That Time We Moved to San Diego

san diego

Nearly three months later:  Settled enough to start adventuring again.

In late July, we packed up our home and sent a truckload of boxes and furniture off with movers. That same week, Liz piled the remaining most-treasured items (especially Reese, our family dog,) into her Subaru and started the week-long drive from Connecticut to California. I followed a week later, flying solo across the country with our two kids in tow.

We spent the first month in San Diego holed up at a Best Western Hotel. We enjoyed a “two room” suite, which turned out to be one large room half-heartedly divided by an archway. This meant that every member of the family could be easily awoken by any other member of the family at any point during the night. Anytime Reese shook his collar, my son cried at 5:00 AM, or an adult took a 2:00 AM bathroom run, there was a good chance that others would rouse. A typical day at the Best Western included waking up groggy, taking conference calls from the bathroom due to lack of space, and discretely microwaving frozen meals for dinner after the kids had (hopefully) fallen asleep.

Yet, hotel living wasn’t entirely unpleasant. We enjoyed breakfast every morning (we learned that cheese omelet/sausage day and scrambled egg/bacon day were both delightful). There was a well-heated pool (often just to ourselves). And, the housekeeping staff got to know and appreciate both of our kids.

Physically moving ourselves and our stuff across the country has taken the better portion of three months. And, as you might guess, the psychic disruption has been even more pronounced.

At first, I coped with the change by attempting to consciously and quickly put down roots. My intention was to “root ourselves in San Diego”, and I set to it with typical fervor. Sitting on the balcony of the Best Western, I researched and reached out to the service providers who would help us make a home here – the pediatricians, babysitters, dentists, hairdressers, lawyers, and car mechanics whom would take care of us. I fired off emails to reignite our network of friends in the area. I even found ritual ways of honoring our relocation, ordering a new return address stamp and change-of-address announcements for friends and family. I journaled about what our best life in San Diego might look like and what was needed to manifest that.

Wasn’t this putting down roots? Wasn’t this what I needed for us to self-actualize our best lives in this new city? To feel completely at home in this place?

And yet, none of my efforts helped me feel settled.

No, it wasn’t until the truck arrived with all our stuff, six weeks after moving, that I got a hint of what I was missing. I shared my three-year-old daughter’s unrestrained joy when she exclaimed, “It looks just like our house in Connecticut!” after the moving trucks left. I felt just as giddy – and just as inclined to jump up and down on the newly-delivered bed.

Why did all these things – our familiar sofa, a loved coffee maker, and even the boxes of old college books – bring such succor? I found it disturbing to think that I was so materialistic that these items could significantly impact my happiness. And yet, as I sat at the dining room table, eating Chinese food off a real plate and drinking from a real wine glass, I couldn’t deny the feeling of home.

The answer came to me in a conversation with a friend: “It makes sense that you weren’t settled; it’s like someone kicked the bottom out of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.”

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is an all-too-familiar and yet oft-applicable psychological model. It holds that the more basic human needs – beginning with physiological needs for food, water, warmth, and rest – must be satisfied before more complex human needs – like achieving one’s full potential – can be addressed. Between these extremes there is an entire pyramid of needs, building one layer upon the other. The original version, presented in Abraham Maslow’s original 1943 paper on the topic, is illustrated below. For the academically-inclined looking for the source materials, you can find the whole paper here.
maslows hierarchy

Now, as an executive coach, a leadership development professional, and a writer, I am accustomed to live and move in the realm of self-actualization. I sit in the realm of the emotional, the conceptual, and the reflective. And, frankly, when I arrived to California, that’s the natural level at which I engaged. I automatically went to manipulations of meaning, purpose, community, and ritual to make us feel at home. My efforts started at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy and extended down.

But these top-heavy efforts were doomed without the foundation. While I had the few creature comforts that fit in my luggage, I fundamentally lacked my own bed to sleep in as well as my own clothes to wear. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was getting the pyramid of needs upside-down.

Now that my feet are underneath me, I can get back to focusing on the things I do best.  And next time I’m inexplicably disoriented, I’ll know where to look: to the bed underneath my head and the things around me.

With love,
Meredith

Postscript: Frankly, my experience was temporary and – even while in transition – quite comfortable. I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like for those who struggle without the fundamentals on a day-to-day basis. For refugees, for detainees at the border, and for those without a home the question of self-actualization is far from fundamental; it’s a luxury. It’s important and grounding for me to remember that shifting one’s focusing at the top of the pyramid is, in itself, a privilege. While I continue to work at the top of the pyramid, I am recommitting to make a positive impact for those struggling to address the bottom.

