What is “Success” in leadership?

Recently, my boss had me watch a Ted Talk as part of my leadership development by Simon Sinek, author of “Leaders Eat Last”, and in this talk he discusses why certain companies are wildly successful in comparison to their counterparts in the very same industries; he uses Apple and every other computer company as an example.

Here is the video if you’d like…

Everything he is saying about leadership makes sense – and he comes back to, more than once, its not “how and what you do its WHY you do it”… and if you don’t believe in the WHY and let that lead you then you are simply mediocre and won’t be as successful as someone who leads with their “why”… You “sell people” what you believe – and you lead with what you believe and if you can’t make others believe it… then they will simply be punching in and out – so to speak.

I have struggled with this thought ever since watching this video because how can I truly get passionate about corporate finance?

I understand that what we do is really important work for securing the futures of the masses and creating a personalized approach to investing for the future. I utilize our services and this is the first time I have ever worked with an investor where I felt like someone truly cared about my dollars and that I was not simply “small fries” in dollars. I feel really supported because that is our company’s philosophy – I call my advisor for ANYTHING and he calls me back and will talk me through the answer and make sure I understand it; he is fully transparent and I trust him with our future. That said, my trouble with growing into a great leader is that I am having trouble translating what I do into something “passionate” that will inspire others to see my ability to lead as inspiring. I enjoy what I do in the sense that I like analytics and playing with budgets and auditing and compliance and keeping things in order so to speak – but I never wake up and go “YES! Let’s go make today FUN, INSPIRING, and AMAZING, in the Finance division today!”…

How do I translate what I do into something I can lead with our “Why?”… and not simply leading because I’ve put in the work to ‘lead’ in school and by way of mentoring and not just leading with ‘What’ we do?

How do you derive passion, and lead, in something you are good at when simply being good at *yourself* is insufficient for being a good leader?

I read a lot – like a lot – I listen to audio books during most of my solitary activities at home and at work and at the gym, etc. I feel so disconnected from the messages in some of these books and I want to get better and *be* better at what it means to be a good leader – so I listen to all the perceived “great” leaders. Brene Brown on vulnerability was a huge game-changer for me… I struggle with an often refuse to be vulnerable – if you have ever done the work on your Enneagram Type – I am an 8w7. A solid 8 in its entirety. I refuse to let people see me vulnerable – but Brene Brown’s book taught me that good leaders can be and are vulnerable and make human connections with human emotions with their team. I was listening to our managing partner speak at our last division meeting – she is the first female managing partner and I admire her messages a lot. During our last division meeting, in her floral printed track suit and turquoise nails and wedge sandals – someone asked her a question that could have had a very basic, all-business, answer but instead she paused and said “If you’ll all allow me to be vulnerable for a moment…” and I was immediately uncomfortable *for* her like… “No, you’re a woman – do not be vulnerable in front of 300 people right now. Don’t do it. Women don’t do this in the corporate world.” and she went on to talk about how she wants to be a great leader to this company and is continuously introspective on how to be a good leader and ensuring she has the right people at the table to ensure she is taking our company in the right direction. She constantly asks herself if, as a leader, what she is saying/proposing/doing is specifically inspiring instead of just making us push the buttons and turn the widgets…

My leader, for example, praises me on all of my positive traits and skills and pushes me to expand upon those and aids me in getting the resources I need to do that. But he is not afraid of providing constructive feedback so that I can improve. I will, also, say that when I was a leader before I was not a very effective one. Nobody was happy and most were frustrated by the system we all existed within – myself included. I was far too unhappy with the institution and how we were all being treated to effectively lead – there was nothing to lead *to*… it was simply keeping things moving along and I did not have the support from the top to develop and grow us as a team or myself as a leader. Presently, I am in a place for the first time where I truly feel like developing me and supporting me is a priority so I would say if I had any opportunity to be successful as a leader – this one is it.

I think I can start there by asking myself if what I am doing/saying/leading with is inspiring or is just making those who look to me to lead push the buttons and turn the widgets and keep the lights on… versus truly making them feel good about showing up and making them feel inspired to put in the work because it satiates some intrinsic satisfaction in them; that for me is seeing the efficacy data of the different initiatives I am working on. Now, I need to do that for others and go from there to determine how I fit into our “Why?” and how to lead from there.

Are you a leader? How have you improved your leadership capabilities? What is some positive feedback you’ve received as a leader? What was your best experience with a leader – and what was your worst?

I Can’t Believe its Over

I finished my masters degree. It is done. It is complete. The last ten years (roughly) of my life have gone as such…

  • 2011 Began my undergraduate degree – full-time, while working full-time, and trying to save a failing marriage after 12 years. My schooling was a consistent point of contention surrounding other issues going on in the household that I was expected to manage for the family. Bottom line – we got married way too young to have grown through the growing of each of us as individuals. My education was too important to me to sacrifice even if that meant the marriage.
  • 2012 We got divorced and I continued my schooling. Single parenting and working full-time…while failing at a relationship with a narcissist immediately following my divorce because I was lonely and in no way knew myself well enough to be dating that soon. Bottom line, I made myself incredibly small in place of the person I used to be, or would become, because of him.
  • I went to Africa with the school of social work – and it changed my trajectory. I learned that I could not separate. I could not separate my anger for the injustices in this world from my emotions and behaviors and I knew that was not appropriate for social work; you have to be able to separate and I could not. I changed my major and thought I might go to law school – enrolled in the LSAT for the following September.
  • 2014 I met my husband and it was like… *boom*…everything changed. I wanted to have the life that I felt like I was meant to have with the man who loved me – the feisty political feminist who is also incredibly ADD…and had two kids to boot. As a budget manager at the time – I looked at the cost of law school and decided it was not a solid move to bring that much student loan debt (nearly $200k) coming into a new marriage that was developing relatively quickly in a marked bloated with attorneys not making enough to offset that debt; we were engaged before the end of the year.
  • 2015 I graduated from Saint Louis University with a degree in Criminal Justice cum laude. The goal, for me, was to have a degree in something exciting and interesting… something that held my interest in order to help me get through the arduous process with excitement and with less time fighting my ADD. I had my pick of graduate programs at that point because of how well I performed in my undergrad.
  • 2015 I did my research and I chose the graduate program, distance learning, that had the same level of accreditation as Saint Louis University and the best price so I chose Colorado State University. I chose a Master of Science in Management with a focus in Business Intelligence.
  • 2016-2019 Changed jobs twice. We had a very high risk pregnancy and a baby in the NICU. Left a place I *loved* because there were so few opportunities for leadership after they offered two rounds of early retirement to mid-level management. My upward mobility was sapped and the competition was thick and I did not want to play the popularity game to show my worth.
  • 2019 I move to a new job in the corporate finance industry and so far it is delivering on everything it indicated it had the potential to be for me.

