2018 Life Lessons…………………………..

Here we are in the last few hours of 2018. I may be one of the few people in the world who wants this year to hang on a little longer. This has been the best year of my life. Nearly nothing in my life looks like it did 12 months ago and I couldn’t be happier about that. I love the changes this year brought to my world: new state, new house, new job, new horses, new friends. It is hard to believe so much has happened and I wanted to make sure I took away the lessons that were meant for me in each transition. Looking back each month or so life decided I needed to be schooled. Here is what I learned (or was reminded) in 2018.

January – Pay attention to that little voice inside you

I have spent 48 years fighting my weight. I have been bullied, teased, degraded and humiliated for what I weigh. I have spent most of that time as an obese anorexic. Despite how I look to the world I often go days without eating and take in very few calories. I have always known there was something more behind my weight, even if no one else would agree. Late in 2017 I started playing around eating Paleo (to deal with some stomach issues) and weight started to fall off. It fell back on as soon as I “cheated”. I finally knew what that voice had been saying all along, there are foods my body just doesn’t tolerate and I don’t play by the normal calories in calories out math that others do. I knew it all along, but I let others tell me they knew better. Listen to your intuition, especially about your own body and never let other voices be louder than your own instincts.

February – Follow your passions

Picking up and moving cross country to somewhere new with very few people I know doesn’t scare me. I had done that before when I moved from NY to MN. Living in the south, now that scared me. I have lived my entire life in the north. I have never known an existence without four solid seasons. In my DNA Spring is green, summer is warmish, fall is bright colors and winter is snow. I had always professed that it is easier to live somewhere cold than hot, because you can always put more clothes on and I am incredibly sun sensitive. A million times I had said I would never move to Texas. So I should have been surprised when I decided on a plane ride home from a riding trip that I was up and moving that month, but I think my heart already knew this was inevitable. Heck  I had looked at houses in the area 4 years earlier on my first riding trip. Moving to be able to ride regularly, to have a longer show season, to be nearer to the big shows was the best decision I have ever made. Too often in life we roadblock our dreams by what it would take. Make the investment in yourself! Go where your heart leads!!!!

March – Find your tribe and hold tight to them, they will get you through anything

While moving to Texas was meant to be, it apparently wasn’t meant to be easy. I sold my house, I found another one. That all went really easy. My bestie and the cats and I drove across the country and it was all going great. Then my closing blew up, to a level that looking back was truly comical. Long story short, the buyer on my house in MN had their down payment wire hacked and lost all that money. Nothing like sitting at your closing (with 2 cats in the car) and finding out that until the FBI figures it out you have no home anywhere (which btw took a week to sort out). This was the week I found out who my true friends were. I could not have mentally handled all that went on (and the stupidness of it all) without the friends who offered us to stay at their home, who put me back together when I came fully unglued, who came up with money in a pinch, who helped me unpack an entire house in 8 hours before they left. Life tried very hard to do me in with that plot twist but the people who really matter in my life made sure I got through it and I am forever grateful for that.

April – Everything worth having is worth waiting for

I moved in March, my horses didn’t follow until late April. It felt like forever. In a new state, with a limited number of friends and without my main emotional support. Seeing that trailer pull into the barn was beyond words emotional. I thought it was the best things were going to get, until 2 days later my trainer and barn owner looked at Jas and told me she was sound and we would be showing her. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Three years earlier she had been kicked and I was told I would probably never ride her again and we definitely wouldn’t show her again. It was soul crushing but she was alive and I had made peace with it, to a point, but my heart had never stopped hoping. To hear that three years of hope had a purpose made life complete.

