Influence

i’m not sure any of us can appreciate – in the moment – the influence or impact we could have on someone down the road, especially when it happens within the ordinary stream of life.

today, i felt an overwhelming wave of gratitude for the start i got in the professional world. at 16, i had short stints as a preschool teacher assistant and shoe salesperson, but by the summer of my 17th year, i started working as a receptionist for a tiny swimming pool management company, owned by my childhood neighbor, Michael Bratton and his partners Paul Wells and Oscar Beltran. that first summer, answering phones and handing out paychecks to a horde of tanned, young lifeguards was a primo gig.

but it didn’t take long before i did what i always do: look around and find other things i could do while i was waiting for the phone to ring. during summers and after school, i saw gaps and tried to fill them. i cannot express how meaningful, in retrospect, it was to have an arena in my teenage life where no one put limits around me – where my own drive and initiative allowed me to progress, where people didn’t seem to check my to-do list against my age, where i felt like an integral and important part of something.

after going to the University of Texas for a whole semester and flunking out due to being completely unengaged, i came home to Houston feeling pretty lost. then, in stark contrast to the seemingly enormous waste of time that was college, i came back to work at Avant-Garde Aquatics full-time and returned to doing meaningful work that challenged me to grow. (editor’s note: it’s not that i think college isn’t important and – unfortunately – an imperative step…i just wish there were other legitimately acceptable paths for people who learn differently)

bit by bit, i learned about how to facilitate various aspects of managing the office and paperwork. i organized the filing system. i built databases from the ground up to give us digital access to all our critical information and designed reports and a UI that any of us could easily use. i learned graphic design by creating flyers and posters for pool events. i learned accounts receivable, accounts payable and all the ins and outs of processing payroll and paying payroll taxes. i read up on HR practices and helped create the most basic framework for compliance. i facilitated the flow of the hiring process and training logistics.

from the ages of 17-23, i learned more about running a business than i ever could have in school. these three young entrepreneurs (my god, were they really in their mid-20s when it started?!) gave me the opportunity to discover that i thrive in an environment where things aren’t all spelled out for me. perhaps because they, too, were learning everything from scratch, they were compassionate and patient when i made mistakes, encouraging when i expressed interest in taking on something new, and always treated me as a capable person who brought value to their business.

i don’t think many young adults, much less young women, get to have that petri dish to develop in, and i will always be eternally grateful for that – because it has deeply influenced everything that came after in my professional life. not only have all of those business management skills been pivotal to my success in running my own business, but my time working for these guys gave me a baseline for what i expect out of bosses, peers, corporate culture and my own role in all of it. i have spent my career choosing places where i can grow, where my peers and bosses value me, where encouraging people to stretch and learn is standard, and where caring about the people you work with is the norm. even more importantly, as i’ve built my own small business with a growing number of employees, i have tried to create a similar environment for a new generation of people starting or growing their careers.

i was incredibly fortunate to start my professional life working for men who treated me with respect and fostered an environment that rewarded initiative. i was young and made mistakes and wasn’t yet able to grasp the nuances of professionalism that experience offers, but they never made me feel anything other than a badass.

Facebook allows me to enjoy seeing Michael’s daughters growing up, and it struck me that they should know what a difference their father made to a smart girl who didn’t particularly thrive in a traditional education system. i don’t really keep in touch with Paul or Oscar, but i hope each of these 3 men would smile to know just how much they did to start me on a path to an amazing life.

Expansion

in the hypnotic routine of the day-to-day, it’s easy for me to forget that we are fluid creatures, capable of – and arguably honed by evolution – to change, expand, grow endlessly throughout our lives.

sometimes the catalysts for change are tragic or just uncomfortable – unanticipated, unwelcome, an intrusion into my comfort zone. sometimes i choose them. regardless, those bursts of change are vibrant times when i feel the edges of myself.

i like that they have covered a huge range of growth zones in my life. six years ago, i jumped with both feet into a professional growth cycle that was an intense, incredible journey into being a creative director who could rehabilitate a team and help build the bridges necessary to change the way we did business. fifteen years ago, i experienced a burst of personal connections and relationship-building that to this day still nurture me. eighteen years ago, i waded up to the hips in my own pool of reflection, rooting around in the things that caused me heartache and began to emerge with a more clear idea of the person i wanted to be, and what habits and choices defeated that potential.

expansion is so delicious, but those periods of rapid growth have also taught me that it comes in cycles and that going all-in for too long can grind down the progress gained. grow, reflect, rest, settle, grow – they are the cycles of our life and a natural, healthy rhythm. i’m learning to draw more boundaries around these cycles so i can have and benefit from all the seasons, which is sometimes a battle all in itself.

i’ve been passing through a period of rest and settling – a bit of hibernation. but as i’ve been working through a feeling of being less connected in my relationships, i have inadvertently kicked off another cycle of expansion – focused this time around yoga and photography. both are awakening that pervasive feeling of extending who i am, nudging out my boundaries, propelling me into a new space, physically, mentally, intellectually. what started as a way to nurture myself and give my emotions a break as i did something productive with my time, has suddenly brought me back to that tingly feeling i wasn’t expecting.

