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.

 

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

 

Let me start by saying something that will surprise no one: I LIVED for the Women’s March on Washington this weekend. It took everything in me not to hop on a plane to DC or New York and walk in solidarity with so many fearless, determined (and did I mention creative?) human beings. Nothing breathes life into me like seeing people put their beliefs into action, and this movement is a compelling example of the power of peaceful opposition. It still gives me chills.

That being said, I needed a way to feel like I could participate from California. On Saturday morning, not unlike any other day, I woke up, slipped on my leggings and bright blue sneakers and stepped outside for a run. The best thing about being on the central coast in mid-January is that the weather, though rainy this past week, stays just warm enough to help motivate me to get out of bed. I chose a path I hadn’t taken before, up a hill toward an orange grove and then around the engineering buildings on campus. The air was cool, just a bit humid, with the sunshine barely peeking through clouds that had been lingering overhead for several days. I, of course, was so taken with the landscape that I almost forgot my way home.

Anyone who knows me well is probably familiar with my love affair with running. I write about it often because it remains a source of constancy and focus for me, no matter my outside circumstances. Running is something I will always have; it is uniquely mine and an expression of the power of my physical body. Though I love it for many reasons, maybe the most important is that it makes me feel strong, both mentally and physically. And on Saturday, I couldn’t help but think about the parallels between running and the values this Women’s March espouses: equality, resilience and strength.

As women, we are taught from an early age to be delicate, graceful and charming. We wear dresses, curl our hair and change our last names to match our husband’s. While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things, I don’t think women are encouraged often enough to appreciate the fortitude present in our bodies. We are expected to be beautiful, but strong? Not always the case. I took up running because it made me feel powerful in a society where I am expected to compromise my ambitions simply because I am female. If I couldn’t out-earn the men in my life, I knew without a doubt I could outrun them.

What if my method of speaking up, of expressing my frustration with political leadership that does not protect my interests, starts with putting on a pair of shoes? What if my singular act of resistance could be as simple as placing one foot in front of another on the ground?

I run because I am a woman, because I am courageous and purposeful and strong. I run because I live in a world that might have me choose between raising a family and working in an office, then immediately offer criticism about the path I designate for myself. I run because I am taught to be wary, to keep an eye out for predators, to present myself in a certain way because although I should strive to be desirable, I could also be asking for unwanted attention.

I run because I refuse to let society dictate my worth. My hope is that the Women’s March inspires many to speak up for what they value, and I know for certain it makes me feel proud to be part of this democracy. At times when the political climate feels more divided than ever, it is refreshing to watch a showing of such solidarity, spirit and support.

As for me, I will continue to practice this one thing I know best… to run.

foreword (n) – a short introductory essay preceding the text of a book / forward (adv) – movement onward so as to make progress

I am an expert at looking like an expert. (without really being one at all)

Can I get an ‘amen’ from all my fiercely motivated perfectionists out there? We work so hard to tie life up in a neat little bow when the reality sometimes looks more like the aftermath of a tornado. I cannot tell you the number of times I have set an unrealistic prediction for myself with full intention of accomplishing it, even though the likelihood of it going according to plan is nothing short of impossible. I’m sure my fellow idealists will agree that this go-getter mentality gets us places, but it comes at the expense of our personal well-being if we aren’t careful to keep it in check.

When the expectation I set for myself is perfection, the reality is that I will constantly be falling short, and as a result, always frustrated with myself. I want to enjoy the learning process that comes along with messing up, but truthfully I can’t seem to let myself catch a break. Be better, let it go, move on, I tell myself. But also, don’t let it happen in the first place.

Frankly, though, since when am I the authority on having it all together? Why can’t I find the grace to be kinder to myself? Letting go of things is painful, especially in this odd set of circumstances where I’m having trouble looking forward clearly. The people who know me deeply, who understand my competitive personality, my dry sense of humor and this unrelenting tendency to be tough on myself, are not people who share my physical space. I’m living now in this setting where I get to be independent, adventurous and constantly moving- my dream environment both personally and professionally. The chance to travel and meet new people every week is something I have to pinch myself about as a reminder that it’s real. It’s inspiring, motivating and never the same day twice, and it has fundamentally changed the way I look at the world.

However, I’m seeing more and more that without any sort of grounding, I’m left without a clear understanding of who I am and what I actually want. I, who tout my stubborn independence like a shiny badge of honor, need community more than ever. I am fraying at the seams without it. This year is humbling me in a profound way, teaching me to strike a balance between wanting to do it all and admitting my earnest need for people who know my heart.

