3 Steps to Having Everything: Eat S@#t. Fall in Love. Do the Work.

Besides being a writer, a blogger, and mom, I have a day job too. It just so happens that I work in higher education at a Jesuit University. Though I work mainly in an administrative role at a Center for Innovation, I get to teach storytelling and Design Thinking. (BTW, Design Thinking is simply another way of saying, I teach an approach to problem solving, critical thinking, and empathizing with others). Design Thinking helps creatives be creative, and it helps people who don't think they're creative access their demiurgic selves through a deliberate process. It helps one empathize, ideate, create, communicate, and finally, test out new ideas and processes. Simply put, I get to spend my days helping others "figure stuff out." I work with students, faculty, staff, corporate clients, startups, and all sorts of neat people who are bursting with passion and enthusiasm, but happen to be wrestling with defining, containing, or expressing their big ideas. 

It's, in a word, awesome. At least it's awesome, when I get to do what it is I love to do. 

Granted we all have to eat the proverbial "shit sandwich" that Buddhists (and now Elizabeth Gilbert) so wisely speak of.  Yes, we all know the shit-sandwich well. These are the tasks that one must bear down, bite through, and get over with before getting to the good stuff. No birth comes without the sweaty, horrendous, bloody final push.  No adorable baby comes without dirty diapers. No work of art comes without cleaning brushes. No decision gets made without the dreaded committee meeting.  No marathons get run without training on hills. You get the picture.

We all have to do things we don't like.  Me? What are the shit sandwiches I have to chew on? The usual. (I'm pretty sure no one likes to do them.) Emailing. Processing paperwork and invoices. Navigating office politics. Meetings. (And let's not forget the added double-decker shit sandwich that I as a women get to eat.) Yes, like most women, on daily basis we all must contend with (inside and outside of our institutions) big egos, misogyny, the random sexist comment, and still for many of us, unequal pay, and higher work expectations. And like most women, I have to bear down and bite through all the b.s. every day and serve it up with a smile. YUM! More please!  Lest I be perceived as ungrateful, angry, "difficult," or the dreaded "B" word. 

So what makes eating the shit sandwich possible? Bearable? 

The answer is simple: I am in love.

What? How did we go from eating shit to falling love? 

Let me explain. One of the perks of working at a Jesuit college is everyone is drunk on what I lovingly refer to as Je-ju (Jesuit Juice.) Students, faculty, and staff are well-versed in all sorts of mindful and meaningful quotes and practices that promote the examined life. One of my favorite quotes was just read aloud during a student award ceremony. The quote by Father Pedro Arrupe says, quite beautifully, 

What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.
- Pedro Arrupe, S.J.

The answer is I am in love with learning. I am in love with curiosity. I am in love with art. I am in love with creativity. I am in love with students, their passion, their curiosity, their eagerness to learn too. I am in love with the learners mindset. I am in love with books. I am in love with writing. I am in love with others' minds, which I learn so much from. I am in love with photography. I am in love with life. I race out of bed each morning to read my favorite books, write my 3-5 pages, connect with the friends who I love on social media. I spend my evenings in love with my kids, with my husband, and my home. I am amazed daily by the incredible students I meet (like my intern Ese, who just won the Student Employee of the Year), the trees outside that are blooming, the poetry I read each day, the food I get to eat and the coffee I drink. I spend each night before I close my eyes counting my blessings--thinking of all the people, place, books, ideas and moments I was able to experience during the day. 

By knowing what I love, and spending time with the things love, I have, as Arrupe so brilliantly pointed out, decided everything. I have decided what is important, what matters, and what I will fill up the days of my life with, what I won't, and what I will put up with (the shit sandwiches, if you will). I am lucky that I have more love than shit in my life. But, I'd venture to say it is a bit more than luck. It takes work--hard work--to fill yourself up with good things and things you're in love with. It means making some hard decisions. It means putting down the phone at 9 p.m. and going to bed. It means getting up early. It means attending the meetings and completing the paperwork. It means showing up, every day. It means being a professional. 

