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A Year of Yes: What story do you want to be?

“In the end, we’ll all become stories.” ~Margaret Atwood

Stories are so intrinsic to our culture, to the structure of our lives, that it’s impossible to separate ourselves from them. We are defined by our stories, the ones we tell about ourselves and others, and the ones others tell about us. It’s how we connect and share with each other. They stir every emotion we can possibly have. Friendship and love both grow from stories. We are our stories, and our stories are us. Let’s make sure the ones we choose are really the ones we want.

In the pause: How to know what to write

“Write what should not be forgotten…” ~Isabel Allende

I’m in the midst of writing some difficult passages in Emerson’s second book. There are characters in the book that have been through terrible times. They’re reliving those times, explaining them to Emerson because it will make a difference to her journey. And I hope it will make a difference to readers, and the journeys of readers. I hope their resilience, determination, and love for life inspires us all to be the best people we can be. I hope it makes us kind, grateful, and resolved to build a better world for ourselves and for each other. Life is tough; together we are tougher.

In the pause: A day fully lived

Today was an upside down, turned around kind of day. Today I can say that I lived. Really lived.

My pup, Phin, happily played at daycare for 12 hours while I: ran about a dozen errands, set up his gate and noise dampening curtain, and had two very solid job interviews where I spoke my truth and it was appreciated. A sweet, cuddly, adorable 10-day-old baby slept on me for 2 1/2 hours. A dear old friend needed a shoulder and an ear, and I gladly and gratefully offered mine. And I lost a friend today whom I had not seen in a long time but will remember as someone who was always focused on how others were doing. She was whip-smart, incredibly capable, and never afraid to speak her mind. I admired her for all of that, and she will be missed.

Today had incredible highs and incredible lows. Moments of activity. Moments of calm. I am trying hard to remember that life will flow if we let it, for better or for worse, through difficulty and ease, through discomfort and freedom, if we believe that it can. I wish you a day full of life, and all that it brings.

In the pause: Managing through anxiety

This week has been an anxious one for me thanks to a threatening neighbor in my new apartment building. My dog was barking at some disturbance outside, the neighbor flipped his lid, and left me a threatening voicemail. Twice. Not feeling safe in my home is a trigger for me, and this threatening message sent me into a difficult spiral of emotions.

I tell you this not for sympathy (I am immensely fortunate to have friends who have helped me through the last few days in countless, valuable ways) but to offer empathy for those who also battle this struggle. For too long, I didn’t ask for help. As a matter of fact, I silently chastised myself for struggling at all. With anything. Ever. I *should* be stronger than this. I *should* have everything under control at all times in all circumstances. I cannot break down. Ever. At least not in front of people.

What I’ve learned is that asking for help, advice, and support is the bravest, strongest thing in the world. Let people in. Share and listen. That’s what’s going to make things better.

 

In the pause: My 10-year MBA reunion at Darden

I spent the weekend happily disconnected from devices and reunited with my Darden MBA class to celebrate our 10-year graduation milestone. I went to reunion to be with friends far and near, and to revisit a place where I learned that anything is possible when we combine passion, purpose, and persistence. At Darden, I learned how to stand strong in my beliefs while balancing conviction and openness to new ideas and perspectives. It remains the greatest investment of my life, not only for the skills I gained and the knowledge I attained from my brilliant classmates and professors, but even more so for the deep friendships I found there. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, and only grows more valuable with time. I loved seeing and hugging all of you, and am already looking forward to the next time we’re all together again. Until then, know that I’m rooting for all of you to live your happiest, most beautiful lives. The best is yet to come.

 

In the pause: The age-old question of age in the workplace

“Just remember, when you’re over the hill, you begin to pick up speed.” ~ Charles Schultz, Peanuts creator

My friend, John, shared an article in which he’s mentioned. Everyone of every age should read it. It’s about the value of older people in the workforce and that constant tug-of-war between young and not-so-young employees. At 41, I’m in that mid-zone. I call it the messy middle. Not quite young, but not quite old either. I would say my spirit, interests, and curiosity lean younger while my experience level and sensibilities lean older. Lately, I’ve been having this exact conversation about the messy middle with many friends of all ages.

One of the many great gifts in my career has been that in every job except for one, I’ve had co-workers that range from brand-new college grads to those on the doorstep of retirement and everything in-between. (And that one exception was a doozy that I’m glad to have in my rearview mirror! It stands as the shining example of what a lack of age- and experience-diversity does to a team—it makes it stagnant.) Nowhere was this age-diversity more prevalent than in professional theater. At 22, I had friends who were triple my age and then some. Their stories and experience taught me about life, work, and friendship in a way that I never could have learned if I was surrounded by other 22 year olds. And my youth at the time had something to offer, too—a new way of seeing and doing things that hadn’t been done before. These were my very first professional experiences and they have been the bedrock on which I’ve built the last 20 years of my career. That healthy, two-way respect between generations is a foundational element of not only my work, but my life. My friend group still reflects that diversity in age and experience, and I hope it always does.

