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Apt2B: L.A.'s Local Resource For All Your Home Needs

Looking for some life-altering ideas, are you? Welcome, take a seat, and enjoy what the better part of my years of research* and self-discovery** has produced. These concepts are fundamentally simple, yet somehow still changed my perspective on what I do every day, how I think and what I prioritize. So, I thought they were worth sharing with you here in case you've been looking for ways to shake up your own patterns.

Without further ado…

#1 You become what you do every day

This concept is what inspired me to make some major changes, including quitting alcohol for three months. I read some really tactical examples of what bad habits, repeated every day, can do to your life and realized that I was allowing my bad habits to affect my health, my mood and even my relationships. The examples were from a great book called "The Compound Effect" by Darren Hardy. In it, he makes the argument that there is an operating system running your life whether you know it or not.

This operating system is programmed by your unconscious mind and controlled by the tiny little things you do out of habit. We do almost EVERYTHING out of habit, and those small, seemingly insignificant choices build on each other over time. If you look at all of the elements of your life as they are today - your health, your relationships, your career, your mindset - and rewind time, you'd see that they're simply a culmination of small things you did consistently over a very long period of time. And the kicker is that there is no standing still: those small things that you're doing automatically are either moving you forward towards your goals, or dragging you backwards away from them.

This is why the small things matter, like making your bed, paying your taxes, eating spinach, saying no to Jelly Bellys, controlling your temper, being nice to strangers, etc. Learning how to "hack" the unconscious operating system that's running your life in order to override bad habits and replace them with better ones that compound over time into the life outcomes you want - your ideal relationship, a fit body, a career with limitless potential - is what the book is all about.

Not a reader? I wrote a bonus post for my email subscribers with the top 10 pieces of advice from the book that you can immediately implement to improve your own life. You can sign up for the list here if you're interested in reading it.

#2 You are not your mind

Stop right now and think about what thoughts are floating around in your mind. Maybe you're thinking about that last paragraph you read and considering the eight million Reece's Peanut Butter Cups you ate last night and how much that onslaught of sugar will drag you backwards from your hot body goals. Whatever it is dinging around between your ears, the fact that you have literally taken a step outside of your mind to reflect on what's happening in your mind suggests that you are a separate entity than your mind. Spiritual implications aside, this is hugely powerful because it enables you to control your thoughts.

There are a lot of people in the world who don't control their thoughts and simply emote, allowing their minds to run wild and drive decisions that are irrational. (Think road rage and other public displays of emotion that violate social norms and make people uncomfortable, bad managers with biting feedback who make their subordinates despise them, etc.)

Although we all think that we're rational beings completely in control at all times, we're not. Think about the periods of your life that were the most stressful. Your emotions run high, your mind tends to race, and it can feel overwhelming. Learning how to take a step outside of your mind and reflect on why you're thinking what you're thinking is immediately calming because it imbues logic, refocuses you on outcomes and allows you to redirect your thoughts.

Recognizing that my mind was something that I could control was a game-changer for almost every area of my life. Although I joke a lot about my neuroses, there have been and will continue to be plenty of moments when I need to stamp them out and actively redirect my thoughts for better outcomes. For example, getting even remotely negative feedback at work used to make me angry or embarrassed, which can easily translate into defensiveness or crying in the bathroom. Both are irrational and don't exactly demonstrate that you're ready for more responsibility. Training myself to take a step back, think about why the feedback was making me think whatever it was that I was thinking, and then talk myself into using it as a data point and not taking it personally took some time and energy, but now it's my automatic response to all feedback. And I also now give a lot of unsolicited advice to my colleagues about how showing your negative emotions at work is a sign that you lack power and share tips on becoming unflappable.

#3 The present moment is the only thing that matters

If we can agree that you become what you repeatedly do, that we cannot change the past, and that we cannot control the future, that leaves us with this exact moment to focus on and use to our advantage. Have you ever heard that depression is driven by focusing on the past, and anxiety is driven by focusing on the future? We know that those states of mind are unproductive in general, but especially when you consider that there's literally nothing you can do to change the past or control your future. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't learn from your past or plan for your future, because you should. It's a question of where you focus your mind, your thoughts and your energy.

So that leaves us to focus on the present moment. If you want to change something, now is the time to do it. Want to lose weight? Take the first step in this exact moment. Decide that you're going to do it, go throw out all the junk food in your house, buy some great books or magazines to read on your couch at night instead of sitting in front of the TV where you're tempted to snack. Want to have a better relationship with your husband? Take action in this exact moment. Text him right now that you love him, or do something for him that he'll appreciate later. Want to make more money? Use this moment to update your resume, schedule a meeting with your boss for the end of the week, and make a list of where you can take on more responsibility or add more value to share with the person who oversees your work and can help you get to the next level.

Whatever it is, do it now. Thinking about it, planning it, or dreaming about it doesn't get you results. Only taking action does. Using the present moment to make decisions and take immediate action builds momentum. Once you've got momentum, it compounds to get you the results you want. It's easier said than done, because it take a lot of energy to get started, requires you to get past your fears and insecurities, and necessitates some risk. But remember that there's no standing still. What you do with this exact moment might as well be helping you get what you want.

To end this post, I'm going to leave you with a question and a quote to think about (both have been top of mind for me):

Think about yourself at this time last year. What did you think would be different about your life today?

"For what it's worth: it's never too late to be whoever you want to be. I hope you live a life you're proud of, and if you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start over."  - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Ok, that's all I've got for you. Please let me know what you think of these ideas in the comments!

*Reading through the contents of entire USPS boxes filled with Amazon books delivered to my door two days after one stressful, sleepless night where the only thing that would console me was Googling "how to be less neurotic," asking my friends, colleagues and strangers mildly intrusive questions about their lives and deepest desires, and watching enlightening documentaries such as Iris.

**I don't even really know what this means, but it sounds nice, doesn't it? There's actually not much to discover. I think it's more like, "self-assessment" but that sounds too sterile.

Let me start this post by saying that I truly believe there is no more humbling experience than being plopped into a city where you have exactly zero friends. It doesn't even matter if you weren't that popular to begin with, even going from one friend to zero has got to be just as terrible. Suddenly finding yourself in a situation where you are utterly friendless is a unique brand of loneliness that I will attempt to describe by sharing this excerpt from a birthday card my friend Michelle sent me after I moved to Washington, DC all by myself at age 23: "Dear Colleen, happy birthday! I hope you don't have to use the pink grenade this year."

