Simple Reflections on Turning 60

I turn 60 on October 2; what a joy, privilege and responsibility! I can think of no better muse than Edith Wharton who wrote this simple, poignant quote in her autobiography, “A Backward Glance:”

“In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.“

Let’s reframe “aging” to “living!” Let’s show up with all of the love, light and gratitude we can muster! And, (note to self) let’s give ourselves all of the credit we deserve for doing so, without apology.

Happy Birthday to me and everyone who celebrates this milestone!

The Anticipation of Travel

A week from today I will greet the morning in Big Sky, Montana in the company of four dear college friends. This reunion will honor our 60th birthdays with a heart-stopping itinerary organized by our host, that includes: hiking, horseback riding, dining and drinking in assorted “moonlight” yurts and such, canoeing, paddle boarding, mountain biking, fly fishing, hot tubbing, yoga and a private tour of Yellowstone National Park. I am slightly giddy with anticipation and infinitely grateful for this opportunity to reconnect with my Bucknell roomies to hug, reminisce, catch up, laugh, cry and revel in our reunion; the last one took place twenty years ago. So, what has happened over one-third of our lives? That’s a big question!

Writing allows me the space to revel in the anticipation of this trip and reflect on how it came together. It took many emails, calls, calendar checks and back and forth communication. Making these five days a priority was the goal; the side benefit was the reconnection, and social channels like LinkedIn and Instagram were the magical windows that gave us a view into each other’s lives. Twenty years ago, as the world pondered the implications of Y2K, I celebrated thirteen years of marriage and jumped back into full-time work. My boys were three and seven, I lived in Michigan, my parents and in-laws were alive, Gore won but lost the election and 9/11 was on the horizon. I was living out a full, boisterous life, focused on family, work and play.

How do you measure twenty years? How do you plan for the next twenty? How can you land more fully and gracefully in the present? Look for the answer inside your question. ~ Rumi

The Scent of Well-being

There is a bumper crop of gardenia blooms in my backyard — the perfect ingredient to cultivate my leadership well-being. This heirloom species is one of the reasons I wanted to purchase our house. Their lush, white petals and intoxicating scent uplift my spirits. This year’s bounty is a testament to the resilience of the shrub and the care and feeding I have lavished on it over the past sixteen years. It has been skewered by ice and snow storms, riddled with white flies and thrips, and defoliated by scorching heat and winter burn. In turn, I have hired experts to manage pests and fertilize and I’ve pruned it relentlessly. This is truly a five-star season.

I start and end each day in the garden, taking in the fragrance, snipping more blooms and snapping photos. I fill up vases and place them all over the house. I take bouquets to meetings, give them away with abandon and invite friends to harvest their own. There is great pleasure in handing off these gorgeous gifts that are both precious and fleeting. In the next two weeks, the petals will turn yellow, then brown, then fall to the ground. The pests will most likely return as the summer heat bears down and drains the moisture from the soil. I’ll hold onto my fragrant memories and revel in this scent of well-being. And patiently await their return next year.

Considering the Magical Properties of Laughter

Last night I attended a show, titled “Murder for Two” at NC Theatre. Alone. It was one of the best decisions I made that day. The laughter vibe bubbled up immediately when I exclaimed, “Murder for One, please,” upon picking up my solo stub at will call ( thank you Donna, Alice and Kim). My seat was in the front row, house left, and I was sandwiched in-between three long-time patrons - two women and a man. I was flattered that they remembered me (after all, I was the CEO for nearly nine years) and the initial banter was concern over their seating. They loved the front row, but was this too far left, was the view obstructed? I insisted that I switch seats and engaged in a thumb war to seal the deal. They would not budge, but we enjoyed a good chuckle!

It’s hard to explain the incessant energy and outsized talent of the two men on stage who sing, act (13 roles), dance, AND play acrobatic piano duets. The show is described as the “perfect blend of music, mayhem and murder,” but it is so much more. The comedic timing and relentless humor had me laughing from start to finish. My seat mates and I exchanged incredulous glances and smiles throughout this nonstop romp. I snorted and belly-laughed in tune with a symphony of audience merriment. At the end I felt slightly exhausted, exhilarated and in awe of how these two actors kept the audience (and each other) engaged and entertained for over 90 minutes. The camaraderie continued as the audience filed out of the theatre - everyone was buzzing and talking and smiling. Bravo NC Theatre!

