KINDNESS


kindnessToday, I simply need to give a shout out to my good friend Claire who has committed herself to spreading kindness in every way possible.  She started a wonderful blog in January, setting her intention for spreading kindness throughout the year.  She’s gaining some traction and I can feel the impact.  I have found myself reflecting on my own actions and behaviors, using her stories and her efforts as a barometer of sorts.  I am inspired by her passion and commitment to create a society of kinder, gentler people.

One of my great pleasures in life comes from helping others as  I am so moved when I can connect with another human being and provide them with something – even if just a nugget – to help them propel themselves forward.  My passion for giving back and supporting causes that resonate with me is part of what brings me joy and satisfaction.  But, kindness is much simpler and far more complicated than that.  Kindness is a core value.  It is a deep-rooted commitment to shifting behavior and focusing on putting good into the world.  It is about the small stuff.  It is about courtesy and consideration.  It is about selflessness.  It is hard to sustain.  Listen, I am a hardcore New Yorker – cynical, snarky, sarcastic and sometimes down right obnoxious.  Most of the people in my life love that about me and, frankly, so do I.  Nonetheless,  my intentions and behavior are all about goodness, kindness, sincerity and integrity.  It is all about balance and sometimes that is not easy to maintain.  But I make the effort every.single.day.  It requires hard work and effort because life is challenging and our daily struggles often disrupt our intentions.

Ultimately, I simply love the concept of paying it forward and this blog post today is intended to do just that.  Yesterday, I wrote a very personal and very honest post about my own struggles with trust and forgiveness.  In response to it, a good friend complimented me and supported me in an extremely kind and generous way which nourished me and propelled me forward.   And that right there is kindness in action as I was inspired to do the same for someone else.  The act of writing and putting your thoughts and feelings out in the world for others to read can be very risky.  People interpret things through their own lenses and they don’t always understand your intended meaning behind the words.  But, I guess, that is often the beauty of writing.  It allows the reader to travel with you but on their own voyage and bring their own perspectives into play.  The connection you can develop through finding commonalities, regardless how remote, can be powerful and extraordinary.  For me, the ability to write and share my history and, often, the pain that has accompanied my journey is an act of kindness for me as I try to share these experiences to reinforce that we are never alone.  There is always someone else on the road with you – sometimes a bit further ahead, sometimes much farther behind.  We are all alike in many ways.  As different as we may look or as varied as our backgrounds might be, we are still a bunch of cells that have formed to create our unique DNA.  There are overlaps in so many ways.

So, today, I hope I can inspire and encourage you to find a way to spread some kindness.  I am going to continue my quest to do so because, in the end, it feels really, really good!

BE THE CHANGE


I believe intensely in the power of the small moments of our lives and how they shape and inform how we move forward.  I also believe that nothing happens by accident.  If you pay attention closely enough, you can fit together the pieces of your life and complete the complex jigsaw puzzle picture that is being formed.  It’s kind of funny that my husband and I are often diametrically opposed on this topic. Being an engineer, he believes that randomness is part of our existence and coincidences are just randomness collisions.  And, ironically, I believe he is one of the pieces of my life that most certainly did not happen by accident.

Along with my deep belief in fate, I also believe in the power of intention.  However, this is a relatively new way of thinking for me.  To be intentional, you need to trust that you can follow through with your intention.  You need to believe that you can regulate your life in such a way to live by your intention.  This is no easy task because it forces you to be present, conscious and accountable for your actions and behaviors.  On the other hand, being intentional creates an ease in your life because it provides you with a compass and barometer that immediately indicates if you have gone in the wrong direction or if you have fluctuated away from your focus.

Being intentional has never been a defining characteristic for me.  Because of the chaos in my life – chaos that caused me to be reactive and protective – I have never had the space or latitude to decide what I wanted.  I managed.  I survived.  I tolerated.  I never chose.  The idea of being able to choose the pathway I wanted was luxurious like cashmere and caviar.  I trusted no one – most significantly myself.  And, while I was blessed to have the gift of introspection which allowed me to constantly challenge myself and force myself to explore new ways of thinking and behaving, I failed to notice the magical connections that pulled my personal puzzle together and, ultimately, lived my life with same chaos that was foisted upon me for years and years.