My point in all of this is that everyone at every age has something to bring to the table that is different and valuable in its own way. We all have something to learn from each other but to make that learning possible, everyone on a team has to remain open to entirely different perspectives. Listen without waiting for our turn to talk. Ask questions. Walk in someone else’s shoes. Try to understand the other side of an argument even though it so directly contradicts our own. Ask for help. Offer help. Support one another. Cheer for one another. Celebrate every win and loss because each offers something we need at the exact moment we need it.

Let’s replace the tug-of-war between generations in the workplace and in life with a hug and smile. We can go further together.

In the pause: Define what you want

A number of years ago, my friend, Susan, gave me some great advice that I still think about on a regular basis. “Christa, don’t compare opportunities to each other. Compare them to what you want.” It’s that second piece, knowing what you want in any realm in life, that is so critical and what so many of us (myself included!) make an afterthought. We put on the blinders far too soon. We believe that our options are limited right from the start and we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to really define success and happiness on our own terms. Thank you, Susan, for all the wise advice you share with so many people in so many channels. I know I am a better person and have a better life because of your advice. Now, back to the difficult and wonderful work of defining what I want in life…

In the pause: A wish for you on Valentine’s Day

“You deserve to be in spaces and relationships that make you happy; that feed your soul and help you grow.” ~Alex Elle

This Valentine’s Day, I hope that this feeling of love and respect for yourself shines through in all of your activities, all of your relationships, and all of your choices. I hope you find work that inspires you, a home that is filled with warmth and comfort, and relationships, be they platonic or romantic, that make you feel alive. I hope every day you have many moments of gratitude, and that you find a way to share your good fortune with others. I hope you find an energetic peace in your purpose, and that this purpose helps you wake up to the miracles, great and small, that surround us and are within us. And if there comes a time when things look lost, or sad, or hopeless, I hope you know that there are people who care and people who will help. I’m one of them.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

In the pause: Beneath the surface

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Yesterday I had a conversation with a college friend of mine about our struggles during the years we were in school. That conversation perfectly fits the sentiment behind this lovely piece of art that my amazing friend, Alex, sent to me as a gift. Below the surface of what we show to others, there is so much going on. Hope and dreams, struggles and hardships, that few others know about.

It’s with this idea that I try to approach situations, particularly ones that are difficult to understand. We’re all fighting battles no one knows anything about. Our experiences, thoughts, and beliefs are all filtered through the lens of our past. One idea that Alex has taught me is that we all have blindspots. And the only way to really see clearly is to listen intently to the experiences of others.

As this piece of art so beautifully reminds us, there is much going on beneath the surface of our own hearts. We can get to the root of our own struggles by sitting quietly, pausing life for a few minutes, and listening for whatever arises. It is all connected. We are all connected. Things will shift and change and challenge us in ways we don’t always understand in the moment. Keep the faith. Something bigger than us is at play and our only job is to discover what that is, and to help others discover it, too.

Thank you, Alex, for this thoughtful reminder and gift. I love it!

Wonder: Trying to understand race in America

A good number of my closest friends are black and they have taught me so much about race over the many years we’ve been friends. Despite our very personal and open conversations, I will never know what it’s like to be black in America. Still, I try my best. I want to understand. I care deeply that all people, everywhere have equal opportunities and resources to build a happy, healthy, and productive life.

Race issues are human issues, and we all bear responsibility for them. In the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to further educate myself on the history and state of race and I found the sources below powerful and necessary. I highly recommend them to everyone regardless of your politics, race, or beliefs. As a white person, they were often difficult for me to read and hear. And then I thought of my friends, my neighbors (I live in a predominantly black neighborhood), and the black community in America, and how much they have endured and fought against for far too long. If they have the courage to live these stories, then good god the least I can do is listen and learn.

My President Was Black by Ta-Nehisi Coates

What Donald Trump Doesn’t Know About Black People by Michael Eric Dyson

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah – working my way through this and it’s wonderful!

Loving (movie) by Focus Features

The National Museum of African American History and Culture – I’m going later this week and can’t wait to share my experience with you!

The New York Times‘ Race/Related newsletter

Every Tone a Testimony – 59 tracks of voices in music, oratory, poetry, and prose by historically renowned African American musicians, writers, and activists

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