8 years ago today, I was living in the Northeast part of Malaysia, right alongside the South China Sea where the border of Malaysia and Thailand meet. Most of my days there felt quite isolating, to be honest. And my dear roommate and friend, Nina, and I learned early on that it would take some mental grit and focus to fulfill our 11-month commitment there.
I dreamt of earning a Fulbright Scholarship for so long. Yet in the midst of pursuing my experience overseas, it sometimes pains me to recognize how much time I spent there wishing the time would go faster. A lot of the days were tough – I certainly had some reasons to literally be counting down the days until my return to America – and, at the time, I did not think there was any way I would ever miss my life there. Yet, somehow when the time came to return home to the States, it became bittersweet and almost sad.
The mixed emotions of that time came flooding back to me this evening, when I changed our little block-by-block calendar on our kitchen counter to read “Wednesday, April 1,” which is tomorrow. I thought, “Wow, we still have 30 days of quarantine to go.” It wasn’t necessarily a negative tone of thought, but it wasn’t a positive one either.
I immediately remembered the paper chain my roommate and I built in Malaysia in June of that year (we weren’t leaving until November). We made a paper loop for each day left of our time there and strung them together with tape and hung it along the wall of our home. Each day we would rip one of the loops off, signaling one day closer to our return to the States.
The ritual was truly therapeutic at the time. Yet, looking back, it seems to me that I wished those days away; I wanted to make them go faster. Ripping off those paper loops, along with the “Time-Rationalization-Mind-Games” I would play with myself (Example: “Only four months left. That’s the time from when you would come back to your dorm after winter break to leaving for summer; it goes so fast!”), was my way of mentally wrapping my brain around what was ahead and what was a required. It helped me feel like I was making sense out of a situation that was not normal. Yet, at the same time, I also knew I needed to appreciate the small things and find the small joys there, because I would never get that time – that experience – back.
And, ultimately, when the paper chain had its single loop left that November, I not so surprisingly found myself torn inside. My anxiousness was replaced with relief, but yet, I was overwhelmed with sadness. My life “after” Malaysia had arrived, but yet, I looked on my “during” experience with a new lens; a lens of immensely bittersweet emotions.
Time is a weird concept. It’s a weird gift. So often we find ourselves praying FOR It, bartering WITH It or even at war AGAINST It. And now, so many of us, are trying to figure out how the heck to MANAGE It, because well, oddly enough, there seems to be a lot of it.
There is so much uncertainty, and there is enough drastic change to cause even the coolest and calmest folks severe anxiety. And, we let that anxiousness and uncertainness propel our desire to speed time up and just get to the Post-Quarantine Life already! But what if, somehow, in the midst of tough and challenging times, we took that uncertainness and anxiety to craft this time into something meaningful?
I had a harsh realization in the shower about three weeks ago, right when my company decided to suspend travel indefinitely. For months I had said, “Oh, it’d be so nice not to travel for a bit.” “It would be so nice to just slow down for a bit and be able to devote more time to school and take more time to write.” “Oh, if only I was at home and could actually have a schedule and regimen.” I said those things, to others and myself, for months.
Well, now…I guess in a round-about way, I got what I asked for – definitely not in the way I wanted, but none the less, my wish was granted. And, I believe it’s my duty to take this time – no matter how chaotic and unknown – and do something beautiful with it.
So, I am going back to my paper chains. But a different kind of paper chain.
I am not going to build a long, paper chain and rip off loops, because I do not want to wish days away, and well, quite honestly, we do not know when all this will end. But starting tomorrow, April 1st (Day 17 of quarantine), I am going to begin building a chain.
Each day – no matter what happens – I am going to write down one positive thing OR one thing I am grateful for OR one thing I was able to do at home that otherwise I would not have been able to do. I am going to write it on a piece of paper and make a loop each day.
And, at the end of this quarantine – however long it may be, I will have built a chain of gratitude and perspective. Perhaps even a chain I can even look back to during future struggles in order to remind myself, and others, that anything is possible when you look at a situation through a different lens.
I’d say I generally have positive feelings towards February 14th. While some may think it’s a Hallmark holiday, I like to see it as a simple day; A simple day for people to take some time and pour some extra love and energy into their relationships. Whether the relationship is a boyfriend, husband, girlfriend, wife, partner, friend, parent, neighbor or second cousin twice removed, it is a gentle nudge for those of us who may not otherwise take time to recognize the people or special person in our life. Even if that person is you, yourself.
Yes, Valentine’s Day is commercialized. (I mean it’s a 20
billion-dollar industry). But there are ways to commemorate the day without
making fancy dinner reservations or spending hundreds of dollars. Oh, and yes,
I cannot forget the folks who say, “I don’t need Valentine’s day. I show the
person I love affection every day, so I don’t need some stupid holiday to
remind me.” I hear that a lot; and that’s great. I think we could all learn a
little something from you about how to bring our best each and every day. But
even if you fall in that category, if you show affection so well throughout the
year, Valentine’s Day is just another great reason to wake up and invest in
your relationships. Not to mention, isn’t it fun to simply mutter the words,
“Will you be my Valentine?”
I have enjoyed Valentine’s Day through many different phases of my life. I see the day as an opportunity to simply extend thoughts, care and extra attention into the love in my life; whether it’s with myself, my husband, family or a friend. I’ve celebrated Valentine’s, Gal-entine’s and everything in between.
One of my first memories of Valentine’s Day was celebrating
with my mom, dad and brother at about the age of 5, before my little sister was
born. Our ranch style home was getting wood floors put down, so we huddled
around in one of the untouched bedrooms and opened Valentine treats and cards
on the square, beige carpet. It was simple, yet so fun. And, I always loved
waiting to see what my dad brought home for my mom.
In Kindergarten, Valentine’s Day was the infamous day when
my mom found out I kissed Kurk Schulte, while playing house during one of our
play dates. Actually, I’m sure my mom knew long before, but she was waiting for
the perfect moment to turn it into a life lesson of sorts. I came home from
school with my hand decorated, white bag of Valentines, and I was saddened when
I didn’t see one from Kurk. I let her know that my feelings were hurt, and
somehow it turned into a conversation about how we don’t just go around kissing
boys. It was almost another ten years before I kissed a boy again. God, mothers
have a gift.
