Bearing Witness

Standing at a wedding recently, I thought “the only thing I have to do right now, the only purpose for me being here, is to bear witness to this moment. That’s why we’ve been invited here. To sit. To watch. To witness as these two people commit themselves to each other.”

Wow. How powerful is that? I don’t have to do anything. I just have to be here.

I think that’s actually the way it is with a lot of life. Particularly in relationships. You don’t have do anything. I mean of course you do. But one of the biggest things in marriage and in friendship and even in family is being witness to another person’s journey. To his or her life. To watch it and to say I see you.

One of my best friends had a baby recently. Of course, I’ve been putting pressure on myself to take all kinds of food over there since before the baby was even born. I’m sure food would be nice and welcomed. But most of all I think our friends just want to spend time with us. To hang out like we did before the baby. To be around and present while they navigate this new chapter. To bear witness to their journey.

On the flip side, I’ve got a friend going through a break-up. There’s nothing we can do to fix it. To put these two people back together. Sure we can help with some logistical things. We can provide meals or distractions. But more importantly than that it’s being there. We’re here. We see you. We love you. It’s ok. It’s going to be ok.

Every September, I get into a weird funk. I’m super moody and reflective. It’s like a dark night of the soul kind of thing. This weekend I was talking to some girlfriends about it and they were like oh yeah, it’s September already. You’ve gotten like this every September since we’ve known you. They can’t take away the emotional discomfort I feel in September, but them acknowledging and validating my experience — witnessing it — made me feel less alone.
Sometimes in life, you don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to fix it, you don’t have to make it better or take it to the next level even. You don’t even have to be the absolute best version of yourself. You just have to be there. To bear witness.

What I learned over LDW

I had a realization over Labor Day weekend.

I am much better, feel much better, when my life is in motion.

I unintentionally pulled the joy and delight out of my life in the name of growing my business. I started to feel like I couldn’t prioritize friendships or my health because I needed to focus all of my energy and my free time on my business. I’m realizing, though well-meaning, it’s not serving me well.

We had this thing at my high school called Gym Night. My sister always said that she had the best grades during Gym Night season. She attributed this to having less time to focus on homework and things so she didn’t mess around and simply buckled down to get her homework done in the limited time she had.

I’ve gone the exact opposite of that. I’ve stripped my weekly calendar of all the fun things: cooking, seeing friends, working out. My life has become a big go to work, come home, sit on the couch and watch TV loop. And you can bet that I was NOT working on my business in all this free time.

I banged out more content for an upcoming e-course in one plane ride to California than I have in the entire month since I had the idea.

I always feel like I’m super focused on trips to PA too. Probably because we’ve got a lot of people to see and there’s only limited time to spend by myself.

I’ve gained weight. I had a breakdown in the doctor’s office recently about how beige my life is and how many things I’ve got going on in the fall.

Then Labor Day weekend happened. I went to happy hour on Thursday night and then Friday afternoon when work got out early and then had a girlfriend over Friday night. Saturday I got a massage and then later in the day Mike and I tried a new-to-us BBQ place in Georgetown and I stopped at the Gap on my way home. Sunday I had brunch with girlfriends and then Mike and I made dinner at home. Monday morning I made breakfast at home, kneading dough for these breakfast buns by hand for eight minutes. I also made rice krispie treats. Then we drove 45 mins to a furniture place in Virginia and then spent the afternoon and evening with friends at their house. That’s about what I typically do in a whole month, let alone a weekend!

I wrote a blog post over the weekend and I’m writing this at 7am the day after Labor Day.

I haven’t been on a roll like this in a very very long time. I feel like I’ve uncovered a secret I should’ve known about myself:

I am at my best when I’ve got a lot going on.

Note: this is very different and I’m very cognizant about numbing with busyness. That is a completely different thing and needs to be monitored. Busyness is an addiction like any other and I’ve definitely used it in the past.

So, I’m going to add the color back into my life. Cooking (which I love), happy hour, exercise. Because not only do I want a full life, it seems like I need one too.

Yelling about carrots

My husband threw my carrots away yesterday.

Yes, my carrots. We’ve been doing “his-and-hers” meal plan since the beginning of the year where we’re each responsible for our own meals. It’s awesome actually and I should probably write an essay about how great it’s been. But yes, my carrots.

