All posts tagged Reinvention

“At 57, I Don’t Lean In”

“Congratulations,” Sheryl Sandberg said with a smile as broad as the years that separate our generations when I told her that at 57, I’d recently gone back to a corporate job. “At this stage, I’m standing up—not leaning in,” I continued. This statement did not generate another high-five from the Facebook COO and author of Lean In, a new working woman’s manifesto for success.

Glancing at my business card, Sandberg said, “I’ll find out who you can talk to about Lean In Circles at your company,” before turning to greet another BlogHer ’13 attendee in the crowded Skyline Ballroom in Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention Center.

A corporate layoff in 2006 interrupted my 30-year marketing career. When I returned to corporate life after six years of teaching and writing, I knew my future called for a new outlook. I had been the prototypical MBA-owning, globe-trotting, leaning in career girl in my twenties, thirties and forties. Now, I’m a fifty-something woman standing up for the pursuit of personal satisfaction and enjoyment on the job and for living every day as if I’m worth it, because I am.

* At 57, I don’t lean in at work because I don’t feel the need to prove myself anymore. I believe in myself and know that I will deliver value.

* I don’t lean in because I already take a seat at the table. I speak up when needed and not just to be heard.

* I work for satisfaction in a job well done and the personal growth that comes from that, not to position myself for the next big move.

* I’m standing up at work rather than leaning in because I know the importance of a meaningful job. It requires my energy, but it’s just a part of my life, not the whole.

* I’m past worrying whether everyone likes me. I’m not sure I like everyone anyway. But I can figure out how to work with them, and that’s what counts.

* I want to see what’s around and ahead of me, and you can’t do that when your nose is leaned-in to a corporate playbook. I will travel the rest of my life gazing at serendipitous experiences outside those pages.

* I still haven’t heard from anyone in Sheryl’s office about the Lean In Circles at my company. It’s unfortunate that she missed the true significance of going corporate again at 57. There is meaning to be found, purpose to be had, and passion to be explored.

My generation must stand up and be counted. We are in vigorous pursuit of the ultimate goal—a life well lived.

Photo:
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook Inc., center, poses with students for photographs after her speech at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea
Photo: Woohae Cho/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Originally published on LifeReimagined.arrp.og
Life Reimagined AARP “At 57 I Don’ Lean In

Back in Business Again

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Going back to work in the corporate world meant going back to business travel. To be honest, the chance to travel was one of the big reasons I entertained the idea of corporate life again. I love to travel and some of the nicest hotels and best airplane rides I’ve had have been corporate sponsored.

My transition back to the 9-5+ has not been without its interesting moments. First time I called a benefit hotline for new hires I was offered a conversation in a private phone booth with the girl of my dreams. I carefully dialed 866 (not 800) the next time and signed up for health and dental with a private conversation, recorded for training purposes

I now commute to the land beyond O’Hare airport. For those of you not in the Chicago region, that means far, far away from my downtown neighborhood. First drive to the office went without a hitch. Second time was full of hitches. Somehow the directions I printed from Google left out step #8, which meant that I drove west instead of north. I am directionally challenged when I get outside of either seeing the lake (it is always east) or being guided by Chicago’s easy grid & numbering system. Luckily, I only have to drive to the burbs once a week.

Which brings me to my latest escapade. I’m sitting in an airplane lounge awaiting my first international business trip in many years. And I am excited. International makes it feel a little less business to me, for some reason. And I’m going to a location where I will be able to visit family, turning the trip into an international business–with a side–of personal trip.

I have been sitting in this lounge for a long time. For most of the inauguration parade, from what I can tell. I’m here enjoying the free Diet Coke and crackers instead of lunch at home because I misread my ticket. I arrived 4.5 hours early for my trip because I looked at my ticket for my return home. This is not a complaint. At least I’m in an airport lounge. And the bands along the parade route are good entertainment. This is just a reality check for me. I’m back in business again. Time to check everything twice, because the difference between a questionable telephone connection or a unexpected layover is just a few digits away.

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The New Year Feels Different Already

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Signs that 2013 will be a different kind of year than 2012:
1. On January 1st Northwestern University won its first bowl game in 64 years.
2. On January 1st I watched a whole football game on television since the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl in 1985.
3. I learned more about probiotics and restoring the good bacteria in your gut than I ever wanted to learn while watching said football game.
4. An anonymous friend sent me a five-day pleasure challenge to start the new year, and I’m taking it.
5. In a few minutes I will drive to my new full-time job and first corporate job in five years. I didn’t sleep well last night and my stomach hurts now. Some things never change.