Throughout the rest of grammar school, I remember going to
Walgreens with my parents and siblings and choosing a box of Valentines. They
were always very trendy; Spice Girls, N’Sync, Rugrats, Lizzie McGuire, Lisa
Frank (remember that?!), Hello Kitty… you name it. This may be where my love of
writing notes started. I could not just sign my name on these fine little
Valentines; I had to write individual messages to each, particular person as
well. It complicated the whole process when it came time to pass them out in
class, but I enjoyed it so much. I found such joy in seeing how someone would
react to my message, and I especially loved getting home and anxiously awaiting
to see if my crush of the month had remembered to personalize mine as well. (That was a hard no.) And the years I
didn’t exchange Valentines with classmates were the years my family would go
skiing with family friends in Wisconsin, and we would spend the day on the
slopes and eating yummy, festive treats and homemade pizzas.
In high school, Valentine’s Day always brought the infamous
carnation sale. Carnations would be on sale for students to purchase before and
after school, as well as during lunch hour. On that day, you would try to look
your cutest, which for me usually meant swishy pants of some sort – I had
something against jeans during that period of my life – and you played it off
cool, while secretly hoping some secret admirer would appear. A walk through
the hallway meant seeing all the girls twirling their pink and red carnations
and wondering if you would get one. After a couple years of no carnations, I
decided I would get clever and simply buy one for myself. I totally played it
off smooth too, and twirled that flower around in the hallway and placed it
purposely across my desk so all could see and wonder who got it for me. And the
next year, my girlfriends and I all just decided to buy carnations for each
other. I like to think we were doing “Galentine’s Day” before it was an actual
thing. Back then, Target certainly didn’t have a line of Galentine décor with cards,
banners, plates and props.
Valentine’s Day also always landed around TWIRP, the annual
dance where “The Woman Is Required to Pay” as well as do the asking. I dreaded
it, as I was not the most forward when it came to boys. I believe I asked a guy
to TWIRP once – Brad Bruno. It took all the courage in me to ask him. I was so
excited when he said, “Yes,” at the beginning of the day. However, by the end
of the day, he changed his mind. He showed up at the dance with Shannon, a
tall, blonde girl who perfected the art of flirting at age 12. Each year after
that, I either asked guy friends from other schools to go “just as friends” or
went with girlfriends instead. No matter, I always had a blast.
College brought Valentine’s Day at an all woman’s college.
Miss Tina in the cafeteria would make extra special Valentine cookies, and she
would also sneak me a little ball of raw cookie dough. My favorite! (I know it’s bad, but I have been eating it
since I was a kid and have yet to get salmonella) My girlfriends and I
would also take someone’s car down the main road of South Bend and treat
ourselves to Starbuck’s Cinnamon Dolce lattes; it was a splurge on a college
student budget. Then, most years, my dateless friends and I would walk to
“LaFun” at Notre Dame and get yogurt covered pretzels from the convenience
store at the student union. We would just sit and chat and people watch.
My sophomore year, a couple girls and I went Speed Dating at
Legends on Notre Dame’s campus. It was a hoot, and I remember it like yesterday.
We sat at tables and had two minutes to talk to each guy. When time was up, the
guys would move to the next table, and we had to mark on our sheet whether or
not we would like to see him again. There were guys at every level of
expectations that night; those from the seminary who just wanted to talk about
my relationship with God and those who were in grad school truly hoping to find
their future wife. Then, there were some like me, just there for fun trying to
meet new people and having some laughs along the way. Thank goodness for a
little liquid courage beforehand and positive spirit; It was my first taste of
the more “adult” dating world. I learned you need take some of it with a grain
of salt. I also learned that it isn’t possible to mesh well with everyone. As
for our future suitors, well… one of the girls ended up going out with a guy
she matched with a couple times.
Senior year of college I was looking forward to my first
“somewhat-taken” Valentine’s Day. I guess I didn’t know if I was in a
relationship or not, but I had every reason to believe I was. (Come on… who’s been there?) I was headed
on a road trip to University of Illinois for Valentine’s Day weekend, but a few
days before, I discovered my Valentine had been seeing (aka sleeping with) his
neighbor for months. It was a hard blow, and my heart was quite shattered. So instead
of gallivanting to Champaign, I spent the weekend with my four roommates doing
all the things; crying, drinking wine, sipping Starbucks, watching chick flicks
and eating a ridiculous amount of cheese balls. (Gosh, I love the crunch of those things!) Thank God for girlfriends, right?
In 2012, I spent Valentine’s Day in Malaysia; A country
where Valentine’s Day is not a thing. I was so excited to receive cards and
letters from home, and I hung them on my bedroom’s wall, where I hung all my
mail from home. Needless to say, my conservative, Islamic landlord was not on
board with Valentine’s Day and removed my Valentines from my wall, never to be
seen again. I cried and threw a little bit of a tantrum. So, my roommate and I
made cookies and popcorn in our little kitchen and celebrated in our own little
way; the only way we could in rural Malaysia. I was particularly grateful that
I had my own Valentine that year, in the form of a confidant, friend and
The next year, soon after my return from Malaysia, I had met
a guy while finishing my blog at the local Starbucks. His name was Nick. We had
been dating for a couple weeks when I went to Vail for Valentine’s Day weekend
to visit my brother who had been living there. My brother and I spent
Valentine’s Day sipping fireball from a flask on the chair lift and skiing. It
was almost a perfect day; but I ended up wasting time annoyed that I never even
got so much as a text from Nick acknowledging Valentine’s Day. I was pissed; I
was pissed at him and I was even more pissed at myself for letting him get to
me like that. After that experience, I promised myself I would not let a guy,
especially one I just started spending time with, get in the way of my good
time and positive attitude.
The next few years I celebrated Galentines. One year I went
to a chocolate café with my friend Carlie, and another year I made Galentine stationary
with my friend Michelle. And, for a few years, I still lived at home and got
homemade goodies from my mom & dad. I always went to bed feeling happy and
special on Valentine’s Day, even if I was single and my Valentine was not in
the form of a love interest. I really looked forward to it.