What a pleasure to take a well-deserved break from the relentless news cycle that can debilitate and divide. Last night was a potent reminder of theatre’s relevant role in building community and uplifting our spirits. Do yourself a favor - indulge in a night of laughter with NC Theatre - you’ll feel its magical properties!

Celebrating National Poetry Month

I set out to write my monthly blog and realized that honoring a beloved, recently departed poet was a far better choice. Mary Oliver lives on in her achingly beautiful poems that celebrate the natural world and impart simple lessons about the importance of paying attention and living in the moment. This month, I will also be designing an invitation to celebrate the life of my recently departed mother-in-law, Eleanor Barrie, who worshipped in the church of nature and always reminded me to “Stop and smell the roses.” I’ll be reading this poem at her ceremony and reminding myself, over and over again, to heed its message.

INVITATION

Oh do you have time to linger for just a little while out of your busy

and very important day for the goldfinches that have gathered in a field of thistles

for a musical battle, to see who can sing the highest note, or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth, or the most tender? Their strong, blunt beaks drink the air

as they strive melodiously not for your sake and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning but for sheer delight and gratitude - believe us, they say,

it is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world. I beg of you,

do not walk by without pausing to attend to this rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something. It could mean everything. It could be what Rilke meant when he wrote:

You must change your life.

~ Mary Oliver

Grounded, Green, Growth and Gratitude

March: the month of spring’s return with renewed hope as new green life, dormant throughout the winter, emerges from the ground. Setting my eyes on Mother Nature’s gifts keeps me grounded and cultivates my leadership well-being. The garden beckons and reminds us that there is much work to be done and new beginnings are possible every day.

I’ve been reading a book by Daniel H. Pink titled “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.” It puts the question of “when?” into the center of the conversation, and could be a useful shift to those of us who have been focused on the “why?” It also shares fascinating information about human behavior and explores how mid points in life or projects can result in “slumps” or “sparks.”

Spring and all of its glorious awakenings can be a great catalyst for setting new intentions. Have you spent time considering what new growth will happen for you and when it will emerge?

Seeing the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

Our family gathered on Martha’s Vineyard over the Christmas holidays to celebrate the season. This trip was different because my husband’s 94-year-old mother died ten days earlier; the last remaining parent/grandparent in our small nuclear family. It’s important to note that she died in her home looked after by a cadre of 24-hour caregivers with her oriental rugs still intact and one final jigger in the bottle of Gordon’s. We sensed that she was ready and it was her time to leave. Like the three elders before her, this passing was filled with a potent mixture of grief and relief that we celebrated and honored to the fullest extent of our overflowing hearts.

Digging through a house filled with memories, saying goodbye and carting old, familiar clothes to the thrift shop, pondering a long-lived life with all of its ebbs and flows. Feeling it all and holding onto the precious moments of togetherness that get blurred in the organizing and doing. Several precious objects caught my eye: cashmere sweaters, vintage pins, silk neck scarves, special pottery, a roll of green velvet ribbon, a box of British stamps, a set of colorful fruit-adorned dessert plates, a letter I wrote after my first son was born, a flannel shirt worn by my father-in-law. Ordinary objects made extraordinary through the passing of time.

With a fresh new year upon us, and a blank slate before us, my wish is that we take the time to slow down just a bit more to pay closer attention to the ordinary yet extraordinary things that are right in front of our eyes. Holding onto these precious moments and the love they express is a timeless gift.   

Choosing what NOT to do in 2019

It’s been nearly two full years since I relinquished the title of CEO to pursue my consulting business and choose with greater clarity and intention where I invest my time and energy. Monthly blogs on my website chart this journey of “getting grounded” and “cultivating leadership well-being” that guides the current framework of my life. Here are the themes that emerged this year: family, gardening, self-awareness, work, travel, accountability, math, aging, politics and love. It’s encouraging to see the shift from work-related energy to self and family-related activities – this was the underlying goal when I set my professional transition in motion.

As last year came to a close, I wrote about “Walking into the Possibilities of 2018,” and asked questions about doing more work that matters, making more positive changes in my community and exploring more opportunities that were not on my radar. Clearly, the operative word was “more” and I can honestly say that I delivered on my promise. It was a fulfilling and productive year: I spread my creative wings and curated my life with more freedom than I ever thought possible while engaging in an interesting variety of activities and projects. More importantly, I gave myself permission to carve out ample time to unwind and restore.

