Life’s sense of humor…part 1.

Have you ever noticed how there sometimes seems to be a running theme during certain periods of your life? For me, things seem to happen in 3’s like a cascading thump to the head, as if to say, “Just in case you weren’t aware of this…pay attention!” My running theme the past couple weeks has been largely consumed by a mix of new opportunities presenting themselves, with the challenge of only being able to pursue them through a beginning phase of intensive introspection, followed by public sharing with strangers, ending with having to write personal vision and mission statements. Insert the “gulp” emoticon here!

I’ve gotten really good at compartmentalizing my life. Putting all the various parts of my life into chic, beautiful little boxes that I bring out and put to use when it fits best, instead of just letting them run a muck all over the place like little chickens with their heads cut off. Childhood traumas in the black box with studs. Past relationships in the suede box. Strengths in the colorful ribbon box. Weaknesses in the dark leather box. You get the idea. I found, through lessons learned, that without compartmentalizing all these parts of life that I would bring too much personal stuff into the workplace, for instance. I wasn’t able to separate and adapt when the moment needed it. With business especially, working in the Mad Men industry predominantly of men, being “that” emotionally girl wasn’t going to get my career to where it is today or where it’s going in the future. It also allowed me to not become my childhood story and to connect with someone over it when it fits or to work on bits and pieces of it, to further my personal growth. What this doesn’t set me up well for is a situation where I have to get super personal, and I mean digging deep into that black studded box, and then share that with strangers in the context of a business setting. I never actually thought about that scenario until I was faced with it dead on, twice in the past two weeks at my church and EMBA program.

I love my church and have felt so blessed to finally find one that “gets” me and speaks to me about gospel in a real life application way that is free of judgement and manipulation. Gospel that is filled with love, perspective and an openness – really a willingness to be challenged with hard questions. Lately, I’d been feeling a strong desire to get more involved with the church to give back to them after giving so much to me. I wanted to do this in a way that felt meaningful and genuine and decided that I’d feel ultimately fulfilled if I could mentor, coach and/or help out on mission trips in some way. So I reached out. Serendipitously, a couple hours later my favorite pastor-ette emails me back saying there was a first-ever training seminar for coaches, starting that very evening. Some would call that chance, coincidence, good timing, irony or craziness. I call it meant to be.

I canceled my plans, grabbed my stuff and headed over completely uninformed of what exactly this training would entail. I found out upon arrival that we were going to go through Life Compass training, the first step of coaching training, that starts with identifying things within yourself, so that you can be a better coach by asking the right questions, not giving them solutions, so they can find the answers to their tough questions within themselves and take the next steps in their lives.

We were given a huge sheet of paper, sticky notes of multiple colors, a pen and told to create a lifeline of our life; basically a timeline of us: the good, the bad and the insightful. It organizes all the events, people, achievements, failures and places in our lives chronologically within chapter headings of our design, noting in blue events that contained negative emotion at the time and major life changing moments with a red dot.

lifeline

As the music came on in the background to help us focus, I went into hyper focus mode, a skill I’ve learned through competitive sports, where I hone in on what I’m doing and block out all external factors completely. It was a Lifetime movie of my life inside my head. Events, people, places and things swirling and bouncing around. I compartmentalized by chapters first: young years, elementary, junior high, high school, San Francisco, Orange County, Los Angeles and Long Beach. Then I started unpacking. Trips, relationships, sports, mentors, bad choices, good choices, family members and more. The whole kit and caboodle came out in waves. You could hear sighs, groans, uneasy laughter and lots of, “Oh boy, here we go!” One of the women at my table said, “So when do we start the crying portion of the evening?” Everyone laughed nervously because it was bound to happen at some point. There were people there that I knew were going through major life challenges at the time and were going to have a hard time with this. Others breezed right through it. Some had 100 stickies of life events and others 30. I eventually ran out of blue stickies, denoting events surrounded with negative emotion at the time, and asked for more from someone, who answered with much needed sarcastic, light-heartedness, “It’s been rough huh?!” I cracked up and thanked her for breaking up this ultra-serious moment with some laughter. At times, it was really scary to write down a skeleton or two on a sticky note. Other times, it was eye-opening to see how many events happen in your life overall and as you keep drilling down, you remember all these details that you’d forgotten. It’s a surreal experience seeing your entire life laid out before you on paper in a color coded system. An emotionally and mentally draining exercise that needless to say, kept me from sleep that night with lots of restless tossing as I went over events and dug deeper into memories I’d forgotten or minimized.

