Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Struggling to Live a Balanced Life: How "Shoulds" Effect How We See Things

My search for the last year has been specifically around finding balance, and it is the topic for the next retreat I am leading. And my experiences over the last year have been full of not only searching for balance, but also in trying to actually define what balance would look like.

And here's what I wonder...

Is Balance the choice to actively juggle every ball that is thrown my way, and keep everything moving?


Is Balance really about defining boundaries, making choices about what is best for myself and my family, learning to say NO to things that don't work (or no longer work), and finding an equilibrium between the "shoulds" and the "want tos"?

Recently, I've come to define balance as the latter. Balance is an active choice. It's deciding what works, what a person wants, what one needs in their life. And it's about walking away from things that don't work.

"When you stop chasing the wrong things, you give time for the right things to catch up." - Rachel Ann Nunes

Truly, a lot of the "wrong things" are the same thing as what I've labeled as "shoulds." This is the stuff that each of us thinks we "should" do, often without a specific reason or notion as to why we "should" do it. For me, it's often the vague, nagging sense that society expects it of me, or is judging me against a mythical woman who does everything she "should."

I should stay in a "good" career like project management and stay the course with my job because I have a child and a family and it would be unwise to risk our stability.

I should have a second child (or get a dog, or both) because my son needs a playmate / is lonely, or because families should have two children.

I should be able to do everything - keep a clean house, cook, get groceries, do laundry, exercise and sleep eight hours a night.

For me, chasing all of these shoulds and wrong things often goes hand in hand in the search for balance. And for that reason, I've come to realize that the word "balance" is often used as another word that is similar to the word perfection. It's another way that we end up judging ourselves, because we think we "should" balance everything.

Instead, though, Balance is about finding the good mix of what a person wants, what they long to do, and finding a way to make a living doing that. It's not about doing all of the things, but about doing the right things. It's not about going for broke emotionally or physically to do all the things one "should" do. It's about making brave choices about what one wants to do with their life.

Part of my journey for the last year has been looking at each of my "shoulds" and mindfully determining if it's still a fit, if it's do-able, if it has a place in my life. I've replaced quite a few of them with things that fit me now, and things that feel truthful and honest. I'm still in the middle of it. The three shoulds from above had turned into something closer to:

I will stay in my current job for now, and move into something more entrepreneurial over the next few years. I'll create a solid plan for myself and my family so it's not a huge risk, and Sean and I will make an educated decision together to except any risks that it entails.

We might get a dog in the next few years because Zoom would like one. We will wait until he's old enough to help care for an animal. A fish has been a good place to start.

I can't do everything, and that is OK. The house is clean-ish. Sean cooks dinner and I do breakfast. We often have groceries delivered because we prefer to spend the time as a family on weekends. I'm aiming for around 10,000 steps a day and I'm working on getting more sleep.

It's been a real learning experience for me, turning shoulds around, and questioning them. I like that my idea of "balance" has changed. It's manageable. I'm less anxious about it, and I've stopped worrying so much.

If you're struggling with "balance," it might be worth writing down all of your internally assigned "shoulds," and listing all of the things you're trying to juggle. Are they all things that you chose to own? Are some of them items that you took on because society, your family, your friends thought you "should" do? Write them out and give yourself some time to think on them, and then decide what you might be able to let go, or rewrite.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

How One Business Trip Changed My Life, Or That Time I Went to New York and saw Kinky Boots

In January, when I was still at my last job, my team was flying to New York for a bit meeting with out client. All of the agencies were gathering together for an annual meeting, and it was being held at BBDO New York.

After what had been a very rough set of projects for the client, and because we'd let go our account manager, it was decided that I should go with the team. I knew the business, the client seemed to like and respect me.

And so during the "Polar Vortex" of 2014, we hit New York. I'd lived on the East Coast while attending Yale for grad school back in 1998, and I had an idea of how cold it would be. For some reason I thought that meant I could walk from Bryant Park to my hotel on 52nd (10 blocks) in 19 degree weather. I'd forgotten how that kind of cold can burn your nose. But I made it. And then my coworkers and I went skating at Rockefeller Center at midnight:

Ice Skating in Rockefeller Center at Midnight during the Polar Vortex of 2014

There was plenty of real business going on during the trip. We'd prepared several presentations and were meeting with the other agencies that worked on the account. But, I did book myself an extra night for that Saturday because, good grief, when in the near future would I be on the East Coast and have the chance to explore New York again on my own?

Saturday became a truly life changing day. After shopping and exploring, I met up with my own life coach, the one and only amazeballs Michelle Ward for cookies and fun.  After having worked with Michelle for four months over the phone, during an especially turbulent time, it was really lovely to get to meet her face to face. Why we did not get a picture together is beyond me. She's chatty and personable, and as wonderful as you'd gather from working with her or watching one of her videos. She also hung out with me when I ate at The Shake Shack ... so tasty.