With the new year right around the corner, I’m paying closer attention to the inner voice that is beckoning me to contemplate the ethic of “less is more” coined by architect Mies van der Rohe by starting from a place of choosing what NOT to do. So, what could this practice look like and how can it be implemented? Here are three key themes and accompanying questions to consider:

1.     Prioritize – Take a look at all of the family, work and community-related activities and projects where you invested your time during the past year. Which ones aligned with your values and purpose and brought you joy? Where did you commit yourself out of habit, impulse or a sense of duty? What could you subtract and/or hand off to someone else to stretch their leadership capabilities? Where can you make space for yourself to simply be present with nothing to do but be?

2.     Unsubscribe – How busy is your inbox? How many messages are soliciting you for things you do not need, from someone you do not know and are not serving your best interests? What lands in your snail mail box? How many catalogues, circulars or unsolicited junk mail do you recycle into the landfill? Digital tools allow you to opt into electronic delivery or cancel altogether. All it takes is time and intention to cut back your information overload so you can focus on things that matter.

3.     Organize – How often do you find yourself searching for a file, a possession, an article of clothing, your car keys? How does this affect your performance and overall well-being? Without going minimal because it’s the trendy thing to do, how can you restore order in your home, workplace and/or laptop to move through your day with more ease? What can you throw away, give away, recycle, upcycle and engage your creative spirit? Try shopping your own closets instead of heading to the next sale.

Here’s to a new year of making wise choices to get more grounded! With appreciation and gratitude to Steve Jobs for setting this theory in motion.

Vote, Gather, Love

In this month of Thanksgiving and the end of an interminably long election cycle, contemplating happiness and beauty through the near-universal symbol of the bluebird seemed like the perfect November theme. It’s time to gather at the polls and across the political divide to express our shared values and concerns for human rights, the health of our planet and the civility and decency of our elected officials who we entrust to work together to promote the common good.

And when we gather around our Thanksgiving dinner tables to express gratitude for all of our gifts, perhaps we can broaden our conversations to include different points of view. Perhaps we can take more cues from the natural world about the importance of diversity for a more sustainable planet. What if we dug deeper into the reasons why we should move through the world with more love for ourselves and for others? Wishing you a brighter, happier month ahead!

Savoring the Sojourn to Sixty

Tomorrow, I begin my sixtieth year on this planet. In other words, I turn 59. I’ve always been one to savor my birthdays, stretching them out into week-long celebrations, never playing them down, but raising them up as the most tangible expression of my presence. (And I like receiving cards and presents and eating cake.) My fifties tended to blur together, I often found myself forgetting my age or giving myself a year or two more than I deserved. Perhaps it was because I was parenting teenage sons, tending to aging parents and wearing the mantle of CEO as the economy lurched into a downward spiral. 2008 was both a supremely hopeful and harrowing year from my Libran perspective as I stared down 50. So rather than “turn 60,” I am choosing to give myself a year to contemplate all of the joys and privileges and responsibilities of growing old. If we’re fortunate, it’s the only option we have, so why not leverage it?

Three practices stand out as a beginning frame:

1)    Seek Inner Beauty

It’s hard not to fall prey to the dominant culture’s obsession with a glorified “fountain of youth” and the language around products and activities geared toward “anti-aging” as if growing old was something we should be fighting against. What if we took a deeper dive into what’s on the inside – searching out more knowledge and truth and wisdom, connecting more with heart and empathy and love, recognizing the bonds of our shared humanity? These practices may hold the keys to bringing us together in a time of agonizing polarity.

2)    Deepen Outward Service

There is so much need and so many opportunities to serve one’s community. There’s never been a better time to recommit to spending more time each week in the service of others. Whether its volunteering at your kid’s school, or your place of worship, or investigating board opportunities with your favorite nonprofit or even running for office, there’s a place for you to make a difference to balance out your time spent on self, family and work. These activities are the healthy roots that build stronger communities while feeding our souls and keeping us grounded.

3)    Increase Curiosity and Reflection

More than ever, life seems to be moving at warp speed. As technology accelerates, anxiety grows and we wonder how we can possibly keep up. Perhaps the antidote is to slow down, to flex our curiosity muscles rather than leaping to foregone conclusions, to write stuff down with a pen or pencil in a journal made of paper to make sense of it all. Then to return to what we’ve written and reflect, again and again and again. Practice does not make perfect, because I truly believe there is no perfect, just a relentless desire to show up and do the very best we can.