visionstatement

The next day was an all day, 8-hour intensive session chock full of analysis, strategies and next steps. The most enlightening thing that came from day two, after processing and sharing everything with the group out loud, was our task to write a personal vision statement centered around what we felt God was driving us to do. I had no idea where to start with this, so I started brainstorming all the passions I have, things and people that I value and cherish. Very quickly, a theme began developing of being a facilitator and connector of people in specific scenarios that ultimately, helped people in a multitude of ways. It just flowed out of me with vigor and ease. Reading it out loud to the team, I smiled and sighed with contentment because it just felt right. The only way I was able to describe the feeling was, “A feeling of home.” It just fit. Ironically, it encompassed so many things that I already do in my personal life and want to do as an entrepreneur in the future.

It never ceases to amaze me at life’s sense of humor. The ah-ha moments, coincidences, ironies, and moments that you feel 100% in the right place, all to expose, confirm and challenge things about ourselves and our paths. I got quite a few signs and confirmations that weekend and a ton more the following week that left my head spinning.

You know you’re thirty when____.

I’ve been paying attention to my language and action a lot lately. Why? To see if I’m exhibiting signs of my age. Sadly, I noticed a change beginning when I was 29. My daily priorities were changing. My crazy nights out were being swapped for early bed times and rested mornings. The filters by which I make decisions through were drastically changing. No longer did I want the “reformed bad boy.” Time for stability!

I don’t want to admit it but I was exhibiting symptoms well before I officially turned thirty. Here’s a few of the signs I noticed that really solidified my entrance in to this lovely decade.

  1. It’s a Saturday night. I’m with my boyfriend, not my girlfriends, watching a movie on the couch, eating a slice of thin crust, vegetarian pizza (because it’s less calories), talking about how much of a treat this is, and sober.
  2. Every, and I mean every single weekend, is filled with one of the following: bachelorette party, engagement party, wedding, baby shower, housewarming, or birthday party.
  3. My social network stream used to be filled with photos of my hot girlfriends and I in great outfits having crazy nights out on the town. Now it’s filled with more photos of babies and toddlers than a daycare center, new homes, inspirational quotes and #healthyeats food from the #fitfam.
  4. When asked what I’m bringing to drink for the next game night – yes, that’s my new “night out” with friends – I say, “Locally brewed dark Hefeweizen.”
  5. The rare moment that I find myself at a bar past 11pm, I pray that I get carded and relish in statements like, “You are thirty?! You look like you’re 24 at the most!” $10 tip on one beer for that guy!
  6. My last blog post talked about the movie Rebel Without a Cause. Which group of people did I find myself siding with the most? Yep, the parents. Insert rolling eyes disgusted face. Oh wait, that trend is gone now. Crap, there’s another “I’m thirty” moment.
  7. Vacationing in my twenties involved researching the cheapest hostels, cram 4-7 girls in a room and bring enough PowerBars to get us through the daytime meals so we could have dinner out each day. What happens now? Let me get on my Hotels.com account, see how many points I’ve accrued, look for the most comfortable hotel for 1-2 people in proximity to a great restaurant. Sold!
  8. My Dyson vacuum cleaner gives me more joy and excitement than I know what to do with.
  9. Even my email address grew up to my actual name. P.S. if yours doesn’t actually say your name, please change it. Just a tip 😉 Shoot, I did it again.
  10. I no longer feel an immense amount of discomfort and unknowing when talking about marriage, babies, mortgages, Roth IRA and 401K. The fact that they’re happening within the next five years also doesn’t immediately make me want to jump out of a moving car.
  11. I see kids in their twenties – Yep, I just referred to people in their twenties as kids – with all that confusion over who they are and where they’re going, blinking like neon yellow sign and feel pity for them and a great sense of relief myself to be my age and where I am in life.
  12. Watching the Breakfast Club and This is 40. and instantly feel This is 40. is way closer to my real life now.
  13. Classic rock stations are playing some of my teen favorites from Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

What are some of your, “Holy crap, I’m really thirty!” moments?

