Blank Slate

One week. Seven days. 168 hours, give or take. That’s how long I’ve been in New York City, which feels like a blink and simultaneously like an eternity. Everything about life is so different here and every part of my day feels like a learning curve in some way (insert mental image of me, probably looking mildly stressed, trying to maneuver my way through a tiny grocery store in the midst of 100 other people). From riding the subway to doing my laundry, even the simplest things here have a different energy to them. ‘One day at a time’ has been my mantra on repeat while I figure out this thing out.

But I cannot tell you how grateful I am to be doing this. When you spend a full year as a nomad, it gives you this pronounced appreciation for the smallest occasions of routine and familiarity. I have a home here. A brand new one. It’s the most surreal thing and I keep having to remind myself it’s legit. This is the fresh start I’ve been awaiting for what seems like a lifetime and it’s finally happening. Pinch me.

Transitions are intimidating. They’re huge and unpredictable and confusing, and they make you feel like a stranger in the best (and worst) ways. But for the first time in almost two years, I’m entering into something that has the possibility of permanence, of being more than a passing phase or a way to fill time. If I have discovered anything from traveling constantly, it is this deep need in my soul for community, much more present and important to me than I would like to admit. I, like so many go-getter types I know, carry my stubborn independence with a measure of pride that can keep me from seeking out people who can see behind the mask. And when I’m in motion constantly, it’s even easier to keep this up. But this new chapter is serious business for me, and it comes with the chance to form a community that has a real possibility of sticking around. That may sound like a small thing, but in the scheme of my 23-year-old life, it’s huge.

I can finally lay claim to a location pin, a ‘You Are Here’ spot on a map and an entirely blank slate. And that in itself is the most freeing thing I’ve felt in a long time.

Compass

“There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days at the end of strings that somebody else pulls.” -Howard Thurman

I’ve never been very good with directions. When I first moved to Nashville, I relied for the longest time on Google Maps to get me from point A to point B, even when navigating the simplest route through my own neighborhood. And this past year? I can’t even list the number of times I’ve gotten lost in a rental car in some state I’ve never visited before. Or better yet, in the middle of a run. Call it poor planning or an abundance of distractions, but navigation has never been my strong suit.

The Thurman quote above was the focus of our yoga practice this morning at Shakti, and it continues to resonate as I think about my intention for this huge upcoming change in my life this year. (moving to New York for graduate school next month, in case you missed it!) I’m standing at the edge of this massive shift that feels impossible to predict or quantify, and at times it can feel like I’m about to drive right off the map and into uncharted territory. I have no clue where I’m going and even less of an idea how to get there. It’s refreshing and exhilarating but equally nausea-inducing. It feels like a profound disruption in the reality I’ve created for myself here, and despite all my wishing, there is no real way to prepare other than diving in headfirst.

I wish we were all given compasses to help us navigate life, for the periods when things look too cloudy or convoluted to know how to proceed. Wouldn’t it be ideal to have a tool to fall back on when you’re tired of trying to figure things out on your own? Although true north is a fixed point that stays constant, our relationship to it changes, and sometimes it can feel futile to keep pushing forward when you’re so turned around you’ve lost your footing. Half the time I feel like I’m headed the opposite direction of where I’m trying to go. How am I supposed to reach the end goal when I can barely see around the corner? This has been a season of real loneliness, questioning and a lot of guesswork about what comes next. In truth, most days I feel more lost than ever and just about ready to settle into something that feels easy and consistent.

But what I do know for certain is this: I’m staying engaged. I refuse to sit static as a measure of comfort, and I refuse to let fear stand in the way of forging ahead. I’ve been feeling far too often lately like I’ve lost agency, like the choices I make and the goals I set are born out of something other than my own heart. Is it all part of an effort to regain a sense of purpose? Probably. But what I want to avoid is getting stuck in a pattern that goes against the grain of my own soul. I want to make choices that are fulfilling. And in the midst of so many rumbling foundations, sometimes small steps forward are the best I can manage.

