Monday, January 12, 2009


Many people claim to embrace change. They love it. They thrive on it. They seek it out.

My theory? Many of these people are full of it. Change is scary, no matter which way you look at it. Disruption of the norm is always a bit tumultuous.

I’ve always been one who is not afraid of a little change; a new haircut, a new recipe, driving a new route to work.

But the big things in life? I’ve always been loyal and true. You might even use the term “staid”.
Dating? I’ve been a long-term relationship gal. Even when I wasn’t totally emotionally fulfilled or invested.

Living quarters? While I may have loaded up the U-Haul truck a time or two, I’ve always made my house my home for generous amounts of time. At least long enough to hang my hat, or, er... pictures.

Cars? I’ve only had four, and I'd probably still be driving my last if not for that unfortunate *blush* fender-bender. When I left the green machine on the salvage lot, I felt pangs of remorse and regret. Why hadn't I been paying more attention on the highway that morning? We'd only been together a mere seven years! I was going to drive him (yes, him...he even had a name) into the ground! My plan was foiled. I even sheepishly took pictures; hood mangled into a menacing looking grimace.

And my jobs? Well, you might call me Dedicated Employee #1. One of my first jobs was a cashier at the local CVS/pharmacy. I was sixteen years old, fresh-faced, and eager to learn. Each year I worked my way up the shaky aluminum ladder and found myself with more responsibility. I caught on quickly and actually enjoyed counting out drawers for the upcoming shifts and swinging around my newly acquired manager's keys. CVS kept a position for me throughout college, and even four years after. My loyalty had paid off, and when I finally turned in my stiff and unfashionable red employee vest and 20% off discount card, I had to swallow the ever-growing lump forming in my throat.

It wasn't until I found my true career path that I finally began to question this concept of loyalty.
One year after I graduated college, I found what I thought to be my dream job. A marketing assistant at a little travel/outdoor publishing company. In fact, my loyalties to an old college friend secured me the position.

I loved it. I loved the people, I loved the location (minutes from my home and the beach!), I loved the hours, and most importantly, I loved the work. I'd found my niche, and within several years, I'd found a more suitable position within the company for my long-term goals.

Each year brought about change (new books, new authors, acquiring new publishing companies). I moved through it gracefully; bending, swaying like a willow tree. My hard work garnered me several promotions; the responsibility made me content and fulfilled.

But suddenly, my happiness ceased.

Soon, the company began a downward spiral. We acquired a New York City publishing house, which brought about new genres of books, new breeds of authors, and a new echelon of employees. The small-town, positive aura had dissipated, and a new dark vibe took its place. The courtesy and respect that employees had for each other was replaced by snarky tones, sarcasm, and callous demeanors.

My work began to feel rushed and shoddy. The authors I worked with were self-absorbed and impatient, and the new employees that filtered in around me were rude, ruthless, and had the impression that all the “older” employees were a bunch of dimwitted country bumpkins.

Years before, my ideas were accepted with enthusiasm and approval. Now, when I voiced opinions in meetings, I was met with new policies and procedures, and "we'll sees". I was no longer able to treat my books with time and careful consideration. I felt like I was pushing widgets out the door. And no matter how proficient, capable, and accomplished I was...I merely wasn't good enough.

Quite simply, I'd become wallpaper. I'd melded into the furnishings; unrecognizable, even to myself.

I now served no purpose to this organization. I felt like a rebellious teenager, who was one outburst away from getting kicked out of her home.

The reality was, I'd stayed too long. I knew it, and it was a bitter pill to swallow. The hordes of my co-workers who'd left before me had known what I hadn't. I'd been rendered useless.

During this time, my mother was in the hospital being treated for complications due to her cancer. It was days before Christmas, and I'd made the trip to the 8th floor to visit her.

She wasn't in her room. I was scared. She never left her bed, never mind her room. Before the panic really set in, one of the nurses popped her head in. “Looking for your mom?” she inquired. I nodded, hoping for the best, praying not to hear the worst. “She’s down the hall in the piano room. They're having a little Christmas sing-a-long."

My mother? Signing with people she didn't know?

Now there was a change. My mother wasn't one to step outside her comfort level and interact with strangers—especially strangers who were likely sicker than she. And caroling? This I had to see.

I quietly watched from the doorway. Cancer patients of every color and creed, bald heads bedecked with colorful scarves or bandanas— or not. Someone gracefully stroking the ivory keys, while the others sang out familiar words of the season. My mother in the middle.

I watched for a few moments, before I tearfully walked back to her room. I'd remembered being a little girl, playing with my dollhouse, and suddenly looking up only to catch my mother watching me from the doorway. It had always embarrassed me—having been jolted out of childlike play--tarnishing the moment. I didn't want my mother's moment of cheerfulness to be ruined by prying eyes. She'd looked fear in the eyes many times after her diagnosis, but this was different. I knew she'd have been apprehensive about caroling with strangers, and I didn't want her to second guess herself.

With tears streaming down my face, I sat in a chair in my mother's room. Tears were normal here. The nurses were kind and empathetic.

I started to think about my mother, looking her fears in the face. I started to think about all the nurses and doctors surrounding me who were working to help all these sick individuals. I started to think about their purpose in life as opposed to mine. For the first time in a long while, I started to think about true change in my life.

Not long after, I started volunteering for Special Olympics Connecticut, an organization to which I'd always inexplicably been drawn. I knew that purpose would come to my life if I could just use my skills to help those less fortunate than myself. There wasn't an open position within the organization at the time. So I took photographs at events, I wrote biographies for the athletes attending National Games, and I did whatever was asked of me. I prayed a little. Ok...I wished, and I hoped, and I prayed. A lot.

