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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

the crazy ones.



I was recently introduced to Joseph Campbell and his model of the hero's journey. (Let's not dwell on how I made it this long not knowing who Joseph Campbell was but just in case you've been living under this rock with me: here you go).  The hero's journey outlines the common cycle of events that occur within the singular human experience we all share over the course of a lifetime.  

It might be easier to think of it as what it means to be in charge of our own adventure.  This might sound obvious, but Campbell points out that we are all responsible for our own adventure and we have no one to blame but ourselves for the outcome.  But choosing to be our own hero?  That part is not quite so obvious and at first sounds like a whole lot of responsibility...but it is up to us as well. 



Highly recommend the documentary 'Finding Joe' (thank you Mrs. B)



It would be fair to say I am currently in the transformation/transition stage of my own journey.  I am, even as I write this, still discovering, still putting together the pieces of what I've learned, and cautiously peeking my head out of the cave to prepare for what lies ahead.  My greatest teachers these days seem to be fear, courage, pain and love.  The current relationship I have with these four powerful emotions looks something like this:

Fear:  It's okay and normal to be scared.  It's what we do with our fear that matters.

Courage:  Courage is knowing what to do and doing it.  Lack of courage is knowing what to do and not doing it. (Joseph Campbell said this, but I feel like I wrote it with my heart a million times before hearing his words).

Pain:  The uncomfortable and often dark experiences that create change and teach us the most.

Love:  The reason.  The "why" behind every choice we make. (*Note: this includes love in every form including self love - not romantic love only).

Lately I have been paying careful attention to living in a way that feels courageous.  Not wrestling a mountain lion level courage.  More like being brave enough to make choices that feel honest and accepting the results.  Making sure I am the hero of my own journey by having the courage to make complex and sometimes hurtful (or unpopular) decisions.  The courage to be in charge of my own adventure.  I have known for some time that this is what I was doing, I just hadn't found the right words for it.


Joe found the right words for me.

So if the hero's journey is so challenging and uncomfortable why would anyone choose that path?  It is human nature after all to desire security and comfort in the reality we create - and there is no shame in that.  The problem lies in wanting that security so desperately that we're not willing to consider if the reality we exist in aligns with our truth. What if the daily life we use to comfort ourselves is actually false comfort?    

Then what?

Well, then we have to do some hard work and take some chances.  We have to enter the cave.  It means seeing ourselves through an honest lens and making change accordingly.  It means honoring our fear but being brave enough to take that incomprehensible first step on a more awakened and thoughtful path.  Many of us open one eye half way, assess our options and decide ---

Screw that.   

And that's fine.  Our lives are our gifts and we have the good fortune of deciding how we choose to spend however much time we are given.  However, the magic that enters when we elect to start living in the light makes closing our eyes again unthinkable - because we don't want to miss a single second of what our life has become. 

I don't claim to have it all figured out friends, but what I am sure of is that the power and peace we give ourselves when we live in the light is more than any fortune could grant us. When we dismiss the opinion of others, own our choices, and stand in our truth there is no telling what a person can do.  With power like that anything and everything becomes possible.

Disingenuous words get lost before leaving our lips.  Relationships that fill our social calendars but leave our souls empty fall away.  As the golden version of us rises to the surface things that aren't serving us in a healthy and authentic way begin to sink.  Suddenly, Laurel from the movie Jerry Maguire makes perfect sense when she claims to be "incapable of small talk". 


Preach Laurel.  


This is where our contribution begins.  This is the part of our adventure where we take what we've learned and share our experience with the people whose lives we touch.  We share ourselves in a way that feels generous and supportive, not judgmental and forceful.  That is our hand written thank you note back to the universe for giving us the opportunity to grow and live an awakened life.  That is our legacy and the marker of how we spent our time here. 

And sure, we may run the risk of sounding a little crazy.  I'm comfortable with that.

The alternative is to turn our heads, close our eyes, and walk in the opposite direction when life is trying to point us toward our truth. And, well...I just can't think of anything much crazier than that.

