I like to say that I don’t have any guilty pleasures. From time to time I’ll even correct someone, asking why they should feel guilty about enjoying the things they love. It goes something like this:
Friend: You know, watching that show Dating Naked is one of my guilty pleasures.
Me: You mean, one of your pleasures. Why feel guilty about something you love? Plus, that is a great show. (I mean, it really is great, isn’t it? You can reach out and touch the awkwardness. And who knew so many 25-year-old virgins watched VH-1?)
But the thing is, with all of the above-quoted bravado, I really do feel a bit sheepish about admitting some of my favorite things. I keep them to myself and really only talk about the “cool” things I do. Which may be why this blog is sparse of late. . . Anyway, when I do reveal some of my less cool activities, I protest the “guilty” label but find myself blushing a bit or doing that awkward smiling thing where you really aren’t happy but your face is stuck in smile-mode and then suddenly you realize that your face is SO TIRED OF SMILING that it feels as if your eye-balls might pop out of their sockets. So probably I still feel guilty about it. However, I’m faking it until I actually achieve my desired level of enlightenment. Like a pro.
This week, I’m right in the midst of one of my NOT GUILTY pleasures: reading Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander.
I know, I know, it’s 850 pages of ridiculous time-traveling historical fiction that is mostly a romance novel. And yes, it is true, there aren’t any dragons so it’s nowhere near as good as Game of Thrones. [I did spy a 18th-century version of the Loch Ness monster in there, but it wasn’t scary, so I accept this criticism.] But sometimes, when you spend so many hours walking the path of giant spreadsheets and the technical application of specialized jargon written by congressional staffers and interpreted by regulation and applied and defined by administrative boards, it’s nice to have a little magic in the evening. Even if it is completely ridiculous and even if the romance parts stopped being interesting a few hundred pages ago.
And so, I just wanted to tell you: I’ve worked two eight-hour shifts and mopped the kitchen and cooked dinner for my husband several times but also, I’ve had the first Outlander book in my possession since about 6 p.m. on Sunday and I’m already 567 pages in. It feels good to tell the truth.
So, do you believe in guilty pleasures? And have you read the Outlander books? Am I completely insane?
I love to work. I feel pride when I create an excellent product, or write a smart and convincing paragraph, or (more recently) learn a trick in Excel that allows me to sort efficiently through data to find fact-based answers instead of opinions or conjecture.
I feel most like myself when I’m working well. While I don’t live to work exactly, I do gain a lot of personal fulfillment from my career. When I’m putting in a lot of hours or trudging through a difficult project (like I am now, with a dark and twisty project I am managing that sometimes feels like it is managing me), it is easy for me to flip to the dark side. I can begin to despair: I am terrible and worthless and stupid and eventually they will notice and my career will be over. Which, as a side note, might be because smart girls are socialized to believe they received innate smartness at birth instead of learning that good results are achieved through hard work.
Have you been here too? Have you obsessed over the tiniest details of your workload on a Saturday afternoon while going through the motions of a weekend shopping trip? Do you stare out the window of the car mentally re-hashing a meeting or remembering things you should have or could have done while the other passengers are jamming out to AC/DC? (You do still jam out to AC/DC, right? There really is no better driving music.) Have you spent too many evenings in a row, crashing on the sofa after dinner and binge-watching television that really isn’t that interesting (I’m looking at you, The Killing) so you don’t have to think or talk or decide anything?
When over-focused on work results, I begin to slip out of my personal life. I lose track of time, or forget things I would otherwise always remember. I recognize it quickly, but sometimes it takes me a few weeks to take action. (Once I act, I always feel really stupid for waiting so long.) When the working is too big and the living is too small, what I really need is to create something beautiful.
The underlying problem of it all is that I’ve forgotten to do the things that make me feel alive and proud in my non-work hours. When work demands a lot, it is too easy to give up writing time, blogging time, photography or reading or biking or yoga classes. But I’m learning that it is precisely those things that I often consider selfish or unnecessary extras that keep me alive. To bake bread, plan a delicious dinner party, browse a used book store or plan a trip or choose a new fall color scheme for this space.
