Pocketknife Wisdom

My maternal Grandfather passed away when I was 13. My family is from the south, so to me he was always “Granddaddy.” He was the man who taught me how to whistle, wink and untie any knot. He was tough and tender at the same time. He was in the Navy during WWII. He was City Commissioner of his small Georgia town. He bought my Grandmother jewelry every year for Christmas. His voice squeaked when he talked. I wear his mother’s diamond in my engagement ring.

At some point along the line, I was given a pocket knife that belonged to my Granddaddy. It’s sleek and silver and is engraved with his initials (D.L.C.) and a date (4.28.78). I don’t know when he received it, or what it was in honor of, but this lovely knife has become a cherished possession. I need to remember to ask my Grandmother the significance of the date while we’re still lucky enough to have her around.

Due to lack of use over the past 35 years, the lovely silver pocketknife has tarnished and locked up. The two slender blades no longer unfold, locked in place by rust and neglect.

This weekend, I decided to do what I could to restore its luster and functionality. Armed with WD-40 and Barkeepers Friend, I rubbed and polished and finessed the tool. Slowly undoing decades of non-use, the tarnish was scrubbed off and the joints eventually creaked.

As I was working to loosen the smaller of the two blades, my persistence triumphed and the small arm swung open, passing over my thumb as it extended.

It happened in an instant and before I realized it, the white bathroom sink was splattered with blood. I looked down at my thumb and saw the slice, fresh and deep from the blade of my Granddaddy’s knife. I quickly rinsed it, elevated my arm above my head and wrapped my thumb once the bleeding slowed.

It would be easy to look at this incident as an accident. The casualty of trying to clean off an old knife. But to me, this is more than a mishap. I choose to see this as a lesson from my Granddaddy: When you pair sharpness and momentum, you will leave a mark.pocket_knife

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Anchors Aweigh

As long as there have been human beings, we have been making excuses.

The man who wants to lose 20 pounds but allows himself to have a piece of cake after dinner every evening because he works hard and “deserves it.” The couple who claims they couldn’t possibly fulfill their dream to travel to South America because they have children. The woman who keeps getting back together with an abusive ex because she believes he’ll be different this time. Excuses are just self-imposed prisons that keep us exactly where we are and procrastinate any real change.

I’d just like to take a moment to say: STOP

Stop it. Right this second. Stop making excuses. Stop staying locked in the same place. Stop limiting your potential. Stop cheating yourself.

Excuses are ship anchors, pinning you to the ocean floor when there’s a vast world out there you could be sailing through. So many reasons we give ourselves for not following our dreams exist solely in our own heads. We are our own worst enemies when it comes to progress.

So put down that cake and get on the treadmill. Have a relative watch your kids for a week. Eliminate anyone from your life who doesn’t make it better. We have the power to do all of these things for ourselves and we simply must.

Make the decision to lift anchor and you’ll be amazed at the places you can go.

ship at sea

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Lessons in Heartbreak from Swedish Pop Stars

I’ve acquired many nicknames over the years – too many to list, and some not quite appropriate to share here – but the one that still makes me chuckle is one I earned in college: DJ Repeat.

I earned the title of DJ Repeat because of the simple fact that when I have a song-of-the-moment (you know exactly what I’m talking about, the one you just. can’t. get. enough. of.), I tend to listen to it over and over and over in the car. Like 20 times in a row and I’m still just as excited to hear it as I was the first time around.

I’m also one of those rare dinosaurs that still makes CDs to listen to while I drive. Recently, one of my mixes contained Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend,” a song I had heard many times but never really went off the deep end for. For some reason, having the song in my car turned the corner for me and I ABSOLUTELY COULDN’T STOP LISTENING TO IT.

On my way to work, on my way home from work, on my way to the grocery store, to the gym, home from the gym, back to work….you get the idea. Over the course of a week I probably listening to the song close to 100 times. And it just kept getting better.