At the age of 25, I had my first ever Valentine’s Day date
with my first official boyfriend. I felt like an ass before the night even
started, because I got tipsy at a work event prior, which was held at a tiki
themed speakeasy. I grabbed an Uber too late, and the traffic was so bad that I
ended up meeting my then boyfriend at his place an hour late. We went for Thai
food at a crowded restaurant, and we sat elbow distance from another couple. I
remembered feeling a lot of pressure for some reason, but I also remember being
so excited about the gift I made for him. I can’t even remember what it was now,
but I was pumped! After dinner, he told me he got us tickets to a “show”; a
burlesque show. I won’t lie; I had no idea what burlesque meant. All I heard
was “show,” so I was looking forward to it. About three minutes into the show,
I knew it wasn’t going to be my thing, and I was quite uncomfortable to say the
least. I was thankful that I got to experience my first official Valentine’s
Day date with someone I admired. However, that was the first time I thought
that maybe Valentine’s Day isn’t what it’s all cracked up to be. Isn’t it
2015 was my first Valentine’s Day in San Diego, and (little did I know) my last Valentine’s
Day as a single woman. I was 5 weeks into living in SoCal, and my new friend
Ruki and I decided to go to Little Italy for a night of drinks and fun. We put
on our best outfits, did our hair and embraced our “dateless” selves; we had an
awesome girls’ night. And, coincidentally, we ended up meeting the same group
of guys we had met while out the weekend before. We ultimately determined that
Valentine’s Day is a great night for single girlfriends to go out, because it’s
easy to spot the single group of guys, and vice versa. I also learned that whatever stage you’re at, you just have to own it;
and own it with confidence.
By the next Valentine’s Day, I had met my now-husband, John.
We had already been dating nine months. I was one month post-ACL surgery and
still in a huge, unattractive brace, so he made me his delicious homemade
lasagna and we spent the afternoon sipping beers, munching on chips and
guacamole and eating lasagna. It was a perfect, sunny day. To top it all off,
he wrote me a handwritten, Valentine’s Day card. Our second Valentine’s day was
enjoyed with the same, blissful simplicity of our first, and John bought me
adorable little ice cream bowls for our favorite evening snack; Tillamook ice
cream! The weekend after we enjoyed a trip to visit friends in San Francisco
and spent the weekend dressing up in Gatsby attire and making new friends
across the Bay Area.
Our third Valentine’s Day was the first and only we
celebrated as an engaged couple, anxiously awaiting our future together. We ate
Giordano’s pizza that my parents sent on dry ice from Chicago, and he gave me
the best Valentine’s surprise ever; I woke up to little notes all around the
house. They were hiding everywhere; my toiletry drawer, the snack cabinet, my
closet. Each one started with “I love you because…” I still have each and every
Looking back, it’s hard to believe how fast time truly
passes. This year brought John and I’s fourth Valentine’s Day together, and our
first as a married couple. It was a simple and special day, all in the same. I
woke up to a beautiful rose bouquet, and wait for it… the Cards Against
Humanity Expansion Pack! (I love that
game so much) And, like each year before, we exchanged handwritten cards;
this year made out to “My Wife” and “My Husband.” We enjoyed Costco lasagna,
and we waited for my brother and his girlfriend to arrive from Michigan for
their weekend visit with us. Just as with our three Valentine’s Days before, I
was happy we commemorated the day and took another simple opportunity to express
our love for one another. We say “I love you” each and every day, and we
express our appreciation daily. In fact, thanks to the book The Five Love
Languages, we continually reference our love tanks being full. However, it
is nice to have a day to put a little extra emphasis on it.
To me, Valentine’s
Day is about embracing the many different phases of life. Whether I have been a kid celebrating with my parents and
classmates, an uncertain teen, a heartbroken college student, a confused and
frustrated 20-something year old in limbo, a thriving and confident single, a
woman in love or a wife, I have found a way to commemorate February 14th,
in both elaborate and simple ways. You do not need permission to honor the day,
and you do not need to write it off as a Hallmark holiday either.
No matter my phase of
life, I have looked at it as “Invest a Little Something Day.” It’s a day to
invest a little something into someone or some relationship in your life; It
could be a friend, coworker, partner, sibling, parent, cousin, neighbor, or it
could be a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife. Each of us have someone
in our life that we can extend a little something to on this day, whether it’s
a handwritten note, a homemade batch of cookies or an ice cream bowl. There’s as
much joy to be found in the simple things as the elaborate gestures.
And remember, a relationship with yourself is reason enough.
Maybe it’s the relationship with yourself that you need to invest in. What do
you need to invest in yourself? Do you need alone time? Do you need to buy
yourself a carnation? Do you need a little pedicure? Do you want to read a new
book? It’s up to you.
Valentine’s Day has meant a lot of different things to me
over the course of my life, but in every season, I’ve embraced it and made it
special in my own way. I’ve chosen to make it a day that feels just a little
brighter and even just a little bit commemorative than February 13th
I encourage each of us to embrace the season we are in, even if it means finding one thing to make this day at least a hair of an inch different than the days before and after. Identify that relationship you can pour just a little bit more into on February 14th (and every day after), even if it’s yourself.
There’s this funny little thing called Gut. She sits somewhere in your stomach, but when she wants your attention, she gives you all the feels, all over.
To some, Gut is a friend; to others, she’s an enemy. And yet to others, she’s a stranger.
To me, Gut is a compass; a trusted companion on this journey we call life.
Ever since I was a kid, my mom would reference her “gut feeling” or “gut reaction.” I thought it was some sort of motherly instinct bestowed upon the best of the best; something a mom was gifted with when her child is born. (I mean, my mom did always tell me she had eyes in the back of her head.) That may be partially true – maybe it’s enhanced by motherly instincts – but it was into my teenage years when I realized I had gut feelings too.
I went to a post-homecoming party one October night in high school. I sat in the backyard of a three-story home that belonged to the parents of a kid I knew. It was dark and music played in the background; there was a deep, autumn chill in the air. Friends lounged on chairs and sprawled out on a beat-up sofa that sat next to a bonfire. Some kids sipped cheap beer, most likely stolen from their parents’ garage fridges. The scene outside that night was certainly not out of control, but I was uncomfortable with the people there. I also felt as though some sketchy things were going on inside the house, even though the kid’s mom was home.
