There is nothing you must be and nothing you must do. There is nothing you must have and there is nothing you must know. There is nothing you must become. However, it helps to understand that fire burns, and when it rains, the earth gets wet.
|Pretty in Green!|
Getting laid off is a bit like announcing you have cancer. Some people just nod their heads when you tell them you are okay, although you can see their inner dialogue is saying, “poor dear, I hope she makes it through this”. All attempts at explaining why this is a good thing in your life fall on deaf ears and your ability to have a normal conversation seems to evaporate.
If you’re the survivor of lay offs, I understand the reluctance to talk with people who went through that experience. Perhaps there is a fear that the lay offs are contagious, and they will be next, maybe it is a renewed focus on work so that there is no excuse to put their position on the line. In the back of my mind though, I had hoped that after working with some people for ten years, I would at least get a phone call…or even a lunch date. Something to acknowledge all the long hours we worked together and the projects we struggled on. Even if it is for closure on both parts.
I’ve only received a couple of emails. Brief, polite almost a cursory attempt at acknowledging my empty desk. Last week, one former co-worker saw a job announcement she felt would interest me. Instead of sending it directly, she sent it to someone else to forward onto me. As if an intermediary would ensure that she would be unaffected by any contact with me. In comparison, I’ve run into other people in the office who openly smile and embrace my presence.
It hurts, this avoidance, but it also drives home the fact that I was in the wrong place for far too long.
I was a bit late for my family's Christmas celebration this year. We hadn't set any specific time, but my original plan to come down after lunch was sidetracked a bit because of an unexpected visit from an old friend I hadn't seen in 30 years. My niece, upon hearing this news, remarked that it wasn't possible because, after all, I was just 29! After explained that I fudged a bit on my age and was only 9 while in high school <wink>, I then confessed that I was 39 and started talking about my friend from high school and what a wonderful treat it was to see her again after all these years. Although I have always treasured my wonderfully eclectic and diverse group of friends, this past year's events reminded me of the most important lesson from 2011.
#1: Connections are important
Words cannot express how grateful I am for all the wonderful people in my life. There was a time in my life where I really didn't have any close friends. I was young, and working crazy hours in retail management. My evenings, weekends, and holidays were occupied with putting out fires, dealing with employee issues, and trying to figure out life as an adult. I had quit college, one year shy of my degree, and found myself in a job that was challenging, and for the most part fulfilling. Each year, over the holidays I would work furiously through the Christmas rush until I would literally fall over on New Year's...in part from exhaustion and in part from my body finally taking a breath. I rarely had plans for that holiday, or most other events, because I didn't make the effort to spend time making and keeping friends outside of my job. At one point, when I realized that the company was in financial troubles I finally took a step back and started to question how I wanted to spend my time going forward. I missed close friendships, and the ability to explore and play. I also missed learning, and for the first time in ten years considered going back to college and back to Austin, which always felt like home.
I made some crazy (and brave) decisions that year that changed the course of my life and brought me to where I am today. The biggest goal I set when I made that move, was to never put my friendships to the side. When I look at all the lovely, wonderful people who grace my life on a regular basis, all I can say is 'mission accomplished'.
"We are creatures of community. Those individuals, societies, and cultures who learned to take care of each other, to love each other, and to nurture relationships with each other during the past several hundred thousand years were more likely to survive than those who did not."
-Dr. Dean Ornish, "Love and Survival"
|I made this as a gift to my friend Teri in high school 30 years ago. What's even crazier than her keeping it all these years if the fact that I attempted cross stitch as a teenager ;-)|
I can close my eyes and remember that exact moment, that experience which by all accounts must be an example of pure joy and happiness. This past year I’ve had my share of moments that illustrate this lesson, but this one stands out…as the perfect example.
#2: Creating community is a gift
I was sitting in the courtyard at Hot Mama’s Café during a Café Shimmy show. My work was done, my solo was over and I had the privilege of relaxing with a glass a wine while the rest of the dancers performed.