I often talk about the blessings of people in my life and I firmly believe that I have been gifted with individuals who have come into my life to help me find my path, to help me along on my journey and show me the way when I could not do so myself.  Nonetheless, I have struggled to understand how to embrace these guides because my inability to trust would get in the way.  My aversion to vulnerability and fear of admitting that I need the assistance to find my way – or the acknowledgment of the fact that I might simply be lost -has prevented me from extracting the beautiful gifts bestowed upon me.  In recent years, though, I have much more consciously tried to change that.  I have tried to be courageous and test my limits, challenge my fears and consciously and intentionally accept what is being offered.  This is such hard work but the payoff is greater than any lottery bounty.

I want to tell this story in so many ways.  I want to share how this has paid off in work, how it enhances my relationships, how it makes me a better mother.  In reality, the only way I can honestly and authentically share the power of intention is to talk about how it has changed me – in the deepest aspects of my being.

When I have talked about vulnerability, I have shared that the environment I grew up in was one I would compare to a battle zone.  The enemy always had its weapon drawn and was ready to fire the moment they happened upon a vulnerable or open target.  I had to learn how to wear protective armor and shield myself from the oncoming attacks that happened far too frequently.  This was my familiar lifestyle.  A small voice inside me constantly begged for safe harbor.  I searched for someone, anyone who would be protective and would let me drop my guard.  I wanted to simply be.  I did not want to overthink things.  I did not want to be afraid.  I just wanted to be.  I wanted to luxuriate in the mundane.  My need for an ally removed any level of conscious intention and forced me to try so many people on for size – many of which resembled the initial enemies but did a wonderful job of masking their true identity.  I was hurt again and again and the callouses grew harder and thicker.  I trusted only to be betrayed and I never seemed to learn anything because I kept returning to the same enemy over and over.

I began to develop a level of consciousness in my 30s right around the time my first child was born.  Suddenly, as a parent, I knew instinctively that I needed to be intentional about mothering.  I knew that, without this intention, I could not possibly raise my children in a healthy way, offering them love, consistency and order.  WIthout clear intentions I would be replicating a level of chaos that defined my life.  However, I had no idea that I was even thinking any of this.  I did not have a vocabulary to define my behavior and actions.  I had instinct.  I had fate.  I was exercising these new muscles with my children but the rest of my relationships – particularly the one with myself – still suffered because I did not understand that trust and intention was what I required to begin a full transformation from that unarmed child.

There was no magical a-ha moment.  I did not wake up one day and burst from my bed with the answer.  I did not have a grandiose epiphany.  Instead, I worked really, really hard and tested everything around me.  I continued to try people on for size but I developed an acute awareness for what did not feel right and was able to extricate myself from unhealthy relationships much faster.  I took little baby steps towards a reality that included me possibly liking myself enough to invest the time and energy into trusting myself.  I grew older, I went to therapy, I battled through, I got hurt.

Then the universe kicked in and I was ready to listen.

Yes, I have had some extraordinary relationships.  FIrst and foremost is my husband.  For over 20 years we have struggled together, confronting our own scars and committing ourselves to let love prevail.  We are both very complex people with lots of emotional baggage and, often, our relationship has been so hard yet so worthwhile.  And the journey continues.  I have had friends – many of which have come and gone but who have left an imprint on me that I only now can look at and understand the significance.  I have risen from a family that suffered from mental illness, alcoholism and deep dysfunction – and I would not have chosen any other family because they are part of who I am today.  The good, the bad, and the ugly have helped to shape and inform who I am right here and right now.  They have helped me to struggle and forced me to confront my demons.  I could certainly have chosen to not do this but, for me, there never was an option.  I may not have set out to do this with intention but the universe intervened and made sure that I eventually paid attention and found my intention.  Today, I am surrounded by a beautiful tapestry of people I have chosen to be in my life.  Each of them enriches me in a way and I am intentional about my purpose in their lives.  I don’t always know right away what the purpose is but I am always committed to learn.  I still struggle with trust because that little person inside me looking for safe harbor also knows that the waters can be very dangerous and we need to be very careful.  But, for the first time in my life I have found myself in trusting relationships that continually prove themselves to be worthy and authentic.  And I am so moved, emotionally impacted and overwhelmed at how powerful the trust is.  And, when that trust is ever questioned or challenged, it rocks my world.

I am trying to be the change I want to see in the world.  I am trying to be intentional and give out to those around me exactly what I want in return – love, respect and trust.  It defines the me of today and I know, without any shade of doubt that the payoff is there.