Say Maybe to No Before Yes

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Habits comfort and constrict. Reading at night before you go to sleep signals to your body and mind that the day is at an end and dreams are up ahead. Planning your day puts you in control of the hours, or at least makes you feel that way. Saying yes all the time puts me in a bind. I know that no is a good word. It’s just that it sounds so negative I find it difficult to say.

The power of saying no without feeling the guilt of letting someone down or hurting someone’s feelings is a power I’ve just started wielding. Trying to wield, is a more accurate statement. I haven’t gone all power hungry and “Just Say No” tyrant on the world. I’m just saying no a little bit more.

I’ve said no in the past. But I’ve never stopped with “no, thank you.” No, I must add a reason­–I already have plans with so-and–so, or an excuse­­–can’t make that date, or apology–I’m so sorry I just don’t have room in my schedule. I do the same thing when I receive a compliment.

“Your necklace is beautiful.”

“Oh, thank you, it’s my mother’s aunt’s hand-me-down, wasn’t even sure if I liked it when I got it.”

 

“I like your dress.”

“Nordstrom on sale, double points too. I’m sure they have more at the Michigan Avenue store.”

 

“Your story was enjoyable.”

“Well, you know, gee, I just keep getting in these crazy situations.”

My mother always told me to just say, “thank you,” and move on when someone says something nice about you. Instead, I say, “thank you,” and run on and on and on.

The real problem with just saying no might be related to my habit of initially responding with a yes to any question, offer or idea. This then leads me to behave like an appellate court, and reverse my lower court decision, replacing a yea with a nay. And like any good court, I must issue an opinion documenting the whys, wherefores and whatevers of my decision.

Aha! Perhaps the next step in becoming comfortable with the no word is to learn how to say, “Let me think about it,” or “maybe”, or “sounds wonderful however.”  If I’m not justifying a change of mind maybe I won’t feel the need to justify at all.  Maybe, just maybe.

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“Some day your mouth is going to get you in trouble,” my mother would say.  This wasn’t such a difficult prediction given the number of times I brought home a report card from elementary school with a check mark next to the words: “does not exercise self-control.” That was Catholic school code for “doesn’t know when to stop talking.”

The nuns were just agreeing with what a school psychologist had told my parents earlier. “Julie’s mouth and brain don’t operate at the same speed.” This led to talking without filtering, speed talking, and non-stop talking.  And to check marks and verbal gaffes. Gaffes that could have been avoided if I had just known my audience

Understanding whom you are talking to is the key to effective communication. Talking without understanding often leads to unintended consequences.

If I had known my manager at one of my first jobs, for example, I would not have confronted him after he reprimanded me like a drill sergeant in front of a row of administrative assistants.

I understood that he was upset. I understood that there was a check mark next to my name for “did not meet deadline.” But if I had understood his management style, I would have known that ignoring his outburst versus asking him to not talk to me like that was the key to keeping one’s job.

If I had understood the makeup of a typical comedy club audience I would have never entered the contest to find Jay Leno’s sidekick when he took over the Tonight Show in 1992.  I headed to my hometown, Dayton, Ohio to perform a two-minute stand up routine.  Mind you, I wasn’t a stand-up. I had studied and performed improvisation sketch comedy. I gave 20-minute talks as a business humorist. I was just a marketing consultant looking for a creative outlet.

I whittled down my material, donned my red power suit, and froze when I entered the club. I was not like this hometown audience. This audience did not work in corporate cubicles or talk corporate speak.

This audience laughed till they cried and ordered another beer throughout the stand-up routine before mine – which was filled with tales of working for the man, men behaving badly, and scatological asides.

This audience did not smile when I performed. Thankfully, they didn’t laugh me off the stage. Thankfully, I still had my day job.

Just two weeks ago I accompanied Husband to the Principality of Liechtenstein for official diplomatic business. Husband is the Honorary Consul of Liechtenstein to the Midwest, and I his unofficial chief of staff.  Our program included meeting the Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein, which I was excited about, until it came to packing.  What do you wear when meeting a prince?

On the first day of our visit, a young diplomatic officer met our group at breakfast and accompanied us to the Prince’s castle for Liechtenstein’s National Day ceremonies. The young diplomat sat next to me on the bus and I asked him how to spell his first name.