Katherine was the next dancer to the stage…or is it the floor, since we never seem to stay in one place? As usual, she has a dancing companion in the form of her daughter, who insists on accompanying her Mother with an impromptu veil routine. This is pretty normal for little A. The first time her Mom danced at the show, she threw her small, toddler body against the glass doors of the café, where she was corralled, until someone relented and let her outside to dance. I love the sheer passion of it, the need to dance regardless of where she is.
|Although this is from a different night, I love the joy in Kat's face! (Photo by Valerie Aguirre)|
It's easy to believe that what is pressing in your mind, will be the same for others. If you've worked yourself up over some scenario, it seems reasonable that other people stepping into your shoes will see it the same way. Right? Well, actually....wrong. Here's my next lesson from 2011 that is certainly worth remembering.
#3: Your obstacles may be inspiration for others
I'll admit that I sometimes watch the show Hoarders, not because of some strange fascination with people who live their lives in such turmoil, but perhaps as a way to scare myself straight. For me the stories are cautionary tales of collecting gone wild, although I will admit there is a bit of craziness thrown into the mix. I have several family members (living and deceased) who have some borderline hoarder tendencies, so the show just serves as a good warning and an important reminder to sort, clean, and de-clutter my home on a regular basis. For the most part, I've been fairly good about doing that...if you look past some boxes stashed in closets or the utility room.
That rule didn't apply to the garage. Until this fall, that garage was, in my mind, a black hole of dirt, junk, and oppression. I hated the idea of even going out to find things in that space. Boxes had fallen over, sheet rock and insulation had fallen in, and several lights weren't working properly. I felt enormous shame and guilt over that space. It wasn't always the case, but I had boxes of stuff that piled up over several years. Then, my Father cleaned out boxes from his house and dropped them off at mine. On top of this continued accumulation, I never made time to sort and clean out what was there. Hence the birth of a black hole, and the dismal, dark space that I avoided.
One day, in what I consider a fit of madness, I offered the use of that same space to a friend of mine, an artist, who needed room for a studio. My words were something like: "I have this garage, but it's pretty messy", and her words were:"We'll help you clean it!" I thought she was a little crazy for this offer, but not as crazy as I was for making the offer. I hesitated after making that comment, not because I was worried about someone here at the house, but because of the emotions attached to that space. In my mind, I didn't want her to experience those same negative emotions that I was burdened with.
When I told a friend, who is indeed a wise and fabulous woman, about the offer --she reminded me that the artist wouldn't have the same emotional attachment to the clutter and chaos that I did. That was a light bulb moment for me, the idea that something which hung over me for so long, was not really a shared experience. It was a solitary emotion that I needed to release and vanquish. That conversation allowed me to take a new look at the space and, in a way, metaphorically shine a light on it. Bolstered with my new found courage, I immediately sent the artist a note telling her she could have the space it she still wanted it. She was excited, but I was a little worried.
The first time she and her husband came to see the space, I held my breath. His immediate reaction was to assess how much work was needed...which was pretty short in his mind. Her immediate reaction was to look past the clutter and see the potential of an art studio...bright, open, and inviting. The result? A wonderful lesson for me, a wonderful space for her to create, and a reminder that our burdens and obstacles may be little or nothing to a friend.
P.S. If you want to see more of Greta's art, check out her website and blog. It's beautiful and amazing art!
Today will mark 11 years since my Mother passed away, so in an odd way I think it is appropriate to post this lesson from 2011 on this date. It wasn't intentional when I started writing this series but after I identified the top seven lessons from the last year I realized that this one could, and should, be posted on the anniversary of her death.
#4: Stepping back can give you perspective
Sometimes while we are in the middle of something we cannot see the bigger picture. While I was so wrapped up in trying to maintain a job that was clearly a bad fit for my skills and personality, I failed to see that I had stayed there too long. I actually missed the 10th anniversary of my Mom's death because I was so busy with a major project. I thought about it days later but there was a bit of melancholy when I realized that I did not take even a moment of my day to reflect upon her passing. When she passed away so suddenly I never imagined hitting the ten year mark of that event. There, of course, have been ups and downs for me emotionally over the years. I went from crying all the time with predictable frequency during holidays, watching sappy movies, or seeing friends spend time with their Mothers to crying at the most unpredictable and odd times.
