March 7th of last year, I was in Jacksonville, Florida directing a crew of movers to load and unload 46 years of stuff and memories to my parents' new home in a retirement community. Spring Break was around the corner and baseball was preparing for Opening Day. My husband and I had plane tickets in hand for a visit to Upstate NY to see his son's family, and his elderly parents were just settling into their new home after a cross country move from Oklahoma to Tennessee. Everyone was looking forward to summer.
One week later, time stood still. Plane tickets got refunded and games were canceled. Students and teachers abruptly shifted to virtual platforms, as did Corporate America. My own calendar went virtual, too -- virtually blank. Fear, misinformation, mass confusion, unemployment, uncertainty, hand sanitizer, and Zoom became the order of the day...and there was suddenly a bizarre shortage of toilet paper!
Now, I'm pleased to say I can look back and see a year full of intentional choices...some for self-preservation, some for kicks, and some because I now had the time.
Here are 8 things I discovered along the way in the last 12 months...and it feels good.
I DISCOVERED SOME NEW CREATIVE OUTLETS
My urge to write bubbled over from the thoughts and questions in my heart and mind and spilled out onto this blog. I needed to put it all somewhere. I imagined others were feeling the same. This venture also offered me the outlet of customizing a website, something I hadn't done since I left my previous role in marketing. Playing with the templates became as much fun as playing with the words! Renovation of my 1938 bungalow became necessary for selling it, yet I found some artistic gratification in color, fixture and finish selection. Other dabbles in hand lettering (the power of Instagram advertising), establishing an Etsy shop for "vintage" items (aka, the Covid-safe garage sale), exploring new recipes (a la Barefoot Contessa), personalizing Christmas gifts, and defining my brand (both personally and professionally) now offered plenty of exercise for the creative side of my brain. Similar to my patterns in physical exercise, there have been inspired spurts of energy and lapses of laziness, but something was better than nothing.
I DISCOVERED A WEALTH OF ONLINE RESOURCES
At first, I scoffed at the knee-jerk way everything in life-as-we-formerly-knew-it immediately got pushed to YouTube, Facebook Live, and Zoom. I watched with awe at the intense scramble to salvage us as customers or donors without seeing us in person. Some platforms were brilliant, and some obligatory, some done well, some sloppy. Then -- I got on the online bandwagon for some virtual writing workshops, livestreamed real estate programs, recorded yoga and ballet barre workouts, and weekly inspirational video posts. I peeked in on business presentations from women's groups in California and developers in Philadelphia. Or not! I shifted to worship each Sunday in my pajamas with coffee refills close at hand in my own kitchen -- and lo, and behold, I became a more consistent church-goer -- without going anywhere. I chose my interests because they were my actual interests, not because I felt pressured or obligated or wanted to be seen. I blew them off or watched them later if the timing wasn't ideal in the moment. I made it work for me -- and I learned a LOT.
I DISCOVERED THERE WEREN'T THAT MANY RESTAURANTS I LIKED ALL THAT MUCH, ANYWAY
My dear college roommate, who is a gifted cook and hostess, said to me years ago, "The more you enjoy cooking at home, the less you will enjoy going out to restaurants." Prophetic. Downtown St. Petersburg boasts hundreds of restaurants, many of them in walking distance from where we live. Many of them are successful and popular, and many of them either closed or reduced their hours in the pandemic. Once we were comfortable venturing out again, we landed on the same two or three establishments we knew we would produce the best plates in addition to the best protocol. (Of course, they also had to have a decent wine list.) Ultimately, our selection was really more about the supper than the safety -- mediocre food simply wasn't worth the risk of going out versus cooking at home. Comparatively, we likely had some pretty decent wine in our home cooler...plus some pretty good recipes to pair with them.
I DISCOVERED WHAT COLOR MY HAIR REALLY IS...ALMOST
I've been in denial about my gray roots for many, many years...and consequently, my talented hairdresser got to see my grimacing face every 4 weeks. But what color was it really under there?? Hmmm. No weddings, no work functions, no in person sales meetings, no football games, no reunions. No reason not to let it grow out, right? With some creative transition techniques along the way and some new hair products to keep it healthy, the true color is starting to emerge. (So far, so good...although I'm sometimes startled when I see myself in the mirror...patience is paramount!)
I've also foregone professional pedicures, previously also a monthly occurrence, for a year now. Magically, those yellow polish stains and white scrapes are gradually fading away like my bottled blonde. Au naturale, middle-aged-me!! At least until the weddings, work functions, in person sales meetings, football games and reunions take their rightful place back on my calendar.
I DISCOVERED WHAT MAKES ME ANXIOUS + WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
OK, here are my confessions!
• It makes me anxious not to have people around me from whom I gain energy. It also makes me anxious to be around people who drain me.
• It makes me anxious to be stuck in the same four walls all day (except on those days when I choose to be, of my own accord).
