Monday, December 30, 2013

13 Lessons Learned in 2013

I have to say, since first doing this two years ago, I actually look forward to this end of the year post. I think about it for about a month; various things that I have learned, relearned or continued to learn over the last year. I usually do this while I'm driving, so, of course, I ultimately forget most of them. Last week, I got smart and wrote them into the memo app on my phone. I'm pretty sure this is an accurate assessment of the last 12 months in terms of lessons learned. Enjoy or's up to you.

13. Saying no is hard, yet necessary.

While my family may whole heartedly disagree, I have an incredibly hard time saying no to people. Part of it is the belief that I can, in fact, do it all. The other part is feeling like I have to do it all. But I can't. And I don't have to. I think you grow into the understanding that all of that "yessing" is ultimately saying no to yourself. And I am sick of saying no to myself. So, I'm working on this one.

12. There is a generation gap. And sometimes, I don't get it.

There is a point in your early 30's that you begin to see glimpses of a new world that lives in younger people that you know absolutely nothing about. And by the time you hit your early 40's, it becomes a full-on generation gap. And it's shocking. I've actually done quite a bit of studying and lecturing on this phenomenon because it explains so many of the psychological concepts that I teach. While many things that the younger folks do is part naiveté, part lack of frontal lobe development, a great deal of what they do is influenced by the world they grew up in. Today's people under 30 have never lived without the instant gratification of the internet. And it bleeds into everything they do and colors their entire world view. I start every semester reviewing my "technology free zone" policy in the classroom by telling my class, "I lived for 31 years without a cell phone. You can live for an hour and a half. I promise." And 15 weeks later, I'm still saying the same thing. Because, their world view says that they can't. It also tells them they are special because they were born. And that information should be offered, not earned. And it's annoying as shit. And I don't get it.

11. The universe gives you signs.

Call it a cosmic shift, a sign from God, or as my brother so eloquently referred to it as "going with the flow". You will have moments that the slightest event will tell you something about where to go next. This is how I ended up back in school, falling into working with kids with autism and in a variety of jobs in my life. Listen to those little signs. They will define your life.

10. I have finally recovered from the post traumatic stress called high school.

In 2013, I did something that I never believed I'd do. I went to my 25th high school reunion. I didn't believe I'd do it because, until 2013, I had no desire to. There are many reasons why I didn't want to revisit these awkward years but the biggest one was that it always felt like it was too soon. For 24 years, it felt like it was too early to face demons that I think haunt a lot of people. We spend our entire adolescence (and most of our 20's and 30's)trying to define who we are. Some of us try on personalities for the day and then take them off. Some of us hold on really tight to who we thought we were when we were 15. And those people are often pricks (Just sayin'). But here's the 17 or 18 years old, we all split up and go on and live completely different lives. Unfortunately, we don't get to make right all of the wrongs we did to people we barely knew. And those wrongs get written on the core of who we are trying to become. So, why in the hell would we want to go back there? Facebook changed and softened my opinions on a lot of people years later but for others, it really just confirmed what I already knew. I have made many new high school friends through Facebook. And got rid of some others. I did, in fact, thoroughly enjoyed my reunion, which was shocking in itself. And I also received a drunken apology from someone I barely knew in high school who regretted not trying to get to know me 25 years ago. It appears I'm not the only one with a touch of the "ptsd"....

9. Affordable Health Care may have its flaws, but something has to give.

This is my rare political statement. Then again, I don't consider the right to medical care a political issue. It's a human right. End of story.

8. I like to see people do well.

Distantly related to my ptsd reunion post but on a more global scale, I actually take great joy in seeing people do well in life. I love that people I grew up with have gone on to do really interesting, great things. And I am not referring to money. I am referring to finding something they love and running with it. It makes me happy.

7. Sometimes you have to close doors.

I'm not talking about the doors in your house or on your car. I'm referring to the doors that keep you from moving on in life. And I personally suck at this. I hate closing doors. I'm sure it's deep seeded in my childhood and has some Freudian explanation that I haven't thoroughly explored. I am getting better at it, though.

6. Everyone should go somewhere warm when it is cold out.

I CANNOT wait to leave this artic freeze for warmer weather. I really hate the cold. This is no secret. And I've decided that I'm not going to suffer through another, long, cold and lonely winter without jumping on a jet plane and sunning myself while wearing 50spf. Because I bust my ass. And I deserve it.

