How has music shaped your life?

Music was the very first tool I ever used to handle my emotions. As a teenager, music was often the ONLY thing I had at my disposal to process emotions that would flood my system all at once. I was an only child with a single working mom, so I outwardly grew my self-sufficiency while subconsciously craving outlets to soothe my soul. Writing my thoughts in a journal often felt too vulnerable, and forget about cell phones, AOL instant messenger (with dial up!) was just making its rounds to a screen near you…

When I was 11, my friend Jessie and I could NOT stop singing to our very first CD album: Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt. Yeah. Try to get “Don’t Speak” out of your head right now! I didn’t lose a best friend or a teen lover to this song. But that line – don’t tell me ’cause it hurts – spoke deeply to me. I remember being at a tender age where I felt mute, unable to express everyday hurts like being picked next to last on a team, or having to fight for a seat on the bus since I was picked up at one of the last stops.

When I was 12, “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls was RED HOT. I love me some sappy, heartfelt, well-written songs, but I loved the freedom of belting this out and dancing with my hands high. The song is pure FUN, and my parents were recently divorced. “Wannabe” was the release valve I didn’t know I needed to let go and cling to the belief that “friendship never eeends”. Oops, I got another song stuck in your head, didn’t I?

When I was 13, my dad and I played a LOT of Jimmy Buffett and Garth Brooks. I cannot listen to “Margaritaville” or “Friends in Low Places” without instantly picturing my dad and his 6’1″ frame, salt and pepper hair, and black mustache. I spent a week with him in Florida that summer, and we tooled around the beach taking pictures, boat rides, and eating lots of seafood. It was the last time I saw him in person.

When I was 14, it was ALL about Britney and Christina (Xtina). My friends and I wanted to BE them, and there was no shame about it. I started gymnastics this year and would only compete on JV for one season. As an only child, this was the first time I felt I “belonged” to a group of girlfriends. Normal teenage drama would ensue over the years, but these times of making up dance routines, tying ribbons in our hair, and rooting each other on from the sidelines sticks out in my mind whenever I hear the divas that brought us 90’s girl pop.

When I was 15, Nelly’s “Ride Wit Me” was the anthem of our collective naivete as young, blonde owners of learner’s permits, itching for the day we could have our OWN car and play our OWN music. This era of rap absolutely defined my high school years, where your only concerns in the summer were finding the next pool to go to, warm late-night walks to and from local parks and neighborhoods, and being invited over for a home-cooked meal. I listen to the words in those songs now and am equally smacked with thoughts of, Crank up the throwback jam! but also, Black culture’s hip hop roots are deeper than mere entertainment; they masterfully use their pain to inspire and reignite creative expression in mainstream music.

When I was 16, I made an entire CD dedicated to my dad who passed away in a car accident. It was the only way I could process his sudden death without getting lost in what was and what could have been in his short life. His alcoholism had been the catalyst to my parents’ divorce, and I paradoxically adored his character and loathed his behavior that separated our family. Songs like “Fins” by Jimmy Buffett and “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton helped me focus on his laughter, his warmth, and his big personality, keeping him alive in my heart in his best moments.

When I was 17, I spent freshman year of college dreaming with my roommate Kauai that Keith Urban and his “long lost twin” would come sweep us away, crooning “Somebody Like You” right to us. That song brings me back to sunny days with the windows down, breeze flowing, and off-key belting out words we longed for, as we dared to dream of a partner to spend our days with. Engineering textbooks be damned, we would not forget about love!

When I was 18, I dated someone who unknowingly opened up my WHOLE world to music. He introduced me to Pat Green, Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, and a lasting favorite, Dave Matthews Band. It was a short-lived relationship in exchange for a life-long love of multi-genre, multi-generational music. Music hasn’t let me down yet, so I’d say I got the better end of the deal on this one.

These days, I listen to highly eclectic, highly tailored playlists. Apparently, I discovered 330 new artists in 2020 (thanks, Spotify!). I listen to anything from Taylor Swift (no shame, she’s such a talent), Yanni and Emancipator (when I need to focus at work), decades of pop hits (they’re just so FUN), contemporary Christian worship (nothing else gets into my soul like Red Rocks Worship and Elevation Worship), and whatever else my friends are playing that makes me go, Wait, who sings that, let me add it to my list…

Now it’s your turn. Silent or spoken answers welcome. How has music shaped your life?

When’s the last time you checked in with a former boss?