I have found myself ending each of my blog posts recently with a thank you and acknowledgment to the people in my life and I will continue this practice because it is the people – always the people – that make the difference.  Without them, I stop learning and loving and growing.  Without them, I have no audience, no support system, no purpose.

The other day, while strolling through Manhattan with a dear friend I was sharing some stories of my early career days and I lamented about some choices I made.  He pointed out to me that, had I made different choices, he and I would never have met.  That thought stopped me in my tracks and I can still smell the air and hear the noises around me when he said it because I knew that would be a terrible eventuality.  Perhaps he was right.  But, given the power of our relationship I suspect the universe would never have allowed that to happen.

HEALING


Last night I ran into a bunch of friends at my husband’s restaurant.  It was one of those evenings when my extroverted self was quietly craving for some human interaction but my introverted self did not make much effort to make it happen.  Fortunately, the universe took over and there were lots of familiar faces milling around and I was able to feed my need to be social.

I sat down at a table with a group of close friends and one of them began sharing with me her thoughts and feelings about my blog.  It is always a strange experience to have people tell me (1) they read my blog; (2) they like my blog; (3) they relate to my experience.  Writing is mostly a solitary exercise but putting it out into the ether socializes it and creates the possibility of it smashing right into someone who needs to read your words at the very moment it reaches them.  Knowing that this phenomenon takes place makes me happy and very satisfied because, while the writing is part of my journey, what people get from my writing is absolutely part of their journey.  I sincerely want to help people along their pathways.

My friend said something to me that struck me and really settled into my head.  She referred to my journey that I am sharing as healing.  She is certainly right but I never really think of this as a healing process.  Now, even as I write those words, I recognize how ridiculous they sound.  The wounds of my lifetime need to heal and I need to be able to stop picking at the scabs and let them be.  My friend shared with me many similarities in our experiences and residual behaviors and feelings that she struggles with in her life.  And, she acknowledged how powerful it is to know there is someone else out there who has lived this kind of life and can find some healing.

Healing is a remarkably confusing concept for me to process.  If I heal, then I likely do not feel the pain anymore.  If I heal properly, there might not even be any scars to remind me of the wounds.  Is that actually a possibility in my life? I’ve never actually imagined a reality that would allow me to live in a “healed” way that I would not continually struggle to fight my demons.

By definition, to heal is to make healthy, whole, or to finally to free from evil, cleanse or purify.  All of those meanings resonate because they reflect the underlying goals in my life.  I would like to be emotionally healthy to the point that I am not facing down the burdens of my past on a regular basis.  I’d like to cleanse my soul and rid myself of the years of impurities that have tainted my life.  But, is that really possible?

As a child of my parents, both of which struggled with their own demons and needed to be healed, I grew up without a compass.  I never had a north.  I never had a sense of where to go, who to be, how to behave. The only truth that was crystal clear was that I did not want to be living the life I was in.  I could have become an alcoholic – it ran in my family.  I could have recklessly experimented with drugs.  I could have engaged in a series of abusive and destructive relationships.  I could have commit suicide to get away from the pain. I never did any of those things.  Instead, I got an education, carved out a career for myself, fell in love, started a family and somewhat consciously (but also unknowingly) set out to change my course.  Without a map, without a compass, without a north to guide me.  Unwittingly, I had no other options because I knew, every single day of my life, that I had to move far away from a world of abuse that diminished me, tortured me and made me feel like I was not worthy of anything.  What I never believed was that I would ever wake up one day and feel peaceful and cleansed.  That has never been a possibility or a seeming reality.  I presumed that I would trudge through, make this life for myself but forever live with a black spot inside me where I kept the remnants of all the tragedies of my life.

I know that my friend did not intend this but she unlocked a new possibility for me.  By mere suggestion she provoked me to action in a way that I never anticipated.  It is what I love about the human experience.  No matter how dark the days, how bleak the horizon might look, there is the extraordinary opportunity that one person will sit next to you and say or do something that will make you feel differently, see things differently, behave differently.  They will move you and it will inspire you or change you.  I feel it is my journey to do that for others but I am always surprised when others do it for me.  It is priceless, it is precious, it is powerful and it is needed and welcomed.

The other day another friend said I have an amazing ability to move others to action.  That was an extremely flattering comment that really touched me because, to be able to do that is a very special privilege.  One that I try to manage carefully because if you are moving people to action, you better be moving them towards positive action.  It makes me feel special and it makes me feel like I am doing something right in my life.  If my blog is touching the hearts of people and moving them to take positive actions in their lives, then mission accomplished.  But, I want my friend who last night touched me with one simple word to know that we all have that power and she just paid it forward.  Thanks.