“U-l-r-i-c-h,” he replied and then asked about my family and work back in the States.

“I’m a former advertising executive,” I said. “Currently I teach on the university level and I’m a freelance writer/blogger.”

“What do you write in your blog?”

“I write personal essays and cultural commentary for women of a certain age who are reinventing themselves. Going through transitions.”

“I imagine there is much to write.”

We talked easily about my writing, my teaching, and my impressions of Liechtenstein.

If I had known my audience I would never have told Ulrich that the title of my last blog post was:  What to Wear When Meeting a Prince”

‘Well, I can imagine that might be difficult to determine,” Ulrich, the diplomat said.

“It is. I’ve never met a prince before. I don’t know anyone who had met a prince before. I want to be appropriate”

I proceeded to give him a synopsis of the endless options listed in my blog:

Formal or semi-formal, long or short, pants or skirt, cocktail, business or business casual, and so on. I did not share my quandary about whether or not to wear pantyhose.

“Later this week I’ll be posting about what I wore when I meet the prince.”

“I will read your blog. Perhaps you will write and tell your friends that you have already met a prince,” Ulrich said, and smiled, and bowed with his head.

And I remembered that when he introduced himself at breakfast I thought he called himself Something Something Liechtenstein, but I thought that can’t be right and let it go and focused on the pronunciation of his first name. Ulrich.

“You. You’re a prince. Of course, you said Ulrich Liechtenstein. Are you a cousin? Oh, I am so embarrassed. Have I hurt Husband’s appointment?” I stammered along until I just had to ask: “Well – what do you think – how am I dressed to meet a prince?”

“Quite fine,” Ulrich, the Prince said.

“You’ll learn your lesson one day,” my mother would say. The best connections are made when you know your audience. Whether it is one person or a group. However, some of the best consequences happen serendipitously when you are just truly yourself.

Peering Out Through The BlogHer Blur

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It was only a week ago but it’s a blur. A blogging blur. Last week I attended a conference for bloggers. For women bloggers to be precise, 4,500 women who put their thoughts, rants, advice, and analysis of all things worth and not worth being analyzed out into the indefinable, indescribable, is it really real, blogosphere, to be exact.

I attended this conference because the agent who requested, read, and responded to my book proposal said I needed a platform. A platform, in publishing speak, is proof that you can sell your book. That there is a ready made reader, a group of ready made readers, that will be predisposed to purchase your book. Today, one proof of a platform is your social media presence, backed up by analytics. So I went to BlogHer2012 at the Hilton New York for three days to learn how to build and measure a platform.

If I wanted to feel my story was unique or that my perspective was unvoiced, I should have stayed home. Women writing about transition–done. Humorous takes on everyday life–written. Second acts in the making–ditto. Tales from menopause and beyond–please, they are written during the wee hours of the morning when sleep is on a break.

At least I wasn’t a mother with an urge to write during naptime or school hours. There were more mommy bloggers than breakfast bagels. Healthy food mommies, home school mommies, mommy divas, wannabe mommies, and mommy entrepreneurs. Mommies with tales of adoption, multiple births, special need children, single parenting, lesbian mothering, and probably pet parenting.  Although, I didn’t personally meet a blogger with that focus.

Thank goodness I took lots of notes because I don’t remember much these days unless it’s written down. This is a common theme in blogs from women of a certain age, so I will remember to not write about whatever I just forgot.

I won’t forget the expo center full of brand experiences, freebies, and sponsor corporations vying for the attention of a blogger-advocate. There’s something delightful about a conference where you can get your picture taken with the Dr. Seuss’ Lorax character and fill your swag bag with Poise® light bladder leakage pads and vibrators from either Trojan® or EdensFantasys®.

I will remember the presence of the three keynote speakers starting with President Obama, who opened the conference via satellite feed. (Romney was asked and declined.) The President reminded us that he was raised by women and is surrounded by women he admires and supports. He proved that he knows the source and value of free advertising by sharing how his presidency has positively impacted the lives of women.

During an interview with Martha Stewart an audience member asked, “What aren’t you good at?”

After thinking for a bit, Martha responded, “I’m not good at what I haven’t tried yet.”

I wish I was that confident. I’m not very good at being a fan of Martha’s. I admit to being an early member of the “I am not in love with Martha Stewart Club” back in the 80s. I don’t care if she is the very model of a modern media mogul. I have never fallen under her spell.