May –  Trust, even if it makes you vulnerable

Trust is never easy for me, but it is especially hard in areas where I have been burned before. I got burned bad by my previous horse trainer. It cost me a lot of money, a lot of heartache and most of all a lot of self esteem. When my current trainer told me it was time to buy Lilo I will admit it was hard. Not because he was a Paint (well ok because of that too but…) but because I knew I was chancing I was being used again. It’s a struggle I have had the entire time working with my current trainer, but has nothing to do with her, it’s all about the past. Because riding and horses doesn’t come naturally and easily to me, like intellectual pursuits do, I have to put myself out there in a way that makes me very vulnerable and easily, in the wrong hands, taken advantage of. I still fight those thoughts some days, but I made a choice and make it regularly. Yes maybe my vulnerability sets me up to be played the fool by someone, but I am not missing out on the amazing chances life puts in your path because it might end badly. I bought the horse, it was the right choice looking back, and it either built trust or set me up to place false trust more, but either way I am glad I took the risk and continue to.

June – Never let other people define what you are capable of

“You’ll never be what the judges want to see”. Those are words I don’t think I will ever lose from my head. I remember the time, place and situation my previous trainer in MN said them in and relive it all the time. I was crushed but also pissed off, and anyone who knows me knows pissed off Pam usually comes out trying to prove a point. As much as those words hurt me, they have driven me in the 4 years since they were said. I knew I could do it. I knew riding was so hard for me but if I put my mind to it, found the right mentors who believed in me and the right horse I could be successful. That picture all came together at Pinto World in June. And I bawled like a baby on my horse when they called out my number as the World Champion. I am so grateful I didn’t let the perception of one taint my dreams.

July –  Surround yourself with people who understand the value of your dreams

My trainer and my barn family here in Texas knew when I moved down here that Jasmine was the center of my universe. That I had dreams for her and things I wanted her to prove to those who have doubted her and they made them come true. They took a very out of shape, injured horse and rehabbed her into a National Champion in mere weeks, not because it mattered to them, but because they knew it matter to me. For as much of an introvert as I am, and as much as relying on other people terrifies me, I realize more and more that success requires you to find the right tribe and let them fill in your cracks.

August – People care about looks a whole lot less than we realize

I have lived my whole life in the north. I have survived in layers of clothes and not needing to show skin to the world except on rare tropical vacations (where my theory was I will never see these people again so who cares). Moving to the south meant a new wardrobe of life; bathing suits, shorts, flip flops and tank tops replaced my hoodies and hiding clothes. This scared the crap out of me as a plus size person. Every day at the pool with people I knew was paralyzing at first, but I very quickly realized I was the only on thinking about how I looked and I needed to let it go. People look at us a lot less than we think. Whether it is because they are dealing with their own paranoia, or are busy being self-centered their thoughts are much more inward than out. I will also say I love that I moved to a community where not everyone is a “pretty person” and every shape, size, color and demographic feels welcome.

September – Find gratitude, especially in the tough times

September was hard, I’m not going to lie. For many reasons I had to keep it quiet at the time, but I was burned pretty bad by my boss and “downsized” out of a job. It wasn’t a surprise, I had seen it on the horizon, but it still hurt when it happened. It hurt more that colleagues I thought were friends turned out to be on the other side and didn’t come to my defense, but just like everything else in life I can see now that it was all to move me forward. It was a toxic environment that I needed to be out of and out of financial fear I probably would have hung on a lot longer. Life gave me the out I needed and I am grateful for that. Everything for a reason and a purpose.

October – Winning isn’t always about the color of the ribbon

For the 5 years I have had Jasmine I had one dream. Show her at a big Appaloosa show in the John Justin Arena. Looking back now I realize I never in the dream saw a ribbon or a trophy, that was never in my thoughts. Weird I never realized that. For those same 5 years life tried REALLY hard to take that dream away from me. Trainer issues, kidney issues for me, her injury, me almost being killed by a drunk driver, god awful winters and very short riding seasons in Minnesota. We were making no progress and most of the time moving backwards. With all we had been through riding her into the Justin at World was winning. I’m not sure I knew that going in (Although when I saw us on the monitor waiting to go in I did point it out to my trainer and giggle like a 5 year old. I may have even said “look that’s us” as I was giggling.). The ride was less than stellar, my fault as much as hers. But it didn’t matter we didn’t place, and still doesn’t 2 months later. I won that night, Jas and I won. We did what so many said we couldn’t and never would. I lived my dream and while many others looked at it and called it a failure (some even said so to my face in the hours afterward), I won that night.

