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Is Clarity Overrated? Try “Scared as sh**, but moving forward anyway.”

We pray for clarity, do juice cleanses for it, and beat ourselves up over our lack of it. We feel the pressure for clarity this time of year when everyone is making goals and shedding bad habits. We act as if clarity is a thing that we cannot move forward without, like a car engine or, shoes. But clarity is not a thing; it’s a process.

When a friend asks about your plans for the future, do you respond with phrases such as, “When I’m ready…” or “Once I figure out what I want…” or, “As soon as I know what to do, then I’ll do it.” But do we have to put off creating the life we want until after we possess the elusive clarity?

Fear’s favorite tool is the procrastination hammer, and everything uncertain is a nail.

What if clarity is overrated? One thing I’ve learned from living with an incurable disease is how to get comfortable in the unknown. Every six months I return to Boston for scans and neurological tests to see if I am healthy or not. In between, I try to live a “normal” life.

I like to describe my technique as “Scared as sh**, but moving forward anyway.”

This technique works with the writing process as well. I love writing, and feel so lucky that people are reading. But what’s the next step? I have no idea. Still, I wake up every morning at six, light a single candle, and scribble until six thirty, sometimes seven. I used to think the process was figure out what you want to say, then write it down. But it’s the opposite. I write to discover what I want to say. Is life the same? Can we explore our way into understanding and clarity?

As a coach, I help people find clarity. I’ve spent the past few years understanding the process and developing tools for getting clear. But my clients often say, “Why don’t I know what I want? What’s wrong with me?” There is nothing wrong; the stage before knowing is not knowing.

Once, when I was struggling with the stage of not-knowing, my friend made me walk around the kitchen muttering, “I can’t walk. I can’t walk.”

“Why am I doing this?” I asked.

“You can walk! See?”

“What’s your point?”

“We can walk despite our thoughts saying that we can’t. We can write even when we don’t know what will come of our writings. We can take action even when we don’t know if it’s the right action. When your mind tells you that you need clarity before beginning, don’t believe it. Instead, trust that if you put one foot in front of the other, or pen to paper, something good will happen.”

Instead of clinging to clarity, we could be cultivating trust.

I’ve always found solace in Rilke’s words in Letters to a Young Poet,

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the

questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written

in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given

you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything.”

Clarity is not overrated. It’s freeing and powerful. It’s the idea that we must get clear before we start that is overrated, and limiting. While we’re waiting, we miss the fun of being alive. Instead, let’s play. Stay open and curious. Get dirty. Fall. Rise. Repeat. “The point is, to live everything.”

Love,

Susie

image credit: Flick’r-Mathias Erhart

A New Year’s Ritual Without Resolutions

If you had a tough 2018, I hear you. Let’s close the book and celebrate that we’re here now, with a brand new year ahead. This New Year’s, I am borrowing a ritual from Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love & Big Magic. She creates a small ceremony every New Year’s Day to reflect on the past year and start fresh in the new one. Find some quiet. Light a candle. Write down these two questions:

  1. What do you need to put behind you?
  2. What do you want to entice in the year ahead?

Let the pen run without thinking as you answer. These are not resolutions, just reflections. When you’re done, burn them. Then drop the ashes in water. Let go.

One New Year’s, in an effort to involve my family in a reflective practice, I passed out paper and pencils at dinner with the grandparents. I asked everyone to reflect on the past year. My dad looked confused, “Do you mean the calendar year or fiscal year?”

“Calendar year, Dad.”

“At the end, do we add up our list for points and see who wins?”

“No, Dad. It’s just to reflect.”

“Why would we do that?”  

As Gilbert says, “Whether you feel like taking a victory lap, or lying down in a darkened room with a cool washcloth over your eyes, you did it…Give yourself some silence in which to figure out what you need to put behind you and what you are ready to welcome in the new year.”

Last year, I did a New Year’s ceremony alone. I walked to a partially-frozen river. I threw rocks in the water, each one representing a fear I was ready to release: that we’ll go broke, that I started writing too late, that we’ll go to war with North Korea, that I should have worn more sunscreen as a kid.

This year, I don’t want to do the tiny ritual alone. I love the idea of you and I burning or drowning everything that no longer serves us, in different time zones and on different continents, all around the world. Are you in? All we do is write down a few things we want to leave in 2018 and a few we want to attract in 2019.

