoping dating in Florida trumps dating in New York. We shall see. I trust the timing of my life. When the right guy shows up, I’ll know. And I’m always willing to be set up because hey, you never know!
Through all of these experiences, I grew into a stronger, braver, and more resilient person. That’s what matters most. 2014 was still the best year I’ve ever had despite these missteps, and many more. Welcome, 2015. I’m ready.
Part of the puzzle of pursuing a path that is meaningful to us involves learning to weather the tough times. I’ve had my fair share and I’m sure have many, many storms waiting for me around the bend. These few things help me to keep going when the going gets rough:
I look for the good. Every situation, no matter how difficult, has something good about it. A friend rises up to help in a way I never expected. I gain more compassion for other people who go through tough times. There’s always some light in the darkness.
I make sure I learn what go me into the tough situation and what will get me out. As long as I learn something to help me avoid making the same mistake again, I think of it as a win.
I stop. When I face a challenge, I step back and ask myself if I really carry enough about the end goal to keep going. This reflection helps me to understand my priorities.
I let myself feel really bad. Buddhism teaches us that the only way to move through adversity is to feel the full range of emotions it brings – anger, fear, sadness, disappointment, rage, etc. We have to give ourselves room to feel anything and everything that arises. Only after I’m truly done with those emotions do I pick up and try again. Don’t put a timeline on that process. Sometimes I bounce back almost immediately and sometimes it takes much longer than I’d like it to take. Emotions are like that. They can’t be forced to do anything. They just are. We have a right to all of our feelings and it’s healthy to exercise them.
Failure and disappointment are a part of every life. I don’t know a single person alive who’s ever gotten every single thing they ever wanted. When I fail or when I’m disappointed, I eventually remind myself that this means I tried to reach for something that meant a lot to me. I tried and in the process, I lived. When I look back, I’d rather have a life filled with “oh well” rather than a life filled with “what if”.
Arthur Miller gave up the theater after his play, The Man Who Had All the Luck, flopped horribly on Broadway. It ran for only 4 performances in 1944. He attempted to write novels after that, and they flopped too. So he went back to the theater and several years later finished the Tony Award-winning play All My Sons, one of the most beloved, heart-wrenching, and successful in theater history. It took him 5 years to write it and was his first successful production. At the time of its debut, it was panned critically save for Brooks Atkinson’s review in the New York Times. Mr. Atkinson is often credited with rescuing the piece from failure. 2 years later, Miller wrote Death of a Salesman in 6 weeks and it won the Pulitzer.
Miller said this about watching All My Sons for the first time with an audience:
“The success of a play, especially one’s first success, is somewhat like pushing against a door which is suddenly opened from the other side. One may fall on one’s face or not, but certainly a new room is opened that was always securely shut until then. For myself, the experience was invigorating. It made it possible to dream of daring more and risking more. The audience sat in silence before the unwinding of All My Sons and gasped when they should have, and I tasted that power which is reserved, I imagine, for playwrights, which is to know that by one’s invention a mass of strangers has been publicly transfixed.”
It would have been very easy for Mr. Miller to give up writing after his early string of failures. At that point, there was no reason to believe he would ever be successful. And yet, he kept going. He kept trying as he worked menial jobs to make ends meet while remaining passionate about his craft. All he had was raw determination.
Maybe you’ve tried to do something and it wasn’t as successful as you wanted it to be even though you gave it everything you had. Maybe you’re thinking about throwing in the towel and getting a new dream. You’re in good company. At many points, Miller considered giving up. How could he not? But he didn’t. He started again. He took the second step, and it’s that step that made all the difference, for him, for us, and for the American theater. Follow that lead.
To sign up for updates on my new book, Your Second Step: What to Do After Your Leap, by clicking here.
“Optimist: Someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward is not a disaster. It’s the cha-cha.” ~ Robert Brault
Forward, back. Forward, back. This is exactly what happens whenever we try to build something. It’s the dance of trial-error-and-trial-again. This is true of everything I’ve ever done. Nothing has ever been a linear progression from 0 to 60. The fun is in learning to ride the wave. When the roller coaster pulls up beside you, hand over your ticket, grab a seat (I recommend the front one because you can see better!), buckle up, and learn.
