The Many Pieces of Me

As I inch toward the fifth decade of my life, I have taken pause to reflect on all the places I have been. The list is long. The road has been too.

When people ask about my history, I tell them I left home at 16. My heart took flight to a European country. With no knowledge of the language or culture, I lived amongst the natives for an entire year. At the time it felt like an eternity as my inner self was molded into something new. I began to see the world with their eyes. Or perhaps more accurately, with a blended vision of my own and theirs. My world view was altered forever and I had no idea how enriching that would be. From that point on, I developed an acute ability to consider that all that I had known may not be the absolute truth and that every person on the planet carries their very own interpretation of what that might be. Coming home felt more foreign to me after a year away. In my heart of hearts, I could never return there because my shape had taken on a different form altogether.

I have moved 19 times in my life and with each place I have landed, a tiny piece of myself has been left behind. Whenever I return to those places, I greet that part of myself with a smile — or sometimes a tear. As I recently motored across the A99, I waved to the Allianz Arena, home to several Bavarian soccer teams. A long time ago, I even taught English to the guy responsible for the lighting there. Later I headed up a team of athletes for a show on national television. It was the only time I stood on the playing field, but I will never forget the exhilaration as we paraded onto the green.

Next week I will visit the Northeastern part of myself, first in Boston, then in Northampton for my twenty-fifth college reunion. Thereafter I will fly down to Florida to visit my dad and his wife. I’ll saddle on the Southern, twang with the best of them, and sweat in the steamy heat near Orlando. My children will be there who are indeed the greatest parts of me. And as they grow, leaving pieces of themselves wherever they go, they too will experience the revisiting and the wonder that is this life.

The Journey’s Way

Plans are a wonderful point of orientation, but like any roadmap, they change over time. New roads are added. Old ones turn to dust. Anyone with an outdated navigation system will tell you not all roads lead to Rome. Sometimes they take you down dead ends or endless traffic rotaries. Even if you were intending to go to point A, you sometimes land at point B instead.

The journey is the destination, not the end point on a map. And although we often live as though the most important thing comes at the end of one’s travels, the things that happen during those travels are the essence of our existence.

MoonWhenever I am confronted with life’s challenges, I say a prayer of gratitude for the fruits those lessons will bear — even before I receive or fully understand them. I live with a deep faith that everything happens for a reason – but oh! When that faith is lost! That’s when the turmoil begins. Faith and trust are the foundation for your engine’s happiness — gratitude greases the wheel.

When I was knee-deep in writing The Power of Slow, my sister shared a beautiful mantra with me: “Trust the process.” It is about opening your eyes to what is really in front of you instead of watching the film that is in your head.

We are all owners of our very own head-based movie theater in which our films get played over and over again. We react to the world through the lens of that movie theater camera. Sometimes our films take us to beautiful, exotic places, but most of the time the repeated movie performances lead us down those dead ends to the land of the lost. And when that happens, it’s time to change the film roll to a new one that serves us better.

While many of us pine for a better future with the supposedly comforting saying “One day my ship will come in,” I say why wait for that ship when you’re already on it? If you don’t like the direction it is taking you, steer it in a new direction.

You can weather any storm, my friends. You really can — if you believe.

 

The Story of an Orchid

Sometimes we must die to be born again. Even the most fragile of us can be resurrected. It just takes the right conditions.

Nature's resilience

Nature’s resilience

This past June my orchid languished in record temperatures while I lounged in the French sun. It wasn’t fair. It was careless. I came back to what my partner called “certain death” on my balcony in Freiburg. My poor plants had been through the wringer. Ignored, forgotten, undernourished, they were limping on the precipice between here and the thereafter.

Rushing to their aid, I doused them in buckets of water, murmuring prayers of apology as the water hit their soil. My orchid plant had been damaged the most. Sunburnt and petulant, it lacked forgiveness for my thoughtlessness.

But as I fertilized and sympathized, I had a feeling my partner’s prediction was wrong. The orchid would survive. It would forgive. And it would come back stronger than ever.

It took a few weeks before the first buds formed. But they came — willingly — just waiting for the invitation to emerge.

Kind of like what happens to us when we’ve been on a long, thirsty journey, only to be rewarded and given the opportunity to show our truest potential.

I am grateful for my orchid’s resilience. Its encouraging robustness gives me strength. And it has taught me that when we finally get what we need, we not only can survive. We can thrive. And shine. And cast off the most glorious colors when sunlight and rain merge to reveal what is nothing less than magic.