I want to set myself free from:

  • poor sleep
  • an unhelpful fear of death
  • kids my kids love being diagnosed with cancer
  • trying to “improve” my husband and kids

I am ready to welcome:

  • more sleep
  • a book to launch
  • a clean bill of health
  • one big, family adventure
  • abundance (in love and money)

But no one needs to see your list, ever. And don’t worry, we won’t add them up for points. We’ll just carry our scribbles to the nearest sink, fireplace, or body of water, and strike a match. 

Ultimately, we’re lucky. We get a fresh start. We’ll honor those who don’t get that chance, plus those who are grieving, and those who are in the middle of something really challenging. Let’s burn off some of their suffering and pain, too.

Please, do this tiny ritual with me. Get quiet and reflect. Burn some sh**. Let me know how it goes. Take a picture. Post it. Let’s set ourselves free from the past, and step bravely into the new year, together.

Love, 

Susie

image credit: wildplayground 

***Don’t forget the flash sale on coaching (50% OFF) ends today, Dec. 31st! I coach over the phone, working with you wherever you are in life and geography!

When Holiday Spirit Spirals into Holiday Stress

I need to be at two recitals and a holiday event right now. I have stress about time, money, and not having enough of either. I am driving too fast to one of the recitals, trying to “win” a traffic jam by changing lanes a lot.

My holiday spirit can quickly spiral into holiday stress. The world tells us to do it all, buy it all, and be it all for everyone. We want to create lasting, magical memories for our families, and we want to spread gratitude and light in our neighborhoods. But life often interrupts my idea of a perfect holiday. This morning, for example, we had a carbon monoxide scare, discovered that we needed a new furnace, and found lice on one of our children’s heads. Then there were all those holiday events on the same night.

That’s when my car starts talking to me. It had done this before. It beeps when roads are icy, or when someone is in my blind spot (we had to buy this car after I couldn’t turn my head as well from my neck fusion). But never before has it sounded an alarm and said in big letters on the dash: TAKE A BREAK.

Even my car knows that my stress is not normal; it is dangerous. I wait for the message to go away to keep “winning” the traffic jam. Instead, an image of a steaming cup of tea appears, a new alarm sounds, and those words flash again: TAKE A BREAK.

I get off at the next exit. I call my child and apologize for not making the recital. She says, “Don’t worry! There will be more!” Then I drive home, slowly, on a back road, and think about what is in my control to change. Here is what I’m learning about the least expensive ways to manage stress, and how stress affects our brain, and health.  

The next morning I drag my tired bones to yoga. Of course, my teacher, Sukhraj, is talking about stress. She insists that the best way to deal with stress is to hug it out. She quotes the respected family therapist, Virginia Satir, “We need four hugs a day to survive, eight hugs to keep us as we are, and 12 hugs to grow.”

I think, Please don’t make me hug someone now. I’m here at yoga because I want to move my body, not touch other people’s bodies. I close my eyes and act as though I am too busy breathing to engage with others.

Sukhraj persists, “The average hug is 3 seconds. But to make changes happen in your brain and nervous system, we need to hug for 20 seconds. ”

Thankfully, she does not force us to hug each other in class. I go home and check her science. She’s right. When someone hugs us, important changes take place immediately in the brain. There is an increase of dopamine and oxytocin, sometimes called “love’s hormones,” and a notable decrease of cortisol “the stress hormone.” There are abundant studies that say that 20-second hugs can lower heart rates, blood pressure, and activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which acts as a kind of brake when we are under stress.

The next day, when I ask our son and daughter for 20-second hugs, they ask if they can eat something first. “It’s not a hike, just a hug!” I protest. After a few of these, they are used to it. Now they meet me in the kitchen, open-armed.

When my husband tries to squirm out of my hug to go to work, I say, “I know. You hate hugs.” He says, “Nah, I don’t totally hate hugs.” When I tell him about needing “12 hugs a day to grow,” he says, “I don’t think I’m going to grow much at this point.” He lets me give him a 20-second hug anyway, as often as I can.  

What if you live alone? Some studies show hugging pets has the same effects on the brain, and holding hands (as in taking up ballroom dancing 😉 reduces stress levels substantially.

Hugs just may be the least expensive way to manage stress.

I want to add one more way to manage stress. Getting outside in nature is the quickest way to boost my mood and lift me out of a depressed state.

When my car demanded me to “Take a Break,” I finally listened. I pulled over. What I didn’t tell you is that I sat on a rock under a pine tree for a few minutes. I listened to the chickadees call to one another. I watched the sun turn the clouds yellow, then orange, then red, in a glorious light show. It only took a moment to come back to myself, and to feel connected to what matters. And when I stood up to go, I am not embarrassed to tell you that I hugged that tree and whispered, “Thank you.”