Sadly this year, I’ve lost not one but two former bosses: Linda and Bruce. Looking back, I’ve had some incredible leaders who breathed life into my career, and I have more than one “favorite” boss. I think it’s because one of my strengths is Individualization (Clifton Strengthsfinder test). So I can easily pinpoint admirable qualities from each boss I’ve had that I choose to take on as my own.

I’m completely heartbroken for these families. They each lost two truly dedicated and gifted people. On a personal level, I’m sad because I hadn’t made contact with these two in years. And folks, this is my thing. I’m proud of the fact that I speak my mind and readily share appreciation when the mood strikes. I can dig deep and vulnerably share how much the person impacted me. I’d even thought of these two earlier this year, when I got that little familiar itch at the back of my mind saying, Say hi, check in, see how they’re doing. Share how your career is going and how much you appreciate that they helped get you there. But then the phone rang, the dog barked, the family sent a funny group text, and SQUIRREL, I forgot all about it. Big, heavy sigh.

I want to make amends, somehow. I’m not trying to beat myself up here – I’m human after all – and any friend would tell me that in spite of our intentions, this happens to the best of us. But I want to hold myself accountable for letting life (work, ironically) get away from me and ignoring that tiny yet mighty voice – my inner conscience, my God – telling me to slow down and not forget about people. With all the strife, division, sickness, loss, and chaos that the pandemic has brought, the one thing that I appreciated most was that it forced me to slow down in the early days of quarantine.

So in a small act of honor, I’ve decided to write to each former boss, even the ones I lost. If anything, their families should know how impactful they were outside of the home. For the ones still alive, this is my calling to send them a note of encouragement. I trust God’s timing on this one, and I trust that the recipients of my letters will be exactly who and exactly when He wants.

Dear Linda,

You hired me for my first “real” job. I can never forget you. You were a tireless powerhouse and taught me more about business development in 9 months than I could have ever learned in 9 years. You knew exactly how to coach me from writing section of resumes to whole proposals. I always loved laughing in the office with you, whether it was about your dogs (Einstein and Sport), or my 4″ heels – ballerina shoes! – that I gave up years ago, or sharing stories of Colorado and our common alma mater.

I will never forget when you wrote me a letter of recommendation for grad school, printed it out, and told me to save it for a hard day on the job a decade later. I still have that letter. In it, you spoke life into a shy girl who has turned into a confident construction manager. You believed in me before I believed in myself as an engineer. And you taught me how important it was to have a confidante, a network of women, and an ally on the job to build a foundation outside of my resume.

After my internship, you helped me get a job where I wanted to live, even though you believed in me enough to tell me I could move anywhere and be on the fast track to project management. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have gotten my first job at a stable company when the recession hit in the Fall of 2008. No one would hire me, but you opened a door in a bleak time that jumpstarted my career, when it could’ve been otherwise delayed or nonexistent.

I’ll always remember your tenacity, dedication, intelligence, quick wit, and capacity for excellence in the industry. I know I share the memory of your legacy with many others that you lifted up, too. You were taken too soon and will be so missed in this life.

Dear Bruce,

You hired me at a pivotal point in my career when I almost gave up on engineering. I didn’t share this with you, but the manager I had before you gave me serious doubts in my abilities and my purpose. Had you not hired me into your small group, I would not be where I am today. I know that coming into your group, I didn’t have the specific technical skills you were looking for. But you saw potential and drive in me and chose to see that the rest could be taught.

I will never forget when a few months after I started working with you, you looked me dead in the eye and said, “You could run this group one day.” You were so clear and confident, and while those plans did not come to fruition, you left a mark on me. I think of your statement often when I feel overwhelmed or incapable as a new manager on a multi-million dollar project right now.

You gave the best life advice to us. The one I remember most is when you told us that the only free time we had for ourselves was early in the morning, over lunch, or late at night. That’s it. And we should use those moments wisely to rest or exercise or grow, while the remaining hours were dedicated to others: work, family, “adulting”, etc. But you made sure we had FUN at work, too. Coming from larger companies who thought pizza lunch every 6 months was sufficient to express employee appreciation, we all felt spoiled after you stocked the kitchen with cabinets full of snacks, took us on an afternoon off for bowling, or treated us to an epic Italian dinner with management at Barolo’s Italian.