Katie Couric engaged the audience over the last luncheon. Before I talk about her, I admit positive bias. I am a member of the “I love Katie and want to be like Katie Club.” One day Katie showed up on the Today Show wearing the same J. Crew sweater that hung in my closet. This made me happy. Clearly, a little bit too happy if I’m still talking about it now.

A blogger in the audience asked Katie, “How did you feel during your interview of Sarah Palin?”

I will paraphrase Katie’s answer, because at this point I was not taking notes. “As a person, I felt sorry for her. She was clearly having a difficult time forming an answer. As a reporter, I felt I did a good job of finding out things that I thought the American public would want to know about a person who would be a heartbeat from the president­–the oldest president ever elected.”

Katie has empathy. Katie does a good job. I still want to be like Katie.  I guess I want to be like Martha, too–good at everything I try. After this conference, I know I am like President Obama too. I appreciate the women in my life, past, present and future and hope to build a platform of interest and service to all.

Lists. Choices. Decisions. Oh My!

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I  am making a list and making it more than once. Maybe more times than that. In fact I think I’ll split the one list into two or three lists because the decision facing me is bigger than one list can handle.  I’m making these lists to help me answer the question: which way do I go?

“Asking the right question is half the answer.” Aristotle said. So perhaps this isn’t the only way to pose the question. And if one believes the adage, “there is more than one way to skin a cat,” there may be more than one right answer.

Therefore, I’m making multiple lists to help me answer this question: Given the choices presented to me, the opportunities unexplored but in my sight, the options that are still partially formed dreams, and my talents, desires and needs – how do I do “what’s next?”

Bottom line: I’ve been working on my reinvention from a corporate advertising executive to a writer/essayist/storyteller/multi-media person of words for several years. After my one and only layoff I took a year off from looking for jobs because it was pre-recession and the seemed right to take a break, to assess where I had been and make some adjustments for where I was going. Assuming I would live into my 100s I had another half-life to live and I wanted to live it purposefully. Even with that faulty assumption, I wanted to live more in-line with personal objectives.

Post-recession I half-heartedly looked for corporate jobs and non-profit opportunities. Nothing I found made my heart pitter-patter. More often my gut clenched when I read the job description and envisioned the lifestyle that accompanied it.  So I took a part-time job teaching graduate school, a couple consulting jobs and I went back to school. I love school. It has always been a good default for me when I’m not sure what to do.

After receiving a certificate in creative non-fiction I decided to focus on being a writer. One writes to be a writer. But to be a writer that is read and shared takes a lot more than just writing.

I had moonlighted as a writer while working a full-time job in the last century. That makes it sound so long ago, and while that’s true, it feels like just yesterday when the sight of my column in the Sunday paper or the sound of my voice on the public radio station made me fall in love with my creativity each and every time. Not fall in love with me, but with an essence of me that loved being out in the open – fully voiced, fully exercised, and eager for more. I felt alive like I hadn’t felt doing research on salad dressing or writing creative briefs for air freshener.

So I made a deal with an angel and stopped looking for corporate jobs, resolved myself to working for less than waitress wages while teaching at a premiere college because it gave me prestige, validation, a business card and something to talk about at cocktail parties. Nothing shuts down a conversation more than when you tell someone you’re a writer and the only recent evidence you have of this self-claimed title is a blog or an unpublished essay, or file of essays.

Then I set about my reinvention, which lasted well over a year and a half. Probably half of the time was spent learning how to navigate the day-to-day-ness of my totally self-structured, non-corporate life and handling some unexpected speed bumps –who knew that the little country of Liechtenstein would play a large role in my reinvention. I also needed to bring Husband on my journey. This isn’t so easy when Husband is a lawyer – a litigator. Nebulous, finding-your-self and selling your-self journeys don’t fit so easy into an evidence box.

I’m not making excuses for not feeling reinvented yet or ready to be released on my own recognizance as a newly reinvented woman cum writer/media person. I did the assignments – I’m a good Catholic girl, after all – and I attended all the calls, except for the time I was in Liechtenstein. I bought almost all the books, read parts of almost all of them, and all of a couple. The material came fast and furiously – vision boards and cascading goals, the prefrontal cortex and the gratitude journal, false beliefs and negative self talk, the ego and the heart. Who’s talking to whom, who’s taking the lead?