Love,

Susie

image credit: Janaina de Oliveira, Flick’r

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HOLIDAY COACHING SPECIAL: Sign up before December 31st, 2018 for a series of 4 or more coaching sessions (that can be used in 2019) and receive 50% off. Save up to $800! This is a short-term special. On January 1st, 2019, prices will return to normal.

How to write a book (or finish any big project) in 30 minutes at a time

Before, my secret way to write was to procrastinate forever then to work in frantic, uneven bursts; I insisted that I needed big chunks of time and a clean desk in order to write. I thought it was the only way to be inspired, and to find flow. But since my surgeries, I have a fraction of the energy I used to have. If I was going to write a book and start a business, I needed to find a new way. How do I get anything done if I have to lie down all the time? Aim for progress, not perfection.

For example, I just handed in my memoir to the publisher; it’s about 70,000 words. I wrote the book 30 minutes at a time, with multiple naps in between. A friend was curious about my system. She asked me to share what I do, reminding me that, “None of us have the energy we used to have!” So maybe my “progress over perfect” strategy is helpful to you, too.

My new secret way to amplifying focus and minimizing procrastination is not so secret. It is fundamentally the same as the fantastic Pomodoro Technique, with a twist. It waves goodbye to multi-tasking and goal-setting. And says hello to rest and moving forward. When I was in the hospital, the key to my mental and physical health was to focus on small victories. It’s important to shift our gaze from the overwhelming size of any project and toward progress.

It starts with the night before. I decide what tiny piece of writing (or task) I want to work on the next day. When I put my computer to sleep, I make sure that the page I open to in the morning is not my email inbox, and not a blank document (too much pressure!) but a document with some of my scribbles already on it. My friend Teresa, who is a single mom, a scientist, and a PhD candidate, starts each morning by filling in the lines and points on a single graph. She is going to finish her dissertation this year, one graph at a time.

When I wake up, I light a candle for luck and light, and I set my watch timer to 30 minutes before I do anything else. Yes, I still have a watch, and No, I don’t recommend that you use your phone. I need to keep my phone in another room, on airplane mode, because it is too distracting.

I like the Pomodoro idea of using a kitchen timer, but is anyone else sensitive to the loud ticking? It made me feel like there was a bomb on my desk and inside my head. I tried muffling the timer with a pillow, but that is just weird. Then I realized that any cheap digital timer will do. I love this Miracle TimeCube timer because it doesn’t tick and it’s so simple.  

Next, I write for 30 minutes without judgment. Why 30 minutes? Because it is an amount of time that 1) I can usually carve out without interruption 2) It’s not so short that I don’t get into a flow, and it’s not so long that my mind finds reasons why I can’t do it 3) It’s not finicky or gimmicky; it’s easy for me to remember.

By the way, this is how I used to race ultramarathons: 30 minutes at a time. It was too intimidating to think about the whole race and how many hours I would be on my feet. So I broke it down into 30-minute chunks. Run for 30 minutes, eat and drink something, then run for another 30. You can run for a whole day like this, or longer. It reminds me of what E.L Doctorow once said (and Anne Lamott quoted) about writing a novel, “(It’s) like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”  

To start fresh each morning, I usually move all those words I had on the page from yesterday down below the screen. I need to know that they are there, but I don’t want to get sucked into editing them, because then I don’t move forward. And that’s the key. Make progress. Once you make it about “finishing a chapter,” you’re focused on an outcome and a product, which can send your creative mind into fight, freeze, or flight mode. Focus on time, not task.

After 30 minutes, I clap at least three times to give myself a mini round of applause, and take a 5-min break. I stand up, refresh my coffee, and stare out the window.

I do this 30-minute routine three times, then take a nap. If you can’t nap because you are a teacher or a doctor or a mechanic, do something to rest and recover. In an office, I used to leave and walk around the block. And, on those days when a child is home sick, the furnace is broken, the car needs snow tires, and bills need to be paid, I still write. I do a single 30-minute interval of scribbling without judging, then I give myself a standing ovation.

To review:

  • Set yourself up for success the night before
  • Write/work for 30 min
  • Stop & applaud yourself
  • Rest: take a 5 min break
  • Do three more intervals on the same or different tasks (30 min + 5 min rest x 3)
  • Rest: take a longer break (I like the rhythm of also taking a 30-min break)
  • Repeat

One important note: to begin or wrap up a creative project, I still need long swaths of uninterrupted time. There is nothing more valuable than a long weekend totally alone, devoted to writing. But in the messy middle of a difficult task or a creative endeavor, just make progress, 30 minutes at a time, without multitasking.