Taking the Slow Train

Nothing reveals more about human beings than physical discomfort. Trapped in an overcrowded train with no air conditioning as it stood still on the tracks for over an hour, I realized how quickly things can turn sour when things get a little uncomfortable.

Pont d'Arc, Ardèche, France

Pont d’Arc, Ardèche, France

People shouted. The conductors hid in the safety of their locked cabinet, giving us periodic updates that said nothing. A medical emergency ensued. It was chaos for a while until one guy said he’d either call the police or see why the train hadn’t moved in an hour. I went with him. We quickly discovered all the other wagons had air conditioning. We got the conductor to make an announcement for passengers in our wagon to move elsewhere. And we decided we would cheer once the train got moving again. Another thirty minutes passed and the train moved forward. We applauded, laughed and jumped for joy. Until the train stopped again for another defect. At this point, I had already hugged the conductor, who was rather shocked by my response.

After a two hour delay, I made it back to sweet Freiburg to meet my son whose bus, by some miracle, arrived with a similar delay fifteen minutes after I did.

As the train rolled into the central train station, I told a fellow passenger that this experience had changed my perspective on Monday morning. After two weeks frolicking in the South of France, I felt a deep reluctance to return to my work life. But after realizing how good I actually have it — with clients, friends and family I deeply love — I happily returned to my every day life with renewed gratitude for cool spaces, calm surfaces and meaningful work.

Sometimes it takes the slow train to remind us of what we have. I am grateful for the experience and for the goodness of this life.

 

Why Friendships are Soul Food

“The only way to have a friend is to be one.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

A few weeks ago I took a test. It was meant to determine what my values are and to see what kind of job would be most suitable for me.

The results weren’t surprising. According to the test, I value relationships above everything else.

I am in public relations, after all. It reinforced that I am in the right industry. And it got me to thinking about values and relationships and the decisions I have made because of them.

I have no regrets.

Regret is a wasted emotion in my book because we are all on our own journey. Every aspect of our lives is essential to get us to where we are meant to go.

Sure, we can optimize things. The Power of Slow is about optimizing how you spend your time by spending it on what is most important to you and getting rid of all the yucky, distracting stuff we do to compensate for not getting what we want.

And that gets us back to our value system.

Friends and family are most important to me. They are my soul food. Over the years, I have travelled hundreds of thousands of miles to see the people I love. And I have never regretted a single moment I have spent with each and every one of them.

As a dear old friend told me on the phone just yesterday: “You won’t remember how expensive that trip was. You will remember the time, not the money, you spent.”

In a way it is hard, having friends all over the world because I can only be in one place at one time. And so we have to choose with whom we will spend our time.

Choose wisely. Embrace the ones you love. Remove toxic relationships from your life because your time is better spent with people worthy of you.

You never know if this moment is the final one. Treat it as a gift. Give of that gift generously. And you will be the very friend you seek.

Don’t you just love how that works?

 

The Google-ization of Life

There is more to life than convenience and quick answers. Sometimes the slow route to knowledge is more interesting.

Yet Google would have us believe — with its heart-warming television commercials — that the world is just a click away. And every answer to every question too.

Google is indeed a great service. Thanks to the search engine, I was able to consolidate my vacation time by spending it exactly as I wanted to. With a quick search, we were able to find restaurants, parks and even a massage place in just a few minutes. With the help of our iPhone navigation system we quickly found what we were looking. It saved us time and gas trying to find these places.

But technology is not infallible. Even our GPS wasn’t aware of changes in the road system. Sometimes we had to take a right instead of following the insistent voice of our device that we should turn left.

Nobody’s perfect. Not even Siri.

Google has set a new pace to modern life. We now expect to know virtually everything. We can Google-sleuth to find information based on even tiny bits of information — online reviews tell us whether that movie or doctor’s office is worth a visit. And we tend to believe total strangers’ opinions rather than trying things out for ourselves. Google has shaped our world in ways we have yet to realize.

The service itself continues to change at a quick clip too. Take Google Maps, for instance. Just a few weeks ago, it still had that grey-green satellite view of the world. Today, it’s sexier, pointing to exact streetcar routes and even the intervals within which they depart and arrive.

Last year Google purchased an app that used to cost $250 to use. Now it costs $30,000.

I don’t call that progress. I call that extortion.

Love it or hate it: Google has us by the gaggle. It is up to us as to whether we choose to live life according to its algorithm or our own biorhythm.