Why I Stopped Caring How I Look In Photos

July is eminently photographable. The reds, whites, and blues of patriotic clothing pop against lush green lawns. Bright fireworks light up dark night skies. Watery scenes are highlighted by neon bathing suits and flamingo pool floats. Even without filters, my Instagram and Facebook feeds are studies in light and color.

At the center of most of these photos are the people. A whole family of rainbow swimmers dripping with water. Clusters of kids sticky with purple popsicle sweat. A couple in matching sunglasses in front of a rolling gold landscape. And there’s me: in a colorful dress; but still postpartum, a bit too heavy, and struggling to defrizz my hair in the humidity.

A couple of years ago, I made a decision. I was posing for a random group photo with a half dozen others. As for any other iPhone shoot, we posed and smiled. And then, I noticed what happened.

Half the subjects flocked the photographer to see the pictures and weigh in on which was the best. I – and most of my friends – are approaching middle age, so this can take work: not only should eyes be open and smiles be appropriate, but double chins should be hidden, underarm flab smoothed, and bodies at an angle to minimize hip width. There was a quick but important chatter about which of the many versions were acceptable to all parties and permissioning for posting on social media.

Interestingly, the other half of the subjects (and, to be honest, mostly the men), simply walked away from the scene. It was as if nothing happened.

My instinct was to join in the evaluation. For years, I had been a participant in assessing the photos based on my vision of how I thought I looked best. This was an automatic response rather than a conscious one, conditioned by my society – and likely reinforced by pressures put upon my gender. I was supposed to care not only about what I looked like, but also about how that was represented. But in this thing, as in all things, I had a choice. Did I – not as a woman, but as Meredith – actually care about those things?

Not much.

And so, I decided. From that moment forward, I would not evaluate photos of myself. I would simply let them be. I refused to expend intellectual or emotional energy editing the pictures and selecting the most favorable version of the truth. Whether each photo fit my own expectation of what “good” looked like for me really didn’t matter: the picture was represented what I did look like at that moment, whether I liked it or not.

It seems small and trivial. After all, it’s only my behavior in the moment after the flash. But, in this as in everything else, it’s freeing to realize that I get to decide how to be.

Since making that decision, I’ve felt free. I categorically don’t care. I consistently don’t need to engage. Now, when people take pictures of me, they often still ask: “Do you want to see it?” It feels like it’s really me answering when I say “no.” I’m sure it’s fine. Or not fine. It is how it is. And whether I like it or not, it is the truth of how I look in this moment. Then, I go back to my conversation.

This is your chance to choose as well. There is no right answer. You can care or not care. You can look or not look. You can edit or not edit. As long as you make a conscious choice aligned with your own values, it’s perfect.

How do you act when photos are taken?
What does that say about what you value? What does that say about what you fear?
And if you were to consciously choose, how do you want to be in those situations?

Meredith
Like what you’re reading? Find more in my newest book, The Intentional Life: Reflections from Conscious Living, available here from Amazon.

EXHIBIT A:  Most recent mediocre picture of me, from Drag Queen Story Time yesterday (Note to self:  Beyond this article, I will simply never look good enough standing next to a Drag Queen)
mediocre photo 1

 

Five Years Ago…

Five years ago, I started this blog. I launched it in May 2014 while I was visiting the Kloster Arenberg, a convent outside of Frankfurt, Germany. I was then—and continue to be—a junkie for solitary, spiritual retreats. At the time, nothing sounded better than a quiet weekend amongst nuns. Between walks in the woods, visits to the stations of the cross, and trips to the sauna, I managed to write my first post—all 518 words of it.

In that first entry, “The Courage to Begin,” I expressed anxiety that my writing would not be good enough, and that posts shared on the web would be hauntingly permanent. But more than either of those fears, I feared the judgment of others. I wrote, “There’s vulnerability in expressing myself authentically… What if you think I’m silly, stupid, or too much of a hippie? What if you think I’m too pragmatic, too intellectual, or not intuitive enough?” While I was theoretically bought in on authenticity, I dreaded its ramifications both online and in real life.

