On Life Mottos, Joan Didion, and a New Year

One of my favorite things to do is watch the sun rise through our front window. There is something absolutely luxurious about sitting with a cup of tea and watching the sky turn from a deep blue to indigo, bleeding into a pastel purple and then pink and finishing with washes of brilliant orange as the sun makes its daily debut. The view isn’t spectacular – the window looks out onto the road and across the street to the neighbor’s storage lot – but in those first still moments of the new day, there is nowhere else that I would rather be. This feeling of being settled is fairly new for me. This is the first year that I felt truly capable and confident in my abilities and that I’ve made some good choices. It was the first year where I felt like I found my place.

Some days, when I slow down enough to give the situation some thought, I can’t believe that I have the good fortune of finding myself here – both physically and metaphorically. In my less charitable moments, I am convinced that I’ve ended up here despite myself. In my more generous moments, I believe that I’m not giving myself enough credit. One of my favorite books is The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion and one of my favorite quotes from that beautiful piece of writing is, “you have to pick the places you don’t walk away from.” When I came across this gem the first time I read the book it stopped me cold.

¬†Joan Didion, without ever being aware of my existence, very eloquently wrote my life’s motto. I’ve spent the better part of 34 years choosing where to stand and not walking away when things got tough. From choosing a career where I’m expected to a do fair amount of talking in public despite having a fairly severe speech impediment, to falling in love with someone who had to spend a year on flat bed rest for most of the first 12 months of our relationship, to working on systemic change through public policy and advocacy, there have been so many times when I’ve picked that place and not walked away. And what I am just beginning to realize is that there is immense power in choosing a place to stay and doing the hard work. There is vast potential for personal growth and change for the better on a larger scale when you recognize that things are hard, but choose to sit with them and challenge them anyway.

I ended 2016 tired. Very tired. J was hospitalized in the early fall and I spent the rest of September, October, and November working very long hours and generally nursing a broken heart after the election. Sitting in meetings in late November and early December discussing how our plans had to change because of the outcome of the election and which of the policies that I’ve spent the last decade working on are now in danger of being erased nearly broke me. Because of that, I’ve spent a lot of the last few weeks thinking about what I want for 2017 and what I want is to continue to pick the places I don’t walk away from. And to invest myself fully in the places where I choose to stand. And to take on the difficult things with as much patience, grace, and grit as I can. I want to be able to remember my own strength and be better about asking for help when I allow myself to admit that I can’t do it all. But most of all, I want to continue to see the best in those around me and remember that everything I do should be done from a place of love. I know this sounds cheesy and there’s a part of me that can’t quite believe I just wrote that and will eventually hit the “publish” button for this blog, but when I feel the need to remind myself why I have built the life I’m living and chosen the career I’m in, it all comes back to that four letter L word. So I am emerging from my vacation cocoon and going back to real life to pick some places to stand.

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