I walked the path each month during the call and fell off the path between calls. Got turned around and retraced parts of the path. Sometimes I just decided to run and catch up with my accountability gang because I just didn’t want to be alone. So even though I don’t feel ready to receive my reinvention certificate today, because 1) I don’t believe I’ve learned all the material, 2) I definitely don’t know how to apply all the material and 3) I believe that I will always be reinventing myself – I must leave this formal reinvention stage of my life.

I leave wistfully and a bit anxiously because I find myself in a state similar to when started: facing opportunities in a new world – a world of writing and media  – and a choice to go back to an old world – corporate marketing. The new world is much more defined than when I started and that is good. There has been movement, successes and a great big wild ride into writing a book that needs to be ridden some more.  The corporate marketing job, which found me since I wasn’t looking for a job as promised in my deal with the angel, is interestingly different than the one I left. It lacks many of the loathing characteristics that made it easy to turn my back on corporate life.

However, I have steeped myself in the creative expression of my life and exploration of the world. I know I do not want and therefore will not forsake my dream and passion of expressing myself through writing, of connecting with other women through words, of feeling alive by seeing my words in print or hearing my words spoken. I won’t do this because 1) I believe my talent lies in connection through communication and I can make a difference that way and 2) I won’t disappoint myself by walking away.  Goodness, I have a book proposal waiting for an agent. Life’s Too Short –And So Am I will be written!

All this means that I need analyze to what the corporate opportunity can bring to my table to make the feast better, not just fatter.  So it’s time to go back to my lists, which I will check more than once in collaboration with my best collaborators, much like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.

Dorothy: Now which way do we go?
Scarecrow: Pardon me, this way is a very nice way.
Dorothy: Who said that?
[Toto barks at scarecrow]
Dorothy: Don’t be silly, Toto. Scarecrows don’t talk.
Scarecrow: [points other way] It’s pleasant down that way, too.
Dorothy: That’s funny. Wasn’t he pointing the other way?
Scarecrow: [points both ways] Of course, some people do go both ways.

Wizard of Oz, 1939

There’s nothing that wearing a pair of red shoes can’t solve.

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I’m up earlier than normal. But I read the papers for longer than usual. Time saved on hair and makeup is lost in a wardrobe consideration kerfuffle.

Most emails that populate my inbox by 7AM can be deleted without opening. The usual collection of newsletters I thought I wanted and can’t unsubscribe to because I might miss something, the LinkedIn group notices, and spam asking for money to be wired immediately or offering easy and cheap access to a better life through drugs.

An unexpected email causes me to hover over the delete button and start rethinking my day. My day that was so carefully planned out last night: writing group, committee meeting, tax advisor, two errands and home to a list waiting for me on my desk of calls to make and things to do.

I’ve been invited to attend a meeting at WBEZ, Chicago’s public radio station, with a media innovation class that I am helping out. This is a meeting where I can meet everyone at WBEZ I could want to meet. I start to reorder my day in my head.

“You can’t do that. You can’t cancel on your committee meeting, where you are a co-chair, at the last minute,” the good girl angel says on my right shoulder. She’s peeping out behind my silver earring, reminding me of my obligations.

“Oh yes you can,” says the other character – neither angel nor devil, an ingénue perhaps – jumping up and down on my left shoulder. “Seize the day. This is an opportunity waiting to be lost. You know you want it.”

Be quiet. I’ll figure it out.  But first I need to find my car keys. I hate to cancel commitments. I find my keys. Is this opportunity knocking or a detour blocking. My car is dead. What do I tell my committee? Why not the truth?

I drive downtown in Husband’s car wondering how its keyless start option works with a valet.  Stuck behind a concrete truck I negotiate how I can leave the committee meeting early to arrive at WBEZ just a bit late.

If I go to WBEZ what if anything would I say to the people I might meet?  Darn, I wish I had my elevator speech down.

Lake Shore Drive is a dead stop. How can I be responsible while responding to unforeseen opportunities, responsibly? Flexibility is the key to managing life’s twists and turns. Go with the flow, even if it isn’t flowing.

Why does it seem that I always leave early to arrive late? And does it even really matter, if in the end, I am wholly present and honest wherever I am?

 

Living and Loving Life in the Middle

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“What’s your book about?” my long-time friend Pete asked.

