Balance Deconstructed

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When people talk to me about balance I want to throw things at them.

For real.

Certain words have become catch-alls, cliches, if you will, and full of well… nothing. If you google “quotes on balance” everyone from Buddha to the dude that just taught the yoga class with the crazy abs has a quote about how you must find this thing, it’s something you create, not a destination, blah, blah, blah. 

I’ve decided they have no idea what they are talking about and have simply surrendered to a cultural norm.

I have a love/hate relationship with cliches and quotes. I’ve come to think of them as fillers. They are sugared words, glazed and mostly well intentioned. I do believe that life experiences create these phrases and ramblings and some are incredibly beautiful, insightful. I also think that the person delivering the quote has no idea of the history or intention of the person quoted nor the inner workings of the person they are hoping to help. Maybe it came from a man who survived a war, the death of children, syphilis and amputations and you are telling a clerk at Target. Maybe it was a Taoist who had never experienced love and a divorcee is your audience. Maybe it was a writer with a drinking problem and a thesaurus, the odds are high. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t care for the copy/paste quality of them when they’re offered in a prescriptive fashion. I sometimes wonder if they’re not proffered as a very kind exit strategy from conversation, a way to acknowledge, but remove the need to dig in and truly relate.

When I was in my early twenties I remember ruminating on the word “balance,” wondering what my life would look like when I achieved it.

I still have no clue.

So, I’ve decided to take the power away from the word, dear God, please don’t offer me another quote. I’ve decided, instead, to deconstruct it and make it less zen idealism and more of a word with letters, realizing that no matter how you look inverted, you probably struggle with balance as well, so let’s just call a spade a spade. Instead of striving for this otherworldly word that is seriously just some vowels and such, I have divided my life into my roles as a mother, career gal, woman, friend and writer. I consciously strive to simply be present in each of them. I have days when I’m running between things and Liv wants a mama moment. Rather than snapping that we’re in a hurry or telling her that I have chores to do, I stop and remind myself, “THIS is my life. I am living it right now.”

It helps to reframe things.

My life is not whether or not I get laundry done. It is not whether or not she eats yogurt for breakfast tomorrow or I’ve checked a box from a To Do list that never really needs to get To Done. It is the extra smiles and moments we spend snuggling. It is the living that makes a life, the interactions, the blessed conversations she wants to have right before bed when she relaxes into her prayers and tells me who she is and who she’s becoming. It is not the fact that it is three minutes past when I told her to be quiet. It is when she asks God to make sure her heart stays kind and that our dogs will stop stealing her food. It is the sweet moments when we’re at Target and instead of telling her to behave and be quiet while she yammers on in the cart, I catch my nugget sweetly say I’m a great mom and I’m really pretty, can I buy you these cute pajamas, mom?

Sure, baby.

I have caught so much just by reminding myself that THIS is my life.

I have also realized that in order for me to be my most present, most engaged self, I must first take care of myself. This is something I require of myself. I fill up my bucket first and those close know that while I may work my tail off and love my daughter like my life depends on it, I also find a way to run to the gym, hit a yoga class and take small trips to fill up my soul. I am healthier and happier for others when I am taking care of the person that does the taking care.

I learned the hard way.

When I was going through my divorce and running in fifteen different directions I was anxious, sickly and a raging insomniac. I didn’t even like me. We have a tendency to think of ourselves as “selfless” if we put everyone else first.

Nope. Forget that right now, drop it, email me if you need a pep talk.

My loves, the best thing you can do for the people that depend on you is to take care of yourself first and foremost. They will benefit from your enhanced health, mood and overall demeanor.

I promise, Get on it.

Give yourself the space to forget things. To leave the dry cleaning at the cleaners. To be out of dryer sheets. Forgive yourself if your body says nap when your clock says gym. Turn your To Do list into Suggestions and Reminders. The only person in between you and YOUR life is you.

Forgive yourself. Love yourself. LIVE.

Balance be damned.

 

 

 

 

 

Insecurity Is A Waste of Time

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A few times over the last few years I’ve been asked for a favorite quote or expression that is important to me. Once was for a female small business owner who was building her own blow dry bar. She wanted a wall of famous women’s quotes to act as a backdrop for women who’d just had their hair done. A few months later I stood before it while celebrating the opening of Blowout Dollhouse with a proud new business owner.