Maybe if we relinquish the need for omniscience, we will actually open our eyes to what is before us instead of following the commands of our gadgets that often lead us astray. Taking the slow road sometimes is a task worth considering, if only for a moment.

Out of Your Mind

The tingling sensation of true mind suspension is a delightful thing indeed. I am not talking about dropping acid or snorting something funny. I am referring more to the restorative powers of taking time off.

You haven’t heard from me in a while — in true slow style I took a much-needed online break, also known as vacation. And it was delightful. Admittedly, I wasn’t 100% offline because, after all, we had to post some of our snapshots on Facebook, then delight in people’s reactions. It is a different world now and the pull to share is strong. So we did. A little bit.

But the main focus of our vacation was conversation, sunshine, warmth and, yes, a glass or five of wine. We allowed ourselves to drift away from the every day problems of raising children, negotiating work or the rest of our lives for that matter. We filled our heads with new ideas, sights and smells. We ate whatever we wanted when we wanted it.

It felt good to be that free.

Moving out of our minds and into our hearts was a welcome, relaxing change. It filled us and gave us memories, which will last a lifetime.

The most delightful part of being away was coming home again. The flavor of warmth was similar to the Floridian skies — a calming sense of familiarity washed over me despite the distance of days that had separated us. My apartment felt strangely cold and empty, awaiting our return to replenish the laughter these walls have often absorbed.

It is good to be out of our minds for a little while, to turn the lights down low and to reconnect with the deepest part of ourselves. Removing distraction is healthy and, in today’s hyperconncted world, a necessity for mental health.

When we fill our well to the brim, we have more to share with others.

Replenish your soul often. It is what will give you the strength and courage to go on — no matter what.

Vacation Deprivation

Florida. White beaches. Rolling waves. The smell of sea salt tickling your nose.

It is a beautiful place, a warm haven for ‘snow birds’ who come down from the North for a winter reprieve.

Ironically, it is also one of the places where employees take the least vacation days. According to a recent TriNet survey, folks in Sarasota, Florida took an average of only 2.9 days of paid vacation annually, followed by workers in Phoenix, Mesa and Scottsdale, Arizona with 3.6 days of paid leave. All of these places are sunny. It makes me wonder if they are overworked or just feel no need to go anywhere because where they are already is just fine indeed.

But if that theory were true, then San Diego, California wouldn’t have an average of 10.9 vacation days taken. Perhaps it is the West Coast mentality that drives people to take more time off.

The value of vacation is indisputable. It is essential. It renews the soul. It regenerates the spirit. It is time we spend on our own well-being. As I always like to say, “A well-rested worker is a productive worker.”

If more employers were to realize the benefits of vacation, they might be a tad less stingy with their employees. And the word ‘time-off’ would no longer be whispered at the water cooler.

I’m headed to Florida for a nine-day respite myself. After life’s long winter, it is time for sun, sand, and rest.

Time invested in yourself is time well-spent. In fact, it may just be the best investment you could ever make.

 

A New Way to Look at Time

Travel is a great way to not only see the world, but to reflect on your own. Whenever I meet new people, my perspective shifts just ever so slightly, adding layers to my understanding of things.

It is the best education.

For years I valued the Teutonic view of time. It is a rigid understanding of minutes on the clock, of punctuality, of a no-nonsense view of the units that make up our day. The Teutonic view of time leaves no room for questions, for flexibility, or a fluidity that I have craved for more years than I realized. You be on time. Or else.

Gasp. Someone give me air!

Then one day, rather suddenly, I began to see the value in taking your time instead of always having to be on time. When we loosen the reins on our understanding of our schedules, it leaves room for the very creativity many of us have tried to foster all our lives. Of course, honoring others people’s time by being punctual is useful and helpful and wonderful. But there are also times when being late can’t be helped. And that’s okay too.

Today I was stuck in traffic due to a bike race through our town. I was going to be late, but it didn’t really matter. I had nothing to lose but my temper so why should I even lose that?

A dear friend of mine has a very Latin view of time. He says being slightly late is actually very freeing. So I tried it on for size today. And it felt good to be unshackled from the regiments of the clock, from the marching Germanic footsoldiers that clack to the rhythm of the second hand on my watch. I smiled as I slid into my driveway much later than planned.

So what? Time really is all we have. Why waste it being upset when you can enjoy the pockets of energy that get liberated when you ride easy in the harness?!

We will all get to where we need to be. On time or not. Dare to dance outside of time for just a little while. It will make you smile. I promise you that.