Thursday, April 23, 2015

Empowerment. Education. Entertainment.

I've been trying to figure out how to describe this past weekend without emotionally vomiting all over everyone I meet and Saying ALL the Things. I really want to Say All the Things because I love All the Things but I don't want to come across as some sort of zealot. Mostly. Part of me doesn't care. The other part of me is mostly rational. Or possibly overly concerned with how others view me.

I digress.

In a very large nutshell....

Last Thursday the bestie and I went up to Cincinnati for a little thing called Pure Romance National Training. I had been looking forward to it for months. Actually, for nearly a year and a half. All of the girls who had been before told me repeatedly that it was life-changing and inspirational and the cornerstone of being a consultant. So, naturally, I wanted some of that.

The first 24 hours wasn't life-changing. It was mostly confusing. It was a lot of elevator rides. In a very old hotel with very old elevators. Slow, shaky elevators. Not for the anxiety-ridden. I'm not even going to mention how tiny the hotel room was, except to say that one of us had to sit on the bed if the other one wanted to walk around the room.  There was a lot of searching for the right information. There was a lot of waiting in line. A lot of escalators. A lot of loud women. Really, really loud women. J and I think we're the loud ones. Usually we are. I now think that some people have never heard of an inside voice. I hope they aren't reproducing.

It wasn't all bad. Just confusing. The classes were educational. Pure Romance works with pretty much the best doctors out there. They aren't just cranking out dildos and vibrators, but putting thought into why women use what and how and why relationships last and the ways in which all of that can be enhanced. We heard from some doctors who are well-researched in sexual behavior. As a former psych major, I found most of it pretty fascinating. It's always interesting to break behaviors down into components and cause and effect and will definitely help me in my business.

Okay, so education. Cool. But I was 24 hours in and hadn't had my socks knocked off.

Friday night was the opening session with the awards ceremony. Rookie of the year, top consultants, and recruits in each division. Clapping, cheering, yay. I was happy for these women, they accomplished something real, but I was really craving pajamas and a pillow at that point. Until. We get to the smaller section of women who have worked the hardest and the longest. Sixty-one women walked that stage because they made $1 million in the previous year. 61. Sixty. One. One Million Dollars. One of those women had a team who did $7 million in sales in six months. What? Holy shit!!! The cheering was real for them, but it still didn't really touch me. Like, that's great, but what does that  have to do with me? Good for them, they're like Super Women.

Towards the end, Patty Brisben (founder of Pure Romance) walked out to give her little mini-speech and my ears perked up when she told us, "Life doesn't get better by chance, it gets better by change." And then she asked what we're waiting for. Patty herself is pretty inspiring. She's tiny and adorable and built this incredible company that she believes in and it shows. What am I waiting for? What am I putting off?

Patty's son and Pink-Tie Pure Romance CEO Chris Cicchinelli spoke next. He spoke about those 61 women. He talked about how one of them didn't wait for her cancer to go into remission. Another one didn't wait for her addiction to rehabilitate itself. Another didn't wait for her kids to grow up but saved her family from losing their home when her husband was laid off. Story after story of women who have been through more than I have, who didn't give excuses. Who didn't wait to change their lives but went out there and Did It. In spite of what life threw at them. It wasn't easy, it never is, but they did it because the opportunity was there. 

And that sparked something. The leaders in this business are constantly reminding us to remember our "why." Why we do this business. Why we keep at it. Why it's important to us. I still haven't narrowed down the definition of my Why, but that night I remembered why I got into this business to start with. My usual story is something about how I love the products, I love the parties but my friends wouldn't let me do it every month so I said "Screw you guys" and started doing my own parties. Blah, blah, blah. It's so funny. It's also true, but it isn't the whole truth. 

The whole truth is that I wanted to do it but I didn't think I could. Fear said I couldn't. And then D became suicidal. When you are afraid 24 hours-a-day that the person you love most in the world is going to disappear, it shifts your perspective. A fucking lot. When you're afraid to go into her room in the morning because you're terrified she went away while you slept, there isn't that much to be afraid of. When the worst thing you can imagine becomes a near-reality, everything else is so much less scary. So I said, literally, because I'm a potty-mouth, "Fuck it! Let's do this!" And I fell in love with it. 