My time working with you was too short, and giving you my resignation letter after 9 months was one of the toughest career decisions I’ve made. I appreciated your heart-wrenching honesty when you asked me to give you more time to grow the group and build up your portfolio. Looking back, I don’t regret my decision to go to a “right now” opportunity at a new company, but it’s one of those times when I wish I could’ve had it both ways. You were sincere, sharp, wise, caring, and intentional. I know your legacy will be cherished by many, many engineers you impacted along with me.

Now it’s your turn. Shared or silent answers always welcome. When’s the last time you checked in with a former boss?

When All My Escapes Fail, Except One

I’m not one to overtly deny myself breaks. I may delay a personal break longer than I should, reaching that peak level of “yeah, it’s time to close the laptop” before I stop working. But I’ve always believed in the “work hard, play hard” mentality. In a day, I can find any number of ways to escape: take a 5 minute walk around the building, plan a fancy outing with friends, find a new devotional plan, throw together a girls weekend getaway in one hour, pull up one of my all-time favorite albums or playlists, take a nap, try a new workout, treat myself to Chick Fil A or a Starbucks pink drink, or just grab a piece of dark chocolate with sea salt and almonds. Any of those is bound to do the trick for me and send me on my way. 

Once, I crushed a homework assignment from my therapist by developing a self-care list that was broken out by increments of time. She asked for one list, but I devised this matrix of various activities, ranging from five minutes to five days. That way, I always had a “go to” escape, whether I was short on time or needed to purposefully carve out more time. I thought of it as a bulletproof tool that would do the trick any time I felt burnout coming on before it overtook me.

My favorite escape is the beach, although living in my landlocked state of Colorado makes that one very hard to come by. I grew up spending summers in Fort Myers Beach, so snobbishly and unfortunately, the “lake shore” vibe of my state’s man-made reservoirs just doesn’t do it for me. Cue the sand between the toes scenes, purple-pink skies reflecting off glittery waves, and the reliable sound of ocean waves crashing, retreating, crashing, retreating. The beach is it for me.

For the first time in my life, though, I have a growing, fearful sense that my escape tactics, i.e., self-care moments, are failing me. I’ve tried any and all the things on my list the past few months, but I don’t feel the same release. I tried old music that I forgot about. I tried not pushing it too much with the workouts and just doing yoga instead of cardio. I tried leaving work early to catch up on house stuff, then making up that hour the next day. I haven’t felt the same passion to write that I did last summer, but I’m doing it anyway because I know it’s good for my soul. While these moments offer a temporary reprieve, they aren’t lasting as long as I’d like them to. What used to sustain for days is now only getting me through a day, at best. My fixes aren’t fixing. I feel flat and uninspired at my normally deeper, soulful level. 

Characteristic to my analytical nature, I’ve mentally gone through the steps to find the source of my angst, my emptiness. Why am I feeling this way? What can I do about it? On my good days, I tell myself it’s because I just came off a crazy, horrendous six month busy season at work, and I’m just learning to breathe normally again. For the past month, I could actually breathe deeply and intentionally in slower sips of air, rather than feeling like I’m gasping and burning my lungs all day (metaphorically speaking). Sometimes I wonder if it’s going to take me another six months to recover from that period of intense growth and thinking about work 24/7 (so it goes when your client is at the airport).

I also know my sleep is off from having a mix of day shifts, swing shifts, and night shifts in May, June, and July. I’m not a good sleeper anyway. I have always struggled with working night shifts, no matter how much I mentally prepare myself that it’s temporary or manage to sleep well during the day. My sleep schedule these days is particularly subpar, but c’est la vie. I’ve tried all the sleep things except Ambien and acupuncture, and I’ve accepted that it’s just not in the cards for me in this season.

Soon, the burnout of overanalyzing how I “should” feel about escaping life’s daily pressures set in. So over the past couple months, I decided to be very picky about what I’d escape with. No need to mentally exhaust myself, then feel bad about what I chose. I decided that if an old or new thing wasn’t working, I would move on. That thing would still be there for me should I want to pick it up again another time. For now, I needed to get really simple and nonjudgmental about my escapes.

So I can tell you with the most sincere honesty that the only escape that’s worked for me the past few months has been binge watching Grey’s Anatomy

I’ve been a die-hard Grey’s Anatomy fan since it debuted in 2005, when I watched Cristina and Meredith make “dancing it out” a legitimate thing. I always rooted for Mer-Der yet still wanted to be leggy and fabulous like Addison. But I stopped watching the show about six years ago when I thought I was “above” it, that I shouldn’t indulge. My husband tolerated it but certainly didn’t enjoy it as much as I did. I justified and minimized that there was no productive reason to watch my favorite show, so I shouldn’t.