The job finally came. And my life changed.

I cried my way out the door my last day as a book publicist. Leaving the familiar and the secure was gut wrenching.

I also cried all the way home my first day as a grant writer. Had I done the right thing? When would I feel like I fit in? Would I become wallpaper again?

I just celebrated my second anniversary at Special Olympics. I am doing my very best to serve a misunderstood and ignored sector of our society, and I truly believe that I’ve found where I need to be. At least for now. I am so proud of myself for casting my fears aside and accepting the biggest challenge of my life. I left behind all that was safe for a complete risk, and I came out stronger and more focused.

Alan Cohen, the Chicken Soup for the Soul guru, once stated, “It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.”

My own life change has taught me that there is no such thing as can’t—only won’t. If you're qualified, all it takes is a burning desire to accomplish—to make a change. The ability to make a change comes from your mind, and your pure desire to move forward. When we do the impossible, we realize we are special people. People of mediocrity ability sometimes achieve outstanding success because they don't know when to quit. Most men succeed because they are determined to.

You can have anything you want—if you want it bad enough. You can be anything you want to be, do anything you set out to accomplish if you hold to that desire with a singleness of purpose.
There are some people who think that holding on makes one strong, when in fact, I believe that sometimes what makes one strong is letting go. Letting go doesn’t mean giving up, but rather accepting that there are things that cannot be. There are things that we never want to let go of, things we never want to leave, dreams we thought were ours to fulfill. But letting go isn’t the end of the world, it’s the beginning of a new life. And the past is all experience.

The only person you are destined to be is the person you decide to be. We’re all tested in different ways each day. Life twists and turns on a dime.

The great M. Scott Peck, acclaimed author of The Road Less Traveled, said, “The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of ours ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

So get out there and find out what lights your fire. Where do you need to be? How do you need to change? Find your calling…and go for it.

And for God sake, don't ever become wallpaper.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Stop. Rewind...

Earlier this fall, I set out to run at the local high school outdoor track. The darkness was settling, and a mesmerizing, brilliant sunset was just before me. Oranges, yellows, pinks, and reds streaked the sky; the air was so crisp it burned in my throat. A perfect winter-preview evening that most would undoubtedly enjoy.

I, however, burst into tears. As I rounded the first curve on the track, deep, heaving sobs escaped me. Emotion poured from my heart, and I gladly let the tears flow.

I knew where this outburst had come from. It wasn’t a surprise. It was only a matter of time before the simmering pot boiled over.

I’d just turned 35.

My mind flashed to a time in my life, twelve years earlier--some fifty miles away. I’d found great pleasure in locating a great running track near my new home, and I religiously used it as my escape. Throughout my life, I’d always run…or walked…or found another outlet to clear my head.

At 23, my whole life stretched before me. I had my first real job, my first real apartment. I’d had my first real heartbreak, and my first taste of real true debt. I was in great physical shape and was poised to make promotion after promotion at my publishing company. I was also poised to make a series of poor decisions regarding the opposite sex. Truth be told, my 20s was not only the best time of my life…but also the hardest. And as cliché as it sounds, it was a decade of complete floundering and growing.

Now here I was…five whole years ‘til 40. Where had time gone? How did I get steps away from being…old?

Norman Vincent Peale said, “Live your life and forget your age.” Hard words to live by.

After each lap I found myself wondering what happened to some of my life plans. Long before Sex and the City became every girl’s vision of a dream life, I’d wanted to escape to New York City to explore a career…and an utter assortment of endless dates. I never did. I’d also fancied a pipedream of holing up on Nantucket or The Vineyard for a summer of waiting tables in return for room-and-board and a whirlwind summer romance that would make even Danielle Steel jealous. Never happened. In my mid-twenties, I’d wanted to embark on an Outward Bound adventure in Colorado with the hopes of kicking my own ass and pushing all boundaries. A trip never taken.

Now here I was, weeping on this track, staring wasted time in the face.

I think it’s fallacious when people say they live with no regrets. I have plenty of them. Some I hold so tightly to my chest that it’s hard to embrace the present.

Why had I let time pass by in relationships that were stagnant and fruitless? Why had I stayed loyal to a career that had ultimately become unrewarding? Why hadn’t I spent more time with my mother, taking her to lunch and the beach, before she’d become too sick to do so? Why had I let fear hold me back? Why had I stayed immobile for years, when I could have been pushing forward, achieving goals…making my dreams a reality?

Why does time pass so quickly? Why can’t I press STOP? Then Rewind. Or maybe even just Pause?

As we get older, we come to accept that time is a companion that accompanies us on our journey. It is there to remind us to cherish each moment, because these moments will never come again. We also realize that what we leave behind is not as important as how we have lived. But why is time so fleeting?

As each mile ticked my on my run, I came to some powerful realizations. I want more time to live. Time to read all the books I want to read. Time to run the races I want to run. Time to nurture my friendships and make new ones. Time to love my husband. Time to love myself. Time…period.

Before my mother passed away she firmly stated her wishes that she have a simple obituary. “None of that business about me being a member of the Gardening Club or anything like that. Simple…to the point.” I didn’t agree with her then, and I still don’t.

When I die, let my obituary detail all of my accomplishments…no matter how minute. Let it cost a $1.00 per word, and let there be thousands of words.

Looking back, I realize that a very special person passed through my life these past 35 years—it was me. And as my wrinkles appear, the laugh lines set in, and the gray hairs outweigh the blonde, let time be on my side…and let me live.