Earlier that year, I'd called Michelle from the local hardware store on in my neighborhood to describe a run-in I'd had with the checkout clerk. My first floor one bedroom apartment was in a neighborhood I'd randomly selected in order to cut short a stressful apartment hunt with a particularly irritating relocation specialist, and I'd spent a few too many sleepless nights wondering how long it would take for someone to find me if I was murdered in my sleep. (Morbid, I know. I landed on three days.)

Deciding to beef up on security, I walked to the hardware store and stuffed my shopping cart with dozens of those magnet alarms meant to be used on windows and doors to scare off burglars when they opened them. To be extra safe, I sprinkled in some pepper spray and a rape whistle. When I got to the counter, the clerk looked at the contents of my cart, asked if I was new to the neighborhood, then told me that I didn't need all the stuff I was trying to buy. 

Instead, he said, reaching underneath the counter, "you need a pink grenade." He handed me a small pink device that did look just like a grenade, with a pin and everything. He told me to keep it next to my bed and pull the pin if anyone tried to break in, promising that it would be so loud they'd run away. So I bought it, put it in my nightstand, and started sleeping soundly with my newfound sense of security. For the record, I never had to use it.

While sleeping alone in a one bedroom apartment without a friend for hundreds of square miles is certainly lonely, it's not so bad on the weeknights for someone who loves solitary activities like reading and journaling and going to bed at 9:30 p.m. The weekends, however, are a different story.

There are only so many workout classes, Whole Foods trips and Target runs you can do in a 65-hour timeframe before you start to lose your mind. We're hardwired for social connection, and wanting to be part of a community is a survival instinct. One Sunday morning,  I walked to Whole Foods to get supplies for a new recipe I planned to cook and eat by myself that night, and passed a group of girls laughing over drinks on a patio. It immediately made me wonder if I would ever have friends again, and then consider how uncomfortable it would be if I invited myself to join them. I continued my walk in silence, slowly picked out the best leeks and onions in the entire store after examining every option, and made my way back home in deep thought about how I was going to muster up a group of friends from scratch.

And muster them I did, but before I dig in to the basic steps to making friends as an adult in a new city you wouldn't have chosen for yourself, I want to also mention that the same challenges exist even if you're moving with a partner. Moving from Washington, DC to Charlotte, NC after I got married was really tough, even though Wes was with me.  I dragged my feet in agreeing to move there, thinking that living to the south meant I'd be pressured to wear pastel paisley outfits and monogram my initials in pink curlicue script onto all of my monogrammable belongings in order to fit in. (This turned out to be only partially true.)

Wes was the reason we'd moved in the first place and he had close friends from college living in the area, which was great fuel for the pity parties I threw for myself on Saturday nights for the first couple of months. Wes felt guilty and tried to help by inviting me to events with his friends, hoping I'd warm up to the wives and girlfriends who tagged along.

One day, I agreed to attend a barbeque and found myself sitting in a group of at least ten potential new friends. After a few minutes of casual conversation, I mentioned that I had friends visiting from DC and asked the group to recommend some cool activities that I could do with them besides brunch and shopping. It was silent for a solid 60 seconds, until someone finally chimed in: "I heard the first lady's pin collection is on display at the Mint Museum." My immediate reaction was to spit out my wine, start laughing uncontrollably, and leave the party early with my angry husband in tow while unsuccessfully trying to explain the absurdity of the situation.

Anyway, my point is that moving to a new place is hard either way, and it's especially challenging when you have a full time job and limited time on your hands. The last thing you want to do is go out on a Tuesday night to talk to strangers, but investing some time up front to meet a few friends who you click with will pay dividends in terms of your long term happiness and popularity in your adopted home.

Without further ado, here's a list of the basic guidelines to improving your social capital:

#1 Get comfortable doing things by yourself

While this should seem obvious, you're going to have to learn to love your own company and start doing things by yourself while you're just getting started. "Doing things" does not include sitting on your couch with a bottle of pinot noir, as tempting as that sounds. It means attending events and visiting places where other people hang out all by yourself. Keep an eye out for community events, volunteer opportunities, museum exhibits, art classes, etc. and force yourself to show up with an open mind and a willingness to test your conversational skills.

#2 Accept that you're desperate

One of the hardest things to accept was that no one was going to come hunting me down to be their friend. As a person with exactly no friends, it's on you to make the effort. Accepting that you're desperate means admitting that you need help. Reach out to your geographically undesirable network and ask if anyone has friends, friends-of-friends, cousins or colleagues who live in your new town and ask them to make the connection for you. Admit to other people that you're new in town and looking to make connections, and ask them for advice and suggestions for getting plugged in to the community.

#3 Lower your standards

This sounds harsh, but bear with me for a moment. Let's assume you have a gaggle of girlfriends 1,000 miles away who know everything about you, can make you die laughing on a moment's notice, and are the most fabulous people to ever walk the earth. Holding any potential new friends to that kind of standard just isn't going to work. You need to cast a wide net. There are benefits to doing this, including the opportunity to find really interesting people who stretch and challenge you in new ways and would never cross your path otherwise. Some of my closest friends to this day are those who I might not have met if I hadn't been motivated to open my social circle.

#4 Take the initiative

As in, ask people to hang out with you after you meet them, regardless of where you met. This requires you to be a bit aggressive, meaning asking for phone numbers and quickly following up with a proposed date, time and place. Because you're comfortable doing things alone, you should have a short list of activities to invite people to join you in attending. Be persistent, and generous with reschedule requests. I found one of my very best friends in DC (hi, Karena!) at an alumni association happy hour and insisted on exchanging business cards, emailed her the next day and basically didn't stop until we made our date.

#5 Commit to saying yes

Related to the above, anyone who offers to set you up on a friend date or asks you to hang out will get a yes.* Every. Single. Time. You may meet some weirdos, some people who you may never want to see again, and some keepers. Making friends from scratch is a numbers game, after all. And you'll get momentum from filling up your social calendar as much as you possibly can.

#6 Join group activities

Even if you lack hobbies and hand-eye coordination, I guarantee there are several group activities that you can join to pick up some pals. The concept of "sports" these days has expanded to include many things that hardly qualify as exercise and they'll take anyone (think shuffleboard, kickball, etc.). There's an entire website devoted to organizing interest-based meet ups and even has meet ups for those with no interests beyond "new in town." Check out alumni associations, book clubs, professional organizations and not-for-profits. Keep joining and trying new activities until you find something that sticks, or until you meet a good number of new pals and don't feel the need to keep trying. I met one of my very best friends in Charlotte (hi, Pam!) at a meetup and never went back

Ok, that's the end of the list. In my experience, once you've made one or two great connections, it gets a lot easier to make friends because you'll have company in your quest. In Charlotte, my first friend (hi, Ashley!) and I met at a neighborhood party and realized we were both friendless. We decided that there was no reason we couldn't be the coolest, most popular people in town and crafted a recruiting strategy for friends that involved inviting every girl who seemed remotely interesting to a weekly wine night. We swelled to numbers we couldn't possibly keep up with, then pared it back to a group of girls who were truly wonderful. They made it really hard to move away from Charlotte and I still miss them!