Yet, over the last five years and seventy-five posts, I continued to put myself out there. With each post, I learned more about myself. With each post, I came to care less about the opinions of others. Just as important, with each post, I came to understand more about what mattered to me. As I moved away from worrying about approval, I focused more and more on my mission: to give a clearer view to life and how to live it meaningfully. Now, I have the courage not only to publish my work online, but also to share the collective wisdom of The Intentional in my second book, The Intentional Life: Reflections from Conscious Living, which publishes later this week.

intentional-life-ebook_frontThe element of The Intentional Life that I’m most proud of is its authenticity. While the topic of the book is living intentionally, the content could not be more personal. It includes reflections on major life events (e.g., engagement, marriage, childbirth) and mundane, everyday life (e.g., parenting, cooking, working). It shows my weaknesses, fears, and failings. And, if it has been successful, it gives a better view into what it looks like to live intentionally and calls you to reflect more on your own life.

So happy birthday, The Intentional. I am meaningfully different than I was five years ago when we started this journey. Thank you for providing an incredible platform for my on-going development – and the inspiration for my next big turn as an author.

Meredith
The Intentional Life is live this week!
Order the paperback here.
Order the Kindle version here.
And, if you prefer to hear my voice while you’re out and about, wait for the audiobook release shortly!

 

The Relationship Reset

My wife and I have been together nearly seven years and married almost four. We’re still near the beginning of our lives together and in the process of figuring things out. But, these few years together yielded the first major realization about how life works as a couple: As you get to know each other more and more, you experience the ‘relationship reset.’

The relationship reset happens when you go from living within the broad spectrum of how people act to living within the narrower spectrum of how you compare to your partner.

Take cleanliness, for example. Maybe a similar level of cleanliness was one of the reasons why you were a good match for one another. While other potential matches left clothes on the floor or dishes in the sink, you both put things away immediately after using them. You were, in essence, on a similar spot on the dirty-to-clean spectrum.

initial spectrum with comment

Now you are in a relationship. You live together day-in and day-out. And instead of comparing yourselves versus the whole world, you primarily – and increasingly – only compare yourselves to each other. The ways that neither of you would ever act – failing to sweep the floor or not noticing cobwebs – are not even conceivable possibilities. Instead, the spectrum of possible states – and thereby, your effective world – narrows. You each define one of the new poles of the spectrum. And further, you sit in opposition. Suddenly, one of you is the ‘clean’ one and the other is the ‘dirty’ one. Sure, you both put away clothes and dishes. But, you have different tolerances of how dirty the bathroom can be before it needs a good scrub down. Weirdly, you become more different than similar.

full spectrum

This dynamic holds true for nearly every personality trait. For me, regardless of my absolute level, I suddenly became relatively less romantic, more social, less organized, more serious, a worse driver, etc., etc., etc.  While the relationship reset confirmed some of my self-perceptions, it really screwed with other parts of my identity. I found myself exclaiming “What do you mean I’m not organized?!”

And so, I need to remember the broader spectrum and the impact of the relationship reset. Just because I’m more or less qualified on any dimension between my wife and I doesn’t say much about how I stack up in the broader world. And, more importantly, any differences I feel between us are probably minute in the bigger scheme of things.

Have you experienced the relationship reset?  Along what dimensions?
What are your relative strengths and weaknesses versus your partner?
How has being in partnership changed the way you think about yourself?

Meredith

When Parenting Meets Travelling

When we told friends and family that we would be travelling through Costa Rica for the last two months of my maternity leave, we got a lot of interesting reactions. Some were in disbelief, thinking us either crazy or stupid for taking a two-month newborn and a two-year toddler anywhere. Others were jealous of the idea and seemed almost annoyed that they didn’t organize something similar with their own children. Still others couldn’t wrap their minds around the complexity of it all (logistical and otherwise) and surmised that we must be superhuman (fact: my wife is).

Now, two weeks into the trip, we get a lot of curious questions from people on the home front who want to know how it’s going. The tone is often tentative, almost as if people are wishing us well but expecting a train wreck. “So…how is it?”

When I began to answer that question, I measured my answer against two things: our ideal of travelling and our ideal of parenting.

The Travel Ideal  When my wife and I travel, we optimize for having authentic experiences and challenging adventures. We eschew tourist infrastructure and instead seek out interesting experiences off the beaten path. We put ourselves in new situations that require us to rise to the challenge – whether rappelling waterfalls in Vietnam, navigating the public bus system across Croatia and Bosnia, or hitchhiking in Norway. We make every meal count by finding restaurants frequented by locals or touted by reviewers; it’s like we can smell a menu printed in multiple languages.

