Bit of a full circle moment here today. Hope I don’t give you whiplash as I revisit the winding road that’s led to it.
I started this blog 9 years ago to keep everyone updated on the work I was doing in Cambodia. It quickly evolved into sharing less about the things I was doing, and more about sharing the personal journey I was on via the things I was doing.
When I shared in August 2013 that I was being forced to learn to let go, I had no idea just how deep that would go. In recent years I’ve gone through my journals from my time in Cambodia and found entry after entry of lessons I was learning and revelations God gave me that continue to manifest. My family still hate that I went to Cambodia. They think it broke me. They think it ruined me. They think it sent me backwards in life. But I could not be more grateful for that time and how it led me to where I am today.
I came back really messy. My physical health was a a disaster. I couldn’t focus. I didn’t know where I fit. I didn’t trust my feelings or reactions to things. Over those years I lost many friends. Some because I was too hard to be friends with and some because I simply had limited capacity to be a caretaker. I would later find out I was dealing with PTSD from long repressed trauma triggered by my work in Cambodia.
In 2017 I met a man named Irv who saw me in the midst of the storm in me. It would take losing him and trying to deal with my grief to finally put me on the path of healing.
I had to dig in and do some really hard work. I had to go back and face things I thought I had pushed away, ignored or masked. I saw medical doctors who finally connected the dots to my mental and physical health. I went into counseling, which led to trauma therapy. I poured through books, podcasts, and articles to understand how all these things were connected and how to heal. In the meantime my circle got small. Very small. And then 2020 happened and it was just me. I learned to turn to God in a way I never had. To cling to Him. To call on Him. To find peace in Him.
A few weeks ago I was finishing up an audio book (The Body Keeps the Score) and started getting mad at people’s stories of breakthrough. These were folks who survived horrible things and they found freedom and joy. I got mad because while definitely better than I’ve ever been, I was still struggling with anger, getting stuck in my feelings, and being haunted by the past. Then God showed me a vision of me walking with a death shroud. Choosing to put it on each day. This shroud held the pains of the past. The abuse, the faces of the abusers, the losses, the hurts…the shroud had become my identity. Only I can choose to let go of that identity. I have to see I don’t need it anymore. It doesn’t fit. The woman under the shroud has become strong. I’m no longer a series of open wounds with a fragile heart. I’ve healed and learned new ways of perseverance. By taking it off I’m not weakened or exposed. I’m free to choose joy.
As I sat in my car processing the revelation, I realized it’s time to embrace this new season. I need to choose joy. I need to choose to take the death shroud off and turn the page. The season of grief is over. The season of sadness is over.
Then an old fav song started to play in my head. Did you know the song Turn! Turn! Turn! by The Byrds is actually just Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 set to music? Ecclesiastes is my favorite book of the bible, but I often forget this part of that book. Each season we go through has a purpose. They don’t have clean lines and sometimes they overlap (like grief and healing) but it’s important to remember they change.
Am I happy all the time and things are perfect now? Duh, of course not. But the lens I see everything has shifted. I’m no longer a hurt broken person in need of affirmation and desperate for love. I am in control of my feelings and how I receive the ups and downs of the world around me. I’m not a victim. I’m resilient and strong. I get down, but have learned healthy ways to get my head above water again. I have built a small but mighty circle of support. And most importantly I am not defined by what has happened to me or what I’ve done.
If you know me, you know I’m not good at pretending. My feelings are on my face. My thoughts are often shared. My flaws and cracks are easily seen. But I’m not weak because my cracks show my flaws. I’m strong by what keeps me together.
So there you have it friends. I’m not sure what this new version looks like, but I’m excited to live less shrouded. Less guarded. Less heavy. How about you? Are you clinging to an old season? Effectively wearing your winter coat in the summer?
**Final note: I would be remiss to not thank the people who stuck with me during this season. I’m also grateful to those who came and went, but had a purpose in the period they walked with me. Relationships have seasons as well. In learning to take off the death shroud, I’ve also learned to let go of people and be open to new ones.
A few days ago I hit a milestone I never thought I could. I hit 1,500 consecutive days of meditation. WHAT?! Me??? That’s about 4 years! For context I was the kid who’s report card always mentioned my need to stop talking in class and be still. My brain is usually going in seventeen directions and my to-do list has become more of santa’s wish list it’s so unattainable. But a few years ago, as I started a new job and began to work through some long standing personal struggles, meditation was a practice that kept coming up as a skill to develop. As I’ve learned this practice, I’ve learned it’s not about the brain stopping (that’s actually a serious medical condition) rather it’s learning to be aware of thoughts and feelings (including crushing anxiety) and learning to control them. Mindfulness is just that. It’s developing a strong awareness of the mind, heart and external forces at play. Like many things this is a practice I will imperfectly develop all my life, but I can tell you 1,500 days later I’m a changed woman.
I can still get caught in my feelings or head, but I am also able to quickly pause and observe what’s happening. I’m far better at self control and management. I can’t deny after an instance of having a whole session of identifying an emotion, controlling myself, and genuinely resolving what could have been a blow up within second in my brain still surprises me. Like: felt a thing —> didn’t rage —> feeling good —> who dis?