Anyway, those were the carrots that I’d planned to use in my “what-I’ve-got-in-the-fridge” mason jar salads for lunch this week and when I went in the drawer and they weren’t there, I was not pleased.

“Did you throw my carrots away?” I said to my husband, knowing the answer is yes. He was sitting on the couch facing the kitchen and had this “ooo, yep, oops, sorry” look on his face.

I was pissed. And I let him have it. I raised my voice, yelling about the carrots and why did you have to throw away my carrots, they were good, I just bought them last week and you left the old carrots in there and why didn’t you throw away YOUR leftovers. You’ve got old turkey and green beans in there. I pulled out said turkey and green beans and put them on the counter. I was huffing and puffing and banging things.

It. felt. awesome. As the words were coming out of my mouth I felt so powerful. Slightly bad that I was yelling over carrots but also so good and so powerful because I was honoring my anger. Allowing it to be ok. My. anger. I felt super grounded in this booming voice that was coming out of me. I was cognizant of it and what I was doing, I was not at the affect of it.

Shortly into the banging Mike went into the bedroom and closed the door. I didn’t care. I could tell he wasn’t getting triggered, wasn’t taking it personally. He was simply getting away from my yelling. Good for him. He doesn’t need to sit there and listen to me scream and bang things around. I felt kind of bad that I let him have it but also not.

After a few minutes I went in the bedroom and got in bed next to him as a “I still love you, rant over” peace offering and it was all fine.

This whole thing lasted for about 10 minutes but it’s left a lasting impression on me. What I take away most from this experience was how good my anger felt and how cathartic it was to own it and let it be. Also, that I was angry, expressed that, and it wasn’t damaging or scary. I should note here that I’m really lucky that this crazy yelling didn’t trigger my husband. Things may have gone very differently if it did.

So this begs two questions:

1) how can I continue to own my anger and express it in the future?

2) how can I react similar to how Mike reacted? Not scared by anger and not taking it personally.

 

Something to note: In my yelling, I didn’t make any accusations about Mike as a person. I was simply yelling about the action of the carrots being thrown away. We’ve learned in our marriage not to use absolutes like “you always” or “you never” in arguments and we don’t attack the person’s character.

 

Here’s another post about things a significant other might do and how to handle them.

Feelings, a manifesto

I am a feeler. I feel all the things, all the time.

One of my first deeply emotional memories was a mix of happy and sad. My family was on vacation and we, all seven of us, were riding in a surry, a golfcart size thing that is peddled like a bike, happily peddling and riding along all together. I remember being so happy and then an instant later really really sad. A voice popped into my head “it won’t always be this way.” I wondered if my intuition knew that my parents would get divorced at some point, but now I realize that I was just having a very normal reaction to deep joy.

I’m a crier too. Happy tears, mad tears, sad tears. I’ve cried them all.

I recently got teary in a staff meeting at work when I was presenting to our division on the success of a big project I led.

When I was a teacher, I cried in front of my class one day because my kids were working in groups and it was just so great and special.

Last month, I started bawling at a Carrie Underwood concert when she sang a song that always gets me. When she sang the lyrics “with your daddy’s eye, what a sweet surprise” I started sobbing, head in my hands, leaned over and my friend started rubbing my back in comfort and then pulled me into her arms and told me people were staring.

I’ve cried during yoga classes and during the street-brawl punch move in Body Combat.

I almost lost my shit about a project at work in the fall. I was ranting and raving to a colleague when we took a walk to get coffee and was so distracted by my anger about how stupid this project was and how frustrated I was that I didn’t know how to make the changes to the art in Photoshop that I almost left the coffee shop without paying.

I cried in church all the time as a kid. If I didn’t cry during mass, I likely cried in the car on the way home.

When my family dropped me off at college, oh my god, there were so. many. tears.

To be honest, I love all of this. I love feeling so deeply and I love crying. I wasn’t always comfortable with my very intense feelings, and honestly, I’m still working on owning some of the more negative ones.

Overall though, I’ve learned that my emotions can be a gift to the world. I hope they are. I hope that in sharing my experiences and my feelings that others feel permission to feel theirs as well.

