A few days ago, I went for one of my weekly runs through the northwest neighborhoods of DC. It was raining, just a drizzle, when I started and it was unseasonably warm. Instead of my usual heavy, winter running layers, I wore only capris and a t-shirt, my raincoat and a baseball cap – I felt so light. It felt like spring.
I love running in the drizzle. There are far fewer people to navigate and I always feel so proud that I got myself outside. The gray day put me in a contemplative mood, further heightened as it was the second to last day of the year and, I realized, the second to last day of the decade.
11 years ago, the economic downturn hit with a wallop. I found myself laid-off – twice and year-over-year - with dwindling savings and few prospects as companies focused on lay-offs, not hiring meaning that my livelihood as a recruiter disappeared almost overnight. And I had debt, law school loans, a car loan, and a mortgage. I was scared and angry. The fear of foreclosure, the overall fear of failure sat on my shoulders as I applied for unemployment benefits and it sat on my chest at night, making my sleep shallow and fitful.
I needed space. I needed to get away from my fear. So I did something I never do and put a trip on my credit card with no idea as to how or when I would pay it off and headed to my favorite spot in Mexico. And there, I practiced yoga, sat in that hot sun, journaled, cried, walked and somehow and in some way, over the waves came a plan. I decided to take the hardship of this time and think of it as an opportunity, an adventure. With the waves lapping at my feet, I allowed myself to set aside all the thoughts and expectations I had for my life and consider, in my late 30s, the option of starting over.
10 years ago, I was living that plan. I had rented out my condo in DC and was living in Charlottesville. I had stumbled into a human resources position at a landscape architect firm where I could bring my dog to work and met friends that I have to this day. I was at the tail-end of a numbingly bad relationship – you know, when you feel low, you attract low. And a number of the friends I had in DC, well, they disappeared – some people think misfortune is contagious. I was hurt and vulnerable and raw. I had to re-evaluate my idea of success. I had to look at how much my ego was entwined with my degrees and my career. I had to look at my own sense of entitlement and my shock that bad things could happen to me even though I thought I had insulated myself by doing all the right and expected things. I had to admit that I felt shame about my current life circumstance and that for the first time in my life I just wasn’t so sure about my choices in people, in work, in anything. The downturn had unearthed and unleashed big questions, the answers to which moved me into very uncomfortable, but necessary territory.
10 years ago, I was holding it together, but barely, living fretfully paycheck to paycheck, hitting rock bottom in a lot of my relationships, and particularly my relationship with myself. Then, slowly and over time, I started to rebuild step by step, first walking then running.
It began to pour, during my run, huge puddles formed and rivulets raced down driveways into the gutters. Some of these I successfully dodged, others not so much drenching my socks and shoes. And on I ran, listening to Lizzo and looking up at the sky as it went from an angry gray to a brilliant blue. Toward the end of my run, the sun appeared bright and strong and I took off my raincoat, tying it at my waist, as I huffed and puffed my way up the final few hills, the sun warming my back.
So much has come from that tough time, truly gifts upon gifts. The gift of getting back to Charlottesville. The gift of new friends who saw my value when I could not see it myself. The clearing out of my life people who were taking up space. The gift of my yoga practice deepening into something incredibly personal and soul-supportive. I had to get humble; I had to get grateful. I learned to dig deep. I learned that I was an optimist. I learned I was a survivor.
The end of the year, the end of a decade, these are good times to gaze upon your own life, your abiding and unthinking beliefs, and take stock. What in your life currently serves you? What may need to go? Clean house, clean out your closet, unpack and unburden. Take a look at all the things that pop up as you ask these questions. Do so without judging your answers and the emotions that these questions my elicit. Stand back and observe, then make a pact with yourself. Promise yourself one small thing and be present. It is amazing what seeds you may plant and what in your life you may grow with the fortunate and certain passing of time.