As we close yet another year this week, reflection is a natural emotion for many of us. I thought of writing about lessons I’ve learned this year, or 14 business tips for 2014, or even sharing once again my likely-to-be-half-fulfilled resolutions, but I think I’ll simply share some personal and professional reflections from my year. Whether they become guiding principles, shared insights or merely tips of what to do – or not to do – for you, likely depends on your own situation as you enter 2014. In any event, I hope they prove to be helpful in some way or another. As always, thanks for reading.
13. There is no fair fairy – I grew up with my mother telling me this. I hated it. But she’s right. Life simply isn’t fair, and you’ve got to learn to deal with it. Sitting around comparing the haves with the have nots doesn’t do much to change this fact. Instead, I’m trying to stay focused on what my blessings are, while at the same time recognizing things that aren’t going well, and creating plans to change whatever I can.
12. Two of the most screwed up things about America are our legal system and our health care system. Given the Obama Care challenges, I don’t think I need to explain the latter too much. But quite simply, health care should be something we work hard to ensure everyone has. I’ve seen too many unemployed friends struggle with no health care this year, or insurance agencies denying claims for people who really need help, and have faithfully paid into insurance month after month, year after year for decades – only to be denied help when they need it most. It’s quite despicable, actually, and it isn’t new. We need to work together to fix this longstanding issue in countries worldwide.
I loved law class in college. I dove into it with vigor, enjoyed arguing cases and received an A. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve unfortunately been exposed to the intricacies of our legal system and the unnecessary billing of lawyers who jack up hours doing things they don’t really need to do. In addition, the entire “innocent until proven guilty” idea is a nice concept but they fail to mention that you have to come up with the money to prove your innocence. This is one of the reasons the rich get richer. They can afford to drag you around the legal system with appeal after appeal – even after you’ve won – and ultimately, you could run out of money and end up unable to defend yourself. If you’ve ever had to answer an interrogatory, you also know how much time and money is wasted – again, increasing bills for items that may never come into play in a case.
11. Divorce sucks. After a painful two-year separation, mine was finalized in early 2013. There’s no getting around it – it sucks. Even if you are the person who initiated the divorce, it still sucks. No one goes into a marriage planning this as the exit (at least no one I know) – but sometimes it’s the only way out of something that went South in a way that you never imagined. The only advice I have is to listen to yourself. Do a LOT of soul searching before making this decision, if you’re the one initiating it – actually, even if you’re not, and you’re the one being left, do a lot of soul searching. Take a sabbatical if you can, read Crazy Time, find a good therapist, and realize you’re not alone. Remember, everything gets better with time. It will never feel quite right no matter what – divorce is, after all, the death of a dream and a life that will not be. It doesn’t mean you’ll never be happy again, but you will likely always feel that loss – even if you’re so angry right now you can’t imagine ever feeling that way – trust me, it will always be a loss.
10. I’m definitely getting old – I know this not only because of my age, drooping eyelids and new wrinkles, I know because I no longer care about reading celeb rags like US and People, I don’t watch reality TV, I get queasy on roller coasters and for the first time in my life, I have to really try hard to lose weight. But on the positive side, I am nicer to myself and others, I care less about getting everyone’s approval, I accept where my life is, I focus on the positive and am able to let go of the negative (most of the time) more easily than before. I appreciate the insights and internal peace that getting older brings to me.
9. You’re never too old. I read an article this year about entrepreneurs who began new careers or businesses at older ages. Folks like Arianna Huffington, who started Huffington Post at the age of 54, and Sam Walton, who was 44 when he started Walmart. My mother went back to college in her late 40s (I had classes with her!) and my grandfather, who just turned 90 in November, continues to tell jokes, remember birthdays, walk around with no problems and generally be an amazing man. These examples and more inspired me to try some new things near the end of this year – I met with two book publishers, I opened my heart and faced my biggest fear to become a part of the RAINN speakers bureau, and I took on several new career challenges, some of which are not yet public. I may even grab a copy of Late-Blooming Entrepreneurs: Eight Principles for Starting a Business After Age 40, although since I’ve owned my first business for 15 years and counting, I don’t really consider myself a “late” bloomer – more of a “constant bloomer” because I always want to try new things. I’m hoping 2014 will be the year several of my new adventures come to fruition.
8. I still have a lot of work to do. I still have to work really hard to not let my problems overwhelm me into thinking everything is bad. I have to push myself to stand up to wrongful situations and negative people, and I have to learn to budget better. But that’s what life is – always improving and learning and moving forward, right?