DESPERATELY SEEKING GIRLFRIENDS


It has been a busy few weeks for me with the onset of a new year and all the business opportunity that comes along with that.  I am fortunate to have been traveling around a bit and have had some time to catch up on my reading.  Normally, my daily reading involves lots of web browsing, perusing the online versions of The New York Times, Huffington Post, Fast Company and the Wall Street Journal.  It is all very interesting but rarely does much to fill up my soul.

Back in December, I was reading the “Women” section of Huffington Post (my favorite, by far) and I read a review of a book about women’s friendships: MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend.  I typically opt for nonfiction and this one caught my eye.  I was intrigued by the premise of a woman who had spent a year trying to find best friends after she relocated to Chicago from NYC.  As someone who has gone through my share of relocations and quests to find girlfriends who could tolerate my sarcastic wit and understand that I do not have the time to chat on the phone on a daily basis (along with my love of going to the movies and great need to find adult time away from my kids), I was curious to hear about the author’s search.  I figured, since I was going to be doing a lot of plane, train and automobile travel over the middle part of January, this would be the perfect book to download to my Kindle and be my reading companion for my journeys.

While I cannot relate to the author of the book who is a newly-married, childless 20-something who fancies herself an avid book grouper and hard-core New Yorker (well, maybe I can relate to that a bit!), what struck a chord with me was her research and commentary on the importance and power of women’s friendships.  Frankly, I was shocked at how much research exists and how much has been written about friendships between women.  While reading the book, I began to really appreciate how many amazing women (and some great men) friends I have in my life.  Friends have always been a critical component of my life.  I recall being newly married and sharing my frustration with my husband that, newly transplanted to suburban NJ, I did not have my normal posse of pals to hang out with on the weekends, catch a movie with, go out to dinner with or just chat about anything and everything with.  I felt extremely lonely and isolated – very similar to what the author in this book experienced after she relocated to Chicago to be closer to her boyfriend (whom she ultimately married).  The void of girlfriends could not be filled by my husband because he simply was not a woman.  He did not understand the secret language we share.  He did not want to go bra shopping with me or run out for a mani/pedi on Saturday afternoon.  Our relationship, as newlyweds, did not need to be stressed by my forcing him to fill every gap in my life.  I had to find friends.  Not just work friends but women in my community that could be my connection to my new home.  Of course, this became much easier after I had children as, suddenly there were limitless opportunities to bond with other women who were looking for companionship and ways to entertain their new babies.  So began my journey to find new friends and years of trying on many women for size in hopes of finding a rare few who could sustain the many life changes that occur during your 20s, 30s and early 40s.

According to the book, psychologists have long described four major types of friendships:

  1. The Acquaintance – someone you’d chat with on the street or at a local cafe, who gives you a sense of belonging;
  2. The Casual Friend – a ‘grab lunch’ pal who often serves a specific purpose, such as a tennis or running partner;
  3. The Close Buddy – an intimate, trustworthy comrade you can say anything to;
  4. The Lifer – someone who is as deep and forever as family.

According to this research, women should have 3-5 lifers, 5-12 close friends, 10-50 casuals, and 10-100 acquaintances.  Wow!  That is a lot of friends.  Now, certainly, between work pals, people I know from my kids and around town, old high school and college chums and others I have met through volunteer work, school, etc, I probably have lots more than 100 acquaintances.  However, when you start looking at the numbers of close pals and lifers, it sure does seem like a lot of friends.  Furthermore, according to anthropologist Robin Dunbar who, while studying the behavior of primates in the early 90s, noticed that social groups were limited in size.  He determined that the size of our brains determines how many relationships we can sustain.  For the chimps he found that number to be about 50 and, for humans, that number jumps to 150.  So, essentially, our maximum capacity for our social network is 150 people.  If we have them filled up with acquaintances and casual pals, it kind of jams things up for the close friends and lifelong buddies.  Naturally, in order to achieve and maintain those important close connections, we need to continually do a little housecleaning with our friends.  And, as someone who lives in a small community with lots of friendship circles, you can see how fluid those relationships are.  People gossip equally about which couples have split up as they do about which girlfriends have had a falling out.