I don't cry much over her death now. It is a like a layer of paint on the canvas of my life. I know it is there and it has influenced who I am to a great degree, but it is less apparent to those who know me. Sure, I think of her often, but it is either with sweet recollections or sadness that she can't be here at this time. What this teaches me about perspective is that when we can get away from an event which is life-altering, and with some time, we are less trapped by the emotion of it all and we can then find the beauty in those moments.
This past year, while pulling out holiday decorations, I pulled out some ornaments that were either a favorite of Mom's or something that she made. Just holding something that she held, or tracing her name, feels comforting and almost nurturing to me. I know that many of my friends experienced loss and changes in their lives, so for me this lesson is not only for me.... but for all of them. We will all be in a different place before long, and taking a step back from the daily frustrations, emotions, and anxieties can give us a glimpse into our future.
On my quest to recap the top lessons of 2011, I would be remiss if I didn’t spend some time on a lesson that is many years in the making…and I suppose will still need additional practice. This is a hard one to learn, but this past year has forced me to surrender, let go, and allow myself to be vulnerable. I’m even typing this piece while wearing a baby pink t-shirt, which should be proof that either hell has frozen over or I have mastered some softer skills. Here’s the next lesson!
#5: It is important to ask for what you need
Sometimes I blame it on my hearty, pioneer genes, and other times just on growing up in a family that was centered on being independent and self-sufficient. In any case, I have always been the one that you ask for help, not the one needing assistance. I’m not the girl pretending to be shy, clueless, or weak in order to get help. In fact I’m the girl standing by frowning upon those ladies. My Mom taught me all the basics of household work including sewing, cleaning and cooking. In return, my Father taught my sisters and I how to change tires, use power tools, and mow the yard. And in between I learned how to manage most any situation or encounter.
Even if I am stressed or sick, people still come to me for assistance. I hardly ever think about asking for help on a daily basis, but I’ve come to recognize that instead of this being a strength it may actually be a weakness. For some individuals, assisting others is the gift that they can give. It is a gift of themselves, their time and their energy. And, by allowing myself to be open to help, I not only receive a truly precious gift, but I learn so many things in return…for example, the fact that the universe will help you out when you need it.
My favorite example of this happened earlier in the year while I was pining away for Michael Buble` tickets. However I could not justify spending that much. So, I sat solemnly…accepting that I would just admire him from afar. I had dozens of friends point out that he would coming to Austin and asking if I had bought tickets, but I sat still and endured the tease of an appearance. Until one day at work.
Who knows what was in the works that morning, but for some reason my normally reticent and subdued co-workers were chatty and kept interrupting me while I was listening to Michael on Pandora. At one point I told them they had to be quiet…because they were spoiling my moment with Michael! One co-worker asked if I was going to the concert and I provided my well-rehearsed and canned response on the cost of the tickets.
She then commented about the fact that I, among everyone else she knows, was in the best place to ask my vast circle of friends for help on going to the concert. I thought for a minute and realized that indeed, I had connections and without asking them I would be dreaming of the concert from afar.
Later that night, I asked the universe (in the form of Facebook) for some cosmic intervention, and within minutes received an email…discounts on tickets…literally minutes before the special expired…and proof that when you ask the right questions, you may find exactly what you need. So, later that summer when I sat and enjoyed a moment with Michael (and yes…several other fans), I realized that asking for what you need may bring some beautiful experiences to your doorstep.
I’ve started off this year by looking back upon the lessons I’ve learned in 2011. After reviewing many events and experiences, I came up with a total of seven things that seem to stick with me, lessons that I want to carry into the new year. So here we go with the next one!
#6: Give back, even when you are in need
On the heels of being laid off, I immediately gained perspective on my situation by just looking around at others. The same day that I was let go in my job, a high school friend’s son was in a terrible accident that left him in the hospital in critical condition. I simply could not muster much self-pity for my situation when I compared it to hers. And when I heard that he had passed away from complications, it made me both terribly sad and also terribly grateful that I still had so much.
