Breathing Spaces, Not Resolutions

Everything feels better on the beach.

Somehow September turned into New Year’s Resolutions, Part 2. I thought this was a parent-specific thing, but I know childless people who are caught up in the ‘new school year, new you’ craziness. According to my inbox, now is the perfect time to reset my diet, take up an exercise challenge, read the latest books by my favourite authors, and start that Coursera course someone picked just for me. It’s like everyone’s high on Pumpkin Spice latte fumes.

All joking aside, I get it. Why not put away your bad habits AND your summer clothes all at the same time? It’s so efficient! Personally, I just spent the last two months working while the kids were on summer break. I’m tired. All I really want to do is enjoy the fact that someone else is legally obligated to provide an excellent learning environment for my children, at no extra cost to me.

Last year I fell for the Pumpkin Spice fumes. I joined a run challenge, bought cookbooks to help me make healthy dinners my kids would love, and tried to Amazon prime my way to a new life.

That didn’t turn out so well. I love running and cooking; the activities themselves weren’t the problem. The problem was that I added more stuff to my already crammed lifestyle without pausing to consider where I would fit them in.

This September I did something different.

I Took a Secret Vacation

It wasn’t a total secret. I want to stay employed, after all. My job knew I was taking time off. My family and friends did not. I love my family. I love my friends. But when they know I’m off, I tend to get asked to do laundry or go out to lunch. The whole point of this particular exercise was to side-step my routine and examine it from the outside.

So on Monday I got up at the usual time, went into my office at the usual time, and asked myself questions I haven’t asked in a while. What do I really want to do with my days? What should I do to go back to work feeling like I’d had a good time off? And then I sat back and waited.

I don’t know how the rest of you see the different facets of your personality. I think of mine as a committee. There’s my inner maker, who would love to spend an entire day making things. There’s my inner athlete, who prefers long sessions sweating in the great outdoors. My inner toddler wanted to go exploring. And my inner writer wanted to write things on a more forgiving deadline.

I like doing other things too. These were simply the activities that moved to the head of the queue when I thought about what I really wanted to do. Since the stakes were low (I only had to figure out two days) the committee vote came through pretty quickly. I would spend Monday reading and writing. Tuesday I would knit and walk on the beach. The goal for both days was to spend as much time as possible neither speaking nor being spoken to.

The Secret Vacation Backstory

I’ve taken secret vacations since my first child was an infant. We all have the right to say ‘I need breathing space,’ and expect the world to leave us alone for a bit. Unfortunately babies don’t work union hours. And mothers, in particular, aren’t supposed to want time away from their children. It’s pretty easy to get to a point where you’re too tired of fighting to fight for what you need. So we suck it up.

Until the day that I didn’t. One day I got dressed for work and dropped my daughter at daycare. Then instead of going to work I drove to the beach and called in sick. I didn’t do much. I walked for a long time. My favorite yarn store in LA was six blocks from that beach, so I went and knit at their big wood table. I bought an early dinner. And then I went back to the daycare at the usual time and took my child home.

All together I played hooky for six hours. It was life changing. I went home better able to deal with new motherhood, a demanding job, and the fallout from the 2009 recession. Best of all, I didn’t have to fight anyone for the respite because no one knew I’d taken it.

It was my little secret. And I knew I would do it again.

The Power of a Small, Sneaky Escape

Some people walk the Appalachian Trail in an effort to find themselves. But you can reap the same benefits on a smaller scale with a secret vacation. There’s something powerful about asking yourself what you really want to do with your time and waiting for the answer. It almost doesn’t matter how much time you set aside. Reserving–and enforcing–a breathing space is an empowering act.

Plus, keeping things small means you can do it more often. If it’s been a long time since you’ve done the things you really want to do, your inner committee might resemble the mob outside Walmart on Thanksgiving. Every one of your interests will try to out-shout the others when you’re starved for free time. If you plan regular escapes, the committee settles down. Your true priorities emerge. You leave your vacation time with a better sense of what recharges you. And that right there is snack-sized self reflection.

Third, sneaking out of your life prevents you from spending your free time doing the soul-sucking things you “should” do. Nobody can know you’re off. They’ll figure it out for sure if your kitchen floor goes from grimy to gleaming in an afternoon. Therefore, for operational secrecy, you need to leave that floor alone.

People Think My Vacations Are Weird But Really They’re Awesome

I (usually) tell my husband about my secret vacations after they’re over. Mostly he’s bemused by the whole idea. Others look at me like I’m crazy when they find out. But for me, these little interludes are (metaphorically speaking) how I put the oxygen mask on my own face first before helping anyone else. On Wednesday I dove back into my usual schedule. I didn’t have a new life, but I definitely felt like a new me.

If you’re feeling like you need a change, maybe what you really need is a secret vacation. Give it a try. The sanity you save might just be your own.

How to Get Better at Riding the Chaos Wave

Change isn’t going away so let’s get good at dealing with it.


Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

The era of the job for life ended before my generation joined the workforce. Most of us know that our employment situation could change with little warning. Maybe it was the recent layoffs at Buzzfeed and Huffington Post, or the government shutdown in the U.S., but I’ve been thinking about how the average person can get better at dealing with change.

I don’t pretend to have the definitive answer to how to do this. I DO have an approach. I call it riding the chaos wave. There have been long stretches of my professional life where my role, my boss, and my entire company structure has changed every few months. This is how I surf the wave.