I often wonder, when I hear people complain about their lives, why don't they just don't fall in love. Why don't they do what they love? "I don't have the time," they say. "I can't," they say. And I understand. I was like them once. I too was once afraid to admit what I loved. It's a scary thing. It takes courage to go after the life you love. It takes strength and fortitude to bite down on the shit sandwich, in order to get to the good parts. It takes dedication. It takes work. 

But, it's worth it. 

Because, it's your life, we're are talking about. YOUR LIFE. Let me repeat: YOUR LIFE. If your life is is more shit than love, then what are you doing with your day? How can you change it? Or better yet, ask yourself before you do anything: Do I love this? Or, do I love (x,y,  or z enough) to eat this shit sandwich and do the necessary work?

If the answer is no, then get out there and find out what you love: It will decide everything.

Everything.

 

5 Things I Do Before I Go to My Day Job

Like most women I don't get a lot of time to myself. As soon as my kids are up, my life becomes about them--making sure they're fed, dressed and ready to go; signing permission slips that "slipped past" me the night before in the midst of the afternoon and evening minivan-patrol (which entails four hours every weeknight driving carpools of kids to various theater, choir, musical instrument practice), and listening to them tell me about their upcoming days. (Granted, there's that whole getting-myself-ready-to-put-a-full-day-in-the-office-by-8:00 a.m. I have to do as well, but at this stage in the game, I can do all that in 10 minutes flat.  Brush hair, brush teeth, apply mascara and lipstick, throw on dress, and I am out the door. OK, it may take twenty minutes if I am going for a good-hair day and decide to pull out the straightener.) 

So I know if I want to get the "Big Rocks" in, as they say, I have put them in jar first thing in the morning. So each night, before I got to bed, which admittedly is early--usually around 9:30 or 10 p.m.--I always make a list of things I absolutely need to get done by 7 a.m. so that no matter what happens during the following day I have already done what it is that I love to do, want to do, and genuinely fills me up as a human being. Moreover, if I do it before 7 a.m., nothing--no hijacked day, no long meeting, no traffic jam--will be an excuse for why I didn't get these things done.

So to answer the question I am most asked: How do you get all that reading and writing done? I have a simple answer: I wake up in the middle of the night to do it. Actually, it's more like 4:30 a.m., sometimes 4:45 a.m. I have an alarm, but I often don't need to set it. My body is well trained and wakes up a few minutes before. 

So here are the 5 Things I Do Before I Go to My Day Job:

1. Exercise.

4:30 a.m. The first thing I do, like a good Irish girl, is to put the kettle on. Granted it's to boil water for fresh pressed coffee, not tea, but I used the kettle for a very good reason. While the water is boiling, I have fifteen minutes to do some mat work. I do about 100 Pilates sit-ups, leg lifts, push-ups, and planks, and then stretch. By the time the kettle whistles, I am done, and I feel totally awake and energized. (Note: That's not all the exercise I do. I will walk throughout the day, and try to reach 10,000 steps as well. Sometimes that means a walk before or after dinner too.)

2. Read a classic.

4:45 a.m. I pour myself a cup of fresh-pressed coffee, peel a grapefruit, and bring it over to the kitchen table where the book I am reading is already opened to the page that I left off on the day before. Right now I am completely immersed in War and Peace.  It may be two-hundred years old, but it's still spot-on about the human condition. I actually pop up out of bed each morning excited to find out what is in store for all my favorite Russian aristocrats. (Listen to a recent podcast discussion of the book, which I participated in, here.)

3. Read a contemporary book.

5:30 a.m. I move my bookmark to the page I left off on War and Peace, and move on to a contemporary book. I read no less than three contemporary books at any given time. (This week I am reading Patti Smith's M Train, Charlie Duhigg's The Power of Habit, and Matt Haig's Reason to Stay Alive. I alternate each book each day, and then pick one to carry one in my purse if I need a cerebral "hit" while waiting in carpool, standing in line somewhere, or waiting for dinner to cook.)