When work gets hard, I must force myself to remember what is so easy to forget: I get to choose what I do, what I value, and where I focus. This week, I choose to live a beautiful life.
I left work around 6:30 tonight with no plans and no energy and no real desire to do anything. I ended up getting a burger from Good Stuff and going for a walk.
The calorie math on this arrangement looks something like this:
Good Stuff Eatery Calories: +5,000,000
Walking 2 Miles Calories: -167
Total Calories : 4,999,833
I wanted to eat on a park bench overlooking the water. I thought I could walk to the water. I didn’t want my fries to get too cold but I wanted a good view, so I walked over to the Long Bridge Esplanade Park to grab a bench and eat my dinner overlooking the Potomac.
I’ve actually been wanting to walk until I found the waterfront near my hotel for a while now, but never made it home from work early enough so I could explore in the last few bits of daylight. I’m much too nervous and responsible to wander around at night in the dark. I know that so many of you are strong independent women and I am one of those too about most things, but walking too alone at night still gives me the heeby-geebies. (How do you spell heeby geebies?)
Only two problems with this picnic plan: First, Long Bridge Park doesn’t overlook the water so much as it overlooks the rail road tracks by the water. And second, there aren’t any benches, exactly. So, I sat on a concrete stub and ate my cheeseburger and a few luke-warm fries while runners jogged past staring hate bullets in my direction. [Yes I can eat a cheeseburger and still look this good. No I don’t know why you are laughing . . .] Unbeknownst to me I was chowing down in the middle of a popular Arlington running trail. Nothing makes a cheeseburger taste flat like the mournful, jealous, slightly-judgy stares of dozens of runners, while running.
But even though I didn’t work out great for the eating part, Long Bridge Park is weirdly beautiful. As you walk out on the path you think you are walking immediately toward the Washington Monument. Reagan National Airport is right across the water from the path, so you can sit on the concrete stubs and watch the airplanes take off and land at the airport. Soccer fields line the grassy areas between Crystal City and the edge of Virginia, and young-ish people were playing ultimate frisbee and running soccer drills and generally having a great time. You don’t see crystal-clear water and shiny monuments on this side of the Potomac — you see lily pads and marshes and railroad tracks. I kind of loved it.
When I’ve been in the City too long, I crave the wilderness. Tonight I found a tiny piece right in my [hotel’s] back yard.
Here’s a quick piece of trivia for you all — did you know that when you get a pedicure in the winter, you stuff your soft, polished feet into sandwich baggies to protect your nails before putting on your socks and boots? Well, if you didn’t, now you do. This is just one of many lessons I’ve learned while surviving my first winter in the Great White Midwest.
In other news, I attended my first non-couples social engagement of the winter, and it was lovely. It is so nice getting out on your own! I met a handful of women in the city and reconnected with someone I haven’t seen in literally years. Like, since 2006. Sometimes I forget just how long it has been since college. Tonight, I remembered it has been quite a long time!
This week’s toe nail color is Too Too Hot by Essie, which will be perfect for Valentine’s day. I’m seeing tons of great V-day beauty and fashion posts and am SO READY for some warmer, spring-ish weather. I’ll probably mix a little pink or red into my work wardrobe Friday, but I’m typically not really a V-day celebrater. Are you doing anything special to celebrate?
I haven’t significantly cut my long brown hair since the Saturday before the bar exam, July 2011. On that day, my hairdresser Allegra told me what a big haircut can mean. Her mother practices Buddhism, and believes the cutting of hair is a release for the whole body: As our bodies process stress and worry, those feelings grow out of our skin into our hair, hanging around with us each day. When we’ve been walking through life wearing our past stresses and worries long enough, when we’re ready for a change in our lives and our souls, cutting off our hair removes the residue of that long battle and helps us to enter into that new stage.