There are probably other strategies and ideas for making friends that I haven't listed here, or you may have some anecdotes of your own about being alone in a new city. I would love to hear your thoughts - let me know in the comments!

*With the exception of romantic advances. Remind me to tell you about the time that a cab driver asked me to dinner.

A few years ago after a particularly rough project, I applied to another consulting firm - considered the best of the best, the kind of place that brands itself on having the smartest consultants in the world and tests them by asking them to calculate in their head important Universal questions we all have such as how many golf balls could fill up a stadium.

Much to my surprise, a recruiter called me to set up an interview. What she said will stick with me forever: "We had to understand how you turned a state school journalism degree into a consulting career!" Reading between the lines, she meant: "You're grossly unqualified and have zero credentials to be doing this job. Tell us your secret!"

So tell her I did. I also completed several interviews where I was asked to estimate all sorts of things in my head, imagining how I'd sit around with my new Mathlete friends and laugh gleefully at those who improperly sized the market for paper ketchup cups. In tandem, I also read Eckhart Tolle's "The Power of Now," learned how to deal with my work stress in a productive way, got promoted, and stayed put.

Anyway, despite all the painful estimation exercises, that experience reminded me that I was in fact grossly unqualified and had zero credentials for a consulting job, and it forced me to reflect on what steps helped me to get where I am today. In a nutshell, I learned that getting what you want is a repeatable process that we can use in any area of our lives.

If you read my last post, you'll remember that I was in a terrible rut where I spent a lot of time struggling with how to move forward with some of my creative goals, questioning why I haven't achieved more in those areas of my life. After taking some time to reflect on the specific actions that helped me to become successful in my career, I realized that I was failing to repeat those steps in other areas of my life to generate the outcomes I wanted. Simply put, the reason I've been struggling to make progress in my creative ventures is because I haven't even taken the first step!

As a friendly reminder for myself, for you, or for anyone in general who might be a bit down and out for not making Forbes 30 Under 30 List*, here are the fundamental steps to getting anything you want in life:

#1 Decide what you want, despite advice you may get to the contrary

Although it seems obvious, this is the hardest step to take. Identifying what you want can be hard, because it means making tradeoffs. The word "decide" literally means to cut off all options. This step is about defining what you're going to focus all of your attention and energy on. If you don't decide what it is that you want, you'll be distracted, unfocused and will have a hard time making progress. I recently read a GREAT book called "The Compound Effect" by Darren Hardy, where he made an analogy about the power of focus. He described how a little kid, when using a magnifying glass, can harness the energy of the sun and focus it in a powerful way to burn things at will. The power of decision and focused action is like a magnifying glass for your energy, helping you to harness it and get the results you want.

This is the first thing I told that recruiter who asked about my success-in-consulting-despite-utter-lack-of-credentials: I decided that I was not going to be a journalist, because it sounded like the industry was dying and I didn't want to be surviving on ramen noodles in an English basement apartment. I decided that I would have a corporate job, learn about business (whatever that meant…), make lots of money, travel to exciting places, and do whatever else corporate types did.  

A lot of people told me I was unqualified, couldn't do it, should have picked a different major, etc. Many advised that I just bite the bullet and take a job related to my degree because it would be easier. My parents offered this perspective: "College degrees mean nothing. You all know exactly nothing when you graduate, and companies expect you to be able to learn on the job."

Taking that in stride, I crashed the business career fair** at my university after doing extensive research on the companies represented to find the ones that didn't require a business undergraduate degree, stood in the long lines and used my rehearsed 2-minute blurb on why I loved the company, wanted the job and thought I'd be a perfect fit for it. Then I bombed a few interviews, including one for a buyer position where the interviewer STOPPED the interview and asked me if it was my first time after it became evident that a) I had no idea what a buyer was and b) I knew nothing about the company.

Despite the ego bruises, reality checks, embarrassment and list of other reasons to quit, I kept at it because it was the only route to getting the corporate job that I decided I would have. Special shout out to General Mills and their business management associate development program for interviewing late in the process and snapping me up for my first job after I'd gotten all my mistakes out of the way. (It was one of two total bites, out of Lord knows how many interviews…)

#2 Commit to doing what it takes, no matter how hard or lonely it gets

When we think about "doing what it takes," sometimes we realize that we don't really want the thing we thought we wanted after all. It's nice to imagine yourself happily married to the man of your dreams, but signing up for, going through a series of awkward first dates, falling in love only to discover your dream man has an expansive collection of reptiles living in his apartment, and then going back to the drawing board and allowing your mom's friends and your hair dresser to set you up is a whole different ball game. Doing what it takes in this scenario sounds exhausting, but it's necessary to commit to doing those things to find the man of your dreams. And if doing what it takes sounds like too much, that's OK too. It's probably a sign that you don't want it badly enough. (Note that committing to do what it takes also applies to marriage.)

My first company transferred me across the country twice. The job was tough, requiring me to do pricing and margin analysis when I'd never even taken a finance class. I lived through a cold, lonely winter in Minneapolis***, and learned a few times over what it felt like to be in a new city with no friends. My phone stopped ringing and I'd spend Saturday nights alone on my couch with a bottle of wine and a bunch of tabloids because my mom AND grandma were both too busy to sit on the phone with me.

There were a hundred times that I felt like throwing in the towel, moving back to my old bedroom at my parent's house, and finding an easier route. Actually, I almost did: I verbally accepted an offer that would have taken me back to Chicago. It was safe, it was easy, and it didn't sit right with me. In my gut, I knew that the role wouldn't have been challenging enough for me to grow, and the only reason I wanted it was because it would solve my two biggest problems: loneliness, and knowing that my current job wasn't it, either.

Have you ever heard the old adage that you only fail when you stop trying? I totally believe this. Trying, failing, applying your newfound lessons, and continuing to take action is literally the only way to grow and advance towards what you want. Success compounds on itself, builds your confidence and gives you momentum to do and become more.

#3 Figure out the steps as you go, regardless of how confused you may feel

It's tough to figure out the right steps to take, especially when there are plenty of distractions, alternate paths and no right answers. It's easy to get discouraged, lose your confidence and want to give up when you're charging towards something and the map isn't totally clear.