“Fall, then figure out what to do on the way down.” ~ Del Close
I fall a lot. You might say I’ve become an expert faller. I often choose to do something knowing that I’ll fall just so I can learn something. Given the choice between the smooth sailing road and a vertical climb, I’ll take the vertical every time. I try things that don’t work out as I hope or expect. I take up new hobbies, explore new interests, and take myself way outside my comfort zone on a regular basis. I’ve taken jobs that didn’t work out, moved to new cities in an attempt to find “home”, and been in relationships that crashed and burned and rose only to crash and burn and rise again.
Falling down makes me feel alive. All my senses are activated. When I fall, I am fully aware of where I am and what I’m feeling. I’m reminded that everything runs in a cycle. Birth, death, and renewal comprise a constant loop. There’s something thrilling about being out there on the edge, pushing the boundaries, reaching for things that are just out of reach. It makes me stronger. It helps me understand what’s important.
“Make failure your teacher, not your undertaker.” ~ Zig Ziglar
There is a lot of talk about failure. Fail fast, fail often is the creed of many an entrepreneur and innovator. But what do you do about failure? How do you move on after it and what do you do with the experience of failure? Here’s a short list of how I’ve processed my (many!) failures and created something valuable from them.
1.) I learned what not to do. We hear this kind of advice all of the time when we have a terrible boss (and sadly, we’ve all had terrible bosses.) They didn’t teach us what to do but they sure as heck taught us what not to do. This is true of failure as well. We experiment with different ideas, crossing off what doesn’t work in an effort to find what does work. Finding success is largely a process of eliminating ideas that don’t work.
2.) I figured out how to build a team. I never want to be the smartest person in the room. Ever. I want everyone else to be heads and shoulders above me with completely different skill sets and interests that complement mine. I build my teams the same way. The collaborative process of a team is one in which every member contributes something unique so that everyone maximizes their learning opportunity.
3.) Know when to press on in the face of adversity and when to quit. Kenny Rogers may have been talking about gambling but his line “you gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run” is as true in the business as it is in poker. Failure taught me when to cut my losses and stop throwing good money, time, effort, and attention, after bad. It also taught me when to tough it out and get through hard times for the sake of the success that lies just beyond the difficulties.
There is no playbook for managing failure. It is a process of trial, error, and trial again. We all learn it the same way. We can take advice from others, but ultimately we are the captains of our own ships. We have to steer our own course, and many times that means taking failure and success in stride in equal amounts. Don’t let failure paralyze you. Don’t let it keep you from trying again. Also, don’t waste it. It’s an incredible teacher if we are willing to look at it objectively and use it as fuel to move forward.
About a year and a half ago, I decided that I wanted to try my hand at developing an independent consulting practice to freelance full-time on projects that are meaningful to me. A meticulous personal financial planner, I knew it would take me a year to put away enough money to feel comfortable to make this leap with my whole heart. I knew the final number I needed to have in the bank and set up monthly savings goals to reach it.
I made a deal with myself that I would try this lifestyle for 6 months, working my tail off to try to make ends meet. If I could cover all of my expenses by the end of 6 months, then I could keep going. If I couldn’t, I would look for full-time work again. And just to keep things interesting, I had to be very passionate about the freelance assignments I took.
June 15th of this year was Leap Day for me. I had my Mary Tyler Moore moment, wished my former employer a fond farewell, and off I went into the great big world of freelancing. While much of that time has been as close to career nirvana as I’ve ever had, these last few weeks have been slightly fraught with anxiety. December 15th is quickly approaching. I have turned down a fair amount of work because I just didn’t feel passionate about it. There were a couple of assignments I deeply wanted to secure that didn’t come to pass. I started to realize that I may not reach my goal, despite my very best efforts. A full-time job search looked inevitable.
And then in 24 hours it all turned around. I’m elated, over-the-moon, pleased as punch, ecstatic, and grateful beyond measure that I started a short-term assignment yesterday that put me in the black. With a couple of weeks to spare, I hit my goal of covering all of my expenses with freelance work by December 15th. I even have a little bit extra to put back into my savings and this gig has the potential to create a steady stream of wonderful, well-paid work into 2013.
Thank you so much to everyone who believed that this lifestyle could work for me, who cheered me on, who shared in this incredible journey in so many ways. I am humbled by your belief in me and deeply appreciative of the encouragement. I’ll find some way to say thank you that reflects just how much your support means to me. Happy holidays indeed!