Here we are. I finished my masters degree that ultimately caps off eight straight years of schooling. I became anxious and overwhelmed thinking about what I would do to fill the busy-ness and self-imposed stress… I honestly did not know what to do with myself. I had lost all of my hobbies and interests in eight years. I was an avid, consistent, runner and the high risk pregnancy really (really) screwed that up for me after being forced to be down for 9 solid months. I am still trying to re-learn hobbies and interests and relaxation; relaxation is the most difficult – I virtually don’t remember much about how to do that effectively. I find myself mindlessly scrolling Pinterest (which I keep thinking will identify a hobby I might be interested in) and social media, reading articles, because I have lost my drive and excitement for hobbies. I want them – I just don’t know how to rediscover them. I still exercise regularly, go out for a lot of social outings, travel, etc – but like… the day-to-day (or weekend) hobbies you seek out.

What did you do to rediscover hobbies after a hiatus or a season of busy-ness that took you away from your hobbies? What processes did you go through to figure that out?

How did you feel after accomplishing a HUGE goal? Was it relief? Excitement? A deflating feeling that now left you feeling like you lack purpose and direction….? (I’m not projecting you are!!!!)

The First Day

Tomorrow is a big day for me.

I have worked for a great company as a business analyst for the last three years supporting various U.S. West Coast businesses from headquarters here in St. Louis. I learned so much working for this company. I had a wonderful example of an effective training program and how that builds an enormous amount of confidence in its associates and allows them to navigate with a level of surety that is unlike any other institution I have worked for where they kind of throw you in and hope for the best. I have experienced that, too, and it was not my favorite. I have worked for companies that forced me to choose between being a wife and a mother. The Human Resources director of a company I worked for in the mid-2000’s told me as I was running, ten weeks pregnant with my second child, out the door only minutes after I walked through it to start my day after a water main broke beneath daycare to retrieve my toddler from daycare that “Alyssa, I’m honestly not sure what we are going to do when you have two children to deal with…” and I just stared at him fighting tears, apologized, and walked out… The very same company I later reported to the CIO who told me after I was in a car accident while I was seven months pregnant that I did not “need to go to the hospital because I felt fine and that I could go to the hospital after work if I was feeling poorly later”… and he reminded me “Pain is an indication that something is wrong and if I am not in pain I am perfectly capable of coming back to work.”. I apologized, told him ‘he was right and I was sure I was fine’ and drove my car back to work shaken up and extremely nervous. I later went to the labor and delivery ward after the wonderful ladies on the nurse’s line urged me to come in for at least one hour of monitoring of my son.

I went in and the OBGYN on call admonished me for not coming in sooner and listed off all of the things that could have happened from a very minor abrupt impact in a car accident.

Coincidentally this very pregnancy ended in the very traumatic birth of my son where my placenta abrupted and my uterus ruptured exactly six weeks later and I was only afforded five weeks of maternity leave.

Why did I apologize *both times* and not prioritize myself and my children first at all or not without immense guilt? Perhaps this is something women are trained/indoctrinated into doing. I won’t apologize for that anymore.

I don’t brag about anything material or otherwise… I don’t feel comfortable with that level of “over-confidence”. That said, I will tell you that I have a pretty solid work ethic. I never leave my team hanging. I work late or on the weekends if needed even if that means I am working from home in between dinner and kid’s stuff, etc. If there is something that can make a meaningful impact to my team that I can provide for them by giving a few extra hours so that the collective of the team is excited/positive/proud of meeting a goal – you bet I am going to work hard to ensure I do my part. I am one of the first to offer to cover another person’s work when they need time off or have planned vacation or have sick kids – you name it. Those things I will say loud and proud are an integral part of my work identity. I am proud to be considered a reliable and strong team member – its a part of my identity outside of the workplace as well. Thus, when I need to be a mother or a wife – I need to be a mother and/or a wife… or if I need care for myself… I need to be able to put those things first – but worry not – I will balance it out in spades.

Anyway, I have worked for this company for the last three years and made more friends, learned so much, and grew into my own skin and skills. I found my voice and felt empowered to point out when something needed to be done. Sadly, the analytics and minutiae that I enjoy doing related to financials and auditing are non-options for me as the departments are presently designed within this company.

I was crushed, sad, emotional, all the descriptive words pertaining to a lot of physiological responses when I had to tell them I had accepted a position as a financial analyst for a Fortune 500 and would be departing in thirty days.

It was hard. I shed a few tears and had a lot of anxiety but I knew that this was the right move towards deeper analytics and maneuvering closer to financial analytics with the potential for auditing again in the future within a structure that makes sense – perhaps? I don’t yet know – but I know there are a hundred different possibilities and the potential for all of them has me excited. My husband and I talked in length over the two solid months of interviewing and waiting about what was best for us and what was best for my career and our “pro” list far outweighed our “con” list even though since I don’t apply for positions flippantly – we went into it already feeling as though this was a great fit for my education and skills. We had to have some sort of final… “Yes. This is it. This is what we are doing.” conversation because we are those weird married people who try REALLY hard to make 100% of decisions together as we complement one another with what we see proactively when decision-making.

Tomorrow is the first day. I know its just a day full of orientation, picture taking, answering questions, providing documentation, etc… but its the FIRST DAY and first impressions are *everything*. I am going into a business professional environment for the first time and questioning everything about all of my business professional dress wear. Tonight is the night for anxiety and sleeplessness and tomorrow is for showing up sweating in a suit jacket while its 1000 degrees in St. Louis while trying to make a positive impression on my first day. All the thoughts flying through my mind right now, “Am I smart enough for this job?”, “Did I oversell myself?”, “What if I am not as smart as everyone else on the team?”, “How will I fit into their small-team dynamics?”… etc. Lots of overwhelming thoughts that are mostly based in irrational thought processes of wanting to be liked and accepted. I am smart and confident and a quick learner – but regardless as to knowing that on the inside it becomes clouded with self-doubt the eve before day one. Always. Every time.