Last week I was asked again for quotes for an event where I’ll be speaking this week. I took a few days, mulling over all the gifs and pretty sayings that decorate my phone and my office. I again found myself drawn to the same one and I always smile to myself when I share it.

The back story is a good one, if I do say so myself.

It was roughly four years ago. I’d flown in from one city to realize that while changing out dry cleaning to fly to another, divorce was on the horizon. I wiped tears as I headed to West Palm Beach. I sank into the Florida humidity upon arriving, feeling as if my home state was going to help soften the blow. I had to get it together and fast. I was going to spend a weekend with the most successful women in financial services. They wore Laboutins and sparkling things, all brains and verve. I was intimidated in my state.

I prepped for my mission: looking like them. I would seem poised and polished while my insides were caving in upon themselves. Yes, definitely. They wouldn’t notice that I didn’t belong.

Then a funny thing happened.

They were honest about all the things on my mind. There were maybe twenty men to the thousand women and my God, how women speak differently when we are around our sisters. Yes, there were talks about economies and global trends, but there were also talks about how you have to take time for yourself, how it is hard to juggle career, marriage and children, solidarity sister.

One woman shared that while she had gotten kids to school, ran meetings, thawed dinner, made soccer and took a red eye out of New York, all she wanted to do was fill her brain with mindless drivel. She tucked herself into an InStyle magazine. Her seat mate, however, had her laptop out and was making notes while flipping through graphs and reports. After realizing they were heading to the very same conference, she told the very focused woman, “Wow, I feel incredibly lazy.” The woman laughed and I will never forget what she said, “No, you don’t understand. I’m the keynote speaker tomorrow. I just had a baby and she’s sick. My husband has been sending me updates every few minutes. This is the only time I’ve had to prepare.”

She was the Chief Economist for a large firm.

They then talked babies and balance.

She nailed her keynote.

Every woman at the conference was her most beautiful, natural, smart and nurturing self. These women were so enlightened and encouraged by the way a male-dominated industry feels when the men aren’t in the room. When women come together to inspire one another, to make you feel less alone, less anomaly, its a beautiful thing.

We talked about the guilt, my God, the guilt. We talked about marriage and personal relationships, messy and glorious, I try so hard to be present. We talked about the children we were raising, I try so hard to be present. We talked about who we become when the men are in the room, the layers we put on, the children we forget for a lunch meeting, because you can’t be a mom. We talked about the health concerns we don’t share with our male colleagues and clients, because then you are a woman. We talked about how you are scared to take maternity leave, because then they look at you with the wondering, soft eyes.

The weekend ended with a final keynote by Diane von Furstenberg. She had a Power Point presentation with pictures of herself as a child, as a Princess, as a mom and finally, the pinnacle photo of the wrap dress that turned her into a design house. She talked about her regrets as a mother, her role as a grandmother, her career frustrations and failures.

When asked what she lived by, what drove her to continue, she said as self-confidently as you can imagine a former princess to espouse, “Insecurity is a waste of time.”

Isn’t it just?

Can you imagine if every woman in that room confidently owned each relationship she had and all the hats she wears, no insecurities? I think through conversations I’ve had, meetings I’ve walked into, moments I’ve silenced myself and worried that I was too… something. Too soft, too hard, too feminine, too masculine, too talkative, too expressive, too… all the things that make me who I am.

There sometimes comes a time in your life and in your career that you find your value. And, most will tell you even when you find it, life has a funny way of saying, “Are you sure?” and offering you missteps and ego to dig through so that you finally find your footing and say, “Yes, I’m sure. This is who I am and what I do well. And you know what? Here are the things I don’t do well. I’m going to own them too.”

Ms. DVF herself, in her very poignant, clipped comments, asked us to learn who we were, all our iterations, and own them. Own who you are today, find your why, your reason, your gifts.

Then stand up and introduce yourself.

No apologies allowed.

 

Fall In Love

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Somewhere in between Kanye antics and Annie Lenox shutting down Hozier during last week’s Grammys was a match.com commercial. You may know it. A man approaches a woman and wants to know why she hasn’t tried match.com as her sister found her husband through the site and is “living happily ever after.”

You expect the girl to walk away with a thoughtful expression, buy a soy latte and then head to her tiny New York loft apartment. She will bite her lip while she stares at the laptop on her shabby chic desk. The matcher man has made her wonder about the feasibility of having someone else use their super match making software to take the hard work out of Likes, Dislikes, Religious Affiliation, Smoker or Non, etc.