So in the words of Steve Jobs, "Here's to the crazy ones".

Here's to you and your hero's journey.

Here's to all of us finding the courage to follow our bliss.

...and to the great adventure that is a life lived fully alive.

xo - juli

Brian Andreas for the win (as usual).



Thursday, March 8, 2018

the picnic blanket.

In her book Yes Please, Amy Pohler uses a really interesting analogy to describe a time of major change and transition in her life.  She writes it was as though her entire existence was laid out perfectly on a picnic blanket...and all at once someone picked up the corners of the blanket and sent everything flying into the air.


(Highly recommend on Audiobooks - so much funnier in her voice.)


Amy said she felt as if she was just standing there, waiting to see where all the pieces of her life would land, and the uncertainty was paralyzing.

That feeling.  That waiting.

With the safety of a carefully crafted life lost, what do we have left to hold on to?  There are so many unknowns, and everything feels so terribly out of control.  Where do we go for the answers to the countless questions that won't stop swirling around in our heads?

Well it's 2018.  So I guess we turn to the internet.

The infinite wisdom of cyber-spirituality offers us uplifting bite-sized mantras:


  • "If you don't risk anything, you risk even more."
  • "Nothing will change unless you do."
  • "If you want something you've never had, then you must do something you've never done."
  • "Be messy and complicated and afraid.  And show up anyway."

And we think:  

"Yes Pinterest!  You are so right.  This is the truth!  This is what I will do!  I will be messy and complicated and afraid and I will show up anyway...just as soon as I finish this conference call and make dinner." 

Meanwhile a little voice whispers from the smallest corner of our soul saying:  'These words can't help you.  They aren't even your words.  Only you know how to exist in a way that honors your truth.'

So we thank the internet for the solid starting point and dig deeper in search of that honest place.  That place inside ourselves that is so raw and so exposed there is nowhere left to go.  No more stones to turn over, no more self doubt, no more feelings to consider, no more options to weigh, no more fucks to give.  


Exhausted, exposed and scared we realize this is it.  This is the time for change.  And so we grab the corners of the blanket, give it a loving shake...and we wait.

We stay still and listen for direction as we watch the pieces of our life fall one by one back down to earth.  Bearing witness to the sequence of events as they unfold, accepting that we can only affect those things which are in our control.  And the rest...well, the rest will just fall where they will.

We think that by a certain age we shouldn't find ourselves in these situations.  It's easier to believe the blanket has been put down, the basket is unpacked, and that goddamn picnic is staying right where it is.  It's unsettling when someone else's blanket gets tossed because it exposes the idea that nothing is ever certain, that safety is an illusion - that a real life doesn't fit inside the tidy little box we want to keep it in.




Who brings a galvanized metal tub and three bags of ice on a picnic?


It suggests that maybe our time here is not about waiting for the period at the end of the sentence.

Maybe a full life can just be comma, after comma, after comma. 

Lesson.
         After lesson.
                       After lesson.

So long as while we're standing there exposed we are acting with intention, love and grace.  As long as we continue to honor our decisions and stand by our actions.  If we are able to celebrate the uncertainty of a life lived awake it doesn't matter if our picnic blanket gets tossed.

Because we know we will always be right there,

our faces turned toward the sky,

ready to catch everything that matters most to us,

and put it oh so gently back down.



Meg and our girls last summer at the coast.  Tossing blankets just for fun.









Saturday, November 11, 2017

a light in the heart.




So I've got this milestone birthday right around the corner.  I'm not going to say how old I'm turning but it rhymes with forty. 

I should qualify this post by admitting I suck at birthdays.  I am awful with dates and I don't have a birthday calendar so I never remember anyone else's.  I'm the kind of grown woman whose mother has to call her to say "Today is your grandfather's birthday.  Just thought you might like to give him a call" (thanks Mom!).  To make matters worse I'm not so into Facebook lately so I'm not even sending the social media based well wishes these days.  That Facebook never forgets a birthday.