All I know is that I hope I make my family proud and that since this is the first step into a non-entry level job with a great company (ranked 7 in the U.S. for best places to work) that is truly a move that opens a lot of doors with a company I want to retire happily with… Cheers.

The Silent Emotional Abuser of Women

…its us. Its ourselves. I’ll start there.

I have grappled with a borderline eating disorder most of my life. There I said it. I was chubbier kid and even at a “thin” 130lbs in my early high school years I was heavier than most of the girls my age who weighed in closer to 105-110. I ate for comfort in many situations, ate when I was under a lot of stress, ate poorly because I was never taught as a child how to eat healthy and care for this body that I am in.

I am now 33 and have gained and lost 100 pounds before and all of which was mostly in my twenties. I am a size 4 on most days and a size 6 if I eat too much salt and don’t drink enough water. I have maintained the same weight within 5-15lbs for nearly five years. I dipped below that range when my ex-boyfriend and I split and I was so sick , exhausted, and feeling so low and poorly about myself (his modus operandi of control; make her feel like she could never do better than “pretty” him that she sunk so deeply into self-hatred that it permeated into everything she did. Yep. I sure knew how to pick them before my husband) that I was really incapable …. or not interested in… of eating. I have had plastic surgery not lipo but post-weight loss augmentation which I do not associate with my self esteem issues but more so to feel… proportionate?

This is my teenage daughter and I on the beach this week. I have obsessively reviewed and reviewed and reviewed these photos scrutinizing my body… probably five or six dozen times. I have zoomed in and out of the photo going… “How do you still look like this? You work out 4-5 times a week. You run regularly. You lift weights. You eat extremely healthy and monitor and track every morsel that goes into your mouth. Your blood work is *perfect*. Your blood pressure is *perfect*. Everything. How are you not “better” than this?” I have thyroid disease and even with the extreme regulation my thyroid hormones are under it is 5 times easier to gain weight and 10 times as hard as the average person to lose weight. I spin this web of self-breakdown… every. single. day. Any “nutrition expert” or “keyboard warrior” who tells you that simply eating less and moving more and the simple matter of “calories” will fix your problems – they are sorely incorrect if they haven’t looked at your genetics and your blood work.

This is the monologue that runs through my mind most days of my life and the primary reason that I am often behind the camera and rarely in front of it. I wonder what my children will have to look at once I am gone. Heavily filtered Snapchat photos? Is that it? People say to me “Well, you’re so tiny. How can you even say that?” … “What are you a size small?” or “Really? How can you even share that with people who are bigger than you?” (I know they do not mean it in any hurtful or offensive way) and I sink lower and lower and lower. I think “They are right. I shouldn’t feel poorly about myself because someone is always bigger and more unhealthy than me, right?”. Wrong. I literally almost *never* notice the bodies of other women. I only obsess about my own. Never. I never look at women’s bodies and think “She is fat.” or “She is too thin”. I virtually never recognize or acknowledge other women’s bodies and perhaps it is because I am too busy “worrying” over my own. Conversely, I do worry – “What is she thinking about my body?” How internally awful is that?!

Before going on this trip I had an appointment with my nutritionist to try to work through some of the psychology of the anxiety I have about going on vacation where the eating is really unstructured and I cannot track most of what I eat on my app. I have no access to a gym and I knew I would spend a lot of time circling the drain around guilt and shame over wanting to eat something I wouldn’t generally be able to get at home and not being able to weigh myself to gauge the impact. AND THEN having to be in a swim suit on the beach where all of these eyes may be looking at or noticing my body; male or female. Its exhausting. It is painful. It is never ending.

I recently read an article about how millennial women have a lot of really important stuff to worry about and virtually none of it has to do with how our bodies look in bikinis. And they were so very very right. So how do we stop it? How do we stop this? I see a lot of women leading with “This body is strong and amazing because it carried X number of babies.” Ok, great, me too. My body “gave life” to three kids – cool. But anyone can have babies and then post a photo of themselves as follows…

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…And it only serves to make other women feel less-than. What *good* does this do but make working moms with two or three or more children feel awful about themselves? My “excuse”? I have thyroid disease and I am not sure I can work out anymore than I presently do – which is already a lot. And if I didn’t? So what? Yeah, I can definitely see how this mom became the most hated woman on the internet and then she divorced and she gained a whopping ten pounds and admitted she suffered from depression. Ok, cool, lay yourself bare and admit you are just like the rest of us. Whether that changed her position on how she viciously attacked an entire demographic of women… I do not truly know. But really – is she any different than the society that brought her up to be this way? The culture that tells moms and wives that we must DO. IT. ALL. ALL. THE. TIME… ? We must be thin, we must be social, we must be the room-mom and PTO president. We must “date” our husbands to keep the romance alive. We *must* pursue careers. We must be the managers of our households. We must be highly educated. We must be loving/empathetic/firm/strong/authoritarian/etc when raising children. We must be attractive and fit in the face of the wives of the friends of your spouse because if we don’t that reflects poorly on your spouse’s choice. We must be thin and attractive in the face of women who bullied you when you were younger and “chubbier” than them. Additionally, this is the very same culture that squarely pits women against one another in the worst of ways. We aren’t here to support one another – we are here to eliminate one another in a survival of the fittest fashion.

It. Is. Exhausting. It. Never. Ends.

In that moment, this photo, I was overwhelmed with anxiety – a pain that rocked me to the core wondering if I looked “OK” or if I looked “fat”. I felt this overwhelming need to cover myself and a crippling feeling of “Please don’t let him post this to social media without me vetting it.” I obsessed over the photo. Wrote this post and then allowed myself to be seen in my real, authentic, body and to try exceptionally hard to stop causing myself so much grief and learn, in pieces and bits, to accept this body because I work hard at it. How many of you need to cut yourself some slack, too? How many of you also have too much to “worry” about that this shouldn’t be at the top of your priority list?