Somewhere around my 83rd time through the song, as I was belting out, “the ooooooonly way her heart will mend is wheeeeeen she learns to looooooove again” it struck me how true those words are. When you’ve had your heart broken, the only way to move past the hurt is to love again.

It may seem counter intuitive – if your heart is broken, how can you possibly use it? I’ll tell you how. By being around people who love you. By having new experiences. By focusing on yourself. By doing things that make you feel good. By meeting new people. By volunteering. By exercising. By practicing general self love. And when the time comes for you to love someone again, that’s when the wounds from your heart ache will feel healed.

Don’t waste your time hating the people that hurt you. Hate just breeds more hate. Love is the only thing that can manifest more love.

.Robyn

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Help.

Self-reliant. Independent. Resolved. Driven. Focused. Persistent. Stubborn.

These are all words that can and have been used to describe my personality. I’m strong, self-sufficient and proud. These are not bad attributes by any means, but they do create a protective sphere around me that seems to ward off anything resembling receiving help from another individual.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been fiercely independent. Largely due to personality and I’m sure partly due to circumstance and environment, I’ve always wanted to be able to do everything for myself.

My aversion to help manifests itself in every facet of my life. I insist on printing everything for myself instead of having my assistant help. I don’t delegate as much as I should. When my husband asks what he can do to help around the house I tell him I’ve got it covered. I’m constantly juggling too many things at once, and yet I refuse to let anyone carry my coffee for me instead of letting it teeter on the ledge of my notebook as I shuffle from meeting to meeting.

It’s not productive or necessary for me to hoard responsibilities like I’ve been doing for so long. Denying help is hurting no one but myself.

The irony is, if I see someone in need, I’m the first to volunteer to help them. I see someone who needs help carrying something? Let me take that for you. A co-worker is stressed before a meeting? I’m there to help them prepare. A stranger looks lost? I step right in front of them and volunteer directions.

The real question is, why can’t I allow myself to be open to those same kindnesses?

I’ve reached a point where it’s become evident that succeeding in life means accepting collaboration and assistance from others. I truly do think two heads are better than one. Four hands are better than two. And a team can accomplish in a day what it would take an individual one week to do.

And so, I’m focusing on embracing help. I’m leaning into teamwork and even asking people to do things for me. It’s awful and weird and gross and uncomfortable. But real change usually is at first.

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A Study of Impatience

Over the past 2 years I’ve had the good fortune and pleasure to work with a wonderful German photographer on two different projects. He’s a funny, insightful man and a brilliant artist. Much like my father, he’s young at heart and eternally playful.

Our first assignment together was a week-long shoot up and down the California coastline. On the second or third day of the shoot I asked him how he got into photography. He turned me, smiled, and said, “I was impatient in painting.”

Of course I laughed, but he was also telling me something very real and truthful. By identifying what he didn’t have the patience for, he found something that suits him much better. I realized that focusing on what you don’t like can be as much of a guide in life as focusing on what you do enjoy. Pay attention to what makes you impatient and explore other solutions.

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Forever Young

My father is 60 years old but he is younger at heart than I am at 29. He’s in fantastic physical shape thanks to a lean and healthy diet, daily bike rides and a naturally high energy level. My dad doesn’t watch TV or eat fries. He works in his garden, chops his own firewood and brings fresh homemade pesto to his neighbors.

My father is tremendously funny, kind, intelligent and light. I aspire to be like him throughout my life. To take time every day to both laugh and reflect.

For my wedding, I chose Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” as the song for our Father/Daughter dance. I love the original version, but today I stumbled upon this video of Norah Jones singing it for the Steve Jobs memorial and can’t stop listening.

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A Humble Reminder

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

- Ernest Hemingway

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Embrace The Shaking

Over the years I’ve tried many different types of workouts. I’ve logged hour-long sessions on the elliptical. I’ve powered through fast-paced circuit classes, alternating cardio and weights every minute on the minute. I’ve emerged drenched head to toe in sweat after a 90 minute Bikram class. I’ve heaved weight above my head and mastered handstand pushups during CrossFit. Over the past few years I’ve switched up my routine about every 9 months. But the one workout I keep coming back to is Bar Method.