4. Write.

5:50 a.m. It's time to start writing. I can write 3-5 pages in about a half hour, and so that's what I try to do each day. I sit at my computer and write without any goal or agenda until 6:00 a.m. The first ten minutes is not always great. In fact, sometimes I know I am just "stretching" and have to delete almost everything I wrote, but sometimes I don't. I usually get a good flow going and I try to wrap up at 6:30 a.m., so I have something left in the tank for the next day. (A helpful hip from Papa himself.)

5. Get social.

6:30 a.m.  After I quickly drive my daughter to the Metro bus stop (it takes 2 minutes), I come back and I post a photograph or a quote from the books I am reading to Instagram and hashtag the hell out of them. I do this for two reasons: 1) Hashtags help me quickly explain to my audience why I chose the said quote or picture and 2) It helps my potential audience find me. (So far, it's been working). I spend about 15 minutes going through my social media pages and posts, respond, engage, and repost. (Like it or not, this the work of the modern-day writer...I just happen to love it). I try to be off social media and my phone by the time my son wakes up at 7:00 a.m. Because once he's up, I'm all his and we're in "get ready to get the heck out of the house by 7:30 mode."

Now, I know waking early is not for everyone. There are plenty of night owls out there that find their optimum time is after the kids go to bed (which works too, I know). But, for me,  I am always far too drained by the end of the work day to do anything more than nod occasionally in acknowledgment from across the dinner table as my kids speak. I know there are so many of us out there in the same boat.  So many of us spend our days working hard for everyone else. And it's hard to find a minute for ourselves. But, we must. YOU HEAR ME: WE MUST. If we don't do it now, then when? There is never going to be a perfect time to read, to write, to exercise, or do any of the things that matter to you and that fill you up as a human being. There will always be something. So if there is something you want to do, and feel like you have "no time" to do it, my humble suggestion is this:  

Find the time.

Make the time.

Today.

Then guard it with your life.

Become a fierce defender of your precious time. It is all that you have. There is no shame in doing what you love. There is no shame in doing the work that fills up your tank. Honor it. Love it. And for god-sake just do it. 

 

 

 

6 Things that Gretchen Rubin's book Better Than Before Taught Me About Myself and About Making Good Habits That Last

6 Things that Gretchen Rubin's book Better Than Before Taught Me About Myself and About Making Good Habits That Last

I've been reading a bunch of life-changing books lately. (Why does that sound so familiar? Maybe because my life seems to change every time I read? Or maybe because just last week I wrote a blog about the books I was reading that were currently blowing my mind.)

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Choose the Good: Taking Back Our Lives One Choice at a Time

Choose the Good: Taking Back Our Lives One Choice at a Time

So I am trying to make good choices. In my last blog, I talked about my family's mission to "choose the good" in 2016. I know, that seems like kind of an obvious thing to choose, but really, there's more to it.

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For the Love of Books and Other Things (That Didn't Come Out of Your Womb): Owning What You Love

For the Love of Books and Other Things (That Didn't Come Out of Your Womb): Owning What You Love

Reading. Ah. Yes. That moment when you open the book find your place on the page and fall right into the world you left off on before sleep stole it you from you, your lunch break ended, or your kids called up from the basement moaning in hunger. 

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No Vacation? No problem. 5 Things I Am Doing This Summer Anyway

Photo Credit: Mary Curran Hackett So here's the situation. I have no vacation time. None. Nada. Between this past winter's many blizzards, the inexplicable days off given to children throughout the school year, random illnesses and my kids' innumerable school activities that required my attendance, I used every last stitch of vacation for the year that I have. And, to be honest, I don't regret it. I wouldn't have missed being my son's "Mystery Reader"  or helping him and his second grade classmates build gingerbread houses for the world. Nor would I have been able to live with myself if I missed out on all of my daughter's eighth grade year festivities...all 9,000 of them (yes, I am using my God-given right as a mother to insert hyperbole whenever I see fit).

But, I have to say, when I woke this morning to a crystal clear blue sky, the sun blazing already, birds chirping, and the sounds of my kids laughing in the living room, it killed me a little to get up, get dressed in work clothes, and leave the house for a full day shut up in a meat-locker of an office (the air conditioning has only one setting: Subzero) and stare at a computer screen all day (though occasionally I do get up and walk over to the kitchenette to fill up my teacup just to spice things up a bit).