She rings like a bell through the night…

My oldest child is 15 today. Closing out her freshman year in high school. I still remember the day she was born, pretty vividly, even though it was my most calm, least anxious, birth regardless as to the fact that she was my first and I was just a wee 18. She was the kid that I did not know a thing at all about what I was doing. I was terrified and my relationship with her father was already starting to show signs of major strain (read: we were way too young to be playing house) and I just wanted to be normal and live a normal life- thus there was this immense pressure for this little nuclear family to figure it out – meanwhile we could barely keep the power on or gas in the car at that time. That said, despite all of that turmoil – she came out of it unscathed it seemed; a trait I myself wish I possessed more of.

…She was the most calm baby, she didn’t cry much, she did all the things – ate well, came out with an APGAR score of 10, and despite a teeny bit jaundice she was ultimately very healthy. She rarely threw fits, and just handled things differently than my two boys later did/do. She was ready to do ALL THE THINGS from the get-go. This child walked at 9 months and was full-on running by 10.5 months. She was eating solid foods early, she was just ready to take on the world and she wanted to be wildly independent with grace. The only thing this child did not do ‘first’ or ‘fast’ was teeth… she didn’t cut a single tooth until she was 10 months old. Oh well, cannot “win” them all.

Now I look back and wonder if I did everything right? What could I have done better for my only daughter? I feel like I have an enormous burden to bear in order to raise a strong, independent, young woman who goes out into the world and makes things happen for herself while also ensuring that things happen her for her female counterparts, too. Have I shown her what it means to be a feminist? Independent? How important it is to vote? Diversity is important; have I done enough to show her that? Humility? Have I taught her how to be compassionate, caring, kind to others? Generosity? Have I taught her that she has choices in life and she can go whatever road she chooses and that the possibilities are endless? Have I shown her that she has the option to have children or not? Have I shown her that if she chooses to have children – how to be a good mother? Do I show her relationships that are full of love, kindness, respect and compassion so that she too goes out into the world and finds the same? Have I taught her to be resilient?…knowledge-hungry? The value of a good education? To do something she loves for work? That no woman can be over-educated? Have I shown her that her body is her own and that nobody else gets to make decisions on what she does with it or how she dresses it? Have I taught her to create a ‘tribe’ of women whom she trusts and won’t break her down? Have I taught her the value of family and how important it is to one’s mental health to have a close relationship with family? Have I taught her a solid work ethic? Did I teach her how to eat right? Take care of herself? Respect herself?

I hope I am making the right decisions for her and pushing her in the right direction, but man those questions are overwhelming for a mom, specifically for me they are overwhelming. There is so much pressure as a mom to get it “right”. So far. I think we are doing OK.

Happy Birthday, Rhi. ❤

…Yes, her shirt says “Believe Women, We Will Actually Make America Great”. I got this as a gift but it was one size too small and I was going to return it – she asked if she could have it instead… That answers at least one or two of the questions above, I guess.

Neglect

I have been hard-wired to believe that everything and every one else comes first and that one of the greatest parts of my personal qualities is that I am a survivor, a work horse, an I Can’t Do Everything All At Once But I Am Going To Die Trying type… very type A.

I have recently partaken in a large amount of introspective research. Listening to audio books on productivity and self-care and took the quizzes on my enneagram (type 8 wing 7) and how that plays into my life choices and identifying stress triggers, etc. I have also read a lot about my Myers Briggs, as well.

The thing that I have been neglecting is self-care. I was recently moved to a customer at work that comes with its own new sets of stresses and challenges and the transition has been really rough. I definitely went from thinking that I as the bomb.com (kidding, not really – but it felt like that) to getting knocked expeditiously down to size. The overwhelm hit me hard, hit my immune system hard, dramatically drained my energy levels cutting into my exercise habits and left me struggling to get out of bed in the morning. I tried to do some small things to triage, getting a “happy light” to help simulate some sunlight that we are desperately missing in the Midwest for longer than I remember last Winter providing… I started taking vitamins (again, ugh – so gross) and trying to bullet journal for the sake of productivity — *while* still trying to juggle a complex new customer, kids and kid schedules while my son is in an intensive outpatient treatment program, doctor’s appointments, social life, home life, oh and grad school.

Yes, I have been trying to do all of this with grad school. On top of finding out that my specialization was a year behind the new curriculum for the specialization. (Old curriculum is for database managers and programmers… New curriculum is for data analysts and business analysts on less of a micro level). I had to drop the course and instead of immediately registering for another course and figuring out the issue with the curriculum later. I left it dropped. I took this two month term off and filed my request for formal permission/approval to move into the new curriculum spec. It was just too much.

It was just too much…

I found myself starting to slip all over the place, forgetting important things, not sleeping very well, not taking care of myself, having wine more often than my normal… in November I ended up in the ER because of bleeding ulcers that buckled me to the floor in pain and took my breath away. I thought something very serious was wrong, enough so that my husband called 911. I was very scared. I have teetered on the edge of falling back into a dangerously sensitive sleep disorder cycle.

I dropped my courses for the term. I stopped obsessively budgeting – this is one of the things I do in order to soothe anxiety, satiates my need to continuously plan. I started letting myself sleep in because my body said I needed it. I stopped taking medication to help prevent a slip back into a sleep disorder (THIS IS NOT FOR EVERYONE but I wanted to give it another try… do NOT stop medication for a true sleep disorder if you are currently under the care of a doctor for this…) and tried easing into sleep with hot chamomile tea and melatonin. I started reconnecting to some small hobbies; like my collection of Starbucks You Are Here mugs that is seemingly getting out of control quickly… but it gave me something to focus on outside of my mounting stress at work and with aspects of my home life. Photo below is um… officially outdated.

I went to get a massage since we had a gift card to use. Why not? Not something I normally do, but the gift card had sat for a long time and I decided it was time to use it.

I have lent myself to some mindless video games which was something I had recently started to tell myself I did not have time to do and was a waste of my time.

I completed a couple small projects that were taunting me unfinished every single day that I walked past it was some small reminder of a manner in which I ‘failed’.

I stopped beating myself up for being incapable of keeping up with my bullet journal and feeling as though it was a chore.

I joined Freshly and started having pre-made, healthy, meals delivered to me so I virtually did not have to think and could pop it in the microwave and know that what I was eating was healthy, preservative-free, lower sodium, and balanced.

We started ordering a local dinner prep carry out service for pre-made dinners we just needed to put in the oven.