yoga is perhaps my most long-standing lesson in slowly, patiently pursuing something. i’m definitely guilty of tossing something aside if i don’t get it quickly, and yoga is so multi-layered that i just keep coming back and peeling off another layer. my last two springs in Austin have fundamentally changed my practice. physically, i’m changing before my own eyes. my shoulders and back are becoming defined. my endurance is up, my aches are down, my sleep is filled with actual dreams instead of anxiety-laden nightmares (which is my usual state). i have sustained getting my ass out of bed at 5:45am 3 times a week to get to mysore class, which is nothing short of a miracle. i am so inspired when i look around that room – people discovering ashtanga and working every day to break through and just get comfortable (it’s such a climb) and folks who are beyond me, moving through asanas that currently break my brain and growing their practice sustainably. i love seeing every single person come to the mat and be where they are and push for that next boundary, reflecting and sharing my own experience.

the last time i felt so motivated by a physical pursuit was gymnastics as a kid. obviously, yoga is way more than a physical experience, but that component makes this time unique in my adult life. i don’t know where it’s going, but this ride is making me high as a kite for the time being.

my photography is now at almost 3 years of slow and steady expansion, but since arriving in Austin, it’s taken a new leap forward. while i’ve been working on technical skills and experimenting with How To Take A Picture and How Do I Want To Paint The World I See, i have focused very avidly on birding in the last 3 months (as everyone looking at my photos knows). what i didn’t expect was the naturalist self-education i was going to get along with it. there is a camera-geek angle to improving my technique, but as David has said, “you are like an 8 year old girl who can’t get enough of learning!” i LOVE that birding has made me a total geek for knowing about each species, learning about behavioral and nesting habits, researching all the wacky things i see and understanding more about the world i’m observing. my brain is soaking it all in and i feel intellectually stimulated in a way that i haven’t in years and years – certainly not outside of my professional life.

i’m not sure how long this expansion will last, but while it does, i am going to thoroughly enjoy my 8-year old curiosity and growing body awareness. it will be interesting to see how this changes my perspective and approach in future cycles.

All You Can Do Is Control Yourself…Sometimes.

i like control.

it’s an understatement, but one that i have worked to soften & disarm for most of my adult life. and that effort has been slowly changing my quality of life for the better.

at work, i pick my battles. i try hard to recognize that others might need or want to get to the end goal differently than i do. in life pursuits, i anchor strongly into the reminder that some of the best outcomes in my life have come from the random and uncontrolled moments. sometimes i have to breathe deeply and remember that i don’t like myself as much when my control-freak nature is in the driver’s seat.

all that should be tempered against the fact that i have very purposely crafted a life where i have put controls in place for a lot of things, from minimizing commitments and distractions that don’t add value, to gardening and cooking to remain active in what goes into my body.

i guess you can say the mantra that i live by is “control what you can (that is healthy), and let go of the rest.” and when i’m really twitchy or hurt, i try to always come back to “the only thing you can control is how you respond.”

except…the last handful of years has humbled me in what i thought was an absolute truth.

in personal relationships, it’s been my touchstone and it has worked for me: decide what *i* can do when i’m unhappy or in conflict and know that that is all i *can* control. others will always make the decisions they need to for themselves, and things may or may not resolve as i would like. it doesn’t remove the pain, but it usually stops me from thrashing around too much in a situation that i can’t control and to more quickly get to the other side.

but a few years ago, i experienced a fundamental shift in a deep friendship, and my “control myself” adage just fell to shreds. it took a long time for me to even recognize that i wasn’t able to use my usual coping mechanisms, and to stare the pain, confusion, and grieving in the face. i just couldn’t “control” the emotions i was experiencing, and it was startling.

i had worked through the logic. i understood intellectually where i needed to land to move into a new paradigm. but there was nothing i could do for the emotions that just had to work themselves out. instead of control, i found that i needed patience with myself…i needed to just give myself permission to be where i was and feel what i was feeling, and just wait at the gates with next steps once i was ready for logic and control.

it’s still frustrating to feel it playing out for so long. i periodically send an Emissary of Control in to see if my emotions are ready, and i think i’m starting to see some progress. but it’s complicated.

so i sit here, bemusedly watching the no-longer-so-smug i-figured-out-controling-my-control self digest this new life lesson. sometimes you can’t even control your own reactions. it’s ok…it’s life and it’s messy.

Recipe: Miso-Marinated Salmon

I just tried this recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, and it was so easy and so delicious that it really needs to be shared! I paired it with some lovely sides I got from Epurious.com – ginger-cilantro rice and cucumbers with wasabi and rice vinegar.