“About how my worldview – or at least my dreams – has been informed by sitcom characters. I always wanted the life of someone on TV – That Girl, Mary Tyler Moore, Murphy Brown, but now there isn’t anyone on TV like me anymore – a boomer working women in transition.

“You’ve been in transition for a long time,” he chuckled and pushed me through the revolving door to the restaurant.

“Yes, and,” I started and stopped. I wasn’t quite sure what came after the “and.”

It was five years ago that I proudly and boldly told everyone and anyone that I was in transition. Fresh off a layoff from a job that led me to a desperate depression I decided to hangout in transition for a while before jumping to a new destination.  This hanging out in the middle is a concept I had read about years ago during an attempt to “find myself.”

In Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, author William Bridges posits that transitions start with an ending and have an indefinite middle period that is uncomfortable and ends in a new beginning.  The middle period – he calls the neutral zone – should not be sped through or the change you seek will not happen, at least not the way you want it to happen. Basically you have to be willing to swim in the deep end, traverse the dessert, live in no-man’s land for as long as it takes to process the ending and creatively find the new beginning.

“I’m in transition” is a certain, yet open-ended response to the “what do you do” question posed at every turn in the road. Fluid and interesting.

My first attempt at figuring out my life led to a career coach who I met at a fashion show for workingwomen. I hoped she would help me find a place to express myself without feeling censored.  And she just might have been able to do that if I hadn’t really needed counseling to get over a recent firing and subsequent loss of confidence.

Next stop on my career trip-tik was an EST like weekend with my travel buddy Lynnette. Lynnette and I had been to Hawaii, Australia and Dallas together. Dallas is where we both began our post-MBA careers hawking salty snacks and where I was fired. Lynnette knew me from the bottom up and inside out. She was the only person who could get me to do things that I really didn’t want to do because they sounded corny or hokey – like going to a sheep shearing, Waltzing Matilda- singing hoedown in Sydney or attending a weekend retreat aimed at unlocking our human potential– because I trusted her with my sanity.

So one Friday evening we entered a nondescript hotel in Schaumburg, a suburb of Chicago famous for its mall, along with 20 other seekers. Each of us carried the required boom box and empty notebook. We were assigned roommates and had our first meeting in an empty conference room, save a table and two chairs for the retreat leaders.

Before we begin whatever we’re going to begin I ask,ed “Are there bathroom breaks?”

I had heard that in the EST movement of the ‘70s Werner Erhard wouldn’t let anyone go to the bathroom during the marathon enlightenment sessions. Just thinking about that filled my anxious bladder.

“There will be bio breaks. But please try to not leave the room until then,” the male leader replied.

All seekers sat on the floor with space between each other so we were on our own carpet island. We went through exercises that had us walking backwards in our dreams, conjuring up our child self and writing letters to our tormentors. Boy, did the guy who fired me get a mouthful.

We talked to empty imaginary chairs, walked in circles and reversed. We shared intimate details of our lives with total strangers. If the moments weren’t intimate enough we were encouraged to go deeper, to find the root issue.

We made collages on large poster boards. They represented who we were and wanted to be. We wrote anthems that we would declare to the group, only when we were ready and able to believe them.

At night we listened to tapes on our boom boxes and some of us crept into the halls and shared secreted snacks. I stole outside and had a cigarette. One of the bad habits that I had identified as holding me back from my true potential, and possibly my future husband.

On the last day of the weekend we sat on our carpet island and closed our eyes. The leaders took us on a guided journey.

“Imagine a suitcase and open it up.”

We were told to put anything that bothered us, nagged at us, hurt us, or held us back in this suitcase. This could be your mother, boss, extra 20 pounds or slow drivers who always end up in front of you when you’re late. Take the bad and pack it away. I threw in a pack of cigarettes among other items I can’t remember.

“When you are finished packing your suitcase, close it and lock it with a key.”

“Now stand up and throw that key away – in the ocean, the trashcan or field. Throw it away where it can never be found or retrieved. Now pick up that suitcase – no matter how heavy it may be – you can pick it up – and open your eyes. Walk to the door and leave your suitcase next to the door. And take a short break. We’ll meet in 15 minutes for our graduation.”

And so I packed, locked, threw away, deposited, and took a long needed bio break.

During the graduation ceremony I stood in a circle with the other seekers cum finders and when I felt moved by the emotion, I stood in the middle and declared:

“I am a happy, fulfilled, smoke-free woman.” I cried. I left the circle, went outside, and lit up.