Not a doormat: a lesson from the security guard

I think I’ve got a package downstairs.

I don’t know if I’ve got a package downstairs because the security guard won’t tell me (and because I accidentally typed @gmail.con instead of @gmail.com so I can’t track my package but that’s neither here nor there).

The security guard won’t tell me if I have a package downstairs.

Is there a package for 604? I ask.

From today?

Yes. 

I don’t know, I’m still in the middle of it.

Well, can you tell me while I’m standing here?

No, because I’m in the middle of it and I’d have to put all of the packages before yours. 

{blank look at this point? I’m not sure how I respond exactly.}

You can come back in 20 minutes and I’ll be done then and I’ll know.

{Now I know that I’ve got a blank look on my face – the one that my mom would call “that dumb look” – which is like a jaw-dropped look that says “huh? I’m not sure I can comprehend what you’re saying” as I look at the clock on the wall and wonder will I be free in 20 minutes? and is there another way I can respond here?}

And while I’m both super annoyed, and kind of flabberghasted, I’ve got to respect this man.

Because he can do something that I can’t am not great at.

Say no.

Without apology.

Set boundaries.

Clearly.

And without giving two craps about what I think about him.

Wow. How can I do that?

How can I take a page out of this guy’s book and set limits and procedures and stick with them regardless of what other people think?

How can I stand my ground like that?

Wow.

I’m not sure at this point. I’m really not. But at least this gives me a model to work with. An example I can think of whenever someone asks me to do something. Even if I don’t act on it right now, I can start by thinking “how can I apply what he said, and how clearly and with authority he said it? what would that look like in this situation?” That would be a good start I think.

Talk about the opposite of a doormat. My goodness.

Question:

Who’s modeled something for you recently? What did you learn?

motherhood, someday

I’m going to throw myself into motherhood someday. I’m going to read all the books, cut all of the orange slices, kiss all the boo-boos. Someday.

But not for a little while.

It’s a big deal for me to say this. Feels like a huge admission. This is one of my biggest “shoulds.”

I always thought I’d have a baby around 27. We’ve been married for three years — shouldn’t we want to have a baby?

Until last week* I hadn’t admitted, hadn’t realized, that I don’t want a baby right now. Mike has said “a few years” to the baby question for a while now and so I just said “we’re not having a baby because Mike doesn’t want to have a baby.”

But the truth is it’s not what I want right now. And that’s ok.

It’s ok…that we said we’d have a baby by 30 and now we probably won’t.

It’s ok…that I’d like to be debt free before we start a family. (That may or may not happen.)

It’s ok…that I want to enjoy experiencing my best self for a while.

It’s ok…that I want to indulge in just the two of us for a while longer.

It’s ok. All of it is ok.

 

*I wrote this post in my journal last spring…but just got the guts now to publish it.

What I learned from a headache

A couple weeks ago, I was in a funk. For three days, I woke up tired and throughout the day had no motivation. “I don’t feel like doing anything” kept running through my head. And each afternoon, I got a headache. On my way to CVS to get some Advil, I thought “I just want to take a nap right now. I want to go home and go to bed.” And then I thought “I’m just going to empower myself to do that. I’m going to use some sick time and go home and rest. My body obviously needs that.”

I got home and climbed into bed for a nap. I thought about turning on the TV while I fell asleep but something told me not to. That I didn’t need the mental clutter and noise. That I just needed to be.

Within two minutes of my head hitting the pillow, I had a realization. There was something at work that was really frustrating me. It had been bothering me since earlier in the week but I didn’t know that consciously. It wasn’t until I started telling Mike about it that I realized how much this was affecting me — and my performance. The next day, I woke up like my usual self, energetic and ready to take on the day. And I had a conversation with my boss about what was bothering me and I felt so much better.

I share this story for two reasons:

1. You’ve got to listen to your body. You are the only one that can feel your body and hear your intuition. It’s up to you act on those messages. You can discern when it’s a “take-some-Advil-and-go-through-your day” kind of thing or  it’s a “stop, listen, or this will just continue” kind of thing. But only you can discern that. So you’ve got to listen and you’ve got to act. Which brings me to my next point…

2. Sometimes you’ve got to empower yourself and give yourself what you need.  Your boss isn’t going to say “I can tell your head hurts and that you’re in a funk” go home and take a nap. No. You need to decide that for yourself and give yourself permission to do what you need to do.