“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” ~ Pema Chodron
Comfort feels so good that we never want to leave. The trouble is that if we never set out for higher ground, if we never throw ourselves out of our comfort zone and into unfamiliar territory, we don’t grow. We don’t learn just how strong we are. We only build resilience, determination, and grit by remaining focused in the face of discomfort. Life is a continual adaptation to change.
Sometimes, I wish this weren’t the case. I wish we didn’t need a burning platform to truly change our ways. I wish we could learn how to be calm in the face of discomfort without ever having to actually be uncomfortable.
It doesn’t work that way. Life is a full contact sport. We actually have to live it – all its ups and downs and the ride in-between – in order to understand what it’s all about.
For this reason, I don’t get frustrated or angry when the going gets tough. I may briefly feel sad or unhappy that something I wanted didn’t go my way. As a general rule, I give myself about 10 minutes to feel as terrible as I want to feel without passing any kind of judgement. I can sit in the dust of disappointment, shake my fists at the sky, and ask “why, why, why?” as loudly as possible. And then I need to pick myself up, shake off the dust, and get on with my day, grateful for the tough times upon me that help me to wake up and feel truly alive.
So often we hope that the clouds hanging above our heads will magically part but what I’ve found is that the clouds part through our own volition. We decide that it is time to clear them away. We climb up and with our own two hands, we brush them out-of-the-way to let the light in. We are happy, free, empowered, and awake by choice, not chance. We restore comfort in our lives by creating it in every circumstance of our living.
Baking is an act of pure belief and stubborn patience. We sift together dry ingredients, add wet ingredients, form a dough of some sort that (we hope) looks nothing like the final product, and send it off to the oven to be transformed into something edible. We are not certain of our success until some brave soul takes a forkful.
With cooking, we can taste as we go. We can sample and adjust. We see the process as it happens and can pivot if and when needed to save the meal. Before anyone attempts to taste it, we already know the quality because we’ve tasted it all along.
By contrast, a sampling of dough is a terrible idea for many reasons. One, it (God willing) won’t taste the same as when it’s baked. Two, raw ingredients like eggs aren’t safe. Three, it makes no difference if you taste it along the way or not because it cannot be adjusted. Still, we press on fully aware that there is no saving a bad baking job. If it’s bad, all we can do is chuck it, chalk it up to experience, and begin again. Or not.
For these reasons, I have long lived in awe and loathing of the act of baking. (Please see my post from about this time last year regarding a failed attempt at baking a pumpkin pie that I continue to lovingly refer to as “the oven incident”.) Or at least I did until a few weeks ago. I was shopping in my local Whole Foods and navigated my wheel-y basket to the sandwich bread. $4 / loaf. Sounds like an awful lot of money for a loaf of relatively boring bread.
“I could bake bread,” I thought to myself, “for a heck of a lot less than $4 / loaf.”
“You can’t bake,” said a tiny voice that popped out unexpectedly from behind a corner of my mind.
“Oh, shut up,” I replied (thankfully using my inside voice as I was still in Whole Foods surrounded by other people.) “I could bake if I really wanted to.”
For the next week every time I opened up my kitchen cabinet where I keep my dry goods, I saw a barely used bag of flour just staring at me. I bought it when I fancied myself a pumpkin pie baker. This did not go well. I tossed the dough, sealed up the bag of flour, hid it in the back of the cabinet, and decided that I do not bake.
Nothing will get me to grow a new skill set faster than my thriftiness. $4 for a loaf of plain, commercially baked bread just seems ridiculous. So I set about learning to bake. Or at least learning about learning how to bake.
The other day my sister, Weez, posted a Pinterest picture of a gorgeous loaf of fresh-baked bread in a powder blue Le Creuset Dutch oven. I gasped out loud (I was home so no inside voice necessary. Phineas is quite used to my constant audible stream of consciousness.) It was gorgeous. I clicked through and found a remarkably easy recipe for making homemade bread. It actually seemed foolproof, which is exactly what I need.
