This article appeared originally in the April 2018 print issue of skirt! Magazine
I lost my job recently.
I knew it was coming. The market wasn’t there for the company I worked for at a level that could justify my position. It had been a frustrating few months as I began to realize that it was going to take more time to see my efforts pay off. Unfortunately, the “powers that be” needed to restructure our hub to be more efficient in response to what the market was telling us.
I was hoping to get ahead of it somehow by re-assigning myself to other roles, or perhaps resign in a month or two with another offer waiting. But the termination of my position came sooner than I had expected.
I had enjoyed the job I was doing, despite the lack of results from my efforts. I enjoyed the people I worked with, and I believed in the services we offer. But – it was not my life’s passion.
It was something that I held loosely from the very beginning. Grateful, yes, to have a job with paid vacation days, a group health insurance policy and a 401(k), but I never assigned the expectations to it of fulfilling and affirming my life. I had other more beautiful passions for that – and my own business to grow as well.
Nevertheless, it still stings.
Accepting failure, or simply even admitting to myself that some results are beyond my control no matter how much I’d like to tell myself otherwise, has always been a struggle for me. As a product of the Title IX generation, you aren’t supposed to lose your job. Failure, as we were taught, isn’t an option. Working harder and more efficiently was the prescribed mantra. If you failed, clearly you weren’t doing one of the two to your fullest capacity. That kind of thinking gets into the bloodstream after a while.
That philosophy, however, doesn’t always apply when you leave the world of youth sports and college campuses. As I’ve grown and matured, I’ve slowly begun to see failure for what it really is – a learning experience meant to carry you further down the path of self-actualization and into your next beginning.
Regardless, suddenly being removed from something you’ve worked very hard at – and put your child into day care for – is still something to be grieved. Which may seem odd, but when the news came, I knew that is something that needed to begin.
Grief is a process that has to have its way with you in order for you to move on with an open heart. I’ve grieved horrible, traumatic losses and things that were the results of terrible events. Yet as I’ve learned, even the small things, even the things you held loosely from the get-go, need to be grieved when you find that they are removed from your life – no matter how abruptly or gradually.
I arrived home after the long drive from my office the day I was let go feeling sad and tired, like I just wanted to crawl into bed and start the whole day over. As I stood in the kitchen to make myself something to eat, I willed myself to think of all the benefits this job had that can’t be itemized on a tax return:
I thought of how all of the time spent driving in my car to meetings had allowed me to discover all that there is to be learned from podcasts. I thought of how in my position it was my job to meet everyone I could within the business community, and I discovered a common theme that most conversations kept coming to: an observation of the spiritual nature of everything we do. I thought of the people I had met who had helped me further down my path of personal growth, some of whom had become my close friends. I thought of all the travel opportunities I took advantage of during my tenure, and the wonderful memories I was able to share with my family. I thought of the challenges, too, and the opportunities they presented.
It was then I realized that within loss lie seeds of creativity. As much as it stings to be let go from your job – whatever the reason – a sweet gift comes with it. The opportunity for change, to take with you what you’ve learned, and to be called into something new that is trying to be born, or the invitation into something bigger, is usually what you find if you go deeper.
I have been fired three times in my life for various reasons (graduating college at the beginning of the Great Recession didn’t help) – and in hindsight, each termination was something that was actually the best thing for me. Because there was something else, something that was waiting to open me up to something more spectacular for my life, that was waiting for me on the other side. Had I not lost those positions and had I bitterly held onto what could have been, those better things never would have happened.
And now so many years later, feeling firmly rooted in my career and my purpose, it is easier for me to understand that there is something more expansive waiting for me behind this shame and disappointment. Now that doesn’t mean I don’t have to worry about the everyday realities like money and how my family is going to have insurance now, but I’m better able to trust my steps forward and watch the universe show up for me in ways I never could have thought possible. And yes, those everyday worries we all have will be taken care of, too.