7. Not everyone is capable of true love. You may not agree with me, but I feel like I finally understand the true definition of love. People are mostly inherently selfish. We want to do what we want to do, go where we want to go. Having a relationship or becoming a parent means compromise. And truly loving someone means that you put them first – that their needs always come before yours. Always. Some people simply are not capable of this. They may care for others, and act loving, but at the end of the day, they put themselves first and that is not love.
6. Being a parent is the most difficult job I’ve ever experienced. I love my boys! I do everything I can to make them feel loved, confident and important. It isn’t always easy because kids are selfish. They are self-centered. They want what they want, when they want it. It’s our job to teach them how to be responsible and loving human beings and to discover the joy of being good to others. But man, it is hard! Especially when they are ungrateful, or they get angry over silly things and call you “the meanest Mom in the world.” This happens. Usually it’s when they don’t get something they want – and although you know they don’t mean it, it still stings. And it also stings to watch them struggle through hard times – some of which are the natural rituals of growing up. You know they have to go through some of these things, and you can’t do it for them – and it’s hard to see them struggle and not be able to fix everything like you could when they were three. But it’s also the most rewarding and amazing job I’ve ever had. I pray every night for their protection and grace, and I thank God for the privilege of being their mother. I hope every parent sees it this way – and that they recognize just how blessed they are to be a Mom or a Dad.
5. You have more faith than you think you do. You might not consider yourself a religious person, but every day you are likely showing faith in one way or another by the choices you make. If you have been heart broken and choose to love again, or you keep driving when the gas tank is on “Empty,” or you borrow money promising to pay it back, or you start a company or take a new job. You don’t know how the story ends – you’re just taking a leap of faith that it will work out. I had a conversation with a family member recently about trust. He’s been hurt pretty badly in love, and he came to the conclusion that no one is trustworthy. It would be an easy train to jump on for most of us, but I have to believe that people are trustworthy most of the time (with some exceptions). We just make mistakes. All of us have made mistakes. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t trust again. I think we have to focus more on holding ourselves up when things go wrong, vs. avoiding ever being vulnerable. Vulnerability is a part of life – personal and professional. Even at work, you’re making yourself vulnerable if you offer a new idea, right? Just learn to accept that things aren’t perfect – but we can still have faith that in the end, things will somehow work out anyway.
4. Just ask. It’s amazing what can happen when you speak up and ask for what you want. Thank you to those who said “yes” this year – I’m pretty blown away by your kindness and support.
3. If you lie down with mongrel dogs, even for a short nap, you wake up with fleas — and they ride with you wherever you go. When I read this Chinese proverb in a recent article about negating toxic people from your life, I thought “Whew, easier said than done.” I’ve spent the last few years of my life ending a lot of relationships. It’s been hard, and at times very sad, but it’s vital to recognize when you’ve surrounded yourself with people who make you feel bad – and to step away from those people.
2. Let it go. Man, people are angry, huh? In the last week alone I’ve dealt with two incidents of road rage – and I don’t even commute every day, and it’s the holiday season! (And no, it’s not due to bad driving on my part – only one incident involved me at the wheel and was in dead stopped traffic.) Why are people so angry? Is someone pulling one car length ahead of you really worth blowing your top over? Is holding that grudge from five years ago doing anything to help you feel good? Like the adorable song in the movie Frozen says, just Let. It. Go. We’ve got one shot at this life thing, so spend your time trying to focus on the positive, and don’t sweat the small stuff. Remember you can’t control everything either, and when you let go a bit – it can be very freeing.
1. I am so blessed. 2013 certainly hasn’t been my favorite year. I’ve faced a lot of personal and professional challenges and heartaches. I watched, along with many of you, our beloved city of Boston become a place of terror, and had to come to grips with the fact that nowhere is safe from the evils of bad men. I’ve experienced a lot of loss. I have had to go back and fight battles that I had already won but which my foes would not drop. And yet, I know how blessed I am. I have two wonderful, funny, healthy sons who I’ve grown closer to as they grow up. I have a new puppy – in addition to my existing two pups – who is hilarious and sweet and reminds me every day that happiness can be found in the simple moments of life (like watching a puppy bounce all around your house). I am loved. And I am strong. I haven’t lost my faith and – naively or not – I believe 2014 holds great promise for renewal. I hope yours does, too.