Oh, and don’t skimp on the applause! When you are tackling something big, you better do it by loving yourself along the way, or why do it at all?

Love,

Susie

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The Sex Talk I Never Got, For My 15-yr-old Son

I want to talk about intimacy and sex with you. At school, you’ll get lectures about protection and diseases. Good. And yet, sex is not just about love and babies, or herpes and condoms, but about mutual respect, and curiosity.

You may feel like you are supposed to know what to do before getting intimate with someone. You may want to show up perfect. But the point of intimacy is exploration and freedom, not perfection. Everyone is, literally, feeling their way around in the dark when it comes to sex. When perfectionism enters the bedroom, it’s not just dull, it’s dangerous.

Terrible things can happen when your desire to be perfect makes you pretend to know what you’re doing. The first things to go are honest communication and vulnerability. Without them, you are not having sex, you are just satisfying an urge and taking advantage of someone. Worse, you may try to force another person to do what you want, because it feels easier than being rejected, maybe even easier than asking permission. But you must never take another’s freedom and dignity; it is a trauma that stays with someone for life. Your responsibility during sex is to remember that you are with another human being, and someone’s child; treat that person with care. 

As a teenager, you may experiment with illegal substances, because you think they make you brave. But drugs and alcohol don’t make you brave, they make you deaf and dumb. When you are drunk or high, especially in a group, it’s really tough to hear the voices of reason, or compassion, or a single, scared voice telling you to STOP. Listen. There is nothing attractive about drunk sex. The sexiest thing is to touch and be touched once you and the other person in the room have said an enthusiastic, undeniable YES. But to say yes, you need to talk, you need to ask for communication.

“Use your words,” I encouraged you at two years old. I’ll keep encouraging you now to speak your feelings. It’s ok to say, “I was feeling great a minute ago. But something is changing. Let’s pause and explore.” Don’t make it your goal to be in charge. Make it your goal to slow down, and discover what makes it fun for both of you. Intimacy and sex are apart of the process of knowing who we are, who someone else is, and what it means to be human. Notice how it feels when there is no fear, because there is trust, because there is conversation, because there is connection.

Maybe the repair of the world starts in the bedroom when two people see each other not as opposites, but as equals. When you choose to have sex or not is up to you, but please go armed with condoms and kindness. And then when you say yes, say it confidently, and let fear drive someone else’s car. Remember, if you ever feel stuck or uncomfortable, even if you feel that you got yourself into the situation, call me anytime. I’ll pick you up, no questions asked, and bring you home.”

If these words were helpful to you parents, use them, copy them, make a video with a cat saying them, just please don’t avoid the subject with your teens anymore. Christine Carter, my partner on the Brave over Perfect site, has these excellent 3 tips on how to get started

And, because it’s difficult to talk to our kids when they are rolling their eyes and slipping out the window, telling us they’ve “got this,” I offer one last strategy. Write a letter to your teenager(s) about relationships and intimacy that is more positive than negative. Start with the prompt: “The sex talk I never got, but wish I had…” I believe that the next best thing to talking openly about sex is writing down your thoughts and feelings, and giving those scribbles to your children, not as a report of your trauma, but as a map to healthy, positive relationships. It might seem like they don’t care. But I’d argue that they do, and that it might be one of the most important letters you ever write. 

Love,

Susie

 

image credit: Flick’r, Blue Skyz

Our Infinite Impact; Our Chance to Invest in the Empowerment of Women Globally

If you’ve come to help me, don’t waste your time. But if you know your liberation is bound up with mine, then let’s work together. I believe in the truth of this message from indigenous activist, Lilla Watson. My work with Her Infinite Impact has made me braver, happier, and more resilient.
This is the one post I will write a year to encourage you to invest in the empowerment and education of girls globally through Starfish; Her Infinite Impact. The fiscal year ends on September 30th, just 8 days away. If you have already given, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
 
My dream? 