I use an app called Headspace*. It has daily guided meditations and lesson packs. One of the things I love are the little motivational messages the app sends me to remember to be mindful during the day. One of these notes once said we don’t meditate for ourselves, but for the world around us. That note struck me because it touched on something I was struggling with. Around that time, someone told me: “It must be nice to be able to worry about yourself” in some backhanded response to sharing about my meditation practice and therapy I was in. I wondered if I was being selfish doing all this work on myself.
I understand I’m fortunate to be able to afford to hire people to help me, but healing isn’t easy and takes a lot of intentionality. And I had to do most of the work myself. But I was so dumbstruck by the comment I couldn’t find the words to say I didn’t do it for me out of luxury.
I had reached a place where I would jokingly say “I’m not fit for human consumption.” But in reality I really wasn’t. I was angry a lot. I took everything personally. I was a slave to my feelings, so good luck to those around me with which version of me you’d get. And I was drowning just trying to make it one day to the next. I couldn’t show up for people the way I wanted or do the big things I dreamed of. I wanted to be better for my family. My friends. Heck even the guy who cuts me off so I don’t proceed to tailgate and flip him off (yes, I’ve done this).
But the final catalyst was my desire to adopt.
I’ve never wanted to have a baby, but a few years ago the desire to adopt older kids hit me. One of the first things I thought was “I’m in NO condition to be the mom these kids deserve.” My past isn’t their problem, and I need to be able to handle whatever they bring with them from their pasts.
Then, as I started to think of starting my own company I was further motivated by wanting to be a strong and stable leader for my future employees & customers. I mean the reasons to get better are really unending when you think about it. Your insides shine through one way or another.
(Yes, person who think they’re fooling everyone and rolling their eyes here….yours shine through too whether you like it or not…we see you 👀)
It’s hard work and it’s not an act of selfishness. Healing and breaking out of old habits/mindsets is an act of love for those around you. It enables you able to love, forgive, endure, bear the weight of conflict, speak truth in love, be kind, be joyful and carry the weight of other’s burdens. Being able to sleep better at night and have peace within you is just kind of a bonus when you think about all the rest.
So I put the words of that stressed out grumpy person out of my head and move on. I know why I’m super intentional about becoming a better version of me. And it made my heart burst when a friend recently told me “I love how you’re always trying to get better” after I shared about the latest habit I was trying to break (thanks Atomic Habits). We can all be better versions of ourselves and it can be as big or small as you want.
Ok, so was this all just some humble brag? NO! I’m sharing because I sincerely hope you read this and think about the person you are and who you want to be. But not just the what, rather the WHY. If I wasn’t thinking about all the reasons outside of myself to get better I would have stopped ages ago. It’s not easy and there are a million ways to distract myself or self soothe. But that serves the world around me zero. So my friends. Do the hard work on you. It’s not selfish. You have time. It’s actually the best thing you can do for those around you. A better version of you is a gift.
*No, Headspace did not pay me for this post.
January 2022 man, woof. I feel like I’m not the only one who just felt it in January. I think I mostly held my head above water the past couple years and January broke me. Splat!
Like the productive person I am. I set goals and things to look forward to in order to keep going. But January felt like a bonus surprise month of cancellation after cancellation and disappointment. Even dumb a thing like a morning to co-work with a friend was cut short last minute. Between being isolated with covid, isolated by winter, and isolated by folks doing their own things to survive I spent a loooot of time alone. By the end of January I basically said fuck it…to everything. Why plan? Why have goals? Why bother?
But then my counselor reminded me of the importance of anchors. Anchors don’t shift or change. Anchors are safe space roots. I have 3 anchors. The biggest is my relationship with God. I can cry out to him anytime. The bible is filled with hope and wisdom. And I know I’ve felt his Spirit in me save me from myself on more than one occasion. My other two are people in my life. I can message them anytime and get a response within a few hours. I can count on them to just listen, but also be super loving and encouraging when I need it. I can be all of me with them and they can handle it. I can go silent and they’ll still reach out to check in. We can sit in silence and it still feels like a hug.
In power circles there’s always talk of goals and things that motivate us, but I think there’s an absence of discussing what grounds us. We need goals, but we also need steady foundations to build on. What do you do when everything keeps falling apart? What do you do when you have nothing left in you to keep pushing? What if you’re doing life alone (like me) and there’s no one there to see if you even get out of bed? You know…what about your imperfect human side?
If there’s a theme ya’ll should have picked up by now (if you’ve been reading for a while), it’s my belief in the power of community. We simply can’t stand alone in life. Community is made up of lots of different people. They all matter, but I’m learning to differentiate the various types of relationships. This is critical for expectation setting. Like I mentioned in my last post, I spent too many years trying to get people to let me in. It also made me see the folks looking to me for more than I can offer them. And I’ve come to recognize the folks who have been my steady rocks. My anchors.