The Parenting Ideal  When with our kids, we optimize for parenting in a way that balances respect for them and their independence with providing safe and loving boundaries. We adjust the space to be as focused on “yes” as possible, taking away dangers and distractions that require a constant barrage of “no”. We optimize the schedule for their rhythms. We focus on child-led activities rather than dictating what we do. When possible, we let their choices lead the way.

When looking at our previous ideals, what emerges is this: it is impossible to travel the way we’d like to travel while parenting. And, it’s impossible to parent the way we’d like to parent while travelling.

So, back to the question at hand: how is it on the road with two little ones?

I find that I am grateful for the beautiful travel moments which I can steal while taking care of these two. That brief moment sitting under the pounding of the hot springs waterfall. The tropical fruits and sips of Costa Rican coffee before a long mealtime implodes. The massage in an open-air bungalow and speedy zipline tour while my wife takes care of the little ones.

zip

A moment away: zip-lining through the forests of Arenal

At the same time, I am grateful for the beautiful parenting moments which I can steal while travelling. Playing ‘telemarketer’ on the unplugged hotel room phone with my toddler. Making finger puppet shapes on the ceiling to entertain my newborn. Long talks around where things goes when you flush the toilet and unexpected potty training wins.

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A momemt together: hats on while on a “ride to school”

Yet, what I have been completely caught off-guard and delighted by are the new moments of integration in which travelling and parenting transform each other.  The best parts of this trip – and undoubtedly the most memorable – are the rare moments when it all happens together in a new and different way. The conversations with my toddler about how mud is made as I carry her through ankle-deep gunk in the jungle. The quiet moments breastfeeding my newborn son while looking out into the tropical rain. The kids’ reaction to a handful of white-nosed coatis wandering up to our hotel room window.

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A moment when it all comes together: white-nosed coati encounter

By combining the two, the nature of both parenting and traveling changes completely.  On the road, I become a different parent. I let go of optimizing their world for respectful, independent learning; I am more flexible and fluid. And with kids in tow, I become a different traveler. I don’t need everything to be perfectly authentic and perpetually challenging; I slow down, judge less, and see this place through their eyes.

So, am I eating more hotel hamburgers than I would like? Absolutely. And am I also delaying nap time to fit in one more store, one more museum, or one more dip in the pool? Yep. But, increasingly, instead of feeling like I am compromising on both sides, I feel like I am finding the beautiful integration of both.

Meredith

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To the next adventure

Parenting Hack: Thing It/Unthing It

I was sitting around chatting with a group of moms the other day. One friend mentioned that her son was not eating meals, and they were, as a result, putting in extraordinary efforts to get him to do so. Her pediatrician’s advice? Just “un-thing” it.

Un-thinging is the process of not making a big deal out of something; in other words, not making it into a thing. Her son can eat or not eat. Either is fine. As a parent, you set the direction and the implications (i.e., here is good food, you need to eat or you’ll be hungry), but you don’t get tied up in what the child chooses to do. You don’t bribe or coerce. You don’t have an emotional reaction. You stay chill and let them figure it out independently. By un-thinging it, you lower the stakes. You normalize the situation. You create the space and opportunity for change.

In becoming conscious of un-thinging things, we have also started to play around with thinging things.  By thinging something, you differentiate it. You make clear that the plane diaperbehavior is situational and even special. You create limits and boundaries around it. For example, when flying with my toddler the other day, we decided to thing the use of a diaper. My daughter is in the middle of potty training, and we don’t want her to think that wearing a diaper is typical behavior. And so, my wife drew planes on each of her diapers. We talked about how these were special “plane diapers.” When we took the diapers off, we said goodbye to the them and made a big deal of wearing underwear again because we’re not on a plane anymore. We made diaper-wearing during travel a thing.

Beyond that, we are thinging a whole host of behaviors associated with travel:  lollipops to pop her ears on the plane (“plane lollipops”), the use of a tablet (“special Daniel Tiger”), eating more frequent desserts (“something we do on vacation”), and sleeping on an inflatable mattress (the “travel Older Toddler bed”). We want each to be a specific experience with its own use case, boundaries, and related expectations. We are creating the association that these are all related to this special time and place and do not reflect the new normal.