After sticking it out in my first role just long enough to get pretty good at recommending trade spend, I got transferred again to DC with a totally different set of responsibilities that I had to learn. Although I got better at the whole making friends in a new city thing (e.g., get comfortable with asking girls out on awkward friend dates, join group activities that require minimal talent / hand-eye coordination, etc.)****, over time I started to realize that pushing Cheerios might not be a venture worthy of accepting a transfer to yet another city. So I got really clear with my objectives for a next role, did my research, sent out my resume, networked like crazy, and ended up with a job in consulting.

Which was terrible. As in, I cried the first week on the job and wanted to quit after the third. OMG. I cannot even tell you how bad it was. There were many times on my way to work in the morning when I would stop in Starbucks and gaze too long at the barista, jealous of her job, wishing I could be behind a counter making lattes instead of spending hours on end in a windowless conference room silently making Visio process maps and counting down the minutes until I could leave.

This next step was supposed to SOLVE my career woes, not trade them in for another set of problems! Looking back, it was exactly the right step in my path: I needed to learn a few lessons, and it was the perfect environment to teach me. The first thing I learned is that there is no such thing as a perfect job. The second thing I learned is that I knew nothing. The third thing I learned is what I never wanted to be when I became responsible for managing other people. It was at this job that someone taught me how to make a life filter and explained how to use it to make decisions more in line with my values, goals and aspirations. (It's a tool I still have and use, years later!)

#4 Stick with it for as long as it takes

One thing I've learned to be true in my life to date is that anything worth having can only be obtained over time. There's no such thing as an overnight success, and the process with all of its highs and lows is absolutely necessary to get you where you're going. You need to develop patience, because it takes a lot of time to fall down and fail, to be pushed to your limits, to be stressed, to be uncomfortable and to come through it on the other side as a better version of yourself. I wish someone could have explained that to 25-year-old me. But even if someone did, I probably wouldn't have listened because I needed to learn it for myself.

Long story short, learning some lessons the hard way, understanding how to be more strategic in my decision-making and gaining enough real-world experience to have the confidence to wait for the right opportunity aligned to my goals is what ultimately led me to my current role. I've been at my consulting firm for more than five years, and while there have certainly been some trials and tribulations along the way, sticking with it has been one of the best decisions I made in my career to date.

It has has allowed me to work with colleagues and clients who are smarter than me, who push me, who challenge my thinking and who hold me to extremely high standards. I've been able to grow constantly, and can honestly say that I am a better person for it.

Following these simple steps - making a decision, committing to do what it takes, figuring out the steps as you go, and sticking with it - sounds easy, but it's not. Getting what you want takes intention, energy, and a ton of focused effort over the long haul. I think the process is necessary to make you value whatever it is once you have it, and to be worthy of having it in the first place.

For me personally, it's helpful to think about what I want to achieve in my creative ventures in the framework of this process that I've applied to my career. It takes the pressure off of producing results, and puts the emphasis on taking consistent action over the long game.

Ok, the end. Would love to hear your thoughts on this post, especially if you're like me and have some areas of your life where you've been wanting to make progress. Let me know in the comments.

*The kid voted "Most Likely to Succeed" in my high school is valued in the BILLIONS by Forbes. We all doubted his money making schemes back then, but look who's laughing now.

**I simply walked past the guy checking University IDs without offering mine. It really wasn't hard. I don't know why more people don't do this.

***For my non-American readers, this is basically Canada. It regularly gets to -34 degrees Celsius or lower in the winter.

****Post entitled "How to make friends when moving alone a to a new city that you likely would never have chosen for yourself" coming soon. [UPDATE: This post has been written, read it here.]

P.S. For my next newsletter, I'm writing a synopsis of the 10 small changes Darren Hardy recommends to immediately improve your health, your relationships and your life. You can sign up for the newsletter here if you're interested in reading it.

P.P.S. Thanks so much for all of you who have signed up for the newsletter already. You're awesome and I am forever indebted to you for trusting me with your Gmail.

P.P.P.S. If you STILL haven't signed up, I respect your hard stance against my enticing gestures to lure you in. But just know that I see those repeat page views and I know we're secretly friends and you'll eventually be on my Rolodex for life.  So cough it up, girl. You know you want to.

To say that I've been in a rut lately would be an understatement. There have been at least five times where I've tried to write this post and just sat there, wind out of my sails, staring at the blinking cursor on my OneNote, mind wandering to the large jar of almond butter in my desk drawer and how big of an effort it would be to get up to find a spoon. My rut is a mix of writer's block and identity crisis, and it's translated into me trudging through the past couple of weeks basically wearing the same three outfits day in and day out*.

For a few too many weeks, I escaped my rut through chardonnay and (seriously effective) impulse shopping and watching endless strings of Lost episodes on Netflix in dirty leggings. Then I half-heartedly downloaded the Tony Robbins classic, 'Awaken the Giant Within,' to my Kindle in hopes that somewhere deep inside my uninspired, almond butter-filled body there is an amazing, fabulous version of myself who is capable of being so much more than I have been lately.

Although I wish I could tell you that I finished the book and I'm sitting here in my most dazzling outfit, all of my sass fully intact with a new lease on life, the reality is that I've only made it through 35 pages because I can't wake up early enough to read and have been unable to break my string of Lost episodes in the evening. What I'm trying to say is that I'm wallowing, bored, aware that it's all my fault and fully up to me to fix, but I just can't right now. To be honest, I've come to a realization that it's important to let yourself go a bit, to loosen the restraints and loll about for a while.

In the midst of all of this indulgent lollygagging, I have mustered some motivation to make a few changes, and wanted to share them here with you. The first is related to the chardonnay. The second is related to my career. And the third is related to my writing. There are a few reasons I want to share: because I think some of you have similar struggles, because some of you have ideas and wisdom to help, and because it's preoccupying my thoughts and therefore easy to write about.

Change #1: Reclaim my healthiest, most vibrant body

If you've been following along for a while now, you know that being healthy and fit is a priority for me. Yet it's something that's a constant struggle, because, you know, wine and chocolate were invented and "doing cardio exercise" is a seriously, horrifically, terrifyingly awful way to spend 45 minutes. There are a lot of creative strategies that I use (to the dismay of some readers *cough, Jessica's mom, cough*) that work really well for me to balance these competing forces.