In the meantime, Thanksgiving arrived. I spent it with friends. My lovely friend, Crystal, was kind enough to have my dear friend, Amy, and me over to her home. Crystal’s a top-notch chef who owned a restaurant prior to business school. I was in charge of the cheese plate and decided I wanted to bring a few of my favorite types along with Brie and apples baked in pastry dough. I took myself to the grocery store and they were all out of pastry dough. I thought about possible alternatives like biscuit or pizza dough and decided against them.
“I could make pastry dough,” I thought to myself. “I actually already have all of the ingredients at home.”
Tiny Voice returned. “Pastry dough is tough to make! Tougher than pumpkin pie and you remember how that went!”
“Oh, shut up,” I replied. (Are you sensing a pattern here?)
I went home and googled “pastry dough recipe.” This one popped up on allrecipes.com. Seemed foolproof. (Another pattern.)
So I set about sifting together flour and salt, adding water, rolling out butter to refrigerate, and then incorporating the butter into the dough – over the course of 2 hours. Yes, 2 hours. You have to roll in the butter, turn, refrigerate, roll in the butter, turn, refrigerate, roll in the butter, turn, refrigerate. My first turn (that’s a technical term in the world of us pastry dough makers) was in a word, awful. The butter broke through the dough, got all over my rolling pin and the counter. The dough was sticking to everything. The recipe predicted this may happen and it instructed to add more flour. I was skeptical but followed along. I added more flour, and more flour again, until it turned into some kind of unruly balled mess.
“I told you this was hard,” said Tiny Voice in that lilting know-it-all tone that all Tiny Voices use.
Not easily deterred, I turned down the volume on Tiny Voice, wrapped up my messy dough ball, and refrigerated it again as the recipe instructed. “I could save this,” I kept thinking. This thought was followed closely by, “I wonder if using pizza dough as a substitute really was such a bad idea.”
The timer went off. I marched over to the fridge to retrieve the dough ball and put it through its paces of roll, turn, refrigerate. To my shock and delight, it was actually much improved. It improved even further on the third turn. I could even see what would become the flaky layers once baked! My fridge is a magician! Following directions and having patience actually works in the world of baking. Every accomplished baker in the world was right and I was wrong. Go figure!
Buoyed by my dough success, I went to my kitchen cabinet to see what other food staples I might consider making rather than buying. The dried pasta stared back at me with a similar gaze as that recently re-employed bag of flour. In business school, friends of mine and I made gnocchi by-hand. That also looked destined for failure until somehow the dough came together as if by magic pixie dust. I always assumed it was the divine intervention of my Italian ancestors, but maybe it was baking patience at play.
I toddled over to the computer and found this recipe for fresh pasta dough. Again, allrecipes.com to the rescue. Again, seemingly fool-proof. I’m beginning to like this pattern. And what’s become of Tiny Voice? Well, it’s been silenced for the time being. I intend to keep it that way by stuffing it with homemade goodness.
Folks, against all odds, I may actually learn to bake.
“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” ~ Ken Robinson
Being wrong is underrated. It usually comes about because we went out on a limb, tried something new, or put forward an idea that was provocative and against the grain. These actions have so much merit, regardless of the outcome because they require boldness, courage, and passion. It’s hard to overstate the value of these qualities in the pursuit of a well-lived life.
“Wrong” used to be akin to a curse word for me. I was afraid of what may happen if I was wrong, whether that meant giving answers on a math quiz, starting a new relationship, or speaking my mind. Despite the fear I did these things anyway, either because I had to (fear was not a reason to not take a math quiz) or because I was just too curious about the outcome to not try (please refer to my dating history.)
And you know what terrible thing befell me when I was wrong? Nothing. Life just went on. Perhaps I was a little (or a lot) embarrassed. On occasion I was mad that situations didn’t go the way I wanted them to go. Every once in a while I was sadly disappointed. No matter. In due time, I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and started again.
Now I barely even blink when I’m wrong. I recognize my mistake, I learn, and I move on. I don’t waste any time analyzing to death the error of my ways. I don’t beat myself up over it. I’ve learned to revel in my humanness – flaws, foibles, and all. And I’ve also learned to revel in the humanness of others, which is a gift all its own.
So go ahead. Risk looking like a fool because you went after something with your whole heart. Take a chance, a big chance that may cause you to fall flat on your face. Even if this comes to pass, your own resilience will surprise you. You’re stronger, more adaptable, and quicker-to-heal than you think.