But that’s just it. I was sneakily seeking productivity in many of my escape tactics, rather than just enjoying. I do this with podcasts or books quite often, where I gravitate towards self-help and personal growth topics. I truly enjoy learning non-work things, but I realized I’d reached the point of overdoing it on self-improvement.

Rediscovering Grey’s Anatomy brought me back to a place where I could enjoy something for no reason at all. Some days, it’s the only time I momentarily escape the tireless hamster that won’t get off the damn wheel in my head. It gives me that sense of being “in the moment”, where I’m so captured in the storyline that I get enough distance from my own storyline, giving it the breathing room it needs.

I started from Season 1 just this past year, then really ramped up my efforts to catch up to Season 17 by September (next month!) before the final season is released. I’ve literally watched it for hours some weekends after my job fully depleted me. I like listening to Grey’s while I fold clothes or sort the mail. It’s nice “company” for me, especially since my husband has started traveling for work again, giving me extra alone time. And here we are yet again, slowly entering times when seeing people is less of an option (thanks, delta variant).

Do you have a show or completely mindless activity that just speaks to you? Grey’s Anatomy has been this for me. Like in Season 11, when Meredith looks at the nanny she’s interviewing and says that her schedule is unpredictable. And with tears in her eyes, she’s asking for someone to help support her and her kids with that. To be flexible and reliable when she cannot.

Or in Season 15, when Bailey talks about giving up all the things to find out what’s “wrong” with her, even up to temporarily relinquishing her job as the first Black female chief of surgery. When she shared her struggles with self-worth, I stopped dead at what I was doing and felt seen through her words. It didn’t solve my problems, and I wasn’t at the point of quitting my job. But it made me feel less alone.

I perpetually try to find purpose in the smallest of things, which can be both a blessing and a curse. I really love this candle, and ooh, when I buy it, I’ll be supporting a small business too. It doesn’t mean both of these things aren’t good and shouldn’t be sought after. But we don’t always have to justify our enjoyment. I am biased of course, but I think this concept is hardest for women and underrepresented people, given all the other things we’ve felt we needed to justify in the last 100 years (voting, working, asking for help, having kids, not having kids, equal pay, and so on).

I’ve always believed in a good escape. In seeking purpose, we eventually need to escape. In escaping, we find enjoyment. In enjoyment, we find light heartedness. In light heartedness, we find connection. And in connection, we find ourselves arriving back at our purpose. 

I was inspired to write on the topic of “Escape” through my women’s writing group, Illuminate Writing. Check out these amazing stories on what it means to escape by my fellow women writer warriors:

How Do You Escape? by Crystal James
un-becoming by Laci Hoyt
Escaping My Calling by Christine Carpenter
Escape Via Him by Amy Rich
How Sudden Suddenly Happens by Leesha Mony
Can’t Escape My Worries (a poem) by Mia Sutton 


To the Women Working in Male-Dominated Fields

Vulnerability can be a daily hazard for those who identify as a woman in a male-dominated industry. Why? Because we take risks every day showing up as ourselves when the world expects us to constantly talk, act, think, and work like a man, yet still be a kind, good, obedient person who keeps her head down.

Working with men requires vulnerability when… 

  • you have to ask for help.
  • you’re still the only woman in the room (yet the statistics keep saying “it’s all fixed now”). 
  • you ask for time off or set boundaries to your working hours.
  • you have to decide how to take action (or not) when men ignore you.
  • you realize that some men genuinely see you, and you wouldn’t be where you are without them.
  • you choose to say yes quickly to a great opportunity, even when you’re not quite ready.
  • you take said opportunity then think, did I just get taken advantage of? 
  • you allow yourself feel all the hurt, anger, fear, anxiety, embarrassment, disgust, jealousy, and judgment that comes any time you feel vulnerable at work.

For me, I have a double whammy when it comes to working in a male-dominated field. I’m a civil engineer, of which there are about 25% females on average. But I also work in the construction industry, of which there are about 10% females on average.

What’s worse is that these statistics don’t even consider other affected groups: Asian/Asian Indian, Black, Latinx, Native American, and anyone with any form of disability, seen or unseen. The statistics nose dive drastically from there and still severely lack inclusion.

No matter what industry we’re in, women benefit more in the long run from bringing our whole selves to work. Not the scaled down version that confines to “their” rules. We got into our industries for a reason by something deep within propelling us forward–NOT by how many people told us we couldn’t or shouldn’t because we may not fit in.