Yet there were these nagging little issues building up that I'd been ignoring for a long time. A persistent rash on my face that wouldn't go away. Sores that took way too long to heal. Mood swings and irritability that I'd never experienced before. Fatigue and low energy that led me to have the personality of milk toast by the end of the work week.

Since my dermatologist is basically the only doctor I trust,** I went to go see her and she promptly told me that I had rosacea and signs of chronic inflammation. She prescribed a low-dose antibiotic and gave me the name of someone can only be described as a shaman healer*** who could help me with identifying what was causing all these problems.

So see him I did, give him 11 vials of my blood I did, along with $1,200 of non-reimbursable dollars, and in return was given a list of foods that I was allergic to but eating constantly (like all RICE! And YEAST! And PORK!!!) or rubbing directly on my face (like CUCUMBER!!) as well as a 90-day plan to eliminate dietary causes of inflammation.

You guys, I've been doing it for ~8 weeks now and my problems are COMPLETELY GONE. My skin is as smooth as a baby's butt, my energy levels at an annoying all-time high, and I HAVE A SIX PACK**** for the first time ever because all of this unnecessary flab and bloat has melted off of my body. It's also made me feel strangely powerful and in control of my health and well-being.

If you're having similar symptoms and interested in learning about the blood test and 90-day plan, there's a bonus post on my freebies page for my beloved email list members. (If you're not on the list, but want access, click here to join and I'll send you the link.) WARNING: This bonus post is not for the faint of heart, and has some verrrrrrrry unconventional advice that some people *cough, Jessica's mom, cough* might not want to read.

Change #2: Drive my career with intention and purpose

Have you ever hit a career wall, where you wake up one day and find yourself wondering why you've been doing this job all these years? That happened to me, in almost that exact way. It was after a long period of reflection at the end of my father-in-law's life, where I spent a lot of time considering what qualifies as a fulfilling and purposeful life, and then applied that lens to my own life. And I literally work up one day at 4 o'clock in the morning thinking this exact thought: "I have basically spent my adult life living in a MARRIOTT!! In the panhandle of Florida! In the suburbs of Philadelphia! In Texas and California and Tennessee and other places where my husband, family, friends and dog are NOT!!!" and I could not muster a tangible example of a lasting, important impact that resulted from this investment of my time aside from completed objectives of the projects I'd supported (save for my client BFFs and a strange new skill that I describe as the ability to mentally depart from my body during meetings that are going south).

I realized that I needed to get really clear with myself on a vision for my life's work, and then intentionally drive towards it. So I wrote out the vision I have for my life, in extreme detail, covering everything from where I live to what I do every day. And I've decided to simply say no to things that aren't aligned to this vision, to save myself time and space to do more of those things that matter.

That might sound selfish, but I think it's the opposite. You may have heard that you live your life in moments, and I've started to realize that you have to be intentional about how to spend your moments or they become absorbed in unimportant activities and mindless tasks.

Of course, there's an art to saying no that can occupy an entire post, but it's an absolute necessity to be intentional with your time in order to live the life you want. This little exercise has taught me that what fulfills me has very little to do with my day-to-day responsibilities. It's also not a simple as making the choice between a corporate and creative path. Instead, the things that I love relate to developing others, figuring out how to do something better, more effectively, and doing work that is of value to others.

Change #3: Take my writing seriously, for the first time ever, and forever

Related to point #2 above, I've been making some changes to carve out more space to do the things I love, and am good at, both in my full-time and creative ventures such as writing this here l'il blog.

One of my biggest challenges in writing is this insecurity that it wouldn't be accepted or approved of by colleagues and clients at my full time job because it is so off-the-beaten-path of what I do for a living. So I've kept it a secret, written it under a pseudonym, and have let it grow organically rather than sharing it for fear of judgement. I think that trying  to take parallel creative and corporate paths while overinvesting in one of them has led me to my current rut, where I'm ready to stretch and run with my writing but also in a place where I feel that I have more to lose in my corporate career.

In tandem, I've felt a lot of pressure to define what it is that I'm doing on this blog, to focus it, to "define my niche." But I am just not a person who can be in a niche. In fact, I think it is essential to be able to talk about my thoughts on Siddhartha and whether or not denim culottes are socially acceptable in the same stream of consciousness. So I am letting go of feeling the self-imposed pressure to decide where I am going with my writing or this blog. Because we're going all over the place, folks. Feel free to hitch your wagon.

The End.


*Four if you count my pajamas. And including the leggings in the picture above. It's amazing what a good trench coat can do for an outfit you've been living in for days, amiright?

**Driven by vanity, maybe, but she has the skin of a newborn baby and my other doctors give me dubious, potentially ludicrous diagnoses. For example, my dentist told me I had a "microcavity" (what is THAT?!) and couldn't give me a straight answer when I asked for a black-and-white answer on whether or not I do, in fact, have a cavity.

***Doctor of Wellness and Oriental Medicine

****Only first thing in the morning, when flexing with a tremendous amount of exertion

Oh, hello there. Made it all the way to the end, did you? Do you have any advice for snapping out of a rut? Are you feeling like I'm overdue to give you the chance to opt in for certain topics? Have any additional thoughts on culottes or Siddhartha that you'd like to share? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Let me know in the comments. 

Last week, my mom and I escorted my very pregnant sister and brother-in-law out the front door of their home, excitedly taking pictures of the two of them before they departed for a C-section surgery they had scheduled to bring their second child into the world.

Before they left, my mom told them that if they were lucky, this day would be celebrated in 90 years. We quickly calculated that it would be the year 2107, and that we would either be dead or cryogenically frozen somewhere while this baby we had yet to meet would be wrinkled, wobbling around with a cane and probably eating Betty Crocker yellow cake with chocolate icing and a sparse sprinkle of candles in his new Gold Toe socks if our family birthday traditions continue to get passed down.

I thought it was a very circle-of-life thing for mom to say, and then considered how she must be feeling like the largest size of a Russian nesting doll, responsible for producing all of these other people. Then we sat down at my grandmother's old kitchen table that Karen had shipped to San Francisco after she passed, enjoying our coffee and tea, making plans for brunch and laughing about the cold reality that 19-month-old Emily was about to face as her status of center-of-the-Universe, only-child-in-the-world was about to come crashing down around her.

For a long time, I thought that it wouldn't be possible to love another niece or nephew as much as I loved first-born Emily. She was exciting and brought with her a whole round of first experiences for her parents and our family. Over time, she's recognized her celebrity status and has become accustomed to posing for photos basically any time an iPhone is taken out in her presence. She's honed how to charm an audience via FaceTime and has the ability to fake laugh at the appropriate moments amidst an adult discussion. Now that she's able to wobble her way around the house, she's also become the master of her environment and has developed a saucy attitude that garners her the attention and adoration she's grown to love.

