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

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 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.