So this last month I stepped back from everything and let my anchors pull me back from the abyss I was floating into. I went back east for a few weeks. I sat with my dad and just watched TV with him. My best friend planned a little getaway for us. And she dove right into getting me to open up and have fun. I spent time with dear friends and their kids. I sat with friends who are going through a lot themselves. I was cared for and I was able to care for others. I remembered we’re all trying to make it. I remembered I’m not alone and that my friendship means something to some folks. It’s embarrassing to say out loud (or write publicly) but sometimes I (we) need to remember we matter. I’m grateful to my anchors for reminding me of that. No expectation of service or performance. Just me. As I am.
I feel refreshed, refocused and rooted. I feel like I can face the big goals and tasks ahead of me again. Do you have an anchor? Who’s your safe space? Do you have difficulty letting anyone be your safe space? Please let me remind you there is NO shame in it and actually it’s perfectly human, beautiful and brave.
Always in love friends 💛
Sometimes it takes being a powerless slug to figure out where your power truly lies. For years I’ve been repeating to myself that I can’t control the people, events or outcomes around me. It finally clicked what that actually looks like in practice. It looks like ownership of my choices and responses.
These days I try to be more thoughtful with where I spend my time and energy. I used to accommodate anyone who needed my time. Heck, I’d leave time free “just in case” someone would need me or invite me for something. How embarrassing is that?! I gave up opportunities, experiences, time, resources and energy for people without them ever knowing. And then I wondered why I was filled with resentment and anger. I sacrificed so much for people and they didn’t reciprocate…but they also didn’t know.
Recently, a lightbulb went off. These were MY CHOICES and I was getting mad at people for not making the same ones. I was worrying about the person next to me’s oxygen mask, and then angry I was suffocating. I can’t control other people’s boundaries and choices. And I care a whole lot less if I don’t see myself as the victim of their choices, rather focus on what I do control.
I know my needs. I know my priorities. I know what feeds me and what drains me. At first I thought this looked like leaning into my power and putting up hard boundaries. But that felt defensive. Like I’m under attack and I need to harness my power to fight the world around me. When I thought of what’s held me back most in life it’s been the barriers I build around myself; not the ones other’s built. In trying to accommodate other peoples’ feelings, schedules, needs and sensitivities I kept catching myself in a holding pattern.
Specifically, the past 9 months have been both magical and difficult. I’m trying to create a real living company from an idea in my head. I’m hustling to bootstrap said project and…ya know…pay my bills in the meantime. With only 24 hours in a day, a sleeping habit I can’t shake and space for fun I won’t give up, I have been exercising awareness of my choices with time and energy. You’ve heard me mention the practices of meditation and stoicism I’ve been working on, and it’s really fascinating seeing them take shape as real life skills. These skills look like:
- declining invitations, when it’s simply to hold the time I need for myself
- recognizing when friendships have run their course, or changed, and letting them go without anger
- seeing the immaturity in wanting to be in so many people’s inner circles. And now feeling gratitude they kept me out (one less choice I need to make)
- recognizing I own my calendar and conveying my limitations (even to bosses), rather than asking for time for myself
- choosing to experience things alone (a trip, an art exhibit, a hike) rather than hope to be invited or wait for someone to have time for me
- hearing an urgent need or deadline and questioning it, rather than reacting immediately.
This leads to a HUGE lesson: most (and I mean 90%+) of emergencies are not emergencies! This applies both personally and professionally. We (especially those of us in the USA) have created muscle memory for rapid fire. Taking a breath to actually evaluate the situation, and urgency attached to it, is so much better than taking on the frenetic energy and responding in kind. Being a calming and stabilizing force is both a gift to myself and the person on the other side. It’s putting the oxygen mask on myself first.
So now I’m working on building muscle memory to take ownership of my choices and responses. I pause before responding to messages. I think a little more before taking on commitments. Rather than fixate on the object of my anger, I consider why I’m angry and address what I can.
So what clicked?
Headed into 2022 I was thinking of my word for the year. I had decided it would be “power.” As a woman, as a lawyer, and as an entrepreneur I felt like owning and leaning into my power was what I needed. Then I was truly humbled when I got sick.
I watched folks celebrate the new year and kick it off with announcements, big plans, and excitement. I felt like I was missing the express train as I lay like a slug on the platform. I was sleeping most of the days. My brain was in a fog. And I very much relied on the care of a small community around me. I felt powerless. I felt sad. I felt angry.
Then, I thought about my best friend and her countless surgeries and limitations after a near-death accident. Even when housebound she made whatever choices she could to live a life with purpose and learned to practice gratitude for what she did have. I thought about my dear Irv who lost his battle to cancer, but chose to use his final months to continue sharing messages of hope and healing. I contrasted them with other friends who struggle as victims of life or feel chronically under attack. They fight the reality of difficult situations or illnesses, longing for some perfect world they feel cheated out of.