Teenage angst & young love…the stuff of classic movies.

I was cuddled up like a little cat next to my handsome boyfriend one night, watching the classic movie Rebel Without A Cause, starring the greatest bad boy of all-time, James Dean and the doe-like Natalie Wood. If you haven’t seen the movie, please get in your car (after you finish reading of course) and drive to any video store that still physically exists. You know those stores where you can rent movies from an actual human like in the old days? Trust me, it makes the whole experience even more enjoyable. The cover of the movie is the absolute best. Below the title, in smaller lettering it reads, “…and they came from good families!” How dare a teenager full of angst ever come from a good family?! Gasp! The movie is a classic tale of teenagers navigating all those raging internal hormones, the retched parentals, social hierarchies of high school and the all-consuming young love.

As we’re watching the movie at home on a Saturday night (How thirties of me!), we both can’t help but laugh and add witty commentary about these extremely well-dressed teenagers (an art that I wish would come back) that seem so ungrateful for their seemingly great lives as portrayed in the movie. They complain of their parents’ character flaws, bad marriages and how they don’t understand them. At one point, James Dean’s character is walking alongside Natalie Wood’s character and asks her something to the effect of,  “How’s life going?” She answers full of angst and weariness, “Who actually lives…?” We both bust out laughing, doing our own takes on the line as our commentary climbs to new heights.

Inside my head, I was thinking about my teen years and how much unrest there was. Everyone was going through their own phases, searching to find their identity. Mine was very much shaped by what music I was listening to and by my friends, who I considered my main source of stability. Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Tori Amos, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Weezer, Brian McKnight, 1950s, Paul Oakenfold, Garbage, etc. My music was my escape from what was going on around me. It transported me to this place where I felt safe, complete and understood. It gave me hope that I was going to get out of the craziness and gave me daydreams of what that fantastic new life would be like. To this day, I have a song for almost every moment in my life. A song will come on, new or old, and it will bring back a flood of memories.

My fourth grade to twelfth grade years, before I went off to college, were navigationally challenged. I was constantly searching for my sense of self, security, stability and love as a form of affirmation and acceptance. I remember all the different phases I went through, the different music I listened to and books I read that, at the time, I felt completely understood me like no one else did. There was definitely a hilarious amount of angst in me in those years: the chola with crunchy hair and lip liner, the grunge era chick with flannel and Birkenstocks, little Ms. Fashionable where I never wore the same outfit twice for one year, the popular jockette, the drum n’ bass raver, Ms. M.I.A. when I slipped in and out of school undetected once I tired of all the pretenses, and more.

I was by most definitions “popular” but equally hated at the same time. I never felt like I fit in with anyone because I felt like a fraud. I never really shared with anyone close to me what my home life was like, for fear of rejection I imagine. I’d go to my friends’ homes and see simple things like furniture or parents laughing together and think, “Wow, my life is nothing like this. There must be something wrong with me and my family.” I remember the first time I saw the parents of a friend of mine drink alcohol in front of me and nothing bad happening. I was so shocked by the thought of a parent drinking and it not turning into a dramatic and crazy scene that I started crying. I was so ashamed that I was even crying that I had to explain what was going on with me to everyone. I hated the pity looks and attention it would cause, so I learned early on to deflect and keep people at bay with the pretenses I created. I’d be the bubbly popular girl with her many looks but never really showing who I truly was. Just slivers of me that I felt comfortable sharing. The only people I really let close were my boyfriends.

In the movie, Natalie Wood’s original greaser boyfriend dies, she proclaims her love for James Dean and the two are forever tied to each other in a span of two hours. They were professing their undying love for one another with statements like, “We’ll never have to be lonely again.” They walk off together as the movie ends at the LA Griffith Observatory.