November – Be Authentically yourself

I found a wonderful new job in November, thanks to a previous colleague/boss who had left my old company months before me. When I was offered the job I was also interviewing for another position. It was the interview with my now boss that helped me realize what mattered to me and which job to take. Normally in interviews we all try to pretend and give the right answer, but I decided I wanted to work where I fit. Where being me was not only ok but embraced. When I learned that he was interested in me partially because of the brutal honesty on my website I was intrigued, and when I interviewed and told him I would never apologize for being smart and he supported that I knew I had my new home. It was a pay cut and a bit different direction than I had imagined going, but it was the most me I had felt professionally in 15 years. And I have loved every day since.

December – Accept what isn’t working Life is short, love hard and don’t wait

When I started outlining this blog about a week ago I had planned to talk about some relationships that I had decided weren’t working and I opted to exit in December. But the year still had lessons to teach. A friend lost her heart horse unexpectedly at only 3 years old and last night I learned about the 22-year-old intern tragically killed by a lion at a wildlife conservatory in North Carolina. The young lady was the niece of one of my closest friends. Both of these fall on the backdrop of ongoing conversations about loss and grief I have been having with another dear friend since her losses a few months ago. It has all, once again, brought into focus how short life is. We are promised nothing but this moment. Too often we wait to say we care or we value or love someone, we put off visiting or calling until it is convenient. We always think there will be a ‘later’. At some point there is no more later. Live for today, live as if today is all you get with those that matter, because at some point it will be. Buy the horse, eat the cookie, give the hug, spoil yourself. Even when it isn’t great for your calendar or wallet go to lunch with a friend, take an unplanned road trip and make inconvenient memories. They will matter!!!!

I am sad to see 2018 go. It was probably the first year in my life that I would opt to relive again because it was so great. But I am ready to see what 2019 has to teach me. Happy New Year!

Let life Make You Truly You

This is one of those blog posts that probably isn’t going to wrap up with some great list of things you can emphatically do like a checklist or even some inspiring battle cry. More than likely it is going to be a rambling, a bit too personal, purge of where my life is at right now, and my journey of the last year, but I decided to post it anyway in hopes you will find tidbits that motivate you.

Living authentically has become very cliché. It is the phrase of the year. There are a million movements related to being honest to yourself related to your gender identity, your sexual preferences, your abuse history, your pay at work and your pink hat. It is everywhere, but at the same time it is nowhere. In my personal opinion, the big one, the real “coming out” has yet to occur or at least to be embraced by society, especially in the workplace, being openly INTELLIGENT, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

This has been an insane year for me. I bought a new horse and am leasing other (after selling two I had at the start of the year), I up and moved to Texas with about an hour’s forethought, I live in a new (to me) house and the year ended with a new job (after being “downsized” out of my previous position – but that is a story for another post).

My life looks nothing like it did a year ago. A new landscape, new friends, new weather, new challenges and new adventures. Everything around me has changed, but oddly enough it feels liberating, not because I shed things but because all of these changes allowed me to build a life in which I am down to the bone brutally myself. I feel like every change this year opened up a chance to move closer to being unapologetically who I am. The new horses and trainer moved me from a situation where I had no communication and no input to a really great program where I feel my voice matters in my riding future and I was able to say what worked with my horses and what didn’t and find the right fits. Living in Texas is by definition brutally honest (it’s a perfect fit for a New Yorker) and I have surrounded myself with friends who get the real me and either like it or move on. I no longer ask people to stay in my life who want me to be someone that fits them at the cost of invalidating myself. I would rather have 4 close friends who let me be me than 100 who want someone I am not. Even my house was selected to accept the challenges related to my nerve damage and to stop pretending stairs and I were friends.