Yeah. Laying on the couch alone creates space for a lot of thinking. And somewhere in that fog and vulnerability I saw the subtle difference between power and empowerment. I didn’t need to fight for power. There will be times where power is simply impossible. I want to trust in my ability to choose how I respond to whatever happens. I want to own my limitations. That feels a whole lot more like empowerment than power.
This may be a subtly only my brain sees, but it feels lighter. It feels open. It feels like taking flight rather than prepping to fight. It feels like a trust fall into the crazy world and the messy relationships in it. When I was sick, it felt like not worrying about the work piling up, the unanswered emails, or my lack of health insurance. It looked like an opportunity to let loved ones care for me and feel that love. It looked like taking a break from feeling the need to be productive each day to simply rewatch all the Harry Potter movies in peace. Those were choices. They were little ones. But they were mine to make and I think I chose well.
So there it is. I think I was tired of fighting. Tired of feeling angry. Tired of feeling out of control. I feel like I’ve exhaled. I feel rooted. I’m excited to develop these new muscles. Does any of it resonate? Did I figure out something you’ve known all along? As always, I’d love your thoughts or experiences here!
Well hello there friends, its been a while and BOY has it been a few months over here. I left my job, decided not get another full-time job, moved out of my fabulous apartment in Columbus into a storage unit in Philly, and I’m STARTING MY OWN COMPANY! You can see why I’ve been a bit distracted from writing to you. I honestly haven’t even known what to share, since I’ve been figuring it out as I go along. But one thing I decided a few weeks ago is that henceforth I will remember this as: the Summer of Shaz! I turn 40 on September 21st, the last day of summer, so it feels like an obvious choice. The precipice of a new decade is a perfect culmination of my continually surprising life these past 40 years (the good, the bad, the hilarious, the awful and the miraculous).
I honestly love each new year of life and don’t give a hoot about my age. I also don’t really care about being celebrated (I’m not a “it’s my birthday month” kind of gal). But I love being intentional with life. I like birthdays because, similar to new years, they’re definitive benchmarks within the whole journey of life. Like chapters in a book or punctuation in a sentence, they give a moment to pause. Each passing year has one goal – make it full. No big accomplishment necessary. Intentional forward movement each day, while looking beyond only my own personal comfort, is what makes a year full to me. Being mindful of where my heart is. Being mindful of what I do with my time. Being present in each day I’m given. Each year is so full, that by the end I’m ready to see what’s next. I’m not saying each year is perfect or well executed or even well used, but it’s FULL. Full of experiences. Full of memories. Full of lessons. Full of hope. A full year of continuing onward and trying. Each new year of life is a chance to keep trying to be better AND to see what is on deck to fill the next year. Somehow this process has me grow more grounded and content as I get older. I don’t think there’s a cream or injection for either of those yet 😉
But what about getting old or death they say? Meh. I’m not really worried about those either. Youth is great for the young, but there are treasures in each new older year. You couldn’t pay me to repeat a single year of my life. I’m grateful for them. I needed them to be where I’m at now and as encouragement to keep going. Holding on to the past assumes better isn’t in the future. And I appreciate faces and bodies that show the life they’ve lived. There’s a grace to it. As for death, well that’s not reserved for the old so each day is really just a surprise anyway. And eternity with my maker is something I look forward to. I sure hope it’s a ways off, but if it’s not that’s simply not in my hands.
Ok, back to the SUMMER OF SHAZ! I decided with the opportunity to wring out my 30s I’d make a little list of fun things to make the summer memorable. No big bucket list-esque, daunting, overly planned things. Just fun I can sprinkle into the everyday of life this summer, to not let it slip by. Taking stock of my current nomad state and the desire to reconnect with some friends, figure out where to live next, and have FUN after a hard year (we all felt the weight of 2020) here’s my list:
- Go on a road trip
- Beach time each month
- Go to a pool party
- One classic Jersey Shore day
- Have a picnic with a bunch of friends
- Go to a Phillies game
- Make a new friend
- Wear a bikini in public
In the midst of this fun, I’ll be building my company and continuing to work on a contract basis as an attorney (still have to pay those bills). I’d love you to follow along my journey as I bring my company to life, I started an Instagram account: @joinshaz. In the coming months I’ll be sharing more about what I’m building. More importantly I want to share the journey of creating a company from my perspective: being an older solo female founder, having minimal contacts in the “startup world”, figuring it out as I go along, asking for help, and learning as much as I can along the way. It’s going to be a wild and exciting ride. I’d love you to join me.
So how about you? You don’t need a big milestone birthday or any reason at all. How can you be intentional with this summer, so it’s not just a passage of time? Anything to make sure you inject some fun?
(and don’t tell me just reading a book or gardening is fun…we all need sparks from those things that make us grin from ear to ear….FUN!)
PS If you got my nod to Seinfeld in this posts’ title, then you get a special high five from me ✋
I’m about to blow some minds, and likely ruffle feathers, but bear with me…
I’m truly grateful for 2020. Every challenge, tragedy, battle, and unexpected event was an opportunity to transcend the situation and find meaning. And in meaning there is peace.