5. I am perfectly content to do nothing.

I recently heard someone say that most people stay busy because they are afraid of being with themselves. Meaning, can you tolerate the silence in your head long enough to hear what it has to say? And while I may spend a little too much time listening to what is going on in my head, I am of the opinion that most people can't even fathom the idea.

4. Watching your kid grow up can be a joy, a terror and sad all at the same time.

I have never had so many emotions simultaneously assault my soul as when I watch Max experience something for the first, last or 10,000 time. I am so incredibly proud of the person he is growing up to be and often wonder how it is even possible that he has made it this far in life relatively unscathed. A little part of me dies inside every time he gives me his forehead when I ask for a kiss or when I watch him edit himself in order to "fit in". He has taught me more in 11 years than I learned in the 31 before. I am forever grateful.

3. I am capable of having the puberty/sex talk.

This is huge. Because I did not think I would survive the talk. I painstakingly researched the best books while my child harassed me for days demanding this vital information. I truly believed I would sidetrack him with a simple book on body odor and body hair and that this possibly would buy me days. It bought me about 30 minutes. And when we hit the chapter titled "Let's talk about sex", I believed that oxygen was leaving the room. I literally could not speak. I turned to Max and said "Are you sure you are ready for this?" He appeared so unmoved by this monumental moment when he calmly said yes. I will say I prefaced the sex part by explaining that it was more than a physical act; it was a commitment. Then I just started reading and didn't stop until it was over. His only question when I was done was "How did you ever trust anyone again after Mark (my ex-husband)?" I had done my job.

2. Grief doesn't go away. It just changes.

Grief has defined much of my life, starting with the death of my father in 1982. It became overwhelming when I lost my brother 4 1/2 years ago and was complicated by the death of my mother almost 3 years ago. I live with it every day but it has become more integrated and has taken on a resiliency in my life that wasn't there 5 years ago. There is a lesson in every loss.

1. Third list....still liking my life.

For the 3 year in a row, I can say that I really do like my life. Of course, it's not perfect but I embrace my imperfections (kinda). Liking my life doesn't mean I am completely content or that I don't want better things for myself. It just means that I realize that I am lucky to have good family, good friends, good food and an occasional good wine (or vodka) in my life.

I wish you all a Happy 2014!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

How Working in the Restaurant Business Changed My Life

The old saying goes, "We are a product of our history". Or maybe it doesn't. Maybe, I just made that up. But if it's not an old saying, it should be. Because it's true.

A big part of my history is having had the pleasure, honor and experience of working in the restaurant business. While I realize for many, the restaurant biz is a stop on a proverbial train called life, for others, this is a career choice. And for many years, I made that choice.

My life in the restaurant business was as formative as my early childhood. It was part of the path that has led me to where I am right now; propped up in my bed with the football game on and a laptop on my lap. As a 15 year old girl, I marched my ass into the Kennett Square Inn (actually, my mother drove me there but that's besides the point) and became part of a family. A family I still have today.

There is something so unique about the experience of working along side a cast of characters that would have never crossed your path had you not walked in that door. Because that's what a restaurant is...a cast of characters you'd find in a sitcom or a drama or a reality show. It is all of those things.

People who have not had this experience cannot appreciate the conditions you work under. The stress is immediate and at times, overwhelming. You will rise to the occasion or you will fall apart. I've done both.

You will be a giver, and receiver of insults unimaginable. And then you will have a drink together and forget what it was that you were fighting about. You may even dodge sharp instruments coming at you at a very high rate of speed. You may walk out. And then come back later to find that someone stepped in because the rest of the world doesn't care that you are having a nervous breakdown. Someone needs to get the Chateaubriand to Table 12.

While the majority believes that Happy Hour starts at 5pm, you know that, in fact, it actually starts at 11pm. And while the general population braves the crowds on Fridays and Saturdays, you know that Sundays are by far, the best night of the week to be out. And even if you retire from the business, you still feel lost on a Friday or Saturday night because most of your friends are working.

And for those of you who waited tables or tended bar to make some extra money or put yourself through school, you may find that the ones who choose to stay will probably work harder than you ever will again. They will hone their craft and become an expert in their field. Just like you.

While I left the Inn several times over the years, I always ended up back at home. With my friends. I made new friends every time and those friendships have defined my adult life. These were the friendships that stood the test of time. Even after we had gone our separate ways. Some of us left the business, some of us just moved on to different places. But these characters were the best characters to have.