My Theme For 2019

Every year I pick two words that become my theme for the year – what I love about a theme, is it allows me to think about it in different ways over the course of the year. I can set goals, intentions, or just generally use them to guide my thinking and decision making. I typically select my theme in early December, so that I have a few weeks to begin to integrate it into my life. This year I struggled – I could not decide. Should I continue with my theme from last year (strengthen and release)? Should I pick one word? I just couldn’t get there. In the past few days, I have gained a lot of clarity into why I was struggling, and why it now makes me 2019 theme feel absolutely right.

For 2019, my theme will be: SLOW and GENTLE.

My life has been fast-paced for a long time, and that is something that I absolutely love. Why else would I have moved to New York City upon college graduation and worked hard to build an awesome career, social life, and invest in things like traveling the world, furthering my hobbies, and exploring the city that never sleeps. Now, 2018 was particularly intense for me – between an exciting promotion, a huge move from the city to the suburbs, family health issues, among so many other things – it was equal parts exciting, challenging, heartbreaking, and thrilling. As I look into 2019, I am ready to slow down. For me, that means being more intentional, allowing myself to rest, and fully embracing the feeling that if I’m not moving fast I’m not doing something right. And gentle to me is a beautiful word. It will help me focus on being calm, still, and embracing the quiet (which is definitely a staple of my new home in CT!).

So as I look into this year, I will try to do the following:

  • Give myself permission to rest. And then rest some more.
  • Take things day by day, allowing myself to change my focus depending on how I feel or what I’m needing that day.
  • Not measure the success of my year by how many new countries I visit, or how many blog posts I write, or how many goals I set and achieve, or anything else along those lines.
  • Be gentle with myself when I don’t get things right.

With these intentions, I hope to be able to acclimate myself to my new home in CT; figure out how to balance my time in the city for work and with friends, while building a community here in the suburbs; be more intentional about taking care of myself and what I’m needing; and not measuring myself against impossible (or near impossible) standards. I am SO excited for what these theme for the year might mean, and how it will show in my life every day, week, and moment.

What are your intentions – or your theme – for 2019?! I would love to hear!

Five Ways To Completely Enjoy This Holiday Season 

Remember when you were a child and the holiday season was filled with wonder, joy, and magic? As we get older, those elements are still there, but can be harder to find. Between creating shopping lists, planning recipes, cleaning up after a 16-person dinner at Thanksgiving, and addressing holiday cards, the magic can feel a little out of reach. Each year around this time, I re-commit to enjoying the season even more than the year before. I try to find ways to become more present and more joyful. I have found some tips and tricks that work for me, and this year I’ll be practicing several new ways to settle in and enjoy the season. Read on for my best tips and join me in re-discovering the wonderful joy of the season.

Get Organized 

This one seems obvious, right? Yet getting organized can become overwhelming, as the to-do list seems never ending. I was inspired recently while reading Living Magazine. The issue includes a calendar, which has just one major task each day. It’s time to pull out your own calendar, and mark it up from now through the end of the year. Include things like creating a menu, food shopping, writing holiday cards, sending holiday cards, wrapping presents for extended family, and so on. One thing each day. That’s it. It might seem impossible, but this practices forces you to think ahead and focusing only on what is most important. And for more immediate fun, follow along with me for my #ThreeThings Today challenge on Instagram, where you pick three totally fun things each morning and commit to doing them throughout the day. Who said there can’t be work and play in the same day?

Technology: Use It And Lose It

When I grew up, Christmas morning was extra special, because my parent’s would pull out our (now vintage) camcorder, and capture the moments when my sister and I would tear into our presents. Nowadays, we tend to capture everything on our phones. While there are huge benefits to that, how often do you go back to look at your videos you take on regular days? If you’re like me, probably not that often. Find a balance. Select a few days that are ‘no technology’ days this season. Bake a few recipes that aren’t shared on Instagram or Facebook, no matter how beautiful they are. Settle in by a cozy fire, with hot chocolate, and keep your phone in the other room. Most importantly, find balance that allows you to find moments of complete presence.