I recommitted to social things I had gotten remarkably good at bailing on or avoiding. Not because I am antisocial, quite the opposite, but because my energy to give to others has simply been non-existent.

The last two or three weekends we had our groceries delivered because time was at a premium and it made me life easier in that moment.

I stopped reading the comments sections (I know, this should be rule number one).

We will see how it goes, but it is really long past time that I dedicate time for myself and invest my money where it is going to improve my life, honestly – our life, not just me all of us.

How do you prioritize self-care? What are your go-to’s?

Hitting the Reset Button

…on how I feel about food.

At my very heaviest in my early twenties, late teens, I was well over 200 pounds and I am 5’4. My triglycerides were off the charts, my cholesterol was high, my HDL was very low and LDL was way too high. It was a wake up call when my then primary care physician had the heart to say you have to stop what you’re doing or you’re going to be morbidly obese or dead in your fifties.

Something had to give.

I stopped eating fried foods and drinking soda and I thought that was sufficient – while helpful it was not enough. When my then husband and I started trying to get pregnant with our son we went through extensive fertility testing and a couple rounds of fertility drugs to try to help things along. It was just not happening. My then OBGYN very gently told me there is definitely evidence to support losing body fat, most especially in the abdominal area, a more healthy maintained estrogen level for maturing eggs.

I wanted another baby badly enough and knowing I was the “problem” by scientific testing that I dropped 40 pounds in four months. Boom. Pregnant. After 1 year 11 months of trying.

Fast forward to today, I had lost 100lbs and over the last 3-4 years, I gained about 15-20 of it back. As I have gotten older fighting my thyroid disease has been a losing battle… a painful… tiring….emotional…. losing battle and those 15-20 are about 75% thyroid and age… because in reality I eat genuinely really healthy. I have yoyo’d back and forth… I have tried all sorts of things to try to jump start my metabolism. I overdid it on the workouts and ended up needing another injection in my L5 where my degenerative disc disease is worst.

And then… there is the elephant in the room that I never wanted to talk about. I love food – I love food a lot. I am part of the Yelp community – for nearly 10 years now – and we spend a good portion of our discretionary income to eat out and review the hottest restaurants and try fun new things… it is our hobby.

BUT…

I have an extremely unhealthy relationship with food. Extremely. I weigh myself incessantly. The scale changes my entire mood for the day… changes my entire outlook on life. It literally has controlled everything for a very long time. I do not have a healthy relationship with food. I beat myself up every time I eat food out that is on bread or any type of carb. I restrict to the point where I am so irritable and shaky by the time I come home and not because I am desperate to “be thin” (though as someone who used to be 100lbs overweight it becomes an overwhelming *need* that never goes away) but because I am so frustrated and angry from fighting my thyroid even though it is beautifully controlled on medication. Sheer. Blind. Frustration.

I felt like I “had it under control”… No, Alyssa, you didn’t have it under control – you know a lot but you do not know enough to change your own poor behaviors with food.

Friday I started seeing a registered dietician and I have to change how I feel about food. I have to change my extreme anxiety over carbs – even the most basic carbs. I have to be more structured 95% of the time so that when I do go out I don’t call it a “cheat meal” or me “being bad” – its just me eating what I choose to eat that night. This is going to take a very long time to adjust this mindset. I will still make healthier decisions even on nights when I decide to take a night off tracking macros and calories. I will just not emotionally EVISCERATE myself the next morning after torturing myself by getting on the scale.

…in the coming months I will be tracking everything that I eat/drink and categorizing it. Protein/Fat/Carbohydrate and aiming for certain macros but ensuring those items in the category come from a pre-defined list of whole foods. This is to shift my psychology forcing me to think of food as fuel again and not as the ‘enemy’. I will also have specific exercise goals that I aim to meet each week that are based on my energy level as it improves with fueling my body properly and reintroducing more weights and strength training to help shift my metabolism. It sounds like the most basic, healthy, human, thing… but for someone like me… its not. I will not be skipping meals. I will not be eating hard boiled eggs for lunch and nothing else during the day. Hopefully, I won’t be skipping workouts anymore because I am quite simply completely sapped of all energy. And I will not get on the scale every day… I will start with every few days and try to move out to 4 days to a week at a time… to eventually only getting on the scale 1-2 times between visits to the dietician or not at all in between.

This will be a slow process but I am determined to make it work. I have staying power and motivation if I can see some tiny light at the end of a long tunnel. I feel really optimistic and I like that my dietician is helping cater to my needs, my abilities, and is adjusting around my thyroid disease based on how unique my needs truly are because of it.


Where we come from…

…is a profound piece of our identity, whether its culture, DNA, ancestors, the town we grew up in – all of it plays a huge part in how we shape who we are.

I grew up in the multi-generational household of my mother in that I grew up in the household of my mother and her parents as she was too young to even sign a lease to live on her own when I was born when she was 16.

My mom was adopted into the marriage between a German Lutheran and Roman Catholic Italian (Yeah, for real.). My grandfather, the German Lutheran, has an interesting history given that nobody truly knew where his mother came from. She was “adopted” in the early 1900’s with no formal documents and there was some confusion as to what her actual birthday was. He told me several stories, some that indicated his mother may have been the child of an extramarital affair within the family with an underage girl and the child (his mother) was given to an uncle in the family. Allegedly, according to family lore via my grandfather – his mother, on her uncle’s deathbed (the aforementioned uncle entrusted with her care), asked him to tell her – no begged him – to tell her where she came from. Apparently, he cried and promised he would never tell and then promptly died a few days later. Is it true? Who knows? But we do know that she was definitely not the child of anyone in that family and possesses no formal adoption documentation which *did* exist as an institution since 1851 in the U.S. My grandfather always identified as “German” but upon completing a DNA Ancestry kit – he was such a negligible amount German…and even was marginally Asian. He got a good laugh out of it but to me, I think it was something else for me.

I have put off doing the DNA test for a good long while because in my head, even though my mom was adopted, and I know her family is Italian (my grandmother’s side) I had always identified as being part of a big Italian family. I didn’t want to take the DNA test and be proven otherwise.

That said, my dad received his DNA results and shared them with me thus ultimately showing me 1/2 of my DNA. He then purchased one for me since I had been reluctant to pull the trigger. I took the DNA test (spit spit spit spit in the tube, shake, seal – send off.). I anxiously awaited my results and got excited every time they texted me to tell me that my DNA had moved to a new phase in the process.