Stepping back, thinging and unthinging are simply more intentional practices about consciously choosing – in this case, consciously choosing your relationship with each action. What do you need to unthing to create space and opportunity for change? What do you need to thing to create differentiation and limitation?

Meredith

 

What I Learned In The Ten Years It Took To Publish My First Book

I wrote my first version of Indispensable nearly ten years ago, over the early part of 2008.  Later that year, as the publishing industry struggled with the birth of eBooks, the economy collapsed, and my life moved forward, the goal of publishing it shifted into the background.  I largely put the manuscript down and didn’t touch it for years.

Now, it’s ten years later and my book is due to be published on June 26th.  The process of resurrecting, revisiting, and revising the book has been insightful.  More than anything else, the manuscript has served as a point of reflection of who I was then and who I am now.  As I set to work on revisions, I found myself having visceral reactions to the content. The tone of some sections made me cringe.  How could I be so rude, so flippant, or so ignorant?  On the other hand, some sections felt like old friends briefly forgotten.  How wise I used to be!  If I had only remembered that advice and applied it myself since writing it!  Over the past decade, I’ve learned and grown.  And the world has evolved around me.  My manuscript – from its previous incarnation and its current revisions – has been a lens through which to see all that change more clearly.

On the whole, I’ve noticed two major dimensions along which I’ve changed the most.  First, my understanding of diversity, inclusion, and privilege has expanded significantly.  In the revisions, I rotate the gender of the managers and employees chapter by chapter.  Similarly, I intentionally included a wide variety of names to be ethnically-inclusive; it’s no longer just a book about Bobs and Rachels.  But, perhaps most notably, I rewrote the entire segment on dressing at work to be comprehensive of a more fluid range of gender expressions – and to acknowledge how precious physical expression can be to people.  The passages that used to read as “just quiet down and wear whatever you need to wear to fit in” have a more nuanced tone, one suggesting that you make a conscious choice about what you wear and own the repercussions of how others may interpret that as reflective of your professional competence.

That brings me to the second shift in my approach; not just in the realm of physical presentation, but more broadly, my overarching approach became much less proscriptive and more fungible. I wrote the initial book as the essential advice you need to succeed in your first job and beyond.  The tone conveyed that this this advice was important and that the reader should carefully listen, learn, and apply each suggestion.  I positioned it as a universal formula for success.  Now, I’ve softened that approach.  I’m wise enough to know that even if some abstracted advice is broadly useful, people and situations are different. I present the book as full of useful strategies, but ones which should be considered, adapted, and applied with judgment. I focus more on the journey, the learning, and the development into your authentic self at work. Ultimately, I put the reader more in the position of power and conscious choice over their path rather than in the position of receiving wisdom from on high.

Now, Indispensable is in the final rounds of copy editing and proofreading.  From a content perspective, this book, which was ten years in the making, is suddenly out of my hands.  And I find myself looking both backwards and forwards.  Looking forward, if I am living well, won’t I learn as much over the next decade as I did over the last?  It is scary to think that the manuscript is fixed and I won’t be able to evolve it over time – as I and the world evolve in parallel. I have to believe that I’ll look back on Indispensable in another ten years and think “Wow, I missed so much.”

And so, I’m publishing something which feels not like a universal decree, but instead, a stake in the ground. But maybe that’s okay.  Maybe, since this version of the book will be fixed, it will provide a similar view into my psychology today – and I’ll be able to see the differences between now and then – and the growth that has occurred – all the more clearly.

Meredith
For more on the book, buy on Amazon.

ten years graphic

We Wish You a Merry… Ritual

This December, I find myself reflecting upon a holiday many years ago when I played the role of an angel at my church’s Christmas pageant. I remember receiving instructions to gently cradle my offering of plastic grapes for baby Jesus and to approach the nativity scene slowly, deliberately, and in step by my fellow blue-robed angel. I was not to look at or wave to my family members as I passed them.

This was the first time I was charged with the solemn execution of ritual duties, and I followed through with a level of commitment absurd for a six-year old in a tinsel halo. I was stone-faced and serious, committed to the importance of the ceremony and my role.