Bar Method is a total body workout that uses tiny isometric movements to blast and reshape muscles. I especially love how it re-engages all the muscles I used as a dancer, and helps me maintain my flexibility with lots of stretching in between sets. I leave each class feeling strong and tired at the same time. Not to mention, I see almost instant changes in my body when I’m doing it consistently.

Every Bar class follows a formula (as workout classes are wont to do): a quick warmup, followed by set focused on arms, thighs, butt, and abs, in that order. The warm up is simple, aimed at elevating your heart rate up and getting blood flowing. During this time I’m usually mentally patting myself on the back for making the decision to go work out instead of laying on the couch eating vanilla bean ice cream and watching How I Met Your Mother. Following the warm up comes arms, which I absolutely love. I feel my arms slimming and strengthening as I curl, dip and push up.

But after arms….after arms comes thigh work.

It’s hard to describe thigh work to someone who hasn’t experienced it first hand, but its sort of like giving birth through your knee caps. Or dipping your bottom half into a pool full of piranhas. All dramatics aside, it feels slightly better than putting your legs through a wood chipper.

The most notable element of thigh work is that as you go through the combinations, your legs begin to shake. Moving up and inch and down an inch, over and over and over you realize that you’re no longer in the drivers seat of your own body. Your legs are staging a violent protest. It’s an incredibly strange feeling, for such small motions to cause your entire lower half to quiver uncontrollably. But as the encouraging and energetic instructors are quick to remind you, the shaking is a good thing. The shaking means your muscles are tearing down and rebuilding themselves to be leaner and stronger. The shaking means you’re doing real work. The shaking is a symptom of your body changing.

The other day, as my legs were vibrating like my shins had a stutter, my instructor walked past me and exclaimed, “great shaking, Kejal!” My first reaction was to slap her. But then I felt a warm wave of pride and happiness wash over my entire body. By showing up and putting in work I was making a lasting change in my body. By working through the discomfort I was actively putting mind over matter. Instead of giving up and saying it’s too hard, I was pushing past the limits of what my body can do.

And of course, this lesson applies to so much more than just my workouts. When I find myself assigned to a new and challenging assignment at work, I take a deep breath and embrace the shaking. When I’m faced with an emotional hurtle, I lengthen my strides and do my best to clear it. It doesn’t feel good, but muscles always need to be broken down so they can rebuild themselves stronger next time.

Embrace the discomfort. Embrace the shaking.

bar method

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Constant Refinement

“Creativity is subtraction.” – Austin Kleon

Over the past year I’ve had an ever present concept humming in my brain. It’s by no means a new concept, and is know my many names, but I like to refer to it as “Constant Refinement.”

Constant Refinement is the practice of identifying and eliminating unnecessary or undesirable elements from your life. These elements can be physical things, behaviors or people, but their unifying trait is that they don’t work for you anymore.

When you’re younger we’re all taught that the world is your oyster. You can be anyone, do anything, go anywhere. Every door is open. But as I near the end of my 20′s I’ve focused in on a more narrow spectrum of who I actually am and what I’ve learned about myself. I’ve chosen to close some doors and dedicate my energy on the ones I’ve left open.

I’ve chosen the man I’ll be spending the rest of my life with. I’ve chosen a career that I truly love that challenges and inspires me. I’ve learned what kind of clothes look best on me and most reflect my personal identity for now. I’ve learned how to communicate and express myself effectively. I know what makes me laugh and what makes me roll my eyes. I’ve found friends that encourage and stand by me through ups and downs as life fluctuates from euphoric to really shitty. I’ve identified what habits help make me a better person and which ones stand in the way of my progress.

Constant Refinement doesn’t close the door on new experiences, people or things, because as humans we’re always evolving and what I need and wear 5 years from now will certainly be different than what it is today. I’ll always be open to new things. But I’ll also always be editing what doesn’t work in my present to make room for what I’ll find in my future.