Learn Fast

My goal in any new role is to start functioning nearly autonomously by the end of the first week. Some people drink and know things–I talk to people, read, and write stuff down. This is how I learn.

You may learn a different way. Figure out what works for you. Learning how you learn can make change less scary. You may not know everything now, but you will have confidence in your ability to succeed in your new situation.


Photo by NESA by Makers on Unsplash

Don’t Take the Drama Personally

Everyone around you is anxious. It has nothing to do with you. It will look personal because people will question your decisions. They may even act resentful or cold.

For me, it helps to pretend that I’m wearing my ‘newbie’ hat and that people are reacting to it, not me. Remember that the person who keeps a cool head the longest, wins.

Do Take Time to Grieve

Most job changes and restructurings mean losing things and people you like. Give yourself time to process your feelings. Think of your grief as a forest fire–it’s better to hold a controlled burn.

I am not a therapist or a mental health expert. I do know that going for a run helps me process many things. Find what works for you.


Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

Make New Connections

This one can be hard if you’re grieving. Or perhaps your company has gone through so many changes that you’re burned out on change. You may also have some survivor guilt if you kept your job when others didn’t.

Make connections anyway. I have never, in the history of ever, learned how to excel in a job by reading the company manual and doing exactly what I was told. In my experience you get the real scoop from the people around you. Even if everyone else thinks they’re clueless, you can start to get a sense of the bigger picture by putting together the little bits everyone knows.

Change is Like Coffee

It’s an acquired taste. I don’t like losing coworkers. I do like learning new things, and pursuing new challenges. If you can’t stop change, then it makes sense to try to find something to enjoy about it along the way, even if you have to do the metaphorical equivalent of dumping a metric ton of cream and sugar into your change cup before you choke it down. Do this often enough, and change may not taste so bitter.


Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Change is Also a Chaos Wave

It can come at you from any direction, and if you stand still it will crash into you. I believe that each one of us can learn the skills to ride the wave instead. This is my approach to riding the wave. Do you have a similar or different approach for dealing with change? I’d love to hear about it.

Celebrations, Not Resolutions

Let’s get off the punishment train


Photo by Nattu Adnan on Unsplash

Someone once said that ‘exercise should be a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you ate. This is good advice–and it applies to more than exercise. For one thing, you’re more likely to make room for a party than for a punishment session. For another, adding in consistent (healthy) celebrations can give you the mental fortitude to make positive changes.

I’ve found this to be the case in my life. I like running. I don’t like strength training. Since I wish to get faster at running, I strength train a few times a week. I enjoy getting stronger–but I still wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love running.

This is why I don’t really ‘do’ traditional New Year’s resolutions unless I can game the system. As an example, in 2015 I resolved to run a race, and I signed up for a 5k that took place on January 1. It was called, appropriately enough, the Resolution Run. Resolution: completed.

Instead, each year I commit to something positive and hedonistic. Last year I committed to eating better cookies. I also decided to do this 2 week daily making jump start. Both of these were super fun. I can now whip up killer peanut butter cookies in less than 15 minutes. This is a life skill as far as I’m concerned.

The daily making challenge rebooted my appreciation of my own creativity. (I get no compensation for plugging either of these, by the way. I just really enjoyed them.) This was the year I published my book, started this blog, and began posting articles on Medium. Am I giving all the credit for these accomplishments to cookies, running, and a daily making practice? No. But my new go-to activities made me happy, and that helped me power through the tough bits.

Maybe a positive, hedonistic goal will help you, too. I encourage you to add a little intentional joy to your life. You may be amazed at what happens when you do.

How to End the Year When You’re Broke, Busy, or Burned out

Let’s focus on closing the year on a positive (and realistic) note.


Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

If you believe the memes on social media, this is the time of year when we’re supposed to: 1) take control of our finances, 2) get rid of the negative people in our lives, and 3) let go of the excuses for why we haven’t done 1 or 2. Last call for completing those 2018 resolutions!

People of the internets, we have 25 days left in December. Even if you’re a remote worker with lots of flexibility, you can’t fix a year’s worth of problems in 25 days. Happily, there is a sane way to tie up the old year even if you’re broke or short on time.

What Went Right?

Most of us have a mental mix tape of all the things that went wrong in 2018. Take a moment to write down the things that went right. You can do this all in one session or during small gaps in your day. Some of those positives might be big-a new job, a new relationship—but don’t overlook the small stuff. Did you start a hobby? Try a sport? You may need to focus on very small things, at first, before you can remember some of the medium-sized positives.

Who Cares?

There are good reasons why you need this list. Many people go through an existential crisis at this time of year. They think of all of the things they didn’t do. They think of all the things that went wrong. Don’t let the negative mix tape erase the positives. If you want to make changes to your life in 2019, you need a balanced assessment of where you are. You may not have lost 40 pounds this year, but maybe you kept a roof over your kid’s head. Go you!

Now What?

Once you know where you are, you can start thinking of where you want to be. Putting your list together in December lets you test drive a few new habits before the resolutions craze in January. This knowledge will keep you from getting sucked into activities that don’t mean much to you. Even more importantly, this is a crazy time of year. If you can size your goal so that it fits into your routine now, then it will probably fit into your life when things calm down next month. Plus, you’ll have a jump on the new year. It’s a win-win.