I've found a major perk of having small children is they are always willing to make a home made card for the birthday I nearly forgot.  When kids make the card it's charming and endearing...it feels more intentional and less like you forgot to stop at Target for a real card.  Construction paper for the win.

The only thing I can say about my tendency to not properly acknowledge birthdays is that the same rule applies to my own.  They come and go.  I don't take the day off from work.  I have zero expectations that anything outside the ordinary is going to happen and when it does I'm always surprised and grateful.  

But this one.  This one is different.  This birthday feels like something.  

I'm going to be straight up with you and say that something about this milestone is shining a light on the physical aspects of aging that are making themselves at home on my body.  I have noticed the following truths about my physical self in the last year especially:

  • I'm on the every 4-5 week plan at the salon these days to fight back the gray hair I refuse to see one centimeter of.
  • My fingernails are getting  inexplicable "ridges" in them.
  • There is this perma-exhausted area under my eyes that I have to cover with concealer if I don't want to look like I've been sleeping in an alley for the last month.
  • My hands on the steering wheel look just like my mothers did when I was growing up. 
  • I have a couple age spots.
  • I get out of bed a little slower than I used to and I'm starting to wonder why.  At first I thought maybe I was just putting on a "Mom is tired because you woke her too early" show for the kids but now I'm starting to think it's for real.
  • I have to exercise hard five times a week or my body reverts back to veal status.
  • I find myself rubbing the "elevens" in between my eyes.  Do I think if I really commit I can rub them right off or something?
  • I have laugh lines that look like I've been laughing...lots.


When these changes started happening I noticed, and I cared.  I could lie and say I didn't but I did.  Because despite knowing better, there are times we women still feel like so much of our value resides in our physical self.  We are conditioned to believe that beauty is where our power lives and our value diminishes as it fades.  

But our value doesn't diminish.  It grows.  And our beauty doesn't fade, it changes.

By forty we have learned to do something far more important than just be beautiful.  We have learned to create beauty.  We can do magical things we couldn't do when we were younger.  

We can:

  • Create living spaces that comfort and inspire.
  • Treat food (growing it/preparing it/serving it) like art.
  • Appreciate fresh air and outdoor activities as though they are church.
  • Value risk, adventure and uncertainty (mid-life tattoo or nose piercing anyone?)
  • Digest political/national/world news in a healthy way (mostly).
  • Grow and raise beautiful little humans.
  • Pee outside confidently and without hesitation.
  • Own our bad habits and change them if we feel like it.
  • Be the kind of friend that genuinely wants to see her girlfriends happy and successful.
  • Give our time and money and talent away to causes we value.
  • Love harder than we ever imagined we could.


We can do all those things and more.  So this year, for this "something" of a birthday I am going to give myself this gift...

Every time I look at my thighs in disbelief, or use the magnifying side of the mirror to get a way-too-close look at the tiny lines around my eyes I am going to stop, take a breath, and close my eyes.  

And instead of focusing on whatever unimportant nonsense has me tricked into thinking I shouldn't leave the house I am going to remember that I am alive and I am healthy.  That my body is strong.  That so far I have only become happier and more brave with every passing year.  That the date on my driver's license doesn't determine my worth...I do. 

That is my birthday wish for all women, no matter what number you may be turning next.  My wish for us is another year of learning and loving and knowing that beauty is not in the face, but rather a light in the heart.







Sunday, July 30, 2017

the power play.

Feminism isn't scary.  It's enlightened and essential.  





About four years ago I was sitting in the office of my then boss with a couple of peers who were also members of his team.  We were going over a presentation for an upcoming meeting with some VIP's who would be visiting from HQ the following week.  One of the three men in the room jokingly expressed his nervousness about presenting to such a high-powered audience.  To which our boss replied: 

"There's no reason to be stressed.  These guys put their pants on one leg a time...just like us.  Or Juli, I guess in your case it would be they put their lipstick on one lip at a time?"