Community brings us life in the most dynamic, enriching way. I am so, so grateful for it and ready to make it more of a priority. By the end of this year I hope to be in a new place entirely, which I know comes with a whole different set of challenges and a willingness to put myself out there and start fresh. Creating community is active. It requires vulnerability, an appreciation for loneliness and a desire to establish something brand new. It’s scary, but it’s also decidedly freeing. I love the idea of seeking out people who will make me better by loving me exactly where I am. This is my foreword, the beginning chapter of a story unfolding in greater ways than I could ever hope to plan. And you know what? That in itself is a grand exercise in letting go.

S

 

 

One of the perks of having parents who live in the country (or as I so affectionately refer to it, the middle of nowhere) is that it provides an atmosphere of total quiet in the midst of life’s noise. Coming home for vacation is often a much-needed escape, especially for someone like me who tends to run full speed ahead without knowing how or when to stop and breathe. Not to mention, it has the most beautiful nighttime view of the stars I have ever seen. I tell people this all the time when I’m describing my childhood home to them, but I wish a photograph or short summary could do it justice. The total dark of the Tennessee wilderness on a clear night lends a view of the sky that is breathtaking, humbling and just absolutely remarkable.

My late drive home tonight had me thinking about how disjointed I am feeling these last several months. Life right now reminds me of a newly opened puzzle box, probably with about a million pieces that are supposed to fit together into some glorious grand finale, except that I haven’t a clue how to arrange them in that order. I am in the midst of one of life’s most unsettled, lonely and confusing seasons, and that is the honest truth, no matter how often photo evidence and cheery exchanges may favor the contrary. It’s challenging and worth every moment, and I am immensely grateful, but I’m also working hard to acknowledge that it’s okay to say, “Yep, this period of life is tough.” Closing the door on 2016 will truthfully feel like a breath of fresh air.

Back to the stars, though–I pulled into the drive tonight and was instantly struck by the vastness of the sky and the reminder of how small I am in the grand scheme of the world. Every single star is one spot in the midst of trillions, yet it holds complete ownership of its particular brightness and space. And stars, just like puzzle pieces, are each one tiny facet of a bigger picture, one that is impossible to see if we focus too much on every tiny detail. Just noticing one star would be nothing spectacular; it is seeing the entire sky that brings the magic into perspective.

I’m also sitting here thinking about how humans named constellations because they picked out a cohesive image or design from an otherwise random cluster of stars. We took groups of things with seemingly no particular correlation and deemed them united and awe-inspiring: the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, Orion’s Belt. Doesn’t life often happen this way too? Our path toward progress looks less like the forward trajectory of an arrow and more like a splatter of stars strewn with no rhyme or reason across the sky. Taken piece by piece, it doesn’t make sense. Only when you step back and view the thing in its entirety does it create a continuing story.

What I’m working to remind myself is this: there is peace in mulling over the unfinished puzzle wondering if it will ever come together or not. There is also value in saying, “This is scary and uncomfortable and exhausting.” But it’s important not to get too hung up on the individual pieces without being able to see the bigger picture. It’s there, and it’s coming, and if it’s anything like what I know of the stars, I can certainly hope that it’s worth these little moments of chaos.

This week has me feeling all kinds of feelings. The cries of frustration and fear and anger are so loud I feel a bit like I’m drowning in the midst of them. I’m confused, I’m overwhelmed, and I’m exhausted. And more than that, I feel powerless to help the people in my life who are suffering. That distinct and resounding feeling of helplessness might be the scariest notion of all.

My run this morning, like many mornings as of late, felt something like a prayer. I’m not religious, nor do I have any great faith in a higher power, but I do know for certain that the act of movement is a spiritual thing. Surrounded by noise that blocks out the ability to process or reason, sometimes it is all I can do to get outside, move my feet forward, and wonder what all this outcry means. For myself, my community, my country, my world. What gives here? How can we heal?

The reality is that this election was not an encouraging one for many women in this country. If you voted for Donald Trump, this is not intended to feel like an accusation. And I’m proud that you used your vote to speak up for issues more significant than a candidate’s gender. But for others of us, this outcome is painful. I will admit that I’m scared of the thought of having a president who dismisses assault as “locker room talk” and compares a woman’s ability to “satisfy her husband” to her political aptitude. I am lucky to live in a time when being female is so much easier than it used to be, and I can humbly acknowledge the privilege afforded to me by my sexuality, birthplace, education, and the color of my skin. I cannot claim to understand the perspectives of my minority and LGBTQ+ friends, nor should I try to relate. The best I can do is listen and love and pray and hurt with them. Yet what this week has shown me, what I can relate to distinctly and personally, is that women still have such a long way to go. 