In the interim my mind would frequently go to that little DNA sample… Two people close to me found out that who they thought was their father was not their father by doing the DNA test on Ancestry. I never once doubted my father as my father, I don’t think he ever doubted me as his child since we share a fair number of features. But, given that my mother is adopted, and we *do* know all of her biological family, I wondered if my DNA was more valuable to my mother. I wondered, anxiously, if there would be any surprises, but couldn’t really work out what those could possibly be – given how much we already know and the fact that we trust and know her bio family very well – they are an active part of our lives. My mom’s bio father and bio mother are definitely her parents because her half brother and my bio grandmother popped up as two of my closest three matches.

I know my grandfather traced our family back to Wales I believe, their last name is Welsh – so we knew that. We knew his mother was 100% Irish, which my dad corrected as she was the child of two Irish immigrants right off the boat to the U.S. So, there were several fragmented pieces of my history that were verifiable, but once you know it – by DNA – you know it.

So, no, not even a marginal amount of Italian in my blood and even the women in my mother’s biological mother’s family who have some of the most Italian last names I have ever heard — have 0-4% Italian DNA present in their samples.

Yes, it did change some of my internal identity. I cannot even pretend that my weird ability to tan with very little burn repercussion (unless we are below the equator, and even then it takes a LOT of sun) and just a progressively darkening complexion is due to my Mediterranean heritage. I mean… that “skill” doesn’t lend to the Irish nor the Welsh… I have Irish coming from my mom’s biological father’s side, and my Dad’s side on, both, his mother and his father’s side (lots of ‘Mc’s on my grandma’s family tree).

I do feel “weird”, I do feel “different”. I do feel as I imagined I would. I feel like my identity has been degraded a bit, so to speak. I am not Italian. But how much of our identities are DNA and how much are culture? I think the argument is perhaps nature and nurture, respectively. Maybe its more so about how we see ourselves, how we identify, than it is anything else. Maybe the true opportunity here is to identify pieces of my heritage that would be interesting or intriguing to share down generations with my children? I mean, if we are being real… raised in an Italian family — but Mexican food is my favorite **hands down** and I don’t know that I even know any food that is “Irish”… except Irish Whiskey…that’s my favorite, so maybe there is a connection. 😉

Maybe its not about what is in our DNA at all… I am still trying to work it out.

Readers, did you have a DNA test – if so, what service did you use and what did you find out? Were you surprised? Had your existing family tree validated by DNA? Any surprises? Would love to hear your stories!



Audiobooks

I may have mentioned before that I am indeed an adult, and lifelong, ADD “sufferer”. I put it in quotations because at 32 I have learned to live with it and work “around” it mostly. Or…maybe I have succumbed to it completely and I am only fooling myself.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been listening to a person speak to me about something, even things seemingly important, and my brain *literally* clicks over to something else and you might think its because I am not interested in what they are saying but you would be quite incorrect. I think the thing that happens the most is when they are speaking and something they say, a word or phrase, sparks a memory from something related to that word or phrase and then I am looking at the person face-to-face but I am not retaining anything they are saying. This exact scenario played out thousands of times in my schooling and I can tell you that ADD is very very real. These “click offs” or what I liked to call spiderweb thinking happen without my consent and even during the most interesting of studies. I obtained a degree in an interesting field that I loved pretty much every second of… but even during the coolest lectures on criminal investigations and prison reform… my brain would just… click over. Suddenly, I would come to and realize that I was not hearing, or retaining, anything that had transpired in the previous several minutes. I would often lose my sense of time in these moments as well. Ask my family how often I say “Repeat that question again?”… its a tell of mine that indicates that I had clicked off and had not heard/retained what they were saying/asking. My kids have already figured this out and take full advantage of it; they wait until my husband leaves the room and I am doing something to ask me for things.

As you can imagine there are a lot of things that have been extremely difficult for me to do. I could never be surgeon. Could you imagine suddenly clicking off when you’re trying to repair someones inner workings? But less serious things – I have a hard time reading. Yes, you read that right. I can read, of course… but I often come out of paragraphs feeling like I am missing information and I don’t know what just happened. I read it, but I did not retain it – there was no imprint so I couldn’t high-level summarize to you what I just read. Given this information, you can imagine how painfully difficult it is for me to read for my masters degree, throw in the most dry of technical material and you have a recipe for Alyssa to take hours upon end reading and rereading and rereading… Yes, my ADD makes me a painfully slow reader. My brain does not possess the ability to read any faster than I do since I *click off* or click over to something else while reading. Imagine; there are likely thousands upon thousands of words or phrases that you connect with memories in your brain- now imagine reading many thousands of those words on paper telling a different story and those words triggering every single memory they were every connected to…while trying to read the story those words make up. I was not kidding – its painful and its likely one of the most difficult things that I do on any given day.

That said, I used to LOVE reading. I was slow but I loved reading fictional dramas and thrillers and social issue texts and memoirs and trashy fiction; I loved it, until it became too laborious and I had stopped reading for several years and sometimes could eke out a single book or two in a year if I had any travel plans where all I had to do was read, but other than that I watched all of my favorite authors come out with new books and I did not touch a single one.

Several years ago I tried audiobooks but then would find that I space out during the process and not retain that information, or I would hear things beyond my headphones (since at the time they were not noise canceling) and I would disconnect. My friends were talking about all of the many books they were reading in a year and I longed to read some of the things they were talking about, so I decided to give audiobooks a try again and get a good pair of noise-canceling headphones. It took a while but during my work day I listen to books on Overdrive from my library, and recently started a free trial on Audible to see if that would help me gain cheaper access to some of the books that were inaccessible on the Overdrive app. I have blown through over 33 books since July.  I had to get creative about what things I can and cannot do while listening to books. I cannot write e-mails, I cannot do certain functions of my job since it takes additional thought and calculation and I cannot do both. I can listen to them in the car while driving, but I cannot listen if I do not know where I am going – my brain is working too hard to work out the lack of knowledge of my whereabouts and I cannot, also, listen to the story.

This allowed me to blow through some books on my long list of want-to-reads… but then when I was waiting for items I had holds on I decided to give other books that I would normally never spend the money or the time on a paper book or a trip to a library to obtain it and ended up finding them to be some of my favorites on the planet – books that made me cry, made me think, made me laugh out loud. I feel like something I used to love and miss has been restored.