Over time, my interest in ritual only grew. As a child and teenager, I served as an acolyte, carrying the cross in processionals, lighting and extinguishing candles, and helping prepare the Eucharist. Later, in college, I was the sacristan at my college chapel, a role which had me arriving early to arrange chairs and candlesticks, staying late to disassemble the ritual space, and learning how to get wax stains out of altar linens in my dorm room (Hint: an iron and newspaper do the trick).You know, typical college kid activities.

Though the church was an obvious focus of ritual life, my ritual devotion extended elsewhere, particularly to the intersection of ritual and food. Family dinners were sacred to me, and I would insist we turn off the television every night. I threw my first formal dinner party before the age of ten, immersing myself in cookbooks, napkin folding manuals, and etiquette books to get all the details right. I started the first of many dinner party clubs in high school and wrote my college thesis on parallels between the Eucharist and other ritual meals. Today, we ritualize our family meals by sharing gratitudes before eating.

And this Christmas, we celebrate it with all sorts of rituals – those from my family, those from Liz’s, and those we have created together. We open the advent calendar with our chocolate-ravenous child each night. We think about loved ones around the world and send Christmas cards with well-wishes. We, like Liz’s grandmother, burn bayberry candles. And we make ‘miracle loaf’ – a truly miraculous combination of refrigerated crescent rolls, bacon, eggs, and other artery-clogging items that Liz innovated. Each ritual sanctifies the season and makes our wintry days feel special.

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What is it, exactly, about ritual?  To me, there’s something incredible about how you can intentionally invest meaning in some of the most mundane, tangible aspects of life – movements, words, objects, food, and space – and thereby create something transcendental. It is a way of bringing the holy (however you may define it) into the everyday. I see it as the alchemy of meaning: by enacting ritual, you take everyday life and make it special.

And so, this past fall, I started classes to become a celebrant. A celebrant is someone who creates and performs rituals for others. This can include anything from the weddings and funerals you might expect to baby blessings, divorce ceremonies, business openings, and seasonal rituals. Celebrants do not bring any particular religious bent to their work, but instead focus on crafting meaningful experiences to fit the needs, values, and beliefs of the ceremony participants. Come spring, I’ll be certified and look forward to bringing more ritual into my life and being of service to others.

Whatever you believe and however you ritualize it, I wish this holiday season is transformed into something special and meaningful to you.
Meredith

To learn more about celebrancy, check out the Celebrant Institute and Foundation here.

 

Why You Should Re-pot Yourself

As many of you know, the Callahan clan moved from California to Connecticut earlier this year. I wrote about that transition here on my blog, The Intentional, and posted it to the appropriate social media channels. Amongst the chorus of wisdom and encouraging words, there was no comment more apt than my friend Michael reminding me that: “Qui transtulit sustinet.”

“Qui transtulit sustinet” or “He who transplanted sustains” is the state motto of Connecticut. I recalled the motto from the first time I transplanted myself to this state — from my hometown of Port Huron to college in New Haven. And here it was, cropping up again as I moved to Connecticut a second time.

There are a couple of meanings of the motto: The first implies that he who transplanted you will sustain you, indicating that God (who brought the settlers to America) would support them (in the new land). I prefer a second interpretation of the motto, however — the one that makes it more personal: He who transplants himself, sustains.

The idea of transplanting oneself resonates with the advice that “You have to repot yourself every once in a while.” The philosophy of repotting people is the same as repotting plants. When our growth slows or stops, it’s time to move. We pull ourselves up by the roots, shake off the dirt, and settle into a new pot with fresh soil. The pot should be a bit bigger than the old but not overly big; we need space to grow without being overwhelmed.

While the goal of repotting is growth, when plants are first moved, they often enter a period of shock. Instead of thriving, we appear wilted and thirsty as we adjust to our new circumstances. Change, as everyone knows, is hard. That said, over time, the new pot, with more space and refreshed nutrients, enables the new growth and, eventually, new bloom.

While repotting sounds wise, it is often painful and unpleasant. Your pot may be so homey that you could stayed there forever. And yet, if we’re committed to growth, we must repot ourselves instead of waiting for some cosmic gardener to change our circumstances. As John Gardner wrote in Self-Renewal, only by intentionally repotting can we grow into our fullness as humans:

“Most of us have potentialities that have never been developed simply because the circumstances of our lives never called them forth. Exploration of the full range of our own potentialities is not something that we can safely leave to the chances of life. It is something to be pursued systematically, or at least avidly, to the end of our days. We should look forward to an endless and unpredictable dialogue between our potentialities and the claims of life-not only the claims we encounter but the claims we invent. And by the potentialities I mean not just skills, but the full range capacities for sensing, wondering, learning, understanding, loving, and aspiring.”