Traditions: Old + New 

I love traditions. I mean, I really love them. Around the holidays, there are so many traditions that I am desperate to do, and I find myself feeling sad if I can’t fit them all in – or if my present day reality is simply different than it used to be. As someone who struggles which change, I have found it hard to reconcile my desire for tradition, with these new realities. Instead of stressing out about keeping every single tradition, do this: pick three traditions that are non-negotiable and possible. And then schedule them in (see above) on your seasonal calendar. Next, think about one, two, maybe three new things that you’d like to try that have the potential to become traditions. For me, my existing traditions are the following:

  • Thanksgiving Night: Watch Home Alone around a cozy fire with family.
  • Early December: Send handwritten Christmas/Holiday cards to my nearest and dearest.
  • Just Before Christmas: Spend an entire day baking with my mom.

Give Back 

I always find myself remembering how much I have been given, and how lucky I am around the holidays. Making giving to others a priority. Donate towards a local Thanksgiving food drive, add a monetary donation during your Black Friday shopping when the store asks you, bake a pie to give to your neighbors, and volunteer at a local organization. Gratitude is important, and should be a practice during the season, but go beyond that to give to others around you, in any – and every – way you can.

Let Go 

Most importantly, during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it is important to let go. Last year, we forgot to put the turkey in the oven and accidentally put dish soap into the gravy –  did it ruin our Thanksgiving? Absolutely not – instead, we have something to laugh about this year (and have actually been laughing all year long!). Let go of expectations of perfection, because you’ll guarantee yourself a feeling of disappointment. Make space for the things that are most important to you, and embrace things that change. Simply spend time with family and friends, give to others, and enjoy every moment. Because before we know it, January will be here – so create memories to smile at all year long.

A Month Of Thanks

There has always been something about November that makes me pause, reflect, and focus deeply on gratitude. It makes sense. This month brings Thanksgiving, a holiday that is designed to remind us to give thanks, while many of us feast on food and are gathered with family and friends. This month brings Veteran’s Day, which is a reminder of the sacrifice that our troops—and their families—make for every one of us living in America. This month brings a change in seasons, reminding me of the impermanence that we experience, especially here in New England, as the seasons change and we make space for the winter that is coming. With that change, comes pause and reflection.

Gratitude is a powerful tool, and for me, has been the best way to take a step back and give thanks for all that I have. As I reflect, I’m reminded of how many people won’t have food on their Thanksgiving tables this year. I’m reminded of those who have lost their lives, fighting for our freedom. I’m reminded of how quickly our lives can change, with the devastation of more wildfires, more shootings, more tragedy, more hate. So this year, while I reflect and give thanks for everything that I have, I am also pausing to think about what more I can do for others—and I challenge you to think about what you can do too. 

Tell People What They Mean To You

As we get caught up in our daily lives, it can be easy to forget to tell those around us how much we love them. Write a (handwritten) letter to a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Send an email to a mentor telling them how much they’ve helped to shape your thinking. Give your family members an extra big hug, and remember to tell them that you love them. We often forget what a powerful impact we can have just by telling someone how much they mean to us—even if it feels uncomfortable, take some time to really give thanks to those around you. 

Figure Out What Volunteering Means To You 

Much of my professional work is focused on helping people understand how they want to engage in social impact. Volunteering looks different to everyone, and that is how it should be. We need people with a variety of interests to engage in many different types of volunteer activities. There are so many ways to engage, so take the time to figure out what is going to be meaningful to you. To start, think about what you’re most passionate about—what is the problem that is most important to you? From there, think about your skillsets, and what you have to offer. Now, consider how those two things intersect—and get creative! Do you care a lot about animals wellness, and are great at social media? See if you can volunteer at an animal shelter and help with their social media engagement and outreach. Or do you care a lot about education and are great at listening and asking questions? Perhaps you can become a youth mentor. Whatever it is, find what you care about and how you can be most useful, and go do it! 