Another interesting piece of research comes from a 2010 study that found that social integration improves a person’s odds of survival by 50%.  In fact, the researchers found that having low levels of connection is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic.  It is more harmful to our health than not exercising and twice as harmful as obesity.  So, essentially, having friends, particularly girlfriends, is good for your health!  I think most of us instinctively know all this to be true.  The time we spend with our girlfriends typically ranks as some of the most meaningful, powerful and enjoyable moments in our lives.  While we love our partners and our families, our girlfriends provide an outlet that cannot easily be replaced by anyone else.

Now in my mid 40s, I am grateful for all the women (and men) that I call my friends.  My relationships  definitely fall into the different categories and I am fortunate that I know who fits which bill.  I know who my lifers and close friends are and I value them dearly.  As I do my causal acquaintances and my extended social network who continually make me feel connected to the world that I live in.  Take a moment to take stock of your friends and appreciate all that they bring to your life.  And, if you are at a point where you are in search of new friends, I highly encourage you to read the book!

PATIENCE


This first week of the new year presents a period of rebirth and reawakening. Not just because the calendar has marked the birth of a new year filled with promise and opportunity but also because it is a time that many of us return to work after a much-needed respite from our daily grind. For many professionals, this time of year is the only time that such a break is possible and it is a great chance to truly break away and recharge your battery.

In my old corporate life, I could not wait for my holiday break and was often even more thrilled with my return to work. Despite the volumes of emails and countless voicemails, despite the inevitable crisis that arose while I was out (but could not be handled until I returned, naturally), there was a calm that came with the familiar chaos. While I love my husband and children, two weeks of non-stop interaction with distractions only to shop, cook, eat and sleep, is frankly a bit more than I can tolerate.

In my new life as an independent consultant, the new year has a very different flavor for me. I definitely feel refreshed and excited about the possibilities but instead of me pouring through my endless emails, I am waiting on clients who have to sort through their chaos before they can turn their attention to me and my emails and voicemails. I need to have patience – something that is in short supply with me.

Yesterday, a friend shared a blog written by a woman in her community because she knew how much I enjoy writing and thought I would appreciate her friend’s work and writing style.  She warned me about the backstory of her friend and suggested that I arm myself with tissues before I dove in to read.  Her friend is an average woman with two children living in the suburbs talking about her daily travails.  Her anecdotes were funny and touching and I found myself engrossed with getting to know her and her family a little bit better.  Then the bomb dropped when, last September, she told the story of the tragic death of her 12 year-old son.  Being a parent (to an 11 year-old son, no less), her story was my worst nightmare.  She lost her son in a freak accident that, upon replaying it in her mind hundreds, if not thousands of times, she believed could have been avoided.  After her son’s death, her blog became a place of solace for her to rant and seek comfort and pay tribute to all the magic her son brought to her life.  One particular post I had to re-read several times and became the catalyst for this one for me.  It was all about patience.  It was so striking for me because it was if she and her son were giving me some guidance that I really did not know I needed at that moment.

As I said, patience is in short supply with me.  I want everything done yesterday.  I hate waiting – not because I am demanding or think I am entitled or privileged – because I want to rush to the next step, the next milestone.  I want to know the answer, I need to know the outcome.  When I was pregnant with both my children, I laughed when I talked to other expectant moms who said they were going to wait until the delivery room to learn the sex of their child.  How could you possibly wait?  It was non-negotiable that I would find out what I was having and, quite, frankly, 20 weeks was far too long to wait for that information!

When I was a kid, I often unwrapped and re-wrapped presents because I could not handle the anticipation and needed to know what I was getting.  That always backfired because it killed the surprise, but I had no patience.  How many times I read the last page of a book when I was a kid because I simply could not wait to find out what was going to happen.  Surely, patience is a virtue.  Patience is worth it.  Patience pays off.  Sadly, I have none.

Yesterday, as I settled in to my back-to-work-after-the-holidays routine of beginning to hunt down clients to try to get higher on their priority lists and get answers to my questions and find out what was coming next for my business, I was thoroughly without patience.  Once again, I wanted life to work on my timetable and anything less was going to truly bum me out.  And then, a little boy who tragically left this world and his mom whose life has an enormous hole that I can’t imagine anything in the universe could ever fill taught me a lesson about the power of patience that I hope will help me grow and learn.

And that is the beauty of the world we live in.  Thank you Jack.

THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED


“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.”
—Hal Borland 

They day has finally arrived – the last day of the year!  How auspicious this day is and how much emphasis we put on the turning of the calendar.  Everywhere you turn, there are Top 10 lists and countless articles on making resolutions and learning how to keep them.  So, as we sit right on the precipice of 2011, staring down at all of the possibility of 2012, I choose not to make resolutions but, instead take this moment to look back, take an inventory and identify strategies for moving forward and doing things differently, if necessary.  I suggest that we actually do this often throughout the year but, as we close out a year, it seems like an ideal time to do a year in review and see what we can learn about ourselves.

For me, 2011 was both transitional and transformational.  I believe that life is a journey on which there are a series of stops and, ultimately, one destination when you have completed your trip.  So, I choose not to look at the legs of my journey with regret but, instead, see them as roads I have traveled.  And, like with any excursion, sometimes we get lost, make wrong turns, need to back up, reroute or sometimes even head back home and start over again.  In 2011, it might have felt like I had to head back home when I thought I was much further along in my travels but, upon reflection, I actually only made some wrong turns and had to course correct.  I feel pretty confident as I look back at my tour for 2011 that I am actually further ahead on the road than when I started and, for that I am grateful.

I marvel at how intensely painful certain situations feel when we are experiencing them in the moment.  Yet, when we look back at them later on, we can hardly remember how difficult it was or how much we suffered and struggled.  We (and when I say “we”, make no mistake that I am actually saying “I” – but I’d like to believe we are all very similar and in this together) get very caught up with the crises that we face and, sometimes they are worthy of our laser focus and sometimes we cannot look away or move beyond because we cannot see how these situations will become a blip on our radar and were probably not worthy of such anguish.  It is challenging to maintain such perspective when we are in that moment but I believe we have the ability to reflect, even when right in the thick of the pain, fear, anxiety, struggle, that will allow us to recognize that “this too shall pass”.  That was an enormous lesson for me this year.  I learned how to have more confidence in myself and, as I have mentioned before, I learned how to be with my pain and discomfort rather than trying to run away from it for fear that it would consume me.  I developed a belief that nearly every challenge can be resolved with a course correction and, in many cases, the next road we take is far more scenic and provides many more opportunities to stop, look around and grow.

I love to share my experiences and perspectives because I am a simple journeywoman who continually picks us bits of wisdom along the way.  My hope is that my experience provides insight or inspiration to others who, in their own travels, confront their own obstacles and hopefully find strategies to endure and work through the struggle.  To me, life has no meaning if not to be able to share and interact with others so we, together, can enjoy the journey in a more meaningful and significant way.  I have spent many years fighting the tide and trying to avoid the roadblocks and challenges that seem to be deliberately put in my way.  What I have learned is that the obstacles are part of the experience.  I hate the expression “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” but I cannot deny the truth in the statement.  Our strength comes from the adversity we face.  Our learning comes from our mistakes.  Without our foibles and wrong turns we would never know what the other roads look like and never imagine that there was a different pathway because they would have never appeared on our map.

I recently said to a friend that I became close with this year that I was surprised we had not appeared on each other’s radar before now.  We have lived in the same town for many years and had many common friends.  However, for some reason, while we might have orbited around each other for a while, we never came into each other’s lives.  I know, for certain, that choices I have made over the past year – seemingly hard choices that I struggled with – allowed me to be in a position to have met this friend and develop a powerful and meaningful relationship that might, otherwise, not have happened.  Was it destined to be?  Perhaps.  Or, perhaps, I had to continue along on my journey and tackle the challenges and decisions to get to this part of my path and develop this relationship.

So, as I sit on the edge, dangling my feet over the giant chasm that exists between 11:59:59 on December 31, 2011 and 12:00:00 on January 1, 2012, I want to acknowledge my fellow journeymen.  I am blessed beyond belief with PEOPLE.  The cast of characters that color my life are what provides my life with richness and dimension.  They are the ones that enable me to take the hard curves, the giant craters and huge bumps in the roads I travel down.  They make me laugh and make me cry and make me grateful that I get to travel down these paths, however narrow and scary they may seem at times.  When I look back and take my personal inventory what I can say for certain, for the first time in my life, is that the people in my life are what I define as my success.  For we will leave this earth with nothing but the impact on others that we leave behind.

To all of my people, near and far, I say thank you for all that you bring into my life.  I try to thank each of you individually but, if I cannot, know that you are all part of my journey and I hope that I am helping to make your travels a bit easier.  To everyone else, I wish you a very joyous new year and look forward to sharing more in 2012!