In the midst of anger and uncertainty, however, opportunities arise. Trees grow and flowers bloom in the most unlikely of places. And if there is anything that makes me thankful in this time of confusion, it is seeing the fiery resolution in people to work for change. I hope there is a woman out there, one who has dreamed her whole life about shattering that glass ceiling, watching this week’s events. She’s inspired and she’s impassioned and she’s motivated. She’ll stop at nothing until she becomes the change she’s fighting for. And I, for one, cannot wait to be her cheerleader.

At the end of the day, I believe to the core of my being that love will always win and that people are stronger when we are united. I also know that our work for women’s equality is nowhere near finished. But I feel more confident than ever that the future has momentum. It looks like the working single mother who stays up late to study after her children go to sleep. It looks like the female CEO who has endured countless “she’s a bitch” allegations for her commitment to her job. It looks like the marathon runner who gets faster every day despite cat calls and threatening remarks made on the street corner. The future looks like progress, and I have this sneaking suspicion it goes by ‘she.’

Hold up- how is it November already? These last few weeks have been a whirlwind and I’m over here in Kentucky working hard to keep up. Fall is my favorite time of year and even though I haven’t gotten to enjoy any real sweater weather yet, I’m loving the beauty and new life that come along with the changing seasons. This past month I’ve gotten the chance to meet so many humans (I freaking LOVE humans, you guys) and what a privilege it is to get a glimpse into all these charming, intricate, and varied lives. It’s the coolest thing.

I’m coming atcha’ live this Sunday afternoon with some travel highlights, autumn traditions, and reasons to get pumped for the holidays. (But really, did you need another reason besides the glorious occasion that is Thanksgiving dinner? Enough said.)

I’m visiting our Gamma Xi Chapter at Murray State University this weekend, and I’m charmed by the sweet, Southern small town feel of this place. Everyone knows everyone and will go out of their way to make this suitcase-carrying stranger feel at home. Not to mention the women of Gamma Xi are SO much fun. I’ve gotten to go to a fall festival, hold three different puppies, and do quite a bit of exploring on campus. The chapter has their annual fall lip-sync battle, “Rockathon,” this Friday and I will be cheering them on from Kansas and probably trying to figure out a way to FaceTime in. Can I participate over the phone?

But before I get ahead of myself here, I WAS IN TENNESSEE LAST WEEK! This was my first real chunk of time back in Nashville since I moved away in June, and it was exactly what I needed after months of hotel beds and rental cars. Nashville may not be my home anymore but it will always hold a very large piece of my heart and some of the most special people I know. Plus I find something new to love about the city every single time I visit. Mary and Miranda (two of those people I couldn’t survive this crazy year without) took time out of their work week to grab dinner with me at Up Rooftop Lounge in the Gulch, a hidden gem on the roof of the Fairfield Inn & Suites (who would’ve guessed?) that provides a stunning view of the Nashville skyline. Safe to say my enthusiasm was at an all-time high.

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I could write a novel about how much I love these friends. Thank you for making hundreds of miles of distance feel like nothing!
Another perk of spending time at home was that I got to help my dad with one of my cherished childhood traditions–making homemade applesauce! We have been doing this every year in my house for as long as I can remember so you better believe it was the first thing I asked to do when I got to Clarksville. My father has been perfecting this recipe for decades and he might not love that I’m sharing secrets, but he’ll never know, right? (Except I’m pretty sure he reads this. Sorry, dad.)

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The first trick to the perfect fall applesauce is the ratio of green to red apples. We use half Granny Smith to keep the final product from being too sweet, and the other half can be your favorite type of red apples. We cut them all up, blend them (skins and all!) and add some other type of special ingredient each year to change up the flavor. This year’s choice: blueberries and pears. Once the mixture is blended, place it in a giant pot over medium heat until it starts to bubble. Then add spices to taste–we use cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves followed by a generous spoonful of honey. Turn the mixture down to low, let it cook for a couple of hours, and you have the most comforting autumn treat to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (Oops.) Did I mention it makes the house smell like cinnamon apple heaven? Let’s sign my dad up for Top Chef already.

Other things I’m loving this month:

  • This navy and red plaid shirtdress from Brooks Brothers. Most of my October visits were in the South with weather in the 80’s, so this dress is my sneaky way of dressing for fall without dying of heatstroke.
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  • The NYC marathon! It happened this morning and I was absolutely dying to be there. I have been slacking on my running lately and this has me motivated to start training for that 3:13 marathon qualifying time. Guys, I’ve got a long way to go. Yikes.
  • Speaking of New York, I’M GOING NEXT MONTH! Emily and I are taking a girls’ trip and I’m so full of ideas and excitement I may not even make it to Christmastime. 38 days…who’s counting?
  • Kid President. If you ever need a reminder that you can make it through this week, or even just this day, he’s got you covered. Go do something awesome.

All my love!

-S