If I wouldn’t have taken that three hours off, I could’ve been stuck in that negative energy (and the corresponding physical symptoms) for a while — impacting both myself, my team, and my work.

Something I love to do

I love taking myself on lunch dates. Especially during the work day. Sit down. Relax. Read a book or blogs on my phone. Look around. Write. Think. Just be. Peaceful. Away from the computer.

Lunch date

A couple months ago when I first started my new job*, I went to a small Italian pizza place down the street from my office. I could’ve gotten it to go but decided to sit for a while and enjoy the time out of the office. I ordered an eggplant parm panini and while I waited for it to arrive I jotted down some ideas in a notebook, read blogs on my phone, and just looked around. It was so relaxing. I’ve been thinking about that sandwich ever since. It probably wasn’t anything to write home about but the experience of just taking a nice break to decompress and regroup made it feel so luxurious and special.

I’m not one that has super strong beliefs or opinions on things but if there’s one thing I really believe in, it’s lunch. And taking a real legitimate break to enjoy it.

 

 

*I started a new job in November. Still in university fundraising in DC but managing a small team. It’s going really really well!
**Pictured above: lunch from my most recent date with myself at a bakery near my office. A few “salads” and a butternut squash soup.

Look me in the eye

I’ve started to get gray hair.

Probably a year, year and a half ago at least, they started to grow in on the right side of my head in one clump. There were a bunch but they weren’t really visible because of the way I part my hair.

But in the last two months a couple have started to grow in the top layer. On little scraggly one right in the front of my hair that you just can’t miss if I have my hair up – which when I’m home is like 100% of the time.

I’ve noticed that every time I look in the mirror I look at the grays. Are they getting longer? Are there more??

But I’ve decided I’m not going to do that anymore.

What kind of message do you send to yourself if you focus immediately and intently on your gray hairs or any other part of your body that you find questionable?

Instead, I’m going to look myself in the eye.

When I look myself in the eye, I see my beauty. When I look myself in the eye, I see my heart. And all of the love that resides there shines out. 

And that’s what I want to see when I look in the mirror. I want to see me. And so the eyes are the place to look.

And, just like when I look at someone else in the eye, when I look myself in the eye, I can’t help but smile.

 

The next time you look in the mirror, notice where your eyes go. Then, look yourself in the eye.

It will probably feel a little awkward at first. Because it’s like looking at someone who really, truly loves you. It can be super vulnerable. So it’s ok if it’s only for a fleeting moment at first. Look anyway. And then, next time, look a little longer. And then, a little longer still. Share a moment with your love-ly self.

 

Love always,
Jo

a milestone

In a few minutes, I’ll lead my first coaching group call. I feel like I’m on the edge of something really big. Something that marks the beginning of something really great and new. The realization of a dream I’ve been working toward for 2 years. I want to take a minute to take it all in. I want to acknowledge all of the love that has gotten me to this point.

It started with my friends not laughing when I timidly tested the waters of this crazy thing by saying “I think I want to be a coach” before I really even knew what coaching was.

My family and Mike’s family not really knowing what coaching was or how the heck it’d ever pay my bills but going along with it anyway.

It was colleagues at my full-time job checking in to see how things were going and asking me to bring my skills to our full-time work.

My husband who has supported this big crazy dream emotionally and financially through the intense highs and lows, times of self-confidence and extreme bouts of self-doubt.

The coaches in my cohort that acknowledged my wide range of emotions as a gift for the first time, and lauded me for it.

The teachers that encouraged me to tap into my intuition and empathy–one of the biggest strengths I bring to my coaching practice.

Friends, coworkers, and strangers that let me practice on them.

My first clients that trusted me to help them believe in themselves.

It was big things like these words from my mom when I started doubting and questioning that this whole dream would even work: “Oh, it will work. Coaching works. You’re different now because of it.”

But it was smaller things too. Like Facebook likes. Or someone saying “that’s great!” when I shared literally the smallest possible advancement in this.

I can’t tell you how all of these doses of encouragement impacted me.

Thank you, all of you.