My favorites this year (so far)…

  1. A Man Called Ove – Frederik Backman 

A Man Called Ove was not on my list, nor even on my radar… I kept seeing it go by in the GoodReads feed of people I knew reading it and rating it 5 stars or adding it to their ‘read’ list or ‘want to read’ list – noticed that it received a high rating so I thought “Why not?” and put it on my holds list thinking it would be a while before it was my turn in queue. I listened to this book while traveling for work and as I pulled into my hotel and the book was over… I was nearly sobbing. The narrator of the audio book was just perfect and I can still hear his voice in my mind. You will get into this and go “Why the hell do I want to listen to this whole story about a grouchy old man for several hours? What’s the point!?”… Stick with it. Its so deep and so touching and the characters are so rich and well-presented. Their personalities come through beautifully. I was deeply sad when this book was over and felt like I was going to miss Ove and had wished there had been more. 

2. The Nix – Nathan Hill

Admittedly, I had started reading this book well over a year ago in paperback format… the ADD caught me and it became painfully difficult to get through some of the historical aspects of this text and the extensive conversation and bouncing back and forth. I got exhausted and it went back on the shelf. However, when I signed up for Audible I had a free credit that I needed to use and I really wanted to finish this book that my husband read about in Entertainment Weekly a couple years ago and thought I would really like this book and told me to put it on my book list. Well, he was right (Don’t comment here with any kind of congratulatory I Told You So, Husband…). This book is about an adult son is sorting through his estranged mother’s past as an activist to try to unravel why she left. Ultimately, this journey takes him to multiple places and as Hill introduces you to the other characters he richly interweaves them into the story in a way that makes you feel like you’re right there and you know these people. There were parts of the story where I wanted to lift up my fast (at work) and go “Yeah, RESIST!!!” or some other “liberal war cry”. Once I picked up where I left off on the audio version of this book, I binged it in ~6 hours (the whole second half of the book). I loved it. I loved the story and even though apprehensive about the “historical” fiction (which I normally hate) – I felt like this was beautifully written and it strongly deserves it 4+ rating on GoodReads. 

3. Year of Yes – Shonda Rhimes

I know that I had recently written about this already – but I had very little knowledge of who Shonda Rhimes was outside of “Creator of Grey’s Anatomy”…that’s it. This again was one of those situations where I saw this book ‘trending’ and I decided to give it a try while waiting for other items on my Hold List. I *LOVED* this book… I love when author’s read their own books and I love when they acknowledge their privilege and then go on to point out how they still have something valuable to share. In my case, I say ‘No’ a lot… out of fatigue, through periods of stress, out of fear of being embarrassed or failing. Yes, I say NO to a lot of risks no matter what the over-under on success is because I am too afraid of failing. Failure, and abandonment/rejection, are my kryptonite. I don’t want to give anyone an opportunity to judge me. This book slapped me in the face and pointed out all of the good things that I cannot have – ever – if I am not willing to say ‘Yes’ and take the risk. I’ll get there.

4. Bad Feminist – Roxanne Gay

Women who Don’t Understand Feminism: “I would not call myself a feminist, but…” — I have heard it a thousand times before and thought “those are really bad feminists who think feminism is a dirty F word and are hurting female rights everywhere”… 

…But this book made me check myself in a way that I had not previously. Gay points out some things in this book that I used to support that I can no longer support. In example, women who support and go to Chris Brown concerts after he beat the hell out of his then girlfriend Rihanna. Sorry, you hurt women everywhere if you carelessly click ‘purchase’ on his concert tickets. To me, and to Gay, this promotes an approved brutality towards women. Gay gives me permission to change my last name when I got married and not even remotely feel guilty about doing something so antiquated that is akin to becoming a man’s property in the previous centuries. I have been married twice and changed my name both times… why the hell not? Marriage #1 I didn’t know that I really had a choice. Marriage #2 I knew I had a choice, my husband did not care if I kept my former husband’s last name (or any name that I wanted to change it to) and I still chose to take his name – you know why? Because it was fun to give myself a fun new name! I am not old-fashioned, it was just literally something fun to do… reinvent yourself, your identity.  Gay in “Bad Feminist” literally blows it out of the water and points out all of the things that women do that make them feel like “bad feminists” (liking pink, wanting to have kids, willingly changing our names, listening to gangster rap with sexually explicit lyrics that demeans women) and says “YOU ARE STILL A FEMINIST, check your privilege but YOU ARE STILL A FEMINIST!”. I loved this in all of its raw explicit nature and I plan to read whatever Roxanne Gay I can get my hands on.

5. The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin

This book received various mixed reviews on GoodReads. The author was one I had never previously heard of but it rolled through my “because you read” in my suggestion box… I clicked it and read the description and added it to my “want to read” list. I put myself on the wait list thinking it would be weeks for this audio to come available from the local library, but to my surprise it was available the very next day. I finished up my previous book and dove right into this one and I devoured the 11 hours of audio in less than two days (7 straight hours the first day and then 1 hour the next morning. *I listen to audio on 1.75x speed so it goes much faster). The story follows four siblings through their lives after a woman “soothsayer” predicts the dates of their deaths and as their lives unfold towards those dates the story beginning in 60’s and 70’s you learn all about the Gold family and the children whom are the focus of the story and the lives they lead towards their deaths. The characters were so fleshed out that I left the story feeling like I knew them intimately (no joke, there are a LOT of intimate sex and sex-related scenes that play out in this story). There is so much tragedy (tragedy after tragedy after tragedy) but its all real and raw and it speaks to those of us who have always wanted a “normal” family and forces a realization on us that no family is normal – and if they are, they are hiding something… I was sad when this story ended and only remotely wished they had fleshed out the soothsayer character a little bit more and spun her connection to the children into more of a mystery so to speak. I will look for more from this author but even though I normally don’t dig historical fiction, this was nicely done. 

…So, that said – we are a month away from the end of the year and in the last four months I have read almost 40 books. What should next year’s goal be? 50? 60?!

Confession

I am 32 and I don't know "what I want to be when I grow up". 