And then I moved across the country and I got distracted and D was better and everything seemed like such a long time ago that the fear crept back in. So when Patty and Chris asked, "What are you waiting for?" my answer was simple. I'm waiting for the fear to go away. But fear is a bastard. It doesn't leave quietly or of its own accord. 

I sat in that audience listening to them and thinking how brave D had been. How she held onto her life. If she had waited to ask for help, she might not be here. Her depression might have made that decision for her. She didn't wait. That is the worst example I can think of for what can happen if you wait. 

And those 61 women and that $7 million dollars didn't wait either.

Saturday came with exhaustion and sore feet. Not to mention bloated bellies from Not Enough Water. There were also moments of irritability with some of the more obnoxious among the groups. We decided to play hooky from a class to take a long lunch and breathe a bit. I was disappointed that lots of girls played hooky because I thought I was being naughty but it turns out I wasn't so naughty after all. 

And then another magic moment happened. You know it's always when you least expect it, right? You can't plan for it, you can't force it, you can't make it up. 

We saw a homeless man with his sad, dirty little homeless sign. J loves to give money to people who appear to need it. I win brownie points from her when I show compassion in that way. But she wasn't loving it enough to give him $10 that day when she didn't have a smaller bill. And then we saw another man, also homeless, near the first one. This man had a bright, colorful sign that absolutely delighted me and I giggled as I approached him. This man's sign stated, "I like Whipped Rainbow Sherbet." Whipped is the creamy lubricant that comes in delicious flavors. Clearly his favorite is rainbow sherbet. I asked if I could take his picture and he said it would cost me a hundred dollars but he agreed to the $10 that I offered him. 

We talked to him for a minute or two. He used to live near Nashville with his military wife until they got divorced; he's struggling to start over. But, like he said, you have to be creative sometimes. He was wonderful and I won't soon forget him, if ever. Because the picture of and the dichotomy between these two men was so great. Life sucks, it gets hard, and you do what you can to get by. But you can give in and do the bare minimum to get by or you can go out there with your head held high, a smile on your face, and do it differently. With a sense of humor. With courage and creativity. And in a way that makes other people happy. 

Saturday's classes started to resonate with me. I began to hear them through the veil of "what are you waiting for?" Some of my struggle has come from hearing other women talk up their accomplishments and it sounds so easy for them. I get frustrated with where I am in my business when it feels so far from where I want to be. It was invaluable to hear others talk about how long their journeys took. To hear they struggled too. To be reminded that I'm an individual with my own goals and my own quirks and I can't compare those to anyone else. 

Sunday brought the Piece de Resistance. Board. Breaking Ceremony. Whaaaat? Oh, I'll tell you. I will tell you All the Things about this one. 

The whole weekend had been building up to this moment. It sounded important but I felt like breaking a board being a life-changing event was a bit of hyperbole. I mean, really? 

J and I were late. As usual. Four days of sleep required copious amounts of coffee and 3,000 women operating on the same amount (or less!) of sleep makes for long lines at the coffee counter. When we walked in, the guest speaker was telling the story of Teddy Stallard. I've given you the version of this story to tell you that this isn't even a true story, it's a fabrication designed to pull at your heart strings. Plus it's one I've heard before. I knew the whole thing and how it was going to end. And yet, I cried. J cried. Every now and then, through tears, I'd remark something like, "what the fuck?" or "Seriously?" or "Damn it!" What was going on??? Neither one of us had taken our meds that morning so it was a recipe for wads of Kleenex. 

He then talked to us about purpose. About how his purpose is his wife and his two daughters. He showed us their pictures. He asked us what color a yield sign is. Yellow!!! No, red and white. 1100 women were wrong, he probably loved that. He talked about how he saw his daughter differently when she came home from college, how she wasn't the yellow yield sign he'd seen her as her whole life and wondered what else he'd been missing. Fuck if the tears weren't streaming by then. 