So here’s one truth that feels undoubtedly my own:

I’m moving north.

 

Force Quit

Life has a way of revealing tough realities whether or not we feel ready to face them. In this case, my brain feels something like a car screeching to a halt after driving down the highway at 100 miles per hour. It rounded a corner and suddenly came upon a stop sign, forced to take a break after ages of moving too fast.

Many of you know I had plans to see the world and check off as many bucket list items as I could this summer. Long story short, I’m sitting here in Nashville with a cup of coffee, a lot of ‘what ifs,’ and a newfound sense of freedom that comes from realizing my worth outside my own idealistic notion of achievement.

This is not something I couldn’t have seen coming. In honesty, my mind and body have been begging me to slow down for months now. As exciting and eye-opening as full-time travel can be, it can also be very hard on a person’s spirit without grounding practices to keep it in check. I completely lacked foundation this year, and it was bound to catch up to me at some point as I continued to run full speed ahead without ceasing.

Here we are, and here’s the truth I should have realized long ago: I had to stop. I have spent too much time constructing lofty plans under the guise of ‘living fully,’ of creating the impression that I am courageous and unbeatable and excellent at all things. The need to be constantly ‘doing’ is so deeply rooted in my psyche that I have trouble separating my idealistic persona from my reality. For someone who preaches the value of self-care and personal wellness, I am awful at putting this into practice in my own life. In this case, the only way to see the truth I’d been ignoring was to have it appear like a giant stop sign in front of my path.

Reality check: I am not superwoman and I am not a glossy social media profile. I am a person. A real, imperfect, complicated person. A person not nearly as strong or invincible as she would like to be perceived.

I am fearless, ambitious and bold, but I also have limits. And maybe the bravest thing I can do in this moment is muster the courage to say no. To face my fear of not ‘showing up’ and admit that I need a minute to breathe. For someone who has long taken selfish pride in her tendency to live life at a sprinter’s pace, this is a humbling reminder of my own inadequacy. It feels like a giant white surrender flag saying, “You cannot do it all, and believe it or not, this is okay.” Life was determined to teach a lesson despite my stubborn insistence not to listen.

In a way, this feels like my ‘Force Quit,’ the only action left to take when you’ve opened one too many programs and slowed down the system. Nothing works anymore and you’re stuck hitting Ctrl+Alt+Delete, at the risk of erasing unfinished tasks and losing part of your work. But the result is a brand new, blank screen with endless possibilities. It is ready to take on new projects because it has the space to function well. Regardless of how much clutter existed previously, as of today, the slate is clean.

I know that initiative is valuable, but so is focus. And routine. And stillness. And to be honest, I think my frenetic energy has kept me from concentrating on the things that really matter. So here I am, facing my weakness and taking back agency in my life. Maybe if I stop trying to do everything, I can go out and do a few things really, really well.

You are so much greater than the sum of your accomplishments. Believe this. I don’t know if I’m quite there, but I’m trying. And maybe, just maybe, this ‘Force Quit’ is my restart.

Grace and Grit

I’ve officially reached my final month of consulting. (What?) In my typical fashion, I get reflective as chapters are ending, and today I’m reminded of the two words that have gotten me through the tough moments of this year. I first heard them together in January 2016 as I sat in the boardroom of our headquarters to interview for this job. I remember the million questions I had about what life on the road would bring, as Wendy, our Executive Director, thanked us for coming to interview and encouraged us to think honestly about whether we were ready for the challenge. “We look for two main qualities in our consultants that will allow them to succeed: an equal balance of grace and grit.”

Grace and grit.

These two words sum up my experience as a Leadership Consultant more than any narrative I could write about a chapter visit. This work takes grace: an ability to trust people you’ve never met and to see the positive even amidst tough circumstances. We interact with a whole host of people from different chapters, communities and places, and we learn to come into a new situation and build rapport with people in just a few days. It takes an honest analysis of your own strengths and challenges and a desire to work independently. Having grace at all times means you have the humility to recognize your own limited perspective and learn from the experiences of others. It takes a reality check, a great deal of patience and a genuine connection to the value of your work.