It took me nearly 10 years into my career to feel that I really belonged in it. And what I’ve learned thus far is this: by focusing more on who I am, it makes what I produce that much richer, more connected, and more sustainable. But that’s a story (or maybe a book?) for a different day.

I wrote this manifesto to remind us that our voice–however WE choose to express it–matters in our line of work. 

I am… Human. I will know that my ability to bring humanity to my job is an asset, not a liability.

I am… Determined. I will take a seat at the table, not on the side. I will get there early enough to take that seat.

I am… Vocal.  I won’t hesitate to raise my hand, when I’m ready. I will speak up when I’m convicted, even if it’s uncomfortable. If I don’t speak up, I will not shame myself. I will decide what “vocal” looks like for me.

I am… Curious. If I don’t know the answer to a technical question, I won’t doubt my ability to learn. I will gracefully respond with “let me get back to you” as I’ve witnessed my male peers do. I will give myself time to find answers and never stop asking questions.

I am… Empowered. I will know that I am tougher than I look, whether society wants to see it or not. I am NOT an imposter. I belong here as long as I choose to stay here.

I am… Balanced. I will listen to my gut, especially with outside commitments. I do not have to go to everything. I will go to happy hours, work trips, and conferences to the extent that I’m able. I will say no if it competes with my overall well-being or sanity based on my family commitments. Saying no does not mean I cannot succeed.

I am… Creative. My ideas and perspectives are worthy of sharing. Only I possess the traits and skills I have, and only I can give myself permission to share when the time is right. My field depends on it to stay on the cutting edge.

I am… Decisive. I will deeply consider the importance of the decisions I make every day, big or small. I will say no when I mean no, and I will say yes when I mean yes. I will do this guilt-free, and I will take the time I need to make the best decision I can, given the time allowed, people involved, and information at hand. 

I am… Resilient. When someone asks me what I do and I say I’m a “fill-in-the-blank” (engineer, lawyer, mechanic, pastor, choir director, pilot, firefighter, architect, farmer, software developer, TV/film camera operator, the list goes on…), I will wait for their “I didn’t expect that” reaction to subside. And if I need to go vent afterwards, I will absolutely give myself permission to do so. 

This is for any woman who’s ever doubted her place, talents, or contributions to a male-dominated field. Writing this is a vulnerable act for me in itself. I wouldn’t have even thought to write this without having gone through my own fears, doubts, and struggles from my experiences working in a field where I often feel less than. It is difficult to even admit I’ve felt this way about a career I enjoy so much.

Still, I implore us to heal our self-inflicted wounds, ignore the silence from those we hoped would support us but don’t, and proudly show more of ourselves every day in the career we chose, the purpose we love.

This essay is brought to you by my womxn’s writing group, Illuminate Writing. You can find us on Instagram @illuminatewriting and @thekindredvoice.

Please check out these amazing writers and their perspectives on Vulnerability below:

Being Vulnerable With My Body by Hannah Kewley

Quitting Cold Turkey by Mia Sutton

I Have Been Sick All My Life by Jennifer Brown

Anxiety Hangover by Christine Carpenter

Butterfly Wings by Megan McCoy Dellecese

with love, eunice by Eunice Brownlee

 

What It Means to Stay In My Lane

How much do you pay attention to the lane striping on a roadway? Unfortunately for me, I critique notice it a LOT from working in the transportation industry as a field engineer.

Double yellow, that’s easy: don’t cross into oncoming traffic. Dashed white, also called skips: lane changes are allowed. But I mean the finer details. Like when you’re merging onto an interstate, but there’s a long solid white line that slooowly turns into white skips. Ooh, gray area. I bet at least 90% of us cross that solid line before the skips. I can neither confirm nor deny my choice, given where I’m going and how heavy traffic is. These areas are tricky because the lane next to it looks open. So, can’t I sneak on over and be on my way?

The lane lines serve as boundaries of what we can and cannot cross. We don’t own the roadway, of course (as much as we’d like to, some days). And the more I studied “striping” as we call it in the engineering field, the more I began connecting this concept to everyday life. I’ve also studied quite a bit on boundaries in my personal growth, as the notion of it was completely foreign to me until a few years ago. Back then, aside from some obvious ethical boundaries like don’t cheat, I had very few personal boundaries.