My favorite book of the Bible is Ecclesiastes. This is the book that gave us gems like “there’s nothing new under the sun” and the lyrics to “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by the Byrds. This book reminded me all year long, that 2020 was nothing new, there is a season for all things, and each season has a purpose. We make plans. Those plans fall apart. We seek justice. Yet injustice is pervasive. We strive for health. But death is always around the corner. We long for connection. But battle loneliness. 2020 was not the year any of these things were new.
2020 was a rollercoaster that was amplified because we were riding many of the waves together. We were reminded how little we control. Most of the distractions we all rely on, to hide from the realities of our imperfect lives and world were stripped away. But as Viktor Frankl says in his book Man’s Search for Meaning: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Mind you, this is a man who survived the Holocaust and came to these realizations living through the horrors of concentration camps and losing everyone he loved.
While I didn’t go through anything like what Viktor Frankl did or many others did this year, it was a difficult year. I kicked off the year in the early staged of EMDR (trauma therapy). I had to unearth and work through really dark and painful events in my life. Then the pandemic hit and I had to sit in that dark place alone. I felt the expansive space of my loneliness, demons and sadness. I had to have really difficult conversations with family and colleagues. I was pushed to face the reality of my finances, including the fear of my mountain of law school debt and no safety net. I had to figure out how to re-engage with seeking justice, without getting lost in despair over the depth of human depravity. I had to define my identity outside of my career, family, friends, past and achievements. And as a final kick, in the final days of 2020 I lost someone very dear to me. I wasn’t able to see her and I was overwhelmed with regret for not having seen her in so long and tell her just how she had impacted the woman I’ve become. I was reminded to hold people and plans loosely, regardless of how hard that level of openhandedness feels.
So thank you 2020. Thank you for giving me a year to be pushed so far beyond my comfort I discovered strength I never knew possible. I found healing and peace I couldn’t have imagined. I learned how verbalizing fears and traumas actually strips them of their weight. I stepped into boldness I envied in others, but didn’t imagine I was capable of. I harnessed the power of my mindset that keeps me from being swallowed up by the uncontrollable world around me and my own emotions. I stepped into new skin rooted deeply in the vertical from the soles of my feet to my Father above.
As I look to 2021 there are some big changes on the horizon I know about, and of course there are ones I don’t. I feel gratitude and excitement (and a few pangs of fear b/c I’m still a person). But this year gave me the ability to feel that fear and move forward anyway. There is so much more I want to share with you, dear reader, but some things need to wait for now. I’ll end with one final thank you to 2020. Thank you 2020 for giving birth to my 2021 word/intention/mantra (whatever you want to call it): BOLD. The discomfort of 2020 equipped me to be bolder than I have ever been and I can’t wait for it. It’s in discomfort that the really meaningful, life-changing, dare to be great moments happen and I AM HERE FOR IT.
How about you? Putting aside the mindset of it being a lost year or a dumpster fire, what did 2020 give you? I’d love to hear your stories.
I intentionally exercise a lot of vulnerability in the way I live my life. A hazard of this practice is people hear my struggles or see my vulnerabilities and get stuck on them. The responses vary. Some folks erroneously think they reciprocate by oversharing (in the words of Brene Brown: “Live–tweeting your bikini wax is not vulnerability“). I get sympathy (yuck). Some disengage, because they don’t know what to do with what I share (ouch). But the worst is when someone sees me as a project (ugh).
No one should ever be someone’s project. Creating a project dynamic reduces a person to a “need” and loses sight of a person on a whole journey. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t help each other, but a project implies some outcome you own. A project implies you know what needs to be done. I’ve been guilty of this in the past myself. I’ve wanted to help someone break out of their pain so much, I lost sight of respecting their full personhood and elevated myself as their hero. I’ve learned the hard way, that no one should ever be my project. And I sure as hell never want to be someone’s project. I had a boss do that to me and it resulted in disaster. I resented him for the way he viewed me through the lens of my areas in need of improvement. He never saw the full me, because he focused on what he perceived as his projects. Similarly, I had a friend ghost me, after what I can only assume was feeling ill-equipped to help me with the difficult time I was having in our last discussion. Little did she know, the simple friendship I expressed gratitude for, was all I needed. On the flip side to that I have another friend, who I pulled back from because she always had solutions. The vulnerability was consistently one sided. All her suggestions (and sympathy) left me feeling like a project and not a friend or full person. Project dynamics create one sided relationships. I think it’s rooted partially in a savior complex. You can be a helper, but never a savior. Check your ego and your heart if this resonates. I also think it’s partially rooted in fear. When someone is the project, you don’t need to acknowledge your own vulnerabilities. Again, check your ego and your heart if this resonates. And it’s in these two things I think we miss the opportunity to create real relationships and serve those we care for. We also miss the opportunity to be served and cared for.
I’ve been reflecting on a post I wrote a few years ago on serving others and a book I read titled “Same Kind of Different As Me” by Denver Moore, Ron Hall and Lynn Vincent. In the book, we see an affluent couple serve and begin to engage with their local homeless community. We read the evolution from savior mentality to the realization that everyone is in need. Some characters simply hid their broken pieces and needs better than others.