Maybe this is the reason I felt compelled to be there for the birth of the second child, to mark the significance of his entry to this Earth despite the fact that there were fewer celebrations, more hand-me-downs and a matter-of-fact efficiency to the pregnancy and birth that comes with the territory of a seasoned mother. I think my need to be there was really just an act of solidarity, to hold him on the first day of his life and welcome him to the fraternity of middle children that I am also a member.

And I did hold him, the first actual newborn I've ever seen, amazed at his tiny body and microscopic fingernails, staring in wonderment that he had hours before been literally inside of my sister's body. He opened his eyes and looked right at me, and I told Karen that he had inherited our earthworm toes while I wiggled them with my pinky finger. I sat with him, quietly studying his little face while my sister and brother-in-law struggled to order a chicken dinner on the hospital TV menu (which, by the way, is incredibly challenging even for two people with multiple graduate degrees between them). It struck me that the last time I'd been in a hospital room was with my dying father-in-law, and how stark of a contrast it was to be sitting with a human being at the onset of his life after just accompanying another through the end.

When Henry's older sister was born, I wrote her a post that listed out some instructions for life. In thinking about what to write for Henry, I realized that he's not going to need those instructions, because he'll learn them all from watching Emily. Instead, I decided to write him a list articulating the top ten advantages in life he has thanks to his birth order that I've learned through experience. Here it is for your reading pleasure:

Ten Reasons Why Being a Middle Child Is The Best

  1. You'll always have someone to support you - a built-in tutor to help you with your math homework, counselor for when you're having a problem you can't solve on your own, personal assistant to remind you that it's your mother's birthday, and partner-in-crime for when your parents are being crazy and no one else could possibly understand [Note to Henry: your mom still texts all her siblings to remind us to call our mom on Mother's Day. Annoying, yes, but necessary for some of us.]
  2. Building on the above point, you will never be the first to do the scary things in life like graduating from college, getting a job, etc. Which by default will make you seem tough and brave. [Note to Henry: watching your mom do all of these things before me gave me an insider look and a boost of confidence that I could handle it (including terrifying major life decisions like moving across the country alone, getting married, having a baby, etc.).]
  3. Because the oldest child will automatically be the perfectionist, responsible people-pleaser, you'll be free to be yourself and become a true original in tune with what sets you apart in the world. Because you don't have to worry about people-pleasing, you'll develop a thick skin and learn to care only about the feedback that matters.
  4. You will be smarter than your siblings, because you'll learn everything they know and observe and avoid their mistakes in addition to learning from your own experiences. [Note to Henry: be sure to pick Emily's brain, often, because that's where you'll find almost all your best tricks and shortcuts. Copying your mom was hands-down one of my smartest moves in life.]
  5. Nothing will ever be completely and totally your fault, since there will always be a shadow of doubt when there are multiple potential culprits. So go ahead and live a little. Break the rules, often. They'll never know for sure that it was you...
  6. Sharing the attention of your parents means that you'll learn to do things to please yourself. You'll be more independent and free to do things by yourself, for yourself - and you'll be happier and have more fun without the pressure.
  7. Having an older sibling trying to boss you around all the time will help you develop a healthy disrespect for authority that will later translate into high level executive functioning. [Note to Henry: you can thank Emily for your ability to remain calm and cool in stressful situations, effectively bargain and negotiate, handle confrontation, and think strategically about how to overcome obstacles. Your mom and other aunts and uncles helped me to develop these abilities that went unappreciated until I started my corporate career.]
  8. Although Emily may get privileges that come with being the oldest, such as accomplishing all of the "firsts" of the family, you will develop the ability to think outside of the box and take a more creative approach to your life. You will push yourself to do things differently, just to set yourself apart. As Stephen Richards so wisely put it, "If you do what everyone else does, you'll get what everyone else has."
  9. Your ability to fly under the radar will serve you well in many areas of life, especially during group chores like yard work and at certain family gatherings. [Note to Henry: when you're old enough, I'll give you the rundown on how I used this to avoid eating my peas and other dinner foods not to my liking, reprimands from my dad, etc.]
  10. Any time you succeed, you will get exponentially more attention and celebration because it will come as a surprise to everyone. It might take a little longer for the world to notice your latent genius, but that will make it all the more satisfying.

Based on my own anecdotal evidence, I'm pretty sure the impact of birth order on personality development is a real thing and I truly hope that Henry develops the same middle child syndrome that I benefited from in life. As Procter & Gamble put it with their famed diaper slogan, "Live, learn and get Luv's," middle children really do have it better, that despite the tempered enthusiasm, hand-me-downs and bargain diapers, they get the invaluable benefit of experience. So Henry, welcome to the club. Enjoy Emily's used toys and if you ever forget how good you have it, give me a call and I tell you about all the wonderful things about my life that wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for your mom preceding me in life.

If you made it to the end of this post, hello and thanks for reading! I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic and any words of wisdom for the newest member of the exclusive club of Middle Children.

P.S. Sorry I've been M.I.A. and neglecting this blog. Have been making some big changes in life that are stressful in a good way. Also have been simultaneously wallowing in a creative rut that I cannot shake no matter how many Tony Robbins books I read, spending more of my free time than I care to admit watching endless episodes of Lost with my husband (I realize the irony in that statement…), consuming Costco-sized bags of SkinnyPop and wearing leggings as pants. Send help.

We'd wait to eat dinner until my dad got home, setting the table and expectantly waiting for my mom to round us all up in the car to pick him up from the train. Our table was giant, a special order to comfortably seat six kids, two parents and handle the wear-and-tear that comes with years of family dinners, dyeing Easter eggs, carving pumpkins, baking cookies, painting and gluing and glittering things on to construction paper, and even occasionally being climbed on by a sleepwalking child.

After he'd washed his face and changed out of his suit, we'd take our reserved seats at the table, my dad at the head, mine two seats to the right, flanked by my little brother and rotating-favorite sister and directly across from the patio door, which had a tiny Gumby and Pokey standing on the frame to test the observational skills of newcomers to our dinner parties. We'd always say grace a few minutes into the meal, some of us out-of-sync in order to be technically correct in thanking the Lord for that which we had already received. Participation in dinner conversation was mandatory at our house, a lively round-the-table report-out of the day that tended to deteriorate into a number of scenarios, commonly starting with a diatribe against "the liberal Left," occasionally devolving into a tearful breakdown by my not-to-be-named, less-talkative sister when put on the spot to offer her opinion, sometimes extending for hours to allow time for an ungrateful child to finish his peas, and infamously involving a few head-to-head battles that could only be resolved by bringing the dictionary, atlas or encyclopedia to the table.