I thought saying yes to everything and everyone was both encouraged and expected. “Be a hand raiser!” “Don’t miss a good opportunity!” “Fake it till you make it!” were the mantras told to us as young college students ready to change the world. Seldom were the phrases, “But do what’s best for you” or “But take the time you need to decide what opportunities fit you” added on to remind us to stay balanced. The main message was: get the degree as fast as possible to start making as much money as possible, and the rest will fall into place. An engineering fairy tale at its finest.

I’ve learned that boundaries give us language to say what works and what doesn’t for us, both in life and at work. I think this is really tough for women in engineering to do consistently, because we naturally want to help people out. Sometimes we put up a white solid line (do not cross temporarily) but find that someone urges us to change it to white skips (passing lane, come on in). Like when a manager moves up a deadline when we just admitted (or wanted to admit) we were burnt out and need a short break. Sometimes we put up a double yellow that gets completely ignored, like when we told our significant other that we need to reschedule dinner with the folks, but they forgot and now “we can’t let them down”.

Boundaries are tough, because often others can see our lines, plain as day, yet decide to cross over anyway. The reverse can be true from us to others as well. It takes commitment, strength, and love for ourselves to not only discover our boundaries, but also to hold them, especially with outside pressure.

One thing that took me a while to understand about boundaries is that love and kindness can break boundaries. My rule follower intuitions are so ingrained that default to seeing boundaries in black and white (or, yellow and white, if you’ve stuck with my roadway metaphor this long). We can set our hard lines, but we can choose to open them up and allow them to be crossed over, too. This choice comes from the desire to preserve our most precious relationships and partnerships.

The other thing I learned about boundaries is that it’s more important that I stay in my lane rather than peek over at someone else’s. It’s easy to do this on a road when cars are traveling so quickly; save for stoplights, there’s little time to really check out what the other person is doing. We can try, but a few seconds in, and we’re easily distracted away from our own destination that day. We can easily miss the green light on our side if we’re too focused on someone else’s green.

My own boundary lines help define my perspective of my life. I can choose how much to invest in a friend or coworker who may be temporarily struggling. I can pull over safely near their lane and help support them, but I don’t have to be “in” their lane, problem solving for them and taking over their car. They can get to their final destination better with me as a passenger, not the driver. Boundaries help me stay detached.

Maybe the next time you’re on the road, the road striping will take on a new meaning and new perspective for you. Maybe you’ll wait to merge before the white-lined gore on an off-ramp. Or if someone sneaks over the white line in front of you when they could’ve waited, you’ll smile and think of love and kindness. But if you honk, that’s OK too, since boundaries are all about owning our power and choosing what works for us.

My Word for 2021: Heal

I wasn’t planning to have a “word” this year. I only learned of the practice a few years ago, and I’ve picked maybe one or two annual words since then. It’s typically hard for me to land on just one thing. I don’t want to be disappointed if this one thing, one thought, one feeling doesn’t come through for me. Also, my FOMO kicks in and says, but don’t forget about X, Y, and Z.

Anyway. I just got a couple’s pedicure with my husband, and “heal” came to mind. I loved the symbolism. Heel on feet reminds me of self-care that’s been a large part of my healing, even if I sometimes question if I’m doing it “right”. Heal: something I’ve been trying to do for over a decade now to actually feel closure from past traumas. As I pondered “heal” in the quiet of the spa room, with music gently playing and essential oils lightly diffusing, it resonated deeply.

Trigger warning: I want to heal from childhood traumas that play out internally for me on a daily basis. My dad was an abusive alcoholic who moved away when I was 13 and passed away in a car accident when I was 16.

To shift gears to a less triggering place, I know that everyone has traumas. The more I see my own trauma without judgment, the more I can face it. Some form of childhood trauma affects all of us: not getting picked for a team, the humanity of parents, falling down when we’re sure we can stand up, etc.

I’ve seen 3 therapists since college. One smiled and nodded after I shared my story, then handed me a pamphlet that said, “What it means to grow up in a dysfunctional family.” I experienced a mini trauma from this because no one in my family had used those words before. But deep in the recesses of my mind, it slowly awoke a new awareness.

I described this experience a few years later to the next therapist, and to my relief, she said, “well, that probably felt awkward.” She explained that what he probably meant was that I was an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACOA). She gave me a beautiful quote by Nelson Mandela about being a gift from God. But I still wasn’t ready to fully dive in. After four sessions, I stopped going. I learned more about ACOA, buying several books but finishing few.