I’m not sure what it was about the evening, but while I was sitting in a chair looking over the fire, something inside me told me to leave. I asked my date if we could leave, but he didn’t want to. “We’ll leave soon,” he said. I waited another fifteen minutes before I asked him again. “Soon,” my date said. Something kicked into high gear, and I used my cell phone (Nokia flip phone that I shared with my younger brother) to call a guy friend who had not gone to the dance that night. I left 20 minutes later; the police showed up at the house no longer than 10 minutes after my departure. I don’t remember what happened or what prompted the police coming. All I knew was that my body physically sensed something was off, and I was thankful that I responded to it. Because I listened to the voice inside me, I avoided a less than desirable situation.
Over the past 14 years or so, I have gotten well acquainted with that good ol’ gut feeling of mine. In fact, I have come to know Gut as a dear friend. Through college, living abroad, moving across country and not to mention, dating, I’ve had Gut sucker punch me right in the belly and smack me across the face more than a few times.
Sometimes Gut presents me with a lighter “something feels off” kind of attitude. Other times she shouts “Girl, run!” Yet, sometimes, Gut says, “This feels right,” and “Hey, you may want to look at this again.” While it may not make logical sense on paper, nor sync up perfectly with my infinite number of decision-making, pro/con charts, I lean on Gut with every decision I make. That’s right; I map out my decisions on paper with enough details to consume pages, but then I put that aside, take a deep breath and check in with Gut. What’s funny is that Gut normally knows what to do quickly, and even after hours of charts and lists, Gut sticks with the same conclusion. So, I guess my type A qualities and habits are simply a way of proving I did due-diligence and took time to consider other options, even if for just a few moments.
The thing is this, I believe Gut is our own personal advocate. Gut sits inside you and wants to be heard and wants to help; we just often don’t let her. Instead, most of us drown her out. We spend endless amounts of hours creating pro/con charts and having endless amounts of conversations with endless amounts of people to either seek their input, gain validation or further analyze situations. We often end up agonizing and becoming all-consumed by choices and decisions and details, whether big or small, and wondering “what if this” or “what if that.”
Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to have the tough conversations with a few trusted people in your circle, and it’s important to be clear with potential outcomes and alternative solutions. But, at the end of day, we need to listen to ourselves. You need to listen to you. And often our own voice comes through as Gut, our trusty little advisor.
Gut wants to be heard; and when we become all consumed by what’s outside of us, we can forget what’s inside of us.
I believe, most of the time, what we think is best, and know to be true, is already inside of us. It’s just that many of us don’t take important time to listen or simply don’t want to hear what Gut wants to say. So, instead, we fret and lose sleep over choices and decisions, and we often fall victim to the chaos we have created around us.
I think most of us fit into one of these Gut personas; Gut Stranger, Gut Enemy and Gut Friend.
Gut Stranger has a decision to make and becomes overwhelmed; sometimes partially and sometimes exceedingly. Gut Stranger can be paralyzed by a situation or a choice. By default, Stranger ends up rolling with whatever, because it’s easier than standing firm. Stranger may see two different paths, but what lies after the first step in either direction is incredibly murky. Which way do I go? What if I choose wrong? While sitting with uncertainty, Stranger hits a point of exhaustion that prompts a mission to seek validation of others. “Tell me what to do,” Stranger pleads. And, when asked, “What do you feel you should do?” Stranger says, “I have no idea.” Eventually Gut Stranger may decide to roll with it, make no decision at all or let someone else make the decision for her. Or, Stranger may make the decision on her own but lack confidence about the choice and continue to second guess herself. At no point in Stranger’s journey was Gut sought out or heard, and believe me, Gut wanted to advise.
Gut Enemy can hear Gut, either deep down or right on the surface, but deny her. Enemy can maybe feel something isn’t right or know a certain decision is best but pushes the instinctual feeling away. Gut Enemy can hear the voice inside or even feel the body having a physical response, such as anxiety and overwhelming stress. However, Gut Enemy proceeds ahead anyway, burying Gut as far as Gut will go. But, Gut continues to surface in big and small ways. Gut wants to yell “Listen to me.” Enemy often proceeds and stays in situations that do not nurture the soul nor heart and denies Gut to maintain a certain appearance and to not disappoint others. Sometimes Enemy denies Gut because there is a dream or image of life sought for so long, and Enemy does not want to face the reality that the dream may have changed and may no longer be best. Gut Enemy feels that sucker punch deep down inside, but instead gives it a good, hard boot back to where it came from. When Gut gets beat up over and over, it becomes harder to hear her and her voice eventually becomes silenced. Somewhere down the line, Enemy starts to feel lost and confused; often because they disassociated with themselves and lost their good buddy, Gut.
Gut Friend sees Gut as a trusted companion. Friend can hear Gut and consistently acknowledges her. In fact, Gut gets a seat at the decision-making table. Whether it’s a little decision or big choice, Friend checks in with Gut and visualizes Gut as a compass. Friend may supplement Gut with pro/con lists and other research and conversations, but ultimately, Friend makes a decision that illustrates at least partial sense on paper. And, even if it’s not logical on paper, Friend will do what resonates with Gut and choose what sits right in mind and body. Friend may seek a certain dream, but trusts that Gut will provide signals along the way and will redirect when necessary. A deeply devoted Gut Friend will make decisions even if no one else understands. In fact, I know someone who would not board a plane with friends once, because they had a “gut feeling” it was bad idea. The friends all went on a fantastic vacation, and nothing bad happened. But, this individual stood by their decision, did not board the plane and did not go on vacation because something in them said, “Don’t go.” They did not let probability, rationale or other’s opinions sway their judgement; he felt what he felt and stuck with it. He’ll never know why Gut warned him and what could have happened. Gut Friend knows that Gut is their first line of defense, as well as their first line of promotion; Gut becomes both a protector and a cheerleader. Gut Friend makes decisions with their own voice and feelings in mind, and often becomes so accustomed to listening to their own voice, that they build a relationship with Gut. “I just have a Gut feeling,” or “My gut is telling me,” are simple ways to know someone is tapping into their own, personal, trusty advisor.