So if you, too, are mourning a job loss, or perhaps are feeling stuck in your profession, or maybe even feeling like this thing that you’ve worked so hard for isn’t “it,” I’d like to offer a new way of seeing your place in the working world. Rather than giving in to your shame and disappointment, or stubbornly holding on to an idea you used to have about yourself, ask yourself this: Is there something here that is trying to move me forward into something new? Your answer might be the key to unlocking your next right steps.
Or, perhaps you are grieving your own loss in your own way in your own life. Maybe it is something large and significant, or perhaps it is something you held loosely but worked hard at anyway because, well, it matters, too. I hope these words give you some encouragement as you go through your process, and help you to see that maybe in the midst of your grief, disenchantment and confusion, something bigger and more beautiful is waiting for you.
This article originally appeared on Skirt.com on March 28, 2018
As a boy mom with no plans of trying for a girl, I can feel a bit left out of one crucial part of the Feminist conversation, particularly about the duty of us moms to raise strong girls.
As a mother to a three year-old boy named Reese and as a female myself, I've had a few well-formed and strongly opinionated thoughts about how to raise and encourage the development of independently capable young ladies over the years. But what happens when you can't funnel all of the lessons-learned from your childhood angst and female intuition into a daughter of your own?
One must look to the boys, then.
In Claire Cain Miller's popular New York Times article titled How to Raise a Feminist Son, she quotes Gloria Steinham as saying, "I’m glad we’ve begun to raise our daughters more like our sons, but it will never work until we raise our sons more like our daughters.”
We are raising our daughters to see themselves as equal contributors to the professions of the world while encouraging empathy and an awareness of emotions. However, none of this will work out if we don’t also raise our boys to be mindful and awake to themselves as well.
What good does it do if we raise only half of the future generation to be this way?
Clearly we’re not thinking or looking at the whole picture when we only talk about raising strong girls.
We also have to raise strong men.
Boys too need to be on the receiving end of affirmations, encouragement and emotional support. Not in a way that puts one gender above the other, but to give them the strength and confidence to see themselves as emotionally equal to girls, to also be everything they’ve been put on this earth to be.
What good does it do if we raise up one sex at the expense of the other?
(And just because that may have been done in the past doesn’t make it justifiable to do so in the future with men and boys posed as the lesser.)
The Feminist movement, and all of the progress it has made, is not just about the cause of women being equal to men; it is a big invitation for us all to step forward and explore a better way to exist together on this planet.
In her aforementioned article, Miller makes many good points about raising a Feminist son which I highly recommend parents to read. But what does that look like in real life with a three year-old/almost four year-old boy? Taking cues from Miller's piece and combining them with some observations of my own, I'd like to offer the below seven practical tips on how to raise a son, at this juncture in his development, with a Feminist mindset:
1. Encourage Friendships with Girls
One of Reese's best friends is our neighbor Sophia, who is 4 years-old, and we treat his friendship with her in the same way that we'd treat his friendship with a fellow boy. Yes they play with dump trucks, excavators, and foam rocket launchers, but they also play "house" and other imaginative scenarios. When we talk about Sophia with Reese, we ask all about their adventures. We also ask him about what she likes, doesn't like, and the kind of friend she is, and what makes her unique. Although she is a beautiful girl, we don't bring her looks into the conversation with innocent and silly phrases like, "You think she's prrreeeettyyy?" By encouraging his friendship with Sophia and other girls in his life this way, we are hoping to raise him to see girls with a respect for who they are as people and their contributions, not just as a feminine compliment to males or to judge them purely by their looks.
2. Let the Boys Celebrate with the Girls
And when it comes to birthday parties and other gatherings to celebrate important milestones, include both boys and girls as long as you can. Reese's school has a rule to include everyone in the class when birthday invitations are passed out, and I've always loved having his whole class come to his birthday parties. However I've noticed many parents of girls this age have begun to host "girls only" parties. Call me crazy, but this really bothers me. What good does it do to encourage boys to see girls as equals when at the first chance you get to do the same for boys, you single them out by assuming they're not interested in developing those friendships with girls? Girls get that message as loudly as the boys do - there is something "special" about us that is "not special" about the boys. This subtext tells the boys that they have nothing to contribute when it comes to friendships with girls, and it encourages the divide of understanding between the two that might only grow as they get older. I would never have the audacity to not invite Reese's female classmates to one of his parties under the assumption that they wouldn't be into a Superhero or Truck-themed party - so let's not do the same to the boys. I’m just saying.