I’ve seen my current therapist for over a year. But it took me 8 years to try again. And I’ve done a LOT of work. I’ve learned all about codependency, boundaries, ACOA, feelings, and more. I feel more informed and emotionally stable. But certain memories still haunt me. Certain sounds still trigger me. So, I’m starting EMDR (just Google it). After all the self-work and introspection, trying to rewire my brain to get to my heart feels like the next step.

I believe in God, and He promises healing to those who believe and seek. “‘But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the LORD.” – Jeremiah 30:17. I believe in the power of these words. Feeling them is hard. And I know that His promises look very different in real time vs. hindsight.

After all my efforts over the years, I just want to feel peace. I know there is no way to “perfectly” heal, much to my recovering perfectionist’s disapproval. Maybe peace is really my word. But right now, heal is the only way I feel I can get there.

I picked this word on Sunday. After our nation’s utterly tragic, historic events this week, I can’t think of a better time to focus on healing.

A Lesson on Kindness from My Last Yoga Session of 2019

In December, I bought a four-week unlimited pass to the yoga studio by my house. I had driven past it for months, wishing I would just go in already. It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried yoga before. I love yoga. But I had been stuck in a mental rut, thinking I wouldn’t “fit in” to the yoga community.

I’m not a relaxed person by nature, and it takes a lot of work to get me there sometimes. While I practice yoga to get some of my Type A energy out, I want it to be self-contained, in that I don’t want it leaking out and contaminating someone else’s calm, soothing space.

Anyway, after getting over myself and signing up, by December 23rd, I was on a roll and headed into my 3rd day of yoga in a row. I was loving how loose and relaxed my body felt. I was starting to feel more mentally loose, too, and it took less and less energy to be present with the poses and let all else fade away for 60 minutes.

And then something happened. At the end of our session, where we sat with relaxed bodies and (somewhat) still minds, the yoga instructor invited us to turn our attention inward. She spoke for about two minutes, giving us specific, beautiful reminders of what to keep in the new decade and what to let go of from the last. Her words were more than motivational for me. I don’t know if it was the intention with which she delivered, or the moment of time I was in (or both), but I felt like she was speaking just to me.

My spirit cracked open wide. Context: left brain here (*waves*). It all felt unnatural at first, but I held onto her invitation long enough and wanted to capture the moment. So here’s what I wrote down (yep, I am that person):

  • A new decade is starting. Bring in what you want, and leave out what you don’t.
  • Acknowledge and honor how much you’ve grown in the past 10 years.
  • Honor the light and the darkness. In the darkness, you celebrate what you’ve learned that brought you out of it. Light always overcomes darkness.
  • Celebrate that you showed up and did the work today. For yourself.
  • Honor any new progress and growth as it comes. It is the essence, the reason, why we struggle.
  • The world needs your kindness.

I wrote a few more notes in my journal on December 27th. “Reflecting more on how I want to start the new decade… No matter what I put on my list, my intent is to tackle it differently this time. There will be no big moment when I am done with my growth. I will appreciate any slow, incremental changes. I will be patient and forgiving with myself. I will be confident and calm in the process. I will adjust or abandon any parts of the process that don’t fit, to stay of healthy mind, body, and soul.”

Enter 2020. Where the world is an entirely different place than what these words were ever meant for.

And yet, I find I’m celebrating myself as I reflect. I hadn’t read the bullet points or my journal entry until now, but I can confidently say I am doing these things now. I am calmer. I am more centered. I am much more focused on bits of improvement over perfection. And ironically? The pandemic gave me that. It stripped away physical and mental burdens that weighed me down, inviting me to deepen my connection to my spirit.

Sad to say, my yoga practice has understandably dwindled this year. I tried the studio’s livestream classes. I’m hesitant to go back in person for two reasons: 1) I still go to work every day and would hate to over-expose myself in either space, and 2) total first world problems, but it just does not feel the same with the extra but necessary restrictions. I did find one instructor who streams free YouTube videos and DJ Yoga sessions, which are so much fun. But I miss the in-person community. I miss the cool, lavender-scented cloth for Shavasana. I miss the hands-on adjustments.

But. The world needs my kindness. Yoga or not, at no other point in my life have I felt the importance and gravity of those five words more.

