Happy New Year, readers. Many of you are my personal friends and I am so happy that we are alive at the same time and can spend time together virtually. I am excited for the day when I can meet some of you in real life.
In reflecting, the year 2020 brought a lot of introspection, pain, and growth for me.
Some (unexpected) highlights:
Started this blog.
Cut my hair.
Quit drinking alcohol.
Took singing lessons.
Was gifted a record player and started a record collection.
Completed 50% of my Masters program.
Learned to cook and found a few go-to meals.
Took up knitting again.
This year (2021) is going to be a maintenance year. In addition, I’d like to make the following changes:
Start making arrangements to live alone, without roommates, for the first time.
Learn more about technology (keeping this broad on purpose).
Finish most of the coursework in my program.
Find fun ways to move my body every day.
I know that the universe/Higher Power has my back.
I wish you all a safe, healthy, joyous, humorous year.
It’s Thanksgiving, a holiday with controversial roots, marinated in colonialism and violence.
On the flip side, today has me reflecting on gratitude and how gratitude helps change the brain, heal trauma, and even fight capitalism.
Earlier this year, I went through something traumatic in my personal life, and the trauma was multiplied by the pandemic. I was willing to do anything to feel okay. Because of that, I sought out a support system, and someone in my new support system urged me to make gratitude lists.
At first, I was very turned off by the idea. To me, gratitude lists felt like the “psychology tool” equivalent of a “live, laugh, love” sign.
However, I love data and psychology, so I was drawn to the idea that gratitude changes your brain. Saying “thank you” to others, finding things to be grateful for, and appreciating qualities in others genuinely improves people’s quality of life.
The science of it (the affect on hormones like dopamine and serotonin, and how gratitude affects the nervous system) is in the second link below.
Some musings on gratitude:
Sometimes people who grew up in chaos (e.g. having parents who are addicted to substances like alcohol or drugs or processes like work, sex, gambling or even anger) learn to thrive off of negative feelings. Our brains love repetitive patterns. Gratitude can help the brain get hooked on positive emotions.
For people who seek out spikes of “happy hormones” from external sources (Instagram Likes, anyone?), gratitude helps our bodies take that joy-making process in-house. This makes me think of, “Happiness is an inside job”
Gratitude fights toxic capitalism by helping us take inventory of what we have before searching for more. While in a state of gratitude, additional desires come from a place of abundance, not scarcity or suffering.
Words of gratitude should be used with care. For instance, other people’s misfortunes do not exist to become inspiration p*rn. Also, when trying to help a loved one, saying “at least you don’t–” or “be thankful that–” are not helpful ways to acknowledge their pain.
It’s hard to write about gratitude without acknowledging privilege. I have a lot of privilege (white, middle class, cisgender-passing, and educated.) I have never been in a place in my life where I couldn’t get my basic needs met. I imagine that in these situations, gratitude does help, but I’m not going to make a statement like “Everyone should be making gratitude lists.” That is out of my lane; I just know that gratitude is helpful to me.
Gratitude lists can look different for different people. The writer of the first article below says she asks herself every day “What did I do today that ‘future me’ will thank me for?” I love this because it shows each day as a way to nurture future versions of yourself.
Today I am in a group chat where we share our gratitudes every day. I enjoy reading others’ and they often spark fun conversations.
I have noticed that mine are similar from day to day, which for me means that I am building a life full of blessings.
Okay, I admit… that was a clickbait-y title. I am feeling dramatic tonight.
Five years ago, I believed I needed a plan. I was working in a sales coordinator role at a startup but I knew I didn’t want to go into sales, so it felt dead-end.
I had no focus, but I felt this panicked urge to transition? What would I do next? What if I just ended up in the same place, doing the same job my whole life? That would be terrible, right?
I remember having a sheet of paper with 5 very different jobs (from copywriter to data analyst) with pro’s and con’s of each. I had no focus and created a lot of suffering for myself.