3. Allow for Quiet Time to Encourage Conversation
In her book, Strong Mothers, Strong Sons, Dr. Meg Meeker describes the importance of keeping yourself open to communication with your young man. She says that boys tend to be less persistent than girls when they have something important to say, and making yourself available to your son on a regular basis for when he needs to talk about something is crucial to his emotional development. With this in mind, I try to create quiet space throughout our day to help encourage my son to express his thoughts and identify his emotions. We also do this with our bedtime routine where either my husband or I lay down with him at bedtime, and we encourage a reflective conversation about this day with four questions:
4. Expose Him to Female Role Models and Heroines
Like many households with young children, the Disney movie Moana has been a favorite in ours. And for good reason - the visuals, the songs, and the eco-friendly message are all spectacular. But the reason I like it best of all for both boys and girls is that it shows a girl living out a true Hero's Tale - without a romantic interest as a part of the journey's goal. Not once is Moana told that she can't carry out the mission that she's been called to do because she is a girl. And when a strong male character arises in the plot, they work together, each using their unique skills to complete their mission. This is just one example of the ways in which you can encourage female role models for your son - without the pretense that girls are thought to have lesser capabilities by men. The popular book She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton is also one of Reese's favorite books. Moms, grandmothers, aunts and friends are all capable role models too, if your son is allowed to see their triumphs and how they've overcome hardships in their lives.
5. Don't Adhere to Traditional Gender Roles
I'm thankful to have a marriage where both my husband and I have equal responsibilities for household chores, and our son has seen us both work hard at our careers. In the same vain, Reese is expected to pull his weight around the house with age appropriate tasks. Some are paid chores, and some are not. It is our hope to show him that both caring for a household and providing for it are equally as valuable, and both require a lot of strength.
6. No Means No - Respect Physical Boundaries
Teaching the No Means No rule is important on so many levels, but mostly it teaches children that ultimately they have a say in who touches their body, what is done to it (aside from necessary medical interventions), and how to identify when someone is crossing a boundary. We can only expect boys to respect physical boundaries with others if their physical boundaries too are respected. Even though it sometimes hurts feelings of family members, we don't make Reese hug or kiss anyone (high fives are a great option instead). Or if someone is touching him and he doesn't want to be touched, we've taught him to be confident in politely stating, "Keep your hands to yourself, please!". By setting the expectation that physical boundaries are ones to be obeyed at all costs, we are hoping to raise our son to instinctively know that the bodies of his peers are to be treated respectfully.
7. Avoid the "Boys will be Boys" Rationale
Yes, just by their very nature boys tend to me more rambunctious, physical, and inattentive than girls. However that doesn't mean that they're not capable of being quiet, still, and contemplative. Don't deny them the opportunities to practice being mindful and still. There are many providers of Kids Yoga programs in the Charleston region now that provide excellent age-appropriate opportunities for boys to explore these skills, and our son loves going to the "yoga parties" as we call them. It may not look like what we females think it should look like and it might all be bookended by a game of dodge ball or a wrestling match, but these skills are no less important to them.
I've come to the realization that the best way I can serve and encourage the enlightened development of girls in my son's generation is to raise my own son with them in mind. Not in a way that puts young ladies as superior to him, but instead in a way in which he hopefully will ultimately feel as empowered and emotionally capable as they have been raised to be.
But for me as a mother, this is not just about raising him to see females as equal in abilities as himself, but raising him in a way to see value in all walks of life.
Don't give up on the boys. The world needs to hear what they have to say, too.
This article originally appeared on Skirt.com on February 26, 2018
When most people think about love, thoughts immediately go to the idea of a romantic partner. But I’d like to call attention to a love that some might argue is just as essential in the shaping of a life: the love of your closest friend.
