It's taken me awhile to write this blog. I don't know...something about this one has kept me in deep analysis and self-reflection, a compilation of thoughts, behaviors, mishaps, and judgements. To know that even in my 40s, I still don't have a grasp of this thing we call life nor do I have all the answers. And I know it's normal...trust me, it's normal. However, in a day in age where 20 somethings are giving a plethora of advice online about a life they are just starting to understand, parenting tips they have yet seen the fruition in their own children, diet and health information about changes and challenges their bodies have yet to endure, it's hard to keep perspective. Reality is that we don't have all the answers and each of us is still finding ourselves, adapting with each new chapter in our life.
Four years ago, I was on an emotional high. Preparing to turn 40, working out and living my best life. I was enthusiastic about what the new decade of my life would bring. But something shifted in the subsequent years that left me searching for that inspiration, joy, and motivation. I believe it was an array of events and choices that put me on a path of losing my finesse. In a haste to advance in my career, to make more money, to feel companionship, I made and stalled on moves I'd normally consider. I got comfortable, felt settled...safe. And while work had always been my haven and personal life my hell, somehow both seemed to just shift into an abyss of nullity, leaving me void of connection, exhilaration, and zest. And honestly, I was left puzzled, scratching my head wondering, who the hell stole my mojo? Even more, how do I get it back? I know I won't always make the best decisions and can't foresee how a decision may turn, but here are some life lessons I've learned as I trek this long, arduous road back to my true self.
1. Always ALWAYS have options.
When I make a decision in my career and personal life, I am fully committed. "All in" if you will. I plan to stay for the long haul and don't look at or consider other options. In fact, in every aspect of my life I am loyal: work, relationships, friendships, businesses, brands...the list goes on.. and to be brutally honest, I'm loyal to a fault. But life has continuously shown me that loyalty should never be driven by contentment, fear, or complacency. Loyalty should be driven by results, opportunity, honesty, and trust. Is there an opportunity for growth and improvement somewhere else? Can you be better fulfilled doing something else? Will this company or organization see, value, and reward your skillset more? Do you know? The most successful among us are not holding back because of fear or connection. What if Beyonce never left Destiny's Child out of loyalty to her friends or fear of going it alone? What if Michael Jackson never left The Jackson Five out of loyalty to family? What if so many among us followed the traditional path and what everyone expected? Their choices didn't lower the value of the friendship, family, or group. Having options allowed them to fulfill their destiny and grow into who they were suppose to be.
Having options allows you a personal freedom to explore your dreams and live in your purpose. An organization, company, job is not your purpose. It is simply one vessel that allows you to drive in your purpose. And when it becomes tainted, uneven, unsafe, it is time to move beyond that vessel to new opportunities...and that transition occurs quite quickly when you have options readily available.
2. Hold on to what brings you joy.
Sometimes when we receive something we've always wanted, we stop doing other things that bring us joy. We let the new relationship, marriage, baby, or job consume us. I've been guilty of this a couple of times and each time I lost myself in that process. Yes, having something good that you've wanted is nice and should be valued, but not at the sake of losing your "whole" self. Life must be a balance.
I love what I do professionally. I have the opportunity to touch thousands of students' lives by ensuring quality curriculum and instruction happens daily for them. It's humbling to see the success of teachers and students through the work I have done. Because of the important work, I find myself not often cutting it off. Instead of leaving at the end of the work day, I'd stay some two or three hours more. I'd work as I ate, drive home talking about work, and even sleep work. Gym became obsolete. Time with children became limited. Eating properly was out the door. Hanging out with girlfriends became a rare treat. Then, one day, some 30 pounds heavier and empty, I realized I had no more to give. I was exhausted, out of touch with self, physically ill, and stressed.
So, how does a career mom ensure balance? Hell, I don't know. I'm still figuring it out. But what I do know is that work must end every day at a decent time. Exercise, a healthy diet, relationships...they are extremely important, at least to me. Realizing this truth - that my career is not a job, an organization, a company...my career is what I do not where I do it, has changed my perspective in so many ways for the better.
3. Be your true self.
You would think that as you age, you'd become 100% grounded in who you are. But that is not necessarily true. One thing that has happened as I have sought to move up in my career and in developing a solid relationship is a questioning of self and if there is something about myself that is flawed and needs correcting. When you are constantly considered intimidating, too assertive, too knowledgeable and a threat, questioning is considered challenge or argumentative, people continuously take jabs, you begin to wonder what about yourself causes such reactions. Should I speak less and not let people know what I know, should I become more passive and compliant? Do I speak with confidence and assurance or should I speak at all?
In a recent conversation with colleagues, one challenged that thinking by saying, "If who I am makes an organization uncomfortable and I feel that I cannot be my true self, then I know that is not the organization for me and I am okay with that." The statement resonated with me. Why should I change who I am, minimize my knowledge, diminish my sparkle for the sake of comforting others' insecurities? And how will that make me happy or help me to grow? You have to be okay with rejection. Reality is that not everyone is going to like you. Not everyone is going to see the beauty in you. And that is okay. Find your kind, radiant your glow, and be true to yourself. You'll attract those who will appreciate you and help you grow.
4. Challenge yourself to do something new.
I remember four years ago in my quest to become my fittest for 40, I took up running 5K events. The suggestion came from a girlfriend who challenged us to run one 5K a month. At the time, I could not imagine running 3 miles especially outside, but something about the idea excited me. It was a challenge to push myself to new levels and a perfect metaphor for turning 40. I ran three times a week in the gym. It started with trying to run a 10 minute mile, then a push to run two miles consecutively, then three. I learned to pace myself and know how long I should walk to warm up before running. My body changed. My energy level changed. My mood changed. I felt rejuvenated and zestful about life. Then came hiking. I don't know why, but it seemed like a natural progression. The freedom and beauty of the great outdoors settled my spirit and took me to a head space of peace I'd not had. I spent a night in a desert, climb multiple mountains, and made time for outdoor events. I changed for the better. And it's amazing what a small change will do.
I haven't adventured out for the past three years. Work took priority and parenting an aging special needs child took the rest. Having recently reflected on what I've been missing, I'm cognizant and intentional about my thoughts and actions in order to help myself become that girl again, living zealously, soaking up all life's greatness.
5. Track your actions.
Life moves at such a fast pace that often we don't see the changes we are making. You look up one day only to realize that life's moved ahead of you and you've loss so much time doing routine, frivolous tasks. Keep a journal to track your actions and motivations. Create a vision board or task list to accomplish goals you have for yourself. Take time weekly to assess your weekly actions. Did you do something for yourself that makes you better? Did you do something that makes you smarter? Did you do something that makes you healthier? Change your actions if they don't align to your goals and accept that every day won't be perfect.
I'm not sure if a person ever fully figures out how to maintain balance or if always is even capable. I do know, however, in my 40s, I still haven't figured it out. 'But with a little strategic attention to detail and a lot of self care, I can ensure that I am aware of when I am getting off task so not to allow myself to wake up with a loss sense of self that in turn steals all the mojo from within me ever again.