INGREDIENTS

  • ½ cup white miso paste
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons sake
  • 3 tablespoons mirin
  • 4 (6- to 8-ounce) skin-on salmon fillets
  • Lemon wedges

INSTRUCTIONS (SERVES 4)

  1. Note that the fish needs to marinate for at least 6 or up to 24 hours before cooking. Use center-cut salmon fillets of similar thickness. Yellow, red, or brown miso paste can be used instead of white.
  2. Whisk miso, sugar, sake, and mirin together in medium bowl until sugar and miso are dissolved (mixture will be thick). Dip each fillet into miso mixture to evenly coat all flesh sides. Place fish skin side down in baking dish and pour any remaining miso mixture over fillets. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.
  3. Adjust oven rack 8 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Place wire rack in rimmed baking sheet and cover with aluminum foil. Using your fingers, scrape miso mixture from fillets (do not rinse) and place fish skin side down on foil, leaving 1 inch between fillets.
  4. Broil salmon until deeply browned and centers of fillets register 125 degrees, 8 to 12 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through cooking and shielding edges of fillets with foil if necessary. Transfer to platter and serve with lemon wedges.

Progress Toward “One Day”

She’s been everybody else’s girl
Maybe one day she’ll be her own. – Tori Amos

identity.

in my teens and early 20’s, i knew i’d figure out how to be a great mom with an ambitious career. it’s what you did – excel at every facet, fulfill your potential, HaveItAll.

in the decade of my mid-20-30s, new seeds of thought fell into my expectation pool. it seemed inevitable that i would rock out an independent and fulfilling career. but what *was* the right definition of success? my laser-focused, expectations-meeting soul longed to be content to spend a day reading a book under a tree in the shade – to see that as an equally valid use of my time. but…wasn’t that frivolous?

there is no doubt that as the first (and for quite a while, only) child who grew up in a household of high expectations, i have been wired all my life to please the people i care about. as an adult, i am highly motivated to do things when i know they make someone else happy. it sounds cheesy, but i most naturally “live to serve” – which often makes me an empathetic and pleasant friend, partner, colleague, and employee.

it’s also kind of a huge pain in the ass.

boundaries were hard. overcommitting was easy. losing myself in the needs and drama of others was inevitable. i looked around in my mid-20s and had to ask,  “whose hand is on the wheel?” – and that was the primary question for the next decade of my life.

progress is really hard to gauge from within. and for the last couple of years, i’ve been looking around at my life and having ah-hah moments.

when i started asking myself how i could possibly disentangle from being Everyone Else’s Girl, i had no answers and i was skeptical about how much progress i could really make. it’s…me – just me and who i am and how i’m wired. yes, it sucks that i’ll always be more inclined to do The Thing that someone else needs or wants over the The Thing i really want, but by filtering who got that from me, i was managing to have a pretty satisfying life.

except…*looks around at my 40s*…i’m apparently doing it.

for 15 years, i’ve been incrementally making choices that simplify my life. i eliminated friendships that were one-sided. i chose not to have children. i live on an island, where it’s harder to overcommit to social or community things. i recognized that when i’m too committed to a full-time career, i drive myself into the ground, so i consciously chose to nurture a business where i have more control over what work i take. i live a pretty simple life, and in that puddle of sunshine that peace offers, the seeds of self-care and prioritizing myself have begun to grow.

there is time for growing in my yoga practice. there is solitude to observe wildlife and discover things about the world around me through photography. there is energy to put my hands in the dirt and grow things. there is motivation to cook good healthy food every day and feel the benefits. there is time for laughing and kissing and hiking and…

and suddenly, there i am. not every day, not every minute – but a lot more than ever before…i’m my own girl.

hello world

it’s been close to six years since i have had a semi-regular blog…that’s surprising – for more than 12 years prior to that, i was such a junkie for baring my soul regularly to a glowing screen and releasing it into the world.

i’m back because i missed this – The More Substantial Post. unlike many, i don’t dislike the experience i get from FB, but i miss expressing myself with more substance. so i guess i’m ready to say, “hello (again), world!”

and i’m nervous. it’s not that i’ve gotten any more private about my life and my thoughts. i’m not one of those people with filters and restrictions on my accounts. i’ve always been on the fringes of Acceptable, living my life with somewhat unconventional choices – and that remains as true at 40ish as it was in my 20s.

i think some of my nervousness is that my experiences and feelings feel farther away from those of many of my friends these days. in my 20s and early 30s, i found people who shared my philosophies and were living similar lives. i built my tribe.

right about the time i dropped off the blogosphere, there was a fork in the road. most of my nearest and dearest started families and their lives shifted into a new focus, new experiences, new priorities. i, too, gained joys from that journey – seeing my friends grow, participating in the journey of these little people, standing in awe of the highs and lows in their lives.

my journey has been different for a while now. my choices have given me a different array of joys and struggles, sadness and identity. it makes me a little self-conscious, a little more reticent to share what ails me, what weighs on my soul, what i work toward and through. i sometimes joke that i leapfrogged into a new phase of life…from Finding Myself to Finding Purpose in Semi-retirement, and just skipped all those years of Family Responsibility 🙂

so i’m pushing aside my unease and opening up the milky white screen again. i have always benefitted from hanging my hopes, fears, aches, and experiences out in the world. i enjoy the perspective it lends me. i enjoy the sense of shared experience it has always brought. here’s to being fearless once again.