So we’re supposed to serve our friends? Serve our loved ones? Uuuuh, that sounds weird right? And that sounds zero fun. Ok bear with me for a few more minutes. For a lot of people, I think the idea of “service” has a negative connotation. Most of us hear the word “servant” and it evokes pity or lack of respect. The idea of serving others evokes a feeling of inferiority. But that’s incorrect. Choosing to be a servant is simply an act of humility and care. It is not a value statement on the servant. To care for people and simply be there for them, is a service. I think this is part of why we have propensities to overcomplicate things with “projects.” With projects we’re not servants, but heroes. That takes less (if any) humility. It also has cleaner boundaries compared to the messiness of true relationship with people.
Now here’s the great part, it’s SO much easier to lift the burden of project dynamics off yourself and simply serve up your friendship (ie be there as your authentic self). All any of us really need is to know we’re not alone. Simply being there with an open empathetic heart is it.
Wait, so someone on the street would rather a person just be there, than give them a meal and shelter? Controversial, I know. But growing research argues: yes. Of course meeting primal needs is needed. But the cycle of devaluation by being unseen as a whole person has very real, and arguably more damaging, effects. Studies on substance abuse, violence, suicide, and other various self destructive behaviors are showing common links to disconnection and isolation.
I’m grateful a foundational part of my faith reminds me daily I’m no better than anyone. We’re all broken and struggle. We’re also all made in the image of God and have equal value. When I care for someone, it’s not as a savior. It’s as an imperfect servant. We are broken pieces, that are stronger when connected together. I implore you not to hide from community, from engaging with people or from intimacy with friends because you think you can’t take on their problems. You don’t need to. There’s nothing you can do that’s more important than simply being there in any way you can. The smallest of ways you show up is so much more valuable than any act you could do or perfect words you could speak.
To quote Nat King Cole/Moulin Rouge: “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is to love and be loved in return.” So here’s my challenge. 2020 has hit all of us with varying degrees of isolation. With the holiday season in full swing, in lieu of buying something, sending 100+ impersonal Christmas cards or doing some perfect thing…who can you serve (i.e. love)? Is there a simple way you can show up for someone? Or can you rebalance a project dynamic, by letting someone in?
Depending on when you became a part of my life you know me as Sherry, Shahrzad, or Shaz.
Depending on when you became a part of my life you think my birthday is September 21st or September 24th.
Sherry was a nickname I was given as a baby. I was named Shahrzad with the intention of being called Sherry for short (apparently it’s an Iranian thing). I actually didn’t know my name was Shahrzad until my grandmother visited the US, when I was 6, and kept calling me Shahrzad. When I asked my mom what it meant (since I thought it was some Persian word I didn’t know), she said it was my name. Uuuuh, what?! How did I not know my real name? Why couldn’t I pronounce or spell my own name? It didn’t help that my parents only registered me at schools as “Sherry,” so any attempt to use my full name was rejected by anyone given the option. College was my chance to finally claim my name. I registered as Shahrzad and only introduced myself as such. It barely took a semester of people asking for a nickname, for one to be given to me. I was dubbed Shaz, in homage of the Shaft remake in theaters at the time. Once again, Shahrzad was dead and Shaz rose up. Shaz was better than Sherry, which the sound of used to make my skin crawl. So I’ve run with it. It feels like me anymore. As I get older “Sherry” has nostalgia and my family still uses it, but otherwise I don’t identify with it. As much as I use Shaz and like the funky sound and how easy it is for people, it’s still a nickname and doesn’t feel like a grownup name. But Shahrzad is simply too much for folks, and at almost 40 doesn’t feel like me either anymore. She’s fancy and has diplomas, but no friends. A few years ago I realized in the end I have three names, and it boils down to when you came into my life and in what capacity. One doesn’t take from the other. None take from who I am. It’s less about the name and more about what makes sense for the person using it. Is that me giving up ownership of my name? Nah, I just think it’s letting go of crap that doesn’t matter. I know who I am, and each of those names are a part of me.
And now the subject of the birthdays. All my documentation says my birthday is September 21st. Growing up I knew September 21st meant stopping at the local bakery for cupcakes or grabbing munchkins from dunkin donuts for school. I associated my birthday with Earth, Wind, and Fire (“do you remember…”). Then somewhere in high school my mom was in a phase of having charts done. She was going to have my chart done and said my birthday was September 24th. Again….uuuuuh, what?! Turns out I was actually born on September 24th, but had my paperwork bumped up a few days so I wouldn’t miss the school cut off in Iran (where I was born). To a teenager, that was identity shaking stuff. Soooo when do I celebrate? What’s my birthday? What’s my sign? Fast forward the next decade plus and I’ve flip-flopped between days and driven countless friends crazy keeping track of my birthdays and “which one is the real one?” Which one did I identify with? The one given to me, but celebrated and attached to childhood memories? Or the technical one I reclaimed and became part of my adult identity? As I enter my 40th year I realized…it doesn’t matter. I tried to make the 24th a thing because I attached all this identity to it. It’s made my birthday weird and complicated and confusing. There is ZERO reason for this nonsense.