Our Daily Interactions Matter Most 

Something I think and write about a lot is how we treat others in our daily lives. If we want to make a difference in the world, it truly does start in our own backyard. Think about the moments when people around you have just been nice to you. Be like that to others! I have a wild hypothesis that if we were all just a little kinder to one another on a daily basis, life would feel just a little bit better. Be mindful in every moment, and think about the impact of what you do or say to those around you. A question that I like to bring into my daily life is ‘Who do I need to be, to create the world I wish existed?’. It means that I must hold the door for someone, even if it means waiting an extra ten seconds. It means giving others the benefit of the doubt, and a little extra grace in what they’re doing. It means that when you’re on your morning walk, look up and greet those around you with a smile and a hello. The little things matter most. And when you get frustrated, or get lost in your own world, as we all do—just continue to practice these moments of kindness and they will become more deeply ingrained in all you do. 

So as we continue into the month of giving thanks—what will you do? Let me know your ideas and how you’re working to create a kinder, more grateful world! 

The Power Of Meditation

Two summers ago, I had my first of two (unexpected) orthopedic surgeries. When I learned that it would be a nine month recovery process, and I wouldn’t even begin to do any meaningful exercise for the first six months, I was devastated. My panicked inner mind screamed out: Yoga is the only thing that relaxes me! Running is my best stress reliever! What am I going to do?! And then my more thoughtful inner mind said: It could be so much worse. You are lucky you can be healed. You will find another way.

So, I did. I was unexpectedly pushed into meditation, and I can honestly say, it has been one of the best additions to my life. For me, the biggest benefits have been: decreased stress, a sense of stillness, better concentration, and a major increased ability to be in the present moment. Here are three steps to take as you consider starting or deepening your meditation practice.

  1. Know What It Is–And Isn’t. I used to think that meditation was all about sitting quietly with your legs crossed and clearing your mind. While that notion is *close*,  it doesn’t quite capture what meditation is about. Meditation comes down to two things: focusing on the breath and noticing your thoughts. There are many techniques for meditation, but they all come back to these two things. The ultimate ‘goal’ is to focus on the breath. Just one mindful breath during a session can make all the difference. Thoughts will inevitably cross your mind. The key to meditation is to notice the thoughts as an observer, and send them on their way, coming back to the breath each and every time.
  2. Get Started. I started using the free version of the Calm app early on in my meditation journey, and after a month, upgraded to the full version (about $60 for a year), and I have and will continue to re-up my membership. They have a meditation for every mood, from ‘deep focus’ to ‘loving-kindness’ to one of my favorites, ‘forgiveness of self’. There are oh so many, including timed and open meditations, daily topics, and sleep stories. There are countless other apps out there, and I strongly recommend using one as you’re getting started. I sometimes meditate without the app, but for me, the structure and background sounds are incredibly helpful as I narrow my focus to the breath. Or of course, you can start without an app – set a timer, and on each breath in say “In” and on each breath out say “Out” – or whatever word or affirmation you like (try love, give, or here/now).
  3. Simply Practice. Most importantly, know this: there should not be any pressure to become “good” at meditating. You will inevitably have days where you are totally in it and able to focus on the breath, and days where you can’t sit still, you can’t passively notice your thoughts, and you cannot wait to be done. I have had both incredibly profound sessions, and incredibly frustrating sessions. There is no failure in meditation, there is no right or wrong, but there is a practice. You’ll likely find, as I did, that the more you do it, the more you get better at simply noticing your thoughts and continuously coming back to the breath. Don’t worry about whether you are good or not – it’s simply about showing up, for yourself, day after day.

If you are on a meditation journey, or are planning on starting one–I would love to hear. What are your favorite techniques, apps, or methods?

I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes on meditation, from Jon Kabat-Zinn:

“Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are.”

Wait…Is This A Lifestyle Blog?

In the world of social media, blogging, and ‘insta-fame’, it can become easy to feel like we’re not enough. I find myself thinking: I don’t write enough, my pictures aren’t professional enough, is anyone even out there reading this? I go to that place every so often, preparing myself to completely delete all forms of social media. And then all of a sudden, I’ll come across a person who inspires me through something they have shared. Or, I’ll hear from someone that something I wrote helped them through a challenging time. And it makes me realize that while developing real-life relationships, pushing forward my regular work, and simply staying offline most of the time is important and valuable, there is also an incredible amount of value of sharing our voice online – because none of us have any idea about the impact we might have on someones life (and vice versa)…and isn’t that enough?