My mom cooked every night, unimpressive to me at the time and which now strikes me as incredible, seeing as I have no children of my own and a frequent nightly habit of frantically texting with my husband about how to feed ourselves, usually culminating in a Thai takeout order.

After dinner, my siblings and I would embark on our bumbling group project of cleaning the kitchen. As group projects go, some pulled more weight than others. (I will admit to pushing a wet rag over the surface of the table for many minutes longer than necessary to avoid being the one having to sweep the floor.) It was a serious job that ended with an inspection by a thankless, detail-oriented man who had no problem rearranging the dishwasher or demanding a re-sweep of a still-dirty floor, seemingly unconcerned by the self-assessed exhausted and overworked children standing before him in defeat.

We'd then disperse to our rooms, Karen and I in the front, Patty and Meghan next door and my brothers to the luxury of their own separate rooms (or to the makeshift basement computer lab, where my brother would take apart, lay in pieces on the carpet, and then successfully put back together our family desktop for no apparent reason other than to prove he could). The hallway that connected our bedrooms was filled with family photos and mementos that remind me of my mom, Catholic figurines and framed artwork that I'd made in third grade. My sisters and I shared a giant, communal bathroom with a double vanity that was always littered with Neutrogena and Chapstick. We unquestioningly respected our agreed-upon shower schedule for survival purposes (a stark contrast to our no-sharing-clothes contract). 

Significant square footage of our house was reserved exclusively for my parents, decorated with our baby pictures but not welcoming of our presence. We were invited into their bedroom or office only when we'd done something wrong, or had a genuine need for a private conversation (which did not include inter-sibling disputes unless they involved blood or fire). The dining and living rooms were invite-only, and it was usually just Karen who made it to the adult table during the parties and get-togethers my parents threw often. My most potent memory of time spent in the living room was the night I got engaged, sitting in there with my sisters and my parents, crying and laughing and drinking too much wine in front of the fireplace, welcoming Wes into the fold.

At our house, Tostitos were a food group, Christmas decorating a sport, and Sunday mass mandatory. The acre of yardage was meticulously maintained on a weekly Saturday morning schedule by my disciplined dad and his crew of free and somewhat unreliable laborers. On lazy weekends and summer days off, my grandma would come over with a coffee cake and we'd have hours-long brunches that lasted until the second pot of coffee ran out.

My parents worked with an architect to design the house to the exact specifications they needed for their large and uncontemporary family (including one design flaw which they learned about twenty years later when we explained how we used the basement stairs into the garage to sneak out past curfew). It was their dream house that they'd saved for years to build so their small children would have the space to grow up, to be the backdrop for all of our childhood experiences and family memories. They built it when I was in second grade, and I remember visiting it one night with my dad right before they finished construction. The base cabinets had just been installed, and he lifted me up to sit inside the cavity where they were putting a wall oven. It's funny to flash forward from that vantage point and moment in time, remembering everything that would happen in that soon-to-be-finished house. The day we moved in, my youngest brother cried and later told everyone that he would be painting his room black and sharing it with my mom.

Every time I walk in the door, I revert back into the 17-year-old who'd last lived there, my stress melting away in the comforting familiarity and sense of security that comes with it. My parents sold the house today, downsizing to a place perfect for spending the warm Chicago months in retirement. It's just a house, and that cheesy saying about home being where the heart is and all that stuff is all true. But I was surprised how sentimental I was at saying goodbye to the place that served our family for decades, and how much I wanted to set down roots and buy my own home with Wes when my parents told us they were selling it.

As my childhood home was renovated and staged for sale, Wes and I did buy our own place. It's taken on a life of its own, becoming the new family gathering spot and the place where we gather to eat Tostitos and drink cheap wine and have brunches that never end. It's a work-in-progress that I've been focused on designing and improving, forgetting that there's much more involved in making it a home than what meets the eye. A few weeks ago, I did a little DIY video tour of our progress on it to post here on this blog, but revisiting that video today, I realized that there's some Catholic paraphernalia, family photos and children's artwork missing that needs to be addressed in the coming months and years in order to give this place the kind of character and personality I grew up with on Garfield Avenue and didn't fully appreciate until today. More to come on that...

Ok, that's all I have. Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, especially if you felt the same when your parents sold the place you grew up.

P.S. If you want to see the video or just hear what my voice sounds like after reading my typing for hours on end in your time following this blog, I've posted it on my downloads page for your viewing pleasure. (If you're on my email list, you can access it via the link at the end of my last newsletter. If you're not on the list and want to see it, you can join here for access.)

P.P.S. I know, a couple of sappy posts in a row. Thanks for staying with me. Something fluffy and fashionable coming soon... and I promise to set up a reader preferences survey as soon as I figure out how to do it, so you can choose which topics you care to receive!

He looked like one of those wax figures at Madame Tussauds, where the cloned bone structure and lifelike features could fool you if not betrayed by a peculiar yellow skin tone. Aside from the slight puffs of air that escaped from his lips, my warm, witty, larger-than-life father-in-law was nothing more than a shell of a human being.

We held vigil at his bedside in hospice in the days leading to the end, watching him wither away, placing our hands on his chest, feeling every single one of his rib bones beneath the thin blanket. I held my husband's hands and his father's limp, lifeless fingers as we timed the pauses between his breaths. Waiting with eerie expectation for the moment he would finally slip away and leave behind the scarred, worn-out body that carried him for 70 years, a lifetime of memories spread over generations of family and friends, and a ghost of a future filled with grandchildren he'd never meet, family trips he'd miss, Thanksgivings and Christmases he wouldn't attend and a retirement spent traveling the world with the love of his life that he'd never enjoy.

We knew the end was coming for months, a steady decline with chemotherapy being the last bleak hope of an upswing that never came. My husband, an only child, left his job in January to go back and forth to North Carolina to be with his dad, knowing that their days together were numbered. Wes had a complicated relationship with his father, made more so as he watched his mother transform into a primary caregiver, shuttling his father to doctor's appointments, carrying him and his wheelchair and his anger, holding and feeding and rescuing and counseling her thankless charge, administering medication to her unwilling patient while losing part of herself in the process. My husband and his mother had watched helplessly for years as the rock of their family lost himself, his mind, his ability to walk, and finally, his will to live. It was messy, marked with daily battles and marred with regrets on all sides. The end was a mix of acute sadness at the loss of the man who once was, and a dull relief to surrender the human being who took his place.