We live in a world where more is better. But I want less. Less clutter, less drama, less dust, less stuff. I want to absolutely love every item I have in my life. If I don’t love it, it’s going to get weeded out.

As I’ve explored the concept of Constant Refinement more, I’ve stumbled upon other people who are practicing it (interestingly, most of them the same age and life stage as myself). My favorite is Liz, a graphic designer in North Carolina who does a lovely job of documenting her “Never-Ending Edit.”

Obviously the refinement is multi-faceted, but over the next few months I’ve challenged myself to get rid of 50 things from our home that just don’t work for me anymore. We all hold onto useless stuff – clothes we don’t wear, tools we don’t use, sentimental items we’ve outgrown – and it all ends up weighing us down. I’ve even realized some of my “things” I’ve grown to downright despise.

Every day I look around, chipping away at the things I don’t need but have held onto for some reason or another. I expect I’ll get rid of much more than 50 items during this time period. Doing a pass through the house today, I found 12 things I’m getting rid of:

  • 4 shirts I don’t wear (one ill-fitting tank top, one sleeping shirt our cat chewed on, an old college t-shirt that I never wear, and – the only one I’m sad about – a John Cusack tee with a quote from Say Anything that I bought online because I loved it but it’s so wide I never wear it)
  • An old purse I haven’t used in 3 years
  • A thick red bangle I’ve worn maybe once
  • A Baby G watch I’m embarrassed I still have, last worn in 2003
  • A blue decanter and 4 tumblers that I bought because I thought the decanter looked like an oversized beaker but have only used them once

Constant Refinement

My refinement will continue to be documented here. I have plenty more useless things to eliminate from our home. I have books I’ll never read, shirts I’ll never wear again, an old pair of nightstands I need to sell…you get the idea.

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Pick A Line

We’re spending the first part of the holiday break with my family in Georgia before heading to Boston to see my Husband’s family. Although I guess technically they’re all our family now.

Growing up, the annual Christmas trip to Georgia was always a highlight of my year. My immediate family was spread across the south and east coast while my parents resided in the midwest, so Christmas was the one time a year I’d see everyone together. I especially cherished the time I got to spend with my Grandmother.

My grandmother is your classic southern belle – sassy and opinionated yet delicate and graceful. Her thick accent softens even the hardest consonants, adding extra syllables with a sticky sweet drawl. She tells stories dappled with humor and history and I always come away from our conversations with new insights.

This year is no different. She’s gotten much older and more fragile, but still just as witty as ever. Sitting in her living room, we talked for several hours our first night and I heard a few stories I hadn’t heard before. And one of them sparked a very simple but important insight.

In my grandmother’s day, college orientation was a bit more analog than it was for me. She arrived on the campus of UGA, fresh-faced and excited – one of a small number of her girlfriends who went to college instead of getting married right after high school. She was bursting at the seams with excitement to sign up for Journalism classes, her chosen major.

When she arrived at the large gymnasium, it was filled with tables, each one labeled with a different major. Students were lined up to register for their desired course of study and pick their respective classes. My grandmother looked around for the Journalism table, but, much to her dismay, the line of future journalists stretched out the door and wrapped around the side of the building. Not wanting to wait in that terribly long line, my grandmother walked a few tables over and signed up as an English major instead.

I can’t say what the impact of that decision was. Maybe it ended up being a smart choice for her. But she also may have missed the opportunity to pursue something she was genuinely excited to do. She could have become a war-time correspondant, or written a weekly manners column in the paper. But then again, I might not be here if she had.

Perhaps this change in course had absolutely no implications. But we’ll never really know. Two years later she was married to my grandfather and spent the next 20-something years of her life raising children.

Hearing her tell this little allegory reminded me that we’re faced with hundreds of decisions every day. Some of them are small (wear this shirt or that one), but some come with an impact that ripples out for years (accept this job or that one). The best tool we have for decision making is a strong vision of what we want our future to look like. A true North to guide ourselves toward. And the conviction to get in the much longer line.

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