10 Things I’ve Learned About Myself After 10 Years of Marriage

My 10 year wedding anniversary is today. I feel like we blinked, and 2020 showed up. There we are in 2010, in the traditional black and white garb, followed by a colorful honeymoon in Hawaii. In the next blink, it’s a blurry, action-packed ride, and 2020 zoomed on in. The year that many of us want to erase or rewrite almost as soon as it began.

I’ve always been a Learner type – it’s one of my five strengths in the CliftonStrengths themes. I love soaking up knowledge, whether just to “know it”, or to categorize and file it away for future use at some opportune time. When I got married, I knew I’d learn and grow as a wife with the same curiosity and vigor that I had throughout friendships, my career, and other aspects of life.

But what I did not anticipate was how much I would learn about myself. Just me, outside of all the other hats I wear. More so this year than the past 9 years combined, I’ve grown and stretched in ways I never anticipated. I feel more comfortable in my own skin than I ever knew I could. I’m certain I wouldn’t have had this much personal growth without the gift of marriage, where you link up your life with another: hopes and dreams and vulnerabilities, flaws and struggles and fears, all of it. 

To commentate this major milestone, I want to take a different spin and pause from the “here’s how we did it” angle. That is all good and worth celebrating, don’t get me wrong. But today, I’m reflecting with gratitude on all that I’ve gained from the mid-20s woman I was to the mid-30s woman I am now.

  1. There is no limit to the amount of grace I can show my spouse – especially when they don’t deserve it and especially when I don’t want to. It is really difficult to put this into practice. But, the more I try, the better I get. This goes for relationships beyond my marital one, too.
  2. The illusion that each spouse gives 50/50 to the marriage is irrelevant and inaccurate. Some days I feel like I give 65 and he gives 35, he gives 80 and I give 20, etc. There is no magic formula, and self-awareness goes a long way when assessing where I’m at at any given time. (side note: Brené Brown refers to this concept as the family gap plan – highly recommend listening to S1, E4 on her podcast, “Unlocking Us”).
  3. Humor is a nonnegotiable asset; specifically, it is a lifeline in the heat of an argument. I really hate it when my husband makes me laugh when I’m just about to land point #378 of how I’m right. But then again I love it, because I get to laugh with him, and the argument ends sooner. I wish I had countless examples of how often I embraced this, but it’s a regrettable few.
  4. My husband is supportive of my personal ambitions, while at the same time keeping me in check when I stray across the line of overdoing it (marriage has definitely exposed the depths of my intensity). But ultimately, I am the one who gives me final permission to fulfill my goals and passions. They may have evolved or shifted from when we got married to now, but they are still mine to own once I’m start pursuing.
  5. Self-care is an absolute necessity, and a practice that I did not intentionally start until last year. I was fooling myself when I thought I was tough or brave or sacrificial if I didn’t workout or take a long bubble bath once in a while. It did not make me “super-wife” like I hoped it would. My dissatisfaction with myself slowly seeped into other areas of my life, until I made the conscious decision to take better care of myself.
  6. I do not like awkward silence; I’ll be the first to fill the dead air with mindless banter to avoid any real or perceived discomfort. However, I learned the importance of autonomy and letting things just “be” sometimes. Magical things can happen in silence, such as moods shifting, clarity to tough decisions, missing each other, and so much more.
  7. This may sound trite, but I discovered I can host parties by myself. As a kid, I was an only child, and all of my relatives lived out of state, so we didn’t have regular get-togethers. My husband has a knack for whipping the house into shape, gathering people around the kitchen island, and cooking a delicious meal. His skills rubbed off on me, and being able to share quality time with friends and family at our house is one of my all-time favorite activities.
  8. The Fruits of the Spirit are my anchor when I am lost and feel like I’m failing, in life or in marriage: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Who doesn’t want one or more of those?! Sometimes I’ll meditate on just one word for a few minutes to help bring clarity to my angst.
  9. I am a recovering codependent. It basically means that you look to others to fulfill your innermost needs instead of looking within. I am now a self-proclaimed work in progress and have woken up to the reality that the Land of Perfection is a fictional place.
  10. Actively choosing to be the things I want to be – kind, joyful, patient, etc. – is incredibly challenging. But, it is way more effective than just wishing or praying for them. I naively thought these qualities would “just happen” and be bestowed on me by willpower or “should”-ing myself. But once I gravitated toward books, sermons, or podcasts with actionable steps that felt doable, I slowly began to grow and mature in grace.

Marriage has taught me so much, and I know it will continue to as I share life with my best friend. I’m closing with one of my favorite quotes that I want to start off with for the next 10 years. Cheers!