  • To raise $10,000 to add the desks and chairs to each classroom, the muscle to the bones of the only woman-led, indigenous-led school in all of Latin America. It is a powerful model for communities all around the world. Already, leaders from everywhere have visited the school to see how this small town created something that weaves culture and education to transform lives out of poverty. 
  • The new school building opens on January 8th. Nearly 150 students will walk through the front door. How wonderful would it be if we could fully equip all ten classes with desks, chairs, chalkboards, shelving, and water filtration units? I know we can do this. Please forward this email to someone who you think might be interested in helping!
  • $500 provides English lessons for one girl for one year; critical for her for employment
  • $250 provides family support in the form of home visits by a mentor to help the family overcome challenges and support their daughter to stay in school
  • $100 provides vocal empowerment training for twelve weeks for one girl to give her the skills to find her voice
  • Now, 100% of your donation goes directly to the girls and their teachers, because of the generosity of a donor who insisted on covering the administrative costs of running an organization
or, send funds to (please date 9/30 or before):
Starfish; Her Infinite Impact
Posner Center for International Development
1031 33rd street, suite 176
Denver, CO 80205
 
I share the following words with you from a speech given by the Executive Director, Norma Bajan, on Finding My Voice: 
I was tired of being called silly, ugly, dirty, Indian. I hated that my teacher called me useless, and the following years were no better. But I became stronger.

When I finally learned to say things like “I do not agree with this,” “My opinion is,” and “If you gave me the opportunity to prove what I am capable of,” my life changed completely. Then, through my voice, I got scholarships to continue my studies. I spoke up for raises where I worked. I denounced acts of corruption.

I became a leader.”

 
I am so grateful to have powerful leaders like her, and like you, in my life. 
With love,
Susie
Awe

The Days of Awe; A Poem for You

Today, I headed to the nearest ditch with water in it and a bag of stale bread. I asked, What do I want to let go of from last year? What do I need to do differently, if anything, to be my true self? Then I tossed the bread into the flow, naming each crumb after behaviors I’d rather not repeat this year: worrying, doubting, hustling, yelling, judging, hesitating, playing small...This is a tradition I do each fall, based on the Jewish ritual of Tashlikh. I am not Jewish. But it feels right to celebrate the New Year in September (that’s what two decades of teaching does to you!) I wrote this poem about what I’ve learned from the river and the breadcrumbs, so I never forget.

The Days of Awe
These are the days of awe.
Lie back in summer’s last green grasses.
Listen.
Each cricket’s song is slower now,
the wind smells of ripe apples,
the soil devours rain
and coughs up stones.
Blackbirds rise up from the fields
Like mist off a pond.
Trees gain color and restraint overnight,
act like old ladies who
snap their purses shut
in anticipation of a need.
Remember
The sun isn’t journeying
east to west.
We are
spinning — west to east,
setting to rising,
beginnings growing out of endings,
not the other way around.
Lie back in the wet grass.
Wait for the sky to grow dark.
Breathe in the moon
like a question
you’re not quite ready to ask.
Be like the river
Who moves toward the unknown,
who doesn’t turn around
and ask the mountain for directions.
Listen to the grace of insects,
then drop, swell, and release
like bread in cool, swirling waters.

Love,

Susie

 

How to Strengthen your Marriage; Send the Kids to Camp

Since the kids left for camp three weeks ago, I’ve done laundry once. I haven’t yet turned on the oven. I cooked one large batch of red-lentil curry and we have been eating that every day. When I clean the house, it’s still clean the next day. Phone chargers and scissors stay where I put them. There are no arguments about screens and bathrooms. Our home feels less like a train station and more like a quiet, tidy oasis. But that’s not the best part. The best part is I get to reconnect with my husband.

At first, it was too quiet. Our conversations were awkward. With the kids gone, there were no logistics. With no logistics, there was nothing to talk about. For years, I’ve believed that our communication was less than great. Now I don’t think it’s terrible; I think we were just out of practice.

We had to slowly get to know one another again. I finally learned what Kurt does for a living as a data scientist. And I re-learned that he needs me to sit and look right at him when he speaks, in order to feel heard. In the beginning, we fought more, not less. There were no kids around to keep us from arguing. But there were also no interruptions. So we kept talking until we got to the bottom of what was bothering us, and came to a place of deeper understanding.

When our kids were eight and ten, we made them try two weeks of sleep-away camp. We ask them each year if they want to go back, and so far, the answer has been an enthusiastic, Yes! This year and last, they have gone for one month. Our son, fourteen, goes to the same camp I went to as a teenager: one that is big on rugged camping and not much else. He’ll spend over twenty days canoeing a remote river, in northern Ontario, learning to navigate rocks and rapids, fears and friendships. Our daughter prefers to go to an all-girls camp with her cousins and the daughters of my childhood friends. She gets to sail, swim, do archery, and perform in the summer musical. They don’t have phones or screens of any kind. Mail is slow, so we rarely hear from them. Yet we know that they are being cared for by many, capable adults, so we don’t worry. This time away is good for them. It is also good for us, and our marriage.

