“You’re so warm.” Those words, so casually said by a former co-worker, summed up six months of life-altering changes and positive personal choices that have allowed me to feel significantly healthier and stronger, and have enabled me to approach the ups and downs of personal and professional interactions in an upbeat, collaborative, and assertive manner.
You see, following the “You’re so warm,” she’d added, “I’d always seen you racing around in a whirlwind of stress, jumping from one thing to the next, never really giving your peers or yourself time to listen or time to take care of your needs. We all say how smart and talented you were but also how unhappy. Now you’re glowing, and you’ve sat for a half an hour listening to me and you really care.”
I’d been stuck on a metaphorical treadmill, charging up the personal and professional hill at top speed with no break in sight for far too long. When I really wanted to speak up, but couldn’t find the words or the confidence, I’d cope by putting on a smile and a cute outfit. And it didn’t stop there.
Oh, how I coped: by making bad choices about what I was or wasn’t eating, how much I drank, and avoiding anything I didn’t want to deal with by being in constant motion. Instead of enjoying my exercise routines, I was always consumed by thoughts of guilt that I’d skipped the gym too many times that week, or by my need to force out the anger and stress I’d bottled up all day long. Sadly, I’d compare myself to many other women in their twenties and think, “I’m great! After all, they’re doing exactly the same things.”
And then came the day I got laid off. I experienced a moment of fear and uncertainty, but it was overshadowed by a sense of calm, and relief that I‘d finally be forced to learn new skills and try unfamiliar approaches to my career and personal life. Three days later, I jumped out of a plane, even though I’d been planning to just cheer from the ground during my friend’s birthday skydive. Something resilient inside of me was ready to soar, knowing I had to make big changes and be excited to make them. And all those big changes became easier once I gained the perspective to ask myself: how does the change compare to standing and looking out the door of an airplane and jumping?
My drastically red-lined personal budget turned out to be a savior, too. I got creative learning how to cook gourmet at home, and re-connected with my love of dancing in my kitchen to my favorite songs. I had plenty of daylight hours available for jogs through the Presidio and along Crissy Field, and I re-connected with my love of the outdoors and the peacefulness of running for pleasure vs. pounding on the treadmill to meet my 30 minute to-do. I approached the gym and was still that girl who couldn’t follow along in class or figure out any equipment aside from the treadmill but I wanted to learn, and in one fateful moment asked my good friend for tips on how not to be a dork in the gym. I learned to be honest with myself and others about what I needed, and learned how to say “No thanks, I can’t spend the money to go out, but I love it when you call, or gchat, or come over for wine.” I made a number of new friends that were in the same boat, and we all bonded over our commitment to stay positive, be proactive, and make the most of our time out of work. In what could have been an incredibly stressful time, I actually felt more joy and strength than I had in a long time.
A year and a half ago I found a job and returned to the workforce; but not without a lot of change and renewed strenght. I had found balance and I have maintained it. For my employer, my peers, my friends and my loved ones, balance allows me to be warm, happy, strong, confident, and ready to soar even higher.
What was your kick in the pants to make changes for the better in your life?