I have been to a few yoga classes this month, but I don’t know anything about Buddhism so I cannot tell you whether any of that is true. I’m not entirely sure any Buddhists out there would read this and identify with that statement in any way. It could be completely misunderstood or misconstrued by me during a bar exam-induced frenzy. But, I’m a believer in the power of a good haircut and let me tell you why: After three years of law school, three months of intense studying, and one significant haircut, I passed the bar exam with no real worry of failure and entered into a new stage of life.
That new stage, which is now my old stage, was rocky and beautiful. I made some deep and lasting friendships, learned a lot, and became much more grounded in who I am professionally and personally. But it was hard. It’s been almost three years now since that last big haircut, and there were a few months in there where I only went to work because I didn’t want to pay a fine for departing before my fellowship was complete, and where I only went to parties when I couldn’t think of a socially acceptable excuse to break the commitment. There were absolutely some days where the veil I wore was too thin, and my actual heartbreak or frustration was clearly visible to those who I like to pretend cannot see the dark edges of my humanity. And, I stuck my foot boldly into my mouth more times than I would like to remember. (I do continue to remember these moments, which is perhaps the worst part of this whole thing called living. Each time I say something horribly ill-timed or inappropriate or unthinking I remember it. Even years later it comes back to me in a disappointing memory which no haircut has as of yet been able to erase.)
Over the last month, I’ve been thinking a lot about getting a serious cut. My hair was just too long, and it was starting to get in the way of things. All of those feelings and memories just didn’t fit onto my shoulders along with the sweater and scarf and coat and hood necessary to survive this winter. I never felt comfortable with my hair sticking out from under a hat and pointing every which way while I walked down Michigan Avenue toward my new office in my new city. In my apartment my hair was straight and lovely, but each time I headed outside toward something new the wind would blow it into tangles and knots. It was time to let go of the baggage and free up some room for warmth and possibility.
I thought that my twenty-eighth birthday would be the time for the big cut, but beginning the day we returned from Las Vegas and until just a few days ago I was so sick I could barely leave the apartment, much less choose a hairstyle and find a stylist. I kept delaying the cut, although I knew how much I wanted it and how ready I was for the change.
This past week, as my cough reduced and my health improved, I found a stylist on Yelp.com and made the appointment. I didn’t realize at the time that my cut was scheduled for the second day of the Chinese New Year celebration, considered to be the first day of the new year, but how perfectly timed it was. As many celebrate the new year by cleaning house to sweep away ill-fortune and make room for good luck (thank you, Wikipedia), I too am chopping off the last three years and starting fresh.
I don’t have a picture for you now. This change wasn’t just about fashion or beauty, it was about being more fully alive, about diving in and seeing what would happen. And so before returning to the surface, I wanted to take the time to share this process. But don’t worry, glamour shots will be headed your way soon. Happy New Year, again. Let’s do something awesome this year.
On Utilizing Dissent in the Workplace and the 50th Anniversary of the Assassination of JFK
You guys know I often read Harvard Business Review’s Blog, and find a lot of interesting articles on careers and leadership and culture shifts there. A colleague pointed me to the New York Times’ Corner Office, and I’ve been digging deep into their archives this week. I very much enjoyed Bob Pittman’s interview on the value of dissent.
A short piece about decision-making during John F. Kennedy’s presidency is related, showcasing JFK’s utilization of conflict to develop full briefings on both pros and cons of important issues. I found this fascinating and think I would bring that system into practice if ever I were to be the manager of such a team.
On Psyching Yourself Out Before Heading Home Next Week
How to argue about Obamacare over Thanksgiving . This post gives you tips for your holidays-with-family arguments whether you are for or against Obamacare. As for me, I just avoid these conversations like the plague. No good comes from mixing politics and family. BUT I will say that having lived through emergent health situations in my own family, I stand with Richard Beck and many others to say that If you have a way to provide healthcare for more people than Obamacare will cover, and you have a way to convince Congress to pass it and fund it, let’s talk. After the holidays, of course.
On Accomplishment and Anxiety
What to do when good news makes you anxious. I loved this quote (see below) and the tips that follow are quite helpful.