 

THE GIFT OF RECEIVING


It’s Christmas.  The most wonderful time of the year.  We run around like lunatics for the month starting the day after (or the evening of, in my case) Thanksgiving hunting for the perfect gifts for friends and loved ones.  We overspend, overstress and then, come December 25th, all is right in the world.  It is a ritual that is equally insane and sublime.

When I was a kid we did not really celebrate Christmas.  We actually did not really celebrate anything.  My mother was Jewish and my father was Italian Catholic.  He insisted on having some semblance of Christmas while they were married and I recall some version of a “Chanukah bush” that was stored away in the attic.  Once my parents divorced when I was about 8 or 9, that went out the window and my mother, for many reasons, did not carry on any traditions.  We did do some sort of ad hoc family gatherings around Christmastime and did exchange gifts most years but it was never anything rich with celebration or tradition.

I don’t recall a lot of presents as a kid but, regardless, I always took great pleasure in the act of going out and buying gifts and wrapping them up.  I was mesmerized by beautiful gifts all wrapped up in colorful paper with big gorgeous bows.  I worked really hard to perfect my gift wrapping skills and learned how to make a mean bow.  I was twirling ribbons with scissors as a grade schooler.  It always bummed me out that we did not have a big family and that we did not have a lot of money because I wanted to go out and buy the biggest, most beautiful gifts I could find for everyone, wrap them up with the most stunning paper and present them with all the pride I could muster.  Instead, my mother bought cheap dime store paper – so thin I could practically see right through it and ripped the minute it found the corner of a box.  I would pick up little trinkets here and there to give to the various people in my life in order to fulfill my desire to give as if I, myself, were Santa.

I never thought as much about getting gifts because there never was a wish list or boxes and boxes to open.  And, I was so impatient that, on more than one occasion, I unwrapped and rewrapped the presents I discovered in my mother’s bedroom, effectively ruining any joy I might have had when I finally opened the package.  (That is a whole story in itself!) I really focused my energies on what I could buy for others and how I could make the gifts look as perfect as possible.  As I got older and was on my own, I continued with my own tradition of giving gifts to as many people as I could in order to see their eyes light up with joy when they opened the absolutely perfect (fill in the blank) that they had subtly mentioned over coffee or had looked at in a window while we strolling through the mall or down a midtown street.  I was always in search of the perfect gift and was careful to pay attention to any clues that would help me on my mission.  Once I got married and had children, the opportunity for gift giving increased exponentially and my joy at seeing my husband or children open up a much-desired package made my heart sing.

Now, do not let me fool you into thinking I am so altruistic that I do not enjoy being on the receiving end of the gifts.  In fact, I love getting gifts.  But, receiving gifts does not come easy to me.  That goes for both tangible and intangible gifts.  Despite the fact that we are about to embark upon the biggest day of wasted gift wrap, I am acutely aware that some of the greatest gifts I have or will receive do not come in a box with gift wrap and a bow.  Perhaps there is guilt attached to this (OK, of course there is guilt attached to this). All I know is that I have heard the words “Just say thank you,” once too often that it makes me really think about how I could do a better job of mastering the art of receiving gratefully and graciously – and I know I am not alone.

For me, it’s pretty complicated and it is something that I need to work on.  Since gifts are coming at me all the time (mostly in the form of the intangibles – the ones I love the most), it is a bit challenging to not be a gifted receiver.  Of course, I am grateful.  I am eternally grateful.  After I get over the “this is so nice of you, you didn’t really have to” about a hundred times, I stop and think about how fortunate I am to have such goodness and kindness in my life.  But not before I have assuredly annoyed someone else who just wants me to be able to receive their gift because giving feels really, really good.

On Christmas (or whatever holiday you may celebrate), receiving is expected and nearly mandatory.  Every other day of the year, minus your birthday, it might present a different set of challenges.  So, I encourage you to think about what kind of receiver you are and if you can offer those who are offering you a gift, the return of a gift of receiving.  Just say thank you and move on.

To those of you who have given me gifts of any kind, I say thank you.  To those of you to whom I have given gifts, please do not feel obligated to reciprocate and enjoy whatever you have received and know that the gifts were given with lots of love.  To all of you, enjoy the beautiful boxes with ribbons that you may receive tomorrow and also be on the lookout for all those meaningful intangible gifts coming your way.  And remember, the best way to say thank you is to simply say “thank you.”