Around that same time, another friend…oddly enough from high school as well…was struggling with her father’s diagnosis of lung cancer. He too, succumb to the illness and left her, her sister, and her Mother struggling to deal with their grief and loss. I cried over their losses, and took a lesson from the experience: even if you are in need, there is someone who is dealing with greater issues.
Fall brought stories of tragedy from the fires in Central Texas and Bastrop, and learning that a former co-worker had lost everything in the process. It seemed like the universe was connecting me to personal stories of tragedy as a way to give me perspective on my current condition, which by all accounts, was not that bad. I had financial resources to weather this blip in my career, I had enormous support and love from family and friends and I had the gift of time. Time to not only rest and recover, but also to reconnect and rejuvenate.
So, when I was approached with the idea of a community service project for the Aria Dance Foundation, I loved the idea. Instead of worrying about time in my schedule to coordinate this project I could really spend my time and energy ensuring it would be a success.
In the end, we supplied a Central Texas shelter, called Hill Country Cares, with 65 personal care tote bags for women and kids. Each bag was decorated and filled with all the basic hygiene supplies they may need while gaining some balance and safety in their life. However grateful they may have been for these packages only pales in comparison to what I received in return.
So, my goals for 2012 include another community service project for Aria, as well as volunteer work in my community. I may have lost some income this past year, but I didn’t lose any loved ones. The truth is sitting here today I feel much more wealthy and secure than I did a year ago. And that is a lesson I simply cannot lose.
I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, I like to think of this time of the year as a way to either set goals or reflect on the past year. This time I’m in the mood for refection and started a list of lessons that were important in this past year. So, come along as I share my list over the next week. I have a total of seven, more than a short list but not quite a top ten list. But this is what I want to remember most about 2011.
#7: I Am Resilient
I’ve always suspected that I have an ability to make it through difficult circumstances, but this last year pushed me a bit further. I found myself unemployed, a product of lay-offs in a tough economy and then immediately dealt with a break-in at the house. For many people, these two events would mark a difficult and tumultuous year, but for me they were mere blips on the radar.
From the layoff, I learned that losing my job was not the same as losing myself. Keeping my sense of personal identity was important to keeping balance in the rest of my life. It also served to keep me trusting in my ability to find new and wonderful career opportunities. Losing my job allowed me time to reflect, to play and to spend time on events and with friends. Job loss for me, was a gift I did not ask for but would never return.
From the break-in, I learned that my sense of security is not rooted in possessions or in a place. Yes, a man broke in, by literally breaking through a back door. By all accounts this event should have left me shaken and worried about my safety. However, it just reminded me that bad events happen in our lives. Sometimes we have to deal with those consequences and sometimes we have to accept that we were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. The robbery taught me how easy it would be to become distracted by terrible actions surrounding me instead of stepping around them and focusing on my happiness and security.
So although I will mention these events in my life, I know they will not define me.
I dropped, or maybe fell into 2011 tired, emotionally exhausted and sick. It took all my energy to make it through the holidays which felt rushed, stressed and unfulfilling. Work felt like one disaster after another, followed by frustration and many moments locked in the women’s bathroom in order to hide my tears. This was an action that wasn’t uncommon for that office and I wasn’t the only one who sought solace in a closed stall to either dry tears or take a deep breath…not only for the immediate frustrations but also because of the dismal and oppressive culture of that organization.
Now 2012 has moseyed in, calmly and with little fanfare. I am rested, relaxed and happy. I don’t know where this year will lead and right now I’m not so worried about it all. Today is a day to lounge and curl up under the covers. There is no need to take a deep breath to prepare myself for a stressful week ahead, so instead I will take long, slow, deep breaths to welcome in a new year and the next chapter of my life.
For me 2011 represented a year of allowing myself to be vulnerable, letting go, and trusting that the universe has a bigger plan for me. I think that 2012 will be marked by exploration, inspiration and finding passion!