From an early age, I found the understanding, affirmation and love I needed in boyfriends that I wasn’t getting at home. That’s exactly what their characters were getting. They understood each other’s angst and gave it the space to exist with patience and love. That’s the young kind of love that isn’t replicated once grown up because it would spontaneously combust from the sheer intensity of it. A reckless abandon for rules, parents and time; when hours seem to stop counting and the world seems to fall away to just you two. The kind of love James Dean and Natalie Wood expressed for each other in a matter of two hours because when you’re young you can fall in love in two hours and honestly think that this will be the one person that you stay with for the rest of your life and in the same moment it ends and you think your whole world is over. These are the emotions of the young and naive that seem to encapsulate a very small window of time in life but can be some of the most beautiful moments when experienced or viewed firsthand.

I see those phases and relationships as lilly pads in a pond. They acted as my stability and home for periods of time to help me grow strong enough to hop to the next spot. With each lilly pad and hop, I learned more about who I was, what kind of relationship I wanted and ultimately, what kind of life I wanted outside of that pond.

I’m sure that I have more hopping to do in this life, as I am always a work in progress, but I believe that I’ve grown enough to realize now when I’ve found my frog turned prince charming. Instead of hopping to an existing lilly pad, I’ve built one for myself, much to my liking that I think I’ll stick with for awhile.

Who knows, maybe my froggy and I will pretend we’re young teenagers in love and throw alarms, workouts, diets and obligations to the wind and just be with each other in a moment of spontaneously combustable love.

Why I quit my job at 30 & went back to school.

I consistently get whiplash at how fast life can change. With a blink of an eye, your entire plan can be completely turned upside down and leave you shaking your head, wondering what’s next. Two months ago I was a part of a management team at a digital marketing company, running the marketing/PR/social media department. You know that nagging voice in my head I spoke of last week? Yeah, that ONE. It crept it’s annoying little voice back in a few months ago and kept picking away at me, asking me all these questions like, “Do you really agree with where this company is going?”, “Do you fully support the new leadership?”, “Do you believe the new vision you helped write is going to be acted on or quickly brushed under the rug?” Eventually, I gave in and started answering those questions and the overwhelming theme of my answers was, “No, I’m not in line with the plan.” That left me to start thinking about my larger picture of where my career was currently and where I saw myself going. The 5-year plan I secretly have been working against but don’t talk about, because I don’t want to be one of “those” people.

For the most part, I’ve been pretty strategic in my marketing/advertising career. I’ve aligned myself with certain influencers, knew when it was time to keep my head down and grind out some endless hours of work, climbed some title and salary ladders by jumping around a bit and even have slept in the office for a few nights because it was the only way I would meet a deadline. It’s apparent that I care about my work and always want to do a good job. At some point though, you run out of strategic moves and have to take a look at where you are and where you want to be. It’s time for evaluation and compromises.

So here I am: department head, six-figure salary (you better bet the champagne was flowing the night I achieved that goal!), connected to the brim in the advertising/marketing/PR/social media industry, receiving job offers from other companies, a wealth of notable clients in my portfolio and I wasn’t happy. I honestly couldn’t put my finger on what it was that wasn’t aligned. Was it my career choice? My industry? The type of clients I did work for? The place I lived? Just my constant need for better? I searched and searched and couldn’t find the answers. What I found was a mind too busy to stop everything to do some non-work thinking. I did know that I wasn’t a fit for the company I was at anymore, so I decided to negotiate my resignation out of there and give myself some much needed R&R time to really stop and think before I made my next move.

I very easily could’ve taken one of the job offers available to me but I know I would’ve found myself in the same spot six months from now. So I did some good ol’ cliche soul searching and life analysis. This is what I came away with:

– I  do love my actual job. I’m extremely passionate about branding and integrated communications. Researching trends and human behavior patterns (In another life I’d be the best therapist), developing strategies, creating campaigns, executing and managing all of the moving cogs to the campaign, and sharing the amazing results with your team. I get a rush seeing my work in the real world and read everything I can get my hands on that relates to it.