I’ve had the fortune of having a handful of close friendships throughout my life. I was never one to have a gaggle of girlfriends around me at all times; rather, I prefer the more calming company of one or two close friends at a time while also having many acquaintances. Each one of these strong friendships have had a comfort and an ease of understanding between us, where we could just be ourselves, and trust that we would be loved for it by the other.
Probably no other friendship in my life has been as formative or significant as my relationship with Alana.
Alana and I met in August of 2005 when we were paired as roommates within the Freshman class of swimmers at Auburn University. I had attended boarding school in high school, so I was used to the roommate arrangement and had grown accustomed to living in close quarters with new people, many of whom were from foreign countries, some of whom didn’t speak a lick of English. Alana arrived to Auburn from the Bahamas (and thankfully spoke English), and if I remember correctly it was her first time being away from home without a parent; if she was nervous she didn’t show it. There was an ease and a confidence about Alana that I had picked up right away that I was secretly envious of her for. She knew she was a badass – she didn’t need me or anyone else to confirm it for her.
Within a few weeks we were like old pals who had known each other for years; going grocery shopping together, cooking dinner together, taking turns cleaning our dorm, etc. It helped that she didn’t have a car during her first year at Auburn – she had no choice but to bum a ride with me! We quickly realized that there were only two songs that we both knew and loved which became repeat favorites on my car’s stereo: We Belong Together by Mariah Carey, and She Will Be Loved by Maroon 5. Perfectly fitting for a budding friendship, wouldn’t you think? When I think of that time in our lives, I think of us riding along in my old Volvo, driving into the unknown adventures ahead of where our lives might take us, but with each other by our side to give us comfort and security for the road ahead.
I have to give Alana a lot of credit for being the kind and patient friend she was with me. While many arrive to college fresh and ready to chart a new path, I arrived to college full of emotional baggage from my abusive childhood. Being away at boarding school had helped me to begin to identify the trauma of my past and learn how to fit the pieces of my identity back again, however I was far from healed and was still being abused when I arrived at Auburn. I was also still suffering from a long battle with an eating disorder, and struggled to identify any sort of self-worth away from swimming (which I was struggling to continue to do thanks to a newly diagnosed heart condition and repeated injuries). While I’m sure it was strange for Alana to experience someone her age with so many issues, she handled it with grace and compassion. She never once made me feel like there was something wrong with me or that I wasn’t worth enough to be her friend. I don’t think any of that mattered to her. She was just happy to be my friend, just as I was. It was probably the first time in my life that I felt loved that way. She gave me a glimpse of the kind of love that I had hoped to have for myself one day.
Something that made our friendship unique is that we both had a deep need at times to simply be left alone. Introverts at heart, we are both “disappearers”, and craved alone time to recharge and clarify our thoughts. We might go a whole day without speaking, leaving our doors closed and not engaging with each other until the needs of our first “primary relationship” had been met. Others might have taken offense to this habit that we both had, but for us it was something we inherently understood about each other.
Throughout our time at Auburn, Alana and I continued to live together and she became like family to me, and I to her. After I graduated Auburn I moved to California for work, while Alana stayed at Auburn to pursue her Doctorate. Despite the distance, our friendship never wavered, and somehow, we made it a point to see each other at least once a year, be it via flight layovers or one of us crashing a nearby family reunion. Over ten years later, and despite us living various distances from each other (I am now back in the South and she is now the one living and working in California), I still consider her a sister to this day. Whenever I’m having what I call an “oh shit!” moment in life, Alana is who I call to try to get some perspective. She has been there to toast and to celebrate every one of life’s milestones with me, as I have with her.
It has been said that our friendships and relationships are models of how we see ourselves. And in the instance of Alana, our friendship has been a model of how I want to see and love myself: with grace and compassion for all of me, including my strengths, my shortcomings, my mistakes, and my triumphs. It has been a long time coming and a battle hard-fought, but I finally have that kind of love for myself now. Our friendship is an example of how a love of a friend, and from a friend, can truly help to define and shape a life.