My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Pritchard, used to tell our class, “If you don’t know the answer definitively, just go for the answer you were immediately pulled to; there’s a reason you were pulled to it.” While that may not always work (it certainly didn’t work for me on my first GMAT exam), she had a point. When you feel something or think something, there’s a reason it exists. Don’t disregard it.
Maybe we don’t listen, because we feel we cannot do without the very thing Gut is telling us to walk away from. Or maybe we don’t listen because the decision we know we should make is going to be a tough one in the near term? Maybe we don’t listen to Gut, because what she’s saying to do is unlike anything we’ve done before or because it’s going to require us to be courageous? Whatever it is, Gut is talking to you and has something to say.
In my own life, I can honestly say that Gut has known what to do before my head and heart even catch up. When something comes at me, my instincts often immediately feel a certain way. And I know when my gut isn’t at peace with something, because I can physically feel my uneasiness and anxiety. When my gut is at peace, I am relaxed and confident.
A few people have asked me how I can be so definitive and quick with certain, big decisions? The truth is that I have been forced to in several situations; time doesn’t wait. Sometimes you just must make a decision without having the time you feel necessary to conduct due-diligence. Outside of that, me and Gut are besties, so my gut knows what to do fairly quick; I simply take additional time to make sure I’ve thought everything through. After I do that, I then tap back into Gut again.
Gut is the bookends to my decision-making process; I begin and end with Gut. For that reason, I exercise Gut just how I would any other muscle. I care for her, nurture her and listen to her intentionally, because when really big things arise, I need her on my side and I want to hear her loud and clear.
Be BFFs with Gut. After all, G-U-T in German is “gut,” which means good. And, Gut is good.
The relationship you have with your gut is like any other relationship; the more you nurture it, the more you’ll know it.
Let your Gut be your guide and let your initial feelings be a compass in your decision-making process and the choices you make.
If you start to listen, Gut will give you green lights, yellow lights and red lights, and other important signals; it’s up to you what you do with them.
Just over 6 years ago, I was a day away from departing my year-long, Fulbright experience in Malaysia.
Some days it feels like that year was an eternity. Certain days it feels like that year was a blink of an eye. And yet other days it feels like that year was simply a beam of light in some subconscious dream or long-distance memory containing characters and images– like it didn’t happen.
On that particular day, six years ago (it was actually Halloween), I sat on a blue carpeted floor of the 18th story of a corporate building in Kuala Lumpur. The sounds were quieter and more subdued than what filled that same room 11 months earlier.
46 of us sat in a large, try-to-be, circle; it was difficult to form a large circle in a small conference room space.
Our Assistant Program Coordinator wanted to share an activity with us. An activity that would serve as a way to close out our experience before departing back to the States and whatever waited for us there. She held a large ball of yellow thread and squeezed it naturally between both hands, as she explained.
“By the end of this activity, this yellow thread will connect us all and serve as a reminder that no matter where our experiences take us, we are all connected, because we were all here together.”
We were to throw the ball of thread around the circle. When the ball landed in our hands we were to share the most impactful or memorable part of the year; the memory we would take with us when we left. After we shared, we were to throw the ball of thread to someone else, while keeping our fingers between the piece of thread that had reached us.
By the end of the activity, every individual held their piece of the thread. What had been empty space in the circle was now filled with different stretches of threaded coming and going; all intertwined.
We were all connected.
Scissors made their way around the circle, and we each cut off a segment of the thread we had been hanging onto between our fingers; enough to wrap around our wrists. When we all sported our new accessory, we prepared for final remarks and then, set out towards whatever waited for us next.
That thread made its way back home on my wrist, with me.
I did not have an easy transition back home. If I thought culture shock was difficult, reverse culture shock proved to be a much more confusing and difficult phenomenon to grasp. Weeks and months before, I had spent every night laying in bed in my village house looking up at the geckos on the ceiling, thinking about what I would do when I got back; the family and friends I would spend time with, my dog, the places I would go, the food I would eat and the goals I wanted to tackle as soon as my feet landed on US soil.
I was happy when I got home; I was. But I felt very lost as well; and more than anything, I was confused about so many things I had experienced that previous year, as well as how I was supposed to readjust. I felt as though a crane had just picked me up from one place and dropped me back somewhere else. I had studied abroad twice before in college (Italy & Korea) and returned home. However, for some reason, this return rocked me to my core. It moved me in a way I couldn’t express in words, and quite honestly, I did not even know who in my circle could understand.
My first few months home were tough; while a lot of things stayed the same during my absence, other things changed. Those early days back consisted mainly of pajamas, marathons of Law & Order SVU and NCIS, snuggles on the couch, long naps and a sort of avoidance towards any questions having to do with “How was Malaysia?” Eventually, after two months, my amazingly patient parents stepped in and suggested I try to develop some sort of routine and give myself a task. It didn’t happen overnight, but after some appreciated guidance, I set forth to do just that.
Heading into month three back at home, I spent 8am-4pm practically every day at my local Starbucks finishing the blog I had started in Malaysia, entitled “Take It With You When You Go.”
“You’ll be so happy you finished it, sweetie,” my mom would say.
She was right; there was something therapeutic about it. I appreciated the writing of the words and the general connection to society, even if it was from behind my MacBook, sitting on a wooden chair in Starbucks. Those days were special ones. In fact, some folks wonder why I am so darn in love with my local, hometown Starbucks (aside from the fact that I worked there in high school); it’s because I sat in that chair for practically a month and worked through my year in Malaysia with the power of my keyboard. It was also in that chair that I decided I would sign up, train and run my first marathon (Chicago Marathon 2013); I felt it was just what I needed to help myself stay focused and adjust during the time ahead.
I didn’t figure it all out in that month, and I continued to struggle that first year while home. But there was something powerful in that sweet, precious time; it was a time of reflection and self-discovery.
In the background of every image and memory of that first year back home is my piece of yellow thread. That piece of thread hung on my wrist from the day I returned, to all my lazy days watching TV, to my days writing in Starbucks, and even to my job interviews the following winter. I never cut it off; I felt that it would fall off when it was meant to.