When I was a little kid I wanted to be a “singer” for the longest time. I wanted to perform like my favorite artists of my early adolescence… though I suffered from a considerable amount of anxiety and “stage fright” I still pushed it aside to play lead roles in a small number of school plays through 6th grade. (A la “Snow Queen” circa 1997…)

When I got to middle school, however, I moved to another school in a different demographic, in a different state, than the poor lower class white neighborhood I had immersed myself in to that point; nobody else was really “better” than me – we were all equal parts, what some would call, “white trash” and pretty similar as it pertained to finances. I was bullied in middle school on the bus. Every. Single. Day. I could not afford multiple pairs of pants and several outfits, but here I was – meshed with children who were of means well beyond anything I had ever had, or experienced, in my insulated poor town previously. The girls, often, wanted to know about my grooming habits – my hair brushing, the way I wore my finger nails, and why I wore the same pair of black cargo pants multiple times a week. The girls fought for the coveted “back of the bus” seats and I was relegated to wherever I could sit away from them to avoid the snickering and ridicule that was, honestly, quite cruel literally just to be cruel; I was new to the school, new to town, new to the district – they had nothing from me to warrant the cruelty they inflicted on the daily. This started the trajectory of my internalizing the very real thing that people could be cruel, and they could judge and ridicule you in a way that you could not ignore; that killed performing for me. After several years of vocal coaching and recitals – it was over. I could never stand up in front of a crowd of people and do the singing and performing that I previously so loved… because for the first time in my life I only saw the girls in the back of the bus in the crowd and realized that a crowd could be full of people like them. Why put myself in that situation – ON PURPOSE? So. I ended my vocal coaching, never tried out for another play. I, however, stayed in choir to try to enjoy the thing that I loved so much while blending into the background. Soprano I – plenty of us to drown me out, I guess. During my senior year in high school the Choir teacher had all of the girls line up and go into the office in the hallway outside of the choir room and record ourselves singing into a taped deck and then write their name on it to be graded. Our choir teacher was in I swallowed hard and got in the back of the line and watched the line ahead… within seconds of the first girls going into the office to record there were girls hovering outside to listen to the girl inside doing what she was told and the laughter and giggling and likening the girl’s voices to undesirable sounds from animals, men’s voices, everyday life became the mob-mentality entertainment. 

I got out of line and went to the office and just sat there. I was a student aide during another period of the day so I sat in the office adjacent to the receptionist whom I made friendly conversation with during the earlier morning hours of the day for a half credit. She could tell that I was rattled and did not push the issue. I told the principal that I did not intend to return to the classroom and did not intend to complete the assignment – and so I didn’t. I refused to subject myself to that kind of ridicule. The choir teacher was (no lie) furious and seeing me in the hallway and not in his class he pointed to me and told me that I needed to get back to class (as I crossed the commons to go sit in the lounge area as the office started to fill up and the space was needed). I told him quite frankly – “No, I am not going to put myself in that position where girls are outside of the door listening and poking fun.” He repeated himself – telling me to get back to class. I, again, told him ‘No’. He tossed his hands up and left. While it may not have been the most respectful way to handle something – I was not going to let someone put me back into the position of terrifying white-hot embarrassment that rocked me to the core post-discovery of this level of judgment I was previously unawares to…(Yes, I literally went  the first 12-13 years of my life not realizing that there was crippling judgment that could change who you are at your very being). Sorry, the girls on the back of the bus ruined that for me – call me lacking in resilience, but the deed was done. A childhood dream of performing put to rest with one swift movement. I am 32 and even though I feel like I have a nice voice and good vocal coaching and it wouldn’t be awful – the possibility that it could still attract ridicule means that I won’t even karaoke with my friends. Sad. 

Fast forward to my adult life, I intended to complete my undergraduate degree, take the LSAT and go on to law school but then I met my husband and the $180k in student loans for a JD were just too overwhelming, too daunting and not something I felt comfortable bringing into a marriage. The decision to not go to law school left me reeling – left me feeling lost and lacking in a purpose, a direction. I loved the idea of litigating and changing lives because I felt that I would be *really* good at it having three years of social work education prior-to that I felt  that I could bundle into this… but the $$$ made that decision for me… What I wanted more was a happier home life. A relationship that made me feel happy and secure and lessened my anxiety and increased my feeling of self-worth – that was worth far more to me than the law degree. To this day, I still wish that their had been a way for me to pursue this without the price tag because, honestly, I think I would have been really good at it…

Fast forward to today…

I am doing a job that I am genuinely good at for a company that, I think, genuinely values me and promotes a work-life balance that is 100% necessary for me. In addition, they are paying for the good majority of my masters degree that will wrap up in June of the coming year. It provides all of the benefits for my family – bar none. I feel, often, like the struggle to climb the ladder is still there but persevere on the hope that I will set myself apart. 

People ask me all of the time “What do you do?” and my response is often too long-winded and complex. “Uhhh… some logistics, some technical support, some financial…. supply chain?Eh?” So when I decided to get my masters in management, which is the goal, I was forced to choose a concentration, so I chose where the industry was going; Business Intelligence- and thus I am learning SQL and various other technical languages needed to survive in a growing technical industry. However, I still don’t have a title… a coveted ‘title’ – a name of a ‘thing’ or position that I am pursuing. I am simply getting the letters behind my name and the very expensive piece of paper in hopes that the next steps will come to fruition. Each year during my professional evaluation at work I have downplayed my accomplishments solely because I was a bit disorganized in writing them in a meaningful way until pressed against the wire… Hey, just because you procrastinate on the details does NOT mean that you are not doing meaningful work; some of the most creative minds have been those of great procrastination. That said, I always meet a deadline – no matter what. You know the old proverb – Hell or High Waters. I do my best work under pressure. This year, I decided vehemently to stop doing that. I didn’t do it because I felt it wreaked of hubris and self-importance. 

Alas, here we are… nearly two degrees in – as the first in my maternal family to possess a masters degree, second in my paternal family to possess a masters degree, and one of only two in my larger “childhood” family (7 of us) to possess an undergraduate degree. I don’t have a “title” – like “When I grow up I want to be a doctor!”… It seems a bit muddy and I feel like I made a lot of earlier decisions that resulted in too many lateral moves that I should have instead pushed for larger moves.  Here I am. 32. And I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. 

Are you doing the thing that gives you passion and drive, or what you’ve always wanted to do with your life?