Of course, once I began thinking about this topic, I immediately googled “how to create a great lifestyle blog.” Because that’s what most of these are, right? After about 10 minutes, I started to question what I was doing, and realized (potentially naively), that all anyone really should do, is write what they know, what they are experiencing, and simply, what they want to write about. There is no perfect formula. Just write. So, that is what I’ll do.

This got me to thinking about what a lifestyle blog really means. I did a quick search of the word, finding the simple definition of ‘the way in which a person or group lives’ or the the version that I like less, which is along the lines of ‘marketing of a desirable lifestyle’. Now, I am a firm believer that each person has their own unique lifestyle – and instead of comparing ourselves to others we see online, we should instead figure out what works best for us. And that is exactly what I want this blog to be. My life is wonderful, and complex, and challenging, and easy, and interesting, and fun. And at the end of each day – it is mine. I can’t control everything, but I can control what I learn, how I grow, and how I choose to respond to and engage with the world around me. And that’s my lifestyle.

I’m excited to see what this blog will become. I’ll continue to share my latest thinking on leadership, purpose, nonprofits, and coaching. And perhaps I’ll write more about the rest of my life – what am I seeing, learning, baking, and loving. Because at the end of the day, if this is indeed going to be a lifestyle blog, then it’s going to be totally, and completely, me.

Meant To Be

Last night I was texting with one of my best friends, who was checking in on me, since I have been having a tough time lately. Before this exchange, I was struggling with the fact that I was headed off to Arizona for six days, while questioning whether I should be home with my family instead. As we went back and forth, I told her that I ended up on a plane with a couple of friends who I hadn’t seen for a while—not since they had brought a beautiful little baby girl into the world. It was such a welcome surprise, and one of those moments that make the world seem so small.

My friend told me—those moments are how you know you are where you need to be.

Wow, I realized. She was right. I went to sleep, only thinking about it briefly when I woke. As I walked down the street to get breakfast, I was greeted by a car driving by, blasting one of my favorite songs, and once again, it felt like I was meant to be on that very street. Okay, I’m with you Universe. I hear you, and in that moment I understood what my friend was saying. When we stop and pay attention, these moments—however fleeting—tell us that we are where we need to be, and doing exactly what we are meant to be doing.

This notion is one that brings me great comfort and grounding. The past two months have been a whirlwind of emotions—from moving out of my NYC apartment, to preparing to buy a home in the suburbs, to family health issues, to running a conference in a country I had never been to, to not seeing my husband for weeks at a time, to missing my friends, to…the list could go on, and on, and on…and I know I’m not alone in these feelings.

Whenever I arrive to Arizona, I am greeted not only by my sister, who I’ll be with in a few short days, but by an intense serenity and calm that I find few other places. And so I know that I am exactly where I’m meant to be. I’m here to re-gain balance, to spark my creativity once again, to feed and nourish my body and soul, and to brush the dust and dirt off of who I am. And of course, to give an awesome workshop at one of my favorite conferences, Net Impact. It is so easy to lose track of who we are, as we run from place to place, manage crisis after crisis, and forget to drop down into ourselves. However, those moments that remind us that we are where we need to be, can gently guide us back to the path we are meant to walk on. And for that, I remain grateful.

Slowing Down

Summer often feels like it gives us permission to slow down – the days are long, the nights are fun, and school is out. So as we head into the fall, I found myself wondering how I could bring that feeling to the rest of the year. I spent the last week of August at Cape Cod, and I was surprised to find that Halloween decorations had already filled the store. No wonder we have a hard time slowing down – the world is often encouraging us to live in the future. Get ready for the next holiday! Look at this great TV show starting in November! Ready for next summer’s blockbuster? All of this makes it so much harder to live in the moment.

I truly believe that slowing down and living in the present moment is not only possible, but makes life so much better.