By month nine, it started getting wilted and beat looking. I was shocked it hadn’t fallen off yet. In fact, a coworker had commented that I should probably just remove it, since it didn’t look right with my professional business attire. But, I just couldn’t get myself to cut it off.
Months passed, and the Chicago Marathon passed too. That thread made it every mile with me, and the three weeks after. At the end of October, just short of a year of the date it was originally placed on my wrist, it fell off while I was showering.
Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but that darn piece of thread became something very personal to me; it symbolized my journey from one experience into another. It symbolized a period of self-discovery, confusion and transition; a time when I needed something to be connected to.
The thread now hangs from my world map; the map where I place push pins for every place I have traveled. The thread is appropriately tacked to Kuala Besut, Malaysia; its proper home. Today, the thread remains a symbol and simple reminder of the connections we make in life and the phases of transition and change we so often encounter.
More than anything, that yellow thread reminds me that the people we meet, the adventures we take and the experiences we have are all connected and with purpose. They are all part of some larger plan, and that is what makes me passionately curious and excited to wake up each and every day.
This blog, Threaded Crossings, is a reflection of all those little (and big) things that make life a true adventure.
A decade ago, I was a young, American girl ringing in my 20th birthday over vino in Rome, Italy during a study abroad semester. I rang in my twenties chowing down enough cavatappi arrabiata to last a lifetime and purchasing bold, red, “big girl” lipstick at a Roman Sephora.
I have spent the last several weeks trying to get into the head of that blissfully enthusiastic young woman. I wonder what she had hoped to accomplish in her twenties and where she thought the next ten years would lead her. She likely thought by the time she turned 30 she would have life fully figured out and she’d by “old.”
Well, I’m definitely not “old,” (at least, I don’t feel that way!) and I certainly don’t have life figured out. (Who does?)
But I think it’s safe to say that girl from ten years ago had no idea what lied ahead. Quite honestly, I don’t think that girl could have even dreamed up the possibilities that were available to her, and if that girl was dreaming, I’m not sure it was big enough. But, I think she’d be pleased to see where she ended up.
Several weeks ago I was shopping at Target for a baby shower gift. I was searching the book shelves trying to find a baby book that my husband and I could sign as a card. Instead, I came across two self-help books aimed at twenty-something/almost-thirty year olds. (I won’t name the exact titles here). I felt like encountering these books was a sign, especially with my 30th birthday just three weeks away. The encounter set me off in search of similar books and online articles around the same topic. The variations I found were numerous; all aimed at lessons people should learn in their twenties, how to “adult,” and long lists of things people should accomplish before thirty.
They’re cute and fun reads, and I enjoyed them. But, I don’t necessarily want to go vegan nor start a compost in my kitchen. And, in order to check off the sheer number of festivals and concerts I should have seen or places I should have traveled to would have required every cent I have put into my 401k over the past six years. I also would have likely lost my job with the ridiculous number of days that would have been required to explore so extensively. Not to mention, the recommendation to take off and live in a quiet place in a foreign county to “find yourself” is not for everyone. I’ve done it. It’s not everything it’s cracked up to be and definitely not for the faint of heart.
So, I set off in search to make my own list. Only, this list is not about you. It’s about me. This is a list NOT about what YOU should do, but rather a list (in no particular order) about what I am glad I did before 30. Perhaps it will strike a chord with you or someone you know. Perhaps it will inspire you to build and share your own list.
And let’s not forget, milestone birthdays are not required in order to do some self-reflection. 31? 40? 65? 23? What are you glad you have done? What would your list be? Everyone has something to share and something to contribute. Who knows how your ideas and lessons could inspire others.
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Explored my own country. From small towns to big cities, I have seen so many facets of the USA and have gotten a flavor for the different ways Americans live. This includes those so-called “fly over states.” From the rural towns along Route 66 to the hustle of Manhattan, exploring the miles that connect this Nation vividly reminds me how diverse our own country can be and how much adventure is in our own backyard. Every town, every city, every community has a story to share and every neck of the woods has a treasure to offer. If I cannot find it on my own, I ask the locals for it. (39 states down; 11 to go!)
Invested in positive relationships. I found the people who fill my tank. Some are old relationships that have stood the test of time and others are newer friendships that provide me with joy and such love for life. Relationships are a two-way deal. Life can get crazy and sometimes quite a bit of time and distance can separate friends. But at the end of day it’s good to know whose got your back and vice versa. Everybody needs their tribe. I am blessed to have mine.
Learned new languages – 4 to be exact. And while I do not speak them fluently, these languages allow me access into a whole new world. I, for one, love being able to say “Hello” in Korean to the lovely lady at my neighborhood dry cleaners or have a brief exchange with the adorable, old Italian man at my favorite restaurant. I have always loved foreign languages. For me, it’s the key that allows you access to new doors and new connections. It is truly a wonder of the world.
Became a regular. I love having “that place;” that place where you walk in and everyone knows your name. It has a way of warming your soul. Whether it’s the local Starbucks in my hometown or my favorite restaurant/bar in San Diego, having “my spot” has a way of making me feel as if I am part of something bigger.
Lived abroad. Three times in three different countries. From Rome to Seoul to Malaysia, living in a foreign place, versus just passing through on a vacation, is an immensely humbling experience. Some days are a dream, and others, such as many of the days I had in Malaysia, are a true struggle. The opportunity to live abroad is a gift, one that can be a joy and heartache all at once. Living abroad requires grit, a dose of stoicism and real, mental stamina.
Saw quite a bit of the world. And, I saw it on a budget. I traveled throughout Europe, Eastern Asia, Southeast Asia, in addition to much of North America. I’m glad I was essentially broke during all my travel in my early twenties, because it forced me to be creative and step out of my comfort zone. Funny enough, I didn’t even feel broke or deprived doing it. (Except one time when I had to eat popcorn for three days) Traveling on a tight budget meant I was eating at the affordable, local hole in the walls and sleeping in communal hostels. I ended up meeting some of the coolest people from around the world and got to see places that no travel guide nor brochure could ever highlight. Even if I could go back and do it differently, now that there is money in my bank account, I wouldn’t.