Ummmm yeah.  Couple of things here.

1.  I actually do wear pants, so the original expression sans modification could easily have applied to everyone in the room.
2.  I highly doubt these middle-aged white men visiting from Milwaukee would wear lipstick.  But if they did I suppose that yes, they would apply it one lip at a time since that is typically what most users find works best.

No.  For real.  WHO SAYS THAT?!?!?

He did.  

I was so surprised by his comment that I just smiled and pretended to understand what the hell he was talking about.  Over the next few years of reporting to this person I watched him minimize, criticize and openly berate the people I worked with.  He had a particular fondness for choosing team meetings or large group settings to exercise his authority and make sure everyone knew he was the boss and don't you forget it.

It was difficult to respect him.
People were constantly uneasy around him.
He made us feel as though we were competing against one another.

It was all a power play.

Working for this person ended up being a career gift.  I learned a lot about the misuse of authority and generally how people react to this bullish style of leadership.  Pretty much his entire team left - including me.

The experience taught me real power comes from giving the people around you respect and the right to be heard.  I adopted a management style (if you can call it that) of functioning more as a coach, advocate and mentor to the people on my team.  I see it as my responsibility to make sure the people who report to me feel safe, supported and valued when they come to work.

I will speak out if someone is shit-talking a coworker who isn't in the room to represent themselves.  

I encourage my team to be the light in a difficult conversation.  

I remind the people who support me professionally how much I appreciate their contribution.  

Women are often led to believe that if we want to be fully respected we need to create a professional persona that only demonstrates our more "traditionally masculine" qualities.  But the truth is the most powerful qualities we can bring to work are our human qualities.  The genuine pieces of our personalities that make us approachable, trustworthy and real.  

The power play is not focusing on who in the room has the power (even if that person is you).  It comes from taking the high road every chance we get.  By refusing to minimize or judge.  It comes from encouraging the people around us to challenge themselves and grow.

Empowerment.  


That's the real power play.



(A few closing words from my girl Sheryl.)


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

speechless.



I haven't been able to write anything interesting for a while now. And when I do write something it's total crap to the extent that I can barely read it silently to myself for editing purposes (*See Exhibit A:  My last blog post)  

No really, you don't have to be kind.  I can take it.  It was total crap.

I'm not even the kind of writer who is a perfectionist or thinks every word I write needs to be relevant or inspiring.  At best I'm an aspiring part-time blogger who has the lofty goal of getting her thoughts out into a little corner of the internet and maybe making someone else smile while I'm at it.

I set the bar so low for myself I'm practically tripping over it and yet I STILL can't write.  And I know why.  I am all talked out.

For a few different reasons.

1)  I changed companies.

Taking a new job with a new company required more talking than I expected. First I had to explain who I am, what my experience has been, why I am qualified and what I planned to do in the position if given the opportunity.  

Then when I actually got the job I had to explain my thoughts, my approach to the work and my decisions to every person whose path I cross throughout the course of a day.  I am a stranger to 95% of  my co-workers...how can they be expected to understand who I am or what I'm about?

There's only one way...lots of talking.

2)  The Presidential election and the horror that followed.  

We Americans were, and continue to be flooded with everything from fear mongering to endless SNL sketches and everything in between.  



It's been a very you-can-run-but-you-can't-hide time for the media in our lives.  It's everywhere you look and seemingly all anyone wants to talk about - and I'll admit it.  I'm guilty.  I jumped right on the talk bandwagon.  

Anyone who knows me well knows I am not shy when it comes to my political beliefs or opinions about our elected officials.  I realize there are two "untouchables" in the rules of polite conversation and they are a) religion and b) politics.  I figure since I rarely discuss religion that politics should be free game (or maybe I just don't like rules).  

It's possible I have nothing left to say on the topic of American politics.  Or I've just surrendered to the idea that what's done is done.  Or all the energy I put into the reading/watching/thinking about the topic finally took a toll on me. 

Either way, I'm spent.  Too much talking.