-John Gardner, Self-Renewal

When we made the decision to move across the country, it was not pleasant. We didn’t happily repot; instead, we felt our roots holding onto the California soil with all our might. When the opportunity called to investigate our new potentialities — to see what new growth might be possible — we took it. And so find find ourselves here, repotted in Connecticut. We are certainly still adjusting from the initial shock, but we hope that the family who transplanted will not only sustain, but grow in an even bigger way.

Wishing you plenty of uncomfortable growth and self-renewal,
Meredith

A Love Note To San Francisco

photo for sf

I remember my first trip to the Bay Area for my Stanford business school admissions weekend. I had not spent much time in California, yet I felt drawn to moving West. That said, when I arrived, I was a bit confused. I remember sharing with my soon-to-be-classmates: “I don’t know what people see in it.” I was committed to moving West, but I couldn’t wrap my head around the place. The whole start-up scene appeared unhinged from reality. People seemed to do whatever they liked on nearly every dimension, defying convention and practicality. Did they really kite-surf every morning, wear hoodies to work, and drink wine in Sonoma all weekend? Even the arid landscape seemed alien compared to the traditional deciduous forests of my life to date.

And yet, everyone seemed to love this place. Not just the hippies and surfers, but trusted friends (practical, business-type people!) who had already taken their manifest destiny.

So, I packed my bags and caught the train from my hometown of Port Huron. I rode Amtrak’s Blue Water Line to the California Zephyr straight out to the Bay. After sixty-seven hours on the train, I disembarked in my new home, excited for school but still skeptical about this place.

After a month or so, I noticed that I smiled more. I smiled to myself as I walked to class. I smiled to others. I became one of those people who hug everyone. I dyed my hair from brown to blondish-red, an act that somehow lightened my view on the world. I left behind my wardrobe of drab neutrals and bought a bright pink coat. While the palm trees and weather were lovely, there was something even more important about this place: California’s freedom, looseness, and joie de vivre started to seep into me.

I studied entrepreneurship and interpersonal dynamics. I came to differentiate between real Mexican food and other Mexican food. I tried out ecstatic dance, hiked in the redwoods, and held bonfires on the beach. I went to naked hot springs, dabbled in yoga and meditation, and discovered my favorite spiritual retreat centers. I came to have opinions about not only Napa versus Sonoma, but specific ideas about which Sonoma wineries were the best. My love for kale, kombucha, and avocados grew. I had one wardrobe, appropriate year-round, and filled with color.

Beyond what I gained, I also lost things. I lost my concern for appearances. When I left the house, my goal was to look like I wasn’t homeless. And if I was mistaken for homeless (which did happen), it was no stress.

I am sure that freedom also played a role in supporting my ability to come out (previous entries here) and subsequently fall in love with Liz. San Francisco was not just the backdrop to but a character in our love story. On our first date, we lingered over breakfast sandwiches at Slow Club and drinks at Triptych. She proposed in our Potrero Hill apartment, and I ‘counter-proposed’ at a vineyard in Napa. After a week of escorting our guests around to all our favorite Bay Area sites, we were married in the Presidio against the backdrop of the Golden Gate Bridge. We didn’t think twice about how we’d be accepted as a couple — or later, how our little lady would be accepted and loved.

This April, we left the Bay for Connecticut. We were lured away by the promise of new things: a job that offers unparalleled learning and significant impact, less commuting and travel time, more balance and flexibility. It is the right choice for our family, but it is not without heartbreak. Because, beyond everything I’ve described about California, the biggest thing we will miss is the people. The ineffable magic of the Bay Area doesn’t come from the temperate weather and the bay views, but from the people and the culture. We will miss our community above all.

It will take a while to grieve California and adjust to this new place. As I wind my way along the parkways of woodsy, suburban Connecticut, I feel the familiar questions creep in: What is this place? What do people see in it? Like my reaction ten years ago, I honestly don’t understand what is so great about this place. Driving by the green-leafed trees now feels foreign. And yet, just as impossibly as California did, I hope that this place too will grow close to our hearts.

But, for now, I have left my heart in San Francisco. This is my love note to you. Thank you for everything. We’ll be back.

Meredith