Equally, if not even more important to me this year, has been been the word grit. I’ve never considered myself a particularly gritty person, and to be honest, I wouldn’t have guessed that that this would ever become a personal byword of mine. Having grit means more than just being tough: it means sticking to it when there are a million things being thrown at you that you weren’t prepared to handle. It means honoring your commitments even when you want to turn the other way. It means getting in there, doing difficult things, and having a sense of persistence through it all. Gritty people are willing to go the distance. They don’t quit when situations are far from glamorous or ideal. They fight for what they know is right even when it’s hard. I love that quality and I want to be that way.  This job has given me the resilience to weather a hurricane, and for that I could not be more thankful.

Twenty six more days until I readjust to “real life,” and I am very ready for the consistency and routine of having a regular schedule and a community to claim as mine. However, I’m damn grateful and proud of the lessons this year has taught me, and I won’t soon forget a single one of them. I’ve learned to speak up, to appreciate solitude and to adapt to any given circumstance or challenge. I’ve learned to say thank you, I’m sorry and you’re welcome, to make a home out of a place I’ve never seen before and to welcome the adversity of never getting comfortable. I’ve learned that people are surprisingly kind when you don’t deserve it and that strangers are sometimes the best people with which to share a meal.

Thank you to everyone in my life who has made this year worth it (you know who you are). I am a different person because of it. Here’s to the final stretch!

xx

Live is a Verb

I’m sitting in a Brooklyn coffee shop on this rainy Sunday listening to John Mayer’s “Born and Raised” (like any trendy twenty-something Southern girl, I know, but he’s my favorite) and the song ‘Love is a Verb’ is playing through my headphones and getting me thinking. Not just about love and its existence as an action word, but about a very similar verb: live.

live (v) — to act out or practice; to experience firsthand; to exhibit vigor, gusto, or enthusiasm in

I’ve just spent the weekend in New York City, a place I appreciate for its diversity, complexity and character. Every time I visit I’m reminded of how alive this place feels: alive with hope, frustration and opportunity all at once. It never stops moving and yet somehow remains consistent and life-giving in the midst of all that change. Being here makes live feel less like a state of existence and more like a call to action.

And as I get caught up in my own day-to-day routine, I’m trying to remind myself of this too. How often do we let life happen to us rather than choosing to take it on, for all its charming, chaotic and unexpected moments? People are creatures of habit, I know, and it’s easy to be distracted by our to-do lists and tasks to be accomplished before a project is done. We even make lists and countdowns until the “next big thing,” thinking: “I’ll be happy when…” “I’ll make that trip one day…”Someday when my circumstances are different I’ll accomplish that goal…”

I’m such a planner. I’m such a “next big thing” person. But what if I stopped, took a breath and tried to make live into an action verb, not tomorrow, not next week, but today? I don’t want to sit by and miss out on a moment because I’m too caught up in creating the perfect life. And as confusing and strange as a moment can be, it is the collection of these tiny seconds that makes us into who we are. Here’s a favorite from poet Emily Dickinson: “Forever – is composed of nows.”

Are you going to let those ‘now’ moments happen to you or are you really going to take them in? Let’s make live into an action verb, an opportunity to embrace life fully and make the most of this short time we’re given. You have one chance to experience today, no matter how overwhelming, confusing or even routine it may seem. Get out there and live it.

xx

I’m Not Sorry

I’m not sorry for speaking up at the table yesterday. The words were uttered in haste, a meek apology for stating my opinion when I worried it might contradict your own.

I’m not sorry for the time I moved my chair to make room for yours next to me. In fairness, I arrived first, and I know it is an act of common courtesy to give you space. Yet the rushed apology comes spilling from my lips all the same.

I’m not sorry for the time I spoke over you on accident, so eager to share my news that we both announced “Guess what?” at the same moment. “Oh, sorry, you go first.” I surrender my enthusiasm to listen to what you have to say.