Respected and appreciated my Country and where I come from. My mom has a recipe book with a quote, “A wise traveler never despises his own country.” – Goldini. I could not say this better myself. I have seen and experienced so many different parts of this beautiful world, but no matter where I go, I will always appreciate and respect where I come from. And, I always look forward to coming back home.
Changed something about myself. Remember that quote, “If you don’t like something about yourself, change it. If you can’t change it, accept it.” Yeah, it’s kind of like that. I changed something about myself that I was unhappy and uncomfortable with; I changed it because I could. And, it was easily one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Moved across the countryand built a community for myself. When I was 26, I moved from my hometown of New Lenox, Illinois, where I was living with my parents, to San Diego. I knew two people; my friend and her husband. Living somewhere new on my own forced me to go out on my own, make friends as an adult, get involved in the community and get out of my comfort zone.
Learned the importance of #adulting. Also known as managing credit and a budget, filing taxes, having insurance and being educated on my benefits. I was quite overwhelmed by finances for most of my twenties thanks to a hefty credit card balance, student loans and the feeling that I couldn’t have both a social life and get ahead financially. Who knew blowing out an ACL could blow my savings OR that I may owe on taxes instead of receiving a return OR that credit card interest can really kick you in the ass OR that even a reimbursable move across country would rack up additional, significant costs? It took several years to develop a rhythm to my finances. Heading into my thirties, it is refreshing to feel financially fit, and I am glad I learned some tough #adulting lessons in my twenties.
Said “no” and set boundaries. I mean this in a variety of different ways. I have said “no” to things that I may have really wanted to do, but simply couldn’t due to budget or other life reasons. I have also gotten better about saying no to things that I don’t want to do. (Someone told me, “If it’s not a hell yeah, it’s a no.”) Of course, there are occasional exceptions. Most important, I learned to say “no” to situations I was not comfortable with; and it’s saved me from some tough, potentially regrettable situations. I used to think “no” was bad, but I learned that it helps you (and your sanity) set boundaries. Boundaries are important.
Dated. I dated a lot in my twenties, and I am so thankful I did. Dating is what prepared me to meet my now husband and what allowed me to be ready for marriage. Through dating I figured out what I could and could not compromise on. By the time I met my husband (married 7 weeks at the writing of this!), I knew the values and qualities that were important to me in a partner. I also knew my “non-negotiables.” I am thankful for every person that was part of my journey, even the heartbreaks, because it was through those experiences that I was equipped to meet who I was met for all along.
Ran marathons and half marathons. Training for and running a marathon on two different occasions is the closest thing to an out of body experience I can think of. Over my 13.1 & 26.2 mile stretches, I have come to understand the meaning of mind over matter. Running long distance does take physical strength (and incredible amounts of Body Glide- I don’t have a thigh gap), but I believe it requires even more mentally. It’s amazing to see what the human body is capable of, and whenever I start down any path of body shaming, such as expressing frustration at my love handles, I think of the miles its carried me and decide to appreciate my body instead.
Cultivated mentors and coaches. An old coworker of mine called it a “Personal Board of Directors.” In my twenties, I actively sought out individuals who possessed skills I desired and qualities I admired. Once I built a relationship, or friendship in some cases, I made it a priority. For that reason, I have strong mentors and coaches to bounce ideas off and talk through decisions with on both a professional and personal level. I’m excited to see who joins my Personal Board of Directors in the next ten years!
Held all sorts of different jobs, AND accepted and changed careers. My first two jobs were in food service; first as a phone girl at a local pizza place and second as a barista at Starbucks. Those part-time jobs taught me the fundamentals of everything I needed to be successful for internships and my future career. Since that time, I built a career in the insurance industry and most recently moved into regional sales for an e-commerce company. Over the past 15 years I have learned that no job is beneath anyone and that who you work for early in your career can have a profound and lasting impact. I also learned that it is okay and healthy to move on; I just need to move with purpose.
Quit something that made me miserable. Dreading Monday thru Friday and hating the idea of getting out of bed in the morning isn’t right (and not cool). I assumed most people felt that way or that it was a “normal” part of being an adult. My support system called “bullshit!” on that and challenged me to shake things up. I learned that I had the ability to change my life; I just had to have the guts to do it. Whether it’s a job, relationship, living situation or routine, I hold the reigns. And, it is important to remember that just because something made me miserable does not make it bad; it just was not right for me.
Sought counseling for an issue I needed help working through. We have coaches for sports, fitness, careers and a variety of other outlets, so it only makes sense that sometimes we need one for life. It’s great to lean on friends and family; But sometimes we need outside counsel. And let’s not forget, some of the world’s most successful people have advisors and life coaches. Sometimes life’s greatest work and lessons beckon for it.
Got real with myself about what mattered most to me. Easier said than done and sometimes scarier than expected. When I started to realize what mattered most, I actually had to begin demonstrating authenticity; this requires me to make decisions about what to let go of in order to make room for more of what my soul desires.
Wrote handwritten notes. I wrote hundreds, if not thousands of them. Words are so powerful and not many people take time to translate them to paper with pen these days. Giving and receiving handwritten notes is one of life’s greatest gifts, and it makes an impact.
Recovered from an injury. My injury put life in perspective. For me it was just an ACL; there are people battling tragic and debilitating injuries and illnesses. When you are not “yourself” for a period of time, you learn that a great deal of life has to do with your mindset and how you see the glass (half full or half empty?). My injury was a small reminder that no matter what I have planned and no matter how independent I am, life’s situations can change in an instant. We see it in others’ lives often, whether big or small. It reminded me that when I think something sucks, someone always is dealing with a much bigger and far greater battle.
Married my adventure buddy and best friend for life! I am so thankful each and every day for my person. In my early to mid-twenties, I wondered if I would ever find the person whom I felt was made for me (and me made for him). It was only propelled by how amazing my own family is; I wondered if anyone would truly fit with my favorite human beings. Flash forward, I moved to San Diego from Illinois for a job opportunity. Four months later, I met my now husband. There were weird incidences from the very beginning with us; Now I just see it as The Big Guy’s way of making sure I was right where I needed to be, when. It felt like magic and early on I knew he was the person I was intended for; that doesn’t mean it is all rainbow and butterflies. Every relationship has its challenges and obstacles – it’s how individuals navigate them as a couple that matters most. My husband and I complement each other in infinite ways, and he makes life so joyful. I look forward to a whole lot of life together ahead.