He had us do some visualization exercises. A lot of this sounds hokey and it was and it felt hokey at the time and it sounds hokey to me now, but that's all part of it. You do dumb things to get over feeling dumb doing smart things. 

When it came time to break our boards, we gathered in groups of ten. Momma C threatened to kick our asses if we didn't find her so she could be our board-holders so we pushed our way across the room, through a thousand women, until we found her. Besides, we wouldn't have wanted to do it with anyone else. 

We were instructed to write, on one side, the thing we wanted to break through. It could be anything, but only one thing. I chose fear. Because it seems to be the overriding theme of my life. I've been afraid of so many things. Being alone. Speaking up. Being a single parent. Letting go. And yet, when I do the things I'm afraid of, the rewards are so much greater than any feeling of fear. I know this. I know this, but I still let it get in the way. The tattoo I got in Ireland was supposed to be a reminder. It says, in Latin, "Without fear." It's my constant reminder, but a lot of the time it's just ink. 

On the other side of the board, we wrote what we would gain and what we could have if we broke through that one thing. My words were things like success, love, leadership, freedom. And then we wrote the people we wanted to bring along on that journey. I chose only three names. I know a lot of people, but my real circle, my important circle, is very small. 

J and I stood in the circle cheering for the women who went before us. It was exhilarating, there was a powerful sense of support, and a growing feeling of panic and fear. We both said, "What if we don't break it? What if we're the only ones?" Because, the first five or six women to go broke those boards like they were nothing. They made it look so easy. Which meant they were all stronger/better/more successful than I would be. Did I say fear is a bastard? 

The first time someone didn't break her board, my heart broke for her. Because we all knew, simultaneously, what this meant. It may have been for different reasons, we all have our own whys, but it was equally monumental for each of us. That damn board broke on her fourth try. I don't know for sure because it was pretty damn loud in there, but I think I screamed the loudest and hardest for her. Our success was all the same in that moment. 

When it was my turn, I got goofy. I prepared myself for the attempts that wouldn't break the board, for which I would have to laugh it off so I didn't break down. We were told to look at our board-holder's eyes. If you look at the board, you only go that far and you have to look past it to make it to the other side. Momma C moved one of my arms, adjusted the other. She looked right into my eyes, I locked in on hers, seeing all of the trust and support and encouragement I needed. I don't know what happened after that. I didn't feel it. It was just that a second later, she was holding my board in two pieces and I jumped up and down like a crazed kangaroo. I fucking did it!!!!!

Then it was time for J to go. Last. Symbolically. Sadly symbolically. And she didn't break it the first time. I thought if I screamed loudly enough my sheer willpower would break it for her. I wanted it so badly for her. Far more than I wanted it for me. It just didn't happen that first time. She told me afterward that Momma C told her it was okay, that she had more to break through than a lot of people. When it broke on her second attempt, I thought I would lose my mind with joy. I was even past the point of sappy crying. 

She showed me her two pieces and where they broke. On one side it said, "good enough." It couldn't have been more perfect or more appropriate. Her One Thing was "Not feeling like I'm good enough." I don't believe, beyond any shadow of doubt, that this was a coincidence. She is good enough. I've always known it, but I can't believe it for her. She had to make her own breakthrough to literally, physically, see the words telling her that she's good enough. She's more than good enough. 

The piece where my board split is almost as impressive. Yes, I only wrote three names, but I also wrote my team name. Right now that team is a tiny team of two. And I'm okay with that today, but I'm ready to stop waiting and start multiplying it. My team name is two words. My board broke with one name on each side. I looked at J and told her that it's because I need the two of us to accomplish what I want. I don't want to do it without her. 

Sometimes life makes sense. Sometimes it really doesn't. It seemed like life got in the way last year. I moved the weekend before training so I wasn't able to go and I was pretty disappointed. I know now that I was meant to go this year. I was meant to share All the Things with J. That epiphany hit me just before she hit that board the second time. Powerful? A little bit. 

