Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Equal parts work and joy

A friend of mine recently had a baby. Visiting her and her husband, and the new baby, both in the hospital and at home, reminded me of my first days as a mom. I can recall just as if it were yesterday the overwhelming feelings of love, responsibility, and cluelessness.

A friend on my moms' forum shared this awesome blog that captures her view on the true nature of motherhood. Her words about the experience being both more amazing and more horrible at times (thank you sleep deprivation and hormones) than one could ever imagine really resonated with me.

While mothering a preschooler feels easier than the constant demands of an infant, it presents its own set of challenges. Lu is a strong-willed child, and is quick to anger or grow frustrated when things don't go her way. As much as I try to reason with her, this is a difficult concept for a four year old. Some days, I end the day nearly as exhausted as I felt as when I had a new baby. But this is less frequent these days, and I feel that I am able to regain parts of myself that I lost when she was very young, such as spending time to read for fun. Thankfully, Lu gives me something to smile at, laugh at, and be proud of every single day. It is such a joy and privilege to watch the person develop in front of your eyes.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

When a door closes, a window opens

I've had, by any standard, a hectic schedule in the past couple of years. I had a busy job at an awesome tech company and a 2 year old in 2011 when I began an 18-month MBA program structured for full-time employees, the Northeastern University high tech MBA. Halfway through the program, I took on an even more demanding job that is a 70-mile round trip from my house. While I successfully got through this period and am forever grateful for these amazing opportunities, my constant need to accomplish it all induced a panic-like sense of always feeling strapped for time. I knew I had to break out of this PTSD-like feeling to reach the next stage of my life. However, I was perplexed about how to initiate this change.

I began my first, tentative steps with mindfulness in December of 2012, when a missed step almost changed my life. I was walking down icy concrete steps at my condo building with my mind fully engaged in my financial documents (a P&L and 5-year projections) due for my strategy paper the next day. I missed a step and somersaulted down half a flight of stairs to the pavement. Thankfully, a kind neighbor rescued me and my nurse friend and neighbor checked me out. No harm was done, other than the awesome shiner I wore to class like a badge of honor the next day. But it opened my eyes to how critical it is for me to live in the moment. If I didn't, there might not be any more moments left!

I love to swim, and my amazing office has an indoor pool where I can do just that. Swimming laps, and practicing yoga, have been the central ways I've cultivated my mindfulness practice in the last year. However, I could not shake that sense of urgency I carried with me into most situations, always racing to the next task, feeling hopped up on caffeine and jittery even with no coffee in sight, even when the situation didn't call for action. I thought I'd had a pretty good handle on how to be mindful. After all, last year I listened to an audiobook about it called Get Some Headspace, so I crossed it off my list and moved on. However, mindfulness is not something you can check off your to-do list. It's come to me slowly, in moments, over several years.

In the last month, given the many transitions in my life right now, I have sought out ways in which I can be more mindful. I've read a few books lately that have been hugely influential. Thich Nhat Hanh has some amazing work: Peace Is Every Step, Anger, and Work. For working moms and motherhood, I recommend Maxed Out, American Moms on the Brink by Katrina Alcorn (and her blog), Hands-Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford (and her blog), The Complete Buddhism for Mothers by Sarah Napthali, and Jennifer Senior's book All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood (and related article Why Mom's Time is Different from Dad's Time). I think the shock of how much I related to Alcorn's cautionary tale, combined with the practical advice of Hanh and Stafford, offering easy ways to ignore your distractions and live in the moment, finally resonated with me. Just like with any other change, no one can tell you how to be mindful, you need to come to it on your own. I was not sold on its benefits until I started practicing it more.

Getting a change of scenery over a recent long weekend allowed me to cultivate my newly learned mindfulness. For example, I had the opportunity to drive alone. Normally I'd listen to an audiobook the whole time, eager to multitask and cross a few books off of my ever-growing list. I decided to enjoy the silence, feeling the car accelerate and slow, to examine the road and the new, yet familiar, Maine scenery. I felt calmer, more composed, after exiting the car. Though I imagine this had something to do with the more courteous Maine drivers, I felt invigorated to keep at it. I went to a bookstore and sipped chamomile and lavendar tea while devouring some of the readings I mentioned earlier. I enjoyed a conversation with my family about Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Given my personality, surrendering control has been the biggest challenge. I like to run the show, no question. Realizing that I can't, and don't, has been a huge comfort to me. Whether or not I fret over every little detail or truly enjoy a laugh with my daughter, the day passes too quickly. It's always a better day if I approach it with gratitude, energy, and a positive spirit. I feel that only when I open myself up to the universe as a vulnerable being, ready to be guided, do truly great things come my way.  Forcing a situation to present itself to me is like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. Just this week, an amazing opportunity came along that I believe came my way because of my new attitude.

I'm not fully Zen yet. I'm not sure if anyone ever truly is. But I'm enjoying the ride much more fully. I hope you enjoy my new mantra as much as I do: