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Time is Running Out: Here’s How to Make the Most of It

Class in Session

Class is in Session

The last four months have been an education, as if I have been conducting and taking my own master’s class in Life. It has been a journey punishing, joy-filled, and above all, eye-opening. One of the greatest lessons I have learned may sound like a cliche but bear with me. Life is not about the “time” we have but what we DO with it.

When you are working, you believe that “not working” will give you a tremendous amount of time, but that oasis turns out to be a shimmering mirage. Similar to the adage about how people always spend what they earn, likewise, none of the time you have turns out to be “extra”. Entire days have gone by and I haven’t found time to respond to email. I get to the end of the day and feel as exhausted as I did putting in a full day’s “work”. Aristotle was right- Nature abhors a vacuum.

I want to share an idea that may especially resonate with parents but holds true for all. Everyone has an equation that looks something like this:

Parenting + spouse + work – crazy (from the previous 3 things) + self care/ TIME – (bills * laundry * school lunches * gym * sleep) = _______?

What’s the answer? Balance, Happiness, Perfection? Sorry- you think String Theory is hard?  It has nothing on solving the equation of Your Life.

We are searching for the right equation

We are searching for the right equation

What variable can we tweak to get it right? The stark truth is, you’ll never solve it completely. EVER. Hate to break it to you, but go ahead and write this down in pen. The problem is, you will not get all the time you want. If you had no kids, no spouse, no job, no obligations- you’d still find your time card punched, even if it was watching utterly worthless reality television all day. You’d still be worn out at the end of each day (and perhaps suicidal, given THAT much Real Housewives or Honey Boo-Boo).

As I prepare to “graduate” from this self-imposed master’s class and look ahead to my next work challenge, I am faced with an array of choices- contract work, part-time work, full-time work, big company, startup, low pay, high pay, mentally-stimulating, dull but easy, sure thing, high risk- you name it. Regardless of the choice I make, I will trade-off or sacrifice something. Just as for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, for every choice, there is a consequence.

When I wrote about giving up my superpower, it was the beginning of understanding that trying to “do it all” is a fool’s errand- there is no such thing as “ALL”. You finally figured out how to manage work, kids, and your spouse… Great, how about adding a puppy? Or working out? Or healthy meals? You don’t want to add anything? Guess what- you’ve lost your job.  You are getting a divorce. Your kid was expelled. Whatever. The variables go on forever. You will never reach “the end” until THE END.

Life is so immense and beautiful because of the endless possibilities, and yet, it those endless possibilities that make it brutally sadistic. Ha, ha, ha, the joke is on us!

The joke is on us.

The joke is on us. Start laughing now

I clearly remember in my teens, realizing that I would *never* be able to read all the best books in the world- not all books, even reading just the best ones would be beyond my reach. It felt like something died within me. I was defeated by the ABC’s- something I thought I had mastered at five.

Our time on this magical blue-green rock is limited, whether you think your life is cut from a cosmic cloth of fixed length or that you control your destiny. There is a point at which the fabric no longer stretches but snaps and that will be the end of it.  Even if you believe in an afterlife, you are only getting one turn on THIS ride, with THESE people you love, and these FINITE minutes to spend.

So the question comes back to what we choose to do with our time. Not an easy question to answer. I’d like to humbly suggest a few ways to make the most of it:

1. Know what MATTERS to you. Is it family, friends, success, invention, creation, inner peace, exploration, leaving a legacy? Take the time to understand what you care about. This one is hard… put some effort into it. Write it down and check your actions against your list.

2. Laugh.  Often. Loud. At yourself. With your friends. With your kids. From the gut. Use your whole body. Laugh ’til you cry.

3. Strive. If you are one of the lucky few given the chance to reflect upon your life at the end of many long years, there will be a moment when you account for your time, when you measure what you’ve done against what you have been given. Don’t let the tally of your effort come up short.

4. Forgive easily and forget quickly.  Whatever baggage you carry, it isn’t helping. You have been through it, gnashed your teeth at it, survived it, triumphed over it- let it go. All it’s doing now, is weighing you DOWN. Travel light.