The biggest change however is in how I am approaching my job and career. While changing jobs wasn’t on my radar and probably wasn’t something I would have done this year by choice, it (like so much else in my life) happened when and how I needed it to. I needed something to liberate me to find a space where I could be the best me.

I should preface this with saying I HATE applying for jobs and interviewing. Ask me to sell a product or someone else, I can rock it like nobody’s business, but sell myself, I begin to filter. I try to be who I think they want for the position and lose the best of me in it. For as good a writer I am, I am terrible at creating a cover letter, and interviews send me down a dark hole. I try to figure out what they want to hear and get lost in that innate fear of not being picked. For me specifically it is the fear of being “too much”.

I have spent my whole life being told I was too much, of something. I was too smart, too loud, too stubborn, too opinionated, too driven, too ambitious. The list goes on and on. And for the majority of my life I believed that message and tried to shrink myself. To keep relationships, to keep friends, to keep mentors and to keep jobs. I tried to be less so that those around me could handle me. It started when I was a child and my mom called me a “snob” for wanting to go to college and has continued through my professional life for the last decade. I was told more than once at my last job that I was too much for the leaders they had and that was my fault. In my last weeks there I was told I had outgrown them because I was working on my advanced degree. Instead of embracing what I had to offer, I was told to be less to make others feel better about themselves and I bought into it. I beat myself up, I tried to change, I tried to scale back. I let the world convince me that the right approach to life was living at the least common denominator instead of expecting others to work up I lived down. I’m done with that.

Being forced to change jobs has helped me focus. It was with great pride yesterday I told an interviewer “I will never again apologize for being smart and good at what I do” and knew I was in the right place when that was met with “that is refreshing to hear”. I never would have believed being laid off would be the best career advice I have ever gotten, but it really was, I finally get it. Career satisfaction isn’t rooted in the dollars on your paycheck, or the promotions you get or the fancy titles and corner offices. It lies in being somewhere where you can be you, where your gifts are used to the best they can, where leadership realizes that finding the best people and letting them being who they are is an asset not a threat.

The hardest honesty of the year, the one I am still working through, is related to my horses. I have blogged before about the love of my life, Jasmine. This horse will be in my life as long as she lives, that will never change, but I had to face the hard truth recently that as a show horse her and I are in different places right now. I need a horse who better fits me and she needs a rider who is stronger legged than I am and who can remind her that she isn’t the alpha in the arena. As with everything else this reality got forced on me, after a less than stellar ride at a World show, but as it also does life handed me a solution, if I was willing to open up and accept it. The perfect horse came along for me to show this next year and has also potentially offered me a perfect rider for Jasmine. Once again, this all reminded me that sometime there is a major chasm between what we want and what we need, but that opening up to the need is where happiness and self-honesty live.

It’s almost 2019, that means it is time for goals and resolutions. For me 2019 will be about maintaining the authenticity that this year forced on me. I don’t expect it to be easy. I have recently had to make some decisions on friendships that I knew weren’t healthy and walking away. It was hard, but nothing worth having is easy (also a cliché but true). One of the great life lessons I will take away from my 40’s is that fit; be it a friendship, relationship, job, client or horse, is very personal and admitting that something isn’t working is not the same as failure. Failure is staying where you don’t belong because of fear of the unknown.

Make your new year ‘your best you year’ even if you aren’t sure what that looks like.

Neis Gadol Hayam Sham (Po)…A great miracle happened there (here)!

Chag Sameach, Joyful Holiday. Tonight is the first night of Chanukah. In looking for a video about the festival for a friend I came across something really interesting, to me at least. Chanukah is about miracles, specifically the oil in the temple that was meant for one night lasting eight. This allowed the Jews to survive long enough to conquer and outlast the threat against them. Neis is the Hebrew word I have always heard for miracle. It is the first of the four letters on the dreidel which is used to symbolize the holiday and is central to its celebration. I have never heard it used any other way.