Working during the summer is brutal. No way to get around it. And not just for me. My kids are stuck home till I arrive at 4 p.m. to take them to the library, pool, friends' houses, wherever. They manage. Lucky for me, my daughter loves to read and the days fly by for her. My son keeps himself busy with Legos and summer reading, but I know that they are bored and the days are just as long for them as they are for me. And there is no better tell than the fact that even my teenage daughter comes running out of the house every day to greet me when my car pulls in the drive: "Yeah, you're home! Now we can do something fun!"

No pressure.

And the fun I intend to bring. No doubt about it. I love the summer. Always have. As a child it meant endless hours of free play, trips in my mom's station wagon to Mt. Tom in Connecticut to swim in the lake all day with my siblings, visit with our grandfather, and climb the surrounding hills. It meant evenings at my Aunt Linda's pool with my sisters, brothers, and my cousins. Sometimes our parents would even get hot enough to jump in and chase us around or toss us in the air. But, mostly it was us kids screaming at the adults, who were trying desperately to sip their wine in peace and quiet,  to "Look at me!"  every five seconds to make sure they could see all of our cool tricks as we jumped in. The pencil. The flip. The  cannonball. "The Triple Lindy." It meant red, white, and blue bomb-pops from the ice cream truck at sundown. It meant my dad hitting us balls out into the yard when he got off duty. It meant pick-up baseball games in the middle of the street with the Rendas, Kohuts, Saunders, and other neighborhood kids. It meant forts in the woods. Tree houses. Taking off our shoes and walking into the Still River and filling up buckets with crayfish. It meant climbing under the train bridge downstream and waiting for the train to come barreling over us. It meant walks to the store with my sisters to buy a piece of Bazooka gum for a nickel. It meant trips to the library. The woods. My grandfather's house. Strawberry picking in Southbury. The Morris family annual Fourth of July picnic.  It also meant at some point all ten of us would steal away together to the Cape to visit our Massachusetts  family or head south to see our cousins in Virginia. It meant the Connecticut seashore. Lake Candlewood. Lake Kenosia. The Farmington River. It meant day trips (sometimes middle of the night trips--long story for another time) to the city. Yankee games. Visits to LI for the NY relatives. It always, always included some large body of water. Sandcastles. Boats. (Someone always had a boat.) Burnt shoulders and noses. Sticky fingers. Scratched knees. Dirty fingernails. Heavy sleeps. And lazy mornings.

We weren't rich. Did I mention there were eight of us? That my father was a firefighter? That my mom was a teacher? But, we didn't need to be to have the fun we did. The good old-fashioned, pile-in-the-car-sweat- your- ass-off-and-sing-Neil Diamond-"Forever in Blue Jeans"- at- the- top- of- your- lungs-until- some- jackass-cuts-your-dad-off-on-the-Mass-Pike-and-he-yells-and-everyone- gets-quiet-and-scared- for-two-seconds-before-laughing kind of fun.  There were no iPads, Wiis, flatscreens, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, pool memberships, enrichment camps, summer theater programs,  or even supervision. But, somehow, we survived.

So though no beach is on the horizon. No trips to the city. And not even a day off to call my own, I will do my best and all to give my kids some bit of summer I remember so fondly.

And here's the 5 things I plan to do:

1. We're gonna light it up!

Photo credit: Mary Curran Hackett

 

Yup, we're going to burn some stuff.  (Spoken like a daughter of a firefighter). What's summer without sitting outside around a fire with friends and just doing nothing, but keeping warm and filling up on processed sugary goodness of marshmallows and Hershey bars between graham crackers? We don't do it every night, and there are nights in July that are so ungodly hot here in Cincinnati, sitting by a fire is just stupid. But, there are plenty of great nights that it totally makes sense, and so we're going to do it. (Props to my husband and son for building this pit. We previously just had a hole in the ground that we used. But, we classed it up last year  when they built an actual pit with 30 dollars worth of pavers from Home Depot.)