– I love working on brands that I feel good about helping at the end of the day. Those tend to be brands that help people in some way (the therapist trend continues…). The pro-bono section of the resume continues to fill and when looking back, I loved doing those projects more than almost all the ones I got paid for. I have a “Will Not Work For” brands list and have stuck to it so far, so that I can look myself in the face in the morning. Overall, I want to, in my own way, help the world through the skills that I have.

– The advertising industry is a never-ending carousel ride, with each of us being plugged in and taken out at any whim and I want off. This is a game-changing realization that I came to. The constant change and unpredictability was great when I was in my twenties but now I’m exhausted by it. When I was in my teens, unpredictability was the theme of my home life. I never knew if my key would unlock my front door, wasn’t sure if I’d come home to screaming, drunkenness, physical violence, cops and the like. Many times didn’t even know where I would end up sleeping that night. I became comfortable in the unknown and thrived in it. But as I grew older and worked to un-learn unhealthy behaviors taught by the ‘rents and started to learn what I wanted and what made me happy away from them, I saw that I was living a survivors’ life – thriving in the chaos but floundering in the normalcy. It isn’t ironic that I chose an industry that supported that crisis strength of mine, but now I’m not the same person. I want stability. I want to go to work knowing the same CEO from the previous day will be there and the vision will still be on track. Another sign of being in my thirties, I hate to admit!

– I’m strongly business-minded but my blood is swimming with creative juices. So I have to work in a creative, fun company culture that values more than numbers. This is a big job filter for me.

– I know the ideal lifestyle that I want to continue supporting but I also have identified my scaled back version that would make me just as happy. In other words, my high and low salary.

So what did I decide to do, you must be asking after this run-on blog post? I decided that I want to go in-house. Meaning, I want to work for a brand aligned with my passions and thoughts managing the marketing/PR/social media department. To do this, I need a few things that I already have: mixture of agency and brand experience, 7-10 years experience, strategic planning and financial management experience, etc. The major roadblock for me getting over to that side of the fence is a Master’s of Business Administration or MBA. A $50,000-$170,000 piece of paper that says you are a great manager. I can say that I am till I’m blue in the face but without that paper it’s back to the carousel for me.

I researched a ton, studied a ton (Holy crap it’s hard to study after so long of not doing it!), applied and have been accepted to Pepperdine’s Executive MBA Fall Class 100. It’s a very scary thought going back to school but I know that it will get me to where I want to go and am excited about this next phase that starts next week (Gulllllp!).

I’m going to go back to work since this is an executive program and gives me that flexibility and time but I feel extremely blessed that I was in the financial position to give myself that breather to stop the auto-pilot decision-making and figure out what my next step is.

So, here I am, 30-years-old and going back to school. I would’ve never thought this is how I would be starting this decade but as I do with everything, time to roll with it and see where it takes me.

Well, hello there thirties.

I think a “Congratulations!” is in order first. I mean, come on, we have made it to the all allusive thirties for crying out loud. I remember meeting friends of my parents or watching people on TV in their thirties and it just seemed so far away and unknown? Then one day, with the snap of my fingers, my thirties was on my doorstep banging down my door, snatched me up and here I am: three months a newly 30-year-old and having mixed feelings about it all. On one end, I’m patting myself on the back with a sense of pride that I’ve survived my childhood and twenties which, for lack of too many details right now, were dramatic, tumultuous and life-forming to say the least. On the other dreaded end, is that nagging, hyper-critical voice in my head that’s asking me a billion and one questions to make me take a hard long look at how my life stacks up to the “I should be” of others and societal standards.

Life is continuously in flux it seems. Once you have one area figured out and set up just how you like it, another area exhibits cracks in its foundation, then once you’ve attended to that problem area, the one you just had all figured out goes up in smoke. In other words, my life is, and always will be, under construction. Sometimes I accept that and other times I fight against it for control. In the end, it’s all just a wind-in-your-hair, straightaways, turns and dead ends kind of journey, and I’m baby proof locked in whether I like it or not. So, I better get my seatbelt on, because it’s time to experience my thirties.