5. Hold your own hand. Treat yourself as you would your own child. Remember that we all screw up. We learn as we go. We will let ourselves and others down- A LOT. Give that kid inside you a break. Give yourself a bear hug. Babies and Yogis know the magic of holding yourself- you will be surprised how good it feels. <Now, would be a good time to try it- even just a little squeeze of your hands.  C’mon, no one is looking.>

6. Flow.  The river of life is no tame kiddie pool. There are rapids, eddies, whirlpools, stretches as smooth as glass, and cruel white waters that threaten to pull you into the river’s black depths- you have to flow through it all. Float or swim, cling to the river bank or strike out for the middle- whatever you choose, close your eyes and feel the flow.

That’s all I have. But I’d appreciate YOUR thoughts and feedback! If this helped you, made you smile, or made you think- I’d sure appreciate you sharing! Tweet! Post! Discuss! Blog!

This is nearly five years ago already. It goes so fast.

This is nearly five years ago already. It goes so fast.

The Most Amazing Women You’ll Never Know

In honor of International Women’s Day, I am thinking of the many amazing women that you’ve never heard of and will never meet.  Ten years ago, as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya- I spent a year and a half meeting extraordinary women every day.  And I’m not talking about my fellow volunteers (they were also amazing, but you may hear from them, about them, or know women similar to them)- I’m talking about the Kenyan mamas and daughters that kept their families together, kept food on the table, that worked miracles with the tiniest bits of material (whether wood, metal, cloth, or maize) and their ingenuity to make everything stretch a little further than it should.

These women, whom you’ll likely never meet, are the heart of that country.  These women are made of strong stuff- but not like iron, which is brittle and can break, but more like the vines in a rain forest- strong, supple, resilient, and tenacious.  Whenever visiting a woman’s home- and let’s just be clear, there is no “home” in Kenya without a woman in it, she would always have chai and something for you to eat.  After I left Kenya and had more perspective, I felt ashamed because while there I didn’t recognize the depth of their hospitality and generosity and I’m further ashamed to admit that when they visited my home, I was often a poorer hostess despite having greater means.
While in Kenya, these women gave me the gift of their stories- many of them heart-breaking- stories of children lost, being beaten and raped by spouses or relatives, dangerous abortions and lack of health care; but also stories of hope and achievement- starting their own businesses, finding school fees for their sons AND daughters to go to school, getting training as midwives and community health care givers, building the strength of community from the women around them, and above all continuing to feel the joy and happiness of being on this earth- whatever the hardship it presented them with.
If I can share one of my most precious memories- try to come with me on this journey:  I have ridden a local matatu (bus) to a small village where I am going to talk with a group of community midwives about HIV/Aids prevention and sanitation.  As I disembark, I am met by a member of the group.  She looks like a typical village woman- wearing a fantastic patterned dress, and greeting me with a hug and a gorgeous smile immediately.  We are in Western Kenya, north of Kisumu, so the ground is a deep red clay, there are tall tropical trees surrounding small homes made of cinder block and corrugated metal.  The track down into the village is deeply rutted by rain and the occasional truck that is able to navigate the road.  The weather is warm and it’s midday with a bright sun shining overhead.  This mama and I walk hand in hand down the road, her grip is firm with a hand rough and incredibly strong from years of labor, whereas mine is small and weak in comparison- but her touch makes me feel like her equal.  I have a backpack and a hand drawn presentation (think “powerpoint” on fabric) that I am planning to walk them through.  As we come down the hill, I hear singing and clapping.  It is a beautiful, mesmerizing sound and I search out its source.  Suddenly, I realize it’s a home at the bottom of the hill with about a dozen women standing outside- it’s my destination.  These women are singing for ME and my arrival.  The joy in those moments, as I entered their circle, hugged and embraced by all, was a feeling I’ll never forget and cherish so deeply.  If we were able to bottle that joy and sense of community and giving, we would be far further along to peace in this world.  Eventually, after more singing and dancing in the dirt yard of this modest home, we went in and settled down, had chai, made introductions, laughed, shared stories- and eventually I gave my presentation.  But again, my contribution was so slight in return for what they already had and what they had given me.  Even today, my heart aches to return to that moment.  I wish you could know these women and their love for life and their families.
On this International Women’s Day and as Kenya seeks to elect its next president (one of the candidates is accused of criminal charges, including murder, by the International Criminal Court stemming from the last election…), I’d like you join me for a moment and think of these brave women and what we can do, in our lives to either honor them, help them, or simply remember them.  The next time I see you, let’s hug with the joy that these women passed on to me and that still warms me.  Imagine the happiness we can spread!
Top- A local women’s group getting a tour of a Community HIV/Aids resource center that the community built.
Middle-  Samburu women dancing and singing.
Bottom- Tony standing with our dear friend Judy, her daughter Cindy, and two other girls.