Around that time I read The Start-up of You, which mentioned making loose plans but also being flexible (“riding waves”). That advice stayed with me.
Fast forward to today. This mindset has served me well. It taught me to listen.
I was able to break into tech by listening to some sound career advice from a trusted colleague. Since then I have pursued volunteer opportunities just because they seem interesting to me, and I have listened to my instincts on when to move on from a commitment as well. I have learned to pursue what excites me; this includes leaving a Masters program that I felt didn’t align with my personality and starting one that is the perfect mix of my interests (a sociology degree with an analytics focus.)
My anxiety and intense desire to plan everything in my life sometimes causes me to want to burn everything to the ground and start over. But I am slowly learning to be okay with uncertainty and simply enjoy where I am. Surrendering and listening. Connecting and growing.
In fact, today, I would go as far as to say that there are some jobs that I wouldn’t mind doing my whole life. I have always thought that I should have direct reports by a certain age, be a VP by a certain age, etc. This feels like a product of the dark side of Lean In culture and #girlboss grind culture. I was pursuing goals for the wrong reasons.
Today, I am whole as myself. I am happy where I am.
When I started this blog I decided to try writing every day for 30 days. I missed Sunday the 15th because I was out exploring a museum with friends and then on various virtual hangouts.
Then I delved into a new knitting project, a hat for my best friend.
This was all time well-spent I think.
In the past, my pursuit of perfection paradoxically caused me to fail (pardon my annoying alliteration). For instance, if I missed a post I developed a mental block and stopped. Or if my grammar was not perfect or the graphics were not beautiful, I would start to resent my work.
Today I have compassion for myself. Today I strive for a slow burn – a consistent stream of ideas with some margin for rest and focus on other things – instead of an explosion of energy and motivation followed by radio silence.
This evening I spent some time thinking about how my life has changed in the last year, what I have grown to care about, and, in turn, what I may want to write about. A few ideas that came to mind outside of Salesforce and nonprofit technology are:
Spirituality and my relationship to a higher power
Dyspraxia/neurodivergence and learning self-acceptance
Women in country radio – why aren’t there many?
Codependency and how it is engrained in our culture
The importance of moderation
Setting goals and rolling with the punches, how to balance
Self-care is doing laundry
Sometimes spending money is okay!
Cognitive dissonance: tech and border patrol
also maybe sharing some poetry?!
If any of these sound cool, do let me know and I’ll focus my attention on those topics first.
In January of this year, I decided to start cooking for myself. I honestly don’t remember how I fed myself before. Maybe lots of trips to the WholeFoods hot bar. Yeah, that checks out.
I had signed up for Workweek Lunch (WWL) months before. WWL is a subscription meal prep service that provides yummy recipes that are fridge and microwave friendly.
Around January, I finally decided to start using my subscription and learned how to cook a few basic meals including vegetarian stuffed peppers, fish tacos, and chicken tikka masala. These recipes taught me a few skills such as how to make lentils, how to cook fish, and how to cut meat uniformly.
A few learnings:
It’s okay to make super basic meals. My go-to during the pandemic was sautéed black beans with cumin and vegetables.
Find foods you like when you go out to eat and try to recreate them at home.
The act of cooking
Clean up as you cook.
Taste as you cook.
Read the recipe beforehand to understand what tasks are grouped together (cooking is basically project management)
Prep ingredients beforehand by cutting vegetables and measuring out liquids and spices. This makes cooking less chaotic.
Make everything twice. The first time, write out your learnings.
Cooking is one of the only tasks that completely engrosses my mind. I need to be present and focus on the task at hand, while being flexible and adjusting flavors.
Overall, working from home during the pandemic has been so helpful to my eating habits. I have been able to cook or reheat every meal and feeding myself has become a special self-care ritual.
I am thankful for this opportunity to work from home and have developed a new appreciation for food.
Last weekend I took a solo trip to the Hudson Valley area in New York State.