She likely walks by her laptop at least three times before she suddenly decides she wants love, dammit. Fingers fly over keys while she uses her marketing degree to catch her prince.

Flashback to my first experience with a match maker – I was a junior in high school and a personality profiling company convinced students that for $10 each love would be delivered to our Homeroom. It would be there in a week and the name of the man of my dreams was going to appear in dot matrix print.

I had to select whether I would prefer Long Walks On The Beach over a Romantic Dinner Out. At 16 I had never felt a boy’s lips on my own so I imagined Long Walks On The Beach because the other options felt too Lady And The Tramp.

A week later I stared at the printed sheet in my hand while my eyes went wide, “Ohhhhhhh myyyyyyyyy Godddddddd.”

I will refer to my match by his initials.

A.J.

We weren’t just a little matched. We were like Perfect For Each Other matched. The problem with this was that A.J. was completely and utterly annoying.

He was seventeen. Or maybe eighteen. He had peach fuzz on his ears and teased me incessantly, but always shrugged off his leather jacket when I was cold and had forgotten my own. He’d meet me after my last class and take his jacket from the “matchstick girl” as he walked me to my bus and called me names before I told him I was taking it again tomorrow. I very clearly recall him calling me an albino and telling me I had butter teeth.

This was before the miracle that is Crest White Strips.

When A.J. bought lunch I would eat most of it by the time he sat down. He would shake his head, smile playing at his lips while I would giggle, “I was hungry and you were just ignoring those tator tots like they didn’t have feelings.”

I found him in the courtyard after class staring at his computer print out with a shocked expression on his face, “You are my match?”

I shook my head, “I’m not happy about it either. You must like Long Walks On The Beach, huh? I’d burn.”

There was a lot of teasing. We never pursued a relationship, but I’m fairly certain that had more to do with my inexperience. I didn’t know how to like a boy without being mean to him. I had four older male cousins that regularly drowned me in my aunt’s pool. I only knew how to insult boys and punch them in their junk. The idea that a boy wanted to kiss me made me very nervous. I would almost fall into my shoulders and turn seven shades of shy.

Or disappear down a hallway.

I know. Mad game, right?

The New York Times recently posted an article To Fall In Love With Anyone, Do This by writer Mandy Len Catron. It is based on the study The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness by psychologist Arthur Aron, and suggests that anyone can fall in love if you ask 36 questions. The point is to create interpersonal closeness.

Clearly the school match maker should have stapled these to our match results, help a girl out.

I read over the questions and they are definitely personal. I’d be hesitant to answer some right away and not because I have anything to hide, but because I’d be heading down a path of vulnerability.

But, isn’t that the point?

We spend so much time asking what someone does for a living, if they want children and if they prefer long walks on a beach, we don’t get to the good stuff for quite some time. We are nervous to offend by asking something that could trigger, being too nosy too early, but the study suggests that if you really want to know someone you have to develop intimacy.

What I find fascinating is that the female relationships I have are rich with detail and we sit around and talk about our flaws, our values and our relationships. I could probably answer most of the 36 questions for my girlfriends. Granted, we don’t spend time lusting or courting, but we get to the heart of the person. We get to know each other in a way that is empowering, beautiful and requires no birth control.

I wonder what would happen if every person that reads this tried out the questions (link provided, you are welcome) on your dates, your boyfriends and even your husbands? A husband of twenty years may already know everything about you, but what if he’s forgotten about that dimple you get when you reminisce? What if you’ve forgotten he can be soulful and still make you laugh when you aren’t entangled in children and such?

Do it and report back.

That was my bossy tone.

I don’t in any way knock those that find love on match.com, Congratulations, I hope you get your forever after. I absolutely agree there has to be a screening process to make sure you aren’t having dinner with a dog-eating serial killer or a man with fifteen children who wears clown shoes to bed. Whether you choose that screening process to be a computer’s metrics or your own intuition, I simply suggest that you not be afraid to ask the hard questions, answer the hard questions.

Be vulnerable.

Everyone deserves a little love in their life.

Even the guy with the clown shoes.

Cry Pretty

374Q5550 It isn’t so much that I was broken up with, it was more the timing of said breakup.

