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.

Welcome to Fullness

As you may have guessed from my relative reticence, the last weeks and months have been particularly busy. In the last six weeks (since, roughly April 15th), I’ve travelled to Shanghai, Chicago, Phuket, Boulder, Singapore, a tropical island in Indonesia, Cape Cod, and Michigan. I’ve camped the Nor Cal woods with my fiancée, snorkeled Southeast Asian waters, and taken a beer tour of Chicago. I’ve attended offsites, retreats, annual meetings, and trainings. I’ve coached former classmates on storytelling, tried a new recipe for gluten-free/dairy-free mac and cheese, and volunteered at the soup kitchen. On the home front, we’ve replaced our washer and dryer, fixed the ice tray in the fridge (shockingly complicated), and replanted the front bed. For the wedding, we’ve ordered and addressed wedding invitations, finalized plans for cake, and completed the final fitting for my wedding dress. Most importantly, though, I’ve spent time with so many people I love around the world, including a few walks around the block with Reese, some quality time with Liz, and a beautiful bridal shower with nearly every member of my extended family.

I share this not to provide an excuse for not posting, but to take a stand: Yes, the last six weeks have been busy, but I refuse to call them that. In fact, I am hereby abandoning the word “busy.”  
busy
Why am I abandoning “busy?”

First, I don’t want to compete in the busy-ness competition. Sometimes, particularly amongst my overachieving friends, we end up one-upping each other with the intensity of our schedules. It’s as if our commitments act as a proxy for importance (“So many people have demands on my time and talents!) and capability (“…and I’m completely able to satisfy them all!”). It’s an alluring game to play as it feeds the ego and seems winnable. That said, winning the busy-ness competition is no treat. You may receive a bit of awe or pity, but to maintain your sense of importance and capability, you need to sign up for being even busier than you were before. I once heard a friend describe it as “winning a pie-eating competition where the prize is. . . more pie.”

Second, I want to encourage real conversations. We often ask each other “How are you doing?” in a ritualized way, not expecting a full answer. It’s easy to answer “I’m busy” and sharing your schedule. When someone asks me how I’m doing, I aspire to respond to those questions with a better answer – one that goes a bit deeper or shares a bit more. Why am I busy? What is happening in the world as a result of my efforts? What is meaningful about that?

Which brings us to the third and most important reason: I want to put attention on the underlying meaning, not the superficial hum of the activity. Ultimately, the word ‘busy’ doesn’t encapsulate the meaning behind it all. We all choose to sign ourselves up for work and activities, for life and relationships. We choose the things that make us so busy – and we presumably choose them because they’re important to us in some way. Being “busy” doesn’t invoke that overarching purpose in the activity; it just implies activity – and perhaps too much of it. Yet when I look at the litany of life in my first paragraph, I don’t feel exhausted, I feel exhilarated. Sure, I’m sometimes overtravelled, sometimes overworked, sometimes overstretched. But my underlying feeling here is one of satisfying fullness, and not of meaningless busy-ness.

Therefore, that’s my new word: instead of saying “I’m busy,” I am going to say “I’m full.” I am full of activity, full of life, and full of meaning. In many contexts, to be full is to be complete. I want the fullness that comes with having my time and talents used completely towards my ambitions.

Goodbye busy-ness. Welcome to fullness.

Meredith

full

My Six Travel Hacks

Between work and play, I end up travelling a lot.  This month, for example, I’m spending the equivalent of two-and-a-half weeks on the road, bumping between Singapore, Thailand, China, and Indonesia.  I’m jokingly calling it #aprilasia.

While San Francisco is the center of my life, good work and important relationships aren’t concentrated there alone.  Instead, life happens both in the Bay Area and also at a bunch of other complementary locations around the world.  For better or worse (and often, for both), travel has become a significant part of my life.

As I’ve hit the road more and more, here’s my list of realizations – from the pragmatic to the philosophical – of what has kept me sane:

Adjust my eating schedule first:  I’ve learned to focus on adjusting my eating schedule instead of worrying about my sleeping schedule.  If I start eating on my destination time zone before getting on the plane, I’m better able to avoid jet lag when I get there.  This means sacrificing the perceived value of plane food (which I tend to eat out of obligation and frugality rather than hunger), planning ahead to bring my own snacks on the road, and often forcing myself to eat when I don’t have any interest (i.e., it’s lunchtime here, but the middle of the night my time).  If I can fix my eating cycle, however, my sleep cycle follows.  I can’t make a watertight case for the science behind it (though I did do a bunch of jet lag research at some point), but it works.