• It makes me anxious when there is a void of communication from friends and loved ones. It also makes me anxious to get a million text messages a day.
• It makes me anxious to share workspace with my husband -- particularly if he is on Zoom calls ALL DAY LONG and takes over the home office!
• People who behave as if they live in a "me world" make me anxious (even though I'm often guilty of this myself). I'm idealistic by nature, and still believe we should all be working together, helping each other get through all this. Right now, especially. Oh well.
• Extremism also makes me anxious. And we've seen an abundance of it in the last year.
What did I learn to do? Focus on my own health, my own mental health, my own commitments, my own blessings. Make a really good to-do list and "work it." Turn off TV news and dial back social media. Pray. Check in on people right as I think of them. Read Real Simple and Southern Living cover to cover. Communicate my needs and my boundaries -- and ask others for theirs. Apologize when I am short in my responses. Listen. Read. Blog. Give myself (and others) some grace. Settle into my roles and do the best I can, until I can do better. Keep practicing.
I DISCOVERED I HATE MY WARDROBE
What the heck style is this in my closet? Do I miss these shoes...did I ever wear them? (can't remember!) Are these jeans still considered fashionable? Do I care?? I love these dresses. When I have somewhere to wear them again, will they still be in style then? OMG - these are the pants I bought in 2015 for my then-new job. So what? An almost-fashionable-but-not-quite ensemble worn once to a party in 2019 is still hanging there, awaiting its fate to the donation bin. (Pictured left.) So, if I hate my current clothes, what do I replace them with? And do I hate them because I'm tired of seeing them in my closet unworn, or overly worn? Do I wear the same 3 tops on Zoom calls...does it even matter?
I decided if I'm going to change my style or my personal habits, now's the time. Now's the time to try new skin care products, new makeup brands, new pajamas. And refresh some old ones. There's no deadline (as of yet). And with the money I'm saving on lipstick from wearing a mask in public, I might just buy myself a new outfit. Why not?
I DISCOVERED SOME NEW PRIORITIES
It's hard to imagine we experienced a global pandemic, a dramatic and violent awakening around social justice and equity, and one of the most contentious and chaotic elections of our time. ALL AT THE SAME TIME. It didn't take long to realize I was not going to be successful (or stay sane) in processing these paradigm-shifting events simultaneously, even though I sure tried. The solution? Prescribe some priorities...or as my mother used to wisely say, eat the elephant one bite at a time. For me, those "elephant bites" needed some utensils with which to eat them...so I adopted a few strategies...which seemed to make it all a little easier to swallow. Or at least helped me sort through the thundering herd.
First and foremost, I leaned harder on my faith. Probably leaned a little harder on my like-minded faithful friends than they deserved, as they were also defining their own priorities. But I'm honestly not sure how we would have survived it all thus far without having God in our lives...or each other.
Secondly, I pursued learning. And understanding. And even when I didn't understand (admittedly more often than not), at least I could still find new sources of information. Books, commentaries, WSJ articles, NPR interviews, conversations with people who don't look like me or believe like me or vote like me. Podcasts. Webinars. Documentaries. As little social media as I could get away with. Fact checking. Balance.
Thirdly, I deliberately chose a couple of realistic places to channel my energy and vowed to see them through. I failed daily. I got back on track as quickly as I could. I acknowledged when other things crept in...or I consciously saved them for another time. If I didn't follow through, or if I got sidetracked (which was often), I owned it when it would have been easier to blame Covid. Sometimes sheepishly. I probably let some people down, and I hope to make it up to them later.
I DISCOVERED A NEW VERSION OF MYSELF
This year both began and ended with a deeper dive into where I fit on the Enneagram, a personality tool with which I have been borderline obsessed. Knowing where I fit could enlighten me not only to be a better, more evolved person -- but to understand others better. To be a better friend, sister, daughter, wife. Leader. Business partner.
I'm still not sure if I'm a 7 with a 6 or 8 wing, or something else entirely, or a little of all of it -- but I do know myself better now than I did in March of 2020. I've curiously watched my ups and downs, paid more attention to the words I use and why, noticed more closely what excites me and what bores me and what makes me laugh out loud and what makes me roll my eyes. Decided I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican in this current culture. (In fact, I'm a little disgusted with both sides right now.) Examined my marriage, my diet, and my heart for networks of women. Tracked my time. Tracked my sleep. Started verbalizing what I want my life to look like in one year, five years, ten years. Tomorrow.
Most of all, I want to make the most of this time in my life. It's been fun to learn, to grow, to study. I don't take my blessings and privileges for granted, particularly as our sisters and neighbors continue to struggle. I just want to have something to show for all of this craziness. I want to be part of the solution, not the problem. I want to enter this next post-pandemic/pre-retirement phase of my life with gusto, fresh perspective, hope, and enthusiasm. I want to be intentional about how I spend my time, and with whom. I want to use what God has given me wisely...there won't be a do-over.
And I want to wear lipstick again. :)