I have no idea why people can’t admit someone broke up with them, but I’ve had a few friends look at me with confusion playing about their face when I share that this was, in fact, what happened. Maybe most feel they’d be admitting they were flawed, that there was something wrong with them if they didn’t get to the business of breaking up first or refer to it as mutual, it wasn’t working.

Silliness.

Originally I thought about posting guidelines for men on the verge of breaking a heart, but that seemed trite and neither the ended relationship nor the offender is deserving of trite. It was a very healthy relationship and this is why I had to put cold spoons on my tragic eyelids prior to the LORE photo shoot that was in preparation for our launch.

Text to both photographer, Talbot, and Melissa:

X broke up with me. I will not be talking about it, but serious editing will be required.

Many outs were offered. I accepted none because I am a prideful little snot. I can tell you a boy broke up with me, but God forbid he makes me fetal when I’m supposed to be doing something fun. No stinky, dirty-hearted boy (note: he’s not really stinky or even dirty-hearted in RT) was to come between me and my passion project. I most certainly did talk about it a few times throughout the shoot and the above photo was taken during one such diatribe which I was asking Melissa to transcribe on song lyrics Talbot handed us innocently enough as a prop. I was pretending to be a boss and I posed as if I were telling Melissa about market efficiency and readership. She was actually cracking up because I was saying things like, “They’re all tricky and smell good and then you go to dinner and they break up with you IN A RESTAURANT. THE NIGHT BEFORE A PHOTO SHOOT.” I turned, hip jutted out as I looked the camera square on, flash, jut, flash, “Talbot, did I tell you I had to put spoons in my freezer this morning?” I wrote “Boys SUCK,” somewhere in between the box flash going off and the popping sound of magical moments captured.

I wonder what conversation transpired in the studio the next day when the artist got his song lyrics back.

After changing into jeans and my sad face Melissa lovingly insisted we sit in the very dark bar at Ferraro’s, “No one will notice. People cry there all the time. Besides, you cry pretty.”

She had to say this several times while I wiped my tears between bites of pasta with the most amount of cream and pancetta the chef offered. I figured the cholesterol and sodium could fill the cracks of my broken heart and if I ran out of napkin I could start wiping my tears with bread.

It wasn’t until our waiter paused that it was clear crying pretty is still crying, “Honey, are you crying?”

I nodded, silent tears streaming down my cheeks, while Melissa explained that my boyfriend broke up with me in a tone that sounded like warm sugar and Advil.

“Did he want to be with you?”

Typically this type of question from a complete stranger would make me purse my lips or turn my eyes into little judgmental slits, but I could tell the waiter was asking in earnest and had no ill will. I shook my head no, not able to say the word.

“Then he did you a favor. You don’t know that now, but you will.”

I knew what he was saying was truth and I wanted to set my sad little broken heart in the pool of awareness (and cream sauce) he offered. I wanted to float a little, to feel some comfort.

The waiter then told a story about a girlfriend and a dog and how you know who loves you most because when you let them out of your trunk your dog is happy to see you. We laughed. He walked away and we both leaned in toward each other with quizzical expressions.

Melissa got there first, “I think that was creepy. Was that creepy? I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t laugh at people being put in trunks.”

We agreed that you shouldn’t.

When the bill came my drinks had been removed from the tab, my dinner discounted. In that moment I smiled into the gift of friendship and compassion I’d been afforded that evening. Rather than telling me I should get back into the dating scene immediately or that he’s an idiot with a dismissive wave of hand (my gay boys are going with the latter, dear God I love them), I was gently offered some carbs, a little alcohol and the grit of understated support; the kind where the eyes are soft, the smile understanding and the bit of space you need to greet sadness before you get to the business of moving past.

I blew a tearful kiss to Melissa as we parted. As I rolled up my window I heard her voice over the sound of whatever singer-songwriter was bleating on whatever Sirius station covers my state. I’ll take bets on Coffee House.

Hers was a sweet offering, “You still cry pretty.”

I cried pretty for at least a few more lights.

Oh no. I didn’t stop crying because I was done. That’s when cry ugly was like, Ok, that was sweet, but let’s move this along. I only paused to laugh at the pinnacle of the ugly cry when you have to look at yourself in the rearview mirror out of pure curiosity and wonder if anyone would comp your drinks in a dark bar now, bless them.