How the value of a life is determined

My father-in-law, the man who once was, can only be described as a character, the kind of man who went through the trials and suffering required to have such strength of soul, clarity of vision, and inspired ambition. He was adored as a true original, a salt-of-the-earth pragmatist and a scrappy, self-made multimillionaire who built several businesses in Los Angeles using his Southern accent as an asset in negotiations with what he referred to as "slicks" (which we interpreted to mean "businessmen in expensive suits"). He used his quick wit, common sense, sound judgement and ability to outwork anyone, anywhere, at any time to his advantage. I could spend paragraphs describing his shrewd ventures and dogged determination to succeed, but in the end, all who knew him described the value of his life in terms of service: to the United States Navy, to his friends, family, employees and customers, and to the son he adopted and raised as his own. In the context of this service, his humility, sense of humor and unusual intelligence set him apart.

He taught me skills I'll use for life - like how to service a car engine and change a light fixture - but the biggest gift he gave me was his practical wisdom, shared in tidbits over the past seven years we’ve known each other.

I wish he'd have stuck around long enough to tell his future grandchildren that it's a gift to be underestimated, because your competitors will never see you coming; that there's no need to rush, because you've got the rest of your life to get where you're going; that becoming successful requires you to do things no one else will, because if it were easy everyone would be doing it. I wish he'd have stayed here a little longer so I could tell him how much he inspired me with his strong sense of self and conviction that everyone is a Jeff Gordon fan even if they don't know it yet; his utter disregard for popular opinion, his deep belief in the power of a dissenting voice, and his passive resistance against waste and abuse in government; his abhorrence of pretentiousness and associated love of Sutter Home Sweet Red; his dichotomous personality, including his penchant for wearing a $15,000 Rolex with Carhartt coveralls, work boots, women's reading glasses, and an ancient cell phone on a lanyard around his neck; his mental shortcuts that Wes and I will forever quote, including referring to all women whose names he could not recall as "Petunia" (as in, "I saw Petunia from the school board in line at the bank") and referring to all persons whose competence may be in question as "Nematodes" (as in, "Let me tell you what that Nematode married to Petunia from the school board did this time"); and his joyous, boisterous bouts of laughter and genuine love of all people (minus the aforementioned slicks and nematodes, of course).

What death tells us about how to live our lives

He passed away on Saturday, after a years-long struggle with an illness that not only ended his life but absorbed what they say is supposed to be the best years of it. Sitting next to his bed in his final days, it struck me how we exit the world in much the same way that we enter it, surrounded by friends and family in waiting, anticipating the brief presence of some higher being that both gives and takes away life, focused on the potential and value of the life in question. In death, we recognize our own mortality and it brings into sharp focus what we should be doing with each day we're given, making us conscious of the fact that we're not guaranteed another one. If there's any silver lining to an early death like that of my father-in-law, it's the salient reminder to those left behind on why we're all here. Whether you believe in God, or Universal Intelligence, or simply feel that there must be something beyond this life, we're all judged in the end not by our worldly accomplishments or what we may pride ourselves on, but by how we've touched and served others. Someone who my father-in-law deeply touched left a beautiful note on his obituary with a quote that I think says it best: 

"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?" - Clarence the Angel, It's a Wonderful Life.

I think that awful hole is related to the meaning of life. It's a concept that I've been struggling to define for myself recently, after coming to the stark realization that I've allowed years of my time and attention to be absorbed without taking a step back to examine what it's all for, anyway. If evidenced by nothing other than reflections on my father-in-law's life with the people who knew and loved him, the key to a meaningful and fulfilling life is directly related to how you've channeled your talents and abilities to make the world a better place. There's a quote jotted in one of my journals, captured when I was first starting out in my post-college life. It found me today during a hunt through memory boxes for photos of my father-in-law, inviting itself to be added to this post for it's perfect articulation of the criteria for evaluating a life:

"To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty; To find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Although the last years of his life were blemished with the heartache, regret and grief that accompany a protracted decline, my father-in-law was a living expression of joy and kindness who left all those who came to him better and happier. (In particular, a 24-year-old girl who will never forget how she was wholeheartedly accepted by him the moment they met, despite her being the daughter of a slick Yankee Catholic lawyer and having a dubious appreciation for Nascar and Southern cuisine.) His legacy lives with those of us left behind, especially in his only son Wes, who has more of his father in him than he knows. My husband and I have our work cut out for us to honor the life of this man, to follow his footsteps in fostering, adopting and loving unconditionally a child in need of a family; to listen to his guidance and use it to build something of importance and significance; and to internalize his wisdom and teach our future children everything they will need to learn from the life of their imperfect, incredible Grandpa Walt. 

How to define the purpose of your life

My father-in-law's final lesson, shared through his death and the gaping hole he left, was the importance of living a purposeful life: to define what makes you unique and what you're naturally good at, to seek ways to use it to help others, and to strive to be the best version of yourself every day. Easier said than done, of course, as it wouldn't be a worthy venture otherwise. There's a little prayer that I say when I feel lost on that purpose, and thought you might find it to be a helpful reflection whether you believe in God, Universal Intelligence or something else bigger than ourselves:

"What would you have me do? Where would you have me go? Who would you have me be?" 

Somewhere deep down, you probably already know the answers to these questions. Because of my father-in-law's example, I'm convinced that figuring out those answers and finding the courage to act on them will lead us to live purposeful, fulfilling lives; to use whatever challenges life throws at us to develop strength of soul, clarity of vision and determined ambition; and to help us to be the best versions of our unique selves to serve the world in our own way.

To my father-in-law, who among everything noted above also made sure to tell me he loved me every chance he had; who started calling me "Annie Oakley" instead of "Darling" after teaching me to shoot targets fashioned out of rival Democrat campaign signs; who raised my incredible husband and gave him a sound work ethic, strong character and a side-splitting sense of humor (and bragged about him behind his back to keep him humble); who married and loved deeply an extraordinary, intelligent and virtuous woman who reciprocated his love until the end, quietly and nobly honoring her marriage vows as they relate to sickness and health, even when it seemed futile and impossibly strenuous to continue; who we'd hoped would grace us with his company, his laughter, his stories and his wisdom for the next 20 to 30 years of our lives: I forgive you for leaving so soon. I'm sorry I didn't call more often, visit more often, and sit through the races with you more often. I love you more than you will ever know. We will miss you forever.

If you've made it this far, thank you for reading and I hope you took something away from this post (even if only a newfound love of the name Petunia). I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.