Broadway at night

My next stop was to see Kinky Boots. My only introduction to it was their performance on the Tony Awards for the previous year, and I knew they'd won Best Musical. And that Cindy Lauper wrote the score. I did not really know that it was a musical about drag queens and making boots for queens. And frankly, the characters and the score stole my heart, while simultaneously capturing a crap ton of the emotions and feelings I was already going through having had the worst set of jobs in the world.

And yeah, I know that's a tad cheesy. But I'm that same girl who cries all the way through Rent, every freaking time I see it.

But here's what stood out for me that night, and became the soundtrack for my next three months. Charlie is trying to figure out a way to save his family's business and in the midst of doing that, and reinventing a shoe business (to be a high heeled boot business for drag queens), he changes. In the song "Step One," he sings -

I may be facing the impossible,
I may be chasing after miracles.
And there may be the steepest mountain to overcome.
But this is step one.

I was so overcome by the show that I stayed afterwards, to meet Stark Sands and Billy Porter (the two leads). What I didn't know at the time was that many of the leads had already announced they were leaving the show. I got their signatures, and I got pictures with them. It was a really special evening.

With Stark Sands (he plays Charlie Price) of Kinky Boots
 And that's truly what that weekend, that day started to represent for me. I knew that I very much wanted to become my own boss. Having rubbed elbows just the day before with folks at one of the biggest agency's in New York City, and then sitting across from a successful entrepreneur and being surrounded by the magic of New York, well, it just solidified what I knew I needed to do. I needed to take "Step One."

With Tony Award Winner Billy Porter (he plays Lola) of Kinky Boots

By the time I got home I was looking for a new job. I knew I needed to make room in my life to get back to doing what I love, and leave room to train for what I needed to do next. And that's how I got to my "Ten in Three."


Monday, August 11, 2014

My New Fitbit One and Losing Weight

Over the last year, I gained about twenty pounds. If you're a regular reader, you know I'm 4'10" and so that's a rather substantial amount on my frame. Twenty pounds is nearly as much as I gained when I was pregnant! This last round of weight gain was from stress, and from having zero self control around the large snack basket that my previous employer kept stocked in the kitchen.

Me jumping for joy in the kitchen on my last day at that job ... lol, someone was making drinks and so we were goofing around taking pictures:

Losing weight and getting healthy is not specifically included in my "ten in three" plans, but I've adopted it as something I need to do anyway. I'll admit that I'd like to get my weight down for the wedding, but it's also because I'm just not happy with the way I look or feel. This time around, the weight gain has been mostly around my middle, which is a new and not so awesome way for weight to settle. I've joked before that every 10 years the body changes how it stores weight ... well, the 40s must be around the gut.

I'd gotten back on the Weight Watchers, which had worked for me before. This time around, not so much. I lost a pound or two and stalled.

I felt like I needed more information to figure out WHY I wasn't dropping pounds, so I bought a Burgundy Fitbit One Wireless Activity Plus Sleep Tracker. (I like the color, and strangely, it's $12 less than the black one on Amazon.)

It's just been three days, but I already love it! It tracks steps taken, calories, stairs climbed, sleep activity, and in the app you can track the food that you've eaten that day. I love that you then have a very clear picture of the calories in versus the calories out.

Simple math will show if you're going to gain weight or lose weight.

And, it makes it so easy to see if you've had enough activity in a day; 10,000 steps is the goal. Today I met my goal!

Here's a screengrab of the app itself. Easy to read and the FitBit One will sync with your iPhone over Bluetooth. It was super easy to set up.

I've lost about half of the weight (I lost 7 pounds before signing up for Weight Watchers), and with my new digital scale, it looks like I'm trending to lose weight this week. That is good news!

Do you have a Fitbit? Do you like it? I'd love to hear, or answer questions about it if you have any.

(Note that the link to the FitBit above is part of the Amazon Affiliate program. If you click over and buy a Fitbit, I get a tiny commission, which will go towards my life coach training tuition. I hope you'll love it!)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How to Study for the PMP Exam When You're Busy

As part of my "Ten in Three," I'm studying to become PMP (Project Management Professional) Certified. It's a crazy four hour test that covers the contents of the Project Management Book of Knowledge, and if that doesn't make it sound fun enough, it's also a requisite of my current job that I pass the exam during my first year of employment.

My current plan is to study through October and then take the test itself before the end of the year. If I don't pass, I have until April 2015 to try again. I'm currently through about half of the material.