Sometimes I make the mistake of believing that the bond with my kids is the most important relationship. But in a few years, the kids will be grown and gone. Then what? Click To Tweet

This month, our relationship has a certain quality of attention: we are less needy and more curious. We head to the mountains to hike as fast as we want, identify wildflowers by their latin names, and fish in high alpine lakes. For us, with the kids away, it’s less like we’re wild twenty-somethings, and more like we’re two souls protecting one another’s solitude. I read, and Kurt learns to play the drums. I go dancing, while he heads out on a bike ride. After dinner, we jam a little: Kurt on the guitar and me on the banjolele, and we fantasize about having a family band when the kids come back.

Sometimes I make the mistake of believing that the bond with my kids is the most important relationship. But in a few years, the kids will be grown and gone. Then what? I don’t want to wait to find out. I want to hold my sweetheart’s hand now with a long afternoon before us, and toast how far we’ve come, how far we’ll go, together.

Love,

Susie

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photo credit: Susana Fernandez, Flick’r

 

I did something scary for my birthday

I am thrilled to share my recent talk from TEDx Boulder in June. Grab some popcorn for an 8 min ride! I always do something scary for my birthday, but usually it involves running a race over high mountain passes. This time, the mountain I had to climb was facing my fears and 1,500+ people, to tell my story. I never expected what happened. The energy that night was so incredible and positive that I want to share it with you.

May this video be a match strike for your courage to face a challenge, have that tough conversation, or begin something bold.

College Reunion Anxiety & What I Learned by Going

Why was I so nervous? I hadn’t been a terrible person or horrible student in college. But I couldn’t shake the worry about returning to my small college in New England for our twenty-fifth-year reunion.

Maybe the doubt came from shouldering all the insecurities of my twenty-year old self PLUS the new ones of my middle-aged self. Did I belong? Had I achieved enough? Will I look wrinkly and tired?

Maybe it was because twenty-five years ago, I was convinced that the admissions office had made a mistake. I am not smart enough or talented enough to be among these prep school geniuses and athletic giants. This time, I arrived on campus with a wheelie suitcase instead of a duffel bag, but the feeling was the same as when I was eighteen. Except now I was sure I was the one who had made the mistake. Why did I come back?

It didn’t help that within hours of graduating so long ago, I was in a car headed north to Canada, where I was born. The border itself confirmed the feeling I had of a solid line between my experiences in college and those after. I was foreign, an alien. My visa expired. I was not really welcome back.

But within minutes of returning to campus, I was swept up in hugs given by people I had not seen since “Jump Around” was the new hit single. No one measured successes or counted failures. No one took score on careers, kids, or real estate. No one scolded me for not keeping in touch.

Our conversations went straight to the heart. A woman I thought was perfect shared stories of raw pain, another of the grief around the death of her Dad, another of the loss of his job and identity. We were unguarded and vulnerable. And that opened the door for a ton of simple, fun moments.

We rode around in the back of a pick-up truck and the years between when I was twenty and forty flew through my hair and vanished. We bushwhacked through the forest to find waterfalls and jumped into swimming holes off granite ledges. We laughed easily and often over creemees from the local ice cream shop. We gathered around a ping pong table in an empty parking lot until two in the morning because no one wanted to leave one another’s side. We didn’t want to miss a moment of being together, no matter how cold the night air, or how often the campus security wondered, “Surely you have somewhere else you can go?”

The nervousness I felt so strongly before the reunion fell away as we looked up at the stars. We remembered and named the constellations. Then we remembered and named those who didn’t make it back and those who couldn’t because they had died too young. And when we gathered in the college chapel with our professors and those who were returning after five, fifty, even seventy-five years, we found common ground among a mix of generations and backgrounds. We shared a love of wildness and wilderness, intellectual debate, and swinging for the bleachers in life.

There are many times over the years when I have felt lost. But during this reunion, I felt found. I stopped trying to fit in and I let myself belong.

It turns out, others were feeling anxious before coming, too. What did it take to get us to the reunion? Only one person reaching out and saying, I really want to see you again. I wonder how many other things I’ve been nervous about or avoided because I was sure I didn’t fit in? I just have to remember that this is how it goes. Those fears I felt in the beginning are just telling me I’m doing something, and not that I’m doing something wrong.

Love,

Susie

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