“[N]othing about anxiety is as disruptive as its propensity to pop up when least expected, or in contexts where anything but anxiety seems appropriate: after a positive outcome like a promotion, a plum committee assignment, or stellar quarterly results. Unfortunately, those who don’t know how painful these bouts of anxiety are usually trivialize them: Women suffering anxiety after success were, until recently, diagnosed with a “fear of success.” When men suffered these symptoms it was called “happiness anxiety.” Actually, it’s neither.
People forget that good news is often a double-edged sword, stroking egos and enhancing status (not to mention financial rewards) with one edge, while imposing performance demands and social isolation with the other.”
On Alterations, Disposable Clothing, and Dressing Well
A great blog post regarding how, why, when, and for what cost you should be altering your clothes is going to be a good source of information for me long-term, and also referred me to the Wardrobe from Scratch Series (an oldie but I think a goodie) at Putting Me Together. I’m going to spend some time with this blog series this weekend.
When I hear the term “meal planning,” I think of housewives with a half-dozen children driving from soccer practice to dance classes. And that is so not my life. A lot of online resources for meal planning are keyed toward families and children, but even if you are single or childless you can save a lot of money and time by planning your meals — and your grocery shopping — in advance.
Over the weekend, H and I take a few minutes to talk through our work weeks so we know when one of us is expecting to work late, grab dinner with friends, or eat lunch out instead of packing lunch. Then, we throw out ideas for what we’d like to eat the next week. I typically like to make one nicer dinner we can look forward to, but otherwise we like to keep it simple and 30-minutes or less. Here’s what we’re eating this week:
As you can see, this is a piece of paper folded in half with the dinners written on the left and breakfasts and lunches written on the right. It’s not rocket science. We choose meals in advance but for breakfasts and lunches we keep options ready that we can grab and go if needed. I eat the exact same lunch every day: turkey or chicken soup packed with veggies, carrot sticks and hummus, and grapes; I take a LUNA bar for mid-afternoon snacks. I change soups from tomato-based to broth-based or throw in an apple and pretzels instead of grapes and carrots when I need variety. It’s a simple life.
We talk about what we want to eat, I quickly sort through the cabinets to see what we have and look in the fridge to pull out anything that’s expired, and then we write down our plans for the week. We put the items we’ll need on our grocery list, and we don’t buy a lot more than what’s one the list. Some, of course — is the beer we love on sale? Are cranberries in season? [I’ve been hoarding cranberries in my freezer like a crazy person.] Did we just discover that there are Triple Double Stuf Oreos? Then we’re totally buying that too. But overall, we stay close to the list.
Using the paper method is helpful on the front end: we spend less at the grocery store. Because we are working on managing our budget better, we’ve been trying to keep our weekly grocery bill under a set amount that is right for us. It’s easy to over-spend at the grocery store if you don’t go in with a plan, but even if we weren’t saving money with this system [we are], I would do it because it is such a stress-killer. Ever walk into your apartment/home and think “what should I make for dinner?” Ever had someone you love ask you “what should we have for dinner?” Ever think that choosing something to make for dinner is too hard and even if you could choose something that sounded good it would be too hard to make, so you should just order a pizza or grab some takeout because decisions are hard? That’s me pretty much every day.
When you have the paper on the fridge, it’s easier to stay on track. The answer to the question “what’s for dinner?” is written on the paper you taped to the refrigerator. You don’t have to decide anything — just read. It is a great plan. Not feeling what is listed for the evening? You have all of the other nightly meals you can choose from before you resort to the takeout option.
Do not think that we don’t ever resort to takeout even when we have perfectly good groceries in our kitchen. We absolutely go off the list all the time. But we do it less, saving money, time, and benefiting our health while being less wasteful overall. It works for us, and even H agrees that it is a good idea.
Do you plan your meals in advance? Do you eat the same breakfasts and lunches every day, or do you need daily variety? Any other tricks for staying on-plan during the week?