3)  I'm almost 40 and overly socialized.  

I've been fortunate enough to live a life filled with good friends.  In the last decade however, with the introduction of little humans, the socializing really kicked into high gear.  There are girl's nights out to take a break from mommy duty.




There are dinner parties/holiday parties to take a break from adulting, and let's not forget, my personal favorite... "play dates" that involve kids running around destroying the house while moms day drink. 

then the next morning I'm all like...

I don't mean to sound Grinchy...the 30-something social scene has been and continues to be a blast.  I still enjoy being social, having a cocktail or three and laughing until I cry with a group of friends.  


It all just requires a lot of well...talking.

These days I am feeling...

Like actions speak louder than words.

Like maybe not everything we think needs to make the journey from our brain to our lips.


Like we all have a chapter of our life we don't need to read out loud.


Like someone can tell you more with their eyes than they can with words.

Like maybe if what we're about to say isn't rooted in kindness, love, or a genuine desire to bring about positive change then we should just say...




...nothing.



Our voices are important and we shouldn't be afraid to use them, but we also shouldn't overlook the important interactions that happen in those times of silence.  Those times when we aren't debating or explaining or gossiping or disagreeing or fighting for air time.

When we are quiet we give ourselves and the people around us a chance to reflect and breathe.  When we are quiet it means we are watching others, or listening to someone besides ourselves, or better yet, doing something for someone.  

The peaceful times in between the noise are when we have the opportunity to really see someone else, and for them to fully see us.

Because there is beauty in that space in between.

There is peace in that silence.  

And because we all sound the same when we're speechless.




Be well friends.  xo, juli


















Friday, December 16, 2016

sparkle from scratch.




I was so busy being thankful this November I totally flaked out on last month’s blog post.  I promise I will make it up to you next Thanksgiving with five of the most inspired paragraphs about turkey anyone has ever read.  

But for now...let's talk tinsel shall we?


I was out in middle-America this week enjoying my "other life" which primarily involves non-stop work with the occasional break to sleep, eat a bowl of something (soup/cereal) and enjoy two fun filled hours of me time each evening for:

a) exercise 
b) getting my nails done 
c) shopping 

Last night I decided to go with option B since I "forgot" to pack my sneakers and well, this girl wanted some red glitter no-chip polish in a big way.

I headed to my fav Illinois outdoor shopping city (I mean mall) and picked my color at the fanciest "PICK YOUR COLOR!!!" nail salon you’ve ever seen.  This place has roman columns and looks like the inside of a mausoleum.  (Those Midwest ladies are apparently not joking around when it comes to getting their nails done).  

The nail tech, David, came over and introduced himself.  He made some polite small talk as he evaluated the two week old chipped polish disaster I walked in with.  

At first we kept it light.  We talked about the frigid Chicago temps and the best places to get a good bowl of pho in the area.  Small talk eventually turned into real talk - work, marriage, children, life.  David told me all about his beautiful wife and their six children - and how he had been a mechanical engineer in Vietnam before relocating his family to the states.  I told him about the family I leave behind when I pack it up for Chicago twice a month and what it's been like for them.

David the nail tech and I chatted and laughed for a full hour while he prepared my nails for the festive weeks ahead.
  
Right?  David's got skills.

Toward the end of our visit he asked what I do for fun when I am in Chicagoland.  I told him not much, that I mostly just work, because I don’t really have any friends in the area.  David looked at me with no ulterior motive and complete sincerity and simply said:

“You have me.”

There we sat surrounded by some serious suburban Midwest holiday bling, yet it was his words that shined.

It was his kindness that sparkled.

We put a lot of effort into making the season bright don’t we?  We decorate our homes, clothing, retail stores, airports, vehicles (can someone please explain to me the antlers and Rudolph nose on the car thing?) – we even decorate our fingernails. 

It's easy to say it's all commercial and over the top, but here's what I think.  I say it's a good thing.