So, in line with the many learnings of this past year I’m not sweating the small stuff. I’m rolling with the 21st. It’s on the paperwork. It’s what my parents still consider my birthday. EWF gave me a sweet song about it. And most importantly: IT DOESN’T MATTER. The more I simplify life and remove silly non-issues the more space I make for the complicated things that DO matter. I have some big goals in the next few years and time wasted explaining my name or birthday, is time wasted. Feeling bummed someone wished me a happy birthday on one day versus the other, is negative energy draining joy for no reason. Being worried how to introduce myself and which name I should use, is pointless anxiety. As I look around and see hypersensitivity driving individuals crazy and driving us all apart in fear of offending, I realized I can start with me. I can’t care about everything or everyone the same level. Priorities are critical. And so….fuck it. Call me whatever variation of Shaz/Sherry/Shahrzad and celebrate my birthday Septemberish, because those aren’t things I actually care about. I need to stop attaching my worth and identity to trivial things. So here’s two more dumb things released forever 👋 <buh-bye>
How about you? Is there anything you’ve wasted far too much time or energy overcomplicating and overthinking? Can I challenge you to let it go?
“Let it be clear to you that the peace of green fields can always be yours, in this, that or any other spot; and that nothing is any different here from what it would be either up in the hills, or down by the sea, or wherever else you will.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
As I read that quote for the first time, I felt a wave of calm wash over me. A wave that has permanently altered me. It truly doesn’t matter where you live to feel at peace. It doesn’t matter what life looks like, if you are settled on the inside. Peace and contentment, regardless of external setting, is a sign of true inner power and health. Had I read that quote any time before the moment I read it a few weeks ago, it would not have been so impactful. But as it was, I read it on the heels of a very intense 6 month period of life that started before the coronavirus pandemic. A period which the pandemic shut-down ultimately provided me with the opportunity to find great healing. Let me rewind a bit, since you’re probably wondering what the heck I’m talking about and if this is some sad attempt at pollyanna BS, in the midst of a global pandemic.
I moved to Columbus, OH about 1.5 years ago for my job. I didn’t really know anyone here and wasn’t exactly pumped to move here. It’s a perfectly fine city, except it doesn’t have anything I personally like in a city or my community. I felt a pull to leave my hometown, and its comforts, to see what awaited me within the change.
As I’ve written before, I’ve been struggling with health issues since my time working and living in Cambodia (2013-2014). I decided to use my proximity to Cleveland Clinic and see if those geniuses could help figure out what’s been going on with me. I had my first appointment in October 2019. While I’m not in a place yet to share all the details, that appointment started a chain reaction of discovery and the road to healing. They helped me understand I have a combination of actual physical issues that require treatment, as well as deep trauma that was triggered in Cambodia. That triggering left me in an almost daily active state of PTSD (the toll that takes on the body and mind isn’t pretty). I started EMDR (trauma therapy) treatment in January 2020. Toward the end of February my therapist and I were making breakthroughs of pulling the “stuff” out, and then the shut down happened. There I was, basically an open wound and home alone…all day…every day. It wasn’t pretty.
Those first 6-ish weeks were not my finest moments. I worked a LOT to keep myself distracted. Otherwise, I slept a lot. Drank a lot. Ate any trash I wanted. Zoned out into hours of Netflix blackholes. And slipped into a pretty dark lonely place. Then in April I had a panic attack while out on a walk. I hadn’t had one of those in years and it was pretty scary to have one in the middle of a desolate trail. As I debriefed the incident with my therapist I asked when certain things wouldn’t trigger me anymore and when I’d be healed. He lovingly told me, that wasn’t going to happen. He explained I was working to minimize the impact of certain events and to learn habits in order to self manage in a healthy way.
Woof. That was not what I wanted to hear. But I understood what he meant. If I want to heal and live a fuller life, I needed to learn how to be that person with all my imperfections. I thought of Bethany Hamilton who lost an arm in a shark attack. She retrained her body and learned new habits to get back to her love of surfing. Similarly, I realized I needed to get really intentional about taking all my broken little pieces and figuring out how to be strong and healthy.
I realized I could pay therapists and read books all day long, but if I didn’t work to put what I was learning into practice I was never going to change. I got intentional. I started devouring books to help me figure out how to get myself on track. Two of the most impactful were Atomic Habits by James Clear and Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Habits are how we’re able to do things regardless of our thoughts or feelings. Habits are how I’m working to calm my mind and take control of my physical health better (b/c there is no denying the benefits of physical activity on mental health). I’ve gotten physically active and even set a goal to do a triathlon by September 2021 (my 40th bday). And Meditations opened the door to my understanding of the philosophy of Stoicism. I’m loving the cross-section it has with my faith and the way it challenges me to be mindful of my emotions vs reality (a particularly important practice to learn for someone with trauma or depression). It also challenges me to be mindful of what I put time into. Also, being more mindful helps identify bad patterns that I can then apply the atomic habit model to. FULL CIRCLE!
I can’t fully describe the transformative 3 months I’ve had, but I will tell you having the private space to shed this old skin and become the next iteration of me has been SUCH a blessing. Not having distractions of trips, social events, going to the office or simply wasting days running useless errands has allowed me to own my time better and be really intentional about how I use it. I have a morning routine. I schedule my workouts. I have an evening routine. I’m embracing the seasonality of all things in life and letting go of people and things I gave unnecessary time to.
I don’t want to diminish the real difficulties this shut-down and pandemic have caused. I know this period has been really difficult, especially for working parents, but have you used any of the difficulty to reevaluate how you can make it better? Any habits to change or create? All difficulty creates opportunity. We all have more power, than we want to admit, when it comes to our peace and joy. Are you seizing this opportunity or simply pouring another glass of wine? With all my love and encouragement, I challenge you to do a real self inventory and see what you can change. Trust me when I say it will help you and those around you in ways you couldn’t believe.
Columbus has been my opportunity to settle and strengthen, thanks to its simple slower pace. The screeching halt of the pandemic helped kick it into high gear. No amazing city, job, relationship, experience, or vacation could ever to do that. All my quippy comments that Columbus sucks are actually irrelevant to feeling the need to move. As contradictory as it sounds, I’ve come to appreciate and feel at home in Columbus since the shut-down. It has nothing to do with the city and everything to do with me. It has its purpose and it has its beauty. My acceptance of it, without a foot out the door, has opened the door to making some lovely friendships as well. And most importantly: simply appreciating my surroundings for what they are, rather than what they aren’t, has made me feel settled. I’m home because home is where I feel at peace and settled.
I was recently demoted at my company. We’re a start up, so reorganizations are part of the process of growth and scaling. This wasn’t just a re-org. The manner in which it was done and the months/year leading up to it, reveal the
kick to the curb demotion it truly was. I work in the private sector on purpose and understand how business works. But this was just shitty, and it’s ok to admit it. But I’ve licked my wounds and feel grateful. “GRATEFUL?!” you say. Yes. Grateful.
I have my life back. I feel relief for having less on my plate. I feel relief in letting go of the moving target of expectations I was never going to meet. As I was licking my wounds, I evaluated why it had hit me so hard. The biggest problem in the whole situation was ME. My priorities were all wrong and I had rooted far too much in my job. Of course there are plenty of boys’ club issues at play, but I’ll reserve that conversation for another day. For now I’ll focus on what I can control: ME.
I needed acceptance. I needed approval. I needed a seat at the table. I began to root my identity in being an executive and “getting it done.” These needs allowed me to become a slave to my job and my boss. I gave up time with friends and family. I gave up precious vacation time with loved ones. I stopped listening to my gut and got lost in self doubt. I stopped advocating for myself and began believing the lesser value being put on me. I gave up my identity and value rooted in God. I gave up time devoted to serving others. I gave up time for things that mattered to me. I gave up my peace and took on the anxiety of always needing to do more for my job. When asked to jump, I didn’t ask how high. I just jumped and jumped and jumped hoping at some point it would be enough. It wasn’t. It never would be. And suddenly one of the most formative quotes of my young life came back to me, and reminded me what really matters and who I really am:
“You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are the all singing, all dancing crap of the world.” Tyler Durden – Fight Club
And there it was. I had become exactly what my teenage self swore I’d never be. I was a slave to my job and status. With everything happening in the world right now, I’m so grateful to be shaken back to life. A job is a job. It should never become more than that. It wasn’t my vision. It wasn’t my company. There was no greater good at hand. My priorities were all out of whack, while I took the people and world around me for granted.
My priorities should never be to gain personal power. Who and what does that serve? My priorities should never be to get the recognition and things I deserve. What does that mean? What do I think I deserve? My priorities are not feeding into egos and power needs of others. Who and what does that serve? I am meant to serve, even as a leader. But who I serve needs to be carefully selected. In the end everything I do is to glorify God and where was that in my past 2.5 years? The US is in a moment of reckoning and having my eyes opened and forced to reprioritize is critical. I’ve never been one to sit on the sidelines, and I’m so grateful to be back to making time for the things that matter. Time helping friends. Real quality time with loved ones. Getting back to activism for causes I’m passionate about. Getting my health on track. Having quiet time to keep my balance and rooting in God.
I will still do my job well. I am paid and have responsibilities, and will do them well. But it won’t consume me anymore. I won’t let it. This change has been hard. I struggle with anxiety when I don’t work on the weekends. I “feel bad” when I don’t respond to the messages I get nights and weekends. It’s a daily exercise of putting my job in its rightful place, stepping out of my head, and re-engaging with the world around me. But oooooh how sweet the fruit of these exercises are. Stay tuned for my next post (coming soon) on just how perfectly this gift of time and reprioritization has been!
In the meantime, I hope this story challenges you to think about what may be taking far too much of your time, energy and head space. I encourage you to break away from it and revaluate your priorities.