So, inspirational? Yeah. Life-changing? Hell yeah. I broke a damn board. That's not to say that the next morning I loved and accepted my bloated belly or I rushed home to quit the day job that pays the rent. I'm not going to solve the climate change problem. I don't have the money to hop the next plane to Greece. It's more like the flutter of a butterfly wing. My direction has shifted. The things I wanted before I want more now because I know that they're possible. I have this experience, this memory, I have All the Things to hold in my heart. 

Which is where it all starts anyway, right? 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

On Being My Offspring

I have a couple of “flaws” to confess to. First of all, it can’t be easy to be my kid. I don’t hide my feelings or my opinions or my disappointments. I’m not the mom who says, “You can do ANYthing you want to in life” because it’s not true and it’s bullshit to lie to your kids. D wanted to be a nurse for a couple of months. I told her that was a ridiculous idea because I know her limits. I know her study habits and I know her personality. Sure enough, just watching two episodes of Grey’s Anatomy episodes took care of that.

Secondly, I’m sort of an education snob. I went to college right after high school (really because my parents made me) and I always imagined sending D off the same way. Shopping for her dorm, hearing about her crazy professors (because there are always at least a couple), welcoming her home during break. A few years ago I went back to school for an MBA. I like education. I like educated people.

So imagine my disappointment when D didn't want to go to school. She applied to one college, didn't get in, and basically gave up. She started working at a pizza place. I consoled myself by saying, “High school was hard for her. Maybe she just needs a year off. Working at a pizza place has to be motivation to do something better.” Imagine also that, being the person I am, she knew my level of disappointment. I’m not the best person.

In high school she brought up beauty school a couple of times. I pompously dismissed that idea. No. No. No. One must be properly educated and beauty school is the path that dropouts choose. And, before you send me a bunch of hate mail, I've already admitted to my flaws. My parents also had flaws that they passed down to me, so there's that.

A couple of month ago she started looking into the Aveda Institute. She talked about it; she talked about one of her friends who was in the program and loving it. I groaned. I rolled my eyes. She set up an interview with the admissions director and asked me to go with her. Begrudgingly, I went. Sincerely, she thanked me. Knowing I wasn’t 100% or even 40% supportive, it meant a lot to her that I was there.

Aveda put on a fashion show as a benefit for clean water, but it was also a contest for incoming students for a chance to win a full scholarship. Each student had to design an outfit and do hair and makeup for their model. It was all outside of D’s comfort zone and yet she embraced the opportunity. She showed me her ideas but she did it on her own – bought her own supplies, material, and put it all together.

The night of the show she was glowing. Beaming. She didn't win the full scholarship (she did win a partial) and she knew that other people did a little better job than she did. But it wasn't about that. It was about starting something and completing it well and doing it on her own. She was proud of working hard and proud of that achievement. And I was too.

Somehow I managed to raise a child who needs my approval. She requires it and she tells me as much. And, selfishly, I like it that way. I knowingly offer my negative opinions in order to “redirect” her. I do it under the guise of wanting what’s best for her. Which is actually true. In my heart of hearts, I want what’s best for her. I want her to be happy. Of course I do, more than anything. I want this exceptional being, this literal piece of me, to be happy.

The thing is, I don’t know what that is anymore. I don’t get to decide that for her at this age. I really don’t know what is best for her. It’s her turn to decide that. Her mistakes are hers now, she has her own journey and her own dreams. And if those aren't the same dreams I have, then I have to let go of that and learn to trust her.

The whole point of this is to say that there is this really extraordinary person in my life. She saw something that she wanted. She wanted my approval but didn't wait for it, she went after that goal anyway. She’s been through some pretty big shit in the last few years (as most of you know) so I see this as another sign of her strength. I’m still not letting go 100%. It will be inch-by-caterpillar-inch, but I’m learning to trust her. I’m learning to see her and know her as a whole person. A person with goals and dreams who isn't settling for the easy path, no matter, or in spite of, what I think. A person that, no matter what I say or how hard I roll my eyes, I honestly support. I think there’s a part of her that always believed that anyway. 
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