The trimmings and trappings that come standard with the holidays remind us that it’s time to get to work on the important business of being human.  The overdone holiday entrance to Target reminds us that it’s the season to connect, and the stuff in the $3 bins is not how we will do it.  




It whispers It's that time. There is more to it than this.  You can create your own sparkle from scratch.  The beauty we see around us reminds us to create something beautiful within us.  

things like:


Police in Chicago spending a day bowling with inner city at-risk youth to help them feel safe and comfortable with law enforcement.

*sparkle*

A single woman in the office volunteering to run the company Toys for Tots fundraiser.

*sparkle*

A husband and wife spend an evening making homemade Christmas cards for kids at the local children’s hospital.

*sparkle*

Parents donating gift cards to their local elementary school so families less fortunate can put something special under the tree.

*sparkle*

Two women turn a simple small town tree lighting ceremony into a night of singing, crafts, hot cocoa and pure magic for kids (thank you Bonnie and JoAnne).

*sparkle*

Together Rising donates millions of dollars to support children in Aleppo.


A nail tech in the Midwest tells a perfect stranger she has a new friend.

*sparkle*

This is how we make the season shimmer friends.  Genuine human connection is our tinsel.  Gestures that say “I am here, I see you, and I care" are the decorations.



This is how we strengthen our communities.

This is how we teach our children to be givers.

This is how we show one another we all have the same value.

This is how we fill our hearts.

This is how we heal.


This is how we create sparkle from scratch.






merry merry friends.  xo - juli

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

the bathroom floor.


I recently read something that described the current political situation in our country as the United States of America being "on the bathroom floor".  The claim implied that we are officially at the lowest point in political history, and there is nowhere to go from here but up.

I immediately had two thoughts (not in any particular order):

1)  God I hope that's true.
2)  I love the idea of describing something as being on the bathroom floor (I actually had a third thought and which was "man I wish I wrote that").

It's just such a positively perfect way to describe being at the lowest point of something - and it can easily apply to so many things.


An addiction.
A career.
A project.
A marriage.
A life.
A presidential campaign being led by a racist, misogynistic, self important crybaby.



The bathroom floor is the place we lay on our back, stare up at the ceiling and ask ourselves how in the hell we ever got here.  We reflect back on our path and the choices we made that landed us in this space filled with regret, confusion and pain.  

Yet as our tears fall on the cold tile we realize we still have choices.  We can either accept to stay there, or we can decide it's time to scrape ourselves up off the ground and start rebuilding.  The bathroom floor isn't the end unless we let it be.  If we take the pain and lessons that brought us there and turn them into energy it can actually be a beginning.  

Yes, the bathroom floor is where a new chapter starts, but interestingly it's also when we are in our most vulnerable and fragile state.  

We have all known someone in this place haven't we?  Someone who found themselves in a financial crisis, a marital crisis or (my personal favorite) a midlife crisis.  We can hear the vulnerability in their voice and see the uncertainty in their actions...and for good reason.  Chances are their whole world just got rocked and they don't know what to believe in anymore.  They may not even be sure if they can believe in themselves.

I will admit that in the past there have been times when my initial reaction was to shy away.  To listen politely but not "get involved".  Aren't we all a little nervous that if we support someone who is down on their luck too much we might catch the bad luck bug ourselves?  So we look but don't touch.

It's easier to question their choices.  To assure ourselves that we would never have been so careless or selfish or foolish to end up on the bathroom floor as they have.  We would have done it differently.  We would have done it better.

That's not at all how I see it today.  Whether it's ourselves or someone we know who has hit that low point I think it's the perfect time for learning.  For growth.  For compassion.

More importantly, it's a time for grace.


When our knees hit the floor and it feels like rock bottom, that's the time to show what we're really made of. 

It's the time for us hold ourselves, or someone else, or this country in our hands as gently as possible so the healing can begin.

It's our time to bring our best self forward.  

It's our time to not turn away.

It's our time to rise up.


xo - juli

PS - If you're looking for me between now and Nov. 8th you know where to find me. ;)