 

 

2. We're going to cook and eat together whenever we can.

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God bless the grill! The herb pot garden! The produce section at the super Kroger! I LOVE SUMMER FOOD. Nothing better than a nice glass of wine, some fresh veggies from the garden, and some fish or meat that is freshly grilled. And there is no better feeling to sit down to a meal and know that there is absolutely no place to be. No time schedule to keep, no homework that needs to be done, no meeting that needs to be attended, no practice that a child needs to be dashed to. Long live the long, summer meal on the patio! (And in the air conditioning--when it gets really gross out).  This is a pic of my favorite summer meal: Grilled veggies, fresh basil, goat cheese, on a grilled baguette with a bit of a balsamic glaze. Easy and ready in less than 10 minutes!

 

3. We're going to plant and tend a garden.

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Seems simple enough. Dig hole. Drop seed. Water. Watch grow. But, turns out gardening is a hell of a lot more involved. You need the right soil. The right amount of sun. The right amount of space to grow, and on, and on. You need to weed out the bad stuff. Feed your flowers nourishing food. Separate them when they start to crowd each other out. Sounds a lot like parenting, no?  Cuz it is. And it happens to be one of the best things we do together as a family. Colm is my go-to guy with the spade and shovel.  He'll do anything for a chance to dig. Brigid will take any chance she gets to spray water at her brother--and the flowers. Greg is my weed man. He can spot them a mile away and spends far too much time thinking about ways to prevent them in the garden and the grass, but I digress. And me, I just know what looks pretty and where to put everything. (Rule Number One of Motherhood: Delegate. Rule  2. Delegate some more. ) So together we make a great team. And there is nothing better than sitting back and watching everything bloom and grow. And I am not just talking about the flowers. (This is a Ranunculus. One of my Spring favorites. It means "radiant.")

 

 

4. Read. Read. Read.

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Goes without saying, this is a must. We take weekly trips to the library, Joseph-Beth Booksellers (our favorite indie) and even Target's book section. I have a stack about two feet high next to bed, and it is growing every day. While I am gone at work Brigid reads on her iPad. (We don't judge how people like to read their books, just if they do or don't. I kid. I kid. Ok, not really. I can be sorta judgy.) She's downloaded a list of 100 books every kid in high school should read, and she is hacking away at the list one page of Gatsby at a time. Colm picks his books out at the library. One at a time. He likes the sense of accomplishment. And he likes to hold a book in his hand.  He is on an E.B. White kick. We finished Charlotte's Web together last week, and he had to read the last few lines aloud for me, because I was too overcome and weepy. "It's OK, mom. It's OK. Charlotte left lots of babies."  What he didn't know was  I was crying because E.B. White wrote some of the most beautiful sentences in the world, and because Wilbur, like Colm, was all grown up. He got another White book out yesterday. Meanwhile, I am finally getting around to reading Bossypants by Tina Fey (hysterical), and bought several anthologies so I have quick lunch-hour reads. (More on my summer reading later). Needless to say, a summer without books, is no summer at all.

 5.  We're going to get outside.

 

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Seems simple enough. There are hikes to take. Backyards to explore. The Y pool to swim in. The neighbors' front yards to loiter. The cul-de-sac to scooter circles in. I'll do my best to make sure there is more time spent out than in. But, I have to admit it's not always easy. There are so many distractions--shows to watch, games to play, Lego Death Stars to build, books to read (my kids prefer to read on their beds), that I sometimes have to beg and plead for outdoor time. Sometimes, I admit it, I  am heard in the neighborhood "GET IN THE DAMN CAR! WE'RE GOING TO HAVE FUN DAMMIT!" (Nice.) Door slams. I hate you. You're the worst mother ever. And everything else follows that is expected, but twenty minutes later someone is laughing about something they saw or heard, or someone notices a cool tree or a bird on a hike, or someone is getting ready to jump into an irresistible looking cool pool, and then I don't seem like such a terrible mother after all (at least for five minutes).

 

 

Happy Summer! And those of you, in my family especially, headed out for vacation--enjoy every second,  have a margarita (or two, okay let's be honest, three, but eat some carbs with it so you don't get sick) by the seaside, and think of me sitting in a parka in an office sipping hot tea and thinking only this: At 4 p.m. I am so outta here...