I rented a room in a town called Ancram, with a view of the mountains through the sunny kitchen window. It was very remote; I asked the Airbnb host if there was any food delivery in the area and she laughed… ha.
I had never been up there before and didn’t know what to expect. I spent some time in Hudson, NY, a beautiful town on the Hudson River, and bought a yummy smelling candle there. The food was also delicious; I had Thai curry and a veggie burger. I also went for a 5-mile easy hike at Lake Taghkanic by myself! It was my first solo hike.
Solo travel is something I’ve grown to appreciate more recently, especially during the pandemic. I have often waited until I could find a travel companion to do things that I want to do, but I don’t think that’s realistic or helpful.
The best part of this trip was not pushing myself to be productive. One of the evenings it was very cold I stayed in bed and went to a knitting circle. I had lazy mornings and only went outside when I had energy to do so. I vowed not to have FOMO, and that helped. There was a lot to do up there – farms, wineries, etc. but I followed my intuition on what I wanted to do at each moment.
I was video chatting with a group of people and we were talking about blogging. Blogging is always on my list of “things to do when I have more time/energy,” but I never do it.
Questions like “How personal should I get online?” or “What if I want to write about many different things?” always put me into a state of analysis paralysis. So I want to start with just one post.
I have an ongoing list of good (or neutral) changes that have happened in 2020.
A few highlights:
Started talking on the phone more
Started making my bed
Coming to terms with my genderfludiity
Not going out to bars or dating for months allowed me to see how I naturally exist in the world, versus how I present to the world. I was taking a break from being perceived and from showing up in a way that I thought would attract others.
I often feel androgynous or masculine inside, but I have always hid it under hyper-feminine clothing. It creates a lot of cognitive dissonance, especially in a relationship context: I am treated like a feminine person but inside I feel differently.
Over the summer I had a bit of a revelation about gender followed by an anxious purge to get rid of my “girl clothes”. Some of it was clothing I wore in college in order to appear conventionally pretty and attract men in fraternities. It was bittersweet to leave those items behind. I said the Marie Kondo-esque “Thank you for letting me wear you” and sent them on their way.
But then there were certain feminine pieces that I feel comfortable in and wanted to keep.
This is where self-discovery gets complicated. I learned that I always want to “fit a mold” or live to match an extreme – which maybe got me into this hyper-femme “look” in the first place – and I am just not that simple. I decided to keep some of the feminine clothes. I feel comfortable in them, and I like them.
I ended up cutting my hair, which helped with my complex gender feelings a lot. I had medium-length hair and got it cut into a bob. This was perfect; I can make myself look more feminine when I want by curling my hair and putting on makeup, but my baseline “look” is androgynous.
The look kind of has this vibe:
Finally, I began to think about how presenting more masculine would affect my personality. What patterns of speech have I learned as a woman? Would that change as I show my masculine side more? What about ways of thinking and emoting?
What I found, overall, is that I don’t have all the answers. The only thing I learned is that I don’t need to be an archetype; I just need to live according to my values and more will be revealed.
In a skit on Sesame Street, every time Ernie tries to play the saxophone, it squeaks. Taking into account suspension of disbelief because he is a puppet, it does so because he is holding his rubber duck in his hand as a “security blanket.”
So, as the song goes…
I saw this on Sesame Street‘s Twitter yesterday and it hit me in a weird way. I think we all have our “duckies”: things we hold on to that keep us from getting to the next level in our lives and careers.
Having supportive people around us helps us feel able to leave our comfort zones. Sometimes it just takes a simple, “Why do you feel that way?” to get us open to doing something new.
On the flip side, when it comes to making a major change, there is always an opportunity cost and potential for failure. What if Ernie had started playing his solo in the wrong key? How embarrassing!
But what I am learning is that these calculated risks make us stronger. When they go well, they inspire more smart risks. When they go badly, they help our pivoting and bouncing back skills (and make for some funny stories later on).
What “duckies” can you put down to play some figurative mean blues sax? 😉