Slowing down is a practice, and it’s not one we can develop overnight. It takes time, energy, and sometimes the Universe giving you a hint. We all know that we should slow down, so let’s talk about some of the ways to do it.

Unplan Your Time

It is hard for many of us to do “nothing”, because what does that even mean? We are constantly in a state of moving forward, of doing better, learning more, experiencing life. When we find ourselves with free time it can become paralyzing. What do I do? I think I’m bored! Oh no, I have to do something. Then all of a sudden hours have gone by, you’re left feeling unaccomplished, and you’re bummed out. Try creating an un-task list. Block out at least one or two times a week on your calendar for unplanned time, and create a list of things you might like to do for fun. Think: meditation, writing a poem, sitting outside on a bench going for a slow walk (not for exercise). This is not the same as planning a day hike or a friend date. This is truly unplanned time that includes a few starter ideas. Then, when the time comes, spend the first two minutes asking yourself what you want to do for the next hour or however long your time block is. Want to catch up on your guilty pleasure show? Do it. Want to bake a cake? Crank up that oven. Trust in your gut and you’ll find that what you do in that moment is exactly what you need.

Get It Done, Today

Most of us want to improve. We feel like we will be happier when we get that next promotion, when we move into a bigger place, when we make more money, and so on. If we think like this, we are going to be waiting a long time. And spoiler alert – for every incremental change, like a new house, that new outfit, a 2% raise – we are going to feel like we really can’t be happy until the next one. What can you do to make yourself happy TODAY? If you feel like you will be happier when you move to a bigger apartment or house, I challenge you to think about what one project in your house is preventing you from loving every second you have in it. Picked it out? Then fix it today. If it’s not something that’s DIY, make an appointment with a contractor today. If you are going to be happier when you make more money, sit down right now and look at your budget. Are you allocating things the way you want to? Maybe if you ditch the cable bill, you’ll have enough money to buy that yoga studio membership that would make you happier. When it comes to happiness, slow down and take a moment to think about what you can do today to make your life just a little bit better.

Ditch Your To-Do List

Who doesn’t love a good, color-coded, beautiful to-do list? Yes, to-do lists can make our lives much easier, and allow us to feel accomplished as we go through our days. Some of us are great with to-do lists and can use them well – for others, our to-do list can begin to own us. The second you start feeling like your to-do list is dictating your life, it’s time to make a change. I challenge you to throw out every list of things you have to do. Right now.

Now, start creating a list of the things that you want to do. We will always have things that we have to do – and lists can be great reminders for them. I try to put them in my calendar, so I don’t need to think about them until the day I actually need to do or start them, and this has been an incredibly helpful way to slow down. Focus on the list of things that you truly want to do, that will bring you joy, and start there. You’ll probably find that many things on your to-do list won’t be quite as important anymore. And for the non-negotiables, they’ll be in your calendar, reminding you when you actually need to do them, freeing up precious space in your mind for the much more important things.

Reflect Daily 

Gratitude has been a hot topic lately, and I’m grateful for that (pun intended). I’ve been working to develop a practice for the past couple of years, and while I certainly don’t do it perfectly, I am getting better at thinking about what I’m grateful for every day. In addition to practicing gratitude, starting and/or finishing your day with a quick reflection can be very useful – as long as you can do it in a way that doesn’t feel like a chore. We all have good days and bad days, days that fly by and we don’t have a chance to think, and days that we actually feel like we’ve slowed down successfully. Capturing these experiences in writing can actually help us see patterns and understand what we can do to get better at enjoying more slow days. Reflect on what went well each day and what you want to do better tomorrow. Don’t focus on trying to understand or judge what you did today – just focus on changing it for tomorrow.

Say No

My last point is simple. Practice saying no. We’ll never have a moment to slow down if we are saying yes to everybody but ourself. Practice saying no to new commitments that you don’t really want to do, and be okay letting go of current commitments that aren’t feeding your soul or spirit. Saying no is okay, and will give you the time and space needed to really slow down. More on this point in a future blog post, because it is so incredibly important.