"Study" from Niya on "we heart it" - clearly I need to buy a cute owl mug :)

Here's how I'm tackling it:

1. I've signed up for Cornelius Fichtner's "PMPrepcast." Cornelius is out of Los Angeles and has been podcasting about project management for years. He does a decent job of keeping the content as interesting as possible. The podcasts provide about 50 hours of instruction and qualify for the required 35 hours of instruction to sign up for the test itself. I like that I can listen to the prepcast in my car as I commute, and I like that I bought the package that also has a set of practice tests.

2. Reading the PMBOK (Project Management Book of Knowledge) Guide*. I'm reading that sucker cover to cover, twice. This first pass I'm timing it to match with the content I'm hearing in the prepcast. To make time for it, I've been reading in the lunch room while I eat my lunch.

3. Head First PMP  book*. This is one of the O'Reilly guides, and it is a bit more light hearted and graphically interesting than the PMBOK (which isn't hard to do). I like that the authors present many of the topics in ways that are very relate-able. At the same time, I find some of it too corny.

I am going to try and take as many practice exams as I can. Most everyone who has taken the exam says it's hard, and suggests that you take practice exams until you can score about 80-85% reliably. At that point you've absorbed most of the material and you're likely to pass the real test.

So that's the plan. I've been having a really hard time finding the time to study, but it's really one of those things where I've just got to hunker down and get to it.

*The links in #2 and #3 above include an affiliate link out to Amazon. (That's where I got my copies of both books.) If you click through and purchase with Amazon, I make a tiny bit of money.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Add Intern Supervisor to My Resume. And, Let's Talk About Wedding Dresses.

I tend to freeze up and stop blogging when I'm super busy. Or sometimes I freeze up when I'm faced with things that are just too big to jump in and explain in a quick blogging format.

Right now, I'm just plain-old-fashioned-busy.

At work, I'm supervising three interns. It's a tad unusual that a Project Manager would oversee interns, but for the most part, we are having them assist on one of my projects. We are building a new company intranet and the interns are helping move content from the old site to the new one. The three of them are truly a force to be reckoned with. They move so quickly through the work I give them that I'm constantly trying to find more for them to do.

Truthfully, I love working with them. I've always liked managing people, and these three are no exception. So bright, funny, so full of excitement about the future. One wants to be a creative therapist for children, using dance as therapy! I'm blown away by this. By her, and her dreams. So exciting.

In addition to my run-me-ragged intern supervisory role, I've been making my wedding invitations and trying to find a dress for the wedding. By trying to find a dress I mean ... I've been shopping online.

Unlike many brides I have zero interest into stepping in to a bridal boutique. I distinctly feel like I can't be bothered to spend the time doing that. So .. Instead, I just ordered three dresses to try on and I think I'll decide amongst those, and return the other two. OK, one of them is green and I loved it, so I might keep it even IF it doesn't make the bridal cut.

 All told, I'm also super excited about the wedding, just less excited about the whole business of traditional gown shopping. I'll try to check in later this week with a sneak peek at the invitations...until then, I'm off to figure out what those interns should do in the morning.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

California Coastal Wedding Ideas: Location, Bakeries, Shoes, and A Song from the Movie Babe

The first of my "ten in three" goals is to get married!

Sean and I are currently working at getting details polished and ready to go, and I find that it is both fun and so totally all-encompassing to be planning a wedding. I find that I really do want to share some of the details with you, but still not give away too much. :)

We are getting married on the Northern Coast of California, outdoors, along a bluff, at one of my favorite places on Earth. Right where that fence is ... that is where we will say "I do."

For cakes, we are going with the one and only Franny of Franny's Cup and Saucer. She is out of Point Arena, and she and her mom, Barbara make some delicious baked goods and pastries (and awesome gluten free ones, too!). The cake below is one with a fence; a bit like the one we will see at our location. I haven't finalized anything yet; but I think ours will have a similar design.

I'm going to be making the invitations myself. In a former life, I made stationery, so it feels so good to get back to doing that again. I'm still playing with the template (and need some more ribbon and a different sized hole punch), but here is my inspiration from Etsy. This image is from Decadent Designs:

A little peek at footwear... Since we're going to be getting married outside, and walking along a dirt trail to get to the location I wanted to find some flats. But, I also REALLY wanted to find another pair of pumps or heels that I could wear for the reception and dinner, because I'm super short. So.

What does one do? They find this peacock shoe on Modcloth and order both the flat and the heel IMMEDIATELY!!!

And lastly, music, ceremony music. I want the processional to be something unexpected. For my first wedding, we walked in to Pachelbel's Canon in D. (I was, and still am, obsessed with the movie "Father of the Bride." It's Steve Martin. I love him. Especially when he's arrested for removing the superfluous buns from the packages in the supermarket. Tell me you know what I'm talking about!?!)

Do you know the song "If I had words" from the movie, Babe? It's in the scene where Babe the pig is feeling sorry for himself and won't get up off the couch. Farmer Hoggett sings him a song, and then dances to it. I cry every time I see James Cromwell finish that jig, because it's such an act of gorgeous love and celebration.

