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

On Tattooing

At Yale, my favorite class was my senior seminar with all the other Religious Studies majors. We read canonical works on the definition of religion and ritual theory, supported each other on our senior theses, and frequently caught up over kosher meals at the on-campus Hillel. We celebrated turning in our final papers by nailing the front pages, Luther-like, to the front door of the department. We even nicknamed ourselves “RelStuds” – which, while an apt shortening of our major, perhaps belied how cool we were.

One of the things I most valued about that group was the diversity of perspectives we brought to the table. We each had a distinctly different touch point with religion – some of us aspiring to be priests or rabbis, some of us fascinated by ritual and meaning-making, some of us investigating the intersections of church and state.

I remember being particularly struck by one classmate whose senior thesis focused on Christian tattooing. She looked at the interpretation and theories of tribal tattooing and applied these to modern-day biker tats. This topic completely bent my brain. First, I found it such a paradox that tattooing (which, at the time, seemed radical and edgy to me) could carry the message of Christianity (which seemed conservative and traditional to me). Further, her whole approach reframed tattooing from the artistic to the spiritual, from the arbitrary to the meaningful, from the ephemeral to the enduring. Instead of being an impetuous act of youth, a tattoo could be a lasting, unyielding reminder of a core value or purpose. Instead of being something which one might regret, a tattoo could be an essential reminder in the future. I feel in love with the idea of tattooing as an act of inscribing life lessons onto one’s body in a way that could never be lost or forgotten.

I first thought about getting a tattoo immediately after I graduated, but it took a full five years for that first tattoo to come to fruition. I’ve learned, after a few sessions under the needle that coming to the right tattoo takes time. Each of my tattoos represents an insight, experience, or value, inscribed upon my body with thought and consideration. Because of this tie to my life and my development, I can’t plan ahead from them. Instead, as life progresses, I sometimes get the feeling that a tattoo is coming (almost of its own volition), and, over time, the reason and design unfold before me. I have to let them happen instead of declaring that “It’s now time to wrap up that life lesson and write it down!” As you probably know, that’s not how being a human being works. Instead, I surrender to the tattoo.

Since that first tattoo in 2008, I’ve had three more, each at an utterly unpredicted and completely perfect moment in time. This past weekend was my most recent addition. After dropping Liz off at the Denver airport, I knew what I had to do. I drove to Boulder, found a tattoo shop on Yelp, and was soon sitting down with my new friend Sam. Being a bit squeamish, I always need to find the stronger person inside of me to make it through the tattooing process, but I once again proved that I can be braver than expected when it’s really needed.

Now, the ‘charm bracelet’ on my left wrist is one step closer to encircling it, with a newly drawn dot and flourish trailing off to the left. Perhaps someday we’ll talk about all the meanings. But, in the short-term, it’s another step in life, never to be forgotten.

With love,
Meredith

The dark ink is the new tattoo, adding onto the line of the old piece, which you can see to the top left.

The dark ink is the new tattoo, adding onto the line of the old piece, which you can see to the top left.

The Courage to Begin

May 10, 2014
Outside of Arenberg, Germany

I’ve been hoping to start a blog for a while. Yes, it’s been a long while that I’ve been wandering in the wilderness of thinking, planning, deliberating, deciding, motivating, re-deciding, and, ultimately, failing to follow through.  It’s a familiar (and somewhat annoying) place to find myself, especially because I see myself as an energetic and enthusiastic person – you know, one of those people who can easily follow through on their intentions.  So when I finally got serious, I realized the only way out of the wilderness of waiting was to catalogue, digest, and move beyond the fears that were inhibiting my ability to start.  Included among them were:

  • There’s vulnerability in expressing myself authentically.  What if people (and by people, I mean you, dear reader) don’t like the me that you see expressed here?  How does that impact our relationship in ‘real life’?
  • I am used to doing things excellently. I don’t want to write anything unless it’s good. And I mean really good.
  • I have both fear and excitement about the public and permanent nature of the internet.  I’ve always been comfortable disclosing my thoughts and feelings to those around me, whether intimate acquaintances or new friends.  But posting these things publically opens up a lot of questions that I don’t fully know the answer to:  What’s the long-term implication of having all these things published?  What if I inevitably grow, evolve, and come to regret my views?  How is the complicated by the fact that I’ve shared them with you?
  • And my strongest fear of all is my fear of judgment.  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?  That fear of judgment touches on a deep-seated need for approval, which is hard to battle.  

I approached these as I approach any fears. I took each statement one-at-a-time and simply said yes to it.  “Yes, I might write a horrible blog.”  “Yes, people may not like me after they read my writing.”  “Yes, I may be judged positively or negatively.”  “Yes, I may regret what I write in the future.”  I simply said “yes, yes, yes” to each fear until they lost their power over me.  There is a lovely saying that “what you resist, persists”; when I stop resisting and simply let the fear be, I find it ‘passes through me’ and I emerge on the other side, unafraid and unharmed.  The fears are real, the answers are uncertain, and yet I’m able to move forward with strength.  

It took a solo retreat holed up at a cloister in Germany (yes, a real cloister with nuns wandering about) to finally say yes to each of these fears and dedicate the time needed to tackle the logistics of launching.  But I’m glad to be here.  And I’m glad to be in dialogue with you about all the crazy and important topics we’ll tackle together.

Thanks for joining me on the journey.  I’m looking forward to your company along the way.

Meredith