The Story of My Super Boy

Recently, I shared the story of my first pregnancy on FB- a story of how 20 weeks along, we discovered that the baby had a fatal birth defect caused by the egg being fertilized by 2 sperm.  It was a faulty egg that didn’t respond properly at the exact right moment, shutting the other balloon-shaped competitors out.  I remember how, 20 weeks pregnant and already using a hairband to close the top of my jeans, I lay there watching the ultrasound tech take the fetal measurements and talk through them, without indicating that anything was wrong- but I KNEW something was wrong.  Even having never seen an ultrasound of a baby before, I could see and feel that the proportions weren’t right.  It was a visceral sense and it was exactly right.  The baby’s heart was beating, it was moving and flexing its limbs, and would likely grow in utero all the way to birth.  But I knew- there was something horribly, irretrievably wrong.  If I let the pregnancy progress, this baby would continue to grow and then, the baby would die- because an egg fertilized by two sperm doesn’t produce a viable person, it creates something close- but this is not a game where close counts.  And although I told myself I wouldn’t, after the doctor told us the news, I had one more question- “What would the baby have been?”

“A boy,” she answered.

I have often imagined what things would have been like if we lived in a parallel universe where this genetic quirk didn’t mean malformation and death but instead would have meant that my baby would be an X-men like super hero.  Who would my boy have been?  Obviously, amazing.  Two hearts and an extra lobe in your brain would certainly mean the courage of a lion, the strength of ten men, and a mind that could easily bend both natural laws and wills to its desire.  My boy would also have been impish and accustomed to playing pranks- using his speed and intelligence to tease his baby sisters, and the dog, and entertain the neighbors, as any seven year old would.  He’d have unruly red hair, fair almost translucent skin that made one think of dolphins or fairies, and muscles that rippled incongruously along his young body.  He’d be, by turns, brilliant and mature or childlike and vulnerable.  He’d have his dad’s noble expression and kindness and a laugh that came straight from his mom.  It’s clear he would have been a great gift to the world, a joyful and heroic person- and maybe it’s just that our world, the “real” world wasn’t ready for him.

When I allow myself to, I miss this boy- but I also remember that he is a creature of my imagination and thus, lives there happily, with me.  It’s not the life I might have wished for him, but he has, in a way, made me the person I am- mother, partner, friend, a woman familiar with the keenest of heartaches.  I am a person seasoned by loss, but not defeated by it; a person who has drawn comfort from others in times of sadness and can pay that comfort forward.  I am a person who has looked at something “deformed” and been transported by love for it.  I have confronted difficult decisions and made the one that was right; even if by many measures, it was the harder one.  My heart has not been turned to stone but rather, flowered because of the love it was bathed in when in times of crises.  I am so fortunate to have been through these experiences and to be the person I am today.  Thank you, sweet super boy.

WYS words from a CEO…

Mason delivering WYS wordsAndrew Mason’s open letter regarding his “departure” makes me want to work for him.  His frank assessment of his tenure and failings are a perfect example of WYS words- he makes the grade as my first official WYS executive (guess I’ll have to start a list now…).

There is nothing more empowering and impressive in this day and age, than a leader who can readily and whole-heartedly own their mistakes because you know he’ll learn from them.  Bravo Andrew- whomever picks you up is lucky.

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