However, as I was reading earlier, I learned an alternative translation for neis. It can also mean test. At first this seemed very contradictory to me. And without a long conversation with a friend yesterday I might have dismissed the thought and moved on, but today it stuck with me. The contradiction I realized is not in the meaning but in the perception of any occurrence and where we choose to look related to it. Is our focus on the journey or is it on the destination? Which we choose to highlight not only determines how we see an event looking back it it, but more importantly it also dictates what we take away from the experience. Have we grown from the getting there or only the arrival experienced the ending?

I am a huge believer that everything in life (good, bad or otherwise) happens for a reason. I have written about that before. With that said, I will also admit I struggle often with whether I believe the path we are on, especially the things that mold us and that are meant to happen to us, are rooted in faith (a deity of some type), human collective energy or something we are not able to comprehend. I know things are more than coincidence but I often change my opinion on how they come to us. My older brother, who is a pastor, has told me more than once it doesn’t matter the answer. That we can believe any of them. What matters is that we they came from somewhere and we use them to make us a better human being. In his teachings knowing the perfect answer to how/why is not important. Anyone who knows me knows I need more than that. At least some days. So I continue to search for the how. But I got it on the why. Everything brings us to the current place we are meant to be at.

I haven’t always had that realization, especially growing up and in my early 20’s when I was so sick. And exactly how the shift came has never been easy to explain when I am asked. But this double meaning of the word neis brings the answer a lot more into focus. At some point I stopped basing my happiness on whether I got the miraculous outcome I wanted and began to focus on realizing that even if I hated the conclusion, I had not only survived but had conquered the test.

Think about the last time something tough (good or bad, but tough) went on in your life. Where did you learn? Where did you grow? For a cancer survivor, is the miracle really in the 30 seconds of a doctor saying it’s over or is it in the having been strong enough to get through the months or years of treatments? When we struggle with losing a loved one it is no different, is the growth in the day you no longer cry around the clock or is it in the metamorphosis you went through in the days of heartache and tears? For me I at some point realized that when we weather a storm, our victory is not from the sun coming out but in having stayed afloat during the flooding and the darkness and that while we rejoice at the miracle the true purpose of the lesson may not be in the final exam but in the learning.

I read the book “When Good Things Happen to Bad People” years ago. It was life altering for me (I blogged about it some time ago). One of the key questions the author ponders is ‘why me’. Why is my child ill? What did I do to deserve this? If we transpose that thought into focusing on the miraculousness of the test instead of the hoped for outcome the question of why becomes much clearer and the challenge easier to face. Instead of what did I do to deserve this (or the other side of that which is what do I need to do to get to my miracle and have it vanish) the thought becomes what am I to gain from this? What is the purpose of this challenge in my life and why was I blessed with this chance to grow? I have always despised the phrase “god would never give you anything you weren’t strong enough to handle”. It frankly feels like a punishment to the strong, but maybe a better wording is “you will never be given anything that won’t help you grow”. That I cannot only live with but embrace. This mindset allows us to see hardship as less of a weight that we have been cursed to shoulder and begin to see it as a blessing that is intended to make us better. And I get it, oh do I get it that is a really hard thing to do, especially when the challenge is tragic or painful, but I have never been able to see growth as anything but a positive.

There are many many tales, I think we have each have one in our lives, where we struggled for a long time. With an illness, a problem, a relationship, a change and no matter what we did it didn’t get better or end. Then one day out of no where it’s solved. We call it a miracle (or mourn we didn’t get our miracle) but maybe, just maybe, that end point is our diploma for finally allowing the studying to be fully absorbed.

In this season of neis take a look around your life. Are you open to the lessons life is trying to teach you or are you fighting the studying and hoping for a miracle?