Pete is right. I have been in transition a long time. And I’ve moved to some new things while still developing others. . But maybe transition is my destination – to always be exploring and sharing my exploration. Wouldn’t that be a kick if where I’ve always belonged, is where I’ve always been leaving?

I tell myself (and Pete) that I’m okay with being in transition. I’m moving and creating, not stagnating.  And I’d like to tell the circle of seekers that today I could truly declare: I am happy and smoke-free (11 years now!) As for the fulfilled part – I’m pretty full, but there’s always room for more.

 

“She Looks Pretty Good For Her Age”

The Super Bowl half-time show received a mixed review by my graduate school students.

“Madonna looked out of it,” Meredith said.
“I think she looked pretty good for her age,” Nicole suggested.
“Yeah, but if you’re going to perform at the Super Bowl you should be able to still really perform,” Melissa replied.
“What is she? In her 40s or 50s. She’s kind of old.” Malcolm said and looked at me as he did.

I had just mentioned that Madonna and I were the same age. Actually she’s three years younger than me, almost to the day. Why do I know that? Probably too many hours reading People magazine in front of some lame TV show after my husband has gone to bed at 10pm. But she is three years younger and I’ve been tracking my life and my aging along with Madonna songs for many years. Say what you want about Madonna but she’s buff, true to her self and the mother of reinvention.

There’s something about the hours past 10pm that I adore. They’re like recess – my time to play by myself, for myself. The pressure to do something for others is lifted. It’s okay to watch bad TV even if PBS shows are queued up on the DVR waiting to be viewed. Read a chapter of the book club bestseller and another. Google till you can’t Google any more; look up answers to all the questions you had during the day but didn’t let yourself get off task to find the answers to. What is the third river of Pittsburgh? When did the Titanic sink? How old is Madonna, Hillary and Callista? Gasp, I never would have placed Callista as 11 years younger than me.

Okay so this rumination on age is getting old – no pun intended, really – but it feels as if the world is telling me I’m old and I just refuse to buy it. Once I leave the bathroom mirror in the morning I do forget that I am the age I am. And I stay away from looking at reflections in windows during the day.

When I was growing up there were two major movie events a year on television, Peter Pan and The Wizard of OZ. While most of my friends lived for the next viewing of Dorothy and her three pals plus Toto, I waited out the year for the return of Mary Martin flying off to adventure as Peter Pan.

I wanted to be Peter not Dorothy – although singing like Judy Garland would have been great and I do a mean imitation of the Lollipop Guild song welcoming Dorothy to Munchkin Land – but I digress – is that a sign of my advancing age that I have so many digressions. No, I tell myself. I just have so many opinions and thoughts – supported by those begoogling hours between 10pm and midnight.

Digress. Regress. Get back on topic.

I wanted to be Peter Pan. I didn’t want to grow up if it meant being a boring adult. I wanted adventure. I wanted to walk the plank and fly away. I wanted to dance with Tiger Lilly and rescue Tinker Bell.

I won’t grow up,
I don’t want to go to school.
Just to learn to be a parrot,
And recite a silly rule.
If growing up means
It would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree,
I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up
Not me!

The Peter Pan syndrome is described in the book of the same name as what men suffer from when they refuse to mature and take on adult responsibilities. The Cinderella complex is described in the book of the same name as a woman’s fear of independence and desire to be taken care of by others.

I’ve always been more of a Peter than a Cindy. Hold on to the flights of fancy and dreams I tell my nieces and nephews and any young person within earshot. Grow up but don’t grow old or too tired to give anything a go. Don’t wait to try. Try now and then try some more. Mature and wisen, yes. Grow old in spirit and thoughts, no.
The hours between 10pm and midnight are timeless and the opportunities for self-discovery endless. During this time I like to think I do like Peter sings and stop “shouldering burdens with a worried air.”

It was during those hours that I watched Madonna’s performance at the Super Bowl and agreed with Meredith that she was a bit stiff. But boy did she do a lot of lunges and deep knee bends. I know that genes separate what Madonna is from what I could ever be, but she is proof that working out and a good diet produce results. It was between 10pm and midnight that I read that Madonna had performed in pain with a pulled hamstring. She gave it her all in her designer gladiator mini-skirt and thigh high and sky-high boots while injured. Not smart, you might say. A professional, is what I say. Good for her age? An example for any age.

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