Take advantage of gyms:  The challenge and time involving in getting up, getting dressed, relocating to the gym, battling for a machine, showering in a foreign place, and pre-packing the day’s outfit often provides a convenient and reasonable excuse why I don’t exercise on any given day at home.  When there’s a gym in the hotel, however, I lose that excuse.  I try (though the operative word is try) to work out more on the road because the facilities are far more accessible.

Set boundaries:  As travel has become more frequent I’ve realized that, at some point, I can’t just string obligations together.  After a few ‘mega-trips’ last year, I now aspire to schedule trips no longer than ten days.  Even if it means flying back-and-forth to break the trip up, it’s worth it for me.

Do just one local thing:  When I started travelling, the best piece of advice I got from a seasoned road warrior was this:  “Wherever you go, make sure you do one local thing.”  It could be anything:  going to drinks with a friend, taking two hours to wander around a museum, or walking through town on your way to work.  Sometimes it’s hard to convince myself that I have ‘permission’ to do this, especially if I’m travelling for work.  But the two hours that I spent at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center last week (a scale model of Shanghai!  a golden statue of the skyline!  ambition incarnate in display after lighted display!) made me better able to connect to understand Chinese development and also gave me some karmic comfort when I later found myself flying on Friday night. The trip became worthwhile in a bigger, more personal way.

shanghai
Acknowledge all parts of the truth
:  Friends often ask the question:  “Do you like to travel so much, or not?”  While it’s easy to fall into their proposed binary framing and either assert that “I love it!” or “I hate it!”, there’s often a more subtle truth.  For me, it’s important to acknowledge that travel is exciting, challenging, and exotic and also overwhelming, exhausting, and annoying – all at the same time.  I love the opportunities that come with travel, and I hate being dislocated from friends and family.  Acknowledging the full range of emotions that comes with travel – instead of glamorizing or demonizing it – helps to keep everything real.

Hold tight to gratitude:  Finally, it’s easy to fall into a world-weary mindset when I’m always on the road.  Travel can lose it’s charm and challenge.  And even the loveliest of destinations can go from being shiny, new, and delightful to being curiously familiar and even bothersome.  Whenever I stop seeing the amazing side of these experiences, I ground myself in gratitude. It is incredible that I get to develop such a broad perspective on life. It is incredible that I am able to feel at home in the world and connect to so many diverse people. Whatever the sacrifice, I can’t believe I’m deserving of all the places I go; I’m humbled by it.

Written while gearing up for a beach walk in Phuket,
Meredith

phuket

Work and Fulfillment

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the role the work plays in our fulfillment as human beings.  What are we pursuing in life?  What are we pursuing in work?  Where are those objectives are aligned or out of sync?  And further, what do we do with all that?

Since I’m quite happy in both work and life these days, I’m lucky to approach this topic from a positive perspective.  I sat back to think:  How does work contribute to my fulfillment?

There are two ways that work helps me follow my broader purpose in life:

First, my work is aligned with my mission and sense of purpose.  I believe that my work – in and of itself – allows me to accomplish part of what I would like to do in my short human life.  Because of this, I deeply care that it’s successful.  I see myself in the process and the outcomes.  Further, I learn things that matter to me, and I improve skills that are important to me.  Work itself is meaningful and purposeful.  That fundamental passion for my work contributes strongly to my sense of fulfillment.

Second, not only am I fulfilled by work, but work leaves room for me to find fulfillment in other ways.  True, I work hard.  Sometimes I devote entire days to work and work alone, starting conference calls early and finishing slides late.  But I find that over the long run, there’s time and space for all parts of me to be fulfilled.  In addition to work, there’s room for family, friends, community, exercise, hobbies, life administration, fun, travel, sleep, recovery, and beingness.  Perhaps every day does not have every element, but the balance works out over a not-insignificant period of time.  The impact is that not only is work fulfilling when I’m doing it, but work allows me to find fulfillment outside of the office as well.  This ability to lead a full life is the second connection between my work and my fulfillment.

And so I leave you with another nerdy framework to ponder all this.  Does work contribute to your fulfillment?  Where do you find yourself in the view below?

Meredith

work fulfillment