I’m not sorry for saying exactly what I felt. It was raw, imperfect truth that took bravery to muster. Yet for some reason unbeknownst to either of us, I make my own utterances conditional on their convenience to the lives of others.

I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

I find myself articulating this phrase more commonly than even I realize. I cannot count the number of times I have hurried to say sorry for occurrences as simple and routine as breathing, moving or stating my thoughts. Though this is not a conscious act, it arises from something deeper, a custom that ever so subtly reminds women that our opinions are “less than” and should be shared only when they do not disrupt the status quo. Since when are we required to apologize simply for existing? We may not notice it in the moment, but it occurs every day, a barely-there reminder that perhaps we do not believe our voices are as valuable as we should.

Here is my challenge for you and for myself this year: stop apologizing for being who you are. The phrase “I’m sorry” exists for moments when a wrong has been committed, not when you have unwittingly intervened in someone else’s life or space. Be bold. Own your opinions. Speak up at the table and speak first when you need to be heard. The best way to combat a culture of “less than” is by embracing an “equal to” sense of spirit and worth.

I said it. I meant it.

And I’m not sorry.

 

January on the Road

Happy Sunday, friends! It’s been a while since I’ve written an update on my consultant travels, but 2017 has been busy so far and I’m excited to share stories. I’ve worked in three different time zones this month, with three very different but equally admirable groups of women. Here’s a recap:

January 10-15: Longwood University, Farmville, Virginia

I kicked off my second semester on the road with a trip to our Gamma Lambda Chapter to provide support during Primary Recruitment. A brief history: Longwood is one of the oldest institutions of higher education in the United States, and it was the founding campus of four different NPC sororities: Kappa Delta, Zeta Tau Alpha, Alpha Sigma Alpha and Sigma Sigma Sigma. Safe to say this place is rooted in tradition and proud of its tightly knit community. The school has approximately 4,500 students and made headlines this year for hosting the United States Vice Presidential Debate back in October. Farmville, the town surrounding the university, has this sweet southern charm and lovely, historic downtown area.

Greek life is prominent at Longwood with nine different NPC chapters, and due to the small student population each chapter has around forty total members. This creates a personal, authentic sisterhood that is unlike anything you can experience on a larger campus. These women are truly like family, and they made me feel welcome with home-cooked meals, a tour of their school and a collection of chapter t-shirts. They spoiled me over here for sure.

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January 15-28: California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, California

After a travel day that felt like it would never end (thanks, United), I arrived in San Luis Obispo (SLO) to work with our Delta Phi Chapter during their winter quarter recruitment. Delta Phi is one of our newer Alpha Gam groups; they started in January 2016 and I get the opportunity to work with them consistently throughout this semester. Spending time with another group of founding members reminds me of the beauty of creating something brand new like this–these women are making history on this campus and forging a legacy that will last for years. They’re breathing life into the line of our Purpose that states, “To cultivate acquaintance with many whom I meet.” They’ve also taught me a few crucial elements of California culture: never, ever call it Cali (oops) and workout clothes are a way of life. Count me in.

As for SLO, it’s this ridiculously beautiful town along the central coast surrounded by mountains, beaches and some of the most breathtaking scenery I’ve witnessed. I feel like a kid on Christmas just driving to campus every morning. I took a day last week to drive up the coast to Big Sur and have lunch at a coffee shop overlooking the ocean cliffs. Remind me again… I get to be here for work? Is this real? (the best!)

 

January 28-February 7: Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas

This week I’m back in the Little Apple, practically my home after spending time here on and off since August. The women of Epsilon Chi are so special to me and I love getting to hear all their updates every time I return. Plus, I’m taking a mini trip this weekend to visit the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas, and my inner history buff is squealing with joy.

In just two short days I’m headed to meet my coworkers in San Marcos, Texas, where we’ll be hard at work establishing our newest chapter at Texas State University this month. Send some well wishes our way as we recruit a group of brand new sisters, and as always, I can’t wait to share what I’m learning!

xx

Sarah