Whether or not someone would stick around for the cry ugly, it doesn’t matter. I look at the photos from the shoot and smile. They are not a reminder of a hard day, but of lovely souls that recognized where I was and my desire to rise above the deeply shattered remnants of my poor darkly bruised heart (I hope he’s reading this) and give me the space and the respect to do it with humor and a safety net.

Bless.

Get Real

IMG_5580Inspiration can be found in many places. Sometimes it is in a conversation I have or overhear, an article I read or within the moments life decides to hand me a lesson. There are occasions when it is clicking through Pinterest quotes that something syrupy and motivational set against a backdrop of stars or a lacy font makes my wheels turn. I want to grow the cute little quote that your 16 year old daughter is thinking about tattooing on her ribs into a story that will stick to her ribs.

Tonight it was overwhelming, this need to write about a quote I can’t even finish. That alone is telling. It started with, “A real man…” and I felt my eyes cross and I catalogued the primordial grunting sound that emanated from me.

I hereby request a moratorium on the proclamation that anyone is a “real” anything. I don’t know if those that feel they are above defining the qualities and values they appreciate in men and women are just looking for inspiration in a gif world or if they realize that blasting a very broad adjective in the context of demoralizing those they don’t consider “real” is tacky.

I have spent a lot of time making mistakes and talking to people and having meetings and reading and stuff and I can assure you of one thing:

Real people are flawed.

Gorgeously, inherently, deliciously flawed. It is the cracks and fissures that make us empathetic, lovable and granted, sometimes frustrating as all get out.

There are entire boards on Pinterest dedicated to “Real Man” and “Real Woman” quotes. They always proclaim that those that are “real” do not cheat, do not lie and a plethora of other things that the poster clearly aspires to manifest in their next relationship. I’ve heard the judgmental way women who are reapplying their Viva Glam sparkle sticks in the mirror of the cutest new restaurant assert this knowledge. While they all throw support at a girl who is clearly dating someone worthless they get that Goddess complex look, “A REAL man would pick up the check” or “A REAL man would order the most expensive wine.”

Or, worse, “Honey, I’m a real woman. If he can’t handle me at my worst he doesn’t deserve me at my best.”

What? I say with a wrinkled nose.

Why aren’t you always trying to be the best version of yourself? We all have our moments, but are you tucking your tantrums in the guise of worst as an ultimatum? That’s terrible and I will tell you why. I worry we are forgetting qualities, character and the celebration of difference because a marketing company figured out how to make it pretty, make it catchy, make you buy into it. You have sold your own values, your own adjectives, because someone gave you permission to be above them and then overlaid a blurry picture of stars.

Real: [ree-uh l, reel] adjective

1. true; not merely ostensible, nominal, or apparent: the real reason for an act.

2. existing or occurring as fact; actual rather than imaginary, ideal, or fictitious: a story taken from real life.

3. being an actual thing; having objective existence; not imaginary: The events you will see in the film are real and not just made up.

4. being actually such; not merely so-called: a real victory.

5. genuine; not counterfeit, artificial, or imitation; authentic: a real antique; a real diamond; real silk.

I would argue, genetically, we are all real men and women. The words genuine and authentic above (number five) are used to describe an item physically.

I’d rather think of someone as being genuine in their manner, authentic in their spirit. How much better would it be to describe the person you aspire to meet or to be by qualities as opposed to hanging sixty pretty gifs on a page?

The most common theme I’ve noticed is that women want men who have character, who make them feel safe in their relationship and who value them the way their father said a man should. Women want to be viewed as strong, but not be labeled as a word I have come to despise – bitch. The two sometimes become synonymous and that is criminal.

Gentlemen, if you make a women feel safe in your relationship, and by that I mean supported, loved, respected and confident that you understand her value, you will watch her shine more brilliantly than you can imagine. You will experience a strength and a warmth that will feel like a tangible glow. Safety for a woman is paramount to her emotional security and this should not be confused with financial security. They are two very different things.

Women can be secure in our value and still maintain a level of humility and femininity. A man doesn’t need to be smacked with your strength. It is when we are busy being their lovers, their friends and sitting within our gifts that a man is drawn to the beauty and strength of you.

I have no other advice for you because I cannot figure out the rest.

Confusing creatures, truly. Do they want to be fed? Is it a sense of humor?

I got nothing.

With all this said, I simply ask that as we consider the people in our lives and ourselves, for that matter, we attribute characteristics and qualities as opposed to expectations or comparisons.

You get a lot more action that way.