Invested time in creative outlets. I learned that my creative outlets allow the rest of my life to flourish. No time spent pursuing hobbies and interest is wasted. My creative outlets happen to be baking pretty cookies and writing. I spend countless hours baking and posting the after photos on Instagram, and I spend many hours every year attending writing workshops and seminars. Am I being discovered and does anyone care? I have no idea, and I don’t care. Why? Because, that’s not the point. My creative outlets are purely a way for me to express myself in my own little corner of the universe.
Actively participated in my family. We don’t choose our families, but we can choose how we interact with them. There’s a difference between having a family and actively participating in one. I chose to show up for family functions and I chose to show up for my family members, even when it may have been inconvenient. As years go by and miles separate us, it may take a little more effort; but it’s effort that is well worth more than its weight in gold. I have never gotten too old or too cool for family vacations nor family movie nights, and I am glad I didn’t. The memories made are irreplaceable and created roots that run deep. With every passing year, I only appreciate my parents and siblings and relatives more, and so, I participate.
Learned to be agile. Life throws curve balls. Life presents surprises. I learned to laugh at them and own them. It’s comical how many situations I can think of in my own life over the last ten years that speak to this; Situations that would cause most people to freak and head into a deep dark circle of negativity and all around bad vibes. Yes, sometimes when things don’t go my way, I cry (like any normal human being). I cry for a set, specified amount of time and then I force myself to snap out of it. I’ve had curve balls, but I have a hell of a lot of stories too. Stories that literally make me laugh out loud, and stories that make the original, expected plan seem, well… just a lot more boring.
Put time into self-care. My college graduation photos show a puffy, 22-year old trying to hide behind a cardigan and over-sized black graduation gown. I functioned on 3-4 hours of sleep a night and instant meals with enough sodium to go around campus. I thought my chaos and lack of self-care meant I was kicking ass at more important things, such as running student government and trying to be a good student. What I learned after graduation was that my self-care was perhaps the most important thing of all. To give my best to the many endeavors around me, I had to feel my best. Feeling my best isn’t a “weight” thing; it’s about treating my body as a machine and putting good fuel in, so it runs long and well. Sometimes I still struggle to find a balance, but in general, I am aware of my well being and acknowledge it. These days, when I feel “blah,” I can pin point why, and I can adjust. People juggle a lot of priorities these days, but I would argue our self-care is perhaps the most important of all. When I’m “off”, the other components of my life are too.
Believed that life is a boomerang. You get back what you give. I believe the more love you give and the more smiles you provide, the more will come back to you. It starts with being open. It’s tough sometimes; Yes, I sometimes find myself on early morning flights for work with my noise cancelling AirPods popped in just trying to keep my eyes open. But, generally, I try to make a conscious effort to engage with whatever the universe provides to me that day whether it’s a person or experience. I try to spark conversation with my Uber drive, say “Hi” to the person in the elevator and ask the cashier at Starbucks how their day is going. And what’s amazing; it is entirely rare that I have a bad interaction with someone, whether it’s a customer service rep at my insurance company, a TSA agent or the tenant at the gas station. I firmly believe if you put good vibes into the universe, they’ll come back.
Explored faith & leaned on God. I was raised Roman Catholic and went to an all woman’s Catholic college. I challenged my Catholic faith heavily during my college semester abroad in Rome, Italy and discovered aspects of Catholicism I did not agree with. Meanwhile, I have attended non-denominational services from Singapore to Michigan and California. I have embarked on a Buddhist temple stay in Korea and have lived in a conservative, Islamic community in Malaysia. I have taken time to explore other faiths and spirituality. I’ve learned that it isn’t about finding an organized religion that is a perfect fit. For me, it’s just about believing in something bigger than myself and knowing there is something or someone up there watching over me, guiding me, and directing my steps. For me, that person is “God.” But it’s a lot of different somethings for different people around the world. And, hey, I think that’s pretty cool.
Made decisions; sometimes very quickly. I learned that I have to be able to think through choices and ultimately make a decision. And sometimes, we do not have the luxury of having time. In those moments, we have to take action. Someone once told me, “The opposite of perfection is done. The opposite of done is perfection.” Sometimes we just have to roll with the information we have; we do not always have the opportunity to spend weeks sketching out multiple drafts of a pro/con list or checking off every item of detail we feel we require before moving forward. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and make a damn decision.
Adopted (and borrowed) a few of my own life philosophies: 1) If you are going to do something, you might as well do it well. Otherwise, just don’t do it. 2) Shut Up. Sometimes you just have to shut your mouth and stop talking. 3) Listen; Actively. 4) Everyone thinks they are busy, so don’t tell people you’re busy. No one actually cares. 5) Actions really do speak louder than words; You can talk all day or actually do something. 6) Focus on my “why” 7) “Life’s all about the journey; not the destination.”
Developed a relationship with myself. It’s likely for the 29 reasons above that I was able to become an actual friend to myself. I can be on my own. I can travel on my own. I can go see a movie by myself. I can sit at a table at a restaurant by myself without scrolling through a phone. It’s a good feeling. I have taken time to deliberately be on my own and think for myself, and I am thankful that I have taken time to step away from noise and status quo to sort out my own thoughts. I genuinely enjoy spending time with myself. This is perhaps the biggest accomplishment of my twenties; I am not certain I could have developed so many wonderful relationships and opportunities without being a rock and companion to myself first.
There is a Chinese proverb a friend of mine shared with me during my time in South Korea. It says, “An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, and circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle. But it will never break.”
Life is a series of infinite number of journeys, big and small. No moment nor relationship is accidental. It’s by design and every trek and experience is connected.
As this blog evolves, I will provide more insight into how my little corner of the universe became “Threaded Crossings.” For, it certainly was sheer magic. Nothing is coincidental.