When Zoom was a baby, there were a handful of songs that I sang again and again. "I know you," "Swing low, sweet chariot," "Where have all the flowers gone," and ... "If I had words."

Zoom recognized the song when he saw the movie. Now, since he knows that I LOVE that movie, he will ask me, "Momma, you do the Babe dance?" And that means that I'm supposed to do a very heartfelt and un-choreographed dance around the room, jumping and spinning and singing. And then I'm done and he claps. And I try not to cry.

If I had words to make a day for you,
I'd sing you a morning golden and new
I would make this day last for all time
Give you a night deep in moonshine

So, I present this goodie as the current front runner for the processional. I will want to edit it a bit. My attendants will include my twin niece and nephew, and my sweet Zoom. I'll cry like a fool. With so much promise and love in the lyrics, how could you not love this song?

What do you think about non-traditional music for a wedding processional? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

And, want to see some more Wedding Ideas? Check out my Pinterest board!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Search for Balance: New Priorities as a Working Mother

I'm no stranger to busy-ness. I work, I have a three year old son, and I'm studying for the PMP (Project Management Professional) exam, I'm planning a wedding, and planning a retreat.

Appropriately, the retreat is on .... balance.

Life Changes Make us Rethink Priorities
Balance has been that thing I've been searching for over the last three years. I had a child, and our lives changed. What once had been do-able (long hours, getting home after 8pm, working weekends) was no longer acceptable. I longed to spend time with my little Zoom.

Since the time he was very young, I had this achey feeling that each moment I didn't spend with him was a moment that I would never get back, that I might miss little things, special things, and that when it was all said and done, no paycheck or bonus or plaque or LinkedIn endorsement would make up for any moment lost with my son.

It's not that I stopped caring about work, but it's that I started caring about something else.

And the search for balance was on.

Balance vs. Perfection
In the last few weeks I've been reading a lot about balance. I think one of my favorite takes on the topic is by the author Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame). She wrote the following on her Facebook page:

"We are constantly being told that we should be achieving balance — that we should somehow exquisitely be negotiating the relationships between our work lives, our home lives, our romantic lives, our health and well-being, our spiritual selves. You can't read an interview with a famous woman these days that the journalist does not applaud her for having achieved BALANCE....and then if you turn the pages of that magazine, you will find ten more articles showing how you can achieve balance. too!

Be careful...

The word BALANCE has tilted dangerously close, I fear, to the word PERFECT — another word that women use as weapons against themselves and each other. ...

That being the case, I dropped the myth of BALANCE a long time ago. (I buried it right next to PERFECT.) My life seems happiest — as I tried to explain to this young woman the other night — when I just surrender to the madness, and embrace the glorious mess that I am...and also when I embrace the glorious mess that everyone else is, and the glorious mess of the world itself. My life gets the most painful when I try to set the entire mess (myself other people, life itself) into order. "

I feel funny even copying her words because my goodness, it's Elizabeth Gilbert, but I have to say this made me smile. And it made me think a whole lot about this elusive search for balance.

When we, as modern, amazing, delightfully smart men and women say that we want "balance" in our lives, are we actually saying that we want to be able to cram in all the stuff that we're supposed to be doing, and making it look easy?

And what exactly is all the stuff we're supposed to be doing? Having a clean house? An organized garage? A stocked and sparkling refrigerator? A full social calendar and exciting potlucks scheduled with our neighbors?

I don't actually know anyone that lives like that. (Although Pinterest would have me think otherwise.) And here we are, like Ms Gilbert reflects, butting up on the ideals of "perfection," strangely masked as "balance."

Re-Balancing to Match New Priorities
But back to balance ... I'm not sure I'd thought of balance in those terms before, but then again I kind of feel like this might be truer than I'd like to admit. As a new mom, I wanted to find a way to do "ALL THE THINGS,"  and my brain wasn't coming to terms with the fact even from a time perspective, there was no way to do all of that.

And even more importantly, from a heart perspective, if I got really honest with myself, I didn't really want to do all of those things anymore, because I had new priorities. I didn't just want to be a part of the "moments" with my son, but I wanted to lay the foundation for a great family relationship with him. I wanted to be a part of his education, his routines, not a mother who worked hard and was rarely around.

For me, balance really does boil down to matching my priorities and desires with where and how I spend my time. It means that I need to be honest with myself about the things I want to do, and upfront about things that I don't care about (or that no longer serve a purpose for me). 

And after reading Elizabeth's words, I think the search for balance is also about letting go comparing myself or my family against an unattainable portrait of perfection. It will take a mindful and willful focus to let that go, for sure. 

How do you see balance in your life? What kinds of things have changed your priorities? Did you have to re-evaluate your definition of balance at that time?